Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Considering another angry vote for Nader. Tell me why I shouldn't.
Howdy folks. I'm really hitting the thesis hard this week, but stay tuned to Derailed Commodity over the next couple of weeks for my two cents on Foreman's "King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe" and some musings on sex(ual politics?) in the poetry of John Godfrey. It's gonna be wild.

A quick thesis preview. The neologism "paratext": on the one hand, so annoyingly jargony. On the other, what a great term to describe the poetics (meaning the actual material poetic statements criticism etc) of the language poets. On the one hand, they're texts that are metalinguistic--the prefix "para-" shares with "meta-" the meaning "beyond" (paranormal). On the other, they are texts that vigorously assert that they're not metatextual/prescribing poetic practice at all, but instead an alternative way to voice the critique that the poetry (the "primary texts" in an old fashioned vocabulary) is (supposedly?) asserting on its own--thus invoking the alternative meaning of "para-," "beside." The whole tension (paradox?) is embodied right there in one nifty term.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Also, feeling guilty about my caustic post about Dean dropping out. I am really and truly (what a disgusting phrase) sad about it--sad about seeing Kerry and his focus-group stump speech towing the populist line long enough to get the nomination, at which point he'll move things right back to a Clintonian centrist line that will be just wishy washy enough to allow GW to compete with him even as the country goes to shit. I can't believe he has had the audacity to lift Dean's anti-special interest rhetoric when he's more beholden to the lobbies than any other senator. As for Edwards, I can't believe the media hasn't jumped on the fact that the vast majority of his campaign funds come from a single special interest--the trial lawyers.

I still believe Howard Dean was the smartest man in the race, and the man with the best values--it's too bad he didn't have anyone in that campaign that could help him become 'presidential.' His fast, conversational style of speaking made him seem like an average Joe to us in NYC or to the folks in Vermont, but made him sound like a bumbling but cocky New England asshole to everyone else.

Monday, February 16, 2004

As the Dean Campaign crashes and burns, I find it really funny that a few months ago I posted on this blog that I thought I was being overly pragmatic/compromising my lefty values by becoming involved with a (really, seriously, contrary to popular belief) fairly centrist candidate. It's good to know I'm an abject romantic even in my moments of pragmatism.
Derailed Commodity is tentatively back online--with the caveat that in some sense I feel like I was doing it all wrong before. We'll see what happens. I was sick, home, working for Howard Dean in Iowa (sob), and then just disillusioned with blogging. This post is a way to try and work through that last problem. So anyway. Away we go.

Been thinking about what would happen if I was suddenly (and honestly?) very confrontational about art/writing, but at the same time questioning the faux confrontational nature of the net, the ridiculous angst of the listserv troll.

It seems to me that in some ways, the current embrace of pluralism, or perhaps more realistically, the unwillingness to voice confrontational (normative? Provisionally normative, if that’s possible?) opinions in public discourse has the effect of acting as a sort of fixer on the scene--in a particularly confrontational metaphor, the current poetry scene seems to me a lot like so many niche cable tv channels who've found their market share and have found that the easiest way to hold on to that chunk of cultural capital is to make sure any newcomers on the scene either fit themselves into one of the pre-existing categories or get out of the way.

Literary bulletin Boards, listservs, and now blogging communities, fascinate me because on the one hand they are a space for discourse that are democratic in a unique way--the amazing leveling effect of the anonymity of cyberspace. But, but--I think that line of thinking is predicated upon the idea that the internet allows for a disembodiment of thought from context in a sort of Rawlsian move that would allow for a conversation untainted by the speakers' positions.

Of course this isn't how it works out in reality--being confrontational is the fast track to internet obscurity--think about the poetics listserv. On the blogs, saying anything confrontational tends to bring down a wave of derision, a confrontational post isn't dialogue, it's a 'flame,' a personal attack--not to say there aren't a lot of personal attacks thinly disguised as artistic arguments floating around out there.

No one ever pays attention to outspoken people on the blogs. The most intelligent bloggers are either those who are almost universally positive, or alternatively avoid polemic in favor of irony and pastiche as a means of critique—a critique which is always only proscriptive instead of productive. When a “flame war” (why is it that term seems so ridiculous to me) gets started, people start paying attention, not because they want to see what the person has to say, but because their prurient interest wants to have a good laugh at people making themselves ridiculous duking it out the old fashioned way.

THE ARISTOCRATS OF THE POST-AVANT POETRY WORLD no longer maintain their position by othering poets of a particular school or ideology, but instead by othering anyone who rocks the boat by having enough conviction in their own position or aesthetic. The mood that governs the New York scene now is not one of democratic openness but is something more like the salons of Stendhal’s Paris—high irony and boredom rule the day at the expense of open discussion, dynamism, poetry.

But now, just because of who I am, I’m already backing off of my own polemic—I feel its something that needs to be said but I can’t say it without admitting that I’m wrestling with it myself, and I already feel my internal ironist laughing. I’ve deeply admired the arguments of Nick Piombino against the infighting that could potentially paralyze the cultural left, and I agree with Charles Bernstein that ultimately we should aim for a literary pluralism that would reject the balkanizing process of canonization.

But canonization is a reality—the literary history currently in vogue has, for example, put Stein and Zukofsky on the syllabus of the 20th Century poetry lecture here at Columbia at the expense of Allen Ginsberg and Alice Notley, a fact that would surely trouble many of the poets who began championing Stein and Zukofsky in the first place. Even as the Language poets quietly insist on the provisional nature of their own paratextual output, they are read as the final step in a dialectical progression by the vast majority of their readers.


I’m fascinated by trying to find out what happened in the 70s when the Language Poets in New York “broke” from the St. Mark’s poets. It’s something that really saddens me in some ways because the poets I’ve learned the most from lie on both sides of that “divide” if it can even be called that anymore. The Language Poets (maybe that should be in quotations too) defined themselves against the St. Mark’s scene not only through new institutions (Roof, the Segue Series etc) but through a paratextual community that facilitated a poetic output that remains inspiring and empowering. But as that paratextual discussion moves away from polemic and towards self-caricature, irony, indifference, but most notably disdain of conviction and sincerity, one has to wonder if what is happening is not a sudden embrace of pluralism, but rather a nifty act of self-effacement that would end American literary history with the language poets on top by turning the ideology of the last identified movement into an unassailable (provisional) phantom.

People on both ‘sides’ still talk about the split between the St. Mark’s/New York School crew and the Language poets with a certain amount of mean-spiritedness and bitterness that makes me think that the polemicism at that point was to a certain extent counterproductive. But on the other hand, I can’t help but wish for a new context for discussion about poetics in which

“whatever it is

that we take to be what we judge ourselves by

when we have a conversation

& we say

that’s fucked and that’s not

whatever we go by in that sense”

is more important.

What do you think?

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