In the aftermath of my post on the baroque below, a board member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts accused me of “reducing” my issue to identity.
This person, who works for a key literary venue, said my focus on identity had “thoroughly” persuaded them out of a line of thought that might otherwise have been interesting. They also quoted Marxist theory on me.
Too bad it wasn’t an isolated incident. This is a bias I encounter all the time in writers who claim to have supposedly ‘progressive’ politics.
Experimental U.S. poetry culture, especially, pats itself on the back for privileging some poets—the ones most legible in terms of their political causes—while ignoring others who sound like “strange almost English” (another comment I fielded yesterday).
¿Pero que dices? Are we mongrels just too baroque to bear?
One senses an acute xenophobia in US-American poets’ underestimation of the relationship between identity and form, and the way aesthetics that have flourished outside the US get written out of the mainstream, the experimental, and the political.
Of course, this privileging of legibility and dismissal of the foreign must take turns waving the same tattered flag. As tendencies that work hand in hand, they exhaust gringo poetry at the twilight of a superpower, cornering it into its least visceral, mystical, and transformative space.
“North American experimentalism became a fine jewelry shop.” -Heriberto Yépez (trans. Guillermo Parra)
They’re the two sides of the avant-garde/mainstream exceptionalist comfort zone I’m calling Gringpo Provincialism.
A literary jingoism desperate for its baroque death.
“We are not asking for an apology. An apology is not a decolonizing act. We are asking for decolonization of your whiteness, of your white lists, of your listing practices.”
Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency. That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.
Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.
In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:
….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?
After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them. Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place? Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch? Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be. I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend. In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.
A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it. As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. (continue reading…)
Markets predate capitalism. Capitalism is better understood as designating a society that subordinates all processes — notably the metabolism between humanity and nature, the production and distribution of goods and services, the function and composition of government, and of course, market exchange — to the private accumulation of capital. – Benjamin Kunkel
Occupy Wall Street says / yes to spectacle./ Yes to virtuosity. / Yes to transformations / And magic and make-believe. – Scott McFarland
I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace — I tend to think of him as probably the best American fiction writer of his generation — and yet there has always been one aspect of his work I’ve disagreed with: the theme of irony versus sincerity. We see it in some his interviews, and it’s a shaping force in many of the stories in Hideous Men. Irony, here, seems incompatible with sincerity, with an expression from the truer aspects of the self. As Wallace said in one interview, irony becomes the bird in love with its own cage. In some of the stories in Hideous Men, there is a constant attempt to undo irony, to take off the multiple masks, to approach the reader as a naked self (fully aware that this self might be a mask too, and not free of manipulative impulses).
But I don’t think there has to be a divide between irony and sincerity. As the Narrator says in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, sometimes we are at our most sincere when being at our most ironic, even mocking. For example, the scene where the Underground Man is waxing sentimentally about family life to Liza, the prostitute he has just slept with. Though the Narrator is performing, and deliberately trying to make Liza uncomfortable with his sentimental visions, he also realizes, as he goes on with his speech, that he is moved by it: he is performing, and yet caught up in his own performance (“I was so carried away by my pathos that I began to feel a lump forming in my throat…”).
And what could be more sincere than Swift’s Modest Proposal? Or Voltaire’s Candide? Works dripping with acidic irony. Godard is one of the great ironists in film, and yet it would be strange to argue he doesn’t have deep-seated political beliefs, or a “sincere” vision of a better world.
From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
- Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)
Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:
“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”
But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no bodies in it?
Of if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn?
And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:
“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”
Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?
This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):
For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”
Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
In the new issue of American Poetry Review, Arielle Greenberg has an essay on the state of translation in contemporary poetry:
“Nonetheless, as new poetry books have been arriving on my doorstep over the past couple of years, I’ve been deeply heartened to see so many weird, wild, exciting works – both modern and contemporary – in translation…”
Greenberg goes through some of the anxieties about translation – how she doesn’t have access to the cultural context, the original etc – but concludes that she nevertheless thinks it’s important to read foreign works in translation:
“… since many of the literature that have avant-garde American poetry originated on other soil, it behooves us to have a more complex sense of the ways in which idea and art intersect and develop across cultures and tongues…”
She then goes on to discuss Graham Foust and Samuel Fredrick’s translation of Ernst Meister, Tomaz Salamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game (translated by Sonja Kravanja), Lidija Dimkovska’s pH Neutral History (translated by Ljubica Arsovka and Peggy Reid), my translation of Aase Berg’s Mörk Materia and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!.
This is how Greenberg describes Dark Matter:
“Dark Matter is, as its title suggests, a relentlessly macabre collection of prose poems in sections (though certain landscapes and characters seem to melt from one into another), informed by imagery from sci-fi and horror movies and video games: black shells, glowing castles, radioactive lemurs, crystal germs. The whole book feels LCD-screen-blue in a blacklighted cavern, and in true Gothic mode, the body is itself the site of horror: “I haul myself,” the speaker with a gashed-up mouth laments in “Life Form”…
Greenberg’s method throughout is to draw connections between American and the translated poets:
“I remember when your head caught flame.”
I passed through my motherland (Missouri) today, en route to Tennessee after abandoning my (not so) stronghold in the mountains of Colorado. For those following my seemingly willful courtship with disaster, I returned home after several weeks of being displaced from a thousand-year flood only to lose my job a month later. Since like most humans on this planet I still subsist on money and electricity to support a mediated/subjugated lifestyle, I had to hustle to find a solution and found one in my mother’s motherland.
But what I really want to talk about is Michael Jackson.
I remember seeing the video for “Smooth Criminal” for the first time as an 11 year old in 1988 and realizing in that moment what an artistic mistake it was for Michael Jackson to select “Bad” as the titular framework and audiovisual initiation to his follow up to Thriller (1982). Bad (1987) was the end of the legendary MJ / Quincy Jones collaboration that began with Off the Wall (1979), and the beginning of the end for Michael’s out-of-this-world command as an image artist. By 1987 the effortless impossibility of his ’83 Motown performance had devolved into something more alien than otherworldly, a mutation distilled to perfection by Corey Feldman in real life and in the entirety of Dream a Little Dream (1989), but especially this scene:
My feeling is that Michael was fucked up on pain and painkillers by that point, the real beginning of the end occurring at approximately 6:15pm on January 27, 1984 during the ill-fated filming of a Pepsi commercial in support of The Jacksons’ Victory tour, when Michael achieved apotheosis by going up in flames. Watch how alone he is here, his supposed brothers oblivious to the plight of a genuine god burning at the stake/stage. There is no coming back from a trauma like this. If you’ve been wondering what kind of triggering event would lead someone to eventually seek out a straight up oblivion drug like propofol as opposed to say the narcotic depths of heroin, This Is It:
Tales from the Crypt: Year of the Horse—Codex Prime
Frederick Farryl Goodwin, author of Virgil’s Cow (2009) and Galactic Milk (2013) Miami University Press, interviewed by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Is Frederick Farryl Goodwin the evental poet of this century?
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: I conducted this exchange with Frederick during the first three months of 2014. We still have never met, or spoken on the phone, we employed email. At jump I knew 0 about him personally. But his extra-orbital poems loosed a wanton force majeure sufficient to haul me to him pronto. Banished, vanished, well-hid F. shows lo to no web profile, a magisterial cloaking maneuver itself in our exposé ion eon. How truly create, if not ex nihilo? Our quandary isn’t how Something rose from Nothing, but where did Nothing come from? I give you his debut interview.
As standard Q and A soon quailed confronting such a world-reversing coup, I plied him instead with provocations, sub rosa “constellations,” subliminal suggestiones. Fred mailed back fifteen thousand (15, ooo) words . . . almost overnight. So, to immure and lure you in, please allow me to introduce twin flanking notes Frederick sent before, then immediately after decomposing the bodies of his corpus.
The first is his response to my curt and common question: “Does your email address [which here I must withhold] refer to Eve Futur, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam?”
And the following, he (Croniomantal, poet beyond the tomb) wirelessed just one “morning after” inking his extended testament below.
Frederick Farryl Goodwin (JAN 17/14)
No, not consciously at least + I’ve not read Villers de L’isle Adam. But who knows the causality of things + the source of words in our lives? Having said that, there’s an anecdotal parallel between Master Janus who, while preparing to initiate Axël into the occult mysteries, asks his pupil whether he is ready to accept “light, hope and life.” Axël replies “no” which I can relate to—& recalls an experience I had w/ Salvador Roquet who once asked me the same question…..whether I was ready to accept “light, hope and life”….. asking me to step outside the room we were in and pass through a door where the light from a dazzling day was streaming in— I couldn’t. I told him so and somaticized my response immediately consumed w/the most excruciating pain, my feet feeling as if someone had basted them with napalm and set them ablaze. It followed two very punishing days with him in Western Mass. where, on the third day, he pulled a woman and myself from a group of thirty or so to do what he termed psychosynthesis in front of everyone for 10 hours — 30 participants + 10 or so therapist/healers of assorted stripes who assisted him— watching and collectively wailing and weeping as a nightmare unfolded. That day, despite myself, but perhaps through me, I was, as Roquet’s principal assistant said to me afterwards, “the spirital center for three days.” Perhaps, as Merwin says, all poetry begins as grief expressed through the wailing wall of the unbroken vowel— the Lament Configuration— until interrupted by the onslaught and tourniquet of the consonants to break the spell— the wife of a gracile/robust australopithecine man is killed by a saber-toothed cat or something like that. The demon was already out of the puzzle box of the collective unconscious for me before Roquet— he helped design and concoct the confection that would contain the demon I saw for the first time with my own eyes when I was 26—while watching a film the screen burned away in front of me from the center out and the red-face and horns came to greet me being of an age when it’s time to use harness the rope and traction of that energy to vatically climb the verticulum towards the other way while accessing the one realm which knowledge of the other allows. I like to think I played tiddlywinks with Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz in a dream as a boy while listening to my dear friend Grace Lake— Jewish visionary seraphim and feminist socialist revolutionary— tell me over and over again in that heartbreakingly, almost unbearably beautiful voice that was hers alone how she stared at the sun as a child until her vision was permanently impaired, transformed. Derek Dowson, illegitimate great-grandson of an Earl + nephew of the Decadent poet Ernst Dowson— later picked up where Roquet left off, taught me everything I know, saved my life and gave me both future + eon while my seasonal human nature…..drifter[ed] bye.
Thank you for writing, posing the question as provocateur, and for the great kindness of your interest: the short answer is nope.
One of the great cliche conventions of 90s experimentalism was that narratives were inherently conservative. In part this came from the (justified) criticisms of the “narrative poetry” (or “Quietism”) that used to be imposed on students in most poetry writing classes. But the problem with the Quietist poems is not necessarily that they are narrative but rather that they use narrative in a boring way: I look out the window (literally or metaphorically) and see something that makes me remember and based on that memory I have some sensation of transcendence or epiphany.
These Quietist poems depend on a self-righteous sense of interiority and authenticity that allows no interesting language. You have to find your “voice” (interiority) but it’s a voice that sounds like every other quietist voice and anything interesting you might do with language will be a threat to that voice. And the narratives tend to be from behind the “window,” remembering, so it rarely feels that anything is at risk.
(I often quote that essay by Robert MnRuhr where he uses disability theory to critique the epiphany as an ableist model of coming back together, becoming whole.)
But narrative is not the problem. Narratives are often fascinating. I remember when I was a child, my grandmother telling me stories about Swedish kings poisoning each other. Years later, I found a photograph of my grandmother dated to “Berlin, 1933″ and my uncle told me that she had had dubious political sympathies back in the day. Narrative can be mysterious. “She’s full of secrets,” the little man says of Laura Palmer’s ghost in that famous Twin Peaks dream sequence (Of course in Quietism there are not supposed to be any secrets, that would be too thrilling.).
Some of the most interesting poetry books of the past few years have been explicitly narrative: Think of Chelsey Minnis’s poems with fashionable killers in Zirconia (“… uh… I want to wear hot pants… and rest my boot on the back of a man’s neck…”) or Bad Bad; or Ronaldo Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man and how those two get muddled up in Poems of the Black Object (“So tonight, when you saw this white man, in glasses, mid-30s with an early grey mullet, lift up his Alpaca sweater to reveal the slit in his abs beneath the bloody curtain of his shirt, you said “Welcome to Brooklyn.””).
I love detective/crime novels, but I only like the first half. (continue reading…)