It’s interesting to see the backlash against AD Jameson’s post about sincerity as technique; the intensity of which I think justifies my idea that it’s worth discussing.
It seems like most people are NOT objecting to the posts on the grounds that we’ve discussed here on Montevidayo – ie the concept of sincerity, the idea that there are formalist techniques separated off from culture. Instead they seem to object to it because they object to Jameson writing anything at all about sincerity, about poetry. In other words, they reject criticism as an insincere approach to poetry.
This “sincere” notion that interpretation is insincere is based on objection to all criticism. You’re just supposed to “get” the poem, the reading is its own tautology. To talk about it is to open the text up to corruption. This is a model based on the bourgeois idea of the private soul engaged in the private reading experience. I send a message in the poem; you get my soul. What is lost? The bottle of course, which is beautiful (and which can be used as a weapon in a bar fight, or to be decorated with glue and feathers).
When people keep repeating the mantra “Just write. Stop talking, just write” with moralistic outrage, what they’re repeating is an incredibly conservative workshop-era mantra that ensures the status quo (ie, just write, don’t question the role of institutions or dominant paradigms etc, just repeat after me, just let the Taste Autorities pick their descendants as winners of Foetry contests so no new aesthetics will erupt and challenge). They are policing the discussion of poetry. “Just write” is as commandeering as it sounds.
[Insert picture of person with whip etc]
Likewise, when writers claim they “don’t write criticism” or “don’t have time” to write about other people’s books or whatever, they are falling back on a MFA-era model of Genius writer who doesn’t soil his hands with corrupting work such as criticism. They are too busy with “real art” to talk about it; leave that to others. I’m sick of that shit. It’s not just a recipe for the status quo, it’s enacting the status quo.
Now I’m not totally opposed to this rhetoric, as I have admitted in the past. Obviously, I don’t agree with it, but I do think it does have something right about it.
It insists on the importance of the reading experience. I totally agree that the key to literature is still to get lost, absorbed, “shattered” by the reading experience. It’s not that there’s “too much poetry” being published, as Tastemakers and academics like to point out as an excuse for why they stick to their own narrow little aesthetic corridor, it’s that reading itself is already “too much.” Poetry is “too much.” Art is “too much.” Art is already a plague ground. Art itself is already corrupting. I want to be fascinated by art; I embrace a radical passivity; I masochistically subject myself to Art’s occult powers and influences.
But part of this shattering experience is the corrupting of the simplistic model of the private individual with their souls and interiorities. Art ruins that. Art connects readers and texts and writers and a whole bunch of other debris to a whole bunch of significant or insignificant moments and conversations. Art invites the corruption of being “talked about.”
So I do agree with the emphasis on the reading experience, but not one that is based on the private interiority of the reader and writer in communication. But I do think it’s a reaction to a PHD-line of criticism that has – despite the proliferation and “too much”-ness of poetry – maintained a very narrow canon.
[I think Language Poetry strangely saved the academy in that way, it gave the academy a lifeboat - ie "the avant-garde" as high taste, as above the plague ground of poetry's proliferation. Now to do work on contemporary poetry is more or less always to study "experimental poetry." At the same time, Langpo did bring a lot of interesting conversations into the academy.]
And this explains in part the seamless acceptance of Conceptual Writing by the academic establishment. Kenny Goldsmith not only says he is the antidote to the proliferation of poetry (“creative writing” is he says, not “Creative” anymore – ie he totally believes in Creative Writing and originality despite himself, phew); he has also forwarded the model of the “thinkership” over the “readership”. This is exactly how many academics already read, seldom getting lost in the art, or the “plague ground” of contemporary poetry, instead using art that fits into their models, theories to maintain Tasteful hierarchies.
This doesn’t mean I hate academics, I am one and I enjoy their/our company, but based on this context, I can totally feel the frustration of “sincere” writers who want to get back to the reading experience, even if their solutions (and conclusions) are wrong.