Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Siting Camp

It looks as if the conversation about Chris Nealon's "Camp Messianism" article is almost over (for those of you wanting to read it who don't have access to Project Muse, please, please, don't pay twelve dollars--talk about exchange value!--for the thing. Find a university library that carries American Literature). Ange chimes in by noting that, in her experience, the deployment of Frankfurt school Marxism as a theoretical model for experimental poetry may indicate a period style, and might therefore tell us that there are things such a style will not, or cannot, think, given its self-reinforcing qualities. (She doesn't go this far, and is surprisingly value-neutral, but I think this is her implication). Probably right, but the whole point of Nealon's article is to articulate an emerging stance among post-avant poets, a passive rather than active relation to capitalism and its vicissitudes, motivated in part by the social changes of the late 90's--globalization, the micro-infiltration of technology, etc.--and the ensuing hopelessness. (What to attack? Where's the machine actually located?) Ironic camp, a kind of mock-submission to the laws of consumerism, emerges as a sort of passive-aggressive strategy to resist the encroachment of Starbucks and Walmart and the great surplusses of late-late capitalism that, nevertheless, don't ensure survival for the world's poor, let alone America's poor. (Worth noting here, in response to Jeffery Bahr and Henry Gould , that the whole point of this article is to demonstrate the inadequacy of terms like capitalism and even late-capitalism: hence late-late capitalism. Calling this ahistorical is like calling a tomato inorganic: like, what?). Nealon's identifying a poetry of affect rather than direct linguistic confrontation, of stance rather than performance, or perhaps of stance as performance. For an example, we need look no further than Chris Nealon's own The Joyous Age, where the dominant lyric gesture is not "I am x, I am y" but rather "I like x, I feel [insert emotion] toward y." It's a stance that would gather in the orphaned objects of capitalism, that would work against, in Joshua Clover's words (perhaps borrowed from a Situationist text) "things made things" via the invention of "new desires." I, for one, find this useful as a way of looking at some current poetry and thinking on poetry that I come across these days, whereas it doesn't seem as productive in relation to the work of 'eighties and 'nineties langpo--which situates repressive political power in language itself--or certain NY school writing (I can't believe I'm using this odious term), which translates political and ethical problems into aesthetic ones. (Warning: dangerous categorical claims above. I reserve the right to take everything back). For my money, what could better demonstrate the wish to take all of the flimflam of consumerism to the redemption center and turn it into something life-affirming than this poem? One might identify a similar stance in Susan Wheeler's Ledger, Corey's Fourier Series and perhaps even in Ange's poems too. Who knows if "camp messianism" will prove a useful marker in the coming years. It's a campsite; you don't stay there forever. That's the whole point, I think: refusing to imagine a forever like this one.


Ange said...

Nor did I want to go so far as to say, such theoretical models tend to suck the surprise out of critical judgments. There certainly are some poet-critics in that mold to whom I want to say, "Surprise me!"

I delight in your eloquence.

Henry Gould said...

If the term "late-late capitalism" is being used ironically, then the implication is that "capitalism" is alive & well, in all its nefarious glory. So what's the point in being camp about it? Self-mockery? So, then, are we supposed to take it seriously, in a historical sense?

Can you have it both ways? Or is this question too serious?