No Camouflage in the Disco Area.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Isn't the interest of the central but oh-so-familiar device in the addictive TV-show Lost--the suspense-building countdown that needs to be reset every 108 minutes via the manual entry of "codes"--that it gives a kind of recursive (and hence false) teleological structure to something that by virtue of it being an ongoing series has no defineable or clear-cut endpoint, whose hook is that it continually promises a resolution which it can postpone or complicate for episode upon episode, season upon season, until we get fed up or bored or move on? And yet I tune in each week, enter the tele-visual codes, submit myself to a hyper-manipulative waiting game without any real hope of an end; I keep watching even though I know the whole thing is probably a hoax and whatever resolution, whichever answers to my questions I eventually receive--some variation on "it was all a dream"--will fail, must fail, to satisfy. Those poor cast-members in the hatch, entering the codes every 108 minutes, doing something they aren't even sure has any meaning--that's me! And what do I learn is the result of failing to enter the codes? A toxic and dangerous accumulation of electromagnetic energy (otherwise known as suspense!) which rebooting the system (tune in next week!) disperses. 108 minutes: probably close to the average length of a feature film.
Monday, May 22, 2006
I was more inclined to step into this conversation (extended here and here and here) before things got heated and, it seems, not so nice. To start with, I think that Standard's oblique remarks about transgressivity (a metonym for you-know-what) are an inaccurate characterization of most of the flarf--not that much admittedly--that I've read. In _Deer Head Nation_ and _Petroleum Hat_ , for instance, I see nothing of the mere reversal of binaries--where transgression of power simply solidifies the power of power--of which Standard accuses the Flarfitrix/ -ator. But uh, doesn't this critique write off a huge portion of potent artistic, political and theoretical practice-Swift, Pope, Byron, Tzara, Mina Loy, the Baroness, Bataille, Schwitters, Artaud, Beckett, Amiri Baraka, self-immolating monks, Iggy Pop, Karen Finley? In the comments box of Standard's post, Pamela Lu distinguishes between "a kind of theater of harrassment to expose aggressive power dynamics that couldn't otherwise be called out without incurring immediate, heavy-handed backlash" and transgressive art that simply uses experimentalism as a pretence for its own violent, racist or sexist interests. I think this is a good test, and also that the two books above fall under the first category. I see flarf--in its finest instances--as not doing violence for violence's sake but exposing the already existent formal and contentual violences--on the internet, in the stock tropologies of poetry. I don't see it as brutality for the sake of a sadomasochistic readership, but of exposing the brutality that underwrites most every calm. Things can edge away from this first category into the second--this happened in earlier avant-gardes, too--in Bruce Andrews, for instance. I've seen "Flarf" that I found merely reactive and sensationalist. I stopped reading Jim Behrle months ago.
[On the term politically correct: I have on occasion used a personal computer type the term P.C. I regret all of these instances. It's a stupid term, an example of the enormuously successful, Karl Rove-ian marketing strategies which rendered the concepts behind terms like "illegal immigrant" and "pro-life"seemingly value neutral, and yes, I think continuing using it perpetuates the idea that a respect for difference and a desire for a world free of oppression is merely a polite fiction. But I do think that the current protocols of discourse force people to mask their hatred and stupidity in more palatable terms. I'd rather see it out in the open where it can be engaged with as the balderdash it is, instead of hidden behind a scrim of legalistic and scientistic and pseudo-rational nonsense. This is the line that Badiou (In Ethics) and Zizek (The Fragile Absolute) take, and I think that to some degree they're right.]
So, to me, the poems in the books above seem interested in engaging, orchestrating and deploying multiple levels of social voice--some offensive, some inoffensive, some whatever--not for the purpose of exploitation or a Vice-magazine laugh at the different or other, but to have the conversations that are not happening. It's pretty basic social constructivism, the way I read it, pseudo-documentary or documentary, allowing for carnival and polyphony and the social illuminations that derive from this. Except the tone is very different than what you might find in Reznikoff or something like Mark Nowak's Shut Up, Shut Down--ecstatic and frenetic instead of austere and morally serious. It is the mad, hysterical voice of Capital, ready to market any identity or subject position back to itself, with interest, ready to turn any negativity into an instrument blunt or pointed or spectral. I think it's an effective portrait of where we are, of what is and who isn't--and to the extent that it makes visible what goes by other names, or none at all, it's powerful critique.
This to me seems the first and most obvious point of difference between Flarf and the A Tonalist--Flarf's odes to A-Tonalism's elegies; pressure of speech to aphasia; plenum to void. [Here I should say that I also very much admire Brent's and Standard's and Laura's poetry; my claims here are meant to be descriptive not evaluative, in line with Brent's desire for "affirmation without silencing"]. In Brent's version, and in his poems, it seems that the A Tonalist imagines poetry as a reconstellating event taking place within the utter absence of regulating materials--no continuous rules or procedures, no continuous subject: a Mallarmean throw of dice which forms a totality to which we can choose to become subjects or choose to turn our backs. Each poem is a world entire, free (and perhaps the a tonalist only pretends to believe this) of all the messy straps and fetters which precede and therefore limit the non-abolitions of chance. In this, the work that an A Tonalist does may imagine a future world in which people are actually free as such. But if an A Tonalist occurs as subject and as vanishing in the whiteness of the page, in the spaces of non-being and absence--then the Flarfist situates her poetic production amidst excess, plurals and surplusses, landfill, oilspills, exploding populations of deer. She is the "Man on the Dump", the commodifying the, repurposing and recrafting the cast-offs and left-overs of the constant search for value. Seen like this, these two positions couldn't be more opposed, and couldn't be a more interesting pair of interlocutors. Maybe I'll write an essay.
The danger of the A Tonalist position above is a blithe ignorance of the materials which actually constitute its supposed autonomy and the freedom of each and every poetic event (most of these people seem too smart for this, 'cause like, yo, power is coming down from above, below inside, sidewards ); the danger of the Flarf position is that, instead of picturing the moment of the social and of capital to itself, it merely ends up reinstating it, reinforcing it; instead of pointing up and undressing power, it merely volunteers for it. From this derives Dan Hoy's half-thinking that Google was writing flarf poems and therefore the poets were corporate tools--this is a misunderstanding of the kind of work that a poet can do. Arranging or repurposing or re- or decontextualizing is also an act of "voice," an action of the subject [cf. "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote"]--a snipping subject rather than a speaking subject, to quote David Larsen. Whether such vocal arrangements are manipulative or effective and what kind of sociality they picture can, of course, only be considered on a case by case basis.
As much, though, as these are irreconcilabe notions of poetry they are also hopelessly imbricated --this was the point of Kasey's original remarks, I think. For, in Brent's diagram, the machinery that produces the poetic "event" does so by separating looseness from the undesirable by-products of vagueness and negativity. This shows that for all of the Platonism of Badiou's intriguing and potent aesthetic theories--his desire for purity (or sobriety or a/tonement) is always going to produce a remainder as much as it produces a totality to which we choose or choose not to elect ourselves as contemporaries. At times, I kind of wish Badiou believed in history. But oh well. As for us who still live here, what happens to that atoned and purified vagueness and negativity is something that Brent's diagram can or will not show because, it seems, once the A / Tonalist has become subject to her event that vagueness and negativity no longer really exists. It devolves to someone else to deal with it. And along comes the flarfist bricoleur.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Little there is, in truth, more fascinating than the fact that Noah decided this morning that he wanted to watch an "imaginary" DVD "about" the TV. Also, horses which were cleaning the DVD player. How very meta- of him.
A couple of exchanges have refused to leave me alone, and although responding to something written last week is like, basically, a conversation with myself, here I go anyway.
I take Jordan's critique of "aura," of value derived from scarcity, quite seriously. He's right, of course, that the constant drive toward novelty, originality, freshness, moistness, crunchiness and all other things Madison Ave. is, well, the new yesterday. As many will agree, this leads to work that just tries too hard, and more generally, to a raft of commodities we don't need/don't understand/can't use/don't want.
But the scarcity model, and I think Jordan notes this (though I can never really tell with Jordan), also engages the opposed phenomenon of massive superabundances. In this one reader-per-writer poetry economy, there are too many poems! Just looking at Jordan's list of journals makes me contemplate taking a nap for an hour or two. I'm a slow writer and a slow reader, and while I admire the industriousness of Jordan and others like him, it is often the case that reading through an author's 700 page collected poems is kinda' disappointing. Nice to know she had her off-days or off-years, but disappointing nonetheless. And confusing if, like me, you are easily overwhelmed or stupefied. _Fascicle_ scares me.
Truth be told, the real application of Bataillean economics would involve a celebration once a year where we drink beer (or, in my case, soda), crash the blog servers and build bonfires from those endlessly proliferating journals. It's hard not to see how poets being more forthcoming (and posting every scribble, as Jordan says) would only continue the problem of (to continue my problematic economic metaphor) overproduction (and its friend inflation? does this work?). Blogs and list-serves are testament to a boundless energy among poets that journals (a good way to insure you are *not* read) and books (a dying form, as they used say in the 1970s?) can't accomodate. And this is where Jordan's desire for a poetry more like a baseball game (though baseball bores me) comes in--where we get the Million Poems Show and the Flarf Festival. A place to put all the energy that journals can't accomodate. Different distribution models, says Jordan. And he's right.
Sometimes, it's difficult not to feel that blogs (the energies herein) are wasted on bloggers. I think this is from whence derives the muddle-headed claim that Flarfists and bloggers are closet techno-utopians. I'm having a great deal of fun and getting pointed in all kinds of lovely directions, discovering pleasures--of reading, listening, looking, talking-- that I never would otherwise. Despite the assholes. But on this side of the screen: yep, same world; same gutting of social entitlement programs, schools, cities; same war; ditto domination, ditto exploitation.
Which brings me to Bourriaud and Relational Aesthetics (by way of Anne). I've only read the introduction, but I'm inclined to say: Sure, art and semiotic surfing can model relations and sociality, but it can also substitute for it. I think blogs run the risk of creating a social imaginary from which most people are excluded. They are obviously a catalyst, but are they also a distraction? 10 years from now we'll look back, I'm sure, and see how this thing we are all participating in completely transformed the field of poetic production. But transformed how?
I would be interested in a conversation which looks at the basic structure of blogs, and thinks about the invisible limits they impose on thought, communication, and sociality. Do terms like private space and public space even apply here? How does time work (or not work) in blogs? Sometimes this seems like the meta-conversation no-one is having, though admittedly I read an infinitesimal portion of what's out there.
Next up: the Flarf / A Tonalist conversation.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Noah’s Response to Elif Batuman’s Article on the Death of the Short Story, Or, Why I Should Quit Smoking.
[Link to article in n+1]
When doggies go to sleep, they turn into kitties.
And when kitties go to sleep, they turn into bees.
And when bees go to sleep, they turn into fireflies.