Friday, February 15, 2008

A Break for Horsemanure

Yesterday I had a lovely conversation with one of the most brilliant young poets you could meet about her recent experiences in grad school (forgive the link being prose).

We got to talking about "experimental stuff --you know, the work where you have to read the poet's criticism about her work to "get" the subversive, social message in her poems. Cf. Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, et al. Not only does their criticism elucidate their brilliant work, it also explains why any poetry with a coherent narrative is mostly worthless and contributes to oppressive social systems."

Well, we know how I feel about this sort of "poetry". But I felt compelled to dig a little deeper into the "we hate actual poetry" school of writing -- these two poets in particular. I came up with this, from the above Scalapino link:

"Taking the view that “the self is a guinea pig”(2) (and herein I’m creating a foil) in considering presentation of ‘one’s/other’s bodies’ in writing, I will try to see the relations between ‘our bodies’ and ‘future’ in an example from my early writing, that they were at the beach, not because I’m so attached to that early work but because it was written in the period of radical as ‘communal’ language writing(3)). I’m only speaking of the San Francisco Language scene; I think New York Language scene was very different. A description of that writing of mine is only possible in hindsight, though when writing it I had a sense (a ‘feeling’) of what I’ll here describe. As writing, one can’t conceive of a future without changing the past and present. Corporal body and the future are separated, detached, though the body must be there for there to be an individual’s future (maybe there can’t be sense of body without sense of future?). The body must happen simultaneous in order to invent the future."

For those of you who don't read "Marxese," let me elucidate: "we can only experiment on our own work but we can't understand what we're doing until the moment has passed but that's okay, because we always change the past and invent the future." Before I tear into the idiocy of this premise, let me first point something out, if some person thinks that Marxese is the way to talk:


(now, I understand that being arrogant and foulmouthed may hurt my position a little but I here claim for all time that I am being all meta- and ironic. Marxese speakers make no such claim)

Okay, now that that part of the rant is over, let me continue:

First, it's obvious that we can only experiment with our own work (our "selves as guinea pigs" or whatever) -- if we are doing anything to something someone else did (say, erasing words in Parasise Lost) we instantly make it our own. So -- for point one -- "duh."

The second point -- that we don't understand what we've done till we've done it -- um. No. Sorry -- we may better understand what we've done after the fact, but this line of reasoning excuses all sorts of badness -- from bad writing to violent acts. You can't ever make me believe that a murder just doesn't know what he's doing until a week later. You know what you are writing. Even if you don't know what its influence in the world will be, you have a pretty good idea of what you want it to be.

The third point I take more (if possible) exception with than the first. We may always be redefining the past, but we cannot change it. We can only change our perception of it. As much as postmodern poets rail against Milton, they can't change a word he wrote, any more than I can erase all of the damage they've done to poetry. We can change what Paradise Lost means, but we can't change what it says, and the two are much more different than some people would like to admit. As far as inventing the future goes -- bah. We contribute a ripple but its mysterious algorithms seem to have a deathgrip on what happens.

Well, this has gone on for a while. My main point is that if someone is speaking like this they are hiding something. Generally it is a lack of all reason and talent. Be afraid.

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