Sunday, February 29, 2004

Picking up from Dooflow's comments on my open letter.
Concerning the demand of the other and a little thing called recognition:

See the fourth and fifth comments from Dooflow in response to my "open letter to an umbrist" for appropriate context. His questions sparked this discussion--

The demand of an other is but one aspect of a communicating other. In other words, such a demand is always there. However, for an individual, say a poet, to focus merely on the demand, say from a critic, and ignore the rest of the communicating other--the tradition, the style, the fashion, the "glam" as you put it--not only denies the other embodiment and independence but more importantly is a form of meconnaissance : both a misunderstanding and a misrecognition.

Recall, all of this started as a result of or directly after (not coincidental at all) a discussion at Aaron McCollough's site about Persona, Masks, etc. Aaron, Allyssa, myself, et al, were involved with a fun reflection of personae. And bingo-bango, the conversation halts and these umbrists appear leaving comments and accussations. Now, finally, we are chatting and learning about each other. So, to continue:

Meconnaissance is a good concept for what I see in some of the umbrism talk. The concept addresses a claim for the structure of ordinary neurotic self-knowledge. Meconnaissance is a good term to introduce into our conversation, because I have been insisting, will continue to insist, the umbrists are formally recognizing something worthwhile and are not ignorant. Their conversation, at first, struck me as seriously affected. But, now, I am very engaged. And I appreciate that engagement.

Meconnaisance is not ignorance, rather it is an ideological misrepresentation of knowledge; it implies a recognition.

Maybe we can continue dredging the psychoanalytic swamp for a bit longer. The terms apply:

A dramatis personae:

The Beautiful Soul --a person becoming, a movement through self-consciousness. Found in writing from Hegel to Lacan, schone seele to belle ame. The beautiful souls projects its own disorder onto the world and attempts to cure it by enforcing a "law of the heart" on everybody else. The beautiful soul makes many passionate mistakes. I insist, however, the passion exemplified by the subject we call the beautiful soul is not the same passion associated with ignorance. I insist the difference because such a desire to impress a law of the heart is a sign of a specific recognition. The problem with a beautiful soul is that the subject refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for problems occurring around it. The kind of brilliant and engaged mind who also is aloof...

The Demand --from the French not the English. Demand in English is rough and imperative. Demande, the French concept, is a request. Demand asks for something. The demand, for Lacan, is a sign of the mother's love. When a baby cries, it demands; it cries out, "I cannot act without you mommy." Understanding the difference between what we have come to consider demand and what the demand of the other is is paramount: the demand of the other is a cry for help, an admitted dependence, a form of giving up and a sign of love.

Metonymy --a trope. when a term is used to denote an object which it does not literally refer to but with which the object is closely linked. Thee Headcoats: She's In Disguise...what is she? who is she linked to? Sticking with Lacan, metonymy relies only on the formal definition above for its use of contiguity. Lacan famously uses the following sentence: I am happy. The metnonymic relationship is between "I" and "AM". That we can substitute "sad" for "happy" is a metaphoric relationship. Metonymy is all horizontal relationships; metaphor all vertical. Hence, my initial confusion with G's "School of Sleep": "Can a toe stand for a man?" is a metaphoric not a metonymic relationship. Moreover, a toe in relationship to a man is a vertical relationship.

little other --a projection of the ego and, therefore, not really other at all. The little other is completely inscribed in an "imaginary order". Part of my discussion has been concerned with this fellow. One problem with GroupA distinguishing itself from Order1 is that the members in GroupA are not doing much to de-inscribe an imagined order they claim to resist and reject. In fact, their fevered egos depend on that Order1.

Big Other --points out, or to, radical alterity; this is the significant Other making specific demands. The Big Other cannot, because it will not, be assimilated through identification. Can't point him out. Big Other is involved with Language and Law. This guy is not only a subject--he is unique because he resists assimilation--he is the symbolic order itself which mediates our relationship with that other subject.


Ordinary Neurotic Knowledge of the Self.

Whereas the other always demands, the other is busy with many complicated processes. The demand, should we choose to single that characteristic out, is an utterance that is often mistaken as an intent to take by force. The demand of the other is a request for participation, an invitation to a particular relationship to imagined order.

Ethical Question: How will you act with the knowledge that you participate in the symbolic ordering of the world as you see it in relationship to subjects around you? What ought you do when you learn you cannot separate yourself from doing--that quite possibly the only thing poetry is capable of is distinguishing the verse from the subject of the verse?

My answer: Play. Play. Play.

We really haven't come too far from the Aristotelian answer: a life of contemplation.

Open Letter to an umbrist:

I went to the "umbrist" site today and noticed you called the "umbrism" site a "plagiarist" site.

What is plagiarist about it? Looks like the surrealist manifesto with the names changed. It is obviously meant to point out something to you. But, Plagiarism? How about, fun nudge nudge sarcasm? I'd say the latter.

Best to check the majority of your published statements on your sites about poetry: the majority of which have been spoken before; the tone of your voice--for each of your personae--has been used before; the look of your pages comes from a template; the books you read have been read before; your tuition as students has been paid before; even the pictures you choose to use have been used without permission, not as a form of theft, but as a way to express your self . You express yourself to us through others , because of others. Plagiarism! Please.

Maldoror , for example: no young poet has ever been captivated by Ducasse's excess before you came along.

You're beginning to sound like Rimbaud's pointless cry "Our assholes are different." Anality is the worst of excess.

In fact, nothing that you do is original. In my opinion, that's what is great in poetry, about LANGUAGE: verse , literally, is a turning of phrase . Though your perspective may be unique to your point of view, it is contemporary with an uncounted number of perspectives occurring simultaneously in that instant. In other words, you are ordinary, everyday, and as a poet doing it with other poets. I assure you that learning to recognize the presence of the other as other than a demand or an insult is a must. If you cannot handle it, go back to the cafe. Go be a talker.

The attempt to claim originality is something I find extremely distasteful, not because you aren't engaging and unique but because nothing will come of the claim. Moreover: not because you aren't worth it but because it cannot happen, never has, never will.

When I first remixed "School of Sleep" I thought it was Fun, Playful, for Pleasure--not parody exactly but enjoyable expression--and I remixed it in a way to show you my pleasure in it. Nick Piombino commented about riffs; I like the comparison to Jazz. Everyone riffs off the created theme: in improvisation yet in chorus. Folks told me I over-reacted to your insulted response. So, I backed off and explained ridiculous. We were having a conversation. You cannot own your poem.

Now, I am beginning to believe that you actually have purchased some value in fruitless boasting. And that's too bad. You're treating your ideas like a commodity that can be exchanged for ownership and rights to claims. Exchange work in this way; folks exchange one kind of thing for another kind of thing because they feel what they are getting in the exchange is more valuable than what they give up. So, if you are giving up a poem or idea or claim or poetics or identity in an exchange, in this manner, what is it you are getting in return and how is it more valuable to you?

Also, don't forget: when you make claims in public you are claiming something for yourself and putting claims onto others. Are you umbrists or claim-jumpers? Are you umbrists or Sooners?

I suppose the listing of the Umbrism site as a plagiarist site may be a backhanded compliment. I find your response to them as insight-less as your initial response to my "School of Peeps" (which is a good poem I think reading it again; I mean, it has marshmallow birds in it!)--that is what Breton was doing...even Rimbaud, in his rebel stance, only wanted ever a hug, a talking back and forth, the ability to rely on his contemporaries.

A 17 y/o Rimbaud wrote to Theodore de Banville & Alphonse Lemerre about the "season of love", "coming of age", becoming a poet, a Parnassian. Such joy. But he left, in a post-script after a grand and playfully precocious introduction (a warning, in a way,) a doubtful statement...he showed dependence, even:

"Do you suppose these verses could find a place in Le Parnasse Contemporain? Are they not of the poet's creed?/ I am unknown; what does that matter? All poets are brothers.../ Cher maitre, help me: Raise me up a little; I am young; hold out your hand to me..."

A gesture that is at once bold and needy is courageous, I think. And shows a far greater maturity and self-assuredness than would simply a boast.

This is what we do for each other--

come here and give me a big hug.

ps: And UMBRISM...a dark spot (an umbra)...I hope it isn't a bruise or a clot.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Umbrist Revolution?

you tell me:



Fun stuff...death of manifesto...count me in...
GO GO Rebel Edit . One of my edits is up. Thanks, Shanna for your efforts.

On Ron Silliman's Discussion 2/27/04: Concerning "unmarked":

Ron Silliman proffers: Straight white males, for good reason, have some insight into what it feels like to be the unmarked case it feels normal & natural. Which is precisely why the instances that prove revealing & enriching artistically, whether in film or poetry or whatever, are those that either deconstruct or overstate the case. In that latter sense, it is precisely the overblown macho at the heart of Olson's Maximus that is one of its more endearing qualities Olson's absent-minded professor is also (always already) Archie Bunker.

Insisting hetero, white men are "unmarked" is a way of passively resisting a complex discussion about the problems homogeneous, ideological apparatuses create for individuals who attempt to represent themselves to each other rather than allowing a passive representation of self by an other. [Linguistic note: moving from an active present to a passive present strips the verb and its explicit action/implicit sense; it is nominalized.]
It is always already illusory to assume the biological presence of specific people who fit a category they solely participate in defining; hence, conferring upon themselves and their self-same members a specific privilege and power structure they created from out of history--a history, by the way, that has no authoritative intent in presentation. History's events are there in a heap, and we pick through the pile the things we find most engaging and offer the record of picking as ORDER. Well, lots of pickers, all different recordings.
A white power structure exists in spite of history. White privilege is troubling for most of us. When we confront it, it shrinks from public view (for many reasons, which I will leave for now.) Once we step outside of a spectral category to look back at its structure, on-going construction and cultivation, we must re-construct an image of that category or an image of its identity from out of which our critique will come. Very much a mirror. Very troubling: How can we critically think about our being in the world if we must rely on our construction of the world, recongizable and defined examples from the world, in order to look at it?
For Gunther, other umbrists, too--I tease about your poem's use of metonymy (School of Sleep, I remixed and parodied as School of Peeps below)--I see a problem with the idea that we can actually see the whole in a part of the whole: might be a gesture with a whole range of meaning in poetry but when it comes to human being, to difference, to what Holderlin claims is the role of the poet--to show the difference between subject and object, when it comes to pointing it out--we experience a problem. Privilege-ing is what difference is about. What do you see? Where do you see it? What is the claim for seeing it there and in that way? Good questions, but the kicker is: Who can accurately see it there and then? Who can speak the seeing? Who cultivates the difference? And NOW we have access to understanding, tho not forgiving, the fascistic turn many modernist authorities took. They chose...bad move.
And, Ron, I am not willing to see Olson's sexist macho rambling as endearing. I love Olson. I really love Olson's conversations with Creeley. The men move me. But he is endearing when he is attempting to locate the world in place and history, when he is producing myth and space. He is plodding and a shit when he is a pig. But that is his honesty: Maximus is THERE. Good.
The answer to WHO CHOOSES? is not A poet. (See my list on Face and Mask below.)
Hamlet did this to Gertrude--in her chambers; he required her to decide which image she would honor as the guiding authority in her life: the dead Father (the King), the false Father (usurper/lover), or the rising Father (son). He did this by holding up likenesses and by getting her to look at herself in a mirror. Of course, her identification (her heart-of-hearts) is with The King through her interaction with His Son--order is (attempted to be) restored through definitions of identity, sexually to politically. However, it is the heterosexual usurpation of a homogeneous order that demands illusion, self-gratification, power and sanity. It ignores women, sexuality, death, mystery, language, sisterhood and contemporaneity, et al.
Ideological apparatuses are always false. An UNMARKED position is, nevertheless, a marked position. It is simply a position that a specific body is allowed a specific relationship to while all other bodies are proscribed from that definition though they see it and are affected by it. Pardon my examples...Being MARKED--the black kid in a white suburban neighborhood at 3AM just because or a woman as football player--is a sign of the need for a body to excuse position. Being UNMARKED--a white man at a state university or a Mexican dishwasher in a brew-pub--is a sign of the need for a marked body to excuse position in relation to an unmarked body.
Straight, white men, certainly, feel the position. But such a critique does not free-up men from responsibility in actively playing the role. White men have the unique privilege of being allowed to transgress. They need not excuse their behavior unless a consistent and vocal reason is put forth in the community. In fact, gay white men have often been conferred true radicality, as if it were biological in them, while lesbian transgression is proscribed as part of the sexy order in the world. [I am thinking about, for example, Andrew Sullivan's fame and acceptance. He is GIVEN creedence simply because he is out. Nevermind the lies and garbage he spews on his blog.] Moreover, any transience in between these positions is just not accepted by the majoritarian impulse in all communities. Ridiculous notions. In addition, it is permissible now for white guys to participate in critical race and gender conversations--a sign of enlightenment. Another ridiculous notion. Jackson Katz, who studies masculinity and violence, gathers speaking fees on the circuit and is often advertised as "the first man to receive a minor in Women's Studies" at wherever...point: he is not really unmarked, yet profits from his arbitrary relationship to positionality in the market. And he is one to talk about this unmarked business. In fact, he insists on the existence of a white race; therefore, privileging a specific kind of definition for individuals who participate in his discourse community.
Don't get me wrong. We have to "have" the conversations. However, it is not tough for a white guy to play the role and feel the pain any longer. Those in my generation, who are not fundamentalists, have grown-up looking suspiciously at our fathers--the older generation of white men--who suffer about their white masculinity publicly. We were grossed out by the whole Iron John thing, for example. My generation has had to suffer (to use Silliman's sense, "what it feels like to be the unmarked case", with all irony noted) challenges not to our security as straight, gay, by, tans-, white, black (the typical, social representations of folks) but challenges to our ability to be identified at all--to have any individuality. The Army puts it this way in its ads: Be all that you can be. It is implied that [YOU CAN] be EVERYTHING that you CHOOSE to be. White guys like my father, who experienced the unreal political, social and technological changes from the 50s through the 80s--the Reagan Admin and 80s consumer culture put a stop to it, sent it underground--are visibly uncomfortable.
I mean, I have no problem with gay marriage. Makes no sense to me to prohibit marriage and to limit it to a particular type of human couple. But I know what the pain is that causes older generations to melt at the thought--not because I understand it but because when I close my eyes, I can see a face suffering with it. What is it that folks hold on to with a desire to prohibit gay marriage? Outside of a new excuse to hate outright, a rational response is that "We need tradition." WHO knows what that is? But we know how to sympathize with the desire for order.
Do we not have these same discussions in workshops and theory seminars, at conferences and blogs, each and every day? ...sure we do. And my generation knows we do. How? Well, we were brought up with shows like Sesame Street that taught us how to sing "Which one of these things is NOT like the other?" And Sesame Street was populated by all kinds of people who spoke TWO languages. What do we expect? Of course, we are confused.
I find it hard, to revisit gay marriage, to suffer the issue if I tried. I have been taught to considered blackness, homosexuality, being with men and women, democracy, religion, war, drugs, jail, apartheid, racism, social class. I was in kindergarten and first grade when the majority of folks were coming home from Vietnam. But I know I cannot experience what I don't BE. And whatever the reality and ideology of biology and sociology, I have that choice TO BE.
I am allowed to do what I cannot talk about doing, what I cannot really do. That's privilege: I try to recognize it every chance I get. I try to betray myself because, in many ways, such traitor-behavior is the only radicality society allows a guy who looks like me. I haven't had a choice but to participate. This invasive, (in)forming public sphere is what scares the average white, right winger/left winger (remember, NeoCons are ex-lefties) male so much. Experience requires either an acceptance that we live in a state that presents us with mere illusions to represent a grasp on reality or the acceptance of such ideology but in a latent, covert manner. This is a contemporary version of modern, existential angst--we can either live with the revolt of, not the flesh, but the ideology of the flesh, or we can see it and choose to ignore it. Still--no one can claim ignorance. Such ability faded away when the left learned the reality of Stalinist Russia. (I ain't a slammin' Socialism...just pointing to a last great betrayal of Ideology.) There is no excuse for pretending that representation can become reality. See, Mel Gibson's attempt to teach us the reality of the "passion of Christ" through extreme brutality. Gibson, as he has so often made clear, believes that a person can beat sense into another person. Thankfully, you cannot crucify Christ into reality.
Being unmarked might be a burden to those who rely on it and know it offers unearned privileges, but this problem is really only a problem for the capitalist materialists--those men and women, regardless of culture or class who depend on their identification with the market and the spectacle of their ideological representation by OTHERS. China's recent public denials are good examples: No violation of human rights in China; No birds here with the flu; SARS? What is SARS? The US just released its human rights report and points our finger (on our behalf) at others. But one need only visit the Texas Dept of Crim Justice home page and see that, in fact, we make a profit killing citizens from other countries and quite a few more of our own.
For those of us who know we have a privilege conferred on our ordinary being that the majority of folks aren't offered, we also know we don't have a choice to use it or not. Such a choice is part of the ideological privilege, and we can work on that problem in public...we lack what Dubois calls double-consciousness. That arbitrary, pointless, apolitical, simple choice to recognize or not recognize positionality is a manifestation of white privilege not a recognition of the problem. In other words, it is the problem. Nobody else is given such ideological status but white men, their wives or lovers and possibly some family members. Of course, as with Gertrude, their partners only reap position while gazing through the white male image. "My partner and I" etc etc
I would ask Ron Silliman concerning "the unmarked case": Who is it FOR?

He writes: "...Which is precisely why the instances that prove revealing & enriching artistically, whether in film or poetry or whatever, are those that either deconstruct or overstate the case..."

I submit that the instances prove "revealing & enriching" for the white men they are self-referring to, for or (not AND, JLG) against.
I am going to re-read Fanny Howe's Tis of Thee tomorrow and review it, here, on Dagzine. Howe addresses, first, how men and women see these instances differently quite well. Also, I want to divorce the notion that we rely on that to talk about privilege properly we should address white privilege. I think such demands on discourse about privilege ignore (and prejudicially so) the privilege that all folks use. This privilege may often be WHITE. Nevertheless, no matter what color we modify a pervasive ideological apparatus as possessing, any person of any color can make use of it. Howe's work gets at this point as does Spike Lee with his films Do the Right Thing and Bamboozled .

Now, I am not claiming we shouldn't address white power structures in society. We must. I claim that we shouldn't stop the conversation at that point.
More to come on this...I was going to write about it yesterday. I have missed a few days b/c of student conferneces. I love to watch them learn and to learn with them. I relish conferences. So...
Anyhow, CSPAN aired, this morning, a discussion moderated by NPR's Tavis Smiley, "The State of the Black Family." Worth watching the rerun CSPAN is airing at 1:30 to 5pm EASTERN time. On right now. Smiley, at one point, interrupts the excellent conversation to point out that "They are watching us." White folks just don't have to say things like that...therefore, we are in a position to learn something about ourselves from people who we take for granted each day; often, through enlightened discussions about how problematic being UNmarked really is.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Umbrists are coming.

I quote an Umbrist: "The Umbrists have no precursors; The Umbrists have only descendants."

I quote a pre-umbrist: "They fuck non-stop, those umbrists."

Here is an example of what came right after pre-umbrist writing but still before Umbrist writing. Umbrism is waxing even now. Though Umbrism is not programmatic, Umbrism is like some things and not like others.

"School of Peeps?"

yellow oblong marrow,
can a marshmallow
stand for a bird?

Our poems got bridges.

Like something and not
Like something but something

Are we able to eat it up
in one solid bit
or just tear at its eyes?

Its one popping orb accuses us,
our disgust,
an allusion?--or just
a reflection, erection.

We come in
cellophaned packages of six,
each with our own name.

It is hot in the hot-tub,
so hot hot
hot in the hot-tub.
nothing like reading and playing records...
I like Bogue’s poem; visit it in its original form at AS/IS:

Michael Bogue's “The Moon Herself” (Dagzine Remix)

The moon sleeps
turbulent; air
nowhere to turn
turns inward,
coriolis fire,
retina flame.          My
      hidden hurricane,
      detritus words,
      collateral damage,
      stirred drowning,
      pages torn.

The morning chorus.
The sea.

Starfish fictions
born of exile stars,
unaccountable miles
Atlantic turning,
sea brine brume,
westerly bound.     Ship
      hunkers down,
      anchors, pins,
      Atlantic's collar,
      lassoed siren,
      lighthouse light

thin as mashlum, bannock

marbles lost in play.
Grounds of grey,
sixth circle in
sixth circle in
Hades, stars, heart
and horizon
guide us.              Stout
      gulls do guide
      our journey
      to an end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

In response to a bit about "mask" & "persona" by Aaron and subsequent conversation with Allyssa:

I agree with Aaron's point about the history of faces, as a continuum for a face...we may even want to talk about mapping a face...a possible function of a face: so, face-ing...projective.

THE article A: or, the face masked, F{A}:

1. A mask is not a face but an ideology of a face if a mask is an imaginative representation of a real state of a face.

2. An imaginative impulse to shape a face is a sign of a potential for any number of representations of faces.

3. But nothing simple and concrete as a mask IS a face. A mask is not a face (Stein on articles) but one of many moving faces--a transient face. (Aaron's historiography of a face...)

4. A mask is a facing.

5. A mask is manufactured, crafted, technological: capital.

6. One can turn a face into a mask. But one cannot face a mask.

7. You view your mask through its eyeholes and see only its reflection which is, of course, reversed. Left is right and right is left.

8. Your mask is not "your mask" seen on someone else's face.

9. The world would be a scary place and a place is a face not a facing if a mask were, in fact, a face...its ISness...if the being of a face, its look and all, were merely a mask.

10. A face as ideology, that's a mask: the flesh made word. Or in our function with the article A: a mask is ideology, a flesh-made word. Made by the hands not by a face.

11. Or, it is a punctuation mark: a semi-colon suturing together a face residing within a look.

12. A face looking forward; A mask looking back.

Addendum, a filmic example (for Steve Evans' nb) and a play: Hitchcock's North by Northwest is all about FACE--C Grant's face, the face of Mt Rushmore, the face of America in pursuit...Ted Cohen has good stuff about this. And, A Eugene O'Neill play nobody bothers to read anymore, Great God Brown , is all about masks and persona. A good place for beginning the discussion of masks--he was a fan of Freud and Nietzsche, too, both into masks. What happens when I wear your mask? Appropriate your look?

1. On PERSONA...person, in latin...or that one we assume when we write: Pound as Mauberly, Williams as a wanderer or Paterson, Pessoa's heteronyms. Heteronyms and personae: these are not fictions but real personalities--characters and habits of mind. Not masks. Masks are technological and fashioned in response to the ability to alter one's persona. Having multiple personae is not equivalent to being one person with a few handy masks. And a face is part of a persona...Orpheus looked back for a face through a mask not for a mask to a face.

1a. (PER)(SO-NA): (through) (a Chinese wind instrument.)

2. On MASK...earliest use I can find is that a mask is the mesh of a net...worthwhile catch, you bet! A mask is what gathers looks--more or less transparent--absorbs to some greater or lesser degree any number of gazes. Must consider the absorbency, what can pass through a mask, because not simply the mesh of the net, but the openings of such mesh. In Old English, OED states, a mask is the net itself. Every part of the mask is the mask itself--casts a wide net.

And anyway, the mask don't slip off; it is lost or stolen or ignored. There is always an underneath to go under to for getting over through...looking is directed...masks by the railroad...flat mask statement.

THE flattens
THE masks
THE facing.

Don't tell mother!

You're Lolita!

by Vladimir Nabokov

Considered by most to be depraved and immoral, you are obsessed with
sex. What really tantalizes you is that which deviates from societal standards in every
way, though you admit that this probably isn't the best and you're not sure what causes
this desire. Nonetheless, you've done some pretty nefarious things in your life, and
probably gotten caught for them. The names have been changed, but the problems are real.
Please stay away from children.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Reading went well last night. David Gruber's poetry is tops. He has the knack for getting the intellectual and the everyday into his verse without intellectualizing the everyday. I read "Cul-de-sac" (posted below), a critical prose piece and a poem. It is nice to read--like getting it off your chest.

Books in my bag:
  • Fanny Howe. Tis of Thee
  • Emerson. "Self-Reliance" & "Experience" (reading with my philosophy students, but I must admit that I love both essays dearly)
  • William and Alice James. Everything: William is so unbelievably influential; Alice is unfortunately ignored.
  • Augustine. City of God & St Paul and St Peter. The implied conversation Augustine creates is a powerful display of rhetoric. Why we don't consider City of God a chronicle is beyond me. The majority is simply a revisionist history for the supremacy of Christian religion over Judaism and Islam. Augustine is supremely anti-Semitic. His City is a kind of crusade, but is taught like a philosophy, even in secular schools. If I were teaching a class in ideological formations of colonial thought, this might be the text to begin with.
  • I am still enjoying Nick Piombino's Theoretical Objects --automatic manifestos, right on.

Sunday, February 22, 2004


          In a place on the outskirts of the city where citizens escape early evenings from hopped metal coffees and accelerated carbon monoxide cocktails or behind heavy rectangular desks, a series of homes outline a series of streets that inevitably lead lost cars daily into engineered asphalt elbows from which, curb-guided, they emerge as quickly as they entered, lost. At dusk those lost cars carry confused drivers pulled close to windshields over black steering wheels to see better where they are not wanting to be, who see themselves superimposed in transparent reflections aging, haggard searchers. Dozens of times nightly, double high-beams sweep across a concave row of houses, illuminate curtained living rooms, bedroom brick walls, vinyl siding, garage doors, the brackish green opacity of kitty’s pupils or a dog’s black eyes. Tires zip the street open and shut or history sticks to Michelin treads and Goodyear expectations or oil seeps from unexpected and poorly repaired cracks because the cold moves things along and every road leads to a stopping point, lost or found. The passing headlights from lost cars show no separate homesteaders’ interpretations of local landscapes rather invisibly expose a subtle and sinewy conjunctiva holding each home to the other, wetted with cautious conjunctions indistinguishable clicks of here and now idealism. Not intertwined nor subordinate yet originally different, each home and the other and the next and 1199 and 1205 and 1211 and 1217 and 1223.

          And once there was a first house—then a home not just an architectural marker—built by Jones, electrician, who bought the land, who sold to Franklin, personal banker, who sold to current owners of thirty-five years—an author and his laundress, cook and sometimes lover. In 1205: three rooms, a kitchen, garage, yards front and back, a bathroom, and four steps fall into the space where they sit most evenings ignoring sweeping headlights, lost drivers’ transparent searching.

          He sits, today, with book in hand a diligent reader reading. His white chair a soft and squeaking semi-reclined half-shell, and in it he studies the books he read as a young man. He spent three weeks scribbling, compiling lists of titles he read from twelve to twenty. He will read them in chronological order.

          There she is folding shirts—red and brown mostly, some white—sleeve over back, sleeve over back, tails to collar. She just finished rolling all the socks minus the spare few, haggard loners that make their way into each wash.

          A pink cyclamen on a cherry hutch balances the composition, completes an unacknowledged point of view—a triangle the hypotenuse of which is ultimately meaningless. A Hopper painting composed, flattened and framed through preposition: the flower by a hutch by a husband by a wife. A football match winds down mute on TV. A rug sprawls out comfortably in place of a dog in between—a repeated, three-square pattern of burgundy, forest green, and umber in engineered juxtaposition.

          And there is conversation, too.

          Father’s having heart trouble: talking to the clothes as much as to him.

          Always has had health problems: reading as much as talking.

          He wasn’t ever what you could call tough (pause, and he waits knowing a caesura when he hears one) like most men of his generation: as if it were fact.

          No, no, he wasn’t: as if it didn’t matter either way.

          It will be a fine autumn: looking up at the sunflower wall warmed by the late afternoon sun.

          Usually is, and short if anything: looking up to her profile (her peachy cheek, diminutive ear, and all that dark in there.)

          He stands and tucks in his shirt; a cordovan belt, it tightly hugs his waist, appears again. He aligns the buckle with the hems of his fly and placket. He looks for the line and sees an order in his attire, stares chin to chest from chest to shoes, and reflects peacefully—a rare unguarded, fatigue-less moment.

          She witnesses the moment take him by surprise, peripherally, and smiles and folds.

          Were he one to share his thoughts beyond a laconic anecdote, he might remark that he still remembers the day he learned that maneuver. Not the day exactly, but the black morning inspections and washing his hands in chilled dewy grass. Charleston paper mill refuse clogging the fresh air with denser matter and all the greens and blacks of early, East Coast dawns. Not the old Navy drill, but the morning jogs and muzzle of humid fog shooting pink and purple tattered banners across a low, flat sky. He might tell her about late nights spent pressing white shirts and pants both cotton and polyester, struggles with seams, good habits built, early morning musters. Maybe about the night he watched a small Cessna aircraft buzz the base.

          Greg McCormack swore he would kill himself and others, too. He was swooped dangerously low over the dorms waving the wings of his plane a prophetic and grand farewell, then grazed the dank sound (current rippled water sounds like sheets shaken over a mattress,) then the official loud helicopters, and then no more McCormack. His final maneuver was a quick lifting into the sky that appeared to sever the continuous horizon and blister the dark sky with orange flakes. His tiny exhaust rippled the sky a sun-worn rebuke.

          He could tell her about why they had called him McGrubb because he never showered because they had to be clean because they had to muster properly. Two days before his plane stunt, they stripped McGrubb naked, ran him to the pond, held him down hard, and used Brillo pads to scrub him to the point of rash. He might share, he thought looking at her folding, that he sometimes still dreamt of Irish-pale skin in brackish water, peach and red dots against the soft green food of an evening tide.

          He is struck most to recollect, now, M’s chin popping up and going under as if on its own and disembodied and how a disembodied chin is an accurate caricature for any squid for that matter and the times the locals spat at all the guys in dress uniform for kicks yet cheered for them in official parades. He remembers writing about that chin and its companion elbow as he crouched deep within the hull of a submarine in the cradling arc of its bilge. Small tinklings of liquid into the water helped him keep time with his words. It was good to be small enough to hide under the grated walkways, to get away. In a space built to refuse privacy, he cultivated his own curved spot in which to hide cool, calm and collected.

          He sits down without a sign of any recollection; McCormack fades back into old time silence; she finishes her folding and leaves the room. He begins to recognize a tightness under his shirt like something rising not just from under his skin but from deep inside where we take things working for granted. He stops pretending to read, uses his right index finger for a bookmark, walks to the hutch, stands over the cyclamen, and runs a finger along the cochlear curve of a delicate pink petal. He tugs at it and plucks the bud from its stem. He squeezes the oblong mass tightly. A slippery wetness gives way to a sticky residue. The colors green and pink give way to small black threads, smooth and stringy pulp between his forefinger and thumb. He rubs until nothing is left but a slight pungent odor.

          She calls from the bedroom and asks about his socks.

          He slowly makes his way back to his chair. Once there, he purposefully ignores her and returns to his reading act. The rising grip in his chest is now a fully formed fist. He looks like he is holding his breath. He attempts to ignore the pain by focusing on a page. He stares at it, widens his eyes, allows all words except a particular two or three to tumble off a page in stuttered defocusing steps. He mouths prepositions. Their movement in a sentence signifies something better to come, sometimes particular and sometimes not. They move in and out of, towards and away from, but never pin any thing down to. And what arrives is typically less grand than the announcement of definitiveness or hearkening gesture of generality.

          He studies prepositions and their doing: about, with, in, and around. Anywhere a squirrel can go his seventh-grade English teacher, Father Gaffney, liked to say. Gaff was old. Skin flaked from his face and scalp, littered the brown hood and shoulders of his Augustinian vestments. He smelled like wet tobacco. Gaff must be dead by now, he thinks: like the priest they were asked to view during chapel. A day like any other, kids piling into the church across from the classroom building, all the obligatory fake farting, spitting, preparatory body manipulations mandated as prelude for the thirty minutes of forced silence to follow.

          There he was. In front. Waxed into a coffin—his white hair shellacked back onto his scalp and a stiff upper-lip just visible. What was his name? And Gaff was up front solemn, head down. He had only seen the priest once or twice, in the halls and on the grounds, was too young to have had class with him. Soon, a wave of silence moved from the front pews to the back, steadily. And with the silence a reeking one syllable utterance concretizes.

          He stops remembering not by chance either as he realizes he hasn’t been breathing and the pain he is thinking is actually pain he is feeling. As if never having left his lips, an awkward and childish silence from morning chapel over fifty years ago bursts from a hidden pustule leaving his lips like blood from an ulcer. In a spurt the utterance unravels its mysteries in large black letters into the room as if he has not considered dying prior to this moment or had not known the import of its movement, its experience.

          He looks up from his book and catches his wife rolling what looks like Gaff down the hallway grubby as an oblong monument to vermicompost. He rolls the word, rolls its monolithic syllable along his tongue, tries to see it move in there between bottom teeth and roof of mouth. Or, he gags. He closes his eyes for a moment and opens them to see her staring at him from the hall holding the vacuum, much frightened.

          A thick trail of saliva slips from his bottom lip and leaves a wet crescent, waning moon, on a page of his book.

          He has not laughed in days. But he laughs now, a childlike giggling.

          She leaves the vacuum in the hall and walks into the room. She says something he fails to hear. Something about him scaring her. He looks at her, wipes drool from his chin and begins to recover from his fit. He coughs loudly and gulps down air, finally, gives up the tightness, allows the hold to go, and settles down. When his eyes meet hers, he gets quiet quick. He allows his jaw to drop.

          He sees in her eyes a sliver of white light that blows him backwards along all the days spent silently ignoring her. Weeks. Months. Years, possibly. All exhaust in a brilliant flash, used up, and gone like the faint odor squeezed from the petals of a fragile plant. That white effusion irrupts into a small yet significant corner of a room in the house where he grew up. She bodily slips away from him all but for her gaze. And its look exposes him squatting and waiting, alone, for her. And he sees in that glint of particles a shadow profiling her likeness and is warmed to some yet unmoved potential and the need she always already sates.

          He painfully stands to walk though he feels like running. And he walks to hug and hugs to heal a nothing that has ever needed healing. He clings to more than hugs her, squeezes tightly, rubs her into him. The cyclamen offers no rebuke and simply sits on top of the hutch stoic like a cat.

          Overwhelmed by his behavior, her arms are caught at her sides. If he lets go, she will topple backwards without a chance of stopping the fall. In her right hand, she clings tightly to a graying sock and squeezes it. She runs her thumb into the hole in its heel—her thumb a threadless needle. They are a chance meeting of an author and a sewing machine on a dissecting table.

          And they are in the house this way for twenty more years. And before the house, there was a field. And before the field, a prairie; before the prairie, a valley; before the valley, an unmeasured wilderness thought unfathomable; and each creature ran along with the others: the weight of doing-being not yet cultivated nor concentrated within a restrictive arc of houses at the end of a street marked each dusk by the ever-blinking, tan light of a slowly dying, halogen bulb.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Our dog is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson, Slave Owner (3rd version, 2/15)

He sits on our back porch, above the yard five stairs.
He owns it, laps birdsong up in practiced, regal blinks;
knows he did nothing to earn his perch and sighs.

The green lawn rolls out back into the red fence
he pisses on mornings: a wet, vanishing point.

He lies down, licks his left foot longly and sleeps.
He sees white plantations, a black horse, snorts,
wiggles and kicks, dream-runs away, jerks and snarls,

                  hunts coon.

The late sun chunks blood orange warmth on the red fence.
Our dog’s eyes become two heavy, blinking dunces:

                  white crescents mold dark filth.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

At Ptarmigan in response to my opening comments on a phenomenology for the book, a quote from Nietzsche:

"Honest books make the reader honest, at least by luring into the open his hatred and aversion which his shy prudence otherwise knows how to conceal best."

I have one from Walt Whitman: "Without great audiences we cannot have great poets."

Writers have increasingly found ways to release themselves from the burden of teaching an audience, from learning how to address those outside of a scene. (see John Latta's recent comments on scenes at Hotel Point for another POV.)

Nietzsche's point is ironic, I think, because authors of books often project their "hatred and aversion" upon imagined readers. By refering to "books" we do not talk about "authors"--we can deal with the audience, critique the market. Honestly,


I would like to know where this Nietszchean aphorism is pulled from to look at the German phrase that is here translated as "honest books."

A list for being "honest books":
Modest books,
real books,
proper books,
worldly books,
representational books,
popular books,
topical books,
relevant books

All have different senses. Honest, as vocabulary or translation, is a safe word to choose. Then again, I don't know where the quote is taken from...btw, I am concerned not because of its use at Ptarmigan but because of my comps. One of my lists is "Nietzsche as psychologist".

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

A plug

I am dj-ing this evening--most Wednesdays, actually--on KVDU Internet Radio. My show's called Freakbeat.

If you have a high-speed connection and use a pc, you should be able to listen. (The webmaster must assume all students use PCs.) Tune-in at KVDU from 6-9pm MST. Tonight will be a moody and fun. I usually play a mixture of mod, garage, punk, and r&b. But whatever I grab from my record collection is what I spin. Can be quite an eclectic mix. I log into AIM as "heliotrope0" for the listeners to chat it up with me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

On modernism: the problem with knowledge is a problem with history

From Silliman, today:
The problem of knowledge in poetry has bedeviled modernism & what's come after since Pound first edited T.S. Eliot in order to make him more, not less, cryptic.

          Not to disparage Silliman's overall point. I take this quote out of its context and from his continuing conversation about Pattie McCarthy's work. Not to disparage, then, but to address my place in learning about poetry more directly:

      The story about Pound editing Eliot is a meta-content-keyword in the conversation "problems of modernism". It reeks of the spectacle of history. We shouldn't forget that it has meaning simply because we insist it does.

      Moreover, the crumb concerns less the reason(s) Pound actually had Eliot remove footnotes to Wasteland than it concerns marking a place where the problem with knowledge as a modernist problem is located for us. Nostalgia for a moment none of us lived. Sentimental for our birth from a mother who has been consistently absent--a yes to our question about where we come from, an American moment still becoming present, Pounds NO was very fatherlike, so why not a birth. (Awfully ugly orphans we are.)

      I have never quite understood the claim to genus: bits of information students feel obliged to spit up upon demand.

      The problem of knowledge in modernity may not be a problem with knowledge but a problem with anchoring knowledge in tradition, wrestling it from one position on a map to another through historic assignation. Such naming tends to be as arbitrary as a consumer's flavor of the day. The problem with anchoring knowledge is a problem with acknowledging specific kinds of labor to produce specific kinds of monuments which maintain their meanings without the need for cultivation. In other words, damn fine stones, deep cuts, lasting encasements.

      Consider the veracity of the following function: Any decrease in the awareness of ideological structures underwriting particular histories must be accompanied by a proportional increase in the gravity or density of particular "great" moments in history. It is very hard to question the truth a great moments in history. Because they are there--just like the stones in Dog Town. But history is not a monument nor a language even; it is there in spite of us all disordered contemporaneous mess.

      We can look back to Leibniz for an ordering principle, possibly, and then forward to the modernism of late 19th and early 20th centuries and remark: maybe, possibly, might it not be the case that what we call modernity's "problem with knowledge" is its "problem with history." That, in mistaking a revolution of ideas for a dismantling of first principles, these modernists refused to see their own relationship to, say, the Enlightenment. Rather than a Continental Design or a British Empirical Design or an overreaching Christian Rule, we have an American Thing Yet UnNamed But If We Don't Include the Footnotes Then They'll Have to Name IT With US.

      Questions like "What is Culture?" become very significant: as if something behind and before us was lost that could actually be held, owned, cherished, maybe bought. Something like civilization--very white and boy-ish, something to fight over, a secret-decoder ring containing the code, the knowledge, the thing itself, the prize at the bottom of a box of the yummiest cereal.

      By removing the footnotes from Eliot's work, Pound wasn't making the poem more cryptic, just making the work, its purpose, more transparent.

Silliman continues:
Where Robert Duncan wrote of "the secret doctrine," Charles Olson countered that "such secrecy is wearing the skin that truth is inside-out."

          Absolutely, under the skin of truth lies a structure for truth. We often choose, do we not, to write either in-wonder-about or being-with language, people, things in our communities or about the wonder and being itself --the structure of the things in our communities. In other words, we are either using language or doing language. Olson's ideas of truth are strange projections; like Williams, he is a wanderer--skin right side down--producing maps often refusing to alter perspective. He says, here I am in IT without bothering to tell us the secrets of truth just exposing moments. Fishing for truth, in his case, heh...

Monday, February 16, 2004

Just finished preparing the first exam for my philosophy students. We read Nicomachean Ethics , watched Lola Rennt and Groundhog Day . Joel Sachs's translation of Aristotle was not too painful to read, full of explanatory notes, good intro. I was worried about using films to work with Aristotle. It has worked well so far; have to see what their essays look like. We're going to read Emerson, Thoreau, Smiles and Alger next. I had a student in my office to take the exam early; she wrote and I wrapped up a story, third version, ready to send it out--the worst part, letting it go into nothing for awhile.

My life, hic et nunc, is: poetry, narrative & hockey.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Plato's anxiety: neither thought w/o language, language w/o thought.

If poetry does something else to language than is ordinary,
then is its verse a turning thought up out of language?

for what purpose?
a turning into
Archimedes' screw out out up over upon the ground
All automatic funtions
a key on an old semi-automatic
typewriter : <"Automatic Stop">
or go--

some broken links
to turn out : < a href="Pope
to pour out : < a href="Donne
to revolve : < a href="Keats
to turn over : < a href="Stein
to instruct : < a href="Rilke
to make experienced : < a href="Sappho
to make conversant : < a href="Williams
to practice fraud : < a href="Academy
to impose upon : < a href="Pound

to overthrow
to upset

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Smile Test: A bit disturbing, I haven't figured out how...Can you spot fake smiles? Can you spot genuine smiles? I spotted fakes well.
Michael, Dadoodoflow, offered a comment after my poem "A photograph, six poems remembered & tagging", and this is the result (so far): a poem that weaves into the verse versions. In other words the verse--the turning--as actual conjunctions. Nothing too new: many poets offer us choices. Below, choices in form allowing the poem to actually function differently; reading as doing ethics & poetics. Let's see what happens. I wrote this and then revised the poem as I went. So, it's fresh. The next step will be to add parentheses.

(A photograph & six poems remembered & tagging)

Our leaves of grass can never surpass platonic tradition alone.
          You! Empty signifiers, cocks and cock suckers,
                        defining taste rather than tasting,
                        stroking a long rigid dialect
                        meaning for imagination,
                        giving rather than
                        learning to give;


                    Empty signifiers, cocks and cock suckers,
                        defining taste rather than tasting,
                        stroking a long rigid dialect
                        meaning for imagination,
                        giving rather than
                        learning to give,


          you will fade arbitrarily so out-

          standing perpetually.

         A spectacle.
         A thing that subtracts.


Maya Deren, at land, extravagant


Allen Ginsberg half-naked, snapping cymbals, singing mantras, fondling heads
and lettuce          pushing some thing on us          and his generation          dead now.


A photo of A and PO on my desk submits not wholly to my critique—
          smoke and            black and white              horned rimmed glasses—


a sinister nostalgia for a time I never spent but can afford.


If modernity is a movement between presence and absence,
then a post time is a whip for cynical earnestness.
She moves, our Gertrude, for an academic Hamlet,
something to hold false images towards—

          to mirror our erections.


Think for one instant only and only all time
about those towers we built and our forests undone.
          A wilting-shriveled remonstrance
          from an ideal corner of thought.
          Maybe modernity’s false appeal to thought—
          a grotesque cogito out-reaching,
          “I think therefore I can undo,”
          should be read “not be” or “never am.”


I ran outside in my boxers
painted: I was not here!


In Lombardia a Milanese
spraid on a Rinascente wall: STO MALE!


In our contemporary being eksists a word,
between you and me endures an attendance,
          the housewife
          the tree between
          the poet in the car
          the voyeur
          the snowman         
          the moment to be,
          the day to come,
          the proper cliché,
          the faked orgasm.


a fancied image not the thing itself
some B between
my A, your C.


aren’t we a fortunate joke? a punch line tossed out
with reflective acuity
at just the right moment
into an empty room.
Thanks to Josh Corey, Cahiers de Corey, for the comments about my recent posts. And he is right on about Menne's review and blogging. I plan on using Dagzine to post whatever I am in the mood to write about in order to write daily: poetry, stories, fragments, lists, and critical work. I tend to write in bursts of hammers--just comes out like it does. Some days it's a poem others it reeks of manifesto. Always been my weak point: Bursting into rather than simply opening. Yet, it is always pleasing. Nevertheless, informal or formal, writing is always personal and political to some extent; hence, serious. It transverses both private and public spaces. I like Josh's idea about the "free blurb". I think I come close to that with my "list for John Englestuch" post below.

Friday, February 13, 2004

I don't know about you but

William Burroughs (Adding Machine ) writes that coincidence is the failure or success of a willful act. He also wrote that everything had already been written.


If we read and write without a thought about shaping what we read and write, in other words if we merely do reading and writing, we are in many ways unwilling or involuntary participants in the field. I have often heard folks talk about the luck involved with publishing. Nonsense. No luck about it. We are acting irresponsibly as critics and writers and scholars when we accept the play of the market as sound reason for shaping a discourse community.

Such practice is not virtuous: neither useful for the individual or the community. If I willingly choose what to read and study while actively applying that thought and practice to my writing, the reading and writing become inextricably linked in purpose and direction. Moreover, becoming skilled in recognizing such connection eventually becomes part of the character of writing--occurs even when texts have no explicit or directly implicit relationship to one another.

Maybe this sounds trite--not a revelation but a maturity. Not so. Most authors don't see the connections between what they read and what they write and where/how they live; insist on their coincidental relationships to other authors. When authors critique or speak about writing, they like to practice forms of distinction.

The rejection of tradition or the act of placing a writer within one specific tradition is the practical use of the foundation for many postmodern theories of possibilities for interpretation and pleasurable reading experiences. A handy knowledge of popular texts in the market and a glib tone allow writers and critics alike to put and place and argue about positionality as a craft in itself.

I was recently informed by a professor that at some point proper publishing must be accomplished by any writer in order to "do what we do"--that what I am doing out here is digital media studies. What I am doing is publishing. I hear that blogging is a low form of writing, associated with the unruly masses. The elitism in academia is always shocking. I am educated, I chose this path, I know what I am faced with, but I am still amazed when I see someone grasping for the ownership of righteousness in scholarship as if it weren't a tattered-tail end of the self-functioning capitalist market.

The hierarchy in publishing is purely market based. If we published outside of the market, and we could, we would still publish and still read each others' work. Money is not tied to many authors' writing but publishing in the market still is: the drive to hit the best-seller list is not about the cash. It is about the OBJECT. The fetishism: binding, archiving, surplus, gift-giving, editing, revising--to name several yet not all. Not narcissism: if it was about us, we wouldn't publish.

Commodity fetishism is a simple place to begin a critique, though. Aesthetics, now, is based in appearance of the text; writers worry about the disappearance of THE BOOK; the academy debates the health of THE MARKET; workshops degenerate into discussions of what SELLs. Nothing about the doing and being of writing that authors do--the thing-ing of things--gets discussed. Bring it up and the stammering that follows is seriously disheartening. Demand some responsible discourse, and accusations of mean-ness fly.

The phenomenology of writing has nothing to do with the book. To talk about a chair: How is a chair a chair? To talk about a book: How is a book a book? But that question doesn't get to: How is writing writing? Writing has nothing to do with publishing as we define it...the publishing we idealize, however, is a conflation of conversation and of the document. I am not arguing that publishing is awful, just that we could dispense with market-ability and open the discourse a bit, publish more and more often, if it weren't for the desire to be popular and correct and memorialized.

From Susan Howe's The Birth-mark :

  • "A printed book enters social and economic networks of distribution. Does the printing modify an author's intention, or does a text develop itself?"

  • Howe quotes Macherey on literary production and I will paraphrase, a work or text breaks from the everyday forms of talking and writing. The printed book is set apart from all other forms of ideological expression

  • "Print beats back imagination./ Words are slippery. Questions of audience, signature, self and other will be answered later by historians, genealogists, graphologists, handwriting experts, who need to produce a certain rationalism for this unstable I-witnessing, uncovering relation.

Relation is uncovering. Holderlin thought that poetry was uncovering. Explicitly: Poetry is relation.

As Howe shows, the relating that writing does is imaginative and creative and I-witnessing, and the relating that printing does is a rationalization. Print rationalizes an author's imagination; in other words, authorizes the author's account. Look to the rise of the novel, look to Defoe and Richardson. Both wrote novels to correct the form as it was being shaped. Both wrote to conspire with the ideology of print that authorizes popular perception about how one should write about anything at all.

To claim a writer should have a specific type of publication exemplified by a specific list of possible texts grounded in a particular tradition on his resume makes sense to the market but not for the writer. Such a request of writer-scholars dehumanizes while textualizes them. It is an implicit acceptance of an elitist system of publishing based on the reading taste of a handful of writers only a handful of readers have read.

Patronage outside of the market might be the only solution to this problem. Publishing regardless of the corporate grant. Small presses need to resist forming ideological associations in order to justify publishing choice. "Please read our journal before submitting work" may be a good way to increase readership and knowledge of content; however, the statement confesses a desire to control both the meaning of content and the way the text is read. The editorial control over aesthetics shouldn't be about content or form--as meaningless an editorial decision as taking work only from lesbians or writers with cancer or writers who love horses or southern fiction.

Writers shouldn't be answering questions about their work such as "How does my writing fit?" because such questions more typically relate to identity and ideology: class, gender, race, politics, sexuality, body, religion, etc.

Another problem with associating publications with ideologies: I read many authors and browse as many journals as I find time and can afford. It's a difficult task to decide where to submit based on form and content. My writing is sort-of-like or in-the-shape-of or ideologically-aligned-with many different journals at different times. And, if my work was published in several of them within a twelve-month period, I would be associated with journals popularly assumed to be at cross-purposes. What then? Would it be assumed that I was confused about who I am as a writer?

reductio absurdum...

The more I think about it the more it becomes clear--folks are concerned about the form, content, aesthetic representation, and ideological status of the market (text) rather than the work (doing writing).

Richard Greenfield, my colleague, and his friend Josh Corey--in the context of Jeff Menne's review of Greenfield's book and the argument about New Brutalism--are fuel for the debate about what goes and what fits. The ethics is market-based because the reviews, in general but in this case as well, ask a question about what text should be placed into what tradition. "What is it about poemA that goes with tradition4?"

In fact, such a poetics is pragmatic and based in fashion.

Post-Poetics: The Absorptive Quality of Constellation Markets (a draft; a satire)

1. Whereas we should take the time to define a tradition (revise history to see what really goes on back then to now; look into as many variant contemporary representations of similar work in order to be as inclusive as possible; debate the results in public) we will claim lack of time due to workload rather than admit we can't be bothered. So, skipping a thorough study of history, we start with authority, the canon, the rich and/or powerful folks who decided what mattered. We take their concepts as valuable because they remain in print and name a constellation. Since it is something we discovered, we will own it and sell it in the market.

2. After defining our longterm business plan, we select a set of quotes from a community of artists to cite as often as possible insisting that the set we chose appropriately represents their work. Such repetition is a form of production. In this case, the production of a cultural memory based solely in what was once said rather than in what has come to be. Such insistence creates an ideological framework for our future discourse about the form and content of our poetics. Such a framework requires little effort from its authors to maintain but requires much effort from our future participants to figure out.

3. We use the ideological representation of our community to teach our friends, students and fellow writers how to talk about and represent the past. We share the code with a chosen few. Such sharing creates desire in those who lack the knowledge. The poetics, therefore, revises history without critical thought and allows us to discuss our work without having to participate in shaping it. In other words, we rely on the ideological structure to maintain a stasis in the poetics in order to allow us to pay attention to other matters like creating space for us to teach our ideology in departments and space in the market to sell our texts.

4. With no heterogeneity in the poetics, we can focus on cultivating a market that will accept our work as representative of what counts in the field without competition from other similarly minded writers. They won't mind. If we do it right, we can even fix the price.

5. Since we don't really discuss the craft of what we do, the competition between writers and publications becomes market competition based solely in the pragmatics of Desire: What can we take, How many do we want to accept, Who do we want, What schools do we want to represent, What painting on the cover, What photo on my book, et al.

6. Remember, ideological representation of work is really no work at all. But the representing does allow us to organize texts and ideas hierarchically based upon knowledge of a field. In other words, we can assure longevity and possibly a bit of fame because we are the form and content rather than the writing. In other words, we can disembody our work from our career and let our career prosper. Writing can, then, be allowed to be secondary.

7. Knowledge of a field doesn't require reading. Don't worry. You really need only read what is popularly published about what is important and then paraphrase or quote the quote--"as cited in" has become acceptable. Knowing a field gives you the ability to see a middle-ground and the margins. And, if you are privileged enough, you can place yourself anywhere within the field. If you just want to get along, choose the center: learn it, copy it, submit it, publish it. If you are a bit radical, choose the margins: right or left; top or bottom; learn it, copy it, submit it, publish it.

8. Knowledge of a field also allows for apparent fair competition in the market. It provides us with a way of telling unrecognized individuals to get lost without being charged with nepotism. We can suggest, "Please read our journal before submitting work" or many other short, polite statements. Whereas it may be true that some work doesn't fit our publication at a specific time, no one need know otherwise.

9. Of course, many writers write poorly. And this is our ultimate excuse for relying on the market. So many submissions, so much junk. It is hard for us to get published; easy for us to get lost in the mix. Therefore, we rely on suggesting faith in the small market. Many people publishing in many places reading only the kinds of small publications that contain work that sounds like their own allows the market to function according to its own rules and makes it damn near impossible for a writer to publish widely. Whereas we find it tougher to get a wider readership, we do get a community who thinks and acts the way we do making life comfortable and affordable.

10. We can call our structure Absorptive Post-Poetics or Post-absorptive Poetics or Constellary Pre-Poetics or anything at all that uses words that sound warm and functional but are typically left un-explored since they were first used in this context.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

What is Anne Carson doing on The L Word?

from Slate...
what is he really saying?

Before my critique, I will admit that book reviews are not easy to write. That said, we do have responsibilities as reviewers to handle the material well and address our readers in an appropriate manner. I was referred to the review from The Brutal Kittens.

Jeff Menne in Double Room #3 begins his review of Richard Greenfield's complicated and engaging A Carnage in the Lovetrees with a set-up for a Menne-sian take on poetics that is in serious need of an editor for definition and coherence.

Three examples follow:

M: To consider first his press, Greenfield is a clever fit for New California's mission statement, which persists in being the flypaper for whatever useful aesthetic debris can be sifted in the wake of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.

--Menne tries to say something about poetics in the wake of Bernstein, but what his point of view has to do with Greenfield's poems I don't know. The problem is that he immediately dumps the review format--put the book in a tradition--for a more politicized and, unfortunately, stylized rant--use the guise of putting the author's work in a tradition to make personal statements about the tradition and its contemporaries.

--Does anything "persist in being the flypaper"?

--Menne begins his review with the word "you'll" and then implies the second person throughout. Bad move. Just because you're talking to me or even with me doesn't mean I agree with your assumptions about our community. I don't care what Menne thinks about me, but I do care what he assumes about my being and thinking. We don't all think like the reviewer.

M: Greenfield certainly shares in the average Language poet's phenomenological bent, positioning himself as the observer whose disinterest is each moment being keened, glad if perplexed to watch "the familiar machinery of language moving by"; but at the same time, he seems invested in mimesis and Romanticism.

--Menne's is an extremely poor rendering of phenomenology. I get the feeling he knows something about what the word means in context to Bernsteing and Hejinian; however, I don't think he knows it like they do. Reading from Holderlin to Heidegger, some Husserl and Hegel, and definitely Merleau-Ponty might help. Menne doesn't address Greenfield's phenomenological turning of language, but he does show us he has read about Language Poetry and Phenomenology.

--And, I do believe, that many reader's will find that Greenfield is anything but disinterested; moreover, his lines do not taste of the cool observer watching "the familiar machinery of language move by." Greenfield's verse is filled with stunts that toy with Romantic and Language tradition. It is seriously invested and interested verse. Of course, it is his purposive and interested approach that makes it phenomenological...VERSE does mean "a turning"...

M: It's not that smart to group him as a New Brutalist, which is pure marketing, but it's always wise to place a poet in a tradition, which is intertextuality ("Because each prophet is aggregate of the other prophets, the forthcoming song came from the ruinous literary kin").

--the hanging quote aside, Menne's claim makes little sense because he refuses to explain himself. What is wise about placing Greenfield in a tradition? Shouldn't we explore whether or not we need to PLACE/PUT poets and poems INTO traditions before we understand them? I would argue that in many ways TRADITION is a market-bound term--that we should consider poetic form outside of tradition from time to time. Refusing to allow our mouths to consistently descend to ass level might allow us to come to terms with certain vital phenomenological aspects of writing poetry.

--We might think about tying wisdom to tradition--Menne implicitly does so--and consider that much useful and popular poetry (prose poetry, for example, Double Room is invested in that form) has always transgressed and radicalized beyond tradition. In other words, I think Menne conflates form and tradition.

--And I suppose he suggests that the tradition is "intertextuality" rather than "new brutalism"? But intertextuality is not a tradition; it is a tool.

--The quote above is confusing, at best. I think the word for the tone is GLIB.

Other comments ring falsely, sound fishy, and smack of snobbery. One example,

M: New Brutalism presents itself as movement by fiat alone, and, at best, a cyber-age lobby for visibility by the lumpenliterati whose addiction to blogging can cloy--if you let it.

--Whereas many bloggers are aren't great writers...wait. I won't play this game. I really have had it with poets who aspire to create, recognize and cultivate a hierarchy of value for the poetic tradition--who cop to a telos of what is good merely to justify often precocious and always elitist ideological structures for the marketing of poetry. In my experience, these are the same authors who complain that there is no market, no place to publish.

--Menne tags writers involved with "new brutalism" as self-marketing, self-publicizing, spectacle makers. It is a scene we shouldn't really equate with a movement. Explicitly, he sets a movement as a more valuable community than a reading series. In other words, there is a proper way to market and publicize your work as a poet and Menne thinks this ain't it. Obvious problems with this argument. At this time, so many MFA programs, so many writers, that it is hard to get noticed unless you make the move to become noticed. Getting online and putting yourself out there, like I and many of us have done, is one manner of achieving recognition. It isn't vainglorious; it is a way to begin conversation with other writers. It is a way to write everyday--all forms of writing--it is a way to keep reading. It is a way to practice a truly social form of discourse. It is also a practice more genuine than the public spectacle of alignment.

--Referring to students at/from Mills College, their teachers and colleagues as lumpenliterati is truly backhanded and rude. Serves no purpose, actually, which is why I even bother to mention it. The implication is not that they found a way to publish and found a way into the public eye but that they weasled their way into popularity and are undeserving of any rewards reaped. A lot of untutored writing on the majority of blogs; SO WHAT? What about the problem with market and poetry? Menne definitely overlooks the meaning of his concerns: is his evasion purposeful or not?

In order for a market to exist, the public must be allowed to participate freely. Poetry isn't for poets only. And if we are to figure out a way in a capitalist culture to separate poetic tradition from the confines of the marketplace, and we probably should be working on it, then we need to give up the notion of hierarchy that a market creates...poems don't have equivalent monetary values that can be taken to represent quality of craft. Not that poetry and its relationship to publishing isn't an engaging study.

The system of patronage that existed in the renaissance, say with the Medici, or that existed in Harlem or with Stein, is purely myth and lottery-style chance. Folks read because of something other than getting their money's worth. Any exchange (simple economic theory here) implies that the parties are getting something more valuable in place of what they gave up. Anybody who wants to participate in such an exchange should have access to the appropriate means not only to take but to give.

Need I add: Menne published his review in an upstart online journal that depends on the recognition of certain respected voices in the field to gain a modicum of respect in the public eye so that, now and in the future, folks read it and send in submissions. Menne is a member of the lumpenliterati like his readers. We all are...going under to get over.

"We are all undesirables."--D Cohn-Bendit

I do think Menne has appropriate and useful points to make about Greenfield's poetry. But his review is front-loaded with such garbage political meandering about implied notions of the market and the scene, the hierarchy of publishing, that I cannot really get into his discussion of the poetry by the time he begins quoting from the text.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Know what happens when you Paste the Ellipsi 19,341 document

notes for poem "A photograph, six poems remembered & tagging"

defining taste rather than tasting
stroking a long rigid dialect
meaning for imagination,
giving rather than
learning to give;


defining taste rather than tasting,
stroking a long rigid dialect
meaning for imagination,
giving rather than
learning to give,

Our dog is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson, Slave Owner

[3rd version is posted on 2/23/04]

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A photograph, six poems remembered & tagging

Our leaves of grass can never surpass platonic tradition alone.
          You! Empty signifiers, cocks and cock suckers,
                        defining taste rather than tasting,
                        stroking a long rigid dialect
                        meaning for imagination,
                        giving rather than
                        learning to give;

          you will die arbitrarily so out-

          standing perpetually.

         A spectacle.
         A thing that subtracts.

Allen Ginsberg half-naked, snapping cymbals, singing mantras, fondling heads
of lettuce, pushing some thing on us          and his generation          dead now.
A photo of A and PO on my desk submits not wholly to the critique—
          smoke            black and white              horned rimmed glasses—a result
of sinister nostalgia for a time I never spent but can afford.

If modernity is a movement between presence and absence,
then a post time is a whip for cynical earnestness.
She moves, our Gertrude, for an academic Hamlet,
something to hold false images towards—

          to mirror our erections.

Think for one instant only and only all time
about those towers we built and our forests undone.
          A wilting-shriveled remonstrance
          from an ideal corner of thought.
          Maybe modernity’s false appeal to thought—
          a grotesque cogito out-reaching,
          “I think therefore I can undo,”
          should be read “not be” or “never am.”

I ran outside in my boxers and painted: I was not here!
In Lombardia a Milanese spraid on a Rinascente wall


In our contemporary being eksists a word,
between you and me endures an attendance,
          the housewife
          the tree between
          the poet in the car
          the voyeur
          the snowman          a fancied image not the image itself
          the moment to be,
          the day to come,
          the proper cliché,
          the faked orgasm.

aren’t we a fortunate joke? a punch line tossed out
with reflective acuity
at just the right moment
into an empty room.

on constellations

Have to work more on this term "constellation": it has macro and micro aspects; economic character and habit; a greater than or less than arithmetic to it; and, most significantly, is used by everybody who is anybody--pointing out an assumed context that ropes one into a community through usage without necessary understanding, which I think can become a problem.

Knowledge does not necessarily shine understanding.

Has constellation become like rhizome or postmodern or modern?

Monday, February 09, 2004

Here is a quote from CB's A Poetics (pg 9) I meant to work into my discussion below but ran out of time:

“The reason it is difficult to talk about the meaning of a poem -- in a way that doesn't seem frustratingly superficial or partial -- is that by designating a text a poem, one suggests that its meanings are to be located in some 'complex' beyond an accumulation of devices and subject matter”

some comments on community

A colleague sent me Charles Bernstein's discussion of his "Community and the Individual Talent" and his ideas on virtual communities. I know this interview has been discussed for years, but am intrigued by a few statements he makes. I like what Steve Evans and Amiri Baraka have said. Such a confession concerning my critical perspective will no doubt shed light on how I see--or listen to--the conversation at all and allow me to jump right in. I preface my few comments merely to create a burdened bracket for, oh, the too many points that need to be made...I am, if anything, respectful of those speakers I will not address:

It cannot be overstated that public conversation is more about censorship, constraint, confinement, and proscription than about allowing for a community of difference to speak differently about similar issues. Rousseau fears theatre because of its public display of disdain for ordinary order; he prefers public meetings because of the etiquette and the imposition of traditional form. Theatre is always on the verge of devouring tradition because of its performative characteristics based on an individual artist's interpretation of culture (the individual author), text (the individual actor), and its own performance (the individual audience member). Rousseau's preference for public meetings may allow participants to consider common needs and the constitution of social space; nevertheless, public meetings are not considerate of common participation. Such a consideration is a pose and more a signifier of the too narrowly understood distinctions between private and public space(s)...that's for another post.

Public meetings in our society are shams: mock-ups of what democratic institution might look like: too often, an acceptance of half-assed struggle rather than doing and being: the public sphere is purely ideal--it is alive, in this way, as an ideology that represents the best of what we can achieve if we were to work together at creating a common tradition. The old "out of original social difference", the old "from one many", the new "me and the others". The ideal is: We always can, if we can utter "If we were to do..."

For authors, selling books has a lot to do with this, certainly. But more than marketing for profit and the exploitation of labor that accompanies such exchange, selling public discourse communities has become vital. Students are quite skilled at talking "the talk" to illuminate imagined associations they want to possess. Most don't even read any more.

In addition, virtual communities allow former (and potential, unfortunately) radicals to hide away yet appear public at the same time--allow for the artifice merely rather than a realization as a social good. Supposedly, a fortunate circumstance of technological advance.

Consider that much poetry is now written with these flaws in mind. Form and appearance over substance and meaning; moreover, poems that construct the look of significance and tradition merely. Our best critics resort to finding publishing communities that cultivate a middle-ground between useful- and useless- ness. Steve Evans' discussion of Fence comes to mind. And writing for the look, I argue, sucks the life out of the performance of human being in poetry. In other words, I see an active acceptance of a passive state of being that capitalist production of poetry promotes in building community and cultivating, maintaining a poetic tradition. Many of our poets like to rest on the safe maxim that "There is no market for poetry in the United States." This FACT, imagined because interpretable, allows their entrance into the public conversation about poetry. Rather than taking, making, producing our own poetry and poetics, we are encouraged to be content publishing within small circles of like-minded writers. Nobody is going to read it anyway, right? And how true they are: most don't even read the journals they submit to. How did we get to be on auto-pilot? And the answer is not: THE MARKET IS TO BLAME.

Speaking of institutions rather than communities and contrasting institutions with associations--as if this were all something of the market. I should resist complaint for a concrete point.

So here goes, my utterance, a shot in the dark:

Bernstein writes: "If I resist the idea of a literary community, while working to support the 'actually existing' communities of poets among which I find myself, it is because I want to imagine reading and writing, performing and listening, as sites of conversation as much as collectivity. I want to imagine a constellation of readers who write, to and for one another, with the links always open at the end, spiraling outward--centrifugally--not closing in."

A list of important phrases from CB, emphases mine:
I resist the idea ;
I want to imagine;
sites of conversation as much as collectivity;
constellation of readers; links always open. . .not closing in.

Implied, consciously or not, absorbed: the idea wants sites, constellations, links. What about the poet? What about the person? The labor, the real work? What of the reader?

I believe, as readers and writers, we must not position our struggle to cultivate our communities and conversations in an ideological landscape. We are not resisting IDEAS. Putting the poetry in context with architecture might help. You cannot build a house out of ideas; though, a house begins as an idea in conversation with a set of ideas referring to a tradition. Many folks build a house. And so, many build a poem. And to refuse this is to resist a poetic form; therefore, to resist poetry.

Also, simply resisting ideas never got nobody nowhere--wait, not true, resisting ideas creates a real and measurable, truly quantifiable, distance between the individuals resisting. In this manner, actual communities grow apart and into virtual communities. Such a strategy of resistance is a move underground and not in effort to "go under to get over" but a distinct entrenchment, a digging in and fixing, a vanishing from the public meeting place.

The links in virtual communities are not open at one end. Such a line of flight may be a line of flight but it is not necessarily useful. And worse: Virtual-ly, exclusion is simple, effortless, and UNreCOGNIZED too often. A constellation carries with it the sense of permanence not in going to be around for awhile but in that it is recognized as a specific FORM that has the staying power of an ordered interpretation of history. Constellations don't recognize contemporaneity, aren't heterogeneous.

Constellations don't spiral outward,
sit constant, solid, defined--
constellations are simply lookers.

I am in a position, now, as an author and scholar, "I find myself in". But now that I have found myself in a position, the question for me is: What ought I do?

I am reminded in my arguments with my colleagues, many of whom explicitly refuse to cultivate communities because of the ease with which the virtual communities associate and thrive

STOP: I am aware of the irony, btw; I am actively writing and conversing "out here"; I am not arguing against it; I am, however, claiming we need to actively criticize our associations in a way that overcomes the safety any public meeting insists exists.

CONTINUE: I am reminded of Hegel's concept of the "beautiful soul": the belle ame projects its own disorder onto the world and works to cure it by imposing its law of the heart on everyone else. For Lacan, the beautiful soul fails to recognize his raison d'etre in the disorder he denounces in the world. In other words, we may foster the virtual, celebrate it, hope for the best with our "actually existing" communities and STILL contribute to the confinement of access to the public conversation.

Constellations may contain space but the form of the constellation is always already defined.

Such definition purposefully excludes specific people for the sake of form itself. And this is important for anybody considering the reformation of poetics, doing poetry, writing in general. Even attempts to deform rely on reformation.

When Dora complained of men treating her as an object for exchange, she wasn't allowed a claim in the discourse about the treatment of women. Instead, Freud begged her to consider her own complicit participation in her exploitation. It is safe to ask those seeking refuge to consider their own guilt, to exploit their need to participate in a useful manner in a way that justifies our own positions...this is one very nasty aspect of absorption.

It isn't enough to find a way to build yet another community, virtual or actual. It isn't enough to problematize the public sphere, to critique associations and institutions, all nexuses of fevered egos and capitalists. An attempt to locate a valuable first-person plural--that's what I desire.