Wednesday, December 08, 2004

the archive and the artist (gathering my thoughts)

to begin:

I didn't receive an MFA like most of my colleagues in the PhD program at University of Denver. Though I study poetics and write poetry, I am in the fiction program. I studied American High Modernism, Gender and History, and Film Theory for my MA.

For a history class, I began researching women's health and hygiene guides, late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Until WWI guides for boys and men were nearly non-existent. The market for health and hygiene (if you exclude "self-help" Samuel Smiles styles from this market and some might not--of course, I am talking bodies not minds--)the market for health and hygiene guides was limited to guides for wives, daughters, and girls. Rarely was the word women used. Each guide offered a preface that grounded the approach to women's bodies into appropriate socio-religious contexts. The guides contained info that determined everything from proper posture and clothing to diet and education: not only what kind of walks but for how long. I don't want to over-summarize the colonization of women's bodies; I merely want to show why I brought up the archive discussion during my gender discussion a few posts ago.

Our bodies are prefaced, and the mechanism of the preface should not be seen as automatic. We cooperate with how bodies are produced; or, I would like to submit that we conflate the representation with the thing itself. We do this through interpretation and rhetoric. The ways women should sit, eat, read, etc., and the way women--according to Michael Davidson--need to be absent are documents (documents because each aspect has a history) from the archive Women's Bodies. Each document, in this case, is used in rhetoric to teach us how to see "looking backward." The Gender--female--relates the body itself to its socially constructed archive backwards. After all, the body does come first. In every case--in each preface--a woman's "healthy" body is needed in some manner or position to allow for the arrival of a new, male subject. Davidson's claim, though problematic, is a safe bet.

Fast Forward for a moment (b/c I have to give my last philosophy lecture of the fall semester in a bit and need to prepare):

Separating the Archive from the Artist is necessary--the document from the body. This separation does not already exist; on the other hand, it is not an impossible nor an impractical goal. Artists is traditionally viewed as products of their work. We learn about our literary artists through criticism--can be NYTimes book reviews or a theoretical text. Even in graduate workshops and lit courses, mature students of the craft of writing and reading actively confuse the product with the artist. Nevertheless, I don't see the point in speaking of a death of the author, of a reader-created text. I want to keep labor involved in our aesthetics. The work, then, needs to be viewed as a different event than the publishing of the document, and this in turn needs to be viewed as a different event than the archive of all such documents.

In the case of Poetry and Poetics, the confusing of craft and critique has made it tough for the market to see the need for a pure poet and this has constructed a market in which many young poets do not see the need to learn craft properly (b/c it is associated with a corrupt market.) We all know poets--some actively publishing--who know absolutely nothing of Poetry. This is not a viscious circle or a slippery slope; the situation is a form a stasis.

What is a poet? We try to answer this question through example rather than through discourse. Because we conflate the poet and the poem, we often look for a person who represents the potential for a new arrival. At its worst, this process of locating the new seeks a group of local poets who perform similar tasks and uses that group as proof of an arrival.

"What is a poet?" is a question of definition, after all, not a question of fact. Its potential answers lead one to interpretation and documents, not to the poets themselves. At any rate, if one attempts to point out individuals (as do Hank Lazer, Marjorie Perloff, and Ron Silliman, among many others,) then one authorizes a style, a voice--and in a very significant way, this is paramount: poetry is performance and does unite a reader with a writer.

Poetry is an everyday event; it is there. Poets know this. Verse is fashioned out of the senses. So much poetry currently available is fashioned out of tutored forms. But Form without Experience is worthless. Nothing like listening to a young poet read a masterful (of form) poem about experiences that he or she can not possibly understand. Thus, the poem becomes a hoax or merely spectacle. Cute.

Study the sound and copy. We resist interpretation and improvisation.

Such manufacturing--because it is like factory work based upon cooperation between artist and apprentice--takes the necessary verse forms and the necessary literary artist writing lines in verse and produces poetry for the critics. Projective verse is a form that absolutely resists such production values; Language poetry tries. But here we are still dealing with TS Eliot's comments on tradition and talent...

If we can figure out a way to allow new subjects to emerge and produce bodies prior to the existence of an archive for their work, then we can figure out a way to cultivate a craft worth producing without the need for a market. The market is fueled by products that meet the satisfaction of sovereign consumer-critics. The market is shaped by the interaction between the consumer and the business owner (a publisher, for example.) Writers producing in the market must meet demands based on an interpretation of already produced texts. That isn't how we write. Yet the market is where we publish. We may be in dialogue with the tradition; we may even be in studied conversation with a specific artist or form; we do not, however, fill-in-the-blanks. But that is what the market is all about. Ful-Filling a demand.

So, I am babbling. I am working in a reflective manner here; I want to figure out this work/archive : body/document issue; I believe the discussion needs to be about LOCATION. When we materialize the problem, we gain one important tool. We must talk about any ideology as imaginary and possibly false representation of real conditions of work, and we must rethink our (ab)use of FORM.

Instead of pointing to the poets emerging who do new things with old forms, which is a useful discussion, we might benefit more from a look at the poet in the world rather than the poet after work. Building a community out of which poetry is a vocation not a gift (taking into account the troubled economies of The Gift) takes understanding (it isn't the old understanding either) how "a" poet lives at "a" given time. And we might benefit from keeping that examination separate from the critique of that poet's verse. Hence, we have poets and writing about poets. We have the lives of poets. In addition, we have poetics. In this manner, the poet can be de-mystified.

It relates, Thomas, doesn't it? If we require women to be absent in the discourse and publication of 1950s literary art, for example, then we imply ONE DEFINITION FOR ALL WOMEN. We seem to have the same problem with authors. ONE DEFINITION. For poets, we are given a lack of definition and the claim is made that they need it because thoughts are formless and poetry forms them through turning language. But this is strictly nonsense. Thoughts are not formless; they are individual.

I must admit. I gave up dedicated study of poetry and began writing prose because I have more freedom now. I hated most arguments about prosody. Prosody has such potential but is typically treated as a religion or (worse) a science. I don't think we should blame the market. I think it is up to us to make the discourse about poetry be solid and useful and illuminating. And it is up to us to illuminate the variety of poets. In other words, there is the body and the form: one estimates, exaggerates, imitates even, the other if used properly. Form does not exist on its own within breath. Music isn't the document. We accept this. Why not with poetry? Or any writing. With Music: the composer, the composition, the performance, the reaction, the history of performances and reactions. All exist in the market independently unless desired otherwise. With poetry: the poet, everything is the poet.

I am collecting ideas here to put together in discussion with YOU. I recognize the above is a bit scattered. But that makes it easier for somebody else to provide a worthwhile line of flight...


Laura Carter said...

In some ways I kind of get it, and I think I agree. Is it why I call myself an "essentialist"?

How do you define "experience"? That's a slippery slope.

What's an example of a hoax or spectacle in a poem?

How about gift as beginning for vocation (which means work)?

Poets and writing about poets---unsure.
Lives of poets---unsure.
Poetics---an extension, for me, of life in a formal sense. The technics of theology, really. Theology's prosody.

Please tell my form & theory teacher that prosody is neither science nor religion; he is the religious scientist of prosody. Please tell him that Whitman was OK.

Yes, music is easier to work with: your song is not your composition, your performance is not someone else's performance, etc. I have ideas about the Jungian functions and the arts. Music is so much more sensate that it's easier to separate off the romanticism of the 'artist' without losing the (sometimes) romantic moment of the piece.

Gotta go party with some poets. But I'll be back. Thanks, Gary.

Anonymous said...

Gary, I've thought a bit on this post and did a response of sorts (still initial) on my blog. L.

Laura Carter said...

Gary, I've thought a bit on this post and did a response of sorts (still initial) on my blog. L.