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Survivor of the Twentieth Century


I recently read Robin Davidson's "Introduction to The New Century" about the work of Polish poet Ewa Lipska:

http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_davidson.php

For me the article raises a number of interesting questions about the relationship between language, which always fails, and the soverneignty of the self, "the integrity of the individual life," which is always at risk of "erasure":

"Lipska's poems in particular offer a unique opportunity to contemplate identities (personal, social, national) as constituting both personal and historical forces, and one's own interior life as the site of this intersection—what Lipska might call "the accident" or "spectacle of our lives," which one both participates in and observes as witness."

and:

"The task of the poet—this tension and struggle between the authentic human voice and rhetoric—is a central theme in Lipska's work and one permeating all the poems included in this volume."

I am interested in the fact that Lipska is a "skeptical" surrealist, and by her struggle to (re)construct a self in the face of deconstructing political, social and personal forces:

quote:

Lipska’s rejection of nationalism is consistent with her vision of the artist's role in society. She would argue that the poet does not craft a work out of sheer will or calculation; rather, art depends on an innocence rooted in a fidelity to personal experience, an authentic response to one's life that is lost in politics, or any other highly organized, artificial social system. The solidarity of poets, unlike that of political regimes, or of activists organized against them, is not a matter of design. Poetry is not collective life. It arises from solitude; it cannot be planned. Lipska thinks of art not only as a rejection of political intention but also as a deliberate engagement with the irrational and with uselessness. . . . Lipska was educated as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, and her ars poetica is informed by twentieth-century artistic movements in the visual arts. Both the Dadaist and surrealist movements of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe were interested in chance and in the unconscious, developing first in response to the ascendancy of bourgeois materialism and then to the emergence of fascism as a political system. Lipska shares this painterly interest in the unconscious, the dream life of images, and in chance—though hers is a skeptical surrealism, meaning she calls into question even the surrealists' claim that images are purified of social or political motive, for any system of art may give rise to a fascist aesthetic. For Lipska, the poem itself is the site of an accident, an uncalculated intersection between the poet and history.



and:

quote:

But perhaps more important for Lipska, as Susan Gubar has noted, "poetry after Auschwitz displays the ironic friction between the lyric's traditional investment in voicing subjectivity and a history that assaulted not only innumerable sovereign subjects but indeed the very idea of sovereign selfhood" (12). Lipska's poems in particular offer a unique opportunity to contemplate identities (personal, social, national) as constituting both personal and historical forces, and one's own interior life as the site of this intersection—what Lipska might call "the accident" or "spectacle of our lives," which one both participates in and observes as witness.


  
Here are a few links to a brief bio and samples of Lipska's poems:

http://poland.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=423

http://poems.com/poem.php?date=14650

https://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/print/2001/53-lipska.html

It seems to me that deconstructing the self is a luxury for some while attempting to (re)construct the self is a necessity for others. The dividing line may come down to "the accident" of birth and the corresponding angle from which one approaches both the struggle for a human, humane survival and "the boundaries of the soul":

quote:

Given the inevitability of human error, greed, and the illusory nature of our perception, Lipska may well be asking, how does one craft a place for love, the consolation of its redemptive power in our lives?



and:

quote:

She [Lipska] sees her work as emerging from an individuality unaffiliated with any group or school. Although her poems are at times deeply concerned with the events of World War II and have a rich political and historical consciousness, she is interested primarily in the fate of the individual without regard to national boundaries. She writes in her preface to our translation, "The boundaries of the soul and the boundaries of countries do not overlap."



Other poets who come to mind as potentially fruitful for this discussion are Zbigneiw Herbert, Wilskawa Szymborska and Czeslaw Mislosz (The Witness of Poetry) as well as Anna Akhmatova and Forough Farrakhzad, but please feel free to add your own names to the list or to take this discussion in any direction you wish.


Last edited by Katlin, May/17/2011, 3:58 pm
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Kat,

This reminded me of Heaney's Nobel lecture, given Ireland's history:

"And it is by such means that Yeat's work does what the necessary poetry always does, which is to touch the base of our sympathetic nature while taking in at the same time the unsympathetic reality of the world to which that nature is constantly exposed. The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry's power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry's credit: The power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it..."

You wrote:

"It seems to me that deconstructing the self is a luxury for some while attempting to (re)construct the self is a necessity for others."

Characterizing one as "luxury," and the other as "necessity," seems to value the second over the first. Don't know if I agree or disagree. I'm not sure if I understand what your statement means. Say more?

Chris

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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Chris,

I love the Heaney quote. Yes, that's crux of the matter, eloquently stated.

quote:

Characterizing one as "luxury," and the other as "necessity," seems to value the second over the first. Don't know if I agree or disagree. I'm not sure if I understand what your statement means. Say more?



You've put your finger on a potential prejudice on my part and one that has been nagging at me, so thanks for that. Maybe deconstructing the sovereignty of the self is a necessity to those who feel tugged at and buffeted, if not complete torn, broken or erased, by "the unsympathetic reality of the world" as Heaney calls it. I guess I was thinking about people who live on the dangerous edge due to external circumstances (war, poverty, illness, violence and deprivation of all kinds--don't some one of these come to all of us at some point?) and the struggle for survival, literally or more figuratively in terms of meaning, sense-making of the seemingly senseless. Is there such a thing as gratuitous suffering, and if there is, could it be fruitful in some way?

I don't really have the answers (get thee behind me, enlightenment), and am only vaguely beginning to formulate the questions. Is self-actualization the impossible dream? For most, it seems to be. How much can anyone of us say, "I did it my way?" Is that the reason deconstructing the self is of more interest in some quarters than (re)constructing it seems to be? Or is the fact that I frame the questions in this way a sign that the black hem of my prejudices is still showing? I can try rolling my slip up at the waist, but there's that little bump below my midriff. emoticon




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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Please don't hide the hem, Kat. I may have one just like it. There is such a thing as self-indulgence. We all know it when we see it.

Chris
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Here is what the thoughts above bring to mind. A Camus quote I pull out from time to time:

"In order to dominate collective passions they must, in fact, be lived through and experienced. at least relatively. At the same time he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather the period of journalism than that of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in a period of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them and by their hand." (italics mine)

Camus would have written these words not long after WW2, in which war he worked with the French underground, keeping a newspaper going he called "Combat." Later he would serve as a journalist reporting on the Algerian Revolution. Himself born a French colonial in Algeria, and having been raised in extreme poverty, he was still favorably disposed towards the revolution.

I first read these words in the seventies. I thought he was right then and still do. Look at what he points to: in an age such as ours the artist has no choice but to live through collective passions, at least relatively. This is how I interpret Heaney's thoughts on Yeats. This is how I approach the notes on the poetry of Lipska. And to be clear, this is also how I read the poetry of one of the most reclusive poets of all time, Emily Dickinson. To live through the collective passions and "to be willing to die for them and by their hand." Come to think of it this is my approach to the poetry of Neruda, his love poetry especially.

As for the notion of deconstructing the self, I don't see much of that going on to tell you the truth, just a whole lot of gun smoke and chest pounding. Certainly not in comparison to the inventor of the essay form who in fact invented the form for the explicit purpose of deconstructing the self. Montaigne.

Mighty rich thinking going on in this thread.

Tere
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Hi Tere,

Thanks for the Camus quote. An artist experiencing and being devoured by the collective passions is something that makes sense to me. Despite the fact that they have come to be known as confessional poets who focused on the autobiographical first person, I would add Plath and Sexton to the list of poets who did this.
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Absolutely, Katfriend. And to the list I might add Berryman and Lowell. Perhaps even Lindsay, Millay, and Teasdale.

Tere

quote:

Katlin wrote:

Hi Tere,

Thanks for the Camus quote. An artist experiencing and being devoured by the collective passions is something that makes sense to me. Despite the fact that they have come to be known as confessional poets who focused on the autobiographical first person, I would add Plath and Sexton to the list of poets who did this.



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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Looking to find an overview of Derrida, I came across this wikipedia article I thought was pretty good:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Derrida

and also the one on post-structuralism:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism

Last edited by Katlin, Mar/12/2010, 9:09 pm
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Good, good, good, Katfriend. You cannot get the Lang-Po slant without getting the cultural-linguistic theories of Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, the post-structuralists, and the post-Modernists.

Tere
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Tere,

I linked to those two topics, because I thought some of the comments, especially the ones that related to in-fighting, were pretty funny. For example, this quote of Foucault's about Derrida gave me a chuckle:

"He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he is saying. That's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, "You didn't understand me; you're an idiot. That's the terrorism part."

I have been thinking about why deconstructing the self doesn't hold that much interest to me, personally. I think it goes back to my early experiences with literature and life in college. As a freshman, I remember reading "Burnt Norton" and identifying with this passage:

". . . Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after."

Then as a senior I read Lessing's "Golden Notebook." That book is so choke-full of the disintegration of the psyche and of the narrator Anna Wulf's heroic attempt to integrate herself into a whole person who could incorporate all of life and write about it in one notebook, the golden notebook. I could identify with that too. I recently reread sections of the novel and was impressed by the way Lessing captured the interaction between the many selves in Wulf and her lover. Those passages rang more true to me now than they did when I was 21. But, like Anna, I don't want to stop there. Enlightenment may not be possible, but, !@#$, "Is that all there is?" I know how to break the wheel, but I'd like to discover how to (re)create it, if only for a moment. Some may see that as a cop-out, but I don't, which probably makes me a neo-romantic. emoticon
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


I just remembered the quote of Hemingway that goes something like: "The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places." Of course, you have to survive for that to happen, and we know not everyone does.
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Katfriend, if what you say marks some of us as a neo-romantic, so be it. I for one will accept the charge and I'll charge back. When it comes to this stuff I am so unapologetic.

Tere
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Tere,

Here's part of the entry for postmodernism:

quote:

The term "postmodern" and its derivatives are widely applied, with some uses apparently contradicting others. Certain writers, such as Dick Hebdige, contend that "postmodern" is merely a buzzword without any specific content. In Hebdige's ‘Hiding in the Light’, he writes:

When it becomes possible for a people to describe as ‘postmodern’ the décor of a room, the design of a building, the diegesis of a film, the construction of a record, or a ‘scratch’ video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the ‘intertextual’ relations between them, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or critical journal, an anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, the attack on the ‘metaphysics of presence’, a general attenuation of feeling, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of a post-War generation of baby boomers confronting disillusioned middle-age, the ‘predicament’ of reflexivity, a group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images, codes and styles, a process of cultural, political or existential fragmentation and/or crisis, the ‘de-centring’ of the subject, an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’, the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality of power/discourse formations, the ‘implosion of meaning’, the collapse of cultural hierarchies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction, the decline of the university, the functioning and effects of the new miniaturised technologies, broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media’, ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase, a sense (depending on who you read) of ‘placelessness’ or the abandonment of placelessness (‘critical regionalism’) or (even) a generalised substitution of spatial for temporal coordinates - when it becomes possible to describe all these things as ‘postmodern’ (or more simply using a current abbreviation as ‘post’ or ‘very post’) then it’s clear we are in the presence of a buzzword.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

Man, I gotta think there is a poem buzzing around in there somewhere. Someone ought to make a flarf poem out of it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flarf_poetry
 

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Not to mention when what gets described as amounting to a certain buzzword gets expressed in a single, long sentence which ends anticlamitically. You reckon that is postmodern too?

What is postmodern for me? By tradition Sapphic poetry was inspired by Orpheus. The story holds she was one day walking along the shore of Lesbos, her island home, when she heard singing. She looked out and saw Orpheus's severed head bobbing on the waves, singing and prophesizing. (It had been severed by the Maneads, the wild women, in ritual sacrifice to Dionysus.) And it inspired her in her mostly devotional poetry in honor of Aphrodite, the goddess in whose sacred precincts she was a devotee.

To me what is postmodern is a head severed from the body too. Only it no longer speaks to love, life, and death. It speaks to itself. Anyone for a game of intertextuality? Anyone care to explain to me exactly what exactly intertextuality is?

I once heard of a poet from the sixties. Jim Whitehead was his name. He was teaching creative writing, I think, at the U of Arkansas. He would attend cocktail parties, mostly with other faculty members and grad students. He would regularly get drunk. As regularly, and about the time he knew he should be going home, he would make a prouncement:

"Let's all of us through off our clothes, jump into a pile in the middle of the floor, and throw a flying f**k out the window."

This has always struck me as the perfect antidote to intertextuality.

Tere
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


It sounds like Prof Whitehead was more interested in extrasexuality than intertextuality. I like the Sappho anecdote.

Here are two quotes I ran across today that I think nicely poke fun at contpemporary poetry, both the avant-garde and the School of Quietude varieties:

quote:

The critic David Orr was, I believe, talking about the current state of the lyric when he characterized “the trendiest contemporary style,” which

"relies heavily on disconnected phrases, abrupt syntactical shifts, attention-begging titles … , quirky diction … , flickering italics, oddball openings … and a tone ranging from daffy to plangent—basically, two scoops of John Ashbery and a sprinkling of Gertrude Stein. It’s not hard to write acceptable poetry in this mode, which is one of the reasons so many people make use of it. After all, poets need jobs, and for those, they need books—and for those, well, they need poems."



and:

quote:

The poet William Matthews, in an essay from his prose collection Curiosities (1989), narrows the field of most lyric poetry to four basic themes from which the dramatic impulse is absent: “1. I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious. 2. We’re not getting any younger. 3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey. 4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent and on we know not what.” Matthews was a poet of intelligence and poignant wit; he means his characterizations as a joke, but he’s not far wrong. In other words, there’s the nature poem with spiritual aspirations (think Coleridge, Hopkins, Mary Oliver, et al.); the tempus fugit motif of Herrick and Marvell, to name just a couple; the odi et amo seesaw ridden by nearly every poet before and after Catullus; and the last which is just a mix-and-match of the previous three themes.



http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_yezzi2.php

I like what David Yezzi has to say in the essay, "The Dramatic Element," about the use of dramatic effects in lyric poetry:

"Why shouldn’t lyric poetry, then, learn a trick or two from playwriting? The truth is it always has, not just in dramatic verse, closet dramas, and stage plays, but in a variety of lyric forms that might be thought of as dramatic lyrics—rather like mini plays, with characters, situations, dialogue. Like the lyric generally, dramatic lyrics tend to be brief, no longer than a page or so."

and:

"Here are a few more qualities of the dramatic lyric: it will be brief. It will have multiple characters engaged in a dramatic situation, which might be as slight as an idle chat or as charged as an assassination plot. Regardless of the situation, there will be conflict, either mild or heated. The lyric drama need not consist entirely of dialogue, but it will typically contain dialogue, either actual or reported."

As Yezzi points out, this is not a new approach, but one that is sometimes overlooked by poets today. The use of dramatic effects can make poems polyvocal in a way that is not confusing but at the same time mediates against total subjectivity. Again, nothing new here, but as the old saw says: "Everything has been thought of before, the key is to think of it again."

Last edited by Katlin, Apr/19/2010, 2:37 pm
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Fascinating discussion. I may have something to add later, but in any case, thank you. Zak
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


Zak,

This is a rather slow-moving, fairly wide-ranging, and definitely open-ended discussion, so please feel free to weigh in when you can. I think Tere basically knows where he stands on of these issues, but I feel like I am thinking out loud about some things I've been mulling over in my own mind for while now.
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First off, Katfriend, I want to be clear on something. It's more true than not that I know where I stand with respect to the issues raised involving contemp. poetry in America. In the early 90s I wrote an essay on what I called Mod Am Poetry. In brief it amounted to an overview of the period and touched on most, if not all, of its principal players. It involved a whole lot of reading and a whole lot of thinking. And so when it came time to take stock of what has gone down since 1974, a year I still hold as marking the end of what, in my view, can be marked off as an identifyable period in Am Lit, I felt pretty well grounded. And the question kept coming back to me: what is getting done that wasn't already assayed during that era? In every case the answer was: nothing.

It was only a few years ago, late '07, when coming across attitudes expressed on poets.org by one Dmanister, I thought, well, maybe I should recheck the case. This I did. In terms of my estimations the sum remains unchanged. Right or wrong, and we never really know for sure if our estimations are right, I know where I stand.

But, and this is the big but, if my opinions stymie you or anybody else in working through what you need to work through then I need to shut up. The working space is what matters here. Besides, I remain open to correction.

About your second to last post, the Yezzi post, I would add that not only should the dramatic element be returned to poetry, so should the narrative element. Homer was a narrative poet trading in epics. Alliterative poetry of the Middle Ages tended to be narrative: think of the Green Knight poem. Fast forward to Sir Walter Scott and Pushkin, the last Russia's greatest poet. Robinson Jeffers was a narrative poet, his Roan Stallion poem hands down the best narrative poem of the 20th C. At the expense of being obvious, what is a narrative poem? It is a poem telling a story just like a novel does. It tends to have a begining, middle, and end, all plotted out. Between middle and end there tends to be the moment of denouement, the moment when the story's tension becomes too much and the action breaks down just like a little girl, just like a little boy. In brief I want the ballad back.

I have not shown many of my narrative poems here. Narrative poetry requires some length, what is the anti-christ on poetry boards mostly. But I want it back. Poetry in my view has been robbed of the narrative element, the story line that even a journalist knows persuades her reader of the truth, at least when the story is told well. And I remember something my historian brother said once. History writing, he said, past all the facts, data, and comprehensions, comes down to telling a good story. I hold that the same is true of lyric poetry. Lest we forget, the Muses were sisters. Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Calliope (epic poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy) Terpsichore (dancing), Polyhymnia (sacred song), Thalia (comedy). Eight of the nine muses, right? (The ninth girl perhaps most enigmatic. Urania - astronomy but also, I think, an earthy gal.) This is my short-hand way of saying, why can't poetry have it all again?

Sorry for the length. You got me to thinking.

Tere
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Re: Survivor of the Twentieth Century


quote:

But, and this is the big but, if my opinions stymie you or anybody else in working through what you need to work through then I need to shut up. The working space is what matters here. Besides, I remain open to correction.



Tere,

I don't feel as if your opinions are stymieing me at all. I only meant to say that I have been thinking about these things for the past few years but that you have been (re)considering them for a lot longer. I don't feel as if you are trying to change my way of thinking; I also know that if I disagree with you I can say so.

This is my short-hand way of saying, why can't poetry have it all again?

Why indeed? The word ballad seems like such an old-fashioned word now, I think, but maybe the form will be rediscovered and go retro. Perhaps the same will be true of narrative poetry. Stranger things have happened.

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In an interview, Australian poet Les Murray, who has an autistic son, claims:

"A lot of modern art is very autistic. There is this arbitrary law that you're not supposed to be sentimental or have any feelings. What the bloody hell is that but autism, pretending to be some kind of automaton?"

He explains that people who have autism "live in a world where it is very hard to speak in the first person. They often talk in facts. Getting through to 'I' is damn hard."

When Murray is asked to "distinguish between what's sentimental and what isn't?" he responds:

"I think it's probably in not telling lies. There's always something false about the sentimental. When it's feeling without lies, it's terribly scary, but it's not sentimental."

http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_murray.php

Reading Murray's comments, I suddenly understood more clearly post/modernism's belief that the narrative "I" is a sentimental notion, is a lie, but the idea that pursuing such a belief would lead to a kind of autism is a new angle of thought for me.

Last edited by Katlin, Apr/3/2010, 10:44 am
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For some time now I have been meaning to post a few quotes from Jackson Mac Low, which I think are relevant to this topic. In The Craft of Poetry, edited by William Packard, there is a fifteen page interview with Mac Low. What I find interesting about Mac Low is that, for all his experimentalism, he refused to take sides between the avant-garde and what has now become known as the School of Quietude. Here are some quotes that caught my attention:

“I have always been politically active, so in one way or anther, I’ve always written a lot of straight political poetry. It’s not all composed by chance; even in the chance period, I wrote a lot of direct antiwar poetry.”

“But now, when I’m not composing poems by chance systems or the like, I’m writing about a particular thing—the way it is. I try to tell it as it is. I think it is important to tell the news. That’s one reason I like Diane Wakoski’s work so much. She’s always telling the news.”

“When I’ve written sonnets or villanelles, I think I’ve done so because I thought I could best say what I wanted to in those verse forms. But, you know, chance-operation work is much more like a game. I invent certain rules and follow them to see what’ll happen. But, I usually want to say something when I use traditional verse forms.”

“Cage and, through his influence, I began composing by means of chance operations . . . in an attempt to escape the dominance of the ego—especially personal passions—in art.”

“It is just that in the course of using chance operations over many years, I came to realize that the ego is inescapably there, whether one is expressing one’s feelings and thoughts or making works by chance operations or ‘other’ impersonal methods. If you invent a method, you invent it and choose to use it—the ego makes that choice just as much as it makes the choice to express feelings about a lover or a war. . . .I feel that we’ve extended the possibilities of music and poetry through the use of systematic chance, but not that we’ve invalidated intuitive methods of making art.”

“. . . but I’ve never completely avoided composing music and poetry by intuitive methods. Even when I composed most of my work by systematic chance or similar ‘objective’ methods, I was always also writing ‘subjective’ works—mostly love poems and political poems. And now I’m writing a great deal of poetry directly about my life as I live it, I still also compose by chance methods or the like.”

"But I think practically any kind of poetry is valid. (I say 'practically' because if I thought hard enough, I’d probably think of some kinds that I didn’t think were valid!) I do think there is better and worse poetry, somehow, but it isn’t something you can decide ahead of time. You can’t legislate for poets. Critics can’t legislate for poets; that’s what I learned from Aristotle (and from the Chicago Aristotelians and Paul Goodman.)"

"(I think the term 'confessional' is a stupid one, but that’s the one that’s being used now for poems in which the poet talks directly about his or her own intimate life, so I use it under protest.)"

In his essay "Theory X Theory," Donald Hall writes:

"Thus: William Carlos Williams, defending plain talk and the American idiom, wrote verses dense with assonance like the Keats he grew up on; more importantly, his famous slogan of ‘no ideas but in things’ –sewn on a sampler by ten thousand living American poets—may stand as the apex and type of THEORY X THEORY, for it purely contradicts itself. Thus: Jackson Mac Low pursues aleatory methods of construction, affirms a Buddhist disavow of individuality, makes poems out of random computer-generated word-lists, and writes poem after poem which sounds like no one in the world but Jackson Mac Low.”

At the conclusion of the essay,” Hall quotes from Mac Low’s "Unmanifest" in Bloomsday:

“What the maker of a manifesto does not comprehend or acknowledge is the basic unmanifestness from which and within which each manifestation takes place. It is this neglect or ignorance that calls forth repugnance when a manifesto is proclaimed or published, especially one regarding art. As if what comes to being in and as the work of art could ever be steadfastly in the unmanifest! A work of art is a manifesto only insofar as it is its own anti-manifesto.”


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Seems as though these language experiments are an attempt to escape the self/ego and its conditioning in order to get at some more essential truth. Language is a powerful trigger of associations and constructs so disrupting those automatic associations is like jogging consciousness into a more awakened
state. Or something like that, just rambling a little here. I'm not sure about the methods or the results but I think I can understand the intention. I wonder if it's possible to overcome the spell-binding power of language with more, differently configured, language. I do sympathize with those who attempt it. The problem is always with the tendency toward proclaiming a manifesto. Just some thoughts for what they're worth.

Chris

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Seems as though these language experiments are an attempt to escape the self/ego and its conditioning in order to get at some more essential truth. Language is a powerful trigger of associations and constructs so disrupting those automatic associations is like jogging consciousness into a more awakened state.

Chris,

I think you have summed up the intention perfectly.

I wonder if it's possible to overcome the spell-binding power of language with more, differently configured, language.

I think sometimes poetry is an attempt to use "the spell-binding power of language" to produce an altered state of conscious, different than the run-of-the-mill, everyday consciousness. Poetry as song, prayer and incantation fall into this cateogory. Rather than trading one trance state for another, perhaps some language experiments attempt to free the mind from all trance states in order to get at "some more essential truth" as you mention. Seen in that light, I, too, have sympathy for those who make the attempt. Commercials, political slogans, religious dogma and propaganda can also influence consciousness in the unwary, and some experimental poetry aims to subvert that tendency, which is a laudable goal.
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File this entry under "Salutary aims, laudable goals and the law of unintended consequences." Instead of lions and tigers and bears, oh my, we have data and mining and flux, oh my.

Over at Harriet's blog, Kenneth Goldsmith has been blogging about not only the death of the author but also the death of writing, digital mania and the ghost in the machine.

"Provisional Language" begins:

Language has become a provisional space, temporary and debased, mere material to be shoveled, reshaped, hoarded and molded into whatever form is convenient, only to be discarded just as quickly. Because words today are cheap and infinitely produced, they are detritus, signifying little, meaning less. Disorientation by replication, mirroring, and spam is the norm. Any notion of the authentic or original is untraceable. French theorists who anticipated the destabilizing of language could never have foreseen the extent that these words refuse to stand still; restlessness is all they know. Words today are bubbles, shape shifters, empty signifiers, floating on the invisibility of the network, that great leveler of language, from which we greedily and indiscriminately siphon, stuffing hard drives only to replace them with bigger and cheaper ones.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/04/provisional-language/#more-9795


"The Zero Degree of Blunt Expediency" concludes:

The sheer size and vacancy of our gestures without any doubt invokes — from a distance —a certain pathos and awe, yet it skips along so heedlessly in its oversize trajectories that it can leave behind nothing at finer scales but the inescapable poverty of small ambition, short forms, tiny sentiments and most importantly, human emotion. And it is here where the human entity formerly known as “the reader” enters nakedly and desolately into this arithmetical landscape.

This new generic horizon rising before us is one so saturated with embedded calculation that it sucks almost every prior mode of literary production out of view. A new ecstasy of language has emerged, one of algorithmic rationality and machine worship; one intent on flattening difference: meaning and nonsense, code and poetry, ethics and morality, the necessary and the frivolous. Literature is now approaching the zero degree of blunt expediency — a chilling, thrilling, almost Darwinian opportunism in action. Writing it appears, at this scale at least, is dead.


http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/04/the-zero-degree-of-blunt-expediency/

"A Textual Ecosystem" gives new meaning to the term jack of all trades:

While writers have traditionally taken great pains to ensure that their texts “flow,” in the context of our Joyce-inspired language / data ecosystem, this takes on a whole new meaning, as writers are the custodians of this ecology. Having moved from the traditional position of being solely generative entities to information managers with organizational capacities, writers are embodying tasks once thought to belong only to programmers, database minders, and librarians, thus eradicating the distinction between archivists, writers, producers and consumers.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/04/a-textual-ecosystem/#more-10325

Reading these essays, one feels the speed, the need, head hunger outstripping the body's urges and the soul's decrees, with no attempt to toggle them together. "Our task is to simply mind the machines." I want to say, Slow down; let me breathe. Somewhere a kiss is still a kiss, isn't it? "I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle." Survivial of the fittest fiddlest? Hmm, without a corresponding change in consciousness, my hunch is Gaia will not be pleased.



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I keep coming back to these paragraghs from Provisional Language":

Entire authorial oeuvres now adopt provisional langauge, establishing regimes of engineered disorentation to instigate a politics of systematic disarray. Babel has been misunderstood; language is not the problem, just the new frontier.

Provisional language pretends to unite, but it actually splinters. It creates communities not of shared interest or of free association, but of identical statistics and unavoidable demographics, an opportunistic weave of vested interests.

Kill your masters. A shortage of masters has not stopped a proliferation of masterpieces. Everything is a masterpiece; nothing is a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece if I say it is. Inevitably, the death the author has spawned orphaned space; provisional language is authorless, yet surprisingly authoritarian, indiscriminately assuming the cloak of whomever it snatched it from.


Uh-huh. And then there is this:

Language has been leveled to a mode of sameness, blandness. Can the bland be differentiated? The featureless be exaggerated? Through length? amplification? variation? repetition? Would it make a difference? Words exist to for the purpose of détournément: take the most hateful language you can find and neuter it; take the sweetest and make it ugly.

Apparently the Poundian dictum of "make it new" has been transformed into "make it opposite, antagonistic." Well, I can see the value in such an approach and have sometimes employed it myself. Bearing in mind Einstien's quote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” the question remains: Does opposition denote a change in consciousness? IOW, how far from modernism is postmoderism? Kissing cousins are still related. Here's Goldsmith again:

Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us. We cannot stop noticing: no sequence too absurd, trivial, meaningless, insulting, we helplessly register, provide sense, squeeze meaning, and read intention out of the most atomized of words. Modernism showed that we cannot stop making sense out of the utterly senseless. The only legitimate discourse is loss; we used to renew what was depleted, now we try to resurrect what is gone.

Circle gets the square. "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Quick and dirty definition of détournement:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%A9tournement

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Powerful depiction of the dark side of the coin. Doesn't strike me as over-stated either.
What was I thinking?

Chris
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Chris,

I've been thinking of something you said in another thread:

"Also, you've got to get past the sacred cows
to enter those "unexplored fields of imagination." There's not much that can survive a healthy sense of the absurd."

http://www.runboard.com/bdelectablemnts.f14.t866

Postmodernism has done a lot to help us get past the sacred cows of modernism, but now I'm left wondering what will help us get past the sacred cows of postmodernism. Or perhaps I should call them the anti-sacred sacred cows of postmodernism? I actually think you were on to something in your Aunt Hannah story.

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Well, if that's the case there's a lot to be said for just having fun. f--k 'em if they can't take a joke.

Chris
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You know something? I've tried on several occassions to take on postmodern (American) poetry. Every time I've emptied my head of the canon. Every time I've thought to myself: buddy, there could be something you are missing here. Every time I've found precedent in earlier poets, not just in the Moderns. Even the cardinal notion, in my view an anemic notion, that text relates to text contextually and never to reality, has precedent. Eliot was inclined in that direction. His essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," could be so taken. And Victorean poetry, if nothing else, was divorced from reality, using language means only relating to other language means: what brought about the Modernist revolt in the first place.

At the expense of appearing a snob, a co-worker recently called me that when she saw me reading the New York Review of Books in the lunch room, I don't mind that poets, some poets, don't bother to take the record into account. That is okay. And sometimes I come across the ingenue who perfectly tickles me with her own, original findings and voice. I do mind the academician who doesn't bother to check into the record before espousing a program. That I do take exception to.

I sometimes wonder why I have to keep tip-toeing around self-designated postmodern poets. To me it is all a parochial, provincial, peculiarly American affair having nothing to do with the entrails, incest, inscape, instress of poetry.

Perhaps you are wondering how I really feel about the subject.

Tere
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Chrisfriend, this is for you. I get what you are saying. I also get the motivation behind the postmodrnist (in America) program.

I have a favorite note I bring out often. It can be found in the Oxford Companion to Poetry. The entry is devoted to poetry and so it can be read as how poetry's sister art, philosophy, reads her. The writer is a Scottish philosopher of the 20th C.

"Poetry is forever fighting against the pressures and seductive power of ordinary language to falsify experience in easy, slack cliche. Poetry feels itself often up against 'the limits of language.'" (italics mine)

Sure. I get the postmodernist (in America) program. Where I part company with its faithful is at that crossroad where, for them, poetry has no truck with experience, even symbolically, and where word relates to word only, no experience needed, implied, and demonstrated; no depth experience especially.

And what is the grail of poetry if not the renewed perception of experience? The roebuck in the thicket is how I see it.

Well anyway. This is just me. What I bank my poetry on. Perceptions cleaned of filters and barnacles and dross. Perceptions also looking to take in the depth experience.

Tere
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