Tuesday, April 8, 2008

“The author dies. The author’s work is born."

The recent Conceptual Poetry Conceptual Interview by Annie Guthrie retails, as you'd expect, some of the old-timey Roland Barthes death-of-the-author stuff; and then Cole Swensen interestingly says:

"I don't think we can use the term avant-garde meaningfully these days except historically; it refers to an earlier situation in which the terms of artistic engagement were radically different from what they are today. However, the very concern about this issue seems to imply that if a stance such as indeterminacy is not new, it has a less value, which is to reduce it to a fashion."

I suppose I'd really have thought that if something isn't new, it literally can't be avant-garde, but in any case this has nothing to do with something being a fashion or not. (Fashions can, actually, be new.) The words "stance" and "fashion" are deployed to undermine the possible argument that newness has "value." But "seems" and "imply" are also telling. I know that it's silly to close-read these remarks... but seriously: is indeterminacy "these days" descended from the old-time a.-g., or is it just, well, indeterminate? And does this matter or not?

As Charles Bernstein points out, indeterminacy is true of poetry generally: "it's more a condition of language than a choice." That a piece of writing doesn't, in the end, belong to the person who writes it doesn't seem like a controversy to me. “The author dies. The author’s work is born," etc.

See also: Linh Dinh, Our Bodies, Our Selves

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