Saturday, June 6, 2009

The new thing?

The inability to understand the modern project of being in the world turns into a cultural forgetting. Some years ago, during one of my lectures on modernism - Picasso's Les demoiselles d'Avingnon large on the wall behind me - a hand went up. The student asked, "Sir, did you make this up?" After puzzled moment, I burst into laughter. The student replied, "Well, you're talking about things seventy years old. Why haven't I ever heard of them?" This, it turned out, was no dumbbell, nor was he a country bumpkin. His resentment was real and thoughtful. A victim of educational effacement. But, then, one whispers, his parents, his teachers, the system that tutors him, none of them could fill the emptiness. Charges of elitism become silly and dangerous under such cultural circumstances.

... A civilization devoted to production and consumption and a tradition that is in ruins, partly forgotten or in sentiment alone come together in a shapelessness difficult to fathom.

-- Robin Blaser

(The "new thing"? People don't even know what the old thing was...)

7 comments:

Philip Metres said...

must have been a good lecture.

Is there a subtle Ecclesiastes-esque critique of the "new new thing" discourse going on here?

Joseph Hutchison said...

Blaser hit the nail on the head. There a people who are "dying every day" for lack of what should be provided to them by our miseducation system, which does little but prepare us for "production and consumption" (as we see in the news, really for consumption only). Luckily the desire doesn't ever vanish. But this is why it's so important that poets and other artists address audiences outside their circle of true believers. A coterie of overeducated theorists stroking each others glossaries is a colossal waste of time and energy.

Michael Robbins said...

Surely silence is the best response to "the new thing"? It will soon be relegated to the mists.

Ross Brighton said...

I Like Stan Apps' obsevation that it's acctually an Old Thing (in the comments stream):
http://nonprovocativeurl.blogspot.com/2009/06/stephen-burts-career-trajectory.html
My thoughts on the subject, in all their disorganised glory, and here:
http://ignoretheventriloquists.blogspot.com/2009/06/steven-burts-new-thing-some-notes-in.html

Henry Gould said...

& here's my contribution to these "things"...

http://hgpoetics.blogspot.com/2009/06/local-things.html

I have an oddly optimistic take on all this stuff... since I don't believe the roots of civilization & literacy & poetry & so forth lie in the traditional lore passed on by knowledgeable scholars, literati etc...

When asked about a technical point having to do with the law, Jesus scribbled something in the dust...

Ross Brighton said...

Michael: I'm not sure I agree. The main impetus for my comments was Burt's seeming attempt to appropriate the work of Ronald Johnson for his own ends, while dismissing ARK as "daunting" and "hermetic" (not necessarily pejoratives in my book, both could also be applied to Paul Celan, one of my favorite poets).

RH said...

This spring I will teach the 2nd iteration of my graduate course called "The 20th Century in the First Person' at Emerson College. We'll begin with Graves' Goodbye to All That, then move to Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope Against Hope. Then to William Manchester, Mark Mathabane, Zhu Xaio Di, among others. We'll use timelines and summaries of course, but we'll be looking from the perspective not of historians or public figures, but of writers caught up in events. How can young writers expect to write anything of importance when they are unaware of the great shaping questions tumbling down from the last century. How can they hope to situate themselves in relation to the time in which they are living and writing without some grasp of what is in the wind? Of who the people around them are? The course isn't more than a start, but I feel fraudulent teaching adult graduate students as if they were in a sandbox.