Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Great Order of the Universe























(Click above to see a larger version)

Kenneth Goldsmith, comment on Ron Silliman's blog, 7/7/09: "... if it all sounds familiar, it is. Conceptual writing obstinately makes no claims on originality. On the contrary, it employs intentionally self and ego effacing tactics using uncreativity, unoriginality, illegibility, appropriation, plagiarism, fraud, theft, and falsification as its precepts; information management, word processing, databasing, and extreme process as its methodologies; and boredom, valuelessness, and nutritionlessness as its ethos."

&

Kenneth Goldsmith (Harriet, 9/9/09): "The identity politics battles of the past twenty years have done wonders and have given voice to many that have been denied. And there is still so much work to be done: so many voices are still marginalized and ignored. It's a long road ahead and every effort must be made to be made to ensure that those who have something to say have a place to say it and an audience to hear it. The importance of this work cannot be underestimated.

Identity is a slippery thing and no single approach can nail it. Also, citing the need for difference, we're never going to feel the same way on anything -- a good thing. We all come from different places and circumstances, which is something to be celebrated. To be prescriptive or to make generalizations regarding circumstances of economies, classes, religions and races is counterproductive.

I really don't think that there's a stable or essential me. I am an amalgamation of so many things: books I've read, movies I've seen, televisions shows I've watched, all the exchange and sharing of thoughts during conversations with people -- the melding of our minds, the song lyrics I've heard, the lovers I've loved. The discussion that we're having right now is changing and challenging who I thought I was profoundly. And for that I'm grateful.

In fact, I'm a creation of many people and many ideas to the point where I feel that I've actually had very few original thoughts and ideas; to think that any of this was original would be blindingly egotistical. Sometimes I'll think that I've had an original thought or feeling and then, at 2 a.m. while watching an old movie on TV that I hadn't seen in many years, the protagonist will spout something that I had previously claimed as my own. In other words, I took his words (which, of course, weren't really "his words" at all), internalized them and made them my own. This happens all the time.

Often -- mostly unconsciously -- I'll model my identity of myself on some image that I've been pitched to by an advertisement. When I'm trying on clothes in a store, I will bring forth that image that I've seen in an ad and mentally insert myself and my image into it. It's all fantasy. I would say that an enormous part of my identity has been adopted from advertising. I very much live in this culture; how could I possibly ignore such powerful forces? Is it ideal? Probably not. Would I like not to be so swayed by the forces of advertising and consumerism? Of course, but I would be kidding myself if I didn't admit that this was a huge part of who I am as a member of this culture.

As a previous commenter mentioned, transgendered persons are deeply committed to not being what they were born into. So many people who are not thrilled with the way they were born courageously labor their whole lives to adopt new and fluid identities. Others, such as transsexual persons are in a constant state of remaking themselves. I feel inspired by such fluid and changeable notions of identity.

On the internet, these tendencies move in different directions. With much less commitment than it takes in meatspace, we can project various personas with mere stokes of a keyboard. In this chatroom, I'm a woman; on this blog, I'm a political conservative; in this forum, I'm a middle-aged golfer. And I never get called out for not being authentic or real. On the contrary, I am addressed as "madam," or "you right-wing asshole." In fact, Mr. Khan, I wouldn't be surprised if you were writing under a pseudonym right now. Not only would I forgive you, I've come to expect that the person I think I'm addressing on the internet isn't really "that person." Fascinating, no?

If my identity is really up for grabs and changeable by the minute -- as I believe it is -- it's important that my writing reflect this state of ever-shifting identity and subjectivity. That can mean adopting voices that aren't "mine," subjectivities that aren't "mine," political positions that aren't "mine," opinions that aren't "mine," words that aren't "mine," because in the end, I don't think that I can possibly define what's "mine" and what isn't.

BUT -- and here's where subjectivity enters -- it's my choices that make the work "mine." I have chosen -- for some specific reason -- a certain text to appropriate or to reframe. For example, in a recent piece of mine, I have appropriated the entire interrogation session between Senator Larry Craig and the policeman who arrested him. I haven't done a thing to the text, I've just reprinted the whole thing. Why? I thought it was such a revealing text, full of prejudice and hypocrisy from both sides. It was something much more profound -- even surreal -- than anything I could ever have invented. In the end, it's a beautiful piece of writing.

Sometimes, by reproducing texts in a non-interventionist way, we can shed light on political issues in a more profound and illuminating way than we can by conventional critique. If we wished to critique globalism, for example, I can imagine that reproducing / framing the transcript as from yesterday's G8 summit meeting where they refused to ratify climate control threats would reveal much more about the truth of the situation than I could possibly say. Often, I feel it's better to let the text be what it is -- generally, as in the case of the G8, they'll incriminate and hang themselves with their own stupidity. I call this poetry.

I feel as writers we try too hard. No matter what we do with language, it will be expressive. How could it be otherwise? In fact, I feel it is impossible working with language not to express oneself. If we back off and let the material do it's work, we might even in the end be able to surprise and delight ourselves with the results.

Peace."

[Click here to listen to an interview with Kenneth Goldsmith about the portfolio.]

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

I posted this comment at Johannes Goransson's blog today, in reply to a comment that dismissed Christian Bok's work as "sterile." Seems relevant to post it here!

Kent

**

But one has to admire the labors of Bok, whatever the "poetic value" of the results. In Bok's work, actually, you can't really separate value from method, and that seems a big part of the point. In Eunoia, for example, it almost doesn't matter what you think of the text itself (not much, honestly, as far as I'm concerned); it's how the text got to be.

In an interview with The Believer, current issue, Bok twice uses "Herculean' to describe his own efforts, and that seems accurate to me. In the interview, if I can remember, Bok discusses how he has been at work, in collaboration with a biologist, to create a genome sequence that will be alphabetically coded into a poem. This sequence will then be inserted into a super-hardy bacterium (can't recall the name of it) so that the poem will live and mutate beyond the extinction of the human race-- survive to be, in fact, the last remaining poem of humanity, perhaps to be discovered and decoded by some alien civilization down the road. It will carry the name of Christian Bok as its Author. (Like most Flarfists and Conceptual poets engaged in all this supposedly Self-transcending work, Bok also seems to have a Herculean Ego, and the candor of the ambition and self-promotion itself--Goldsmith is also obvious example of this--becomes a kind of theatrical component of the poetics, hard to separate from the methods and texts. In general, there are no better, more unembarrassed representatives of the Author Function today than the F-Con Po's.)

Anyway, in the case of Bok, I don't think we can dismiss the package as "sterile," as Ross has it. There is a drive involved that is so intense it seems touched by a kind of mad genius. While nearly all the F-Con Po work will fairly soon be forgotten, I'm quite sure Bok will make his way into the Norton!

Kent

Henry Gould said...

Maybe they can get some funding through the federal stimulus program. These kinds of mind-numbingly stupid projects demand our full support. Thank you for giving them this public platform to help further their mission. Onward, hack jobbers of America! Ignorance to the front! Who Needs Poetry?!! Dumb-down, dumb-down! Or as they told Lavoisier, in a similar context : "The Revolution has no need for scientists."

Don Share said...

Alas, Bok is Canadian.

Henry Gould said...

I was responding to Goldsmith's comments. But I suppose they apply across the whole continent. I'm sure Canada will want to support Bok too, in every posible configuration of ways. Concepts are a national treasure (in theory at least).

Anonymous said...

>Or as they told Lavoisier, in a similar context : "The Revolution has no need for scientists."

Henry, Bok is actually a trained scientist. In Canada.

Kent

Joseph Hutchison said...

Kent, I don't understand why anyone should "have to admire the labors" of Bök if they are valueless, or even only marginally valuable. Do you admire the labors of Edgar Guest? Or the 100,000 turgid sonnets of Merrill Moore? Give me a break...

Henry Gould said...

All power to him, Kent. The dumbing-down & flatulation of poetry by trained scientists in advanced keyboardic verbology is the wave of the future. "The Revolution has no need for poets."

Henry Gould said...

Goldsmith himself is unquestionably a savant in the sub-discipline of Phonic-Balonic-Spinometry... always much prized in the proverbial "Beltway" & beyond...

Don Share said...

I'd like to say that through Henry's kindness and generosity, I've been able to read a lot of his work, which I've done with great pleasure and admiration. And I could be wrong in putting it this way, but Henry, you've done some experimental things yourself, e.g., Part II of July - on reading which I'd have thought you'd be a little more amenable to some of the stuff these guys are doing...

Henry Gould said...

Don, I am profoundly UN-generous and mean-spirited, as everyone knows. But thank you for giving my so-called experimental writings your time & attention, I'm grateful for that.

I think there's a difference in kind between the poetry I've tried to write, & these "conceptual" poetries.

The design grids & dislocations in the section of the poem you mention (July) are not fundamentally parodic or nihilistic. The aim is not to evaporate or vacate either the "normal" meanings of the poem's words, or the allusions & subtextual meanings which the words also imply.

What strikes me most, & bothers me most, about the "conceptualism" offered by Goldsmith, Bok, & other neo-futurists, is the attitude they display toward these two aspects of the word : that is, both normative meaning and subtextual reference are, essentially, MOCKED, eviscerated. They are denatured - reduced to material manipulations - on behalf of the overriding "concept" or "procedure" or "experiment".

I call this "dumbing down", because these procedures/operations - no matter how sophisticated - are reductive : the word & poetry are reduced to functions, conceptual games.

As I see it, the art of poetry is organic, synthetic. Sound/sense, mind/body, culture/nature, meaning/representation, intellect/feeling, abstract/personal, universal/individual...

& a writing which proceeds solely from irony, parody, & conceptual abstraction, has been deracinated - divorced from the its affective/emotional roots, for the sake of an "operation". ("We murder to dissect.") The results are, inevitably, shallow - superficial.

Don Share said...

I see what you mean, Henry - that's a good explanation. And I certainly didn't mean to lump you in with anybody else.

Just to play conceptual's advocate for an instant, I would point out that Kenny's work attempts to protest language that is divorced from the its affective/emotional roots. And I should also point out that he's been placed in the position of having to explain, introduce, and now to defend work that isn't his. You'll notice the other poets have remained silent! So he's been taking all the heat. Anyway...

Don Share said...

THIS JUST IN!
(Click the foregoing for more, in KG's own words.)

Lemon Hound said...

Mr. H,
You say:
I don't understand why anyone should "have to admire the labors" of Bök if they are valueless, or even only marginally valuable.

Why do you value any poetry? What's wrong with acknowledging originality of any shape? Do we only acknowledge what we want to produce ourselves?

I am sure Bok will end up in Norton. So he should.

Henry Gould said...

Don, you write : "Just to play conceptual's advocate for an instant, I would point out that Kenny's work attempts to protest language that is divorced from the its affective/emotional roots."

But does it protest? Or is it more like an amplifier or echo-chamber - a kind of parasitical doodling around, which never actually shows the courage of plain speech...

They had similar debates over contrasting dimensions of Russian poetry a few decades ago. Conceptualism is kind of like Soc-Art - only, it seems to me, more nihilistic.

Lemon, you put words in my mouth that I didn't say, exactly. People will argue like this, polemically, over irresolvable aesthetic preferences, I guess. I don't want to demean anyone persoanlly. I do take strong exception to what I view as aesthetic stances or trends, as I tried to explain. I disagree with them. I don't see much actual poetry in Conceptualism : I see a distraction from, & substitution for, poetry as I understand it...

Henry Gould said...

The scientist and the parodist have one thing in common : they construct an objectified world from which they stand strictly apart, aloof - for the sake of their experimental results. See physicist Erwin Schrodinger's fascinating essays on this issue. As Schrodinger points out, these processes of modelling and objectification inevitably subtract the world of human feeling, subjectivity, & etc. They are detached. In this I say they are, to a degree, deracinated - & to just that degree, they make certain emotional &, yes, certain conceptual/imaginative ranges of poetry - unavailable.

Susan J. Barbour said...

Whether or not Bok makes it into Norton seems to me irrelevant--must we turn to editorial brands to corroborate what art makes us think and feel?

Am I the only one who thinks that Bok's actual text and composition are moving? That a toy patent and a translated ancient philosophical text could coincide, could be made up of the very same letters, the very same building blocks of meaning, all while commenting on the building blocks of meaning, and having tones we instantly recognize as part and parcel of one or the other type of discourse--is that not wonderfully exciting? I don't find this nihilistic at all, anymore than I find contemplating the void nihilistic. Who of us can claim not to have been struck at one time or another by the wording or rhythms of unsuspecting literature--in philosophical texts, in brochures, in medical documents, in bills, in patents--aren't all of these things conveying messages that speak to and about our shared human experiences? Experiences we are always hungering to understand and view from outside the proverbial box?

And Bok's poem also fulfills Stevens' notion that all poems are at bottom ars poetica. The last lines of both paragraphs indicate as much, as does the visual diagram.

I don't think you have to be a conceptual poet to like Bok, nor do I think he threatens the extinction of other types of poetry. Any time we read any (good) poem it is doing things old and new, and here those surprises and nods are quite literally toyed with. The process is surely dazzling in its feat, but the product can move us--if we let it. Concepts are not emotionally inert. Which emotion of ours is not also linked to a personal worldview, a weltanschauung, a "Great Order of the Universe"? Challenging or reframing the arguments surrounding that order will of necessity have reverberations on the ways we think and feel about love and loss.

When Pound decided the first heave was to break the pentameter many people balked. Metrics were the word of the day, the Logos or reason. But one finds many poets writing today who are indebted to him. They probably also find the Pisan Cantos normative and subtextual. Art gets automatized, and some day the juxtapositions and processes Bok employs will become more commonplace, but still important, because it flashes up a reflection of people's minds and experiences (and indeed, emotions) in the information age. What else is art for, if not to give us the tools to rethink and reclaim the world we now live in?

SJB

Lemon Hound said...

Henry, you aren't Mr. H, that would be Mr. Hutchison.

And Henry, I'm glad you clarified the following:
"I see a distraction from, & substitution for, poetry as I understand it..."

Fair enough, but it's poetry as you understand it.

Peace

Henry Gould said...

Susan,
that was a great comment; & you're right in many ways. My father is a patent attorney (who can count among his client-products, the frisbee, the pacemaker, & roller-blades), & I understand what you're saying about play & invention.

But still, I have some reservations, & suggest again E. Schrodinger's text, particularly his comments on Democritus & the atomists - how they shade Bok's parodic title ("The Great Order of the Universe") - implying (with the lego-links, & Epicurus) that that order is one of mere chance - a game, or... a joke... something to be manipulated, for fun...

Yes - concepts can be thrilling, moving - Eureka! - but I think there's something more to poetry... & I resist the idea that the stubborn, irreducible, irrational, tragic, embodied "word" of poetry can ever be reduced to - FINESSED by - an idea... no matter how clever...

Joseph Hutchison said...

Dear Hound—

There's nothing wrong with originality. Of course, something can original and vapid, yes? Or not? Are you saying something is valuable simply because it's "original"? But you don't say that, really: you neatly shift from "value" to "acknowledge"—as if there is no difference. Or do you believe there is no difference? That we are somehow required to value the valueless—to value even work like Kenny G's (the copyist, not the Muzak musician) which declares itself valueless and uncreative. If that's what you mean, we'll have to agree to disagree, I guess....

Joseph Hutchison said...

Ms. Barbour—

Yours is the most articulate brief in favor of this kind of writing that I've come across. I see your point though I can't agree. If I did, I'd drag my own medical files out of their box in the garage and start reading. But I read for pleasure, and I get no pleasure from such stuff as Bok's writings are made on. Like most of my contemporaries, I am awash in minutiae, and while it might make me feel more important to pretend that all that minutiae is really so very exciting, I just can't do it. It's not the part of my world I care to reclaim....

Michael Robbins said...

Lemon, Lemon, Lemon. You can't argue with people like that. They gots no interest in dialogue, only in the sound of their own certainties. THIS is valueless! THAT is valueless! I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS. None of these people know what an argument is, either. Oh, I get so, so tired of it. Harriet, for example, is now completely uninhabitable. Take me home with you, Ms. Hound, & feeeeeed me.

Lemon Hound said...

Mr. H,
It would be my pleasure to disagree with you. As long as you're aware that we're disagreeing gives me hope--at least you're aware there are other opinions out there.

As for you Mr. Robbins, the Hound is indeed smitten.

;-)

Henry Gould said...

And what specific argument are you making, Michael? Aside from "those other people are wrong"? Which is not really an argument.

I thought I actually did make an argument. I expressed my doubts about "Conceptual Poetry", and gave my reasons for those doubts. You & Lemon Hound & others, of course, are free to disagree.

Henry Gould said...

Sorry, I see my hackles got in the way of my spectacles... Lemon H. & Michael are responding to Joseph H., not H. as in Henry... or maybe they are... now I'm confused...

Lemon Hound said...

Henry,
I'm not arguing with you, or anyone. Feel free to disagree. How can everyone have the same idea of poetry? The problem is when people think they have the right idea about poetry...

You say:
As I see it, the art of poetry is organic, synthetic. Sound/sense, mind/body, culture/nature, meaning/representation, intellect/feeling, abstract/personal, universal/individual...

Fine. That's as you see it. Fine with me, it's just not how it is...it's how you see it.

Who of us can describe the whole of what poetry is? We can take our swipes at it, sure, and that's great.

Why the totalizing language? It's so militaristic.

Henry Gould said...

Well, let's make an analogy, from a different art form. Is everything and anything music? Or painting? Is large-scale timber logging just another form of Japanese bonsai?

I'm someone who remains unconvinced that these are examples of poetry : the poker-faced reiteration of a previous text (ala Kenneth Goldsmith), or the clever juxtaposition of a visual image with two related texts on science & invention (Bok's work).

Everything is not everything else just because you can "link" them on a webpage, etc.

As I've tried to argue in other places - language itself is a hyper-complex "technology". A quiet poem is a super-refined cognitive/aesthetic entity - it doesn't require special, extraneous bells & whistles. As Mandelstam characterized it, poetry is like a complex crystal hidden beneath a simple stone exterior : the surface of the "humble gray pebble" hides an interior of "terrifying density". This is how I understand poetry, and the traditions of poetry, passed along through echoing & debating chains of actual poets & poems. & by the way, Mandelstam here is talking specifically about CONCEPTUAL density.

Don Share said...

Click here for an interview with K.G. about all this.
You'll have to sit through some "normal" poetry stuff first, though.

Lemon Hound said...

Fine, you argue for your own idea of poetry. That's fine.

For you, "A quiet poem is a super-refined cognitive/aesthetic entity," that's fine too.

To me poetry is a very, very broad category and I'm not convinced that arguing that point is at all useful.

But I do acknowledge your right to do so, to define your idea of poetry.

Everyone has an idea of poetry.

No one idea is right.

Maybe writing a poem is the appropriate response. Not arguing about it in comments streams.

Thanks for the link Don.

Henry Gould said...

OK, Lemon. But it seems to me there are cultural/educational consequences to the "whatever" theory of Everything's Relative. What does one teach kids, when you teach about art & poetry? Do you lead them toward appreciation of the unique effects of poetry-poetry? Or do you bring in the pushy bells-&-whistles crowd?

& yes, I know the argument for introducing "fun" into classrooms. But is it employed to lead students to the real thing? Or is it just more whatever-works dumbing-down? Gizmos & gimmicks?

Michael Robbins said...

Silly. "Poetry" is just an honorific we grant to certain cultural artifacts—all that matters, & I mean all, is that enough people agree to call x "poetry," & that makes it poetry. The other option is God decides. & that's it.

Lemon Hound said...

In my classroom we discuss poetry--that means everything that falls under that heading. That means verse, it means conceptual poetry, visual poetry, sound poetry, language poetry, Urdu poetry, haiku, honku, graffiti if you will...that means Shakespeare's sonnets and K. Silem Mohammad's interventions with them...and whatever else we can fit in.

Students find their way to the poetry that they want which may end up being very formal, very experimental, very conservative, or way beyond the realm of what I can argue is poetry.

Poets will develop their own poetic, what they prefer, where the line is drawn for them--as you do here with conceptual poetry.

But it's part of a large, ongoing poetic discourse and not about creating one idea and limiting others.

I don't think that means simply anything goes, it means everything is up for discussion, not necessary elimination, and certainly not an aloof dismissal.

Henry Gould said...

Well, that's an old debate, Michael. I prefer to think that when I use the word "bridge", in reference to that thing over the river, there's something actual, physical, real, unique, differentiable... there. Something beyond my nomenclature, but which my words are an attempt to point out, to characterize, denote... So yes, how we use a word is arguable, Lemon. & when you slang me with words like "aloof", dismissive", etc., you're characterizing how you think of me (in a dismissive way, I might add). But the lines I prefer to draw are a legitimate part of the discussion, the debate over how we think about what poetry actually is...

Henry Gould said...

It might take me a while to come up with an adequate definition for what Goldsmith, Bok & several of the conceptualists & flarfists are doing, as an alternative to calling it "poetry".

Maybe something like "verbal toggling"? "Verboggling"?
"Sophistitoggling"? "Intellectual gambrawling"? Just improvising here...

Joseph Hutchison said...

So, Michael—let's say something new comes along. "The Waste Land," for example. Something that in the beginning is broadly rejected as being "poetry", something that later becomes broadly acknowledged as part of the Canon. Did it start out as not poetry and somehow become poetry over time? By your lights this would seem to be so. Henry and I would agree that it was always poetry but required a changed audience to recognize it. That is, we'd agree (I think!) that "poetry" is more than an "honorific," more than some random or frivolous concatenation of words, more than a cultural/political construct. Not that poetry stands outside of culture, but that it is one of the forces that both reflect and shape culture; just "reflecting" is not enough. I would never claim the prescience necessary to recognize everything that will be considered poetry in the future; surely some of what I read and dismiss as vacuous has value and I just don't see it. I read poetry only for pleasure (a broad term that for me includes enjoyment, illumination, excitement, profundity and more), which is the only reason I have a dog in this fight: I want more of what gives me pleasure, and I worry that the ascendancy of Theory and the impact of an entire generation of poets writing "in the bubble" of academe—while pretending to be "revolutionaries"—are going to rob me of that pleasure. Of course, that can't really happen. There's a deep, rich past to explore and big wide world of poetry in translation where one can still find poets who write as something important were at stake.

Michael Robbins said...

Poetry is like a bridge. "The Waste Land" was "broadly rejected" as "not poetry." A moment's reflection suffices to refute both these notions, one of them a confusion of physical artifacts with cultural ones (a poem isn't the same thing as poetry, which isn't something you can point to, only something you can adduce examples of—you'd think an Aristotelean would know that), the other a historical error. This is why I don't waste my time rehashing hundred-year-old debates.

Lemon Hound said...

Henry, you say:
Lemon. & when you slang me with words like "aloof", dismissive", etc., you're characterizing how you think of me (in a dismissive way, I might add).

I find it interesting that you continually read what I say about poetry as personal. Perhaps that is part of the problem, distinguishing between poetry and one's personal relationship to poetry.

Aloof referred to the general way Bok's work is being discussed of late, here and elsewhere, and to the cavalier way people want to make a claim and in that sweeping gesture wipe away others...

I don't in fact think you and I have much to battle about. On the other hand, I'm not sure what you mean when you say the following:

But the lines I prefer to draw are a legitimate part of the discussion, the debate over how we think about what poetry actually is...

Yours,

Henry Gould said...

Dismissiveness is not a great debating tactic, Michael. For the early response to The Waste Land (which only registers the critical - not the broadly popular - reception) see here :

http://books.google.com/books?id=AmXnRqRR-9EC&pg=PA14&lpg=PA14&dq=%22waste+land%22+negative+critical+reception&source=bl&ots=Srt73G9_zL&sig=mOpKOTFuSvT1IXBIp6IbiHcJ8SE&hl=en&ei=TcNXSun6GciMtgf2vtHdCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8

As for poetry being something like a bridge, well, Hart Crane thought so. & why? Because I think he felt that POETRY (& not just poems) was rooted in something he called "the Word" ("It is the imaged Word that holds / Hushed willows anchored in its glow. / It is the unbetrayable reply / Whose accent no farewell can know.").

"Poetry is the scholar's art." - Wallace Stevens.

& what is a scholar? A scholar, among other things, is a kind of investigator - someone who digs into the realia of things, & makes fine distinctions. Between shades of color, shades of meaning...

But the "poetry is whatever anyone says it is" school of thought would deny the capability of the poet-scholar to interrogate his or her OWN metier...

Michael Robbins said...

By the way, "the ascendancy of Theory" is itself a response to the same cultural conditions that lead to what some see as theory's reflection in poetics. Obviously, theory doesn't "ascend" from nowhere; nor does it by itself have any power to alter the structure of the literary field. If there is a reciprocal relationship between poetry & theory it can only be because they both are responses to identical developments elsewhere. One thing that really frustrates me about these arguments is that so many people who for some reason want to talk about some vague "Theory" lack the training to do so with precision.

Henry Gould said...

Further, Michael : is not a bridge a human, cultural artifact? & as such, very like a poem? & when we say "bridge" or "bridges" do we not assume a class of things, based on a similarity among individual examples? So when we speak of the cultural artifact of the poem, or poetry in general - how is this different? Aren't we POINTING at real, distinguishable artifacts? Isn't this what Aristotle was about, exactly, in his Poetics?

Conceptualism is a kind of gnosis, which would shortcut the physical, affective characteristcs of the poetic word - those bridge-like elements, which form the emotional-intellectual arch or synthesis, the bond with ordinary experience, to which the reader can fully respond. The pathos of speech. Theoretical blueprints for bridges, which can never be built - because they aren't meant to be. Digital images of bridges, upon which you would never want to try to cross an actual river.

Michael Robbins said...

(i.e. you'll notice ain't no one in doubt whether it's some kinda poem)

Michael Robbins said...

Hm, a comment got skipped there, which is just as well.

Henry Gould said...

Poetry in the US today is mediated by academia & the creative writing programs. "Conceptual poetry" & other hybrid affectations are probably best understood as PRODUCT DIVERSIFICATION. They originate in the academy & their audience is in the academy. Their supposedly provocative innovative veneer is promoted by the methods of commercial advertising. They are contemporary examples of the commodification of traditional literary, imaginative, poetic art, which in other times had a different kind of aura & charisma - at least in some ideal or symbolic sense, anyway. Poets & prophets were guilded "professionals" way back in archaic ages, & I suppose there have always been gimmicky forms of poetic transmission... these are TODAY's gimmicks.

Don Share said...

Sorry, Michael; hit the wrong dam button again. Here's your earlier comment:

"As you know, the class of "bridges" is not related to a single instance of a bridge the way "poetry" is related to poems—at least not as it has been understood since the Poetics. Find me one theorist of bridges who has ever held that the class of bridges is not adequately represented by any actually existing bridge. Or who claims that the idea of bridges encompasses much more than bridges themselves. You're familiar with Sidney & Shelley, I'm sure. This is not a tack you want to take. Dismissiveness is indeed no tactic for debating; I intended it to end the debate by pointing out that everyone has already made my points for me, including the one about Eliot's poem's reception which is not refuted by the prose you provide."

Joseph Hutchison said...

Michael, if you were referring to me with your remark about "people who for some reason want to talk about some vague 'Theory' [but] lack the training to do so with precision," let me just say that you have no earthly idea what my training has been or how total is my lack of desire to talk in detail about any poetic theory. It is a waste of time and of interest only to the army of careerist grad students out there hoping to theorize their way into academic sinecures. Hey, everybody's got to eat, but let's not pretend this crap matters.

Henry Gould said...

Have you read Aristotle's Poetics, Michael? I think A's whole method confirms that, in fact, individuals & species bear the same relation to one another, whether we are talking about bridges or poems. You're just fooling yourself if you think I'm confirming your arguments.

The "anything goes", relativist definition for poetry seems to play a kind of adjunct, supportive role to the phenomenon of academic "product diversification" previously noted above. It seems only possible under conditions of general ignorance of & disinterestedness in the history of poetry, poetics & rhetoric in the milieu of "creative writing".

Lemon Hound said...

"It is a waste of time and of interest only to the army of careerist grad students out there hoping to theorize their way into academic sinecures. Hey, everybody's got to eat, but let's not pretend this crap matters..."

Can you tell me what matters so I don't go wasting my time??

Michael Robbins said...

Have I read Aristotle's Poetics, he sez. Then proceeds to miss the point.

The question is hardly the relationship of individuals to species but of species to species. You talked of bridges. I pointed out that the relation of individual to species among bridges is not at all like that which holds between individual poems & poetry. Aristotle clearly distinguishes standards in poetry from those that hold within civic life & political theory, as well as from those that hold within any other art.

I was simply noting that Aristotle himself provides grounds for denying that because a bridge is "a human artifact," it is "very like a poem." He explicitly denies that poetry is comparable in its techne to any other art.

You're the one who's supposed to know this. But, believe me, once you've allowed yourself to ask me whether I've read the Poetics, you're removed yourself from my consideration. So this "discussion" is over.

Joseph Hutchison said...

Dear Hound: I assumed "to me" would be understood. It doesn't matter to me. Neither do Civil War reenactments; it's nothing against those who enjoy them....

Henry Gould said...

Not sure if my latest comment went through. Will try to be brief. Michael, it was you yourself who tried to deny the analogy between bridge & poem by arguing that the bridge is a physical object & the poem a cultural artefact. I argued, au contraire, that both are artefacts.

They are the products of human arts (architecture, poetry, respectively). No one is denying that Aristotle distinguishes between the techniques of the two arts. But a difference in technique does not necessarily mean you have a difference in the logical relation between individual examples of an art form and that art form in general, as a class. & I would be very surprised if you could point to a passage where Aristotle distinguishes between the analytical logic of architecture vs. that of poetry.

Aristotle's careful effort to analyze, describe, distinguish and define various things - starting with the most specific examples, & based on specific characteristics - seems very different from the "anything goes" approach offered here by you & Lemon Hound. Please explain to me the difference between these two statements : 1)"'Poetry' is defined as whatever anyone says it is", and 2) "The word 'poetry' is meaningless."

Michael Robbins said...

Sorry, just noticed this sentence: "I would be very surprised if you could point to a passage where Aristotle distinguishes between the analytical logic of architecture vs. that of poetry."

Poetics, Chapter 25: "There are not the same standards of correctness in poetry as in political theory or any other art."

As Stephen Halliwell says in his study of the Poetics, Aristotle clearly emphasizes that "A painting or poem is mimetic qua the bearer of an identifiable representation content, but that is not true of, for example, the doctor's healing of a patient or the builder's making of a house. Unlike medicine or house building, mimetic words of art render & communicate intelligible images of what it is reasonable, though not unproblematic, to term a 'possible world,' given Aristotle's famous remark in Poetics 9, when contrasting poetry with history, that the former is concerned with 'things which could be the case & which are possible in terms of probability or necessity."

As clear an instance of distinguishing the analytical logic of poetry from that of architecture as you could ask for. The distinction between those two logics is, in fact, fundamental to the Poetics.

Michael Robbins said...

(also, I did not say "anything goes"; if I run around saying that my chest hair is poetry, no one is going to take me seriously, so it will remain happily not poetry; things become poetry by virtue of criteria; but the criteria are always shifting, & are accompanied by arguments; I happen not to be a fan of conceptual poetry, by the way, which I find vapid in the extreme; that doesn't mean it's not poetry)

Henry Gould said...

A previous response to Michael's latest seems not to have gone through. Just to be brief : "standards of correctness" are not the same as analytical methods of logical classification, which is what we were talking about. Aristotle works outward & upward from actual examples of poetry to an analysis of what distinguishes them from other kinds of human productions, and what makes them better or worse in their kind.

Secondly, the issue we were debating was not a comparison of the mimetic representations of poems vs. bridges. The point I was trying to make is that poems are real objects - with dimensions, heft, sensuous qualities, and that by means of these, poems convey certain actual/imaginative experiences & feelings, as bridges do. I was saying that poems can be considered as like or analogous to bridges, not that they were exactly the same; but my main point was that poems, like bridges, as human artefacts, have certain unique, distinguishable, and fairly consistent (over time) characteristics, and the Aristotle gives us an example of someone who takes the particularity of such characteristics seriously.

Now if someone approached our philosopher with a "conceptual poem", and said to him, "this is a poem - what do you make of it?" He might very well go along with the preliminary assumption that this was a special genre or type of poem, and find ways of including it in the class "poems". My own purpose, in alluding to Aristotle, was not to marshall him as an authority on what exactly is or is not a poem. Rather I was suggesting that his analytical approach to "real things" conversely lends a certain actuality, a concreteness, to whatever it is he decides to consider.

I'm not Aristotle; I'm not a philosopher; I'm just someone who's written a lot of poems over the last 45 years. & I'm simply taking the position that so-called "conceptual poetry", & certain other hybrid forms being passed around as poetry (like "visual poetry", "language poetry", etc.) have very little, if anything, to do with poetry per se; in fact I don't consider them to be poetry at all.

Lemon Hound said...

I keep trying to unsubscribe but the messages keep coming.

Henry,
With all due respect, you have made your point again and again. You say,
"& I'm simply taking the position that so-called "conceptual poetry", & certain other hybrid forms being passed around as poetry (like "visual poetry", "language poetry", etc.) have very little, if anything, to do with poetry per se; in fact I don't consider them to be poetry at all."

Fine.

So why do you keep talking about it? What is to be gained? I don't get it. You have your position.

Good.

Onward.

Henry Gould said...

Michael & I were having an argument about Aristotle, Lemon. You're free to follow it or not. But thanks for your continued expressions of interest.

Michael Robbins said...

But my point in referring to the way the physical properties of bridges differ from those of poems (which could have been clearer) was precisely that poems are non-analogous to bridges precisely insofar as they are mimetic structures. Now, we can envision ways in which architecture can partake of mimesis (although Aristotle did not), but the differences are fundamental. It doesn't matter to the argument whether you believe whatever to be poetry.

Henry Gould said...

Fine, Michael, I'll accept that, though I suppose I'm falling into one of your traps. I for one am glad that while I'm walking across Brooklyn Bridge it's not imagining itself to be a marshmallow. I agree that bridges & poems are not similar at all points. What I was referring to was the point of concreteness : the point where the sensuous qualities of language are correlated with its representational (mimetic) capabilities. It's this double aspect - say, a sensuous dream - which creates the possibility of audience empathy & participation (what I short-handed as "pathos" in earlier post). & it's this double aspect which at the same time brings language itself to its richest & most complex flowerings. I think of poetry as the art that dives into that rich intellective-emotional-verbal complexity - & yet remains (as Milton defined poetic language) "simple, sensuous and passionate".

When the conceptualist comers along with something called "conceptual poetry", he or she is doing what I described in earlier post : takling a step toward abstraction. Like the scientist & the parodist (or comedian), taking a step back, out of the picture. It's that move which I believe works against Miltons 3 defining characteristics of poetry.

Michael Robbins said...

I don't like conceptual poetry any more than you do (although I think it's fairly innocuous). But Milton's defining characteristics are completely irrelevant to the field's self-conceptions in 2009.

brian (baj) salchert said...

For all the values in it, I find the lengthy comment stream here excessive given the Kenneth Goldsmith quotes Don Share provides and Kent Johnson's point that the text of Christian Bök's "Eunoia" is not what's important; "...it's how the text got to be."

To me the crux of Goldsmith's project is information management, a talent he obviously has, and I like his thoughts about identity.

Bök to me is a rare genius in that he is able to see connections between objects most of us would never even consider might somehow be related.

In my blog, the ghost in the dumpster, is a poemoid entitled
"2 curious lines" which I posted on 8-27-08. It is probably the most conceptual thing I've produced. All in upper case, it is the English alphabet. I wanted to see what I would find if I arranged it (with appropriate spacing) A C E G I K M O Q S U W Y and B D F H J L N P R T V X Z
One thing I found is that all the vowels are in line one.