Thursday, January 28, 2010

On how we find good friends and know which strangers to shoot on sight

As for blogs, again, they get a bad rap, even from those who write them. But it’s simply a form that many of us use to talk to one another, exchange ideas. Some of them are overtly self-y, while others seem more engaged with ideas. Forms are merely containers. And maybe promotion–self or otherwise–is too.
--  Susan M. Schultz on January 27, 2010

... poets – and experimental poets as much so as anyone else – seem deeply regressive or at least unimaginative on the idea of the commons, copyright, etc, very closely tied to authorship, ownership of their lines and stanzas, even to a chain of being that binds author and self as one. At the worst end of it are the author estates, but we shall not speak of them. There’s been a trend of collaboratively written volumes, but something about it often feels too self-conscious to me. Some poems claim to be “eco-poetry”, say they explore the nature of ecology or are ecological by virtue of being shaped on the page like a rock or a river, or perhaps because they’ve been written on a rock. Whatever. Almost entirely, avant garde or mainstream, quiet or loud, poems are not in their very process exchanges of gifts or energy but objects, acts of individual expression, you make it and serve it up for admiration. Readers participate, of course, but only to the extent of readers. I have no objection to any of this, I make lots of it myself, but my point is that so little else has been explored. And my point is, and has been, that poetry’s status on the margins of capitalism has *not* allowed it to be more progressive or exploratory or ecosystemical on these questions, in fact the opposite, the inability to turn poetry into a commodity has not been an opportunity but grounds for an often pathological fetishism. Whereas art’s inevitable commodification has perhaps led to many restless rebellions against the commodity within it. (Even if I wouldn’t justify the art world, mind you, it seems full of scoundrels, dictators, power mongers and complex military maneuvers, people who could run rings around even the most savvy writers, but I digress.)

... One last point, which is not much of a point, about place. As a locational ousider, I often find myself very envious of the communality of many US underground poetry scenes, but disturbed by how completely insular and inward looking they become, as if the world did not exist. There again I think things may work a little differently in the art world.
-- Vivek Narayanan on January 27, 2010

it’s hard for me to think of [editorial work] as “exclusion” when there’s never a pretense of “inclusion” in the first place.

what i mean is, if a person has an idea to start an all-women magazine, all that has happened is that the number of places for women to publish has increased. it does *not* mean that the number of places men have to publish has *decreased*, see? no one is losing out or being excluded. no loss occurs at all in the creation of a magazine. i think this is pretty easy to understand, yeah?
-- Matt on January 27, 2010

1) Does subjectivity, ie., what the world looks like when you walk around in a given body, a given life trajectory, a given context, shape a writer’s aesthetics and form in subtle, oblique, non-deterministic, but nevertheless profound ways? I’d say yes, of course it does, that’s the very reason to be inclusive in literature. You want to have the whole, the composite picture.

2) Are editors truly *aesthetically* and formally open, in addition to just wishing a more “diverse”-looking contributor’s list for their journal? Or is it that they want people of colour or women who write in exactly the same way, the same style as all their other preferred contributors, just say with a dab of local colour or a bit of appropriate politics inserted here and there?
-- Vivek Narayanan on January 28, 2010

"[Victor Segalen's] passion for 'the exotic' turns out to be a surprisingly contemporary-sounding call for an anticolonial, even antiglobalization aesthetic that would preserve the alterity of the Other.  Segalen's ["Essay on Exoticism"*] explicity opposes the logics of assimilation and appropriation now so often seen as homologous and perhaps complicit with colonialism."
-- Christopher Bush, Ideographic Modernism

The purpose of a review is to discriminate. Discrimination is how we find good friends and know which strangers to shoot on sight. [...]  I argue with the work. I take it on face value and see if it stands scrutiny and thumps on the skull. Is it a fine thing among fine things of its kind? Is it a terrible thing, or is it the kind of second-rate thing that Eliot commended as that lesser version of fine from which we may learn or crib something for ourselves.
-- Vanessa Place, at Lemon Hound's blog; wonder if she thinks editors should do the same?

What is the implicit (not declared) shape of the community being addressed by a journal and/or its writers? If women and people of colour etc. don’t submit to a given journal it may just be that it’s a club they’re not too interested in joining.
-- Vivek Narayanan on January 29, 2010

There’s just so much shit isn’t there? So much bollocks. People who’ve swallowed dictionaries. All that crap.
-- Damien Hirst on criticism

... Leopardi's Pensieri [1837], piquantly translated by W. S. Di Piero:
I say that the world is a league of scoundrels against men of generosity, of base men against men of good will. When two scoundrels meet for the first time, they recognize each other immediately, as if by signs, and manage to get along. Or if their interests preclude this, they at least feel a definite attraction and great mutual respect for each other. When one scoundrel has business dealings with another, he usually acts fairly, without trying to cheat the other. When dealing with honest men, however, the scoundrel is sure to act dishonestly whenever it serves his interests, and he will try to destroy them even if they are courageous and able to avenge their loss. For the scoundrel hopes that his tricks will triumph over their courage, and his hopes are almost always realized. I have often seen the most timid men, when caught between an even more timid scoundrel and brave, honest man, side with the scoundrel out of fear. This is bound to happen whenever ordinary people find themselves in such a situation, for the ways of a courageous and well-intentioned man are simple and open, whereas those of a scoundrel are mysterious and infinitely diverse--and we all know that the mysterious frightens us more than the familiar. We can easily deal with the vengeance of generous men; our own fear and cowardice rescue us. But no amount of fear or cowardice is enough to save us from the secret persecutions, intrigues, and open attacks made against us by cowardly enemies. Generally speaking, true courage isn't much feared in everyday life; lacking all false appearances, it lacks the machinery of imposture that makes things fearful, and so people refuse to believe it. Yet scoundrels are feared and though courageous because their pose, their imposture, often passes for courage.
[above via Joseph Hutchison's blog, The Perpetual Bird]
...if reshaping journalism is the new goal of "literary" magazines located on campus, I hope they just disappear instead.
-- Daniel Green, The Reading Experience

*SYNOPSIS (from site linked above): The "Other"—source of fear and fascination; emblem of difference demonized and romanticised. Theories of alterity and cultural diversity abound in the contemporary academic landscape. Victor Segalen's early attempt to theorise the exotic is a crucial reference point for all discussions of alterity, diversity, and ethnicity. Written over the course of 14 years between 1904 and 1918, at the height of the age of imperialism,  "Essay on Exoticism" encompasses Segalen's attempts to define "true Exoticism."  This concept, he hoped, would not only replace 19th-century notions of exoticism that he considered tawdry and romantic, but also redirect his contemporaries' propensity to reduce the exotic to the "colonial." His critique envisions a mechanism that appreciates cultural difference—which it posits as an aesthetic and ontological value—rather than assimilating it : Exoticism's power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise, he writes.


Jordan said...

I noted that "shoot on sight" comment as well, and have filed it next to the golden rule.

Henry Gould said...

Not sure I agree with Narayanan's idealistic comments about authorship. It's not just a question of property & self-glorification : there are issues of authenticity and provenance, the real & the fake, the original & the remake. I like to think of poetic texts as emerging from a very specific locus, of both milieu & imagination. I know it gets tricky when you look back in time, say to the provenance of Homeric epics, etc. But we are not back in time.

J.H. Stotts said...

we're so used to the 'other' being a phenomenon we encounter outside of ourselves, do we even know how to look for it inside ourselves anymore? even christians, those with rigor anyway, know that the god that is within their soul is an alien god. even whitman, despite our atrophied critical comprehension of him now, knew that the multitude was not a tourist notion. even melville knew that the fall was inward.

the colonial legacy in us [americans] is become an ironic revolution, and we are now a land where culture rests in the strip malls and museums. we shouldn't have to look so far or spend so much money to bring out the exote in each of us. this is a case of coincidental failures of both the intellectual and anti-intellectual classes, and i would argue that what we have as a consequence, instead of scoundrelism, is a less-and-less disguised bi-partisan fascism contaminating us on almost a national level. watered down literary magazines are like so much industrial waste in the waterways and on the shores, and no amount of apologetics or threats can give them the force of conviction or good will. they are beside the point, it is even beside the point of real literature, which sometimes gets mixed in. we are, after all, riding the same current, if only to make it out to sea and get out of this godforsaken country.

Kent Johnson said...

>I like to think of poetic texts as emerging from a very specific locus, of both milieu & imagination.

hey Henry,

In what way is the "imagination" a "specific locus"?

equivocal said...

Hi Henry,

Yes, I too would like you to explain in what way the imagination has to emerge from a "specific locus"; I'm struggling to picture what you're saying. I'm of course, not saying that authorship and selfhood will just go away-- indeed, they could in some contexts, to a certain extent, be enabling devices-- but that ultimately they (precisely) have placed debilitating limits on the imagination. Isn't that what this whole commons debate is about, where creativity really comes from, how it arises? For "the pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges..."

Re. Homer: hasn't going back always been one of the most reliable ways of going forward?

J.H. Stotts said...

suppose my imagination has been scattered on the rocks, that i myself no longer come together in a single place or time, then i'm willing to consider this idea of getting beyond authority, but that is actually the limit at which thought processes break down. what we operate on, the basis of all consciousness, is the imaginative fallacy. if the idea of readers and writers meeting in the text seems old-fashioned to narayanan, it's because it's basic, in the sense that literature and sense itself cannot function without such a conception. the buddhist literature, as conceived by its founders, is an absurd oxymoron...which isn't to say anything about its legitimacy. all conceptions are flawed and ultimately useless, the only thing distinguishing them being the degree to which they are ingenious. and all the strongest thinkers gravitate toward obvious nihilism, as if they see through themselves. homer, being so far away, gives us an example of abused authority that is easy to wrap our brains around, but it should be obviously that we still operate in the same universe as he did.

equivocal said...

Hi (mr.?) Stotts-- Very often I do feel that "my imagination has been scattered on the rocks, that i myself no longer come together in a single place or time": exactly that. And my challenge in writing has always been what to do with (or about) this. But maybe that's just me! I do want to underline though, just so you know where I'm coming from, that I don't really think of any practice or conception as "old-fashioned". I'm not particularly interested here in fashion or in "progress" (understood as a one way historical trajectory), nor do I think of the new as something that requires the obliteration of the old.

J.H. Stotts said...

exactly that, me too.
and you're right that it seems to be the avantist poetry that is the most egotistic, which i don't think is a coincidence at all.
i hope above i wasn't sounding assertions so much as confusions, as i find authority to be such a fraught issue, one that i'm never through with, esp. as i translate, fail to translate, and auto-plagiarize as i go.
on another note, i have a friend, a psychiatrist and poet who has just returned to chennai after twenty years. from boston to chennai, i should say, where i suspect he feels strangely like an outsider again.