Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bomb news and burrito burps: a dialogue between Seth Abramson and Gene Tanta on "dissidence as entertainment"



A dialogue between Seth Abramson and Gene Tanta on Linh Dinh & "dissidence as entertainment"

Seth Abramson
:
Hmm... a poetry that simultaneously "shuns context" and "imitates television." I wouldn't have thought a poetics that does not merely elevate the demotic but literally evaporates everything *but* ephemeral culture could be said to "shun context," unless -- aha! -- "context" is defined in the most limited and limiting way (un)imaginable. In fetishizing popular culture for the sake of skewering it we are already conceding defeat -- we are saying (like so many of those "pseudo-Marxists" that Linh mentions) that poems themselves -- not merely "American poetry," but actual individual poems -- are incapable of remaining oblivious to materialism. Either that, or they simply *can't*, because, as Linh says (seemingly without irony) we need to sell our books, man!

Sheesh. I'm just about prepared to light out for American Metarealism once and for all. If the Russians could do it 30 years ago, why can't we here in the States? It seems an end-around on both materialism (realism) and this new "conceptual" poetry which is in fact merely the New Symbolism -- a new way of thinking in the old way, that is, figuratively (Goldsmith's "The Day" as merely an embodied metaphor for -- well, take your pick!). Only Metarealism offers an entirely new form of discourse -- a discourse which cannot be read either solely literally or solely figuratively, cannot be tamed or co-opted because of its very hybridism, but *must* be taken on its own terms, as a permanent transformation of both the literal and the figurative (leaving neither intact while not, like flarf, engaging in any purely destructive impulse, cf. Kasey's recent statement to the effect that this time Dadaism is going to *really* make it hurt). - S.

Gene Tanta:
“What to make of a poetry that constantly pivots away from itself?”

Yes, we are deprived (depraved?) of holy (wholly) absence. Culture industry up the wazzu. Without the silence to think, we are bombarded with bomb news and burrito burps. What is an ethical culture maker to do? Shared literacy? Online education via Facebook? A publishing house on every desk?

Seth Abramson:
Gene, I think the key word there is "ethics." There is an argument to be made -- Badiou would do it -- that flarf, for instance, is "unethical" (which Badiou would express by calling it, in his terms, "ethical" or "[Western] ethical") because it identifies an a priori Evil, Culture, and in so doing, and in proceeding from that single over-determined premise, generates a framework for Art which can only (re)produce the same Evil it so despises. The conception of "ethics" embodied by, say, flarf -- which would likely term itself "amoral" as a means of escaping this debate altogether (nice try!) -- is one in which there is no possibility of transformation. It is a dead end that revels in its dead-endedness, a form of action (or inaction) which is (in common parlance now) "unethical." Art certainly need not be "ethical" in the sense of its explicit politics -- but in terms of concept and concept/function, yes. What is needed is a means of speaking which engenders a revision of the existing framework, not merely martyrdom upon it. Flarf is not that means of speaking, nor is so-called "conceptualism." These merely re-entrench (Badiou might say) the common Kantian worldview that Evil is our starting point, not Good, because -- presumably -- it is something "we can all identify" and thus work from. What if, say, metarealistic language is actually a Good, a higher mode of (ethical) functioning, that individuals in disparate circumstances (e.g., in Soviet Russia, in contemporary America) can work *toward*, and which can take individual circumstances (ours in the U.S., others in developing nations, &c) and transform them through Art without destroying what makes them something other than... well, a reification of the totalitarian universal-generic? - S.

Gene Tanta:
“What is needed is a means of speaking which engenders a revision of the existing framework, not merely martyrdom upon it.”

Seth, I agree, however, an important function question is: how to start work (writing or organizing or dis-organ-izing) without a commons’ named enemy (that sublime object of desire, that fatted calf of credit)? How can art transform its reader? If you mean, by “materialistic language” the, uhm, “actual” material of syntax, word choice, semantic gesture (it’s hard to stay away from the mimetic properties of language ain’t?), I actually agree. My AWP talk was about how, actually, one of Linh Dinh’s poems ethically (and aesthetically) implicates its readers.

Identity politics claim: as an immigrant, I have more of a material sense of language than native speakers. Hah aha h. Is that how you mean “material” or do you mean it in some sort of Marxian dialectic way about class?

... continued in the comments boxes for this post!

24 comments:

Henry Gould said...

"Art certainly need not be "ethical" in the sense of its explicit politics -- but in terms of concept and concept/function, yes. What is needed is a means of speaking which engenders a revision of the existing framework, not merely martyrdom upon it."

This is interesting, Seth. But I think the Russian Acmeists (Gumilev, Mandelstam) got there before the Russian Metarealists.

Gumilev proposed a meta-ethical-aesthetic term he called "chasteness". In a nutshell, chasteness = "respect the inherent dignity and integrity of things as they are (esp. human beings)". This translated into respect for historical culture, language, poetry. The poem has its own distinct integrity and value-in-itself : but only insofar as it reflects and participates in this larger normative ethos.

Such an attitude can be viewed as simple conservatism. But what is normative is not necessarily traditional. The Acmeists searched for a bond - an analogy - between aesthetic equilibrium and ethical rightness.

Wrote about this a little further over here :

http://hgpoetics.blogspot.com/2010/04/dissociated-writing-program-or-quiddity.html

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Gene,

My apologies for not responding to your last query earlier -- I was swamped with work yesterday and couldn't come back to this until now.

I'd like to say, first, that I'm skeptical of much of Badiou (believe you me!), so I don't mean to act as apologist or interlocutor here. But one aspect of this (I feel distinctly French) view of ethics is that it gives us an entirely new way to envision both the Subject and Good and therefore ethics -- unlike a more traditional (cf. Levinas) view of ethics, which fetishizes a necessarily bounded Other, and leads to forms of art which do likewise (e.g. flarf's view of Culture as fundamentally an echo-chamber; conceptualism's view of the author, contra Foucault, as being at least coherent enough a corporeal figure to [huge quotes here] "subvert" by testing the terms and boundaries of authorship rather than literally transforming the term itself at the level of paradigm [not "Who is an author?", for instance, but more like, "Author who?", a territory which I'll concede, with his gene-related projects, Christian Bok is approaching]), a Subject-centered view of ethics is inductive rather than deductive. And the premise is that our conception of Good will be likewise. Flarf and conceptualism have made evident that they come to us with the sword; what we need is an aesthetic that not only comes to us with plowshares but intends to, with that instrument, work a farmstead that lies forever over the next horizon and is in practice unreachable. We need a poetry without bounds.

The Other always remains bounded rather than infinite; the Subject can be imagined, and I admit some Romanticism here, as infinite, and Badiou does so with his idea of the human as always-already Immortal (though I quibble over whether Badiou conveniently ignores psychological suffering, including shame, dishonor, and guilt; it is surviving a physical ordeal, he says, that makes us Immortal rather than animals, but does the psychological suffering of the human animal ever end, is it ever "survived"?). In any case, what would a poetics of Immortality look like? Certainly it would not be merely realism -- that is bounded and binds us once again -- nor, again, figurative, as figures are rhetorical instruments caught within the confines of the very rhetorical framework that both breeds and houses them. E.g., I consider the simile entirely dead and the metaphor at least half so. They are capable of co-opting because they are designed, themselves, to co-opt.

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

{continued}

An unbounded, inductive poetics would have to be, definitionally, impossible. I mean to say we will know it, and know that it serves the present purposes (yearning) of Art, when we discover that it is, at base, impossible. Impossibility means an infinity of striving, and only by advancing in this way are we able to a) move ever closer (but, cf. Zeno, never arrive) to a perpetually (self-)(re-)generative rendering of capabilities of any Subject, and b) undermine entirely every existing framework by moving around rather than through any single one of them. And yes, I'm imagining Art as lock-step with Subject here -- this is why I say I'm only jumping off Badiou, as Art is not itself his primary concern -- so to re-envision the Subject is to re-envision Art, and to re-envision ethics is to re-envision the function of Art.

Metarealism is, of course, impossible in practice. Not merely or even primarily because there's no metaphysical "realm" (e.g. an accumulative dimension beyond the dimensions we can perceive or measure mathematically) but simply because its very hybridism renders it in a permanent state of what we might call "contingency" or "emergence." Flarf and conceptualism, whatever they are, are not contingent or emergent spaces in the sense I'm using those terms now -- just as they read "context" in the most narrow, deductive terms imaginable, they express any contingency we might find within them in a way that is always rooted in what is (even Christian wants to implant generative, poetry-producing chem-stuff into material organisms of the "real" world). So when I say contingency I mean 100% contingent, a space that not only does not but cannot -- can never -- exist, and therefore which we can and must only ever strive toward. And when I say "emergent" I mean it in the Monistic (Eleatic) sense that portends actual oblivion -- i.e., metarealism cannot finally be said to "emerge from" anything because, like the Monistic view of the universe, it ultimately is a Singularity without beginning or end. It cannot be measured, it merely (at best) is. Metarealism may be instantly (as in, in the illusion of "an instant") said to have been "born" of two parents -- literal and figurative narratives -- but part of its Singular lifespan (and thus an always-already feature of it) is that it transforms its parents into non-existence; it subsumes them and becomes unlike them and untranslatable as/between them. A metarealistic poem can be "read" literally or "read" figuratively but where it lives neither realism nor figure holds sway. It is unbounded and yet may be personally sought-after; it is therefore Subject-driven, inductive, generative rather than destructive (it transforms but does not destroy that which breeds it), and thus offers a hope of leading us toward an inexpressible Good that is always over the next hill. It frees us to make that journey.

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

{continued}

So, now to answer your question -- to even say "how can art transform reader" (or let us say, as for purposes of looking at Subject it's better to do so, "how can art transform writer") is to presume, in essence, that art precedes either reader or writer. (Agamben makes this same mistake of temporality in presuming that the exceptions to laws are preceded by the laws themselves; in fact, they are born simultaneously). It is only when we conjoin Art and writer -- when we see the two processes as co-equal -- that either can move beyond any existing framework. Otherwise Art is always moving against the framework of People (e.g. flarf's critique of Culture), or People are always moving toward Art (which path Modernism has already explored to more or less its conclusion).

So I'm saying we actually don't need a common enemy. We need to operate enemy-less for a while. It's like the story from the Talmud of the man lost in a wood who finds another man in the middle of it and presumes that he (this stranger) can surely lead him out. "Friend!" He says, "I've been wandering here many days, and as you've come here I presume you know the way out, will you show me?" The stranger smiles sadly and says, "I'm afraid I, too, am lost -- all I can tell you is that the way I have come is not the way. Come, let us find the way out together." A horribly simplistic story, but the idea is that all is ahead and none is behind -- we do not consult a map for reference (e.g. Culture), we are not "led" (e.g. on a journey to discover the final boundary-marker of "authorship," with "authorship" functioning as sought-after locale here), there is no precedent (for those wondering, American Metarealism doesn't exist -- there is no such school -- though my hope is that will soon change). For all their rebelliousness flarfists and conceptualists are always in a state of being "led" by concepts (and frameworks) they've fetishized.

So I meant materialism in the Marxist sense, not in the sense of textuality. If Linh writes a poem that "implicates" his readers we are still bounded by the Subject/Other relationship; we have not reached the point where the Subject and the Other agree neither has found the way out of the woods and both must seek it together. We might say Subject, taken literally, is the "real," and the Other, taken figuratively (as s/he/it must be, because even Levinas does not presume it is finally "attainable" to render the Other as "real" as the Self, indeed he actually posits the near-elimination of Self toward that end, there being no way, he seems to suggest, for Self and Other to co-exist and both be fully realized), is, natch, "figurative." How do we get the real and the figurative, Subject and Other, to walk together? Metarealism is one possible answer to this; flarf and conceptualism are, instead, merely more of the same, and unless one is extremely happy with what is that failure is self-provingly unethical. And a fatal flaw. Res ipsa loquitur.

Cheers,
Seth

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. I said Art goes "lock-step" with the human -- and I believe any plausible construction of ethics requires this, as the two are born together and (in theory) could only die in the same instant (reading "ethics" as a series of processes and not a series of conclusions) -- and in that sense I do think we could as easily reconfigure the transformed realism/figure duality embodied (in my theory) by metarealism as either Subject/Other (real/figure) or Subject/Art (real/figure). --S.

Henry Gould said...

I've only read a little bit of Levinas, Seth, but as I understand him there is no imbalance or disequilibrium between self & other. The Self originates & becomes who s/he is, by way of a prior (to everything) relationship with this Other, who is neither "bound" or limited, as you say, nor fully knowable. This relationship of Persons does seem to offer some sort of ground for substantiating or affirming "what is", whether in art or life.... thus Levinas' affirmation of Celan's poetry, for example...

Seth Abramson said...

Henry,

To clarify, I'm saying -- not Levinas -- that the Other is bounded, in the sense that consciousness is the only unlimited space and we cannot enter the consciousness of the Other. Levinas uses a semantic trick here, I feel -- he says we see the Infinite in the Other by way of simultaneously suggesting we cannot access the Other and that the Other is limitless. But it is only by abandoning a Subject-driven analysis that we can make this latter claim -- which abandonment I'm unwilling to engage in. Hence I say the Other is bounded in the view of the Subject -- to say that we recognize in the face of the Other that we cannot place a bound on the Other intellectually is not to say we don't react to the Other, emotionally and even biologically, as a bounded entity. Levinas wants to have his cake and eat it, too, I feel. But on occasion theories do have consequences -- they get "applied." And in applying Levinas we must consider both of the view of the Subject and of the Other and the actual capacities of each in practice.

As to imbalance or disequilibrium between Subject and Other, I think I'd have to disagree there also -- to the extent Levinas posits that the Subject cannot resist the draw of the Other when the two are face-to-face absolutely bears on the agency of the Subject and the nature (or grade) of the Subject-Other relationship. It cannot be said (cf. Levinas) that ethics are Other-defined (indeed, arguably pre-Subject!) and yet this does not privilege the Other over the Subject as to ethics.

I think a Subject-driven analysis has been so pushed out by Levinas that what we are always in danger of doing is reading Levinas through the presumptions of, well, Levinas (again, a deductive rather than inductive approach) -- and a paradox.

Best,
Seth

Henry Gould said...

Seth,

I see your point in the 2nd paragraph, but I guess I would say that a relationship which actually constructs or constitutes the reality of subjectivity might just as well be described as "balancing", rather than being in disequilibrium....

I don't know Levinas well enough to get into a deep conversation with you about it... just my off-the-cuff reaction might be, that an assent to Levinas' concepts might not necessitate "abandoning a subject-driven analysis", as you say. The notion that the human self is dependent on a prior relationship with an other/self would certainly have an impact on our analysis of selfhood, but I don't see how this requires its abandonment...

Seth Abramson said...

Henry,

I think the larger concern is whether emphasis on the Other is in itself constructive of an ethical Subject in the long-term -- e.g., Gene speaking about a poem of Linh's that "implicates the reader." Or, we might equally speak of any poem, poetry, or poetics that relies on an existing dualistic framework as problematic (whether that framework be man/woman, poet/reader, irony [i.e. Representation of Culture/Culture], colonizer/subaltern, and so on).

It's funny, by the way, if you go to Harriet right now you'll see flarfists and conceptualists more or less seeming to concede everything I'd said here -- only implicitly, of course. The conceptualists accuse the flarfists of looking toward/at the Platonic (and also suggest that they're Kantian, which is exactly the specific set of principles Badiou is asking his readers to read him against), and the conceptualists (seemingly without irony or self-analysis) refer to their project as "allegorical." Hmm -- thus we have the flarfists as obsessed with working off/from some fanciful notion of the "real" and the conceptualists as employing, as I said, figurative speech (or better said: figurative speech-engines). I said Goldsmith's "The Day" is intended to function as an embodied metaphor for (take-you-pick), but substitute "allegory" -- another figural gesture -- and there we are, the concession that absolutely nothing in either flarf or conceptualism is actually going to change the framework one jot. That means there's a shelf-life in both instances, and seems to support the assertion that American Metarealism is (to crib from Burt) "The Next Thing." ;-)

Be well,
Seth

Gene Tanta said...

Hi, Seth:

“We need a poetry without bounds.”

Ah, sweet utopia of my various nostalgias. When is poetry (properly improper) ever local or staid? This is why we have prose (especially “critical” (versus “creative”) peek-a-boo prose like mine that thinks at the speed of grave gesture). At what speed, poetry? Wherefore, poetry? Who speaks for poetry and how dare he essentialize? And who dare question the critic’s right to create (and thereby abolish that romantic rag and bones shop of the heart called lyric)?

“They are capable of co-opting because they are designed, themselves, to co-opt.”

On language as gadfly. Socrates was judged to drink poison because his judgments poisoned young minds to think outside of the fashionable Greek paradigm. How can failure fail better? It is a crisis of the imagination (and a political judgment) to denounce the craft elements themselves for our limits to communicate with them, no? To cease to desire language (that is, to cease to want to communicate with others) is antisocial and to be beyond suffering (dead (to the world)). A subject walking with an object must be mute and blind to each other outside of their differences as subject and object. The differences (what constitutes us) between subject and object wafts in and out of the signification of breaths and scribbles. When is thinking a time waste?

“In any case, what would a poetics of Immortality look like?”

How can we have a utopia without essentializing the other (however we aestheticize or represent him)? This is a good question because it erects before us the paradoxical edifice of fashion: to fit in or to fit out? Am I fit or unfit? Am I having a fit or fit to have?

Moving through points (penetratingly) leads to progress (and arriving) and progress is dangerous to those arrived upon. However, progeny is delightful not least because they forward a vision and a certain gene-pool. Western mentality can be figured forth as the thrust of progress. The trust of progress. The rust of progress.

I obviously mistook your “metarealism” for my “materialism”. Meta-contingent striving will get us no where: but what’s the hurry? My understanding of how I use the phrase “mind the gap” (Derridian deconstruction) points me to the vitality of living and thinking the position of becoming as one (the Left) more ethical than (the Right) which might be said to be a thinking of the position of a knowable ontological or fundamental noun-being (the leap of tradition into its own arms).

“It [the Singularity of being outside or above the “real”] cannot be measured, it merely (at best) is.”

At worse, it isn’t. The figure is real. The figure is unreal. The joke (irony or the ambivalence of ambiguity (cross-dressers of the world unite)) makes the point better than the pulpit.

“It is only when we conjoin Art and writer -- when we see the two processes as co-equal -- that either can move beyond any existing framework.”

No they can’t. Yes they can. Progress is a more egregious (and painful) misunderstanding of the spatial-temporal union than the errors of precedence or heritage.

It seems to me, any version of positivism (however contextualized in the history of subject-object relations) will lead to evil (the socially named radical other). Vanessa Place’s idea of “radical evil” is Biblical in the proportions of its narrative bounded-ness. How can failure fail better?

Gene Tanta said...

...con't

It seems to me, any version of positivism (however contextualized in the history of subject-object relations) will lead to evil (the socially named radical other). Vanessa Place’s idea of “radical evil” is Biblical in the proportions of its narrative bounded-ness. How can failure fail better?

“I said Art goes "lock-step" with the human -- and I believe any plausible construction of ethics requires this, as the two are born together and (in theory) could only die in the same instant…”

The dream of form is that play (innovation with material) could occur (in psychological time, if we like) outside of social construction, or outside of the socially organ-ized body (go figure), or outside of the political, or outside of the lyrical ego, or outside of the bourgeois conception of life-style and me-time at the spa or at the ball-game.

In sum, the question I took away from attending the 3 sessions in the New Orleans ACLA conferences on Conceptual Righting (or is it WC? after Duchamp went to the bathroom to take a piss on the art world): why does the signature (biography) matter to “uncreative” writing?

In addition to this, what made the discussions interesting for someone like me who is interested in “gaps between” is that CW entertained (at least while I was in the room quipping "is CW post-racial?") the dissident idea that critics can be creative (“intervention” is the term in Art History) and makers can be critical thinkers.

The more transient friction between the subject-object, the more opportunities those who move around have to witness themselves as others experience them. Ethics on the half-shell.

Best,
Gene

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Gene,

You're right to say it is still possible for poetry to be "improper" within its (narrow) context, for it to cross boundaries on the two-dimensional map it has been wont to use for centuries. Yes, it can be naughty that way -- flarf is, as they say, a whoopie cushion. The idea of creative criticism is an old one and less naughty -- I'm not sure what you mean when you ascribe to "dissidents" a view both Matthew Arnold and (somewhat more recently) Harold Bloom long ago adopted. The creative valence of criticism is a given, I think. Arnold, no rebel he, went so far as to say poetry is impossible without the critic -- critics literally initiate the stream we fish from. But the "critics" I presume you're associating with CW are not "critics" in the traditional sense but a degraded one; Arnold is no great hero of mine but the place (face?) he created for the critic is a far mightier one than the painted one CW wears in the King's Court. The creative critic creates the conditions under which Art is possible; a destructive critic compels us toward those conditions in which Art is impossible. The "progress" narrative you decry (which cannot be "utopian," as it would seem odd to apply a location to a process, as adjective or otherwise) is powerful because it always favors possibility -- not conclusion -- over impossibility. CW is not a poetics of possibility. Nothing ever written by the "bards" (ahem) of CW has ever made that claim, to my knowledge.

You ask, "How can failure fail better?" It can't: failure is a terminal condition. Creating grades of failure is a parlor trick; okay, perhaps not in politics, which is relativistic, but who essentializes Art by saying it too must be a relative measure of a negative quality/quantity? What you call "craft elements" I call instruments devised by humans to serve a purpose -- the metaphor is not an inalienable right, it wasn't brought by the stork, it isn't a product of the supersensible. It is a rhetorical device. Like a drill is a hole-making device. Metaphors produce rhetoric. We can no more break through the "limits" of metaphor than a drill could drive me to the airport. But let me emphasize that what I'm advocating is precisely the opposite of non-communicative or anti-social -- in fact the theory is that current discourse is so degraded (the metaphor no longer holds its water) and therefore we must take the courageous action, in the interest of society and communication, of forging ahead to new means of discourse. Not new means of representation -- that's the old way, that's rhetoric, that's figure, or that's realism. I am talking about discourse. To say that subject/realism "walking with" object/figure is like two men walking alongside one another mute and blind is to again use deductive logic to start from a framework/narrative of "wholeness" and then posit that if metarealism "transforms" realism and figure it can only be to degrade both -- because otherwise they exceed their current bounds (which under such reasoning is abhorrent!). I am speaking of the blind becoming supersensible in perception; I am speaking of the mute becoming the poets of a new discourse.

Thinking is not a waste. Only thinking in circles. As to "How can we have a utopia..." the answer is first, we can't, and second, we mustn't, it would be horrible. But to seek progress rather than regress does not "essentialize the other" because it transforms the Other from what it is with the very same force it transforms the Subject. I am speaking about beyond Other. And beyond Subject. There can be no essentializing because there is no one to essentialize. What remains is discourse -- not just the talkers themselves. And that's mostly what we are getting now: talkers.

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

I do not believe moving leads to arrival, or that progress leads to arrival. King said "the arc of history bends toward justice," he didn't stand at the pulpit and predict, like Nostradamus or a leprechaun, where that arc was going to land and when. It doesn't land. "On" anyone or "in" anywhere. Have you considered that poetry is one of the least desirable linguistic vehicles for enacting change? That to the extent we are discussing politics rather than Art (which you will say are inseparable, and I and Adorno will say only because we chose to make it so) my question is why poetry is efficacious political speech, given the alternatives? Of course it can be done well; it can be effective; but to say that it is (ever) the most efficacious form of political action is -- to this former public servant -- unthinkable.

I trust neither "progress" (which I take merely to be re-envisioning capabilities) nor its opposite. But it's not a matter of trust, as it's not a matter of deliverance -- it's a matter of necessity. We must not stand still. We must not destroy. We must not winnow existing discourse rather than discover new terms for new discourses.

I don't know why you say I am "thinking of the position of a knowable ontological or fundamental noun-being (the leap of tradition into its own arms)" as might/does The Right. I said immortality was unachievable -- that we must pursue it because it is unachievable? So in my discourse there is not only no "position" but no "knowable" and no "fundamental" (that is a "down"-trope rather than an "up"-trope) and no "noun" and no "tradition"...I couldn't be farther from the position you seem to be ascribing to me? "Singularity" in Monistic terms is merely a way of speaking about that which lies outside perception -- which belies perception, because it has no beginning or end. By conceiving of "Singularity" as a destination you are still thinking through Aristotle. I am speaking of philosophers older than Aristotle; I am saying that nothing is outside the Singularity, for the purposes of this theory, including us (we can't even conceive of it as Singularity because that would require that we can step outside it using mind over matter, cf. Kant).

Anyhow,
Seth

Henry Gould said...

For a substantial "poetics of Immortality", see great book by theologian Hans Kung - Eternal Life?<

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Gene Tanta said...

“The "progress" narrative you decry (which cannot be "utopian," as it would seem odd to apply a location to a process, as adjective or otherwise) is powerful because it always favors possibility -- not conclusion -- over impossibility.”

Hi, Seth: I “decry” the progress narrative and the ideology that wrote it in. If we don’t like the figure of placeless-ness of utopia, we can call it Romantic idealism. The thrust is the same: missionary, forward, colonial, positive, progress of civilization, etc. It is both good and bad: and it is relative because we live in a time where multiple cultures have value.

“We can no more break through the "limits" of metaphor than a drill could drive me to the airport.”

Lovely metaphorical analogy! It reminds me of Comte de Lautreamont’s famous saying: “Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps the author's sentence tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea.”

“Thinking is not a waste. Only thinking in circles.”

Where are you heading? Modernism is full of graded failures? What is an absolute failure? The void: but even the void looks back at you. Failure can be a nuclear mushroom column or a poor composition structure for a life-drawing class. What do we idealize as we move toward the warm arms of our beloved functions? And who benefits by our idealizations? Do we care? (I’m channeling a bit of Kent Johnson here).

“I am speaking about beyond Other. And beyond Subject.”

How can you? Is not any meta-position cutely unethical? How does “one” induce without an exterior position/place/face? I ask these question somewhat rhetorically, because I actually agree (to the extent that a mortal can understand Derrida’s poetry) that there is nothing outside the text. For instance, you are no more and no less than text to me (since we _are writing_ to each other).

“It doesn't land. "On" anyone or "in" anywhere.”

“We didn't land on Plymouth Rock, my brothers and sisters - Plymouth Rock landed on us!” Malcolm X

“Have you considered that poetry is one of the least desirable linguistic vehicles for enacting change?”

Why did Churchill use “If we must die” to rally troops? Never mind how McKay died penniless in the great city of Chicago. Do you speak for the desire of the masses? I guess, in part, all theory thinking does speak for the desire of the masses since it must generalize to sex-up its project and findings or else it seems pedantic or academic.

No, poetry is not the most efficacious form of political action. However, we have to be careful when we presume we are free to choose when and what art objects are political because we do not fully control our “selves” (the unconscious, zeitgeist, normative paradigms, various ideologies, and so on). Is the unconscious inductive or deductive in its “logical” functions?

“I couldn't be farther from the position you seem to be ascribing to me?”

I was not calling you a fundamentalist. Why would you think so? I actually think we are saying the same thing with different analytical predilections and figures of speech. We are thinking about the possible (hardly new!) for poetry. It is the proscriptive position of the critic that I’m trying to lampoon and queer through my silly wordplay.

I question the mystical dispensation of material relations between the subject-object. For how can we have an ethics in ether?

Will the erasure of the tropes for the Other, erase the differences between us or erase the Other? Sometimes our most progressive ideas (Übermensch) turn out to be our darkest nightmares (racial eugenics).

Thanks for thinking with me. I’m enjoying it,
Gene

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Gene,

It sounds like I misunderstood some of what you said, sorry about that.

I worry I'm not expressing myself well -- which is not to use that usual ploy of saying, "You would see it my way if it weren't for my damn inarticulate tongue!", as that's really beside the point, but that I actually think I'm commingling too many ideas and not presenting them as the sequence I think, together, they represent.

I'm thinking Olson is a starting point. Poetry is more expansive when the poet "stays inside himself...is contained within his nature," rather than trying to write into -- which always turns into writing "against" -- an external world. But of course Olson was too much the egotist -- much too much the egotist -- to consider how Projectivism might represent a first step toward redefining rather than merely celebrating the Subject. But the danger of writing against an externalized universe is very real -- and is the same kind of danger Badiou is speaking about. To write against the world, rather than inside the self, is to reason deductively -- to carve out exceptions and clarifications from a series of observed phenomena. The poetry becomes descriptive, phenomenological. That not only diminishes the Other (cf. Craig Santos Perez beginning several successive sentences on Harriet last week with the unironic phrase, "White poets don't want..."), but also embraces Subject in exactly the way Sartre particularly was concerned about. The Subject is either defined by/through the Other (being-for-others) or else vainly attempts to inhabit some idealized, perfect-but-unattainable function (as in being-in-itself). So as Olson warned, writing into the external world both dooms us to a bounded, purely descriptive poetics and also (via Sartre) a sense of Subject that is likewise bounded and entirely descriptive. For Badiou, and frankly for the CW folks, Kant's way is likewise a danger -- confronted with the sublime Kant merely concludes that the imaginative mind has power over matter via the supersensible and therefore (voila!) we can do away with the terror the Monists felt about false perception and the Singularity of All Things.

I think what Badiou is implying (were he speaking of Art) is that an externalized, realist, materialist poetics a) glorifies the Other as capable of defining the Subject, b) nevertheless bounds the other as a loci for either suffering or the judgment of suffering (intellectually infinite, perhaps, but not experientially so, even if the Other achieves the state of Immortal in Badiou's very particular [non-literal!] reading of that term), and c) through deductive reasoning both keeps existing frameworks intact and always defined Good in terms of Evil rather than on its own terms. So, when I note that I see much figurative language as actually doing the same work as realism (say, imagism) -- to "see" the external world more clearly, with figure merely an instrument aimed at the same end -- I'm seeing both modes as potentially dangerous. OTOH, the danger with Olson, again, is an egotism in the poetry itself (Maximus! Gloucester! a powerful "I"!) which is merely an attempt to more forcefully assert the Subject within its current external context.

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

How can poetry exceed its function? How can humans exceed their function? How can a Subject be truly self-defined -- not merely in terms of Other, or in terms of external, perceived phenomena, or even using Kant's magic-trick of rendering the supersensible sensible (and thus bounded) through acts of imagination? When I say I'd like to think beyond Subject and Other I mean beyond that dichotomy -- Badiou is envisioning, I think, both a) a world of only Subjects, and b) a Subject that is forever open-ended and incomplete. Speaking of "progress" is merely a way of visualizing that lack of completion -- speaking it.

The question, I guess, is whether we can speak through Subjectivity rather than, through various sleights of hand, about it. To actually "embody" Subject qua Subject rather than describe Subject from the remove of either Art or Other (this sort of removal even Frank O'Hara expressed concern about in his much-lauded mock-manifesto).

I am suggesting that to do any of this requires a new trope -- what Epstein calls "metabole." This trope aims at a new form of discourse, metarealism. In a contemporary poetry course I'm taking now I've been speaking of poetry (we were discussing Guest today) which can simultaneously be read literally or figuratively -- which is a bad way of putting it, because someone says, invariably, "Yeah, but the literal reading is strained," or "Yeah, but the figurative reading falls apart in this part of the poem," to which the response I want to give is, EXACTLY. Metarealism is truly its own discourse, it truly transforms rather than destroys its parents realism and figure, because we can see the (no pun intended!) genes of both parents but we could never truly confuse metarealistic dicourse for "merely" literal or figurative speech. The resistance to reading language as neither literal nor figurative is stunning -- I'm not even sure the reading process is accessible to any of us yet, we are always straining back toward more conventional modes of speech (and thus reading).

So when I speak of "progress" I mean the illusion of movement created by permanent contingency in the space between literal and figurative, matched with a propulsive desire to speak not against existing frameworks but entirely around them -- which creates a differential form of writing and reading that may or may not be any kind of forward "progress," as that sort of pejorative is really immaterial at this level of analysis. Romantic idealism can be cast many different ways -- today I think it is more likely to be seen as "emergence" and contingency than any sort of benighted belief (a la Olson, or Kant) that merely through perception we can be self-actualized. I think current thought would say that kind of self-actualization is impossible, the question is far more whether human consciousness is an organic entity or one that proceeds according to a form. The Romantics were skeptical of form even as their poets wrote in it; after WCW, we can now be skeptical of writing consciousness into a form either aesthetically or conceptually.

In thinking of progress as "missionary, forward, colonial, positive, progress of civilization," you are deducing possible negative connotations of the word from how it has been misused, abused, misapplied, bastardized. I'm constructing the term inductively, from the ground up -- I realize some will say this is impossible (e.g. Derrida!) -- but the point is simply to rethink progress, contingency, emergence, Subject, Other, and so on entirely. To disassociate these terms from the framework that forces us to work deductively in discussing what they could possibly mean for human development.

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

Modernism's very conception insured a series of graded failures. Any poetry founded on mastery of craft is fetishizing form (and the past, and citation, &c &c) in such a way that every act is merely a different kind of failure because of course "mastery" is an illusory utopia anyway. "Mastery" is not a void, though -- because the Masters do look back at us. The "void," in its true sense, cannot be anthropomorphized the way you say -- it does not look back, it is only the poets who have wished it to be so and made it into a saying that at first blush seems empirical. But in fact the void has no beginning and no end, and therefore no means to measure movement, and therefore no means to say what it does or does not do. It becomes the Monistic Singularity. It -- as I said -- "is," and merely "is," and no more can be said (and perhaps not even that, as only Kant's trickeries allow us even to say it "is"). But Kant was on to something in this sense at least, just as the Monistic philosophers were -- there is a supersensible. There is the terror we feel in knowing there is a supersensible. The question is whether we close down all possibility of narrative in the face of that (the Eleatic School) or run for the cover of figurative language (Kant) or avoid speaking of it altogether (realism, materialism). I am suggesting we can attempt to speak it even if we can't speak about it. What that requires is a language that cannot exist, in a space that does not exist, using reading skills (powers of perception) we don't yet have. Only then can the thing be said to be even a mockery of the supersensible.

Does "idealizing" (if this simply means placing value in thinking about) the supersensible come with a cost? Yes -- which is why politics has always retarded the development of poetry as Art and why it would be nice if we could all allow that poetry has always been a possible but never necessary or sufficient means of political action. We can only say that Adorno's "autonomous art" has negative political consequences for the subaltern if we presumed -- and why would we? -- that poetry ever had any hope of rescuing the subaltern in the first place. It does not and never did. This is why Badiou says politics is only one sub-category of ethics -- he would probably say Art is another, which is another way of saying politics and Art can be divorced. We could discuss how to fight for justice in myriad ways -- I did it for many years in the particular construct of the American legal system, but there are innumerable others -- but to treat poetry as a vehicle for politics is something we do for our own sake, not poetry's.

So when you ask, "Is not any meta-position cutely unethical?" I say "Yes! -- but only if we presume poetry owes a duty to politics, such that taking a metarealistic approach to poetry 'breaches,' in legal terms, that 'duty.'" As I'm not sure I see that duty, I don't see that breach. But then again, unlike many poets I don't think poetry is life or death -- I think people are more important than poetry and have said so countless times to anyone I've ever spoken to about poetry -- and I think it's poets' apprehension that they're not good for anything else (like fighting for economic and social justice without poetry) that makes them decide to bend poetry for political purposes. To poets I say, "You can do more than write poetry! Much more!" I think it's an incredibly unambitious approach to one's own lifetime to say that, as I write poetry, I can only use poetry to achieve that which seems to me important to achieve (e.g. economic and social justice). (Not saying you're saying this, Gene, just making a broader point.)

{continued}

Seth Abramson said...

To be clear -- because you quoted Churchill -- I did say that poetry can be used for political ends, simply that it will never be the most efficacious method. That Churchill once spoke in poetry in a political context does not mean he either had to or that there wasn't an even more effective way. Nor, incidentally, does it mean the poetry thus employed would have to have been written with political intent -- Adorno views Celan as writing autonomous art and yet "Death Fugue" makes me weep more than any other poem on the subject it (via volition or otherwise) addresses. So we have to distinguish between the writing of poetry and the uses to which written poetry can be put. Again, trying to infuse the writing process with politics could easily be seen as a desperate attempt to lend poetry political efficacy (and agency) rather than conceding that writing a poem instead of, say, voting is a half-assed way of enacting political change whoever you are and however you write.

You say, "all theory thinking does speak for the desire of the masses since it must generalize to sex-up its project and findings or else it seems pedantic or academic." I say, "all political poetry does speak for the desire of the masses because it has unnaturally bent poetry and the processes that produce and read poetry toward that end in order to better justify and obscure the incompetence of poets in any realm other than the literary."

I agree with most of what you say regarding politics and the Subject/Other as political rather than merely philosophic dichotomy -- I would just say that poetry is not necessarily the natural airspace for that discussion. Personally, in my own poetry I'm very interested in how rhetoric gets deployed -- as poetry and rhetoric were, at the birth of each, actually indistinguishable, and I believe there is a form of "pure rhetoric" possible which is not instrumental (persuasive of an end) but rather metaphysical (autonomous persuasion). But one reason it's possible to work through this in poetry is because rhetoric is not a mere instrument of language but a form of discourse -- just as the metaphor is a form of discourse but, as with rhetoric, one with a terminal limit. Metarealism would not have such a limit, though it could certainly use autonomous rhetoric as a means of distinguishing the (small "s") singularity of its discourse -- i.e., using one presently unacknowledged form of discourse (autonomous rhetoric) as a means to heighten the authority and gravitas of another (metarealism).

Best,
Seth

Henry Gould said...

Seth : WTTW : charge less per billable word. Or figure the other option.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Henry,

Guilty as charged -- that was a little much, I admit. I just got overexcited about the topic; I wasn't trying to overwhelm with language, honestly.

S.

Gene Tanta said...

...con't.

“…but the point is simply to rethink progress, contingency, emergence, Subject, Other, and so on entirely.”

I wish you luck with your utopian project. However, I think there is not pause in the Romantic idealist trek toward fleshing out the link to mythical origins. There is no ontological pause for our magical intervention to alter the usage of terms like “progress”. You cannot step in the same lexicon twice.

“I think it's poets' apprehension that they're not good for anything else (like fighting for economic and social justice without poetry) that makes them decide to bend poetry for political purposes.”

This seems like a fair psychoanalytical observation to my mind but Plato did not cast out the poets from the Republic because they were merely lazy or good-for-nothings but also because poets and artists pointed or acted out alternatives (via the imagination). There is nothing more dangerous to established power (political life and death) than choice (which is what the imagination performs in multiple and playful and caustic and chaotic ways).

A poem may (and certainly doesn’t have to or have to be the best way, I agree) question the use or power or legitimacy of voting. Our idealized poet might scream from beneath the snapping furls of some red banner, breast exposed: “Voting makes a shallow joke of representation (the voice can utter two words: yes/no). Voting is where the mimetic project is striped of connotation: voting is the robber of poetry from language. Voting is an illusion of choice for the dupes of comfort.”

Gene Tanta said...

Hi, Seth:

I think I understand your point: Kantians and the CW patrons of the possible, are “misguided” (who guides us all, right?) because the sublime and our “uncreative” chance or mechanized or formulaic responses MAY all BE illusions. Immediately after understanding this, we are drenched in the dyad of the real-unreal. So it seems, you say, that some are right, those terror-filled Monists who have the proper trembling disposition to KNOWING and some are wrong, those Others (Kantian sublime aficionados and CWers as the probing phallus of the Avant-garde) who settle for the superficial titillation of chance pleasures and chance failures.

Why is awe better than error-practices? The first is reverent and the second irreverent? The first (big) Other-centered and the second humanist (all post-humanist activity is still anthropocentric because the Ipad is made to fit in your lap (use-function)).

Re: Olson, the rumor in the bathhouses of new Rome runs that he stole his best ideas (open field, etc) from Williams. It seems the biggest egomaniacs strive for objectivity, purity, godhead.

“Speaking of "progress" is merely a way of visualizing that lack of completion -- speaking it.”

Yes, but we need a new figure of speech because “progress” is so problematic for people who suffer from its application in the humanist traditions weather “The Church” or “International Human Rights” or “Bringing Civilization to the savages” or “Public education” etc.

And here is my vision: we (writers who think and strive to think independently of fashion or doctrine) suffer (it’s a condition) from a failure of imagination. Just like the FBI on 9/11; just like the “truth commission”; just like CW and Flarfists alike. That we have no better or more critical word for the function of “yuppie” is a sad indication of this failure of imagination. Our failure is a failure of vocabulary, a failure of writers to make new language that is fit to the purpose of critical and creative action.

We can stand in all the awe we can stand (and I think living in Romantic-deconstructive negative capability is powerful work and may be our best response to our imaginative failure or failure of imagination) but we still have to stand up, and we have to stand up with others, in the now. Time complicates positivist narratives: so we try to ignore time so we can live our lives rather than die our deaths. I think it’s the right choice; but I think the reflective life matters more then the unreflective life to those we realize that form-content or time-space or brain-mind are not split. The binary is an Aristotelian lie and we have the Socratic Method to deconstruct it, if only we’d use it in our academies.

Resisting a figurative OR literal reading of a text is a good way to think of “minding the gap” since, really, if we think about it: seeing all textual meaning as unsettled is the point of reading carefully and toward a deconstruction of authority (or singularity of source). Of course, such playful unsettling of the comforts of the heretofore stable text gives us gas reflux.

Who wants to think critically about the aesthetics of their ethics (where the ego enters the social contract and if this promenade makes the ego look fat)?

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Gene (and Henry),

It's been wonderful to speak with you and to hear your thoughts (including these last ones)! Thanks so much for dialoging through all this with me -- it's been extremely interesting! (And thanks to Don for providing the venue!) Best wishes,

Cheers,
Seth