Thursday, January 13, 2011
More on the "avant-garde" identity crisis.
"...my sense — as I've insisted, however inadequately, elsewhere — is that this language, the language of avant-gardness and innovation, is far too deeply entangled in dominant cultural institutions and market systems to be at all recuperable. Further, the blind lust among artists and critics for newness, for advancedness, rests on a deeply troubling relation to time that not only pits new against old but presupposes a single landscape, a single temporality, such that, to point to one frustrating example, the rich multiplicity of American poetries that circulated during the 1970s and 80s can scarcely ever be considered by critics outside their relation to (or distance from) the New American Poetry or Language Writing. The fact of newness, of innovation, is always already built into efficacious work — work that productively intervenes in a situation at a specific moment in time — and so the desire to fetishize newness, avant- or advanced-ness, is to slavishly subordinate our labor to the stagflated market value of a transcendental signified that wrenches our attention away from the far more immediate, material conditions of our making."
- Richard Owens, Damn the Caesars
Then there's this fine review essay, in Essays in Criticism, which includes some good quotes from Bob Archambeau on the "Cambridge School," viz -
"The contradictions of a publicly-concerned poetry that works only by negation and obscurity come to a head here. It isn't just the idea that such poetry doesn't so much engage politics as it withdraws from politics that bothers [Peter] Riley, either: He's haunted by the sense that poets of this kind have become elitists, unwilling to sully their hands with the practicalities of political struggle. After the passage quoted above comes Riley's cri de coeur, directed toward the avant-garde community in which he himself has much standing: ‘How did we get to be so haughty?’"
(See my own earlier post on the fate of the avant-garde here...)
Speaking of criticism, here's more on the critics' identity crisis:
The most significant thing about the feature on “Why Criticism Matters” is the title. The New York Times would never find it necessary to publish an article on why science, mathematics, medicine, music or art matters. The need to explain why criticism matters emphasizes as clearly as possible the fact that it doesn’t.
-- from "Readers on Criticism," in the NYT Paper Cuts mailbag
Labels: make it new already