Friday, 7 April 2000

From "Poetics"

By Keston Sutherland.

[...] an example of what thinkers so extremely unlike as Lukács and Adorno agree in calling “idealism,” that is, the reconciliation in performative abstract of real social contradictions [...] that stands in for proper demystification of capitalist social relations [...] Language poetry theory has always been idealist in this way, from its beginnings to its present recapitulation in the work of Schultz, Juliana Spahr and others; and it has always been most conspicuously idealist when it has tried to claim the symbolic capital of European Marxism (both eastern and western) by declaring that it has subverted the conditions of false consciousness through subverting normative assumptions about language. In reality, of course, the conditions of false consciousness are economic conditions and are not vulnerable to subversion by poetry, whilst normative assumptions about language are almost infinitely vulnerable to subversion, but only because normal language itself is preeminently immune to whatever effects may be stirred up in the field of aesthetics by performative subversions of our assumptions about that language. Like capitalism, normal language is not just the sum of oppressive and false practices (“transparent” signification, “subjectivity,” “Robert Pinsky” etc) set over against all the community minded and theoretically informed things that liberal poets do before they get tenure in the Ivy League. Normal language, like capitalism and of course as a constituent part of it, is transcendentally hospitable. It is Whitman’s cosmogonic melos and Judith Butler’s infinitely promiscuous selfhood in perfected carbon burlesque: everybody’s autothanatography. It always eats Shklovsky’s Defamiliarization Salts for breakfast.

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