Wednesday, 29 March 2000

From "Poetics"

By Keston Sutherland.

Bourdieuvian preoccupation with the meaning of self-projection not simply as an activity of the ego but as the business of culture need not outrage anyone. Rainey, like Bourdieu, is of course highly conscious that explanations of this type lead unswervingly toward the total desacralization of art; and like Bourdieu he surely must take pleasure in imagining the liturgical protests of connoisseurs who believe that the art which they love has nothing to do with the difference between Vanity Fair and the Dial or with marketing.

Friday, 24 March 2000

From "Everyday Life: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices"

By L. Abrahams.

At our most playful, we are able to get away from it all, even into a parallel realm in which the motives of everyday life are replayed with no obligation to commit to anything but the flow of the play itself and the rush arising with the focused expenditure of energy [...] While play seems to promise the experience of letting go, the departure is not from the rules, but from one set of stylized practices to another, all in the service of participation by the players and an ability to follow what is going on.

From "Poetics"

By Keston Sutherland.

Abrahams doesn’t mean by “everyday life” what phenomenological or Marxist traditions have meant by it. The everyday is neither the prescientific nor the prerevolutionary; it is not based on a logic distinguishing existential immediacy or the hic et nunc from some cognitive or social end royally conceptualised as standing beyond the everyday; it is life as an ordinary and fundamentally unchanging whole, inclusive of whatever adjustments of heart and mind might be effected in us by exceptional events or circumstances. It is a “too-often contentious world” that we live in, but to conceive of local and specific contentions as ruptures, catastrophes or crises in, for example, the vocabulary of entitlement to victim status popularised by Marx or Adorno, would be distrustful and therefore destructively melodramatic.

From "Poetics"

By Kestion Sutherland.

Poetics, in this specifically institutional context, becomes a more and more ambivalent term. Either it is a productively indistinct concept which may hint at and connote what goes on in poetical language but which need not have anything directly to do with poems, in which case it is a theoretical term, indefinitely exchangeable between disciplines; or it is the probably conservative because probably methodologically unreflexive study of poetical language, and may even restrict itself to poetical language in its most traditional form, namely, poems.

From "Poetics"

[...] The vicissitudes of institutional fortune are no less operative in sanctioning the unobtrusive, level persistence of ‘poetry’ as an object of study than they are in determining the more spectacular ups and downs of contemporary ‘schools’ of thought such as Deconstruction [...]

A canticle, or song, of the third & fourth chapters of the song of Solomon

In bed I sought my loue by night,
But could not find him there,
I sought him but he vvas farre off,
And did not come me neere.

I rose, & vvalkt the streates to see
If my soule could him find
Whom I did vvant, yet found I not
The day starre of my mind.

The ra I straight to those that teach
And vvatch, & vvaite for me
And sayd to the ca ye shevve novve
Where I my loue might see.

And thus halfe spent vvith care, & cost,
My soule gan faint, & faile
Loe then my loue did shevve himselfe,
& vvould not let me quaile

Thursday, 23 March 2000

From "On Suicide"

By Emile Durkheim.

Thus, the evolution of suicide is composed of undulating movements, distinct and successive, which occur spasmodically, develop for a time, and then stop only to begin again. On the above table one of these waves is seen to have occurred almost throughout Europe in the wake of the events of 1848, or about the years 1850-1853 depending on the country; another began in Germany after the war of 1866, in France somewhat earlier, about 1860 at the height of the imperial government, in England about 1868, or after the commercial revolution caused by contemporary commercial treaties.

Wednesday, 22 March 2000

From "Poetics"

By Keston Sutherland.

Poetics, in this specifically institutional context, becomes a more and more ambivalent term. Either it is a productively indistinct concept which may hint at and connote what goes on in poetical language but which need not have anything directly to do with poems, in which case it is a theoretical term, indefinitely exchangeable between disciplines; or it is the probably conservative because probably methodologically unreflexive study of poetical language, and may even restrict itself to poetical language in its most traditional form, namely, poems.

From "Poetics"

By Keston Sutherland.

If professional thinkers are to take seriously the project of criticising the institutional contexts of their own production, what will surely be indispensible is some notion of the totality of those contexts, however cautiously admitted. Recent developments in the practice of interdisciplinary scholarship and criticism, for example, will be to some extent misapprehended unless they can be seen in the economic context of a specifically research-institutional history of disciplines, which is of course a history not just of ideas belonging to disciplines but of careers belonging to departments; and if this is obviously true for interdisciplinary practice and for the status of professional methodology in general, it is no less true for the most basic terms and concepts of criticism.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

PEREIRA: Do you recognize constant or recurring procedures in your work?

MOTTRAM: Yes, and then try to stop them.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I do think that poetry can provide a form of support, for the poet and for the person who reads poetry. The Spanish artist and poet Pepe Espaliú said, ‘My work is the evidence of what makes my existence bearable, and in that sense maintains it.’ I find his statement very interesting, though my own tendency is to think about writing as bringing something into existence, and I’d put the emphasis on that ‘something’ rather than on its relation to my own life. But I’d also want to add that what I’m doing when I write is ‘for the sake of what remains invisible in the showing-forth’, as I say in one of the ‘Spiritual Letters’. That’s not being cryptic – or not intentionally so; it’s just a way of referring you back to the poetry itself.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

ALLEN: What is ‘poetic fiction’? I ask because I’ve been reading Barbara Guest’s Forces of Imagination in which one of the little essays, ‘Poetry the True Fiction’, eloquently equates poetry with fiction and it kind of matches my own sense, a sense which I often attempt to deny both in practise and theoretically, that poetry is intrinsically about that which is not factual. The romanticism of the notion appals me, but I think I have found that it is in fact the basis of my own poetic realism; it implies being straight with oneself and as such the contradictions inherent in this ‘unreal thing which exists’ become more addictive and fascinating, not less.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] the act of writing becoming a way of dreaming more fully […]

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] when I talk about ‘understanding’, I mean an understanding that remains ‘open’ rather than a comprehension that seeks resolution, closure. I’d also want to say that writing can definitely exhaust or surpass interpretation and understanding – not just any single act of interpretation, but as a whole. However, my approach to this is by way of negative theology (especially Dionysius the Areopagite) rather than any materialist textual theory.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I don’t really believe that you don’t know the meaning of ‘meaning.’ […]

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] beauty and elegance are quite distinct, and if you find my work beautiful, obviously I’m pleased. At the same time, I think of Jack Spicer’s remark to a young poet who told him his writing was beautiful: Okay, it’s beautiful, but what does it mean? (That’s from memory, by the way, and may not be right.)

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I accept the paradox.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] there comes a point in most poets’ lives, I think, when they realise just how little of what makes them interesting as human beings finds its way into their work. You often find, somewhere, some anomalous blow-out work, whether driven by anger or love, where they just let more in than they usually do.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

Adjunct is a book that tends to divide people: they either like it or they can’t work out why they’re being shown this thing.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

There’s only so upset you can find something when it’s resting next to the sentence ‘Jobby by Hans Arp.’ It’s another form of the distraction we talked about earlier, a psychological trick, but it’s probably saved my life on a number of occasions.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I’ve always had a soft spot for language that manages to communicate something completely other than what its originator meant to say […]

From "Response to Andrea Brady"

By Scott Thurston.

Andrea

Your paper was extremely fine, and still reads as very urgent. Your question about whether the poetics of Language Poetry replaces the power-relations of grammar with "chaos, and a refutation of historicity" reminds me of Gilbert Adair's letter to Robert Sheppard in Pages (65-72, March 1988, 68) that warns of the risk of "mimesis of actual informational chaos" in poetic practices attempting a response to Language Poetry. I still think, however, that Bernstein's poetics offers, in the quoted segment, a resistance to the absolute that you elsewhere appear to advocate, and that this doesn't exclude encountering death. I don't think Language Poetry ever really stood for a "fetishizing of the endless deferral of meaning."

I also think that there's a danger in reading the poetics of poets without relating it to the poetry they produce, poetry which I think persists as a much richer and more complex set of engagements than the poetics seek to describe/delimit. The poetics are the imaginary solutions which spur the creative work towards successful failure.

From "Notes on Commitment"

These poems are not liberal handwringing about how horrible everything is. Perversely, MacSweeney may even be relishing it.

From "Notes on Commitment"

By Sean Bonney.

[...] An easy target, perhaps. But an accurate one [...]

From "The True, The Good, The Beautiful, and the Baghdad Central Detention Centre"

By Keston Sutherland.

The proliferation of conceptual crises is possible because the kind of historical thinking that carefully restricted the definition of “crisis” has apparently been more or less disjoined from active political work of any consequence. This involuntary evacuation of politics is naturally regarded by opponents of that kind of historical thinking as some kind of freedom from “ideology.” Freedom from ideology is in turn more or less identified, within the field of theoretical writing, with the propensity to announce or add to the proliferation of conceptual crises.

Tuesday, 21 March 2000

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I think what I came to through the influence of Coolidge and others wasn’t orthodox Surrealism, but simply an openness to a not especially theorised version of the unconscious. I’ve never understood the desire to communicate through poetry – it just doesn’t seem possible, given the infinite scope for interpretation of the finished work, and why on earth would you want to do it anyway, given that you’re a reasonably articulate adult and know how to have a conversation, unless you don’t like being contradicted and prefer to emote at a brick wall. ‘No one listens to poetry’, as Jack Spicer wrote. Ultimately, you’re alone with the text, whether you’re the writer or the reader, and as a writer the most interesting thing I can make the text do for me is to draw things out that I didn’t know I had to say. I can only hope that the combination of unexpected statement and finely-measured openness gives the reader something good to play with.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I’m not even sure the Mallarmé one is by Mallarmé, but they’ve been floating round my head long enough to have become part of the furniture:

The most sublime word we possess is the word ‘like’ (Breton)
‘Like’ – the very word should be struck from the language (Mallarmé)


If you’re used to paying close attention to the way language works as you move from word to word in a poem, analogy and metaphor start to look like incredibly lazy substitutes for transformation.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

As an aside, as if that wasn’t an aside, I think all this correlates interestingly with a change in the dominant scientific metaphor that the arts use to understand themselves and the world. A very influential stream of 20th Century art, from Dada to John Cage and beyond, was concerned with ideas and acausality, indeterminancy and randomness which ultimately derived from quantum mechanics. Then, some time in the 1970s or 80s, the concept of randomness was called into question when people became aware of ideas emerging from chaos theory – the possibility of unpredictable behaviour arising in simple physical systems which are so constructed as to be extremely sensitive to their initial states (“The Butterfly Effect”). I think an artist like Cage was very much of his time: when he used chance operations to isolate objects and events for contemplation outside of any system or causal chain, a contemporary artist would be more likely to start from the premise that nothing can ever be considered as outside of a system or causal chain, that all the elements of a work are mutually interdependent and the ramifications are more complex than an artist can hope to control.

From "Grief Work in a War Economy"

By Andrea Brady.

To do so, we must recognise that grief can be as tactical as dying.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

One of the most important functions of art is the way it acts as a transitional object between human consciousness and its material basis: art is matter, it’s not alive, but it’s marked by consciousness and the only things more complex than the interactions people have with art are the interactions they have with other people. I’d like art to approach the complexity of the human mind as closely as possible, if only to remind myself that things as complex as the human mind are materially possible, that we really are children of this world, with no-one to rescue us if we fuck it up. Hold that golem.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] the time I spent in the early nineties getting into as much of the maths behind fractal and chaos theory as I could follow […] The visual work which came out of that period pretty much cured me of the desire to draw or paint, which I’d nursed for some years, as the results were just so much more interesting. Though I don’t think I realised it at the time, that work also gave me a taste for language-surfaces that weren’t necessarily impenetrably dense or difficult, but were in some fairly obvious way unstable, open to interpretation. I think experimenting with things like the Game of Life, where simple cellular patterns are allowed to interact and evolve over many generations on a computer screen, did away with my belief that I could have any real control over how an object as complex as a poem would finally be interpreted, when almost every move from word to word involved the reader in an interpretative decision whose outcome I couldn’t predict. And to answer your question, yes, I do think on one level it’s a trick I play on myself: I’m so used to looking at language – all language – up close that I see ambiguities where most people wouldn’t, my censor goes to sleep and I discover I’ve written with a candour I couldn’t have attained by more direct means.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I think one thing that I probably share with a lot of the people (not to mention poets) I feel closest to is a basically materialist view of the world, coupled with an overwhelming sense of the ramified complexity of absolutely everything that isn’t man-made. It probably sounds quaint and a bit dated to say that I got that sense from the time I spent in the early nineties getting into as much of the maths behind fractal and chaos theory as I could follow (I’ve forgotten most of it now), but that’s what happened.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I’m not a materialist I just like having a few nice things.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

I think it’s very easy for a writer who is just starting out to mistake the nature of small-press publication: if editors keep returning your work, it’s tempting to attribute more power to them than they actually possess. As we now know, Tim, small-press editors and publishers tend to be one or two-person operations, often run by writers, who usually have fairly well defined tastes and very limited budgets.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

The idea of an authentic personal voice or style is alien to me as a writer. I don’t think I have an individual style: maybe one will appear in retrospect.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] for many academics that question seems to be beside the point. I mean that they have just let the question die because postmodernism quite suddenly became an empty category as modernism was extended into the present and is now seen as an unfinished project.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

But it is obvious I think that the poem [‘Stress Management’] relates threads from various public things happening and runs them together. Even if they are not all completely recoverable by the reader, there is an account of a specific time and set of events. Naming both Mrs Currie for her work and also naming Mr Gandhi watching his mother burn is important in that poem, it tends to show these huge forces (as in twenty thousand prisoners) bearing on individuals and what they might feel.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[…] Isn’t it a fact that over the past decade innovative poetry, particularly the Language strains, has become largely institutionalised? I am talking about in the States of course, but by extension doesn’t that increasingly include us Brits? And wasn’t this something that Lee Harwood and Tom Raworth, in their own very different ways, warned us against a long time ago now?

LOPEZ: Of course theory is all about power, though sometimes you might forget it as you peer at the seamless and seemingly endless streams of self-aggrandising jargon arranged in flawless chiastic sentences that emptily echo the cadences of Derrida redoing Heidegger. What? If you nod off at a conference you can catch the same phrases coming back at the end of the paper, quote marks acted out with curling fingers held aloft. What does it mean to say that poetic practice is mediated by academic institutions? That Bob Perelman has to work to bring up a family and pay his kids’ college fees? That Lyn Hejinian was finally recognised as someone we could learn from and was offered a steady job? That no-one could be better than Susan Howe to teach you Emily Dickinson? That they all somehow manage to keep writing wonderful poetry? Or is it that I might ask my students to read those poets rather than some others who are in my view less challenging and interesting? Thus my choice and the imposition of that choice on students from my position of power is self-interested? Is that it? I’d like to know just what Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood said or wrote to warn us. They are both excellent poets who have themselves been supported for considerable periods by academic institutions: earning reading fees and teaching fees, being graduates in English (Lee form London University) and Translation (Tom from Essex University); both of them have been writers in residence and teachers in academic institutions. I see them and hear their poetry performed when I book them to read in an academic institution or when a colleague books them in another. I’d like to have them both supported by the state and have them come to meet students and inspire them. They both have a lot to give. Where will their poetry go unless into University libraries and archives? Why worry? It is important for the theory of the avant-garde that there is a state of permanent opposition. But you would not want Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones or the Sex Pistols to be still making demos? There is a very strong anti-intellectual prejudice in English society that is bound up with old-fashioned class loyalties, deference, and proper suspicion of leisured gents in universities. It’s not like that any more. Larkin, Amis senior and their cronies had this resentment in spades. It’s a reactionary position, a kind of nostalgic Tory romaticicsm, as if we could take to the open road with only our banjos and songs. Remember Donovan? I bet he’s a Tory in his Surrey mansion.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

[Interviewer asks for a ‘thread outside the labyrinth to each poem’]

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

HUTCHINSON: I would say most poets don’t read their work very well, even when it’s well written. There’s too much modish display, or straightforward ineptitude. Sorley McLean had a true bardic presence, with a few unconscious eccentricities, and MacCaig made a virtue of relaxed self-deprecation, and deliberately didn’t make things difficult for the audience – though a touch of the crocodile was never very far away. But too many contemporaries convey no presence at all: nothing is heightened; there’s neither growl nor benison. They rarely give the sense of being moved themselves by what they write or have to say, so they can hope for is polite acquiescence.

As an aside I’d say actors over-egg it. Not all of them – but most of them do.

From "Don't Start Me Talking"

Ed. Tim Allen & Andrew Duncan.

HUTCHINSON: I’ve never been one for manifestoes, or general theorising. In fact when I was a literary academic I shut out a lot of developing theory quite deliberately – sidestepping hermeneutics and most of those French-based contrivances. I didn’t want it cluttering up my responses to poetry, and I don’t feel I missed all that much. Whatever has shaped the words has been personal and not schematic. Though I’m not against criticism per se – especially when it happens to be true, or makes you smile.

DUNCAN: Can you nonetheless be drawn into some theorising about what contributes to the effects of poetry?

HUTCHINSON: At the level of language, the energy of poetry – its emotional and intellectual energy – springs from a mix of the demotic and the hieratic: joining up or breaking away. If one gains ascendancy, or settles in, the other will soon enough appear as a corrective. MacDiarmand and Joyce both worked to extremes of each, that’s part of what makes them pre-eminent – the range and subtlety. But if you don’t look out, or have no wish to stop, you can end up talking to yourself.

Wednesday, 15 March 2000

From "Negative Dialectics"

By Theodor Adorno.

In a sense, dialectical logic is more positivistic than the positivism that outlaws it. As thinking, dialectical logic respects that which is to be thought -- the object -- even where the object does not heed the rules of thinking. The analysis of the object is tangential to the rules of thinking. Thought need not be content with its own legality; without abandoning it, we can think against our thought, and if it were possible to define dialectics, this would be a definition worth suggesting. The thinker's equipment need not remain ingrown in his thinking; it goes far enough to let him recognise the very totality of its logical claim as a delusion. The seemingly unbearable thesis that subjectivity presupposes facts while objectivity presupposes the subject -- this thesis is unbearable only to one so deluded, to one who hypostatizes the relation of cause and effect, the subjective principle to which the experience of the object fails to bow.

Tuesday, 14 March 2000

From "The Laughter of Narcissism: Loving Hot White Andy and the Troubling Chain of Equivalence"

By Jennifer Cooke.

[...] that fight, which does, I believe, critique how an environment of substitutability and exchange may infect our thinking of the personal, also has a corollary effect, which is to reify the individual. In this case, it is the individuality of the poet’s voice, which has proved itself more than capable of subsuming and ventriloquising the voices of others, of dominating the scene and of taking up and taking over many of the character positions in the poem. This would appear to be narcissism, and not just the performance of it, but it is a narcissism paradoxically constitutive for the critique it informs. Knowing the other, for Narcissus, is knowing the self; similarly, the other(s) of “Hot White Andy” all lead inexorably back to the earnest and very male voice which finally declares itself “a real man / accumulating men, desire and intensity until I die.” [...] Sincere declaration or parody or both? The impossibility of deciding leaves the reader confronted with the power of the individual poetic voice. The individual self, however important a category for the poet who wishes to know himself, as in Wordsworth’s project, is a construct and one that has been extremely convenient to the dissemination of capitalist thinking and the behavioural inculcation that accompanies it.

Sunday, 12 March 2000

From "Minima Moralia"

By Theodor W. Adorno trans. Jephcott.

Cultivated philistines are in the habit of requiring that a work of art ‘give’ them something. They no longer take umbrage at works that are radical, but fall back on the shamelessly modest assertion that they do not understand. This eliminates even opposition, their last negative relationship to truth, and the offending object is smilingly catalogued among its kind, consumer commodities that can be chosen or refused without even having to take responsibility for doing so. One is just too stupid, too old-fashioned, one simply can’t keep up, and the more one belittles oneself the more one can be sure of swelling the mighty unison of the vox inhumana populi, the judging power of the petrified Zeitgeist. Incomprehensibility, that benefits no-one, from being an inflammatory crime becomes pitiable folly. Together with the barb one deflects the temptation. That one must be given something, apparently the postulate of substantiality and fullness, cuts both off and impoverishes giving. In this, however, human relationships are like aesthetic. The reproach that someone gives one nothing is pitiful. If the relation has grown sterile, it should be broken off. But he who holds it fast and yet complains, is always devoid of the organ of receiving: fantasy. Both must give something, happiness, as precisely what is not exchangeable, not open to complaint, but such giving is inseparable from taking. All is over if what one finds for the other no longer reaches him. There is no love that is not an echo. In myths the warrant of grace was the acceptance of sacrifice; it is this acceptance that love, the re-enactment of sacrifice, beseeches if it is not to feel under a curse. The decay of giving is today matched by a hardness towards receiving. But this comes to the same thing as the denial of real happiness, that alone permits men to cling to their kind of happiness. The rampart would only be breached if they were to accept from others what, with a wry face, they refuse themselves. But this they find difficult because of the effort demanded by taking. Besotted with technique, they transfer their hatred for the superfluous exertion of their existence, to the expense of energy that pleasure, as a moment of their being, needs even in all its sublimations. Though facilitated in countless ways, their practice remains absurd toil; yet to squander strength on their lives’ secret, happiness, is something they cannot endure. Here the watchword is ‘relax and take it easy’, a formula borrowed from the language of the nursing-home, not of exuberance. Happiness is obsolete: uneconomic. For its idea, sexual union, is the opposite of slackness, a blessed straining, just as that of all subjected labour is cursed.

Saturday, 11 March 2000

"More Kid Talk."

By Lanny Quarles.

there's not alot of bureaucracy here.

fog cube airport. most people arrive in pneumatics, get sorted by robot
and never even wake up, or stop watching their games or movies.

the individual fog cubes can mediate themselves.
some come with bright yellow frogs inside.
there's a scientific reason. i think this airport is also
a frog breeding station for some by product?

these safety colored anchorite frogs
have some pretty cool accessories.
secret stuff, cult stuff, inside their caves.

Most of it is made in Brazil
by people who were born in Luxembourg.

one thing is just a kind of molded metal frog couch
that stays warm from the friction of the water exchange unit
inside the pipe.

i don't think these are really frogs anymore.