Monday, 5 March 2007

Runnymede (3/5)

Sean Bonney read work-in-progress, giving two possible titles, which I’ve forgotten, and a subtitle, "a lecture." Then he read stuff written just before the progress (Baudelaire in English). At first he read much more slowly than usual. I liked this, and so did the man sitting next to me.

A marvellous review of Baudelaire in English has just appeared (see note 1). It admires the elaborate and hard-won fidelity of the translations (“That they are able to enact Baudelaire's dilemma as well as translate it is the triumph of these works. Most translations aim for one type of translation and fail to do even that […]”). But listening to them after the lecture, I found them much less translationy than usual. Both projects layer up a common thematic landscape. Police biology; reviews of the Symbolic that are not quite Critical Theory, nor Cultural Studies, nor Whitehall organ-scrumping, but with elements of all (e.g. the embarrassingly vituperative assault on The Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work”); the ontology of capital (“money is memory” […] “the half-life of money” […] “spasms”).

Of course it cuts both ways, there’s still some Baudelaire in the lecture – the stuff about pronouns especially. For some reason I found myself remembering the Romantic ego as it is articulated in Wordsworth: it is reflexive and dialectically implicated with its objects to the point of being very irritating. Probably a pony worth tricking. No that’s not what I mean. You know what I mean. A thing worth trying to do. Don’t trick ponies.

Elizabeth James started with seductive, bewildering teratomas, read dextrously at a fair clip. These were called “Slurs” and were introduced as having something to do with blurbs. I was lost, listening out for a marketing thread or the trite rhythms of stock blurbage.

As a critical genre, blurbs tend to exclude predication of any aesthetic virtues structurally implicated with vices (e.g. anything that is reasonably difficult to pull off each time, and irritating when not pulled off). Whereas slurring usually indicates that the notes should be played in one bow, or without individual rearticulation with the tongue.

The legal status of the ™ symbol is minimal. It’s a sort of marketing warning sign, indicating your readiness to enforce your rights or interests in your trademark under passing off laws; it can also be a kind of post-it note: “To Do: Register Trademark.” My paint is that Elizabeth James™ is a perfectly acceptable orthography, and that Crot's work is loved by millions and has been translated into over one language.

Hot off the press, Elizabeth James’s “Slurs” are further proof of the range and mastery of the UK’s best-loved poet. Through her use of poetry and its articulation, James raises questions about the ethics of contextualisation, questions which have become all the more pressing in the times we live up. An oblique and radical sort of answer is made by the UK’s favourite poet, Andrea Brady™.

Andrea read from Tracking Wildfire, a big historical and political project about incendiary weapons from Greek Fire to White Phosphorous.

Andrea writes, "I will proceed by compiling a set of visual and textual documents about the history of Greek Fire and of the use of White Phosphorous, and also blog other, related or unrelated, texts and images which seem to me able to contribute to the cartography of chemical warfare, or to reflections on the status of contemporary innovative poetry and its use of obscurity. I'd very much like to have the help of Dispatx Art Collective readers in this phase. I will also begin posting drafts of a poetic sequence which draws on this data. Hopefully trackback or hyperlinks will allow me to reveal the sources for my writing. The outcome will be a temporal and spatial map of a kind of warfare, and a text whose seemingly improvised structure can be illuminated by the tracers of digital media."

The poet who assimilates a huge amount of editorial and administrative function may be stifled by it – that’s obvious. A subtler related point is that such assimilation closes down certain moves in the larger language game of poetic research. Some knowledge generated through the behaviours of multiple poetic and critical agents is unlikely ever to crystallise within the projects of individuals or interaction formalised as collaboration. Clearly these are relatively rare moments, against an endlessly-disowned but ever-present valorisation of mystification. In general I cheerlead for maddeningly full disclosure.

I started wondering about improving various texts by digitising their innate hypertextuality. I thought, Pope? A little Prynne? I think Andrea has often recycled literary texts, as allusion and as retasked language (there is a lot of The Tempest, for example, in “Saw Fit”) (see note 2); a little Embrace? This is the kind of grunt-work which should be set undergraduates. Maybe instead of essay titles like “dig that cat Kit Marlowe but don't be too long about it. Bug out.”

Clearly it's difficult in a reading to convey this hypertextual and palimpsestual character.

“I’m going to read some of the nicer stuff."

"[...] Where we put the mince and the moving [...]”

Not that nice.

Note 1: Tim’s review also gave shape to my sense of a qualitative change in the incessant qualitative changes (“[...] generous, idealistic and cosmopolitan of his nature of his writing [...] has, here, embodied itself in a wider world than the relatively small and stinking site (Tony Blair's Britain) that took up most of his Salt Press book, Blind Pork Nihilist Drainpipe […]”).

“People are being starved.” Jack Spicer has a poem which ends “People are starving.”

Note 2: If I didn’t have that thought, I would have had the feeling that Tracking Wildfire was exploiting ornate citation to legitimate a palimpincestual practice in little need of it. There are circumstances in which it’s wrong to let oneself be mistaken for the foundry not the finder of some linguistic phenomenon. But in the field of modernist and experimental poetic practice, the proscribing impulse is usually just careerist in its logic (the author overprotects itself from the infamy of plagiarism). The situation with Andrea is clearly more complex.

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