Thursday, 21 August 2008

architecture for cartography (5/8)

No poet, no artist of any art, has her complete meaning alone. Her significance, her appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the existing poets and artists. You cannot value her alone; you must set her, for contrast and comparison, among the existing. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that she shall conform, that she shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. My poems barge through the door like Playa Kane:

At stake beyond the commonplaces is whether the cohesion of co-constitutive aesthetic burbles is always by alterations “ever so slight,” and if they are, whether those gradually contribute to grand contributions, or do they rather oscillate around equillibria, and whether or not artists or others can predict, prepare for or execute such alterations, and in the main, whether structuralist commonsense can only make a slogan about how meaning surely totally must like happen, like out there, via a crystalline vacuum capitalising on the verisimilitude of its relational content, or can structuralist commonsense be the beginning of actually seeing and influencing meaning happening as structure? Can I write the texts that are aesthetically necessary to the texts that are politically necessary? Could Marx have written a Marxism unusable by Stalin, sort of in the spirit of Gram or Excalibur? Can you write something that self-destructs at time t using discursive resources alone? What text would maximise violence to Down Where Changed, would most effectively efface it? The bumper sticker "Jerome Prynne is a heaven-taught ploughman"? Your work, the Jo-Jo the Rabbit of poetry, don't run its mouth no more.

The mapmaking yen is historically implicated in designs for mercantile / military dominance. A 360˚ question mark hovers over the suitability of Duncan’s map as intelligence. Should someone carry out a nuclear poi strike on, oh I dunno, bottom left, Avant-Garde Pastoral, what happens? The gist I get from this thing is that Thomas A. Clark, Peter Larkin and Martin Corless-Smith would be supplanted by reserve Avant-Garde Pastoralists not yet marked on the map (see note 1). What would happen if we gavelled them relentlessly? Could we eventually produce a blank space there? Would some new school pass remark-threshhold (see note 2)? Cf. Sean Bonney's "recent irruptions of unmeaning / in Kabul etc, where / we have never been, / have made poetry obsolete: /but still my red shoes / would go dancing [...]" and "[...] poets report for immediate termination [...]".

More generally, how accessible is each node from the others? Neo-Romantic Dylan Thomas is placed quite close to the Underground + British Poetry Revival node. Does this indicate the relative ease with which he could bend his practice to its will / with which we can critically reappraise his signifance into its provenance? Or do lines and arrows indicate the only permissible avenues of movement? – if so, Dylan would have to circumlocute East through Jungian-Mythic country (slay Haslam 5,000,000 XP), round Void Cape, then pass South-West into Folklore-Folksong beforing travelling up through Protest Poetry and Pop Lyrics. Andrea Brady, Peter Manson (again) and Stephen Thomson are written in a crabbed hand in lemon juice between Tom Raworth and Ewart Milne – what’s the significance of this? A kind of sleeper cell? Why two Peters? What could change about the map to make it of more use to scouts? Cf. Lara Buckerton: "[...] my cunts for scouts not hearts were set to lutes [...]".

Here’s me imagining us zooming in a little on the lattice of tensile value, and seeing how junctures co-constitute. Suppose that you are trying to decide whether to read some poems by Robert Creeley or Stephen Rodefer. It’s a difficult decision in this scenario, because neither is obviously better than the other, and because they write very different sorts of poetry. Further, you know that your choice will in a sense be automatically right: if you read Creeley, you will learn to like Creeley, Rodefer likewise. So we’re dealing with meta-preferences – not what you'd like, but what you'd like to like – with nested and dynamically-linked preferences. Now let's imagine that before you make a decision, Redell Olsen begins to publish her work. Let's also imagine that Stephen Rodefer and Redell Olsen are similar poets – they write the same sort of poetry, not different sorts of poetry like Rodefer and Creeley – but that Stephen Rodefer’s is much better. You probably possess a cognitive bias – and you probably don’t know that much about it – such that Olsen’s emergence would lean you towards Rodefer, not Creeley (I haven’t found this bias taxonimised – Dan Ariely mentions it in this lecture). We’re quite used to the idea that good works tend to get imitated more, and that such “imitation” functions a bit like “praise,” even when it supersedes the original. I’m proposing a mechanism which runs this relation in reverse: imitating something may valorise it, not through the implication that a judgement has been made that it’s good enough to imitate, but by a synchronic quirk of our cognitive apparatus (see note 3), which is effective regardless of our beliefs about how the texts influenced each other or how in general they do. This is part of the way influence works. And it’s part of the way the anxiety of influence works.

Here's a partial list of overlapping reasons to choose reduced visibility or invisibility, or crudely, REASONS TO NOT PUBLISH. (This forms a kind of tightly paranoid and loosely anthropic response to a sporty remark jUStin!katKO emailed me about “sharing.”)

(1) To evade some alert, punitive power – like an oppressive state.
(2) Paranoia.
(3) The writers undervalue their texts – for instance, they take them for something unreadable, or occuring in abundant natural deposits.
(4) The texts are injurious personal literature.
(5) The writers forget that they have written the texts, or lose their manuscripts.
(6) They want total control control over who sees their texts.
(7) The texts are morally corrupt.
(8) The writers desire and have no reliable access to anonymity / pseudonymity.
(9) To be able to include roughly meta-textual elements. For instance, to be on hand to answer questions. Or to have the text only visible as performance.
(10) The writers want their peers working in a similar mode to flourish (or more generally, to get receipt of the visibility back-flow, whatever it is).
(11) They are reluctant to obviously improve on the work of yet-living elder writers.
(12) To deprive an object of criticism of something, perhaps attention / drive / dignity / interim knowledge of its weak spots.
(13) As industrial action. Or as something slightly offset from a strike – figurative or knowingly-futile industrial action.
(14) For aesthetic purposes in which priority is given to an aesthetic object other than the text: for instance, the privative “unpublished” becoming a component of a conceptual artwork. Cf. Kenneth Goldsmith, TNWK, Helen Bridwell.
(15) To try and win prizes / recognition for a more mature debut.
(16) The writers anticipate the re-use of parts of their text.
(17) The writers aim to be skinned and prolific enough to self-influence out of view, and to a degree to skip phases of literary history. For example, in 1905, Hans Arp sits down quietly and begins to internally emulate Dadaism, then Surrealism, and then in 1920 stirs himself and begins to write and publish Situationist texts. Cf. The Unconditional.
(18) Lair exstispicy.
(19) The work is unfinished. Is anyone not working on a massive epic at the moment yo. Afric elf.
(20) The work's not yet begun.
(21) Conviction that “finished” criteria do not exist (or are variable or not yet known).
(22) The writers await a formal moment. For example, the texts are occasional verse composed in advance of the foreseeable.
(23) More confidence in verba than in res, or in expression than in content. In other words, the writers are concerned that their texts will punch above their weight, will be more persuasive than they deserve to be.
(24) As marketing, to concoct an air of mystery.
(25) As previous, but without intended release. The writers find it pleasant to live in an air of secret industry, and find actual secret industry as the simplest / most convincing method of affecting it.
(26) A kind of “chastity fetish” – the writers delay until they involuntarily and in a frenzy visibly jet their texts. For pleasure, for instance.
(27) As previous, but with the frenzy conceived of as systemic – for instance, the writers want to keep alive the chance that their texts are stolen and published without their permission, or are plagiarised.
(28) Memento mori: the writers want to remind themselves they will not outlive their lives.
(29) More generally, the writers don’t trust themselves to be as virtuous after they publish the texts.
(30) Even more generally, any apprehension relating to the personal effects of fame / failure, or of critical praise / neglect.
(31) The writers don't wish to distract somebody. For example, the writers don't wish to distract their friends or allies, who to the writers' thinking have shit to be doing.
(32) The writers hate poetry / literature / art, and desire to see other things flourish at its expense.
(33) Uncertainy – what will happen?
(34) An instance of 33: what will happen to existing work?
(35) Another instance: could visibility block the creation of something better? Such blocks could operate by putting writers off certain practices in the spirit of ‘it’s been done,’ or by luring writers into unrewarding imitative practices.
(36) Or a definite conviction that something bad (like in 33-35) will happen.

At least two things can be pulled from this list: a sense of how publishing and not-publishing don't really identify independent spheres of action, and a way of rationalizing your hunch that tomorrow everything might be different (see note 4).

The minimum for going beyond structuralist insight is that our materials perform structuralist commonsense on our behalf. So we can attach this second desideratum to our prospective ontology / get-out-of-ontology-free card. The things which go onto our map must be fundamentally structurally interdependent, in a way that permits sudden drastic reshuffles without warning, when a new thing erupts into visibility.

Note 1: Peter Riley, perhaps? Gerry Loose? Peter Jaeger? Sharon Morris? Jeff Hilson, Dorothy Alexander, John Wilk ah forget it.

Note 2: “If too much bad verse is published in London, it does not occur to us to raise our standards, to do anything to educate the poetasters; the remedy is, Kill them off” – T. S. Eliot. The first paragraph, tweaked, is also by Eliot, from “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. Another possibility of course is that after the strike nearby names would detatch from their clusters and wobble across to the carnage. Those near to the strike include Colin Simms, Adrian Mitchell, Michѐle Roberts, and Basil Bunting. The rubric would change to reflect this gang. It’s just conceivable that a kind of recruit-teleport shockwave would cherry-pick serviceable exemplars from wherever – John Wilkinson, perhaps? We can’t hope for exactness after trauma. Cf. Lewis on relative closeness of possible worlds.

Note 3: There’s a striking parallel in democracy theory, to do with the Condorcet criterion. And Chantal Mouffe writes persuasively about the recent success of Right Wing populists in Europe against a background of consensus and third-wing politics and bland centrism. More about this later hopefully. I think we’re pointed that way. Christ though eh.

Note 4: Cf. problem of induction obv. And how much can publishing and not-publishing overlap? The trolley problem is one way into the literature on philosophy and psychology of privative virtue. Here are a few variations:

"A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You can divert its path by colliding another trolley into it, but if you do, both will be derailed and go down a hill, and into a yard where a man sleeping in a hammock. He would be killed. Should you hop to it?"

"As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you hop to it?"

"A luminous transplant surgeon has five patients, each in mortal need of this or that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveller, beaded, just passing through the city, comes in for a routine check-up. In the course of doing the check-up, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no one would suspect the doctor. Should he hop to it?"

1 comment: