Drew Milne et al. (2002) write, “Symptomatically, direct poetic statement seems naive, despite examples of clarity, such as the concrete instances of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s neo-classical wit, contemporaneity and polemical purpose: ‘Garden centres must become the Jacobin Clubs of the new Revolution.’ […] A corollary of the oxygen of privacy is hesitancy and embarrassment about public pronouncement, programmes and manifestos, indeed a full scale retreat before the notion of a collective avant-garde. Modes of evasive or transcendent hermeticism seem less vulnerable. This suggests a hostility to collective statement, and, by implication, a hostility to collective criticism. There is a desperate absence of successful modes of mediation between the expertise of the initiated and the naivety of the ignorant. Most of all this is exemplified by an embarrassment and lack of interest in description or criticism which might seek to support or refine creativity, and thus a sense of the priority of poetic inspiration over communicative rationality; a priority of the individual poet’s work over the collective mediation of poetry. Without succumbing to demagogic disgust with the dreaded hierarchies of elitism, we need to suture the wounds of knowledge.”
Let’s say fan Luke Roberts says to fan Nat Raha, “Say, Nat, I like those lines by Franny [Francesca Lisette], 'recess into purity | late bloody glass. like sheaves | unbuttoned on the blank primrose | wet, with intent | to bruise' (lymph(node)),” and Nat says, “I’ll say! They evoke startling topographies!” and Luke, now hysterical, says, “You can say that again!”
Luke and Nat’s “overlapping consensus” is the confluence two differentiated support systems. Each system comprises, like, a chaos of inchoate cognitive and affective ashes, extensively glimmered over with gentle hermeneutic dispositions. They are a little less than or a little more than, and a little prior to, meaning.
Luke feels the “blankness” of the primroses as their paradoxical lack of all properties. Responding to the near-homophone “blankets,” he glimpses something resembling floral wallpaper. This surface is his formulation of the propertyless primroses (their “bare particular”). The predication of primrose-properties to this surface strikes him, paradoxically, as its injury – their “wet” like a “bruise.” Something similar occurs in “late bloody glass.” He senses a person who was once flesh and blood become an opaque surface, which is illogically also a transparent window into that person’s inexistant insides. This association is only possible because Luke recently read Seaton Gordon’s short story about a man living in a glass lighthouse talking to his skin. The most wrought part of Luke’s impression, however, concerns “recess into purity,” (& is supported by said phantasmagoria of paradoxically-propertied surface-objects). When Luke thinks of the recess, he imagines a slot interrupting a surface, and imagines, as it deepens, that its “slotness” and its “interruptness” somehow deepens, so that it progressively becomes the negation of more & more stuff, forming an inch-long continuum, at the bottom of which everything is negated – and there is “purity.” Luke undergoes a succulent nano-monodrama of shyness (“wallflower”), threat, daring and constitutive injury.
Like Luke, Nat thinks of skin. But she feels more vividly the quick, limping traipse over the stepping-stones of end-stopped words, especially “wet, with intent.” There is something like a bird in Nat’s impression, based on a breast (“unbuttoned”, the “bruise” ending the scatter of “t” sounds, and the blood on the glass, which as far as Nat’s concerned erects a crimson nipple against transluscent skin). She receives a topological jolt from the word “sheaf.” She feels the lines proliferated by innumerable tiny thriving ripe spaces with complex, mazy continuities and discontinuities, constantly riven and reconfigured by mitosis. These hybridised lymph nodes, birds, boobs, blood droplets, corn kernels (today Nat is confusing “sheaf” and “husk,” and sees corn husks buttoned by corn kernels constantly “unbuttoning,” reveal other nested unbuttoning rows, matryoshka-martyr-bomber-like) countenance Nat’s assertion of “startling topographies.” The strange flat-yet-profound surfaces, implicated in purity, countenances Luke’s avid assent.
A crowd soon forms. Neil Pattison can’t say why he likes those lines, but it’s because they reactivate an affective state associated with Pope’s lines, in Essay on Man, “Why has not man a microscopic eye? | For this plain reason, man is not a fly. | Say what the use, were finer optics giv’n, | T’ inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav’n? | Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o’er, | To smart and agonize at ev’ry pore? | Or, quick effluvia darting thro’ the brain, | Die of a rose in aromatic pain?” (which unadulterated he disliked). He and Luke agree, with pondering aspect, that the word “bruise” is like a crushed “rose.” Jow Lindsay likes the lines because he obsessively spoonerises, and thus senses “nymph(lode)” in the title, and feels nebulously an interlocking system of cerulean (“[...] bloo[...] bruise [...]”) Shakespeareana, uncertainly enclosing Francesca’s e-mail address, “blastednymph@,” MacBeth’s “blasted heath,” and the idea of a delicate spirit drawn from a “cloven pine”(“recess”) like a mineral (“lode”). He wouldn’t have liked it if he hadn’t recently heard a lecture about the crinkle-crankle mining of fragmented oil deposits. The journey of the “n” of “node” seems to Jow like a nymph poking its head out of its node, which is terribly touching. Gavin Selerie likes them because they feel to him like an update of, “no one, not even the rain, has such small hands”, and he feels tiny brave hands reaching into even tinier recesses, despite the bruises they accrue. Gavin and Jow agree that there’s something “cute” about them. Posie Rider and Fabian MacPherson both feel the “blank primrose” as a deadpan vagina, the button as clitoral, the purity as chastity, the “glass” as menarchal, the “intent” as transparent, the “bruise” as evocative of erectile tissue, and the “wet” as plasma seepage due to vascular engorgement, but argue heatedly without common ground into awkward and enduring silence. The “glass” for Sarah Silverman is a cup of “racially pure” blood, and she hears an echo of “races into purity” in “recess into purity,” so for some reason she can’t specify, she thinks the lines are hilarious. They makes Rich Owens feel like he’s getting ready for the day (“late bloody glass,” “sheaves” and “shaves” perhaps?). Rich and Sarah agree that the lines “feel like they’re about the future.”
These people are nodding! Not Posie & Fabian obv., who arguably are the only ones who should be.
So a poetic atom (see first six installments) might be merely a regime of coordinated action, based on surreptitious mis(matched)understandings.
Of course, if you believed this, you might not just believe it about poetry. Selective pressure which socialises someone into a practice may be equally well answered by a strategy which lets the agent opt out of the practice without loss. Various “anti-practice” practices can similarly smooth over sui generis actions into apparently uniform practices. For example, “mirroring” behaviour lets agents participate a primordial “tit-for-tat” of peaceful cohabitation or reciprocated aggression with a very minimal shared lifeworld. The meta-practice of “occupying coherent practices with one another,” may arbitrate between otherwise mutually uncomprehending communicative positions. It is not unusual that someone says “I see what you mean” when she doubts that she does. Conversely, it is not unusual that someone misconstrues another’s behaviour as salient to her own. J. D. Vorauer, & M. Ross, “Self-awareness and feeling transparent: Failing to suppress one's self” (1999): check it deep. Such strategies suppress the discrepancies between validity claims raised (I'm talking in Jürgen Habermasese now), and avoid bringing behaviours into a dialogic relation at precisely those points at which they threaten to fail to cohere as practice. Nor is such action necessarily “strategic” in Habermas’s sense. The taxonomies of behavioural economics point to our readiness to favour heuristics which assimilate experience (under the rubric of comprehension) over more fallibilistic modes of accomplishing robust comprehension. Cf. J. St. B. T. Evans, J. L. Barston & P. Pollard, “On the conflict between logic and belief in syllogistic reasoning” (1983). For example, the false consensus effect is demonstrated by a study in which student participants who agreed to wear a sandwich board (“Eat at Joe’s”) around campus gave higher estimates of the prevalence of their response than those who refused to carry the sandwich board and vice-versa. The participants, in other words, tended to overestimate both the degree to which a consensus existed, and the degree to which they were representative of it. That’s L. Ross, D. Greene & P. House, “The false consensus phenomenon: An attributional bias in self-perception and social perception processes” (1977). See note 1. The outgroup homogeneity bias, the availability heuristic, the trait ascription bias, the illusion of asymmetric insight, the illusion of transparency, and the Forer effect could also be important in this regard. Cf. E. Pronin, J. Kruger, K. Savitsky, & L. Ross, “You don't know me, but I know you: The illusion of asymmetric insight” (2001).
You could map by running into their homes shouting:
Listen: for Habermas, the Habermas of A Theory of Communicative Action anyway, the coordination of social action, via communicative reason, requires that there are real worlds of normative rightness, theoretical truth, and expressive or subjective sincerity. But others aren’t so sure. See note 1. As Lara Buckerton argues, in a review of D. Harlan Wilson's Blankety Blank: “Your vein, if you know your stuff, rises hissing from your forehead like the cobra from her basket – Jürgen Habermas, in a drunken swing at postmodernist irrationalism, hypothesises an “unlimited communication community,” but against this (actual proper) theory, postmodernism can posit a quasi-noumenal “unlimited haggling community,” in which communicative action is steered by fear of boredom, and of the violent restructuring of identity by haggard and mercenary rhetoricians. “Why can’t I find a girlfriend? I don’t understand. Maybe they’re scared by all the multiple orgasms they have when they have sex with me – that it will leave their mind a shuddering husk?” is practically “hi” in Vulgaria – “emotion” in is either an embarrassingly transparent ploy, or good inspiration for such a ploy. It always gets product-recalled by tranquillity. A porn medley with the sex cut out [...] When we can afford a McMansion, shall we fall in McLove?”
But a hypothetical map of mis(matched)understandings would begin to show their regularities. Some patterns could be considered institutions which relieve the cognitive burden of coordinating action through discourse by increasing the incidence, and the surreptitiousness, of such mis(matched)understandings. Poetry would be played out within distinctive sheaves of such institutions. What would these institutions be like? I dunno. Maybe particular versions of boredom, politeness, hospitality, a sense of humour, the overactive imagination, nonconformism, prosodic factionalism, embarrassment of manifestos, impotence, despair, vigilance against positivism, legitimacy of reflex, comfort in deferral. Maybe “gayness” or “shitness.”
“It is well known and widely if tacitly acknowledged,” writes J. H. Prynne in the inaugural edition of Hot Gun!, ed. Josh Stanley, is “that poetry is a retarded practice, close to absurdity as counting for nothing in a real world: it surely does make nothing happen.”
Poetry is gay; e-poetry is shit. With gay I want to evoke the word’s whole felicitous semantic evolution during the second half of the 20th century. Poetry is happy; poetry is curiously carefree; poetry is uninhibited by normative restraint; poetry is salacious; poetry is euphemistic; poetry throws quasi-reproductive shapes, without issue, to gratify and express, and because it does what it desires; poetry is at the business end of a nasty system of discursive exclusion and persecution; poetry is a site of conflict over the meaning of happiness; poetry is not quite queer; poetry is weird, weak, rubbish, fragile, useless, pointless, irritating, inconvenient; poetry is petty and treacherous. When something is poetry it’s usually soooo poetry.
I dunno what manner of being I am, so the following cutting-edge semantic tweaks may be limited to a handful of Radley alumni and Shoreditch wankers (“cutting-edge [...] tweaks [...] handful [...] of [...] wankers”, continuing our season). Poetry and gay now go up higher than other things: poeticness has either no upper limit, or a superlatively superlative one. It is certainly possible to be poetic in a greater degree than it is possible to be any non-poetic x (except gay). The expression “I am gay for you” is not restricted to same-sex couples. It means “I love you,” while implying that that love is an abomination, and that this lover is abominable for holding it an abomination. Spectacles of affection and sentiment are gay, increasingly so in proportion as they are (a) heartfelt and (b) pat set-pieces, coincidental with impersonal public formulae debauched in commerce and popular entertainment. See note 2.
By shit I mean “fucking awful.” Or if you will permit me to be gay for you about it, wildly squirting waste products in need of a sump pump.
The heavenly imprecision of the “mainstream / avant-garde” bifurcation leads to (a) nanonoble cartography à la Duncan and these posts and (b) stabs at a better bifurcation. Geoff Squires evokes one very seductive imprecision in an e-mail to The UKpoetry List, 24/10/2008:
“[...] a great deal of ‘mainstream’ poetry is implicitly empiricist in the sense that it is concerned with the world as it comes to us through our senses. It takes as its point of departure some experience, situation or incident, which it then works back from and reflects on: the Wordsworthian formula. Rationalism, by contrast, is concerned with what we bring to the world: language; our historically and socially situated consciousness; our whole cognitive apparatus. Modernist writing tends to be concerned with these rather than experience in any direct sense, and is thus reflexive rather than reflective, de-centred rather than centred, abstract rather than concrete. With the empiricist stance comes an experiencing ‘self’, identity and a ‘voice’ ( I think ‘ear’, being receptive, is a different matter); rationalism treats these as problematic, as constructs to be deconstructed [...] Mainstream empiricism in England is further reinforced by the notion of common sense, and one has only to recall the various associations of common (common land, common law, common prayer, commonwealth etc) to see how powerful and pervasive an idea this is. (The term does not translate easily). So empiricism claims not only to be the indigenous philosophy (if we make Hume an honorary Englishman here) but a shared, demotic element of the culture. Rationalism is felt to be vaguely continental and alien, and this perception applies then to modernism. Why modernism should have these rationalist tendencies I don’t know: I am not aware that the early modernists were supping on Kant or Descartes, although there is the parrot somewhere in Beckett who can only manage the first part of Hume’s famous dictum: nihil in intellectu [...]”
See note 3. Trade sales vs. direct sales dissemenation is another tantalising polarisation. Queer vs. heteronormative poetry is yet another, which seldom enjoys overt articulation – maybe because queer poetics are constitutively bored with striking generalising divisions, even when (especially when?) equipped with careful caveat. How many small press, rationalist stanzas are mere patriarchal liaisons which conflate “level” and “pussy” – stabs at a better bifurcation, ontologised?
I’ve come up with a polarisation. If not “avant-garde,” how about “New Social Movement” (in the cant of the shark-faced Sociologist, obv.)?
NSMs are characterised by no formal membership; by on-the-surface-of-it weird alliances (the best-known example is the “hippies <3 toffs” of the Green movement); by a focus (some say, in contrast to the labour movement’s preoccupation w/ production) on social changes in identity, autonomy, lifestyle, culture; NSMs are frequently organised around a single issue. In this case, the issue is language.
Sorry, but it is. Botox Bogey Yoga Yoda writes, “And as for Blair being right about their [the 7/7 London bombers] having ‘no excuse,’ he cannot possibly be right, the phrase is calculated to stimulate an unconscious memory of the authority of schoolteachers and make us all sit up straight like good pupils having a lesson taught to them. The phraseology is deliberately mismatched; words more commonly used to talk about the unruly behaviour of children or footballers are applied to suicide combatants in a war which those combatants never asked for and which they wouldn’t have entered had it not been for our illegal invasion of Iraq and the wholesale slaughter of the Iraqi people. NSMs also often try to exemplify the social relations they seek to bring about” (Thu, 28 Jul 2005 08:33:10 +0100).
Poetry which is practiced after the fashion of an NSM (Type A) vs. poetry which isn’t (Type B).
Type A is a bad NSM. It is losing. It is petty. Its disarray is the privative of an unacceptably deadly array. What does that even mean? It is stupid, in Keston Sutherland's sense (see Quid 18, "This is not "This Ain't No Chicago Review""), retarded, in Prynne's sense, and gay, in ours.
It’s easy nowadays to be abominable, cf. Adorno: “we’re like in a big SAW trap [...] aaah”. Type A embraces evasive discourse-centrism, estrangement, postmodern frag-disavowal of authenticity, formal-novelty-fetishism, set procedures, twink improv, neo-dada, room-centrism (this list adapted from one by Peter Philpott), which have an elective affinity w/ the side-stepping of abomination.
Language *is* the perfected vapour, the transparent medium conveying unpolluted the oomph of governmentalised presences. If not language, what? $$$$? Meaning? Compressed chests and narrow souls? Thought? Power? Something called materiality? Type A don’t detest confessionalism, empiricism, the lyric I, the (so-called) Romantic Ego, or stand-up, because they somehow fail to function. They function too well and crystallise pulchritudinous yet annoying crypo-BNP dickheads franked to their personal Bardvilles. Type A hate the Type B poets who appear in Type B poetry. That’s how we can forgive Frank O’Hara his lyric I, and that’s why we quite like some of those Aisle 16 guys. That’s why some Type B poets embrace discourse-centrism, estrangement, postmodern frag-disavowal, but still come across all countryside alliance Silver Surfer. Sean O’Brien’s lines, “[...] the mind takes out / Its lightness to inspect, and finding nothing there / Begins to sing, embodying, emboldening its note.” Mean *that* [...] the mind takes out / Its lightness to inspect, and finding nothing there / Begins to sing, embodying, emboldening its note. How the fuck dare he say that shit to us?
Among Type A poets, there are disquotation analogues, and there are careerism analogues. Tim Atkins (56”) talks of the greasy pole of poetry with the indifference of one who assumes others have seen it too. But a ritual reluctance surrounds these analogues. Status is accrued furtively or forlornly. We talk about “making stuff happen” and “getting stuff out there,” but not about giving people stuff they want, or making them want stuff. Public relations language is unwelcome. The people who are sort of exceptions to this tend to put on events for everyone else, or they run Salt. There are no striking exceptions. The anarchists and stern Leninist blocs guard against public relations language, but that’s not the whole story. The Type A cryptotories dislike it too; the PR self-understanding is vulgar, ephemeral, and improvident. Probably because poetry is gay, a sizeable contingent of Type A isn’t going to do it “for ever.”
E-poetry promises a lot to Type A. Shit, or a lying shit?
To Be Concluded.
Note 1: Cf. B. Mullen and L. Hu, “Social projection as a function of cognitive mechanisms: Two meta-analytic integrations” (1988): majorities sytematically underestimate their size, and minorities sytematically overestimate their size. The latter tendency supports my argument; the former is problematic, could still conceivably be involved in a process of consensus overestimation. More problematic biases include pluralistic ignorance (see D. Katz & Floyd H. Allport, Students' Attitudes: A Report of the Syracuse University Reaction Study (1931). Artificial evolution is a technique I’m always banging on about which introduces the principles of selective pressure and heritable variation to iterated configurations of silicon components. In one such evolved circuit, one group of field-programmable gate arrays “are not connected to the main part of the circuit through conventional routing resources, but it can be shown that they are still contributing to the behaviour. Possible mechanisms include electromagnetic coupling, or interaction through the power-supply or substrate. Evolution was able to exploit this physical behaviour, even though it would be difficult to analyse.” Such artificial evolution illustrates the counterintuitivity of the kinds of material processes which can underlie what is usually formulated as telos. Adrian Thompson, “Exploring Beyond the Scope of Human Design: Automatic generation of FPGA configurations through artificial evolution, (Extended Abstract)” (1999). Cf. e.g. Timothy G. W. Gordon and Peter J. Bentley, “On Evolvable Hardware,” esp. pp. 18-9.
Note 2: It reminds me of John Wilkinson’s weird superversive manifesto, “Cadence.”
“The sorry liability, as much avant-gardism attests, is that with deeper implication into the impersonal of the most personal, a compensatory movement occurs, and atop the magma of grossly accelerated, fissile desire — all radioactive fallout — a tendency is asserted toward the hollow, posturing figure of the adventuring writer, a frozen romantic tableau, a rhetoric akin to that of freedom at present.”
Also of the “new social type” of J. G. Ballard’s High Rise (1975), “who were content with their lives in the high-rise, who felt no particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations, and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes.”
Note 3: Posie Rider just sat down and was as annoying as possible, and read this quotation in an annoying “sentence-my opinion-sentence-my opinion” way, and in her closing statement queried “the Wordsworthian formula” (I blamed the Language poets and she was partly mollified) and said Structuralism would do quite as well as Rationalism.
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