Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ashbery, Kryah, and the Death of Cultural Studies

Are there any cultural studies people out there? Are they sitting in an empty room listening to the crickets (not a Buddy Holly allusion)?

Well, here’s something you might be interested in reading, before the electricity fades. In Profession 2008, published by MLA, William B. Warner and Clifford Siskin have an essay titled, “Stopping Cultural Studies.” Here’s a Moses-like snippet:

“The new horizons that cultural studies has helped us open reveal a landscape that it cannot help us to traverse. The strategic vagueness of the term and concept “culture,” which was so important to the inclusiveness, emancipatory promise, and growth of cultural studies, can no longer take literary studies where it needs to go. We don’t pretend to know exactly where that is, but profound change is not always a matter of prophetic change. Equally important—in fact, often more important—is knowing what and when to stop. It’s time to write cultural studies into the history of stopping.”

I like that last phrase “the history of stopping” so much I’m going to have to use it as a poem title soon. Anyway, are they right? Are they wrong? Are they belated and we knew this years ago? I don’t pretend to know, but it’s always fun to come across someone who’s willing to put a declarative sentence out there, especially one that is able to be parsed.

All this leads me to a couple more recent poems I admire. I have a lot. I’m sure not to run out for some time yet.

John Ashbery
Old-Style Plentiful

I guess what I’m saying is
don’t be more passive aggressive
or purposefully vague than you have to
to clinch the argument. Once that
happens you can forget the context
and try some new bathos, some severity
not seen in you till now. Did they
send the news of you? Were you forthcoming
in your replies? It’s so long ago
now, yet some of it makes sense, like
why were we screwing around in the first place?
Cannily you looked on from the wings,
finger raised to lips, as the old actor
slogged through the lines he’s reeled off
so many times, not even thinking
if they are tangential to the way we
slouch now. So many were so wrong
about practically everything, it scarcely seems
to matter, yet something does,
otherwise everything would be death.

Up in the clouds they were singing
O Promise Me to the birches, who replied in kind.
Rivers kind of poured over where
we had been sitting, and the breeze made as though
not to notice any unkindness, the light too
pretended nothing was wrong, or that
it was all going to be OK some day.
And yes, we were drunk on love.
That sure was some summer.

* * *

Joshua Kryah

Swallows fly through a fresco.

What hems in around them is the air.

And the days seem happier
because they pass, pieced together
to resemble a habitable pattern.

Part real, part conjecture, we are about to become this
ability to touch.

There is no other resolve but to fill in.

Down from the sky / Came Eros taking off his clothes / His shirt
of Phoenician red

The closest possible rendering.

To have drawn such luck from the beggar’s bowl.


At 12/07/2008 8:39 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

"it’s always fun to come across someone who’s willing to put a declarative sentence out there, especially one that is able to be parsed." TOO FUNNY! Made me laugh, smile, and laugh. :-)

At 12/07/2008 9:23 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, let's just say I've been to a lot of conferences...

At 12/07/2008 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About this "history of stopping" thing. Somehow I feel implicated. How do we fight it? Do we just keep on keeping on?


At 12/07/2008 4:06 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Personally, I think getting a decent title from something is a form of fighting, but I think maybe I got that idea from cultural studies.

At 12/07/2008 4:46 PM, Blogger brian a s said...

If the amalgam of poems
currently being written
constitute a culture,
who could define it?


At 12/07/2008 5:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Someone looking for a publication?

At 12/07/2008 8:33 PM, Blogger brian a s said...

??? No, though I don't what I
am saying "no" to.

Given the amount and variety of contemporary poems, some might feel
Cultural Studies are no longer relevant and/or the task has become too difficult. Tony Tost, however, foregrounds cultural history in his Ezra Pound dissertation. See his October post on it. Also, Robert Archambeau addresses this topic in his post on Steve Halle's first collection.

For what it's worth, I did a post on Matthew Zapruder today, but it has no real input from me.

We are living in a new human epoch and useful knowledge is growing exponentially. It is both frightening and exhilarating.

At 12/07/2008 10:58 PM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Flaubert, I think, said that the more knowledge there is, the more ignorance there is.

If it wasn't Flaubert, that just proves his point. :-)

At 12/08/2008 3:01 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It's an interesting little essay, but I was never into cultural stuides much, so I'm out of my depth to talk about it. One of their ways of approach is along the lines of "if it can be everything / anything, then it's realy not much help in the log run."

That said, it's their fight, not mine. I just found it interesting that someone was out there ringing the death knell!

At 12/08/2008 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's helpful in the log run is an inflatable suit, for padding's sake. A bumpy, unpredictable environment. Not so good for poets, really.

At 12/08/2008 2:44 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Ha! Depends on the paper. I've heard they have this special underwater stuff that divers use. I'd love to try that out sometime.

(And of course special pens too...)

Word Verification: porke


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