Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Lyre or the Liar? [Abramson's] American Metarealism

Seth Abramson has gotten excited about Metarealism. An American Metarealism, he’s thinking. It comes to him through Mikhail Epstein, writing about 1970s/80s Russian poetry. I’m intrigued.

Here’s a link to his post:

And now here’s some of the Epstein, from Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture, talking about the differences between Metarealism and its counter-movement, Conceptualism. The debate has a familiar ring (from page 105-6):


2. In every epoch, poetry is the battleground of convention [uslovnost] and freedom [bezuslovnost], playfulness and seriousness, analysis and synthesis. In the 1960s and the first half of the 70s, the struggle was between realism, based on vraisemblance or the lifelike, and metaphorism, which celebrated contingency and play . . . . This opposition, from which poetry derived its dynamics and its tension, acquired new forms from the middle of the 1970s onward—namely, in metarealism and conceptualism. Though the old battles still continue, they have lost their relevance.

3. Metarealism is a new poetic form which, freed from conventionality, open up onto the “other” side of metaphor, not preceding it like a literal, lifelike image, but embracing and transcending its figurative meaning. “Meta,” the common prefix for words such as “metaphor,” “metamorphosis,” “metaphysics,” conjures up a reality that opens up beyond the metaphor, to a region where metaphor carries over or transfers its sense, beyond that empirical dimension from whence it took off. While metaphorism plays with the reality of the actual world, metarealism earnestly tries to capture an alternative reality. Metarealism represents the realism of metaphor, the entire scope of metamorphosis, which embraces reality in the whole range of its actual and possible transformations. Metaphor is bt a fragment or remnant of myth, whereas a metarealistic image (a unit of metareal poetry) attempts to re-establish mythic unity; it is an individual image that tries to converge with myth to the extent possible in contemporary poetry.

4. Conceptualism is a new form of conventionality that denies mythic unity as something inauthentic and inorganic. A concept is an idea attached to a reality to which it can never correspond, giving rise, through this intentional incongruity, to alienating, ironic or grotesque effects. Conceptualism plays with perverted ideas that have lost their real-life content, or with vulgar realia, whose idea has been lost of distorted. A concept (Russian kontsept as a unit of conceptualist art) is an abstract notion, which is attached to an object like a label, not in order to become one with the object (as in myth) but in order to demonstrate the impossibility and the disintegration of such unity. Conceptualism is a poetics of denuded notions and self-sufficient signs that has been deliberately detached from the reality it is supposed to designate. It is a poetics of schemas and stereotypes, in which form falls away from substance, and meanings become detached from objects. In conceptualism, the naïve mass consciousness serves as the object of self-reflexive and playful representation.

5. Within one and the same culture, metarealism and conceptualism fulfill two necessary and mutually compensating functions. They peel off the layers of conventional, false and ossified meanings that words have acquired (conceptualism) and restore to them a new polyvalence and fullness of meaning (metarealism). The verbal texture of conceptualism is untidy, rough, shredded, artistically not fully fledged. All of this is in keeping with the initial aims of the movement, namely, to show the shabbiness and doddering old-age impotence of the lyrical-ideological vocabulary with which we make sense of the world. Vsevolod Nekrasov [JG interjection: could John Ashbery be substituted as an American example?], for instance, uses mostly interjections, subordinate and connective words, like “eh!” “that,” “who,” and “yet,” which have not yet lost the ring of truth, as distinct from elevated, nominative words, such as “thought,” “love,” “faith,” and “country,” which have suffered from ideological corruption. Metarealism, on the contrary, constructs a lofty and sturdy verbal edifice, striving for fullness of meaning through the complete spiritual transfiguration of objects and their reunification with universal meanings. Metarealism seeks out true value by turning to eternal themes or the arch-images of contemporary themes, such as love, death, logos, light, earth, wind, night, garden. Its material is nature, history, art, and “high” culture. Conceptualism, by contrast, shows up the contingent and illusory nature of all designated value, which is why its themes are demonstratively linked to the present moment, to everyday life, political and colloquial clichés, to the “low” forms of mass culture and mass consciousness.


And it goes on. It’s an interesting debate. One that I do think resonates with certain moves in recent American poetry. Clearly Conceptualism has a rough analogue with that group variously named things like Elliptical Poets, but even more so perhaps with things like Flarf? Maybe? But what about these Metarealists? They sound kind of Neo-Classicist to me. Anyway, Abramson is placing the idea of American Metarealism as another candidate for what is or will be rising in opposition to Ellipticism, as Stephen Burt has recently done with his essay on The New Thing in Boston Review. Here's a link my post:

But if you are comfortable talking within binary thinking, the two serve as nice poles, with, I’m guessing, most everyone falling between the tendencies. For me, I find Conceptualism sounding like more fun, though both tendencies have cringe as well as cheer moments for me.

Anyone what to take a crack at it?


At 5/30/2009 10:37 AM, Blogger Eli Hemistich said...

Well, for one thing, I keep wanting to read "materialism" for "metarealism." Does this make me look fat?

At 5/30/2009 10:45 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Depends on if you're wearing it to church or to the bank.

At 5/30/2009 11:41 AM, Blogger AMF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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