Monday, October 17, 2011

All Our Questions Are Posed As Answers

What a community!

First, it’s important to remember where we’ve been. This, from William Wordsworth, in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1802):

“The objects of the poet’s thoughts are every where; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labors of men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the chemist, the botanist, or mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.”

And this, Harold Bloom’s footnote to the above selection:

“Alas, this has not come to pass. Science, so far from being 'familiarized to men,' has developed to the point where it is beyond the comprehension of most men, including poets.”

The tension between these two positions, one, that the poet must (will) be aware, and work with, the “material revolution” of science (as forecast by William Wordsworth in his preface to Lyrical Ballads) and two, that the comprehension of this revolution is beyond most people, (as noted by Harold Bloom) reveals the tension at the heart of the progressing tradition of the irrational imagination. Proceeding through the very real day, looking for sign posts, poets of the irrational imagination attempt to put a “form of flesh and blood” on what has, and hasn’t, come to pass, to move, while at the same time, remaining aware that much of what has come to pass is, or is nearly, inexplicable. So what assumptions, what politics, might guide this poetry?

We go on tour.

One of the difficulties / problems with cubism is that treating nature by the sphere, the cone, etc, is not treating nature as nature. It’s a theoretical overlay. It’s another of the willed impositions of Modernism. On the other hand, Picasso made some beautiful art, so where does that leave us? The same can be said for Stevens. Stein. Frost.

Looking at it another way, there never was a Modernism. For, if one looks at Milton, looking for it, one can also find fractals. So? Are periods an imposition then? Of course they are. All things can be found where one looks for them, if one is determined enough. But still, no one would mistake T.S. Eliot for Alexander Pope. So things do change.

And then one can say that Post-modernism’s reaction against this overlay of Modernism is/was to use a pastiche of styles and influences that gives the appearance of the messy underside of the machine of Modernism, even if Duchamp and Picasso and Stein were there first.

And the reaction against Post-Modernism, then? Is it to renew the idea of a center? Spiritual? Political? Aesthetic? Is it to take the idea of fractal infinity and apply that to—add it back to—our experience of Modernism? What would such a movement look like? A friendly Modernism? William Carlos Williams?

Modernism broke as it was hijacked as totalitarian. Post-modernism has now broken as it was hijacked as empty. So? Both Warhol and Koons are institutional, so intentional surface is at its logical end. But one could have said the same thing when coming across Duchamp’s fountain. The logical end continues to renew itself.

There’s always backward. We can say nothing of value has existed since fill in the blank. Shakespeare maybe? Hopkins? Dickinson? Southey?

And if the hijacked definition of Post-modernism was that it was blank, is the turn now to fill in the blank with a newness? And if so, how would that differ from Modernism? One could try to correct the past, to correct the totalizing aspects of Modernism by imbuing it with a more natural-seeming surface.

But Robert Frost was there first, right? And wasn’t that what William Carlos Williams was all about? And then Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop?

Some terms have been tossed around, including New2 Sincerity, New Spirituality (OK, so that was just how I formulated them, but the ideas aren’t new with me). What these point to is trying to use the methods of Post-modernism toward a more centered consciousness. “I is an Other” worked well for a time (quite a long time, actually), but “I is a We” appears to be replacing it as a general psychological position. I find this possibility exciting. Or whatever. None of these categories holds up all that well—and all are already present in the others.

My own view is that we’re at a point that is similar to Cézanne’s (et al), a crisis of representation. Specifically, a crisis in the representation of reality.

The world has proven time and again that any anti-art that can be made can be admired. Whoops: Time has proven DADA to be fecund. Our intentional failures have failed to fail. Our grand mansions have become train stations.

So we just want to play what the day presents (as Miles Davis would say).

Post-modernity is a condition, not an aesthetic stance. It’s equally an outcome of this condition to denounce contemporary art as incomprehensible and to call for a return to an earlier, coherent time, as it is to dive into further iterations of making it new. And neither of these positions is one side of a binary, as much as many on either side would wish.

So here we are, and Modernism has eaten itself, and we don’t yet have a better plan. There is no moving past “make it new” that isn’t already part of “make it new,” even if one should turn to the past, as a large measure of Pound’s version of making it new was to dust off some very old things.

Because love makes the world go round.


At 10/18/2011 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We used to bat around the Movements (de Stijl, Arts & Crafts, Modern, etc) quite a bit on an internet design forum I frequented a few years ago. Literature/fine arts and the applied arts kind of seem to go hand-in-hand, or at least share a few similarities.

One common similarity among many of those movements, architectural and otherwise, was a sincere belief in the formative idea, an acuity of vision.

Post-modernism is the whipping boy of the applied arts as well, and for much the same reason that you point to here within literature, John; it's largely seen as a condition and not any sort of real stance (reactionary at best), save for the odd zeal toward a kind of pretty much meaningless and unaccoutable dispassion for that which proceeded it.

Should old Pound ever turn over in his grave (and I doubt that he will) I think he might say, on second thought, make it good.


At 10/18/2011 8:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed, MAKE IT NEW is a good bumper sticker, but it really doesn't claim much but a future-nostalgia, and it tends to claim anything that comes next.

As for the whipping boy, yeah, it's too bad too, because Derrida is much more interesting than the cartoon version that gets passed around, and RELATIVISM is almost completely unrecognizable with what some people have accused it of.


At 10/18/2011 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


But is "good" ... however you may define it ... enough?


At 10/18/2011 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 10/18/2011 10:42 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

They have a good article up on OWS.

At 10/18/2011 11:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I hate the name, but I understand the difficulty:

"Notes on metamodernism is a webzine documenting trends and tendencies across aesthetics and culture that can no longer be understood by a postmodern vernacular but require another idiom - one that we have come to call metamodernism. Written by academics and critics from around the globe, Notes on metamodernism features observations on anything from the Berlin art scene to US cinema, from London fashion shows to network cultures. "

At 10/18/2011 11:15 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And this is even more interesting:

At 10/18/2011 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The name is annoying, but no moreso than the alternatives I've seen (transmodernism, altermodernism, post-postmodernsim, neomodernism, remodernism ...)

I find it easier to stomach by looking at its roots in metaxy (oscillation between poles) rather than the usual meta- prefix.


At 10/18/2011 11:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The but poles are usually false binaries! That's my problem with this sort of thing. otherwise, I REALLY like someone admitting it's Romanticism behing the curtain all along.

At 10/18/2011 11:51 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I meant to start that last comment off "But the..."

And also, I think Metaxism would be fine, but I'm not fond of the idea of swishing between poles. It sounds like one HAS to, and that's too regimented. I prefer the idea of a wholeness behind the sham of poles. The fractal infinity (where all measures become infinite).

At 10/18/2011 12:02 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Actually, the more I think about it, I think Metaxism needs a manifesto all its own.

At 10/18/2011 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of oscillation, how about freedom to move.

Instead of poles, how about three-dimensional space that opens between many defined (and undefined) possibilities.

And why not butt poles?


At 10/18/2011 5:48 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


From the manifesto, it looks like they’re being more programmatic than “freedom.” It seems more like a directive. But manifestos are often like that, stating the case more fervently than actual practice, which in this case seems to be to take recent versions of Post-modernism and give them a new name. I like that general idea a lot, since I feel the “heroic” post-modernism was in the late 80s. It’s time we moved on, and the more one stresses mixing and weaving and such, the better.

At 10/18/2011 11:21 PM, Blogger Donnie Hollingsworth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/19/2011 12:00 AM, Blogger Donnie Hollingsworth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/19/2011 8:09 AM, Blogger David-Glen Smith said...

John: I agree with your comment way back in the chain of discourse:

"I REALLY like someone admitting it's Romanticism behind the curtain all along."

I am glad you wrote what I was internalizing at axiom #8.

Additional short comment: what happened to the post-postmodernism movement? Or did that evaporate when I was hiding my head in the sand back in the middle Nineties?

At 10/19/2011 8:13 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Donnie! Hi!

David, I think it's now Metamodernism, I guess?

I'm terrified of Romanticism. it really frightens me. I'm hoping that it quickly gets pushed back in the closet and something less written-over comes out.

Or at least sparkly shoes.

At 10/19/2011 9:02 AM, Blogger Donnie Hollingsworth said...

Sparkly shoes? Ruby slippers?

I've often thought that there was a Romantic ideal behind Avant-garde. Maybe found art is romantic sublimity for people that live in the city..

(Hello to you a well!)

At 10/19/2011 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Romanticism is the thing to push back against. We need it for this. If it's not there, we get lost. If we don't fight it, it eats us.

Did anyone read the essay Wallace Stevens wrote on the ocassion of WCW's 50th birthday? He comes right out and says WCW is a Romantic, and that he'd be mad at the accusation, but that his anti-Romanticism couldn't possibly exist if it weren't at least a wee bit Romantic.

He says it better than I do, because, he's, like, Wallace Stevens. Worth reading.


At 10/19/2011 10:20 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Is that where he then calls him a garbage man or something as well?

At 10/19/2011 4:41 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Right, and then Gertrude Stein punched Stevens in the nose.

Were you thinking of "Questions Are Remarks" when you titled this?

At 10/19/2011 5:23 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I'd love to be called a garbage man--a garbage man of poetry. I've always had a taste for Orange Crush. It'd be great to ride around on a trash truck and exhume oddments from curbside tumuli. To be a member of the Barrow gang.

At 10/19/2011 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stein punched Stevens? Poor dude. I only know about the Hemingway incident. And I know Stevens started it, but Hemingway ended that one quite unpleasantly.

The essay I mention is titled "Williams." It's from 1934 and published in Opus Posthumous. Pretty sure Stevens doesn't say anything mean in it. The attitude toward Williams is reverential, and there is no mention of garbage collecting that I can recall. Stevens acknowledges that the charge of Romanticism would horrify WCW, but is really just using him as evidence of how Modernism, and poetry generally, has Romantic roots.

I've started to recognized failed anti-romanticism in just about everything I've done, and whenever I get over being horrified, I find the clarity refreshing.


At 10/19/2011 8:46 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Yeah, she thought feeding Stevens a few knuckle Dagwood sandwiches would make him look more like Alice B. Toklas.

Stevens was the garbage man--the man on the dump. Or one of divers dumpster-divers.

At 10/20/2011 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously David is a romantic.

At 10/20/2011 4:47 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Yes, that essay on WCW was what Stevens wrote as an introduction for WCW's collected poems. I think it was the final blow to their friendship? Somethign like that? I haven't read it in a while. I said garbage man, because back then they were feeling very anti-Romantic. Being called a Romantic was like having someone tell you you went to the bathroom in your pants. I think? Or something like that? I haven't read it in a long time. Where did my Opus P go?

At 10/20/2011 6:29 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

My opus pee usually goes in my pants.

At 10/20/2011 8:25 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Wouldn't that be oops pee then instead?


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