Who doesn't heart binaries?
And we win!
The Boston Review
(again, one of the best places for thinking—though the thinking itself, as
thinking must—can sometimes drive me up a wall) got some poets and critics
together to respond to Marjorie Perloff’s riff from last spring.
The Boston Review
(Timothy Donnelly, B.K. Fischer, and David Johnson) asked: what is the most
significant, troubling, relevant, recalcitrant, misunderstood, or egregious set
of opposing terms in discussions about poetics today, and, by extension, what
are the limits of binary thinking about poetry?
“Their responses range from whimsy to diatribe, with
meditation, appraisal, tangent, touchstone, anecdote, drollery, confection,
wit, and argument in between” follow:
Robert Archambeau, a perennial favorite of mine, has a
quickie synopsis on his blog, if you feel like skimming:
Binaries stumble over us in the dark.
It’s why we love vampires, right?
The half dead, the undead, the Other that
troubles (completes) the unnecessary on/off switches in our brains.
Or (to make this a binary within a binary) is
it that we love zombies for this reason?
One romantic, one will eat our brains.
As if romance itself doesn’t do a good enough job of eating our
And what do these troubled and constantly outdated
binaries do for us?
What do Bella and
Edward do to overcome the functionally necessary is/isn’t?
They have an American Hybrid (is this
offspring a salvation or apocalypse?)!
Value, artistic or otherwise, will always set up a
binary, at the very least a personal binary: the binary of “did I put this on
my good bookshelf” or “did I put this on the give-away table.”
But is that true?
Not really, I’m thinking.
Look at any “good” book or whatever, and that
book, that object, is filled with the arc of value, All Things fall on an arc
Likewise artistic standards
fall on an arc, and then I see critics or whomever endorsing things that I can
point to and say there’s no way, given what that critic has said in the past,
that the critic should like this thing.
Value is as messy as who is or isn’t in some school or movement.
Or, more bothersome even, a critic (or a
friend or something) will NOT like something that, according to everything that
person has said, that person SHOULD like.
Particle or wave? Sure. Binaries raise in me the desire to speak in
universals, which is a version of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” So maybe ALL
binaries aren’t wrong.
(Cue the theme to
The Walking Dead.)
Is the universe digital or analogue? Shaken or
And what would happen if was
asked if it is digital or stirred?
someone is a Formalist or Ecologist? Binaries work when we narrow a context to
And pinpoints, though
interesting, are woefully inadequate, incomplete, and antiseptic.
So the cats are sleeping with the dogs and time marches on.
Marjorie Perloff’s essay has its points.
We MUST assign value to what we read, yes,
yes, of course, but we must keep in mind the broad brushes we use (that Perloff
seems untroubled by, which troubles me) when making pronouncements about “Poetry.”
Examples spoil binaries.
So, in the spirit of spoiled binaries, I will endeavor to keep this conversation
somewhere in the black & white halls of my memory for future angst-filled
nights where I might find myself being remorselessly reductive in my thinking
about what the kids are doing on my lawn.
We love strong statements and straight thinking.
Stop this wishy-washy, namby-pamby bullshit,
and say what you mean.
Or: you people
are nothing but ironic dilettantes, with your hipster lack of depth and coterie
Or something like that.
Sure, some stuff is just crap.
Absolutely, the crap we will always have with
But, also, mistakes can be made when
wearing war-paint that a more nuanced and sympathetic approach might balance.
When dealing with a foreign power, it’s a
good idea to learn the language.
one mistake that is made by people who have been around the art scene for more
than 25 years, is the mistake that their history is enough to know what the
young are saying, when, the truth is, the young constantly revise the old.
The old shout BLANK IRONY and the young
respond with NECESSARY AMBIVALENCE.
false binary, of course, but binaries are what fits on bumper stickers, and
bumper stickers are the coin of the realm.)
All projects in art are failed projects.
And the young do little better in
understanding the old.
I think of this as a good thing, for, if we understood
each other, and if there was final authority, then art would cease to
Or better, we’d all freeze into
place, turn silver, and hover six inches above everything.
And, though it would be nice to have the
lions speak and all that, I’d not want to give up breathing and all that.
Aware, of course, that I’ve set up another binary with a chaser of universal.
Weeeeeeeeee. Without a safety net:
Down Is the New Up!
Pour yourself a drink . . .