Saturday, December 08, 2012

It’s US vs. Us once again.

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:

[Side comment: I’m not much for spelling, and above, when I misspelled “perennial” my spell-check thought I meant “prenatal.” That gave me a nice, possible binary that I’m resolving not to reduce myself to.]

Here's my reaction to the original Perloff essay:

And my reaction to the second Perloff essay, which was in reaction to an essay by Matvei Yankelevich that was in reaction to her essay:

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 brains. 

And what do these troubled and constantly outdated binaries do for us?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 (how grand).  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 stirred?  And what would happen if was asked if it is digital or stirred?  If someone is a Formalist or Ecologist? Binaries work when we narrow a context to a pinpoint.  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 references.  Or something like that.  Sure, some stuff is just crap.  Absolutely, the crap we will always have with us.  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.  And, 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.  (A 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 exist.  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 . . .


At 12/09/2012 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you dress to the right or to the wrong?

At 12/09/2012 9:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Depends on the mirror.


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