Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meanwhile, Tan Lin . . .

Some out-of-context quotes for the travel weekend that were sent to me in a pair of emails this morning:

(His new book, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking: Airport Novel is on my to-do list.)

Instead of a photograph, A, that merely repeats something, a souvenir or keepsake, I wanted this to resemble nothing but itself, and thus to capture the blankness and non-theatrical spaces of the world ‘out there.’ The least repetitive photographs are the photographs that make us forget the things that we love. That is why most landscapes are so boring to look at. A beautiful landscape is like a beautiful photograph is like a beautiful landscape is like a beautiful photograph. Such photographs erase people, relatives, household objects, other photographs, and landscapes at a steady velocity. That is why it is normally so difficult to fall in love with the same person twice.

In paintings, all emotions become the symbols of things that they are not.

Everything that is beautiful waits to be forgotten completely by what it is not.


At 11/27/2010 1:05 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>"To have a photograph is not interesting; to have a photograph of a photograph is, and this is why a poem does better than any photograph can."

Could be I'm not completely following these sage-sounding dictums. There's a tone here that makes me feel the person saying them thinks he is quite a bit wiser than his readers (or than Eliot!). And no doubt he is. But what about a photograph of a photograph of a poem? Where is the "does better" in that case?

At 11/27/2010 8:40 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Sorry Kent, I was asked to edit out the stuff not from the new book, so your comment now is a ghost response. Or perhaps a photograph of a ghost response.

In that way, it's like the 1970s!

At 11/28/2010 9:05 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

Kent's comments still apply to the stuff that remains. There are some half-insightul ideas here, but it seems that Tan Lin is conflating beautiful photographs and photographs that are merely beautiful.

At 11/28/2010 9:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

. . . and waiting to be forgotten."

I'd add that bit to your comment. I think there's a large measure of conflation going on in Lin's work. He has this idea of the banal, the uncreative, the ephemeral, that fascinates me, though I'm not able to follow it very far.

When I get the book, I'll post more.

At 11/28/2010 2:00 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Perhaps of some undercurrent relation to the above, a great post by David Hadbawnik on "Literary Self-Fashioning and the Avant-Garde," at his blog Primitive Information:

Here's a comment I just left there:

Yes, this US/UK divide–what is most fascinating about it is the utter refusal of “avant” folks here to confront the critiques that have been put on the table by some of the prominent Brits.
Of course, there’s nothing new about such silence: It’s a strategy, very much part of the way power in the field plays out, how cultural margins get guarded, hierarchies maintained, and so forth–just ignore those who propose challenge and debate to cut the losses. The Langpos are the champs at this; their Conceptual and Flarf stepchildren have learned the lesson well (not surprising, in case of the last two, given that the embarrassments of their positions are so plain).

There’s a danger to such behavior, though, and that’s that the cowardly hedging becomes ever more transparent in retrospect and big redistributions and compensations may get made down the road. As they most likely will, I’d say. To my mind, for example, and I suppose we may differ on this, David, figures like Watten and Silliman will be seen as relatively small figures after things shake out for a while, poets of ultimately limited range and vision who, having put out their polemics, have shown themselves incapable of engaging in direct debate on key matters. Watten bunkers now behind opaque, esoteric prose; Silliman has exposed himself over the past number of years already as a pedestrian thinker with very little of import to offer.

But we’ll see… Having said the above, I will say I’m hopeful that Kenny Goldsmith’s Rejection Group project may prove to lead into interesting territory. Seems to me the most exciting development in so-called “Conceptual poetry” so far.

At 11/28/2010 2:43 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I've looked up some of the British poets you mentioned in an earlier post, and find them mostly interesting and worth talking about, but I don't see why you need to make the argument for them on the back of American poets. Must they be compared? Must one be "better" than the other?

I feel like you're casting a large net with the "cowardly hedging" and confronting the critiques bits. Surely you don't think American poetry is that empty of decent poets/poems?

At 11/28/2010 3:20 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


I don't think I made any sort of direct axiological "comparisons" between UK and US poets?

I'm talking in first instance of something specific: that there has been an astounding failure by US innovative poets to engage the work and critique of an exciting, challenging avant current in UK. This failure is no doubt partly linked to resentments of sharp criticisms by Prynne, made years ago, of Language poetry. Younger Brit poets influenced by him, Raworth, and others have energetically extended that critique (in context of larger efforts to problem-pose the matter of "a-g" poetics and politics), and much of it is keenly intelligent and provocative. There has been a virtual refusal to engage this new work. When the special issue devoted to "New British Poetry" came out nearly three years ago, it was pointedly ignored by Silliman, Watten, and the younger formations still suckling on Langpo. The silence has been consistent and it's loud enough by now to safely say it's all more than an innocent matter.

And I see it as symptom of some larger problems and issues having to do with the sociology of our field, and so my comment was pointing at that. I'd mentioned one publication, Sous les Paves, under a past post or two here, and I should point out that two of these UK poets will be appearing in the next issue: Josh Stanley and Keston Sutherland. You can count on SLP attempting to become one forum for cross-Atlantic dialogue and debate. Another publication (the only one so far along with the Chicago Review to seriously attempt to open exchange) is Richard Owens's Damn the Caesars.

Here's a proposal: the notion of "American" experimental poetry is a dead, completely provincial concept. The Brits are us, and we are them.

At 11/28/2010 4:08 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Had meant to say, in relation to mention above of Kenny Goldsmith and this Rejection Group project, that I've heard this weekend from a strong source that both Vanessa Place and Kasey Mohammed are involved, as well.

Curiously, in light of this talk about the Brit stuff, a second poem by the RG (so the rumor) is coming out in issue #2 of Hot Gun! I wonder if the editors of Hot Gun! know that this is likely a ConPo project?

At 11/28/2010 4:29 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That makes more sense. I was misunderstanding.

As for TRG. Shouldn't you know who was in it if you were? Were you each using an alias?

I heard that it was all just you talking to yourself! Ha!

But if the notion of an American experimental poetry is dead, why isn't the notion of a British one dead as well? Or is it?

At 11/29/2010 8:08 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>But if the notion of an American experimental poetry is dead, why isn't the notion of a British one dead as well? Or is it?

John, the stress in my remark is on the nationalistic term, which has no useful purpose anymore, save as some kind of sign for border guards. Brit avant poetry has been intertwined with ours since the 60s. The NAP was a crucial link and stimulus of the UK "Revival," including very much in the sense of direct, personal exchange between poets-- Dorn, interestingly enough, a crucial figure in that regard. The Brits' thinking is now much richer, more alive, more advanced, as they say, along political lines than ours. Prynne, Raworth, Sutherland, Jarvis, Brady, just for starters. We DO write in the same language, but you'd almost think not, judging from the general indifference in these parts.

At 11/29/2010 8:22 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

You write:

"The Brits' thinking is now much richer, more alive, more advanced, as they say, along political lines than ours."

By "thinking" you're talking about their poetics, right? So I'll bite! Are there places online I can find some examples? I might agree with you. There's nto as much going on in American poetics as I wish there were. But if you mean the poetry itself, I'd argue with you, as I've read some of the poetry by the people you talk about, and while it looks interesting and good and all that, it's not head and shoulders over poetry by Americans.

At 11/29/2010 8:42 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

One difference is that they are generally less present online, though there's stuff easily found. Jacket has some stuff by/on. Here's a PDF of a recent essay by Prynne, "Mental Ears and Poetic Work," published in the CR. Recent issues fo the journal, again, have lots of stuff:

At 11/29/2010 11:15 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

In regards the essay by Watten, linked to at Hadbawnik's blog, as referenced above:

Read the first seven or eight pages of it... Quite revealing and emblematic (and the chutzpah of it is amazing): How a by now banal general notion proffered by the L=group more than thirty years back (the symbiotic/dialectical interfacing of "poetry" and "poetics" into a larger praxis) is rewarmed to near boil with quick-take philosophical/psychoanalytic references and name-drops to bring the rhetoric up to high and florid Academic speed.

Though it's true the prose is a bit more accessible than usual--likely a consequence of the essay's self-fashioning topic: Barrett Watten himself!

Ever onward to the deconstruction of the poetic "Self" and "I"...

At 11/29/2010 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent 7, John 5

At 11/29/2010 12:04 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I downloaded the Prynne and started to read it, but then got side-tracked by some Levinas.

I like the idea of not just "making being understood, but also in making its essence vibrate."

Nice. That's the sort of thing that interests me, and how that might have a connection to whatever poet, than all this praxis stuff.

At 11/29/2010 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John 6

At 11/29/2010 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"John 6"

Is this a scripture reference, or a score?


At 11/29/2010 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a difference?


At 11/29/2010 1:05 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

You know, this is funny. I thought the title of this post said "Tao Lin," not *Tan* Lin.

Tao Lin I know of a little bit as the twenty-something, hilariously narcissistic writer of hipster ennui and autoerotic cynicism; Tan Lin I know of as the fifty-something poet who once called me a racist in the Boston Review, responding to an essay there by Marjorie Perloff about Araki Yasusada. Though I guess he would have been in his early forties, back then.

YOUTH! We salute you!

But I still say, Tan Lin, even though you took the Marinetti-sounding passage down: What's a poem and what's a photograph?

At 11/29/2010 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


We still love you, but Lin (that's TAN Lin) spends most of this new book, and much of some of his earlier writings, meditating on just this question. Or rather, enacting the distinction, which is not always a distinction. Worth reading.


At 11/29/2010 2:02 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

That's interesting, Eli, thanks.

I like some of Tan Lin's work, actually, and he is certainly a very smart guy (though like his old prof Charles Bernstein, he completely got Yasusada wrong, but that's OK).

I couldn't make heads or tails of what was initially posted by John.

Is this Noah Eli Gordon?


At 11/29/2010 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't we all Noah Eli Gordon?

At 11/29/2010 5:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thanks for the Prynne link. There are a couple points I like quite a bit (that I wrote down for future use), and his major point, that one must pay close attention to sentence structure and word derivation, and their tension with formal poetic elements, is good to be reminded of, but I don't see anything in his thinking that poses a direct challenge to most of what I read in American formulations of poetic work.

In other words, there's nothing here that I feel the least bit hostile to. It looks pretty normal and fine to me. Am I missing something?

At 11/30/2010 4:43 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh for young Tan Lin is there
None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead
Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she
She'd not pulled a double rose, a rose but only two
When up there came young Tan Lin, says "Lady, pull no more"
And "Why come you to Carterhaugh without command from me?"
"I'll come and go," young Janet said, "and ask no leave of thee"


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