Friday, January 07, 2011

Your Utopia Is Doing Well, Thanks!

Nomen Est Omen, part infinity plus or minus

Poetry, like philosophy, is better at messing with, complicating, what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something. I have to repeat that to myself often, especially when coming across manifestos. I love manifestos. We all do, with the level of fascination usually reserved for traffic accidents.

There’s a red tinge to the act of the manifesto, as Joyelle McSweeney notes over at “First, it wants to say something. Then, it wants to declare that statement already obsolete.” Which is something of the same idea behind, first, living well: “Good manners make good neighbors.” And then doing things: “How many heads can fit on one statue?” Manifestos are full of such moments.

McSweeney is responding to Robert Archambeau’s post

on this video:

Charles Bernstein reads Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto!

It’s a fun moment. Who wouldn’t want to stand in a museum swinging a hammer? And it’s also fun to be able to read the phrase “arrière-gardisme.” To play with it a bit. Archambeau does a nice job, and then McSweeney does a nice job. It’s important that some artists are continually tired of something long before most others have heard of it, so, therefore, whatever the Post-Avant was is long gone. So long gone in fact, that some are now talking about the Post-Conceptual, be it prefix or prix fixe.

Lana Turner as Our Dear Revolutionary Sweetheart 

It’s in this frame of mind that I encountered the newest volume (Vol 3) of Lana Turner (edited by Calvin Bedient and David Lau). I’ve decided that it’s the most fascinating single issue of a literary journal I’ve ever read. It fully embodies its position both as critical argument for where we are (or must be or just were) and as artistic enactment of what we’re up to (or were / or are up against, etc.) as attempts to move into the new (partially in the form of new translations of Aimé Césaire, among various references to Marcel Duchamp, etc). Arrière-gardisme co-exists with a more aggressive avant-gardism. I say this without fear of hyperbole. This volume is what we’ve come to, and should be required reading by everyone interested in contemporary poetry. Even so, as I started off this post thinking about how poetry, like philosophy, is better at complicating what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something, so too, Lana Turner is finding itself in something of the Emerson moment in “The Poet,” where, as Diane Ward has it: “The message I’m dying to read has yet to come” and/or “Now let’s become something else.”

Here’s a bit from David Lau’s “Firing Behind Song: Poetry as Critique” where he has at the way things are (with a tint of Marxist undertone):

*   *   *

Here’s my injunction to the present: poetize the word dialectically in terms not merely of what is, but in terms of what this world’s becoming. (This is the changing same of “the new thing.”) Gopal Balakrishnan: “We have yet to figure out what an historical narrative would look like without the forward march of capital.” If the defeat of the left (or the end of the 60s) organized the horizon of possibility for a post-avant aesthetic these past several decades, it was a knowing smile (or grimace) that prescribed over the disjunctive practices, resigned to exilic wanderings in the word, with an occasional glance at the robots and glitter of the whole big bad economy thing. Now given this emerging condition of post- or declining global capitalism, how does poetry respond? Anticapitalism hasn’t returned in a mass way so that one could commit poetry to it. But many possible oppositional poetics are emerging (some candidates: an insurgent anticapitalist poetry à la the 95 Cent Skool; Conceptual Writing; Gurlesque; a multicultural and urban poetry ramifying now alongside the heroic African-American poetry; and several individual styles among the young as well, including Cathy Park Hong’s slangy near-futurism, Shane Book’s Flagelliforms, Ben Lerner’s gauchiste-Stevensian quality, Sandra Simonds’ imaginative overdrive, etc.), and I want to ask, like Raymond Williams, which of these poetics are “alternative” or genuinely oppositional. Do these poets find a different way to write and live and wish to be left alone with it; or do they find a different way to live and write and wish “to change society in accordance with the discovery” (Williams). The latter point may vaguely specify impossibility or utopia. So be it. (Check Joshua Clover’s “The Gilded Age” in this issue, its “passion for the real”: “There are not two kinds of poetry there is only one: Jacobin and unyielding.”)
*   *   *

There are several things in the above I would want to talk about, especially the elevating of “capital” as a yardstick for futurity, and the whole “oppositional” aspect and constant war and battle imagery when talking about art. Perhaps both are necessary and true, but I’d still want to position the idea of, instead of ideas that lead to “anti-capital” or “redistribution of power” to a version of “gift economy” perhaps, or simply “other.” As long as we’re going to let ourselves be utopian, I say go all the way and begin to think of art not as participating in social movements, but instead participating in plate tectonics. But this is part of the value of a journal such as this. Lana Turner is aggressive, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Let's take the 1950s cure . . . Utopia's just around the corner from you!

There are many other things to note here, and I plan on doing so (Marjorie Perloff on Merce Cunningham [and John Cage], for starters) when I get some time. Time. If there were only time.

I’ll leave you with this bit from Vanessa Place’s “A Poetics of Radical Evil”:

*   *   *

For some time now the poetical-critical landscape features, and appears to favor, the discursive/generative reading, via (1) stylistics (such as in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) and post-structuralism (such as with the one-two of Derrida/Cixous), and (2) left-liberal-leaning collaboration (such as in the works of so very many experimental duos). If we fashion a critical poetics out of these approaches, we have, on the surface, a three-chambered ecumenics of: (1a) impotency, by way of penned constellate meaning; (1b) elision, by way of the metaphoric slide, glide, and aside, and (2) reform, by way of errant liberal recombinancy. I would like to be stupidly reductive here, in part because these positions have already been dilated upon in many other for a, but more because such reductivity may telescope the problem of the law lying within, and indicate, or indict, a radically stupid response. In other words, a response of willed evil.

[. . .]

There is no art without theory, no theory without art, there is the art of theory, and it is just as impure as any theory of art. It is time to rescind all licenses and make things truly free. Which, though it sounds like a sweet liberatory call, something that ought to be issued by one with some modicum of utopianism, or at least the itch for something better than this, is more a statement of fact, designed to prod us along into the future anterior, that conditional to-be. In other words, a violent and manacled responsibility, even duty. To what? To insist that poetry is what poetry isn’t.

*   *   *

Utopia? Duty?

Yikes, even. Go get a copy. We'll talk.


At 1/07/2011 9:10 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I read the online content when it first hit the web and really loved "Letter from New York" (I'd like to hang one of those paintings in the room where I write) and Perloff's "Constructed Anarchy." Glad to know the rest is worthwhile.

Having just sold a dozen or so books yesterday I might justify swinging by St. Mark's and grabbing a copy.

At 1/07/2011 10:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

They look a little better to me in the journal than they do online. There's more purple in Tabula. And more beige in the background of Study.

You sold a dozen books? Please tell me your secret.

At 1/07/2011 11:28 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

That statement was misleading. I mean, I sold a dozen books by other people.

Though I've only got about 1/3 of Fuzz Against Junk issue 1 left, I haven't sold an issue at all lately. The original 70+ all went out when I printed it, doled out copies to the contributors, and read in this DIY art space (see: warehouse) in Boulder, CO.

At 1/07/2011 2:50 PM, Blogger Archambeau said...

"it’s also fun to be able to read the phrase “arrière-gardisme.” To play with it a bit"

That's exactly what's going on. Thanks for taking it all in that spirit! Not everyone does...

At 1/07/2011 4:47 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hey RA:

I think that not taking things in that spirit is how some people take things in that spirit. It's the performative aspect of play at play.


At 1/08/2011 9:57 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

On Place's essay, I suppose one might say:

The Museums are ever open and hospitable. Your Name here, rebellious Conceptualist...

At 1/08/2011 10:18 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Museums are omnivorous.

Which explains both arrière-gardisme, and the need, in David Lau's piece on Hugo Hopping, to include color stills of Hopping's


with the label "Documentation of Performance."

At 1/08/2011 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll add two more:

1. Is "rebellious conceptualist" a redundancy or an oxymoron?

2. When the museum eats you, don't forget to bring your hammer. We must have visual aids in the new frontier.



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