Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm in the Twin Cities, for a series of performances (see the previous post) occasioned by the RNC. The city is quiet for the moment, though I'm on the Minneapolis side of the river. You can hear the cicadas, but not the cops bursting into the RNC Welcoming Committee Convergence space late at night to confiscate dangerous pamphlets, laptops, cameras, and activist bodies. Which already happened a few days ago--but since the space has since re-opened, I'd be surprised if more raids weren't in the works.

Tomorrow will be hot, especially in a black hood and orange jumpsuit, in which we'll march with the War Resister's League in a demonstration against torture and extraordinary rendition.

This is my first real "political blog moment": is anyone else utterly dumbfounded that the media is reporting McCain's choice of vice presidential candidate as "confusing?" Is there anyone who's been following things to whom the opportunism of this act (the attempt to give the guy "diversity credibility" and to appeal to the--small, I hope--group of female Clinton supporters who are so bitter about Obama that they'd actually vote for a sexist maniac) is anything but utterly transparent and comprehensible? In a performance tonight, my friend Courtney McClean told us how tired she was of being angry about war, hatred, etc. I realized that I'm actually not angry about those things--my feelings about them are strong and very different from anger--and that what raises my ire is the knee-jerk circulation of phraseology through public discourse--the way people just accept phrases, sentences, descriptions, frames as they're thrown at them--and so, even when that language is treated from ideologically opposed points of view, the terms are already more powerful than anything their speakers might actually want to say.


Three things, the preparation for which has been eating up every spare minute of my time:

September 1-6

A week of performance and community building in response to the other RNC
Curated by Bedlam Theatre and the Nonsense Company
featuring The Nonsense Company, the Prince Myshkins, Roy Zimmerman, Bedlam Theatre, Bryan Bevell (performing Wallace Shawn's "The Fever"), David Rovics and more.
Bedlam Theatre, 1501 S. 6th St., Minneapolis (West Bank)

(The Nonsense Company will also do two additonal performances on Friday and Saturday)

September 25-28, 8 p.m.

Puppet Uprising's 2nd Annual Secret Shakespearean Dessert Theater

Five groups from around the country each take an act of Shakespeare's play, each in a different space and with a different dessert item served. The Nonsense Company's treatment of Act III is going to be pretty strange, and I imagine that we're not the only group of whom that can be said.


(Next Week)

edited by Andy Gricevich
featuring Alex Burford, Mark Cunningham, Carrie Etter, Lawrence Giffin, William Gillespie, Kevin Killian, Mark Lamoureux, Bonnie Jean Michalski, Sheila E. Murphy, Andy Nicholson and Dirk Stratton.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

I got my copy of Active Boundaries, Michael Palmer's book of selected essays and talks, in the mail yesterday. Looks like it's going to be a good read. And that I'll probably feel the urge to go back and reread everything he's written.

Here are a few quotations from his talk, "Counter-Poetics and Current Practice:"

"In a poem you can be perfectly in a logic where a thing is both A and not-A [...]. This is not simply frivolity--it's the announcement of another area of knowing. [...] This is a poem that is not simply there to reinscribe something already experienced, but is actually a mode of experience in and of itself. [...] What are the interrelations? It's always a question. Who are we in relation? Who am I? Am I doing the speaking? Are you doing the listening? [...] A refusal, also of the reader as a passive consumer. Speaking to a passive audience is much more a HItlerian form of discourse where the passivity of the audience is assumed, where they are not involved in an active exchange of meaning. [...] the poem only occurs, is only there, in the event of the poem, which is in its engagement with the reader. Except in some platonic sense, the poem is not present when the book is closed. What I mean is that the poem is an even, temporally and historically conditioned. And so I am interested in acts of composition that emphasize this without becoming simply buckets into which anyone can drop whatever they want. The poem is not simply an aleatory event." (245-47)

Ok, so this is all stuff I've thought about for some time--but Palmer says it with great elegance. "Another area of knowing." The poem as event and the whole way of thinking that moves in terms of events (as distinguished from, and enveloping in dialectical fashion, the "object/process" dichotomy). The distinction between a work's context always being part of its events--the determinateness of any given context--and the very different notion of the work as "meaning whatever you want it to mean."

In the course of discussing Jack Spicer, Palmer poses a critique of the Wright/Bly "Deep Image" school, claiming that those poets simply appropriated a kind of image, with a particular feel, from its original Spanish/Moorish cultures, and then dropped examples of it into their poems from the outside, assuming that they'd just serve as expressive devices there, without internal motivation.

"There's enough reference [in Spicer's "lemon" letter to Lorca] obliquely to that misappropriation that I suspect he had it in mind. So much of Spicer, and other poets, is directed against anything that could be taken as a constructive or creative device around which you could build a poetics. And in this respect one can see a Spicer as having a relationship of critical negativity to the culture as a whole, I suppose, but also to the models of poetic making that became so standard." (251)

"There is a certain arbitrairiness outside a given language system, so that the possibility of reference and signification rests on an agreement we make in community, and once community begins to disintegrate that agreement begins to break down." (253)

Again, not really a new idea--but somehow, in this context, it struck me in a big way. If the possibility of reference, of using language to talk about things, is a communal matter, then the question of how much of our language is being given to us, for instance, by corporations (including the news and the federal government in its current state, but also the language of advertising, the language text-messaging and various kinds of internet discourse allow for and encourage by virtue of their form), becomes really crucial. If a great deal of our language, from its most instrumental to its most fanciful uses, is being given to us not by our daily forms of practice, but by language networks in which we're enmeshed, but which are outside any of our fields of choice, then reference is truly in trouble. It's a real danger: that one will only be understood if one employs the terms that no speaker chooses, but simply inherits. Given that danger, what is poetry to do? There are, of course, a number of proposals floating around. Palmer sees poetry as a taking-back of the meanings of things by enacting the processes of making sense, rather than allowing them to be taken for granted. Dale Smith calls for poetry that helps enact new platforms of communication. Some Flarf treats imposed discourse ironically by appropriating and recycling it, trying for an implicit critique. Barrett Watten asserts that no-one can understand anyone else, and that poetry needs to place itself directly in that situation. Though each of these proposals raises its own concrete questions and has its own specific shortcomings, their generally problematic nature, the difficulty of making a convincing proposal at all, is one sign of just how serious a problem this is.

"In Jabes' case, if you do not allow for silence--silence being the place where you reply to the question, where you reply to the other--[...] then you are appropriating the discourse and entering, then, yourself, into an authoritarian mode. [...] He constructs exactly out of what is considered the nondiscursive, the spaces between things, the junctures, the breaks and fragments." (255)

I have to finally get around to Jabes one of these days. The drastic cover price of his books has slowed my approach so far.

[Here he's been talking about Latin American poets]:
"It's interesting to relate this to the problem of political poetry in the United States, which tends to become doctrinal or an occasion for self-display. You take, let's say, the poets' Nicaragua shuttle and go down for ten days,then you return and become a hero of the Revolution. For those who are interested, to come to the deeper responsibility of the political is every bit as demanding and difficult as coming to the deeper responsibility of the emotional. It's instructive to go to the poets for whom the political is not a 'topic'." (257)

It's that last sentence I want to highlight here. I'll be thinking about that for a while. I'll point out again, as extra food for that thought, Palmer's claim that "deep image" didn't work because it was taken from its place in a long-developing cultural context. So the thought of the political as "not a 'topic,'" as an assumed aspect of one's culture, can't, for a North American poet, just mean lifting ways of writing from Peru or Chile.

"[...] I was drawn to [Robert Creeley's] sense of staying away from one aspect of revision, which is the normative sense of revising to conform to certain expectations. And so, I turned to de Kooning, who in an interview talked about returning and returning to the first moment of the canvas, and the layering process, the process of accretion and the process of emergence. In other words, you return into the act of the thing until the thing is complete." (263)

There's plenty more there.

the fragmentation of subjectivity...

...doesn't amount to much if the many voices that say "I" are more or less identical.

They may also be identical in sharing an unreflected-upon, inarticulate comfort with their own contradictoriness--a fragmentation that precedes anything that might happen in the poem.


One major problem: "self" or "subject" gets identified with "voice," and a multiplication or fragmentation of subjectivity becomes a matter of multiple voices.

I'd think this problem would have gone away by now, since more interesting solutions were already around by the late nineteenth century.