Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A reader writes to remind me that it's Rosmarie Waldrop, not Rosemarie. My bad. I'm sticking with "Barrett" for Barrett Watten too, from now on.

Off to Nantucket this afternoon. Coming with me, Emily, and the dog will be some magazines I've recently acquired: the latest issues of No, Aufgabe, and Chain. Kicking myself for not picking up a copy of The Poker (everyone's talking about it!) when I was at Soft Skull on Sunday. The only work-related thing I'm bringing is Virginia Woolf's The Waves, which seems more than appropriate.

Snow on the ground. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm back, with far too much to report. The symposium on Saturday was a great success. After my buddy Sam Frederick presented his paper on Oswald Egger, six of us grad student types did short presentations. I said I would post what I said, but I'm writing this from the Bookery and don't have the texts with me—maybe later. We went in alphabetical order and it was marvelous how, without much prior consultation, the different pieces seemd to be in conversation with each other. One of the most spectacular was a kind of live collage Cathleen Drake made of Sam's paper, Watten's Bad History, and Rosemarie Waldrop's Blindsight. It was a thrill to meet Rosemarie, incidentally, though I didn't get to talk with her much. I did give her a copy of my book, though. (Watten and Lee Ann Brown also got books; I debated giving one to Carla Harryman and then decided that since she and Watten are partners, one was enough. The etiquette for giving away books as yet eludes me.) After our thing, Waldrop, Egger, and Watten gave terrific, unparaphraseable presentations. Rosemarie talked about translation; Egger performed what seemed to be a piece on hesitation hesitatingly; Barrett talked about Leningrad and addressed the Izenberg article tool. He took issue with Izenberg's understanding of linguistics, and during the last panel German Studies prof. Peter Gilgen took issue with Watten's understanding of them; I have no understanding of linguistics whatsoever and therefore couldn't judge. I did have the sinking feeling, however, that it was time to break into a copy of Aspects of Syntax at the very least.

The party wasn't over because after the symposium broke up and I force-fed myself a frozen pizza I headed on over to Gimme! coffee (check out their new store in Williamsburg; it's not on their web page but nonetheless watch this space) to catch the poetry stylings of India Radfar, Jonathan Skinner, and Lisa Forrest. I was a little too tired to give them the attention they deserved; Skinner's reading stood out because he began by reading from a chapbook called The Little Dictionary of Sounds and prefaced each reading by playing a recording of the sound in question: rain, a train going by, chewing and swallowing, etc. Went and had beers afterwards, which turned out to be practice for yesterday. Ah, yesterday.

Yesterday Emily and I arose at an un-Sundaylike hour and were on the road by eight. By noon, crabby and hungry, we were in Brooklyn; after lunch we felt much better and we headed over to Soft Skull Shortwave, where I met the charming Shanna Compton, the formidable Richard Nash, and my co-reader, the charming and formidable Colum McCann. My father, despite a head cold and having seen me in New Jersey last week, was there with my stepmother, and the tiny space was otherwise appropriately crammed with Brooklyn literati and some of Emily's friends who live in the city. I was especially especially delighted to see Gary and Nada, who I'd been too shy to invite except in the broadest, most hinting way. The reading part went very well: I started with some poems from the book, then read a couple from the manuscript that is more or less a companjion piece to Selah, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I followed that with three Severance Songs and ended with two poems from the last section of Selah. I'm getting more comfortable with picking poems on the fly, which keeps me responsive to the audience. It's funny how you can tell what's going over with them and what's simply going over them, even though there are usually few visible or audible responses to what you read.

Colum is a gripping, fiercely lyrical writer: he read part of a short story, one of the first he ever published (he says he's tired of reading from Dancer; I've been looking at it here in the Bookery and it may be the first new novel I decide to purchase in months. He followed that with part of a work in progress about a Polish Gypsy poet, based on a true story; both works featured hyperperceptive young women with tendencies toward self-mutilation—tendencies which seem to have concrete bases in the sickness of their respective societies (70s Ireland and 50s Poland, respectively). He's a born storyteller; unfortunately I missed part of the one about Van Morrison's body odor because, back at the Brooklyn Inn (a beautiful bar; if I lived in Brooklyn I'd spend all my time there; it's probably just as well) my childhood friend Evan Kurowski, who I hadn't seen for more than ten years, showed up, and we did a lot of drinking and reminiscing. Emily and her friends (they'd been doing some non-alcoholic reminiscing of their own) came by and picked me up around six, and we all had dinner at a brick-walled restaurant somewhere in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It was a great day, but the exhausting culmination of an exhausting weekend, and it's still not over. After a hungover drive home this afternoon, I've got to work here and teach tomorrow morning. Then it's back in the car (with the dog) to drive out to Hyannis and catch a ferry to Nantucket, where we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with Emily's mother, brother, and his wife and two daughters. Phew. Phew again.

Lots of stuff percolating under the surface from all this stimulation, I just know it. Real intellectual type stuff. But tonight it's all I can do to tell you just what the hell happened. Not sure when I'll get to this blog again, so Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Right here, right now.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Exciting readings from Lee Ann Brown and Carla Harryman at Cornell yesterday, and reasonably well attended considering that a) the reading was held in the bowels of the rare books library, which is undergound; b) it was basically unpublicized except for flyers that appeared in English Department mailboxes that morning. Lee Ann spoke and sang; I liked the way she read the epigraphs from The Sleep That Changed Everything to us: "Louis Zukofsky says. . . ." For a moment these poets and thinkers are alive again and in conversation with her and us. She sang two ballads, one of which was about Susan Smith, who drowned her children in a lake and blamed the crime on an imaginary black man. Her new baby, Miranda Lee, and her husband (ooh, his name escapes me—but I liked him a lot, a large, gentle-seeming man who paced up and down in the back of the room with Miranda for most of the reading) came up at the end to perform part of a Noh play the two of them had collaborated on—a perfect combination of her childhood in Japan and North Carolinian heritage. (Her soft southern accent came as something of a surprise, given how very New York School-y her first book, Polyverse, is.) I was impressed to see the three of them up there, half-chanting, half-singing, Lee Ann bouncing Miranda Lee on her hip to the rhythm. Carla Harryman read a "play" (in the Steinian sense) whose title I didn't catch ("Mirrorverse"?) that was a terrific tumble of voices, competing urgently with each other, so that the total effect was the sublimation of anxiety into joy. I wish more Cornell people could have seen it; among other things, it was an inspiring example of two women at the top of their form, practicing a difficult art and making it seem as natural, or more natural, than motherhood.

Dinner afterwards with some of my fellow grad students, Joel Kuszai, Jonathan Monroe, Barry Maxwell (who's in Comparative Literature at Cornell), Lee Ann, her husband, and the baby, Carla Harryman, Barrett Watten, and Rosemarie Waldrop (who arrived after the reading). Gave copies of my book to Barrett (I actually called him "Barry," if you can believe that) and Lee Ann and then fretted a bit over the protocol of this. Should I give one to Carla and Rosemarie too? Probably. Barrett (that's my compromise) held forth on various topics and our end of the table had an interesting conversation about Vietnam's role as a dividing line between the generation of the New Americans and that of the Language Poets. According to Barrett, the ethical demand upon his generation (to go to war or not) required a kind of (existential?) decision that the New Americans had never had to make—that they were held, and held themselves, to a higher standard of consequence than the previous generation. That's why, he claimed, the earlier generation could get away with all kinds of bad behavior whereas the peccadilloes of the Language Poets are scrupulously unforgiven. He also mentioned the resentment his generation felt toward the New Americans' attitude that theirs had been the heroic time; I pointed out that this was how many members of my generation felt about his. In the end we agreed that this talk of generations tended to be sloppy and invidious—but it's still fun. He also gave me some good ideas for my dissertation—reframing pastoral for me as a moment of retirement from political power in which one refreshes and reconsolidates one's ideals, before going back out there and assuming power again. The best classical model for this is the Duke in As You Like It, but there are interesting parallels in the life of (for instance) Charles Olson, who renounced national Democratic politics in favor of trying to poetically configure the smaller micro-polis of Gloucester into a model for a new democracy. Much grist for my mill.

Today's the presentation. I'm going to read three poems for it: one from my book, one more a work of poetics, and one from Severance Songs. More pastoral, basically. I'll post what I say here or maybe over at As/Is. That's an exhausting blog to keep up with; as other contributors have remarked, one's one piece is quickly "erased" by the flood of others' postings. Perhaps not an unworthwhile experience. There's no way for me to keep up with its total output; I tend to just scroll through it now and then looking for phrases that catch my eye. Today I like Li Bloom's "Don't stare at the new girl".

Friday, November 21, 2003

Here's the final chunk of Kim's "Pollen Fossil Record" missing from the linked page provided below. It impressed me enough to type out in full:
duration

"This is to be sung"
"This is to be done"

The lyric undertakes the task of deciphering and embodying a "particularizable" prosody of one's living.

And in that process, inside the procedures of work and work proceeding: node and pressure point, song making and song gesture. Track: descant, sedimentations, tributaries in any several directions. Show stress, show beat, show alterations in pitch and accentuals. Tempo ruptured, emended. A valence of first and further tongues. Elements of the lyric and its mediations. The duration of the now, the now occurring, that manifests a time before.

A line's shape, vector, and motion interpolates perception and meter

A measure, a page, the book to embody the multivalent, the multidirectional—a cathexis of the living instant to the acuteness of history

Each sound trace, each demonstration of the line, each formal enunciation: aperture: conduit: coming into articulation, into the Imaginary—the lyric as it embodies the processual

The poem may be said to reside in disrupted, dilated, circulatory spaces, and it is the means by which one notates this provisional location that evokes and demonstrates agency—the ear by which the prosody by which to calibrate the liberative potential of writing, storehouse of the human

To probe the terms under which we denote, participate in, and speak of cultural and human practices—

To mobilize the notion of our responsibility to one another in social space
Josh's Poetry Adventure Weekend

A recap of what's happening:

- Today I'm moderating a discussion of a paper written by fellow grad student Ryan Canlas titled "Subalternity, Ethics, and Commons: Some Preliminary Notes." In the paper Ryan examines whether poetic representation might not be capable of doing more justice to the subaltern position (not speaking for it or assimilating it into a bad humanist project which, according to Badiou, reduces human beings to the lowest common denominator of their potential to be victimized), with Myung Mi Kim's Commons as the text in point. He seems to conclude that the last section of Commons, "Pollen Fossil Record" (read part of it here) by being more of a "poetics" text than the poetry which proceeds it, demonstrates the necessary failure of pure poetry without some kind of supplementary exegesis. It's a good, provocative, and interesting paper, though I don't think he gives quite enough credit to the potential meaningfulness of Kim's text even without he supplement. I will take him to task on that today.

- Right after the roundtable (I will probably be late) I'm rushing over to Kroch Library (the postmodernist light-filled underground structure paradoxically situated under the modernist gloom of Olin, the graduate library) to hear Lee Ann Brown and Carla Harryman read. Yippee I say. There just might be a dinner with the poets afterward. Barrett Watten and Rosemarie Waldrop and Oswald Egger will all also probably be there.

- Tomorrow is the symposium in honor of Egger, titled "(Dis)locating Poetries: Transatlantic Connections." My friend Sam will present a paper he wrote on Egger's work. Six grad student poetry types, including me, will give extremely brief "responses" which will probably have nothing to do with the paper but just be exploratory statements on poetics and the notion of location. I may say something about pastoral. After a break, Rosemarie Waldrop will present something called "Strangeness, Irreducible?" Egger's paper is "To Observe the Obverse." (This will be the first time I've heard him speak; I attended a workshop he's been giving in the German department, but it was in German. I understand just enough German to know that he was saying interesting things.) Barrett Watten bats clean-up with "The Person in Leningrad: Collective Ideas and the Avant-Garde." Sounds somewhat similar to what he did at the Modernism conference. I wonder if he's aware of the Oren Izerman piece? (Izerman, it turns out, has written an entire dissertation on the subject.) Finally, there will be a panel with all the "name" presenters. And lots of coffee.

- Sunday of course is the big Frequency series reading in Brooklyn with Colum McCann. Scroll down or click here for particulars. We'll spend the night in Brooklyn and return to Ithaca Monday. Phew! If any of you New York types (Gary? Nada? Nick?) were to pop by, I'd love to see you.

That's the news, ladies and germs.

Monday, November 17, 2003

After literally months my copy of Glissant's Poetics of Relation has finally arrived. Perhaps not coincidentally, tomorrow I'm going to talk a little bit about Kristin Prevallet's "Writing Is Never by Itself Alone:
Six Mini-Essays on Relational Investigative Poetics"
. I'd be curious to learn what other people think of this text—almost as curious as I am about what my students made of it. Of course I won't have time to read the Glissant for a while, but I think it could be important to my notion of pastoral as the locus amoenus of encounter. Still haunted though as to whether my big idea's been done. Read a short article by Judith L. Schwartz called "'The World Is the Greatest Thing in the World': The Objectivists' 'Immanent' Poetics" (she wrote the dissertation on Oppen and pastoral). The article, at least, is not nearly as highly theorized as what I'm planning—no trace of Heidegger, much less Adorno— and of course she has nothing to say about D.H. Lawrence on the one end or Ronald Johnson on the other. Still, it's got me jittery. The fetish of originality! The originality of fetish?

Crazy poetry week. On Friday I'm moderating a discussion of a fellow graduate student's paper on Bourdieu, Spivak, and Myung Mi Kim's Commons. On Saturday I'm taking part in a one-day symposium in honor of visiting German poet Oswald Egger: Barrett Watten, Rosemarie Waldrop, Lee Ann Brown, and Carla Harryman will also be in the house. And then there's that reading I keep mentioning.
Here's the official word on my next reading:
Sunday, November 23 at 2:00pm


The FREQUENCY Series presents
Colum McCann & Joshua Corey


Soft Skull Shortwave
71 Bond Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 643-1599
http://www.softskull.com/shortwave.php


Colum McCann is the author of Dancer, This Side of Brightness, Everything in this Country Must, Songdogs, and Fishing the Sloe-Back River. He has won the Grace Kelly Memorial Foundation Award, the Hennessy Prize, the Rooney Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and has been a finalist for the IMPAC award. His most recent novel is Dancer, which earned the following praise from Publishers Weekly: "A chorus of voices breathe new life into the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of ballet's greatest performers, in this vibrant, imaginative patchwork of a novel by Irish expatriate McCann. Faithfully capturing the pathos and grim poverty of the Soviet Union at mid-century, McCann also reveals a splashy tabloid affinity for the excesses and effects of fame and notoriety. ...[Dancer] is a lovely showcase for his fluid prose and storytelling skill.

Joshua Corey is the author of Selah, which won him the Barrow Street Book Prize for 2003. Robert Pinsky says: "With Selah Joshua Corey joins a generation of exciting first-book poets (Jennifer Clarvoe, Joanie Mackowski, Cate Marvin come to mind) who apply the fundamental poetic gift of the ear, in new ways. Sheer richness of language, and in the best poems cadences layered like those of Wallace Stevens, guide the reader through Corey's extravagant, playful, fantastical and profuse otherworld."

For the full Frequency Series schedule, see http://www.shannacompton.com/frequency.html.
Hope to see each and every one of you there.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The book, if I may so, is gorgeous. I stared and stared at it. I still stare at it. On my own shelves it fits nicely between Gilian Conoley and Hart Crane. I sold my first copy after the reading to a lovely woman named Norma who had brought half a dozen prepubescent girls with her who were taking part in some kind of arts project for their school. Three of them came up during the open mike and did a rap song about the Three Little Pigs. The reading was lovely and reasonably well attended, perhaps twenty folks. My old friend Sarah Avery, who curates the series there, gave me a very warm and generous introduction. My dad and stepmother were there and I basked in Fatherly Approval (it's like crack when it comes at you directly like that). Emily was there and she was dressed so beautifully that a number of people filing in asked her if she were the featured poet. There's a bagel shop attached to Cleo's and when I left I got a free bag of bagels. I realize my chronology is all screwed up but what can you do? I'm tired.

The next day we went into the city and I tried to visit the Jewish Museum on a Saturday; bad idea. Went to the Guggenheim instead but didn't much care for the main show there, a retrospective of James Rosenquist. Now I don't know much about art, but I know postmodern crap when I see it. It just all seemed so obvious, though I know in the 50s and 60s it must have seemed pretty radical. There was a fun exhibit on the drawings and caricatures of Federico Fellini, however, and I also liked the Kandinskys and Klees in the annex (was strangely mesmerized by one rather atypical Kandinsky, "Fern" [Far Away]). Overall a bust. I did have some fantastic Indian food though, and got to see some of Emily's close friends. Today we went to the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship where my ideas about religion were permanently warped as a child. Emily and I sat for a while on a bench there dedicated to the memory of my mother, Judith Montag Corey (1942-1991). The book is pretty much a work of mourning for her, so it felt like coming full circle. Very peaceful for a change. It will be strange to go on reading these poems for months and years to come; I'm already so far from where I was when I wrote them. That's what's amazing about the said. Adorno:
Expression that has been objectivated as language endures; what has once been said never fades away completely, neither the evil nor the good, neither the slogan of "the final solution" nor the hope of reconciliation. What accedes to language enters the movement of a humanness that does not yet exist; it is compelled toward language and alive only by virtue of its helplessness. Stumbling along behind its reification, the subject limits that reification by means of the mimetic vestige, the plenipotentiary of an undamaged life in the midst of mutilated life, which subverts the subject to ideology. The inextricably of reification and mimesis defines the aporia of artistic expression (Aesthetic Theory 117).
So now I have this book and pretty soon so could you. Barrow Street will have them next week and not long after that Small Press Distribution (with any luck) will start putting it in stores, including Amazon. In the meantime you can order direct from Barrow Street (just click on that link to the left). Or, if you're a poet with a book I want to read (you know who you are) send me an e-mail and we'll swap. I love swapping. Let me know if you want me to sign it for ya.

Friday, November 14, 2003

To coin a phrase...

Tonight's the Night

Okay, in case this link still isn't working, here are the facts about my reading tonight:
Where: Cleo's Cafe, 68 Raritan Avenue (aka Route 27), Highland Park, New Jersey. Cleo's phone number is (732) 828-3474 and they have their own website if you need more information than that.

When: 8:00 PM

What: I'll be the featured reader and there will indeed be copies of Selah for sale. Followed by open mike.

How Much: It's free, so you can save your pennies for lattes.
That's all I know, and all you'll know too, unless you come! Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Great horny toads! I have been promised ten hot-off-the-presses copies of Selah in time for my reading in New Jersey this Friday! That's right—come to my reading and you could be one of the first owners of my first book anywhere anytime.

Another milestone: this morning I filled in the last page of the notebook I've been writing poems, dissertation notes, and quotations in since May. I'm off to the office supply store to buy another. There's just no replacing something you can write by hand in; I do wonder, though, how blogging has changed my relationship to the more conventional notebook. Probably the handwritten one has a lot more of other people's writing in it, whereas on the blog I either just link to other people's work or else feel compelled to offer something spontaneous, if not original.

Spent the morning with George Oppen's The Materials and was duly stunned by it; I'd never read the whole book through. On to This In Which. Many of my ideas about pastoral seem to apply to what Oppen is doing. But I'm not the only one: it was with a sinking feeling I learned earlier this week that a Judith L. Schwartz from Temple University wrote a dissertation titled "'The common experience': George Oppen's objectivist pastoral" in 1999. Here's her abstract:
This is a dissertation about the relationship between pastoral poetry and the poetry of George Oppen. George Oppen was an Objectivist poet. Objectivist poetry is based in the thought of Louis Zukofsky, who wrote, in 1931, that poets should encounter the world with “sincerity,” or with a mind that avoids subjectivity and mediation, attempting instead to “think with things as they exist.” The result of sincerity is poetic “objectification,” which renders these moments of encounters with reality into poetic form, considering these poems to be “objects” in the world. While pastoral poetry is often conceived of as decidedly formulaic poetry about shepherds in a rural setting, in fact the ancient pastoral of Theocritus and Virgil offers thematic and even formal complexities that link to the experimental work of the Objectivist poets. In this dissertation I explore the link between Oppen's Objectivist poetry and pastoral poetry, investigating how Oppen engages and revises its themes, forms, and problems. The relationship between Oppen's poetry and pastoral poetry lies in particular in a poetic “processing” of inherently oppositional issues pertaining to a conflict between the “real” and the “ideal” that occurs in representation.
There's not really enough there for me to discover if we're actually mining the same territory or not. My notions of pastoral have much more to do with the convergence of these thinkers' concepts:
- Heidegger's clearing and fourfold, earth vs. world, the artwork as that which "worlds";
- Deleuze & Guattari's nonstriated nomad space;
- Leibniz's monad;
- Kristeva's semiotic;
- Adorno's negativity, hibernation, "mimesis," historicism, resurrection of Kantian natural beauty;
- Lacan's critique of psychoanalytic pastoral—that which posits a "natural path" for the drives;
- Habermas' ideal speech situation;
- Empson's proletarian fantasy—"about the people but not by or for them";
- Lawrence's stripped, liminal space of encounter between self and other
I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out. I know I shouldn't worry excessively about this—it seems unlikely that I'll reproduce somebody else's dissertation, Pierre Menand-like. Maybe I should let Oppen go, though. Everyone writes about Oppen these days. And why not! Here's one of the many poems from this morning that took my breath away—there's a secret polysemic lushness in the syntax and line breaks that belies the rumors of Oppen's austerity:
The Tugs of Hull

Carrying their deckhands' bicycles
On deck beside the funnels,
Coming alongside in falling snow
As we had moved thru areas of falling snow
In shrunk northern curvatures
Of seas that are not East nor West—. Was it there, you told
       of the man and the wate of the Ganges,
The man with the domestic pitcher pouring the Ganges
Back? We imagined the Ganges
The warm belly of a girl swelled
Like India under the slacks. One might think himself Adam
Of the edges of the polar mist until the small black tugs of
       England
Came to fetch us in.
I can see why Oppen might sometimes be mistaken for an Imagist, or (much worse) a Deep Imagist. But "pouring the Ganges / Back"? Astonishing. Better than any other poet I can think of, Oppen lodges non-conceptual cognition (Heidegger would call it Denken; Adorno, um, wouldn't) in and among his images, permanently disturbing them like a bell that never quite dies away.
Coming alongside in falling snow

Monday, November 10, 2003

Have you heard of this Joshua Carey character? Click on the link if you want to hear him read this Friday.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

More evidence that Daniel Nester and I are the same person:

- He responded to the Izenberg article at almost the same time I did;

- He has taken note of the theological parable of the invisible gardener at roughly the same time I wrote a poem using that idea, which is now posted over at As/Is;

- We both wrote a book about Queen, except that his is probably good and mine isn't. Oh wait, I more or less said that already.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

We Will Rock You?

I've just added a link to Daniel Nester's blog, which has the subtitle, "Daniel Nester's Blog of Poetry, of Queen, of All Things in Between. That'd Be Me." As you may know, he is the author of God Save My Queen: A Tribute, a book which I have not yet read but which I have, quite possibly, already written. Or rather, I have written a book (or nearly all of one) who main character is completely and utterly obsessed with Queen, to the point of having named himself Freddy Mercury (not that's Freddy with a Y, not the bonafide IE). The false intimacy created by his having a blog and being just a click away, plus what appears to be consonance in our ages (judging from this photo) makes me have the urge, for the first time in years, to haul this brick of a DOA novel out from under my bed and make a copy and send to him, if only as a kind of fan mail (again, for a book I have not read, though I'd like to), a validation of his obsession. What makes this stranger is that I myself have never been a huge fan of the band (though I can sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety when drunk) but my character Freddy was. Freddy was meant to be a kind of reincarnation of Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet; the whole misbegotten novel was a reimagining of the play in a Verona, New Jersey high school (with the delicious initials VHS) from his perspective, only instead of getting killed in the middle he gets sent to an insane asylum/rehab center after attacking the novel's Tybalt character (a closeted quarterback). At the end of the book he escapes and hijacks the high school's production of West Side Story, instead forcing them to perform a rock opera he has written which gives new lyrics to Queen tunes. You know, as I describe this it doesn't sound that bad. Even if I were interested in resurrecting the novel, though (I was 24 when I wrote it), it would probably drown in the sea of post-Columbine literature that's been littering the "new books" table at The Bookery across from my usual post.

Anyhoo. A shout out to Daniel Nester and his musico-literary obsessions.

Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

I'm interested to see Jonathan rather than Silliman or some other react to the big, juicy bait that the Oren Izerman article offers. Like Jonathan, I fail to understand how he could so completely separate the aesthetic from the ontological and ethical spheres; as I noted, his endorsement of beauty in Michael Palmer's writing, a poet he certainly includes under the Language umbrella, seems a direct contradiction of his argument. It seems to me now that any poem has to clear a space for itself, make a Lichtung, and this action is always an index of the generative capacities of language itself. I'm starting to read Habermas' Legitimation Crisis and I think he has some useful things to say in this context about language and how somehow removing what he calls "systematic distortion" (another term, I think, for reification and the distortion effects it extends to meaning) and domination from the place of discourse (or creating a new such place?) is the only way for truth and freedom to re-enter it. Here's a quote describing "the ideal speech situation" from the introduction by Thomas McCarthy, the book's translator:
[Habermas'] thesis is that the structure is free from constraint only when for all participants there is a symmetrical distribution of chances to select and employ speech acts, when there is an effective equality of chances to assume dialogue roles. In particular, all participants must have the same chance to initiate and perpetuate discourse, to put forward, call into question, and give reasons for or against statements, explanations, interpretations, and justifications. Furthermore, they must have the same chance to express attitudes, feelings, intentions and the like, and to command, to oppose, to permit, and to forbid, etc. These last requirements refer directly to the organization of interaction, since the freeing of discourse from the constraints of action is only possible in the context of pure interaction. In other words, the conditions of the ideal speech situation must insure not only unlimited discussion but also discussion which is free from all constraints of domination, whether their source be conscious strategic behavior or communication barriers secured in ideology and neurosis. Thus, the conditions for ideal discourse are connected with conditions for an ideal form of life; they include linguistic conceptualizations of the traditional ideas of freedom and justice. "Truth," therefore, cannot be analyzed independently of "freedom" and "justice" (xvii).
The ideal speech situation is clearly a kind of nirvana that, as McCarthy goes on to write, "are rarely, if ever" actually achieved. But it seems like this zone might be what Izerman is claiming the Language poets are gesturing toward; Habermas formulation has the advantage, however, of not excluding content (maybe this is what Izerman claims is lacking from Language poetry: not the aesthetic in terms of the artistically appreciable but the transcendental aesthetic—what can be perceived, phenomena). Clearly it's beyond the capacity of any poet to singlehandedly establish such a speech situation on the page; only a community of writers could hope to achieve such a thing. But I think Habermas offers a fascinating description of what a certain kind of poet, such as the Language poets' Objectivist predecessors, is trying to achieve by renouncing subjective domination over objects and also in trying to make the networks of relation and domination that the objects of the poem exist in more visible. The fictional "ideal speech situation" of Habermas, free from conscious and unconscious sources of domination, sounds pretty darn close to what I've been thinking of as the space of postmodernist pastoral, in which writers at least try to fantasize a deliberately miniature utopia in which these conditions of speech prevail.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I have never read anything by J.M. Coetzee, but it is clear I will not be able to go on ignoring him much longer. His latest "novel," Elizabeth Costello, sounds remarkable; I just read a review of it in The New York Review of Books. And in the same issue there's an extraordinary poem that he translated from the Dutch:
Basho
Cees Nooteboom

We know poetic poetry the common dangers
of moonstruckness, bel canto. Embalsamed air, that is all,
unless you turn it into pebbles that flash and hurt.
You, old master, polish the pebbles
that you fling to bring down a thrush.
Out of the world you cut an image that bears your name.
Seventeen pebbles for arrows a school of deathly singers.
See by the waterside the track of the poet
on his way to the innermost snowland. See how the water erases it
how the man with the hat inscribes it again
preserves water and footprint, capturing the movement that has passed,
so that what vanished is still there as something that vanished.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

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