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Austen, Marvin, Homeopathy, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

By Rebecca Wolff

On my way to work this morn listening to local NPR interviewing the woman who wrote this book called Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (and maybe now its sequel). She was rattling on in a very professional way and then she described a doctor’s approach in her novel as very “homeopathic,” in that he/she wasn’t just totally committed to prescribing meds for everything right away. This reminded me right away of this review of Cate Marvin’s book Fragment of the Head of a Queen that I saw a while ago in the Women’s Review of Books (which, amazingly, doesn’t seem to have a website) that just astonished me. Here’s the passage that astonished me:

“Like so many younger poets, Marvin’s approach to language bears the influence of almost three decades of LANGUAGE-writing. Regularly, she cooks up an inebriated broth of words that tosses us here, there, and everywhere.

The world felt very bad. Every leaf looked

Like it needed a cigarette. Gutters took

Cups strewn at their lips, turned them

Upright to offer tiny pleas for change.

Windows enacted a communal decision

To condense, despite the consistent lack

Of rain. All lunged things grew asthmatic …

(“Cloud Elegy”)

“T.S. Eliot said,”Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” and Marvin has been a good thief. She has raided the LANGUAGE larder, making off with the parts of that practice most useful for her work and putting the rest back on the shelf. She is not a party-liner; thus, the linguistic and textural excitements of her language are always accompanied by a voice that is particular and individual, even as it conjures dreary anonymity, ennui, and a general sense of life as a waste. Although her poems are not narrative in any conventional way, something constantly swishes beneath her gorgeous, mellifluous surfaces. That omnipresent something suggests that there is, ultimately, a heart of the poem to locate, a purpose to cleave to.”

There’s just something so wrong about the idea that Cate Marvin’s (veddy interesting for totally other reasons) poetry is in some way indebted to the actual movement being referred to. It’s an analogy between the misuse of homeopathy to loosely refer to all things “alternative medicine” and the misuse of “LANGUAGE”–note the missing E=Q=U=A=L signs–to refer to all kinds of recent (in the last what hundred years) experimentalist modes of uses of language that I’m trying to make here, or that made itself in my morning head this morning.

Comments (95)

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:26 am Don Share wrote:

    Online here, but you need a subscription:

    http://www.oldcitypublishing.com/WRB/WRB.html

    You can read a cached version that used to be on the Sarabande website here.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:27 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    I dunno, you call that a website?

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:31 am Don Share wrote:

    They do. Makes me glad you can read all of Poetry online for free.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:43 am Robin wrote:

    Without looking at the website, anyone want to hazard a guess who wrote the review?

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:45 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Sorry, it’s Kate Daniels.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:46 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Here again is the link to the review on Poetry Daily’s website:

    http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_daniels.php

  • On August 12, 2009 at 11:31 am Robin wrote:

    I actually did want to guess! I thought it was a certain critic whose name sounds like Bone Boogeyhand but is, you know, not actually Bone Boogeyhand, who I believe is a dentist in Fargo.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Doh! I was so ready to think I’d done something that needed to be corrected I preempted your fun. Sorry.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm Don Share wrote:

    Well, now we can have fun guessing who “Bone Boogeyhand” is!

  • On August 12, 2009 at 6:32 pm Galen wrote:

    Daniel’s review is certainly very positive, but it reeks of Hoaglandism–“you kids get out of my yard!–except for Cate, Cate can stay ’cause she respects our rules!” Actually, Marvin & (Michael) Dumanis’s intro to LEGITIMATE DANGERS is instructive to their influences–high modernism–so no equal signs.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 7:01 pm Baron Munchhousein wrote:

    So, what’s the point? Of this entry? You listen to NPR on the way to work, hear a story, and link it to a review you read. Sounds like you’ve been taking notes whilst surfing the Web. But you don’t actually say anything. So you say there’s something so wrong about this reviewer’s ideas on Marvin’s poetic inheritance, but you don’t tell us what is so wrong. Is this dummy supposed to just be able to “get it?” Thanks for the inside baseball.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Dudes who cannot sign their name start off with zero cred & quickly move into neg when they can’t spell “Munchausen” (unless that was s’posed to be a joke, which it’s not, cuz ain’t funny). Rebecca is my homegirl. BTFU.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:12 pm Baron Munchhousein wrote:

    I don’t see the “neg” in my comment. Just asking for some kind of gloss. The kind of thing you spend hours upon hours asking for in the various comments streams across Poetry Land. So, you can call Rebecca your “homegirl” (question: is she simply the latest person who hasn’t gotten tired of your drama? how many other “homegirls” do you have? hey, are you the same Michael Robbins who has a poem coming out in The New Yorker? holy crap! you are a god! you crack me up!), and that’s all good, or you can remove the stain that you are from my post, and let it stand. I don’t have a personal problem with Rebecca, just want some clarity. She didn’t, as yet, connect the dots. Maybe you can be the enforcer, since she’s your “homegirl”, and do it for her. But seriously, Flavor of the Month, do you have a life? JK:)
    BM

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:20 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Huh? What “hour ‘pon hours” is you talkin bout, Mr. Baron? I haven’t posted here in more than a week, & I haven’t posted anywhere except on a blog I write for in months. So, huh?

    Plus, um, I’m totes sorry you are cracked up by me. My forthcoming second poem in The New Yorker was mentioned by yr own self. See if I mention it somewhere on the internets comment streamy. Go ‘head. Good luck wit that.

    Also, note that anonymous raspberries is bo-ring. Ain’t no one yet got all scalded by one, silly bear.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm michael robbins wrote:

    & no you aren’t “just asking for some kind of gloss.” Reread yr insulting valentine, & pleez stop hurtin my feelins I shall ne’er recover, oh. DISLIKE? Heck, I likes everyone.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:26 pm Henriette wrote:

    Other strikes against this guy Robbins:

    1.) He didn’t get the Munchhousein joke

    2.) He rose to the bait like a sucker

    3.) He showed his whole hand in his face

    Not pretty.

    Want to know what’s wrong with Harriet? Read this exchange, then go look at Noah Freed’s latest.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:27 pm michael robbins wrote:

    2 & 3 are the same.

    1 is not true: the joke is so stupid I cried in my soup.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 9:28 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Hey, I just figured out who the Baron & Henriette are. You guys do know yr IP addresses make yr pseuds transparent? Not. Wasting. Time. On. YOU.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    I’m sorry. You were supposed to be able to just get it. Can’t someone out there concisely explain why that analogy is analogous? Okay, I’ll take a stab: homeopathy, like the Language movement, comprises a very specific, conscribed methodology/ideology, and has whole bodies of knowledge and opinion and history attached to it. These are not catch-all phrases, though “Language” is often misused that way, in certain circles and often disparagingly, to gesture at any poetry that is using the page or syntax or even just white space in funky ways (none of which Ms. Marvin’s poem is even doing!). I’d just never heard “homeopathy” used that way before.

  • On August 12, 2009 at 10:54 pm Don Share wrote:

    Tone Hoagyland, maybe?

  • On August 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm nick wrote:

    this poem is constructed from images and personifications; it reminds me of a more diffuse version of one of Eliot’s “Preludes”; any undergraduate “intro to poetry” student should be able to write a plausible 250 wd exam answer about it: the fact that a reviewer associates it with language poetry…..

    which term has been more evacuated of meaning, “language poetry” or “deconstruction”?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:33 am Stephen Sturgeon wrote:

    Where do you find the IP addresses of commenters? Are they in the page source html code?

    I must learn one new thing each day.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 8:27 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    >homeopathy, like the Language movement, comprises a very specific, conscribed methodology/ideology, and has whole bodies of knowledge and opinion and history attached to it.

    Rebecca, I don’t know very much about homeopathy, and I would agree that Language poetics, at this late stage, “has whole bodies of knowledge and opinion and history attached to it.”

    But I can’t see how Language poetry–70s-80s–“comprises a very specific, conscribed methodology/ideology.” Even the Language poets have long denied that. The magazine and the Language Book show that the group never settled on any kind of consistent “line.”

    One could say it’s the relative absence of any specific, conscribed methodology/ideology, actually, that’s partly enabled such profuse and diffuse constellation of (your word) “funky” post-avantisms to evolve in elliptical orbit around Language writing over the past couple decades.

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 9:50 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Nick, What an excellent contest. These would be my top five “most evacuated of meaning” literary terms.

    1. Postmodernism (I can’t imagine another term ever knocking this one off the top of this heap; it sort of belongs here by definition, ironically)
    2. Surrealism
    3. Deconstruction / Post-Structuralism
    4. Formalism
    5. Language poetry

    Also rans: hybridity, ellipticism, quietude

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:02 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    ‘new’

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:16 am Ange Mlinko wrote:

    I have to disagree with you, Kent. It seems pretty clear to me, historically, that “Language poetry 70s-80s” comes out of a utopian, Marxian, socialist tradition. (It’s also pretty clear that Bernstein and Silliman downplay it now.) Rebecca is absolutely right to call attention to the sloppy labeling in the Woman’s Review of Books; Cate Marvin’s poetry is worlds away from Langpo. As are most “funky post-avantisms” now. (There are some exceptions, in the SF Bay area and Cambridge, England.) Much of the truly hard-core experimental poetry written in the last 40 years makes absolutely no sense if you don’t understand the radical theoretical apparatus around it.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:02 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    How about lyric, formalism, sincerity…

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:04 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    I agree with your post Ange, but does any poetry make sense “if you don’t understand the radical theoretical apparatus around it…”?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:19 am Don Share wrote:

    Agree, except for sincerity.

    See Zukofsky in the Objectivists issue of Poetry on sincerity as “accuracy of detail in writing,” etc., writing against, as Oppen called it, “the falsity of ingenuity, of the posed tableau, in which the poet also, by implication, poses.”

    [See, too, maybe Trilling, who wanted to show that sincerity was replaced in modern times by “authenticity.” Though I’ve never understood this distinction.]

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:22 am Don Share wrote:

    I thought that “radical theoretical apparatus” was supposed to distinguish the kind (to use Sillman’s term) of poetry Ange’s talking about from… the other kinds? I’d be happy to be either right or wrong about this.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:23 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    It seems like the important word in this is “radical” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/radical)

    I guess there is radical lyric, radical formalism, radical sincerity, but they don’t seem to have attached to them the same sorts of convictions about political efficacy as do those in the “poetics” scheme.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:24 am thomas brady wrote:

    When I came to this: “T.S. Eliot said…” I thought we were going to hear about the ‘objective correlative,’ since Marvin’s ‘every leaf looked like it needed a cigarette’ passage fails on that account. I agree the passage has nothing to do with Langpo and much more with surrealism; whether we like the Marvin passage, or not, is beside the point; the reviewer sounds clueless; when you feel compelled to drag in T.S. Eliot, and all you’ve got is the old ‘good poets borrow, great poets steal’ line (an idea, by the way, which did not even originate with T.S. Eliot) then you’ve lost me. Rather than quote T.S. Eliot, why not read the poetry in front of you? What *does* it mean when ‘a leaf looks like it needs a cigarette,’ anyway? Now wonder po-biz is all about blurbs and prizes. No one actually reads or cares about the poems themselves. They’re too busy proving how readily they can quote T.S. Eliot, or connect some piece of writing to Langpo.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:26 am Don Share wrote:

    That’s a great observation & distinction. Thank you!

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:40 am Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Sina, it’s true that we all have assumptions; is that the same as having a detailed critical apparatus? That’s what Don points out in his next comment. I, personally, don’t have a worked-out critical and political apparatus that would put me on par with, say, Barrett Watten. I’m not saying it’s desirable. And I don’t think it’s efficacious, either! I’m just saying that the disappearance of socialism from the discourse around Langpo is wrong, and renders the whole project pointless. It was Watten, after all, who promised that if we explode conventional syntax we will be that much closer to exploding the syntax of government.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Sina,

    Every act of reading requires a number of contexts, but there’s legitimate contexts and then there’s the ‘secret handshake’ context, which is a different kind of communication; it has nothing to do with reading and understanding in the normal sense, and everything to do with members of sub-groups flashing each other their feathers…

    Thomas

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm Bobby wrote:

    I agree almost entirely, Ange. A person could spend a wit-wearying afternoon or three trying to map the distance from this or this to, oh, I don’t know, this. (I attempted something like that task myself, with little success and much grumpiness, last September.)

    But it’s worth mentioning that there’s an alternative to the Marxian-utopian reading of Language poetry. Oren Izenberg argues that it’s Chomsky, not Marx, who is the patron saint of Language poetry, because “the particular interest of the Language poetry project will lie in the rigor with which it can adhere to the fact that Universal Grammar is not a speaker but rather a competence to speak. In its strong form, which is perhaps to say its notional form, Language poetry neither embodies nor inculcates disinterest; it is uninteresting, not just to the uninitiated, but on principle. Only insofar as it was really appealing to no one could it succeed in exemplifying everyone.”

    The upshot is that “the central interest of the ‘radical’ poetry of the tradition of which Language poetry is a part is not social justice but the truth or ontological basis of the social; it means neither to represent particular interests in order to create opportunities for sympathetic identification, nor to create the social structures that allow for adjudication between interests, but rather to offer an approach to the profound problem of determining in virtue of what it can be said that persons are there to begin with.” In short, and despite what Language poets like to believe and say about their art, Language poetry is not about a political or ethical program; it’s about the philosophical problem of personhood.

    (Oren’s article is in the Autumn 2003 Critical Inquiry; you can read it on JSTOR.)

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    The “sincerity” Trilling thought “authenticity” should replace or had replaced wasn’t the same “sincerity” the Objectivists talked about. Trilling’s sincerity, as I understand it, was a feature of bourgeois morality, ergo suspect. This would not be the case with Zukofsky’s sincerity, which would probably have more in common with Trilling’s authenticity than Trilling’s sincerity.

    This is a ridiculous comment. I can’t wait to post it so I can dislike it.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm Joel Brouwer wrote:

    Nice corroboration for my #2 “most evacuated of meaning” literary term, above.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 12:58 pm Don Share wrote:

    You’re right, of course. I think. I feel stupid having brought it up in the first place!

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    Legitimate?

    Wow.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    Are you suggesting that because you don’t articulate it, you don’t have it?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    What about radical denial? Avoidance?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Ange,

    Well, I just don’t think Rebecca’s formulation (“a very specific, conscribed methodology/ideology”) correctly describes the fairly amorphous, French-inflected theoretical hodgepodge that was getting bandied about during Language writing’s heroic phase. In fact, most of it had very little to do with anything recognizable as “Socialist,” despite the creative appropriation of conceptual categories: the now-embarrassing polemics concerning an ideological homology between linguistic “reference” and “commodity fetishism,” for example, or the equally facile and sectarian proposals for “non-syllogistic” composition as the only true mode within which to advance a meaningful literary politics– which had its last gasp, actually, in the sad Old Guard polemics against Poets Against the War, in 2003.

    Now, you’re absolutely right that the original figures (with partial exception of Watten) hardly talk about these things anymore. The *general* reason they don’t is that the notions seem very quaint now, obviously ideas from another time that never got any kind of pragmatic purchase. The more *specific* reason they don’t has to do with the now-basically-complete recuperation of Language poetry–and its progeny–into academic-institutional protocols (a phenomenon which has nothing to do, incidentally, with counting professors). This also is why you hardly ever hear any more negative polemics about the “Self” and the “I”– maybe the major, unifying trait of Langpo theory, though, again, in no way necessarily “Marxist”–since functions of authorship are obviously a centripetal component of the traditional modes of poetic careerism that now inform the “post-avant” at large: from soft forms of abstract lyric, to harder, but no less professionalized forms like Flarf and Conceptual poetry.

    It’s true that these forms (in particular the quasi-Romantic radical lyric so presently popular) don’t necessarily look like the forms of the Old Guard. But the dried residue of an umbilical cord is still there.

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:47 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    Did Dickinson have a radical theoretical framework? Wordsworth? Mary Oliver? Billy Collins for that matter?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that be the very poetics that seek to cleanse poetry of radical elements can be itself “radical.” Passivity can be very radical just as silence can be hostile and so on.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    But it was fun while it lasted. [“Fun” being strictly meaningless in this context.]

    – “Nobody Special”

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm Don Share wrote:

    I’d say Dickinson did (not least with what we are now understanding as her “radical scatters”) and Wordsworth did, yes. Wordsworth lived a long time and became conservative in his old age, as can happen. I don’t imagine Collins or Oliver (why are they always trotted out?) set out do be or do anything radical. I think I’m missing something here having to do with the deployment of that word, “radical.”

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    Don,
    I guess I am suspicious of the word radical.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm thomas brady wrote:

    ‘Why are Oliver and Collins always trotted out?’

    Coming around the far turn its Collins… followed by Oliver, challenging on the inside, Wordsworth…in last place…Langpo…now Dickinson is making her move on the outside…and…holy cow! it’s Poe making a charge…Poe…Oliver…Collins…Collins….Poe….Collins
    and it’s Poe!!!!!!! by a nose….

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Wow?

    Wow.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Bobby,

    I was never able to figure out the Chomsky argument from Izenberg, though I like his criticism. I mean, I once wrote Ron S. and asked him about Chomsky, and Ron wrote back saying (it was quite amazing) he thought Chomsky was “worthless,” or something very close to that.

    In fact, I wrote the following a couple years back, on Language poetics and Chomsky, etc. I’d argue that Chomsky is more or less anathema to Language poetics.

    Am I missing some subtlety in Oren’s point?

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm Don Share wrote:

    Ah! I get you now, Lemon. I am, too.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Sorry, here’s that Langpo/Chomsky piece.

    http://absentmag.org/issue02/html/kent_johnson.html

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    I should have posted my reply to Ange in the thread here. Posted below by mistake.

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    But are you RADICALLY suspicious of the word “radical”? A radical problem for radicals & non-radicals alike, radically-speaking. Did I say radical? If so, I was being radically ridiculous, I think. (“Radical, man”, was a popular saying from the early, more-radical days of Language Poetry.)

  • On August 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm Daisy Fried wrote:

    I had a student (undergrad, so we shall readily excuse her) who claimed the first week of class she was a language poet and the second week that she was a Republican. Which perhaps beautifully illustrates the current disconnect regarding supposed langpo-ish procedures and langpo-ish politics.
    Daisy

  • On August 13, 2009 at 3:06 pm Lemon Hound wrote:

    Hilarious. But I don’t think this disconnect is unique to Langpo or any other po.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm Robbins wrote:

    Kent, what you’re missing is that Langpo’s hatred of
    Chomsky is part of Oren’s argument–it’s because they’re so close to him that they attempt to distance themselves from him.

    The argument is not at all difficult to follow; I think it’s pretty much irrefutable, but, you know.

    As for socialism, it’s indisputable that the Langpos argued heavily in the early days for the desituation of syntax as a vaguely Marxian project of social justice. Absent this, there’s simply no understanding what they thought they were up to, inane as it was, or what might have differentiated it from a billion modernist experiments.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm robbins wrote:

    “A rejection of Chomskyan linguistics is something like an obligatory opening gambit in any work of Language poetry theory…. The Chomskyan account is, nonetheless, the only account that could make sense of [Silliman’s claims].” Briefly, Oren argues that the Langpos’ account of the collaborative nature of language (as exemplified by the arguments surrounding Leningrad) could make sense only upon presuppositions of Universal Grammar. Specifically, the claim that “virtually unreadable” sentences nevertheless are readable, which Silliman makes about a particularly Hejinianian sentence of Hejinian’s, is a version of the Chomskyan claim that “‘acceptable’ sentences are not the same thing as ‘grammatical’ ones. This seems like an odd point on which to found a poetic, having nothing to do with meaning whatsoever, but only with whether or not the sentence conforms to the abstract rules of an innate mental grammar.” That is, the idea that some sentences just are acceptable as sentences even when they are ungrammatical is crucial to the Language poetic–else there would be no point in their letting slip the dogs of antisyntactical havoc.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 5:28 pm john wrote:

    Ah, sincerity, authenticity, Langpo, Marx . . .

    It’s been years since I’ve read Trilling’s book, and I don’t recall it well — I remember being vexed that he left pop culture out of it, with the burst of fetishization of “the authentic” that sprung up in handsome Brando’s wake — but, as I recall, “sincerity” had to do with conscious intentions, and authenticity was a post-Freud Thang, having to do with being true to one’s unconscious.

    Thus, if I remember rightly, one analogy could go, the Langpos were *sincere* in their abjuration of the commodification of language, and seeing that rejection as a utopian Marxian move; and yet their avowals of sincerity were contradicted by the *authenticity* of their practice, which was to commodify the heck out of themselves with the entire apparatus of modernist-capitalist marketing: Name Brand, Product Descriptions, Trade Associations, the whole bit.

    Hence, Republican Langpos. Stop Making Sense, baby — disconnecting signifiers from signifieds is the very project of official capitalist discourse, regardless of anybody’s good artistic intentions.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm Bobby wrote:

    Kent,

    I think the value of Oren’s essay is that it does something that the Language poets themselves were unable to do: it makes Language poetry philosophically interesting.

    Like Michael, I think his argument is irrefutable, but I don’t deny that the price of admission is pretty steep: you have to agree that Language poetry is uninteresting on principle, and you have to discount basically every account of the tendency that the Language poets ever gave.

    But what’s the alternative? If (per Ange’s comment above) Language poetry needs its theoretical apparatus to make sense, and if (per your comment) that apparatus now seems quaint to the point of embarrassment, then it gets pretty difficult to explain to anyone why they should read Language poetry as anything but a historical curiosity.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 9:30 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Bobby and Michael,

    Well, I remember looking at the Izenberg essay years ago. I should have gone back to it before speaking of that first take.

    Anyway, I can’t agree with the premises in your summary, Michael, here:

    “Briefly, Oren argues that the Langpos’ account of the collaborative nature of language (as exemplified by the arguments surrounding Leningrad) could make sense only upon presuppositions of Universal Grammar.”

    I mean, you may be right that Izenberg argues this, but it’s simply not the case that an “account of the collaborative nature of language could make sense only upon presuppositions of Universal Grammar.” There is the Cognitive Linguistic challenge to UG (which is importantly based on such “collaborative nature”!) and which has been around for quite some time– people like Silliman strongly lean towards it and reject UG.

    The real reason the Language poets and followers have to reject UG is because their poetic politics are founded on a social-constructivist view of language, i.e., that power relations of the social order are reflected in grammar’s conventional, basic structures. Bernstein, for example, is making such claims as recently as last year, in an interview with Kaurab magazine. Obviously, this runs up against Chomskyan notions of grammar like against a brick wall.

    In any case, see the article I provided a link to above. I argue there that even Cognitive linguistics sits very uneasily with social-constructivist notions, at least in the simplified ways that these have been proposed and enacted in Language theory.

    And yes, I am quite aware the “Langpos argued heavily in the early days for the desituation of syntax as a vaguely Marxian project of social justice.” I’ve written my share about this and commented on some of the things that ended up happening to such program. What I’m saying is that the “project” is in no way as coherent as many younger poets have come to assume. The project was full of contradictions and claims of principle not followed through to conclusion– namely in the category of Authorship. Lacunae that helped pave the way to the group’s rapid (and apparently self-satisfied) incorporation into official literary culture…

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 9:38 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >Lacunae that helped pave the way to the group’s rapid (and apparently self-satisfied) incorporation into official literary culture…

    “Official literary culture” is soemthing of a stretch.

    Official poetic culture is more like it.

    :~)

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:05 pm nick wrote:

    Bobby–Do you take that article to be a serious piece of critical analysis or as a rather good polemic disguised as an academic article?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:14 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Kent’s quizzical frowny face is reminding me of something! Way way back, one of the first things I wanted to do, with Fence, was use that pulpit or organ or venue to try to clarify for the literary culture, official or otherwise, what language poetry was, exactly so that the term would stop being bandied about in this Kate-Daniels way. So I commissioned an essay for our first issue. Which led indirectly to a huge brou-ha-ha (or teapot-tempest, depending on which culture you found yourself in) regarding Fence maybe being implicated in a plot to denature the ideological nature of Language writing by virtue of decontextualizing it. And when I would try to explain the severity of this accusation–which I took very seriously–and the circumstances surrounding it to folks in the “official literary culture”–say, fiction writers–they would just piss themselves laughing, or sometimes just not even stand still long enough to listen to the explanation. It was like trying to explain umbrellas to sand fleas. Or maybe sand fleas to umbrellas would be a better analogy. More recently, in another attempt, Fence excerpted an exquisitely direct and concise historical recounting of the development and progression of the moment of the Language writers by Sarah Rosenthal, part of her introductory chapter to her book A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:33 pm Bobby wrote:

    Both, I’d say.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 10:35 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Rebecca said:

    >Kent’s quizzical frowny face is reminding me of something!

    And here I thought no one could espy my grim visage behind the screen…

    But I admit that’s amusing.

    By the way, speaking of linguistics, one should take more care with one’s lexical units. I wrote:

    >Cognitive linguistics sits very uneasily with social-constructivist notions, at least in the simplified ways that these have been proposed and enacted in Language theory.

    “in the simplified ways” is the totally way wrong phrase!

    It should really be: “in the somewhat vulgar ways”…

    Now you can *really* see my frown.

    :~)

    Kent

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm Bobby wrote:

    Kent,

    I think this sentence is key:

    “Where Silliman initially pits one culture against another-the corporate against the poetic-it now appears that to have a choice between cultures is only to choose a form of subjection. Thus, the fantasy that motivates Language poetry is not the liberal idea of a better situation-a situation with relatively greater autonomy, more freedoms, expanded access to resources for self-definition-but rather a fantasy of no situation.”

    In other words, the problem with having a social-constructivist model of language is that it commits you to the belief that language is only comprehensible within societies…but to have a society is to have oppression. This leaves you stuck if, like the Langpos, you want language but you don’t want oppression.

    Izenberg says there’s a way to get unstuck, but that way leads you right to Chomsky. First you distinguish between “the knowledge of language in the sense of the know-how that allows an individual to speak a particular language-national, professional, or private-and the knowledge of language that provides the a priori capacity to acquire any language at all.” The former kind of knowledge is the kind we expect to be important in producing poetry, but Izenberg says that what’s distinctive about Langpo (as a collective enterprise) is that it tries to make manifest the latter kind of knowledge.

    Thus “Language poetry theory and practice make authorial intention and readerly attention look incidental to the project of manifestation-the difficult work of indicating a universal competence that can be neither produced nor received, but that makes both production and reception possible.”

  • On August 13, 2009 at 11:52 pm robbins wrote:

    Obviously it doesn’t matter if the Langpos’ commitment to social-constructivist views necessitates their opposition to Chomsky—& it’s clear this is the case—if their own theories of language turn out against their wishes & without their properly recognizing it to be comprehensible only within a Chomskyan account. Their own practice doesn’t support social constructivism, & in fact depends upon universalism. (These terms are bandied about way too loosely, & the general Marxian notion of determination is not incompatible with certain universalist accounts of human nature, Chomsky’s included.) Izenberg sets all this out far too clearly for me to be arsed to do more than implore interested persons to seek out the article, which is as acute a critical analysis of Language poetics as has been produced. But it’s not clear to me how any version of generative semantics, including its developed form of cognitive linguistics, could possibly account for the model of competence on which the Langpo project clearly depends, regardless of whether certain of its practitioners “lean toward” it. A central thesis of Izenberg’s essay is that the Language poets misrecognize their own practices & their theoretical implications. Not to mention that cognitive linguistics is perfectly compatible with the innateness hypothesis, which would seem rather to undermine its application as a prop for Language poetry.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 6:50 am Joel Brouwer wrote:

    For what it’s worth: I’ve seen many MFA students who were attracted to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. Of these, I’d estimate 95% evinced no interest whatever in the socio-political implications of the movement’s ideas. From where I sit, the movement’s legacy isn’t ideological but formal; it’s seen not as a why but as a how. I’m not saying the formal/how doesn’t have ideological/why consequences. I’m saying that when I see students attracted to these poems, it seems like what they’re primarily attracted to is the aesthetic. I’m also electing not to say whether or not that seems to me a good or bad thing. I’m saying it’s a thing.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 8:52 am thomas brady wrote:

    “From where I sit, the movement’s legacy isn’t ideological but formal; it’s seen not as a why but as a how. I’m not saying the formal/how doesn’t have ideological/why consequences. I’m saying that when I see students attracted to these poems, it seems like what they’re primarily attracted to is the aesthetic.”

    Joel,

    Don’t you mean anti-aesthetic?

    Any anti-formalist gesture (which preserves formalism as an idea) is ideological.

    Langpo has not created a new game–it knocks over chess pieces. Langpo may claim it has no attachment to the game (spiel), but what they are knocking over are CHESS PIECES–and so they endlessly deny what they are doing.

    Over 40 years ago, when Black English was proposed in the academy as a means to protect African-Americans from the spiel of the white slave-master, it wasn’t so much writing that was at the heart of this ideology, but speaking–we all know the rhetorical force a live (poor Black, or middle class Austrian, for instance) person can manifest IN SPEECH, having no particular skill in WRITING.

    But Black English has not succeeded as academic writing, and, I doubt it ever will.

    One could argue that forcing blacks to learn to WRITE ‘black english’ in our society is a racist gesture, and is essentially the hidden will of the white slave-master.

    I don’t suppose one could ever accuse upper-middle class whites playing around with langpo as being anything but pretentious and deluded, but it trades in the same ideological coin as the Black English movement–it first must knock over the chess pieces, and who needs chess, anyway? Like language, chess is a game (spiel) of synthetic invention based on various oppositions, both internal and external. Language is MORE random than chess, finally.

    Marc Antony’s oration over Caesar’s body in Shakespeare’s text is an oratorical gesture which is formalist, not ideological–not even in the political terms we might find in the historical Shakespeare’s intent. The swaying of the citizenry is done formally, not ideologically. Language is not ‘oppressive’ as language, and Marc Antony’s speech makes this clear (klar). With Shakespeare, the formal never becomes ideological, even as we see how formal gestures can be explicitly ideological.

    The importance of Langpo stems from the fact that it is neither formal nor ideological in terms of itself; it ‘supports’ a sub-interest group of white academics; this ‘interest group’ is not a voting bloc, but it nonetheless operates ideologically in purely pedagogical terms.

    Immediately one thinks of Plato’s privileging of speech over writing and Derrida’s (finally impotent) attempt to devalue Socrates in his ‘Pharmakon.’

    Black English finally exists in Plato’s world, not Derrida’s. Langpo, though sharing its ostensible ideological identity with Black English, exists in the very opposite sense: in Derrida’s world, not Plato’s.

    In the above formula is Langpo’s essential existence quietly revealed.

    Langpo’s identity, then, can be summed up thusly: it is anti-formal and anti-aesthetic.

    The highlight of Langpo’s ideological history would be if one were to yell at this moment, “Send Charlie Bernstein to Afghanistan!” But such a gesture would die stillborn, since Langpo does not exist outside itself; it merely W=R=I=T=E=S on how it interrupted a certain chess game–the moves of which have been forgotten.

    Eine Sprache ist niemals genug.

    Thomas

  • On August 14, 2009 at 11:19 am Bone Bogeyhand wrote:

    But back to the Marvin review–there is a shorthand for writers who came of age–or better made their names– in the early to mid nineties, many of them coming out of Brown and Iowa, who had internalized a lot of the L=A=N=G techniques but sought to reclaim the lyric “I” despite all the pseudo-Marxist reasons to not have feelings or affinities for comfy sofas and avocado face scrubs and bitchin’ camaros. I, the Blaze, anyone? I mean, the review is wrong-headed in a certain way, but taking it to task for this particular shorthand seems a bit overheated.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Well, call me a literalist, as I definitely am one. Also call me an insider, as I know Cate Marvin well–we attended the U. of Houston MFA program in the mid 90s–and I do know that she has internalized nothing at all of LT (Lang Technique). But I would argue that you don’t have to know darling Cate as I do to be able to read her poem and see that to blurrily gesture at moves in it as being LT is to use this gesture in the way that I disapprove of it being used: as a means of (usually very normative) poetry folks dismissing things in poems they just can’t quite get the hang of. This is where I have found it to be a dangerous or at least squashing gesture. In the early 90s at Iowa the same gesture was used approvingly–“Your work is so Language-y”–if also with the detachment from convictions quaint or fierce. But I still disapproved of it even then, if nothing else because I am a literalist.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 12:58 pm Dermot wrote:

    Rebecca: you are a literalist and an insider.

    If a language poet in the academy…shouts…

    and there are no non-academics around…

    does he make a sound?

  • On August 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm Bone Bogeyhand wrote:

    Good point, Rebecca. I wasn’t quite seeing past the shorthand to the actual ignorance behind it. Maybe we should replace post-language LT or L=A=N=G with some other kind of shorthand like “bears the influence of thirty years of cutie pie fuzzface oil the fucker writing.” It seems like it would make about as much sense.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 4:53 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Michael Robbins said:

    >Obviously it doesn’t matter if the Langpos’ commitment to social-constructivist views necessitates their opposition to Chomsky—& it’s clear this is the case—if their own theories of language turn out against their wishes & without their properly recognizing it to be comprehensible only within a Chomskyan account.

    Excuse me? Surely, if one is interested in apprehending the quality, extent, and implications of the contradiction we’re discussing, it obviously does matter. At least to those of us (meaning you, Ange, Bobby, Rebecca, and I, perhaps) eccentric enough to be interested in such topics…

    And as I said, it’s really somewhat peculiar to assert that “Langpo theory can only be comprehensible within a Chomskyan account.” I’m befuddled by your repetition of that, right on the heels of your agreement that “Langpo’s commitment to social-constructivist” theory is absolute vinegar to Chomsky’s oil! Maybe I’m missing something in your point, though you really haven’t tried to explain your point very much so far (“Go read the article!” you say). I’ll try to track it down, but I don’t have J-Stor. Is there any chance you might be able to send me a file of it?

    You’re right, though, in what you say about some form of the “innateness hypothesis” being component of most versions of Cognitive Linguistics: I actually make the same point in my “Linguistics, Politics, and Post-Avant” piece at Absent, and point out that while CL posits potential inflections of the ideological at grammatical levels, naive and hyperbolic assertions like “Grammar, vocabulary, diction, form, and style reflect the power relations in a society” [Bernstein, 2008] don’t have much to do with CL theory– or anything, for that matter, of credible repute in linguistic science since 1957.

    >Their own practice doesn’t support social constructivism, & in fact depends upon universalism.

    Yes, I’d agree the poetry output doesn’t “support” social constructivism. Not sure what that could mean, in any case. My point is that a good deal of Langpo (and post-avant) theory and poetic politics is wobbling on vague, under-examined social-constructivist notions of language. Despite more recent nods by Silliman in direction of Cognitive Linguistics, the “linguistic stuff” of Language poetry remains, half a century after Chomsky’s revolution, more or less tied to New Left ideas found in the yellowing pages of Tel Quel.

    Anyhow, you and I’ve probably reached the end of the line on this one, Mike. But it’s an interesting topic. And one that hasn’t been sufficiently looked at. If there’s any way you could send me OI’s essay, I’d appreciate it.

    And Joel, wanted to say I agree with what you propose. Thirty five years later, the poignant but primary legacy of once-militant Language writing seems to be, in the main, a second and third generation period-style abstract expressionism largely lodged (extended stay) in Academia. It’s happened before– to various avant-garde’s, in various guises. Out of this will no doubt come something new. But right now we seem to be in the midst of some first-decade-of-the-century anomie!

    Kent

  • On August 14, 2009 at 5:06 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    Kent,

    Don’t have JSTOR? How is that possible–isn’t everything on the Internet already? (Oh, KG, it seems you lied to us.)

    I can try to fill you in backchannel, if you like.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 5:33 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    Also, Kent, allow me to add (though some here—like “Mike”—have already implied as much) that your point about constructivism is a bit of a red herring because Izenberg means to suggest that Language poets’ interest in such—and its implicit “repressive hypothesis of cultural determinism”—requires their dependence on Chomksy just insofar as they are interested in manifesting not persons but personhood—that is, “linguistic competence” as the ground for whether persons are there in the first place.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 5:45 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    I mean Chomsky, of course. Chomksy is my crazy but lovable uncle.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 7:20 pm Ange wrote:

    Yes, what is this Jstor? Life would be so much easier if I taught.

    Well, Kent, I can’t really argue with you either about the weak claims/magical thinking of langpo or the “second and third generation period-style abstract expressionism.” I guess I can’t for the life of me figure out why those techniques are pleasurable or useful outside of utopian/communitarian beliefs about social practice. My loss, no doubt!

  • On August 14, 2009 at 7:41 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Chomsky’s theory of a universal grammar sounds like a philosopher’s utopia, transported into the interior of brain science. The Scholastics maybe had a more nuanced notion of language : ie., human beings, as sinful, imperfect creatures, have trouble expressing in words what they (mutely) intuit (sometimes). & this speech impediment retro-acts on their ability to understand. It’s a vicious circle. Thus we have the Tower of Babel, and American schools of poetry.

    “Presumption & despair”, as J. Stephen Russell puts it, in a book on Chaucer (Chaucer & the Trivium). But Chaucer, & Russell, & hopefully some poets today, have decided to “negotiate” between these extremes, & keep truckin’.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm robbins wrote:

    I guess I don’t understand what’s befuddling about my point. I reiterate, a commitment to social construction theses is completely irrelevant if your practice undermines those theses. If it is only a Chomskyan account that can make sense of your practice — & this is the burden of Oren’s argument — then how could it possibly matter that at an entirely rhetorical level you deny this fact vehemently? I mean, I could claim that my MFA consulting firm is grounded upon a committed Marxist platform, but whether this is borne out in practice is a different question.

    Here is the thrust of why Oren thinks that Langpo is ultimately dependent on a Chomskyan theory of grammar:

    Silliman claims that poets are “alike” during collaboration. The sentences that he chooses to illustrate this thesis, however, share no surface grammatical regularity. They also mean entirely different things. Thus in neither syntax nor semantics do they resemble one another. And yet he takes the similarity of the sentences produced by these poets in Leningrad to prove a thesis about the radical autonomy of language outside personalized context.

    Well, first of all, Izenberg notes, this just is a version of Chomsky’s performance/competence distinction. But more important, the only available linguistic account on which sentences might be said to resemble one another even though they share neither syntactical structure nor semantic content is Universal Grammar. “And not just … its highly abstract account of linguistic rules—rules that generate every sentence in every language insofar as it is a sentence in a language—but at the highly abstract concept of person that Universal Grammar specifies.”

    Obviously this is the barest outline. But maybe you can see that Oren isn’t simply pulling a polemical rabbit out of his hat. Anyway, the social construction thing is indeed a red herring: it’s amusing to me that nobody goes around fulminating against scientists who study optics for their invidious hypothesis that sight is a universal & innate phenomenon for which an organ in the brain is responsible.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 8:42 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    There is too much intellectual energy invested into L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E pomes.

    Who is langpo?

    Chuck B the Zukofsky A-list-as-easy Z yo cuz L=A=N etc is my Religion.

    I first came to the altar of langpo after deciding to convert one’s remaining time on earth, from being a bum to becoming a writer: serious, studious and informed with the pressing importance of the day. In short: a bore of the rarest type; who can stand and gaze into the foredistance as if pondering very existence itself; held in the moment of the hind-look, exhibiting the analytical acumen of an intellectual oneness which cannot cease.

    I began with a distant connection from Chuck: Conceret Poetry – the inheritors of the concrete creed from this side of the puddle. A uniquely British kinda carry on in which what got said were walls being read. Imbued with the arcana and lore of Concrete poetry, life became easier and the entire business of being alive and devoted to po-biz – no longer stalled. I carried forth into a flight of knowing, that only we the highest spacers travel to the y’all terrain of, come day go day god send sunday.

    Robert Sheppard 9who’s name os opften mispelled) was the priest who took me in to the church of my first learning, in the days immediately after nine eleven. We were all totally distraught; the world might just kinda end y’all and – wow man – everyone who had a tv was like, totally involved to an extent I knew what it meant to be part of something bigger. Something which made it allowable to speak post-plastic-langpo ‘n pre-BM projective nurse of the neuronic modla aspiritas moandey per se: Chuck was roasting babes – y’all gotta be there when the centre of G raved and blew insane into the lab y’all. Chuck B when I heard he was de moan main, yo dudes I freekin effed ones pants spoiler waves, yeah?

    Bob Sheppard and Chuckie B, yiz y’all moi cuz when I met Charles in Dublin several years after I had been admined with the gospel of this man: we stood toe to toe and took each other in. He, just off the plane; Chucks first time in Ireland, two hours after landing – all a thrumbing with the wow wow – striding up the stairs of the Irish Writer’s Centre, to a gig set up last minute and waiting at the crown of the steps, yours truly with a big daft grin as Charles rose up withy his wife, unknowing how many awote.

    I knew there were only five or six; most of whom one knew from round about: sad lonely poetic souls who’d heard a prophetical language centric mad-head from America, ronnie’s mate, Mr Silly man C is air to speak his oeuvre, which I experienced, live – Chcuk and the gear of being real, yeah?

    The great thingh about the Writer’s Centre is the free boooze. Lashings of it, and a compelling reason to attend in the first off; without the top draws of this goddess or that. It was the freaky, stalkerish kind of lo-fi fame which claims only to be known for being a very minor note on the lowest cale of show business; po-biz.

    Being a vaugely unkown known entity amongst sad lonely souls like ourselves; is the best one can hope or believe possible to attain in the life of who we are collectively as the lowest form of showbiz known to man woman or tree. Trees and talk is all y’all are; we are nothing to scream about, and this poet here, whatisface, whose window i am gawping though two tabs left – yeah, she’s so like the same as the rest of ‘em.

    Wrote through; yhis is langpo. It is a form where the writer takes a (found) text and re-jigs it to a wholly different one, using the same (the exact same) words/letters, to write anothher, different piece.

    I have been practicing it for the last four years and post-langp L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E influence person searching for Chucks centre of gravity: we are all the same y’all.

    Boring academics who think we are rebs.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I have not read the genus of the movement’s visual manifesto-slogan. No, in fact i think i very well may have (though cannot be sure.)

    What struck me on first encountering this – what in Britain is called – linguistically innovative poetry; is the crazeeness of it all. Did anyone, I think, really do this as a sincere pursuit? – i pondered in class, as a 35-37 year old chap who had expereinced a whole adult life of non-poetry and was entering the march to death at the sombre age of 35.

    No young doing-it-since-age-five shtick with this shmok y’all. Ponl’y summat which made one beleive the arties are all my fanny talking shit and being rubbery, indefinable, unpurchasable upon apart from with deliberate irony and detachment; as though langpo were and were not simultaenuous in that polysemic dual reality of Art, whereby we are situated and are absent, semiotically using new-fangled epistemoligies and shorthand for what it is that’s happening linguisticall – in a formal sense of knowing the aspirant half semi-quaver, to a full throttled xylophonic trackways of slymade chutes ‘n dudes y’all ironically joshing wiv de moan mains – yeah – aring abroad what noise from L=A= etc gave it to yiz lah ho huh hay hah noh go away all breath, projected into a half page sentence in the old school ways of Al, Jack and Cassidy kneeling on the mountain tracks of some gawd forsaken shit-hole in north america; where the idiots live y’all, stickin nazi moustaches on a black man – this clan mentality of we who are privileged to be, right on dialists of the 007 on one air forced mon amis man, aglow in the lamping creditary predator silently saying: ha ha nah L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry’s all my fanny, is it dickhead denier Bernstein’s the prophetical 007 in sunny bluff air lowing in state universities, lacking nothing and all langpo.

    Buffalo let us love you one more time
    outreached darling be mine tonight
    let us in language decree what it was
    Buffalo dearest deepest delictable L=
    angst of academic wangst babes, comes
    all over U2 the popular rock ‘n roll
    fleet of all because of you who move
    in mysterious ways. Gloria. Even bet
    -ter than the real thing, believing
    life returns when we breathe no more
    ‘n pass to shade. You be loving first
    fan

    companion letter. Me and you two’ish
    proof that in print – life is nought
    but confusion:, sh! Listen, knowing-
    ones rattle and hum

    ~

    “All along the watchtower…..All I
    want is you.”

    Too logical a signature
    from an artist of sound

    believing music is a gift bestowed
    by a good – Sun-Faced-Bono-Ogma.

    Ogma?

  • On August 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    This is a fascinating discussion, way over my head. Just some off-the-cuff thoughts :

    – Izenberg (from my 2nd-hand perspective) argues that the Langpos deny their logical descent from, or affinity with, Chomsky. Simultaneously, Izenberg claims that Langpo is universally, programmatically “uninteresting”. Yet, somehow, he seems to have taken an interest in it…

    – If the question really turns on the ontological status of “the person”, this nevertheless has political implications, obviously. One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to recognize this. One might simply be a populist. The “capacity for speech” entails a participation in a community of (equal) speakers. The comedy of language has to do with the way that impersonal blind justice has very personal consequences, for better & worse.

    – the ability to see is an accidental quality of an individual (who is beyond categories, anyway).

  • On August 14, 2009 at 9:26 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Ange said,

    >I guess I can’t for the life of me figure out why those techniques are pleasurable or useful outside of utopian/communitarian beliefs about social practice. My loss, no doubt!

    I’d never say they aren’t pleasurable or useful, Ange. Nor that the “techniques” can’t produce great works. They obviously have and still do, even in times of aesthetic conformism, period style, and matter-of-fact cultural recuperation, such as our poetic present. And these works will go on being admired and provide pleasure, and they should. (I mean, I love the Abstract Expressionists, myself, for example.)

    But this is a time when things are a bit unbalanced, I’d propose, in our area. It’s a quiet interregnum (it might be a long one), where the left and the right and the middle politely squabble and harmlessly hiss in the Parliament. It’s an age of almost no “social practice” in poetry, much less a time of candid Institution critique.

    Already, the Language Book has something of the quaintness to it of Avant Garde and Kitsch. Adorno and Autonomy are the order of the day, at best. At worst, why, the “hard avant” openly embraces the Museum, glibly claims Warhol, Schnabel, and Koons as its patron saints… Poetry is thirty years behind painting, we are told, with no apparent irony.

    My hopes are modest, really, if curmudgeonly and eccentric. Give me just a Marcel Broodthaers here, a Hans Haacke there. A few young poets ready to satirize, bravely, the position-taking games of the Literary Field. A few anarchist poetry collectives, or something like that, with mimeo. Two more Rodrigo Toscano’s. Three more Mark Nowak’s. Three Guerrilla Girls Fronts of Poetry. A U.S. Keston Sutherland at Iowa, even. Two co-ed, multiracial study groups reading Burger, Buchloh, and Mariategui, trying to figure out how Language poetry got to where it’s at, so it might at least take a little longer, next time, and things become more variegated.

    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Kent

  • On August 14, 2009 at 10:03 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Clarke is right: it is a middle class polite murmering of hiss ‘n boo in the senate. A thoroughly important movement.

    If the above statement in any way occassioned a silently psychological intake of breath; i apologise for the rough handling of langpo.

    The rebels are no more because they all work in universities, and to work in universities and be a successful poet – unlike 25 years ago – there are fairly strict public coedes of moral behaviour.

    For example, Kes and Chuck going on the tear to the extent it was rents and hoes in an all night orgy of oral text; what would happen is word would soon get about and they would be dismissed from their posts and de facto, academics are not where the scenes at, per se.

    The Scene’s massive and with a heck of a loada gals ‘n guys being y’all to the max, because living is a creditary business of existing beyond the first few months steering our vessels of joi de vie.

    I have expereinced the top people live and one thing struck – how similar most are to a template which has unnassuming eyes taking in the scenes through which they flit ‘n anchor, or background artist in; alls a game in letters, write through – can you perform it dearest mz geneutral coolest spacer fanning air to what backwards you glance to become bouyant in; to fly as who you rally are, in langpo it is hard, as there’s only one Chuck B and the rest? – who are they to him behave as though poetry’s a shared activity, experience, breathing entity of telling to an audience, what y’all is when alone in po-biz as the sole datum of a poetic movement: charles bernstein is the don corlioni of langpo; he alone sits on a throne of language, poetry, pretending to be pyschological reality, the business of linguistic trial and error.

  • On August 14, 2009 at 10:14 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    OK, Michael, this is helpful, typically smart, and thank you. I noticed your point (the one I was “beffudled” by) after that previous post. Blame my too-quick reading, combined with who knows what else…

    I’ve got Oren’s article and will read it again, after these years. Let’s see.

    In regards to your comment about the “red herring” of social constructivism, which seems sort of odd, I would ask you to read (or take another look at) the short essay I wrote at Absent, where I highlight the very fundamental and obvious conflict between the Langpo’s claims about language, vis a vis the claims of Chomsky and the CL linguists who are working both out of UG and in critique of it. This is not just an esoteric or academic issue, inasmuch as it has key relevance, I think, both for fuller understanding of the Language movement and for future avant praxis, as I argue at the end of the piece.

    I didn’t realize that Izenberg’s essay was based on Leningrad. That adds a personal dimension to it for me, for sure: I was in Leningrad with Ron, Barrett, Lyn, and Michael Davidson for those ten days, or so, back in 1989. An amazing experience. Out of it, I edited an anthology of new Russian poetry, with essays, too.

    “The poetry world is small, Kent,” said Ron to me in the cafe of the Baltiskaya hotel, on the day we were all leaving. “I’m sure we’ll meet again.” I was still in my twenties, and that made me feel good. When I looked in Leningrad, soon as it came out, my name was nowhere to be found.

    :~)

    Kent

  • On August 14, 2009 at 10:36 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    This is funny. I must have been thinking about another essay. I just looked at the PDF (kindly sent to me just now by Boyd Nielsen), and there I am, all blurry, second from left, with mustache, sitting at the long table at the Ministry of Culture reception, Figure 1, page 140. Barrett and Ron across the table, farther down. Ah, memoria!

    Kent

  • On August 15, 2009 at 2:47 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    The lovely thing about langpo is, it’s wonderful for double and triple bluffing foets unknowing how to work speaking as a native, being linguistically innovative.

    Write-Through, is a form I thought i invented: until being informed by Robert Sheppard, the apical apostle in a pack of many neophytes and few adepts, back then when we had it, that everything was over here in north west America — some dude had beaten me to it. It isn’t Found, it’s different, more involved, a pyschological and dramatic attachment to the new, truly experimental – more so even than experimental thumbs of tedious red and green — where we sung, who become indoctrinated with your man Meltzer and Ron. All the legendary poets in America now alive and writing: JR and TN, RL CB and DS myself, all the many thousands of editorial MFA’ers doing time for a little buck, knowing their bangs alright, that it will come again and again out the barrel of being see through write-through. Were we take one piece, and rejig it into another using the exact same letters.

    When I read self-conscious contemporary writing
    i ask: where’s the innovative linguistic being
    behind this – what? – paid blog, a free throw

    loada guff for old rope; or poetry as it can be
    written-through; where every letter counts toward
    making us uniquely practised. Practising in the Write-Through form, as an exercise in seiving your mind, by re-arranging a set amount of letters into something wholly your own throw: in the Kenny G mould of using others’ gear, made-over into this, which is a write-through of Plath’s poem Colossus: where is it, yeah?

    I took Plath’s poem, typed it out and shuffled the words about. I’ve been doing it now for the last four years; as a serious pursuit; because it is a very good self-challenge, as nobody else (as far as i am aware) seems to be working in the write-through form. So why don’t we talk about me and my shit please red and greens, hey TLC whatsiface. Mug empties?

    Now it is hit and miss, but the process has been took possession of and as an exercise in truly avant-garde art: it be.

    When i read of the hot doers milking a buck of the 2C mill, man I am bored with the pretense some squares are feted as crazee dense matters of mind who gonna do anything new. Do this,

    SYLVIA PLATH – WRITE THROUGH

    Did she angle wonder on the grasp
    extending reason her creation
    drove wild beyond loathing,
    by constantly digging in a hunt for sound
    to knit rock-firm sharp pictures alive with,
    like a gem stitched braid
    upon whose surface
    her eye discerned a myriad of texture?

    Did her mind’s farthest anchor reach a coloured butterfly
    wind-chanced and framed like a Japanese print
    in bold delicacy, fittingly unambiguous in a mirror
    of detail, where every line rehearsed perfection
    crisp as stalk-fresh shoots?

    Nosed in, did her compass net an imprint of
    discordant shadow in savage butt and jagged antinomy
    absent of balance nature or measure

    ———– write through———

    like a ruin of anarchy to the horizon line?
    Did she mix thirty years of laboured hours
    in little pails and gluepots
    to create an oracle married in shadow?
    Crawl like an ant over immense dead stones
    in the black fluted night
    and proceed to entirely open
    the lightning sun with the skull of her brow as it rises?
    Grunt cackle and glue the silt from her throat
    to bray at Orestiea,
    or some Roman mule god with acanthine hair
    scaling the tumuli of bald acres under red hills?
    Was she never counted by her father
    or others who
    none the wiser
    no longer listened
    as she dredged her bawdy bones of mourning
    and pieced together with blank eyes
    her pithy historical mouthpiece
    left to colour and stroke our ears?
    Could we perhaps lunch like barnyard pigs on the cornucopia of stars
    which littered her tongue like lysol on clear white plates
    climb ladders of weedy cypress jointed
    by the wind of a blue sky arching above to
    properley squat at some old forum and consider
    landing keel and plum on the pillar of her great lips?

  • On August 15, 2009 at 7:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    We are no other than a moving row
    Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
    Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
    In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

    But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
    Upon his Checkerboard of Nights and Days;
    Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

    Omar (Ed’s trans.)

  • On August 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    I’ve read the Izenberg essay. Very interesting and there’s not much I disagree with at all, though I think there is more to it that can be said. I’m sure Oren would agree that there is. I’ll try to post some thoughts in that regard, later.

    Fun for me to notice that I’m in Oren’s Critical Inquiry essay three times: once in the photo I mentioned yesterday, a second time in another passage Izenberg quotes from Leningrad, by Ron Silliman:

    “Three giant cockroaches construct an anthology.”

    I’m one of the three people Ron is referring to. I know this because Ron wrote me a snide email about two months ago, unprompted, as I recall, telling me that I *was* indeed “present” in Leningrad, and not “erased” from the book, as I’d “believed.” He was referring to the above sentence (the anthology being Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, of which I am Cockroach Editor). Yes, it was very clear during the conference that the four Language poets deeply resented the presence of three other Americans with them there, in the U.S.S.R. It was, after all, their special, heroic occasion. And vermin mess up the scenery.

    Here is the third way I’m in Leningrad, and if I’m right, it is by far the most interesting case of the three: Izenberg quotes Hejinian and Davidson telling about the great, late Russian Conceptualist poet/painter Dmitri Prigov giving the latter a bundle of little stapled envelopes, inside which are cut-up pieces of poems. Prigov tells Davidson that these are “Little Coffins of Poems.” The account in Leningrad then goes on to theorize a bit this cutting up, the interment of the original, and so on.

    In fact, I have a very distinct memory of directly receiving these objects, outside the Hall of Composers one afternoon, as a sudden gift from Prigov. (I still have them, of course, and they’re probably quite valuable, given the prices Prigov’s work was fetching some years back, when Russian Conceptualism was all the rage at Sotheby’s.) There were other poets and critics gathered around, including Davidson and Watten. Prigov gave me the little coffins and Davidson and Watten were very impressed, very intrigued. They listened attentively as Prigov explained the idea behind the work. Arkadii Dragomoshchenko smoked and interjected. Alexei Parschikov nodded and smoked, too. Mikhail Epstein looked on. Davidson asked some questions. Watten leaned in. I showed the package of objects around to Davidson and others, and they examined it, fascinated. Then Davidson handed the package back to me and he and Barrett walked away.

    Now, it is of course possible that Prigov later gave Davidson a similar package. I do remember Davidson being given, at a restaurant, an incredible collection of original assemblages by Russian visual poet, so gifts were made. It could be he got some of these little coffins of poems, too.

    But, I have to say: Having been air-brushed from the general account (and reintroduced into it as a “giant cockroach”), I’m beginning to wonder about this incident of Prigov’s gift, it’s place and meaning in the collaboration, its semantic function, so to speak, within the production of so many transformational sentences. And you really can’t blame me!

    What is the status of veracity in the construction of heroic community? Can we *really* believe the Grand Piano? And isn’t grammar in relation to Language poetry interesting?

    Kent

  • On August 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm john wrote:

    Kent,

    Es una historia!

    (Or, in Clayton Eshleman’s wonderfully idiomatic *first* translation of the line, “What a fucking story!”)

    The “cockroach” is too Simon & Garfunkel! In the liner notes to their first album, Simon explaining one of his songs, and I paraphrase from memory: “the wheat symbolizes greed. The pigeon symbolizes man’s inhumanity to man. The telephone poll symbolizes equality.”

    “The cockroach symbolizes my affinity the poetics of Paul Simon when he was 22 years old.”

    Kent, if you ever consider writing a libretto to a comic operetta about all this, I’d be honored to write the music.

  • On August 15, 2009 at 12:47 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >Kent, if you ever consider writing a libretto to a comic operetta about all this, I’d be honored to write the music.

    John, that’s a great idea. I might take you up on it.

    Music by you, libretto by Gregor.

    thanks,

    K.

  • On August 18, 2009 at 10:31 am Kevin wrote:

    Oh, please be meaning Joan Houlihan. It’s time for a new nickname; as the years ooze by, it gets harder to explain to the kids who Loretta Swit is.

  • On August 25, 2009 at 12:56 pm Cathy Park Hong wrote:

    I approve of your eccentric choices, i.e. Haacke, Toscano, and Buchloh but how about a walid raad before the partridge?

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Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Rebecca Wolff.