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Johannes Göransson Responds to New Sincerity Discussion
At Montevidayo, Johannes Göransson offers a few responses to an HTMLGIANT conversation about Sincerity and New Sincerity, ringing familiar when he writes, “I’ve always felt very sincere about my approach to poetry, but I’ve always felt dismayed at the kinds of discussions ‘sincerity’ seems to generate…”
The discussion referenced was started by AD Jameson, who asked, “Why sincerity? What is its present value?” He continued:
My broad and still developing belief is that “sincere” writing is one means of breaking with the aesthetics of postmodernism and self-referentiality: invocation of Continental Theory, metatextuality, excessive cleverness, hyper-allusion, &c. What makes writing “sincerely” even more delicious when perceived against postmodernism 1960–2000 is that it proposes to offer precisely what pomo said didn’t matter or couldn’t exist: direct communion with another coherent, expressive self, even truth by means of language.
Jameson then gave some examples of titles that might fall under New Sincerity as he sees it: “longer titles—in particular, long rambly ones with strong emotional resonances.” Examples given include Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You; Brandon Scott Gorrell’s during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present; Tao Lin’s you are a little bit happier than i am; Sasha Fletcher’s When All Our Days Are Numbered Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets & We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds, etc.
His original post gave credit where it’s due:
As everyone knows, the original New Sincerity (in poetry) was a “movement” started by Joseph Massey and Anthony Robinson and Andrew Mister c. 2005. I put “movement” in quotes because although they wrote numerous manifestos and argued a lot with others about sincerity and what, in fact, they were doing, even they will insist that the NS was not a coherent thing. I get that; viewed now, their proposals seem at least half tongue-in-cheek (leading to endless debates about whether they were being ironic or sincere—debates that, while heartfelt, I think really missed the point). A lot this writing no longer exists online—that’s the Internet for you—although if you google around you can still find remnants of the discussion.
What happened next, though, matters more for our current purposes. People started pointing to other poets—Dorothea Lasky, Nate Pritts, Matt Hart, Tao Lin, others—who appeared to be working with similar motivations, exploring similar styles and devices. It’s easy to see why this was so, leaving aside the fact that every writer is of course a special and unique snowflake.
Anyhow, Göransson looks closely at how aesthetics might fall in:
I think [Jameson's] discussion makes for a broader terrain of talking about art and poetry. In Poetry, it’s obviously a move away from Language poetry and “elliptical poetry”, but it’s not a simple rejection of experimentalism, since folks like Dodie Bellamy and Ariana Reines could be said to be participants in this aesthetic. “Experimentalism” is also part of the “new sincerity.”
Another thing I dislike about the Sincerity discussions is that they seem to be kind of normative. People are sincere when they write poetry about a certain – acceptable – range of emotions. Ie you’re sincere when you’re kind of sad, or kind of funny, or kind of you know indie rock. But the second you get too intense, perverse, ludicrous etc you become somehow insincere (or worse”coercive”!)…
Another thing I don’t like about sincerity discussions is that they often lead to disparagements of the art-ness of art – the pageantry, the metaphors, the spectacular effects, the excess, the deadly glamour become signs of insincerity. This leads to boring poetry that feels very restrained to me; poetry that seems involved in a humanist idea of interiority.
Something I do like is that discussing ‘sincerity’ turns to discussion toward affect, it rejects the “high art” convention – famously made famous by Clement Greenberg – of favoring art that distances, that requires learning and contemplation, and of rejecting art that provokes reactions, that absorbs, that shatters.