Our Bodies, Our Selves
Now is the time of possibility we can be everyone and no one at all. With digital fragmentation any notions of authenticity and coherence have long been wiped. When we're everywhere and nowhere at once -- pulling RSS feeds from one server, server-side includes from another, downloading distributed byte-size torrents from hundreds of other shifting identities -- such naïve sentiments are even further from what it means to be a contemporary writer. Identity politics no longer have to do with the definition of a coherent self, rather it has to do with the reconstructed distributed, fragmented, multiple and often anonymous selves that we are today. We're infinitely adaptable and changeable minute-to-minute. [Kenneth Goldsmith in the Harriet Blog]
By the time I was diagnosed with colon cancer, the sense of my own physical fragility and vulnerability had been pretty much pounded into me by my HIV diagnosis, my bout with Bell’s palsy (especially frightening since there are no treatments if the facial paralysis doesn’t end on its own accord), my subsequent hospitalization for a shingles infection in my inner ear which left me with only half the hearing in my right ear, my bouts with kidney disease and recurrent kidney stones (mostly caused by various HIV medications), the hearing distortion in my left ear which no manner of tests has been able to diagnose, let alone treat, an episode of secondary polycythemia, a condition in which one produces too many red blood cells which also earned me a hospital stay, since my blood was turning to jello and I was in imminent danger of a stroke, and my osteoporosis, because of which I’ve suffered several painful bone fractures. This not to mention more mundane matters like my low testosterone and my high blood pressure (the latter has come down since I’ve started exercising and losing weight). [Reginald Shepherd in the Harriet Blog]
Could someone with even a single serious illness believe that he can be "everyone and no one at all"? That's he's "infinitely adaptable and changeable minute-to-minute"? I don't think so. Hell, even a simple headache brings me back to my senses, reminds me of the limitations of my body and mind.
For a while now, Kenneth Goldsmith has being extolling the virtues of uncreative writing and unoriginality while dismissing those who are still invested in exploring and expressing the self as stuck in some sort of Romantic rut. Humanism itself is ridiculed since we have, according to Goldsmith, entered a post-human era. Kenneth's heroes are "unreal" icons such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Madonna and Barry Bonds.
Kenneth Goldsmith is also the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews. There are obvious parallels between the two. Warhol removed the artist's touch from the canvas, created a "factory" to produce impersonal paintings, adhered to an aesthetic of banality, neutrality and boredom, and yet the public was endlessly fascinated by his person, his mask, his corpse-like being. As an impersonal painter, Warhol became the most recognizable artist in the world, an irony not lost on Kenneth Goldsmith, with his hats and sunglasses, etc. In 1965, Warhol literally supplanted his art with his first museum show at Philadelphia’s Instistute of Contemporary Art. Anticipating a large crowd at the opening, the organizers removed Warhol's paintings from the walls. This is the first and last time where there was no art at an art opening. Having nothing to look at, nothing to do, the crowd mobbed Warhol, who had to be rescued by firemen through a hole they sawed through the ceiling. It's instructive to think of Philip Guston and Joseph Beuys. Contemporary with Warhol, they were hot and socially engaged, quite a contrast to Warhol's cool currency. The hot/cold dichotomy has always been a staple of the art world and attributable not just to the fashion, style of the moment but to the temperament of each individual, whose uniqueness even a Kenneth Goldsmith has to concede, although he simply calls it "taste." What makes one uncreative writer better than another is his superior taste, and so we’re back to the sad self, after all, since even ready-made clothes (and hats) make the individual.
A person is defined by the objects he makes, buys, speaks of or merely points to. Kenneth Goldsmith is that uncreative or Ubuweb guy, two very specific if grossly reductive definitions that don’t even begin to describe the man but, then, nothing does. Otherwise, we wouldn't need literature and bad marriages. I’m not Kenneth Goldsmith not just because I don’t wear a stack of bowler hats but for innumerable other reasons. He wouldn’t want to be me, either. Here, I’m reminded of what James Baldwin said at Berkeley, that no white man, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with him. This observation has been incorporated into a Chris Rock routine. There’s also this oil-on-canvas Richard Prince joke:
White man: "I don't know what to do. Myhouse has burned to the ground, my wife died,my car's been stolen, and the doctor said, Igotta have a serious operation."Black man: "What you kickin' about, you whiteain't you?"
Minus our clothes, we become even more distinctive, since no two bodies can share the same destiny. Each of us eat, make love, smoke, throw up and die alone, no matter how many similars we’re surrounded by. Sex and sickness don't lie. And yet we’re not condemned to writing just about ourselves since we have restless eyes, ears and minds that can contain boatloads. I’m not here to express me, me alone but as many selves as possible, including you if I’m lucky. Even if I simply select, copy, paste and become uncreative tomorrow, my choices of what to notice will still define me.
Many people have complained about Ron Silliman’s phrase “School of Quietude," since much of this writing is hardly quiet. Perhaps Silliman is mocking these poets’ overheated, earnest concern with the personal, autobiographical “I," their narcissism, even solipcism. They check in often on what has happened to this Self, what it has seen or thought. Perhaps we should call this tendency Selfism. You cozy up to a Selfist poem to spend quality time with the Selfist poet, to be intimate with him or her. Best to read it with the author’s photo in view. But are “post-avant" poets really less self-centered? I seriously doubt it, although they tend to be more sly and tactful about their self-regard, self-love and self-promotion. As the at times self-effacing, more often self-trumpeting Kent Johnson asked Kenneth Goldsmith:
Why, if unoriginality, valuelessness, selflessness, and unmediated textual monotony are the aim, do you and other Uncreative Writers insistently present yourselves under the institutional sign of Authorship? Why, that is, do you choose to burden your iconoclastic philosophy with an ideological function that, to draw from you, extends and reinforces the figure of the Romantic author: the figure who originates, who, yes, CREATES his "uncreativity"? Why adorn a series of polemics in favor of ego-erasure-via-valueless-text with the titillating values of Authorial identity (and a raffish hat in an promotional photo, to boot)? Why not just make things REALLY boring and present meticulously copied text without attribution of any kind?
But anonymity is not something we can strive for since we already have it in spades. It’s our birth and death rights. In between, we don’t have much of a choice but to entertain and bore each other with our bodies, our selves.
[Charles Ray's "Oh Charlie! Oh Charlie! Oh Charlie!"]
Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...
Too bad Kent's suggestion about presenting "meticulously copied text without attribution of any kind" hadn't occured to Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote!
Actually, Don, a much *more* interesting variant of "anonymity" did occur to Cervantes, who presented himself not as the author of El Quijote, but as its "narrator"/editor. Part I of the Quijote manuscript--which Cervantes finds by chance in the marketplace--is in fact purported to have been written (Cervantes tells us the attribution is contained in the original text) by Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arab historian. Cervantes then commissions a local Moor to do a rough translation of it from the original Arabic, which Cervantes the Narrator goes on to prepare for final publication.
So Cervantes offers himself, you see, as the original Menard! (P. Menard is not producing an exact copy of an original, but a mere copy of the authentic copy of an "original"...)
Let's hear it for the old-time avant-garde.
Quite so, Kent! And speaking of the old-time avant-garde...
The recent Conceptual Poetry Conceptual Interview by Annie Guthrie retails, as you'd expect, some of the old-timey Roland Barthes death-of-the-author stuff; and then Cole Swensen interestingly says:
"I don't think we can use the term avant-garde meaningfully these days except historically; it refers to an earlier situation in which the terms of artistic engagement were radically different from what they are today. However, the very concern about this issue seems to imply that if a stance such as indeterminacy is not new, it has a less value, which is to reduce it to a fashion."
I suppose I'd really have thought that if something isn't new, it literally can't be avant-garde, but in any case this has nothing to do with something being a fashion or not. (Fashions can, actually, be new.) The words "stance" and "fashion" are deployed to undermine the possible argument that newness has "value." But "seems" and "imply" are also telling. I know that it's silly to close-read these remarks... but seriously: is indeterminacy "these days" descended from the old-time a.-g., or is it just, well, indeterminate? And does this matter or not?
As Charles Bernstein points out, indeterminacy is true of poetry generally: "it's more a condition of language than a choice." That a piece of writing doesn't, in the end, belong to the person who writes it doesn't seem like a controversy to me. “The author dies. The author’s work is born," etc.
Pardon these rambles...
Regarding this "avant-garde" thing, thought I'd go ahead and paste here my first answer in a roundtable discussion on the topic. It's a bit long for a blog comment, I know, but take it as a "conceptual" experiment with the genre... Kent
Q: Is there an avant-garde in American poetry today? What is the usefulness of this term, if any? Are the terms "experimental" and "avant-garde" synonymous in your mind?
KJ: An American poetic avant-garde? If, as Peter Burger argues in his classic Theory of the Avant-Garde, the concept should be understood as defining a collective, self-conscious, and insistent attack on the “institution of art and literature” with the aim of reintegrating art “into the practice of life,” then it would be hard to find evidence of an “avant-garde” meriting of the title today. In Burger's view, one with which it's hard to argue, the historical avant-garde, in its poetic and visual genres, failed in rather spectacularly evident ways, its artistic products reintegrated with great velocity not into “the practice of life” but into the institutional “practices” of the very culture it set out to assault. Although Burger's ideas are seldom cited by contemporary poets and critics, I think his study holds some important lessons relevant to the current situation of American “innovative” poetry. Some of what follows, then, has his thesis on the fate of radical modernism as backdrop.
Of course, more than any other literary current of the past quarter century, Language poetry (or more broadly, now, as the intra-generational term goes, the “post-avant”) has been associated with the idea of the “avant-garde.” In its formative stages, when a dogged development of autonomous networks was in organic relation to an intense phase of iconoclastic critical/poetic activity (i.e., a phase peaking, perhaps, around the mid-80's), it had a credible claim to the term. But save for occasional nods to the original passions, the radical ideals have been largely shed, and it's now clear, to increasing numbers of observers, that this current, in repetition of the process of earlier movements from which its praxis had importantly been drawn, is effectively absorbed into the larger literary culture it once claimed to reject. Language poetry, along with its various second-generation satellite formations, now stands as an experimentalist, but respectful and loyal, opposition within the Parliament of Academic poetry. The “post-avant” is the mode that ambitious young MFA'ers study; it is the creative writing “style” scores of publishers are seeking; it is the aesthetic pedigree rising numbers of awards are prizing; it is the criticism and theory that prestigious university presses are publishing; it is the “subversive poetics” the current President of the Modern Language Association has made her reputation promoting.
In his study, Burger also deals at length (as any consideration of the avant-garde can't help but do) with the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno, arguing that the difficult formal practices the latter championed for their defiant “autonomy” were destined, by virtue of their tacit collusion with the underlying “productive and distributive” functions of high culture, to be institutionally domesticated and ideologically contained. It's quite interesting in this regard, if in the sense of dramatic irony, that the dominant pose of current post-avant cultural politics has come to affect a quasi-Adornean air, inasmuch as its poets not only militantly privilege avant-gardist forms over realist ones in practice (i.e., experimental forms proposed as historically necessary gestures of negation in commodity-driven culture), but also assign them a kind of supra-historical ethical value in principle, where the adoption of non-syllogistic modes of poetic discourse is held as a kind of categorical imperative, a formal sine qua non for achieving aesthetic-cognitive levels sufficient for resisting the co-optations of a hegemonic mass culture. Not that everyone explains the matter to herself in that somewhat Altierian, burdensome way, but such would be the general background assumption.
As a corollary that is by now trademark, this has also meant absolutist kinds of pronouncements and dismissals in regards to poetry based in narrative, I-centered approaches--poetry which gets filed, tout court, into reductive, straw man categories like “The School of Quietude” or “Official Verse Culture,” fuzzy tropes alluding to an enemy-realm that is never really defined except in the most general lit-critical terms (i.e., poetry based on the nostalgic or epiphanic experience of a "self" that naively assumes to stand beyond the language games within which it is staged, etc., etc.). This kind of "official" poetry, it is repeatedly and grimly charged, is the dominant mode of the "academy" and of the most influential magazines, like, for example, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, or Poetry.
Now, there is little question the conclusions innovative poets have drawn about the culture industry's reach and power are well-grounded. And so it's deeply ironic, to the nth degree, that one of the key postulates in current post-avant polemics urges the increased propagation of “avant-garde” works into the structural functions of that very same cultural apparatus. Thus, the exigency of the moment, as leading figures of the “new poetries” have lately made clear, (see for suggestive example, Hank Lazer's The People's Poetry, Boston Review, April/May 2004), is not the development of radically sovereign zones of aesthetic and critical dissent; it is, rather, that the institutional venues of “Official Verse Culture” be prodded to make themselves more open and hospitable to experimental, “difficult” forms of writing, so that these last might be granted the broad divulgation and esteem they deserve. Consequently, Charles Bernstein, as distant now from the unambiguous calls for heterodox autonomy that once informed the pages of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine as John Kerry is from the anti-imperialist manifestoes of the VVAW, is able to make such barely veiled appeals for integration and reform as the following:
"I know a lot of people are… focusing their critiques more on universities than the PWC (Publications of Wide Circulation). But I think what Andrew Ross called "the oxygen of publicity" matters quite a bit. Poetry survives and thrives nurtured by its committed readers and practitioners, but I think the value of poetry is not just for us but indeed for this wider public and that the culture suffers when it isolates itself from its poets… Almost any poet will tell you not enough poetry gets reviews in publications-with-wide-circulation (PWC): big city newspapers, the newsweeklies, and the national journals of culture and opinion. Part of the problem would simply be solved if poetry were treated by these publications as a national cultural "beat": if poetry were covered the way art or TV is… When it comes to poetry, the PWC do a great disservice to their readers: their coverage is, to use the terms of opprobrium so popular in their reviews, inadequate and of poor quality. Almost no coverage is given of the field, something that is otherwise the prerequisite of journalism, and the choices of what is reviewed seem at best arbitrary, though obviously skewed to the trade presses, even though these presses, by almost anyone's measure, are responsible for only a small proportion of the significant poetry of our time... A culture's refusal of its poetry is not without consequence or redress. So when you ask if "the public [has] even the slightest interest in the material in question," (i.e., experimental poetries) I would say that the PWC's spurning of this, indeed, material in question, is a direct violation of the public interest, that we won't have a public worthy of the name until we engage with such material…" [Interview with Marjorie Perloff]
One could say, if at the risk of too much Bernstein-like wittiness, that the post-avant in these first years of the century is auto-defined by a desire to keep its Steinian potatoes raw and roast them too: Its leaders' recycled polemics against “Official Verse Culture” or the “School of Quietude” are now accompanied by increasingly loud complaints (the above quote is also very much in line with the underlying premise of many of Ron Silliman's posts on his widely read blog) that the major publishing organs of that same official culture do not welcome them at the table of poetry haute cuisine. And in a sense, the resentment is understandable: “Experimental” verse is now very much an intrinsic part of the academic and elite poetry-biz scene. Its practitioners have their particular tastes, to be sure, but they have agreed, as good authorial citizens, to respect the ground-rule protocols of official literary etiquette. Now that they have paid their dues, as it were, a few more invitations to well-appointed PWC addresses would certainly seem fair…
Clearly, the process of normalization has now entered its late stages, marked by handsome “dissident” books of Ivy League provenance, Visiting 'Opposition-Poet' residencies at The Iowa Writer's Workshop, and predictable proclamations of poetic “difference” delivered with shiny name tags at the MLA and AWP per annum. But (to ask the begged question) what has gotten things from that rather high-hoped beginning to this rather ho-hum expiring? How and why has the American poetic “avant-garde” gone from a vital utopian radicalism to what is now, despite lingering self-proclamations of outsider status, an open, self-greased slide toward “professionalization” and institutional accommodation?
There are books yet to be written in answer to that, of course; however, the following can, indeed, be confidently stated: The denouement was determined in advance by the stubborn failure of the Language poets to practice what they preached. Polemically rejecting in their theory the “I” and “Self” as the ground of poetry, they enshrined it in their practice in the most nonchalant ways, framing and exhibiting their “avant-garde” products within the functional confines of Authorship, with all its attendant dynamics of cultural capital acquisition and private portfolio positioning. And doing so, they failed--predictably, for sure--to self-consciously interrogate the collapse of the originary avant-garde project they saw themselves as extending. Had they done otherwise, they might have seriously reflected on how the militant gestures of those past attempts were consistently appropriated as “artistic works” (Burger's term) and absorbed, via the canon and its mechanisms of classification and domestication, into the institutions of art and literature. More specifically, they might have begun to acknowledge (and thus begun to develop countermeasures to the inertial pull of the process) that it is the brand stamped on the work–the legal signature which confirms provenance and confers value–that is the means by which the literary economy catalogues, channels, and tracks the reproduction of its ideological authority. The offspring of Language poetry has followed in its path.
It is in this sense that the post-avant, accepting without question in its practice what Burger calls, again, the “productive and distributive apparatus” of the art/literature institution, differs not a whit in its generic essence from the “official verse culture” it so vociferously scolds; it is “opposite” in the sense of being the opposite side of a single coin and “oppositional” in the sense indicated earlier--of a loyal minority party which advocates for changes of form in the system, but not for the system's sublation.
Indeed, what has taken place over the past fifteen or so years is a steady drift by the so-called “avant-garde” toward a formalist aestheticism, where the old anti-capitalist claims have been progressively sloughed off as the poetry has become increasingly dependent on an academic-institutional environment (an environment, to be sure, that is not only strictly situated in the “University”) for its long-term currency. Its formal apartness–its relatively esoteric, hermetic character–becomes the meta-content of the work, marketed now, in open ways, as deserving its place in the “non-conformist” wing of the Museum of Poetry (or MoP, the mother of all PWC's).
In sum, the stance is no longer authentically oppositional. It hasn't been since the academy began in earnest to turn its attentions toward Language poetry and Language poetry its earnest attentions toward the academy. The broader post-avant that has devolved from that betrothal is, to repeat, fundamentally accommodationist in its outlook, taking up its “contentious” but responsible place in the overall literary field, whose ground rules for the taking of positions are understood and shared by all law-abiding parties. That the acculturation has happened is not unexpected, as the history of the avant-garde shows; that it has happened so quickly, in this case, is the stunning thing.
To say this is not to slight the gifts of individual poets, nor to diminish their accomplishments (the post-avant, old and young, obviously has deeply gifted writers in its ranks). But it's important, I think, to begin to sketch the outlines of a situation that is as yet barely discussed. To transcend the current impasse --to begin the construction of a truly autonomous poetic economy--a new kind of experimental community will need to emerge. When it does, it will need to be the kind of “avant-garde” that doesn't have reason to use the name.
As you know, I agree with much of what you note here. I do think you miss some of the implications of Burger's formidable synthesis of Benjamin and Adorno. It's not only the case that "Adornian" autonomy was bound to play into the hands of the bourgeois culture it opposed (Adorno is actually quite clear on this point, and therefore always suggest that autonomy at its limit becomes aestheticism). It's also the case that, in the absence of anti-capitalist revolution, attempts a la Benjamin to merge art with everyday life were bound to become themselves a form of commodified lifestyle, in-group coolness that is always already only two steps away from a franchise. Kenny G.'s post-Warholian definition of "avant-garde" makes this pretty clear, as does the current fad for "relational aesthetics" in the art world. (This isn't to slight Kenny in the slightest, as I think his work is useful here in pointing-up the falseness of most oppositional stances). In any case, it's a much more sinister double bind than your precis above indicates.
Which is another way of saying that it's false to claim that poets today aren't trying to bring art into everyday life. I think the last decade provides numerous examples of this, your bete noir flarf being a perfect example. The difference, and the reason why these movements or moments can't be called avant-garde, is that nobody can reasonably claim today that cooptation isn't imminent (and immanent), or that there isn't a well-worn path from opposition to institution. The double bind is that you must either renounce your claim to radicality or engage in a willful cynicism/opportunism (or just be sort of stupid). The difference between the current moment and the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century or the 1960s and 1970s is that, with a few exceptions that prove the rule, there is no larger, oppositional social movement with which they might link up. For awhile, I was hoping that this absence would register as a painful one among the experimental poets of today. Now I'm not so sure. The European avant-garde drew much of its energy from its homologous relationship with the vanguard party (or the anti-vanguard party, sometimes). Ditto the avant-gardes of the 1960s and the new left of that time. Regardless of the actual political affiliations of the writers and artists themselves, the family resemblance is pretty clear.
I say all this as a prelude to claiming, and this will no doubt require a longer conversation, that I think you overestimate the role to which "author-function" is to blame here. If the goal is the transformation of society, it seems really rather beside the point whether or not you yourself benefit from the work you've produced. The new post-avant hegemony could easily assimilate psuedonymous and anonymous authors without it making much of a difference at all. It would certainly make a difference in the lives of the writers themselves, but it might not matter one whit for anyone else. And that is, for me, what the promise of Dada and UNOVIS and the Beats and LangPo is all about. They actually believed they might change the world, or at least participate in a changing world. Foucault is, I think, rather clear about the fact that the containing, nullifying effect of the author-function can persist, in another form, even when works aren't signed:
"I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint--one which will no longer be the author, but which will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced."
In fact, I think this post-authorial form of constraint has, in fact, already been largely worked out in the advanced capitalist countries. It's hardly incompatible with a system of global exploitation and domination. The question of who's speaking seems less important than the question of who cares.
I've been noticing for awhile that the LangPo / post-avant types and the Neo-Formalists have a great deal more in common with each other than they do with those they place themselves in opposition to. Kent's comments regarding formalist aestheticism speak to that. Both camps are intolerant of disagreement; both tend to be insular, exclusive, and generate cliques (how many new LangPoets have there been lately, who were not favored students of the aging founders? none that I can find); both tend to place themselves in the superior position in any either/or argument (always forgetting that life is usually both/and rather than either/or); and both tend to argue from theory towards praxis.
That's what really turns me off is this insistence that theory dictates praxis, rather than describe it. Theory is meant to be descriptive. It's meant to explore and explain, and think about what-ifs and maybes. And it can be very good at that. But theory is abysmal at prescribing practice. Theory when prescriptive tends to produce very hollow and ideological art, which has a very short shelf-life.
Case in point: the post-avant, which is full of cool theory yet produces so little good (or even memorable) poetry. (Memorable in the sense that people walk out of the reading reciting lines to themselves, because they've been caught up with them.)
The funny thing is, when I read the post-avant manifestos, there's often a lot there that I agree with. I'm a child of John Cage and his ideas, if you will. (LangPo owes a major debt to Cage that I have almost never seen acknowledged by the LangPoets, although Marjorie Perloff has made the connection.) A child of Cage in the sense that he was extremely influential on me as a composer, but also conceptually, and in terms of how to approach the life of art, for the long haul. A touchstone. So, anyway, I read the post-avant manifestos, and there's a lot in there that is already very familiar to me, and with which I often agree. And the theory talks about tools such as indeterminacy that can work well in music, for instance, and which I have used myself in composing music. (Or, following Cage, in not-composing music.)
And yet the execution–the poetry itself–is so dismal. In no way does it live up to the promise of the theorizing. In no way does it do anything for me that makes me want to re-read it, or even to finish reading it at all, in some cases. For the most part it leaves me completely cold.
The further irony here is that my own poetry often gets labeled as experimental, because I am often doing things outside the norm, or working with haibun and prose-poems. So, ironically, I find myself equally vilified by both the post-avant AND the neo-formalists. That's hilarious when you think about it–but it also points up that they share some very similar worldviews and tactics of approach to criticism.
That's really a thought-provoking response (Arthur, haven't even had time to read yours yet).
Swamped and on my way to Minneapolis tomorrow morning, where coincidentally I'm doing (or will be trying to do) a talk at the Walker Art Center on Yasusada and issues related to poetic authorship, so just don't have the time to respond adequately right now. I'll try to do so upon return. Just wanted to say for now that I find your thoughts very interesting!
Walker Art Center! That sounds pretty institutional, man. You sure you aren't going to be getting comfortable in an endowed chair in the near future?
But seriously, I look forward to your reply, here or backchannel. I realize now in looking over what I wrote that I'm a bit too vehement in my claims. (I should have stayed with "overestimate." Oh, inconstancies of tone!). It's obvious that heteronymy is promising. But I think it can probably only address a part of what confronts poetry (and all the arts, really) right now.
Oh no, is something confronting poetry? Is it a thug? A jealous lover? A creditor?
Burger's binary thinking -- or his apparently un-critical recounting of the avant-garde's binary thinking (in Kent's recounting of his recounting; I haven't read Burger) -- regarding institutions v. life -- well, aren't institutions part of life as we know it? Isn't culture an expression of, or an example of, a facet of, nature? Or are humans supernatural? Do our decisions reflect not nature, but something else? Our willpower? Our . . . intelligence? (That one makes me laugh!) Our . . . reason? (These jokes are pleasing me more and more.)
Burger's binary thinking seems limiting and limited.
I have my ambivalence about institutions too -- "anxiety structures," someone called them (was it Dave Hickey? was he quoting someone else? -- I don't recall), but . . . an institution seems like a fine place in which to encounter an art. Now, I love house concerts, and group recitations of a long poem in my living room -- music and poetry are part of the texture of my daily life, quite far from any institutional authorization or participation or anxiety or anything; but to claim that my art/life practice showed no institutional *influence*, well, that would be a Romantic Heroic Lie, and a dumb one.
Even the Cabaret Voltaire was an institution, for pete's sake! It was a business!
So if the LangPos succeed in getting the Poetry Professor day jobs -- bully for them. I hope they're good poetry professors, like my poetry professor (actually, not tenured, I'm pretty sure he's always had an academic low-rung job), Ken Mikolowski, a wonderful teacher (U-Mich).
Is Burger even right? Did Pound, Stein, and Joyce *really* represent an assault on the concept of the institution of literature, and the reintegration of literature into life? Really? I don't see it. Marinetti did, at least moreso, and he was a capital-F Fascist. The Taliban in Afghanistan blew up the giant Buddhas. There's Marinetti's manifesto in action -- or, part of it that Marinetti himself never enacted. Boulez shrewdly copped some of Marinetti's shtick and parlayed it into an excellent career (career-wise; no opinion on his own compositions) before settling into a well-remunerated role as grey, eminent conductor of the Classics.
Historically, the A-G has *depended* on the big collective institution of the Museum of Aesthetic History. Innovation for innovation's sake is meaningless without the history of the aesthetic tradition in which it is made.
My grandpa had no truck with the aesthetic avant-garde. He wrote rhymed verses to his friends for birthdays and anniversaries. He memorized "Abou Ben Adhem" to join his college fraternity and recited it decades later. Who's more avant-garde, acc. to Burger: My grandpa or Hugo Ball?
Thinking further, I'm sure my grandpa wouldn't count as avant-garde, since his frat was an institution too (though an institution of life, not of art), and he did like college marching bands, of which art form none is more institutional; though, again, its venue is sport, not concert hall. I'm afraid we must count sport as culture, though, if we're keeping Burger's binary of institutional culture v. daily life.
And nothing against Hugo Ball. That get-up he wore reminds me that Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't, didn't already have. No, seriously, I like that song he wrote with David Byrne a lot.