Poetry News

An Amazing Interview with Bruce Andrews at Jacket2

By Harriet Staff

For your reading pleasure in the run-up to the Bruce Andrews Symposium on Friday, we hereby present "The contextualizing capacity of the writing itself," an interview with Andrews conducted by Dennis Büscher-Ulbrich at Jacket2. A couple of our favorite Andrews-related topics are covered straightaway, that being Langpo and Andrews' appearance on The O'Reilly Factor:

Büscher-Ulbrich: Would you say that your, then, dislike for the P-word as opposed to the L-word stems from your sense of poetry as an institution and the fact that there had been a disconnect from these other fields of art?

Andrews: Well, I don’t know whether it being an institution was as much the problem as the second thing you mention — the disconnection with other fields. It was more that it was isolationist than it was institutionalized. And not only that it was isolated from other art forms, but that it was the most reactionary, perhaps, of them all. Most people wouldn’t even have considered it an art form in the same way they would these others. But it was maybe the only art form where you could continue to be acclaimed for doing work that could easily have been done 50 years before. That would have been unheard of in theatre, in music, in dance, or in the visual arts, for sure. So it was a uniquely conservative or reactionary field, I would say. And that was the problem for some of us.

Büscher-Ulbrich: In 2006, you made an appearance on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, under the rubric “Outrage of the Week,” and Bill O’Reilly basically charged you with indoctrination of undergraduates at Fordham University. Now, was that your first appearance as a “far left guy” in the US corporate media? And, given the fact that you were not invited as a poet, would you say that there is a connection, still, between what you do as a political scientist — teaching “International Politics” at Fordham — and your critical poetics?

Andrews: Okay. In late 2006 when I was asked on this right-wing talk show, The O’Reilly Factor, yes, that was the first time I’ve been on national television, in fact. I was being baited as a critic of American foreign policy, I think, partly because I am teaching at a Jesuit University and the show’s host, Bill O’Reilly, is a right-wing Catholic, so he takes particular responsibility almost for what goes on in the Catholic college system. In other words, if I had been teaching at Columbia, the New School, or NYU, I don’t think … it would have been more predictable for him and he wouldn’t have been surprised that some secular progressive was out there teaching works critical of American imperialism, and it was partly [because] I assigned the book The Five Biggest Lies that George W. Bush Told Us About Iraq in my classes and that it was required reading. And he was also trying to get me to, in a sense, come out on national television as a far-left person, which I declined to do. And his staff hadn’t informed him that I was also much better known as a poet, even though apparently one of my former students was an intern, I think, at Fox News and basically turned me in, hoping to get on the show and attack me for being a horrible, as you say, “indoctrinator” of innocent youth. But the book that I assigned, as I explained on the show – oh, by the way the show, as a video, is up on YouTube, and I transcribed the interview for a transcription journal that a couple of young poet-scholars were putting out, and that transcript is up online also.

Anyway, the book that I was using I used to try to investigate the rhetoric and, as I put it on the show, the justificatory efforts of government at trying to sell its policies and inspire what I’ve later come to call national security judgment on the part of the public. So I wasn’t assigning the book as a way to help the students explain why the policy was the way it was. It wasn’t a normative issue for me. I wasn’t trying to convince people that the war was bad and that therefore they should have a different view about the war. I was trying to get them to understand the way the government explained itself. Now, the connection between that, the specifics of that, and what you’re asking about as my critical poetics, is a little complicated. My efforts in school, and as a scholar, from the early 1970s on, when I started graduate school, were focused on the explanation of aggressive foreign policy by the United States. So I did my doctoral dissertation on alternative explanations of the US escalation of the war in Vietnam and its refusal to withdraw in the 1960s. Most of my scholarly work was on why the government did what it did; it was about the explanation of policy. That later shifted, especially in the classroom, to getting more and more interested in the role of the public and the role of public opinion as an enabling factor. So there was a slight shift from explanation to issues about preconditions, because I’m interested in what would need to be changed before the policy could change. Before, I thought of that mostly in terms of structural change at the level of the political economy. But then, as I got more interested in the facilitating role of both the media and the public, I started to focus on the government’s rhetoric and not so much on what was actually driving it, or motivating it.

They go on to talk about Andrews' book Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis, as well as how he conceives of "poetry as praxis" in relation to various Marxist and post-Structuralist thinkers; and the Language writers relationships to theory: "[I]t wasn’t as though the frameworks of thought came first, and then we squeezed the poetry out of that."

They also talk war metaphors; Brecht and his later Learning Plays (Lehrstücke) in relation to teaching and poetics; the performative and materialistic; the body of the reader and text and the term “intransitivity”; Capitalism with a capital "C"; Andrews' early work and his compositional method; the Russian Formalists; Adorno and his work trying to confront avant-garde classical music in the 1950s and 1960s (yes!); and more. Read it all, for sure!

Originally Published: November 1st, 2012