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Kent Johnson Responds to Marjorie Perloff’s Avant-Garde in Latest Chicago Review

By Harriet Staff


Kent Johnson has written a note for the new issue of the Chicago Review called “Marjorie Perloff, the ‘Avant-garde,’ and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics” that is receiving a good amount of buzz, with the editors of The Claudius App noting that their Facebook post about the “parallax corrective” has received a record numbers of looks, about 1,200 in 24 hours.

Johnson commends the reference book on including in its fourth edition “essays on numerous ‘Third-World’ ethnic and national poetries,” where it had lacked in previous editions; Perloff’s entry for the “Avant-Garde,” however, “fl[ies] directly in face of the more capacious, internationalist gestures of the new Princeton, according to Johnson:

Moreover, the entry’s myopic purview is in dramatic contradiction with the internationalist outlook that the avant-garde itself (even on its minority right wing!) has long maintained at its ideational core.

Johnson goes on to details the non-mentions of César Vallejo, Aimé Césaire,and Japanese Surrealist, Kitasono Katue, of whom Johnson writes: “The momentous Gutai movement of the 50s doesn’ t happen without him; neither does Fluxus, probably.” There’s also Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik and Chilean poet Raúl Zurita:

Is Perloff aware of Alejandra Pizarnik, from Argentina? Though there has been some English translation and commentary, the absence of a full consideration of her oeuvre is a yawning gap in our understanding of the Latin American vanguardia. She died, a suicide, in 1972; her often disturbing, avant la lettre intertextual/appropriative works, in sophisticated dialogue with Continental theory (she lived in Paris for many years, where she was Julio Cortázar’s dear friend), along with a fierce, self-reflexive deconstruction of authorial self and signification—including employment of New Sentence-like procedures—beats the Language poets by a good decade. Various critics have written of how uncannily her work enacts proposals only later elaborated by Julia Kristeva in Revolution in Poetic Language and Black Sun; others have claimed her as Latin America’s answer to Artaud and Bataille. Her poetry, now Verlainesque in its cut transparencies, now Celanesque in its harsh lyricism, now abject, manic, and shocking, is among the most astonishing products of postwar world writing.

The situating of the avant-garde, then, is most certainly in flux:

Even the White House approves. We’ve traveled a long way and with great velocity from the proud, insurgent days of the New American Poetry, and it’s time to simply say it: the “avant-garde ” is now utterly at College—poetry’s Museum—and with all the perks. Perloff’s total inattention to the field-shift symptomizes, I’d submit, the ideological mood that’s come to suffuse the American post-avant’s late-stage trade: an amorphous “autonomy of art ” creed that is, of necessity, blithely oblivious to the institutional habitus that generates its very assumptions and operations. The formation wants both its “autonomous” social critique 214 and the official, legitimating patronage that now makes its poetic function thoroughly heteronomous. But there is no such Adornian cake, alas, that can be had and eaten too. And the layered irony of the dialectic is deepening.

Read the whole piece here, and don’t forget the footnotes.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.