Poetry News

Responses & [Non]Non-Comforts Re: the ConPo / Affect Debate

By Harriet Staff


For those of you desiring to keep up with the most recent incarnation of debate/discussion around Conceptual writing--started anew with Cal Bedient's piece on affect at the Boston Review, "Against Conceptualism,"--we've gathered up some good reading material. All the following (in no particular order) include direct responses, preceding related, and thinking around Conceptualism and emotion actually evidenced in practice/poetry that we're happy to point out.

First, to bring people back to the great series of interviews engined by Kristen Gallagher at Jacket2, here's Diana Hamilton's piece on emotion and Conceptual writing, "Why Cry?" A little background: "'Hamilton describes her first book, Okay, Okay as 'a book of poetry that appropriates other people's feelings.' Working with all found language around the management of emotions (mostly how to hide them effectively), and woven together quite beautifully by Hamilton, Okay, Okay is a provocative and emotional read." Regarding another book project, Hamilton says:

...I wanted to write about emotion in a way that dealt both with the limited forms for its expression — oh, so your boyfriend left you, and you want to die, and you dislike your job, and you cry every time you come—you are a very unsurprising person whose experience needs no innovation for representation — and which treated the feelings seriously anyway—as in old movies that make no pretense to surprise endings or well-rounded characters.

And at the same time, I didn’t plan to “write” it, either because I hadn’t yet learned how to write, or, more precisely, because not-writing it taught me how to write, or because it was clear that it didn’t need writing, or because repetition isn’t only what repression causes; it’s also a means of repression’s interruption.

Other poets Gallagher talked to in her "Gossip or History" column: Josef Kaplan, Kim Rosenfield, Holly Melgard, Trisha Low, Steven Zultanski, Lawrence Giffin, among others.

Another series working in the Conceptual framework that takes on emotion would be the Emohippus, a series of greeting cards authored by the likes of Teresa Carmody, Mathew Timmons, Dolores Dorantes, Amaranth Borsuk, and many others, published by Eophippus Labs: "...Everything we feel is real! The emohippus greeting card beckons you to express yourself in new ways. Thinking tightly causes pain. Feeling alleviates fate."

Lana Turner just published Kent Johnson's "Notes on Safe Conceptualisms," which includes Johnson's notes from the recent symposium at Princeton (Vanessa Place's talks are here at Harriet); as well as an email from Keston Sutherland that takes on the "opposition" in "oppositional poetry": "Returning to the subject of museums, though: It’s the Academy that is ConPo’s real MoMA. Of course, not just for the Conceptualist faction! The Academy has been our general 'post-avant' situation for a while, and we’re pretty much all in it, in some measure or other. Drawing from the great art critic Benjamin Buchloh, it wouldn’t hurt to ask some questions a bit more insistently than, I think fair to say, we’ve tended to so far: What are the longer-term ramifications of the Academic climate for so-called 'oppositional' poetry?" Johnson provides new coinage, marking ConPo "the right wing of the avant-garde."

Aaron Beasley's "doggerel for thematics; or the endgame of 'détournement? I don't believe you!'" is a direct reply to Johnson's piece. "...[V]ery few poets today seem willing to ponder, much less challenge, the tacit notion that poetry suffices as a mode of critique without reflexive awareness."

With that in mind--and the pieces by Amy King at The Rumpus (see: Part 1 and Part 2 of "Beauty and the Beastly Po-Biz") on Conceptualism's oft embrace of capital--is Susan Schultz's response at Tinfish: "Conceptualism as affect: or, a defense of both at once." Schultz's piece discusses Kenny Goldsmith's recent appearance on The Colbert Report: "Colbert went right after the version of Goldsmith's polemic that is intended to shock--the avant of his garde, in other words. 'When I read this I feel like I'm some sort of time traveling aesthete who is coming in to sample other people's shock and tragedy. I'm tasting their disbelief and the way it's changing them forever... and it feels vampiric.' Oddly, both these comments, the con and the pro, involve reactions to the book as an aesthetic event, one that has us turning pages, whether or not we want to." Schultz also considers KG in relation to the archive and historical Hawaiian poetries. "I found his comments on Colbert to be more about finding the affect in our historical words . . . than about cleansing our palate of feeling."

Another eloquent piece on "the emo places" is Eileen Myles's recent "Painted Clear, Painted Black," at The Volta. This one predates Bedient's, as you prob know, but importantly it happens to comment on "life values": "...it’s a question of the right feeling which makes me deeply uncomfortable."

We pointed this one out not too long ago: Keston Sutherland's “THESES ON ANTISUBJECTIVIST DOGMA,” at Fiery Flying Roule, gives an historically complex account of the weary argument. "The antisubjectivism now being perpetuated by contemporary poets has no new features and it does not respond in any meaningful detail to its own historical moment." He also gets at a paradox inherent in our "Lyric I" special effects: "The most superficial knowledge of technique is enough to give the lie to the whole polemic. A thorough knowledge of technique makes the polemic seem unambiguously banal."

Lest we forget--and at risk of further complicating, or in order to--there was the brief nominal hold on "Lyrical Conceptualism," suggested by Lisa Robertson and Sina Queyras. Worth expounding upon.

Hope this helps, if you're still reading. Like you need to.