Poetry News

Lauren Levin's Last 'Genre Wormhole' Shines Bright Like a Diamond

By Harriet Staff

At SFMOMA's Open Space, Lauren Levin's last article as a columnist is "Genre Wormhole #4: The White House Lawn." "Because I’m writing about self-proclaimed agitprop in this essay," Levin writes, "talking about the artistic, political, and activist work of the group The Degenderettes — it feels right to start out with a polemic." From there: 

I want to gripe about an attitude (perhaps in retreat now?) that shaped my early education around literature: that in art, complexity is synonymous with ambiguity, that both are terms of virtue, and that so-called “political” art is neither. When I consider this fantasy, I think of the hero-worship of male Modernist aesthetes: Flaubert as striver, suffering in order to purify his sentence of the taint of personality: “The man is nothing, the work — all.” (Ignoring that Flaubert is also the writer who said, “Exuberance is better than taste.”)

In high school, I was presented with James Joyce’s Dubliners as the epitome of artistic ambition as well as apolitical beauty. This valediction of a certain type of complexity is itself related to form: the form of the high school class, and the way testing, assessment, and bounded classroom instruction are made more straightforward by imagining literature and art as puzzles to be solved, networks of interlocking symbolic gears. Like the protagonist’s soul, I remember myself swooning over the last sentence of Joyce’s “The Dead”: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

And the closing of “The Dead” is certainly complicated, full of susurrating sound, its metaphor opening out with a rush that expands the writer’s lens to encompass life, death, and the universe. But I want to argue that there are valuable types of complexity other than this, and to argue for the type found in the following polemical sentence: “Trans dykes are good and pure.”

Read more at Open Space.

Originally Published: July 12th, 2018