Friday, October 29, 2010


Also, I can't wait to have the money to splurge on this new one, by one of the few scholars giving significant time/wait and weight to citational poetic works:

"Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century" by Marjorie Perloff, University of Chicago Press, 2010.


"What is the place of individual genius in a global world of hyper-information— a world in which, as Walter Benjamin predicted more than seventy years ago, everyone is potentially an author? For poets in such a climate, "originality" begins to take a back seat to what can be done with other people’s words—framing, citing, recycling, and otherwise mediating available words and sentences, and sometimes entire texts. Marjorie Perloff here explores this intriguing development in contemporary poetry: the embrace of "unoriginal" writing. Paradoxically, she argues, such citational and often constraint-based poetry is more accessible and, in a sense, "personal" than was the hermetic poetry of the 1980s and 90s.

Perloff traces this poetics of "unoriginal genius" from its paradigmatic work, Benjamin’s encyclopedic Arcades Project, a book largely made up of citations. She discusses the processes of choice, framing, and reconfiguration in the work of Brazilian Concretism and Oulipo, both movements now understood as precursors of such hybrid citational texts as Charles Bernstein’s opera libretto Shadowtime and Susan Howe’s documentary lyric sequence The Midnight. Perloff also finds that the new syncretism extends to language: for example, to the French-Norwegian Caroline Bergvall writing in English and the Japanese Yoko Tawada, in German. Unoriginal Genius concludes with a discussion of Kenneth Goldsmith’s conceptualist book Traffic—a seemingly "pure’" radio transcript of one holiday weekend’s worth of traffic reports. In these instances and many others, Perloff shows us "poetry by other means" of great ingenuity, wit, and complexity."

© U. of Chicago Press

Not ooftah much

Showing some jazz documentaries (for lack of prepared lesson plans) in the Chorus class for which I substituted, I took these notes & quotes, as I often do, despite having no historical research in progress. Here, some thoughts:

+Upon preparing for his Soviet Union tour as a cultural ambassador, and amidst the Little Rock Nine incident, Louis Armstrong decided to cancel at the last moment, expressing contempt for Eisenhower's indifference to the blatant, unconstitutional prejudice ensuing there in Arkansas. "It's getting almost so bad a colored man hasn't got any country," he said. Of course, whenever mentioned on radio, television, or in the press, his status as a whimsy, delightful old singer-trumpeter man retains the untroubling sheen it had back then (for whites and, in their bewilderment, for blacks). We can observe the same significance for the dixie and ragtime genres as well: fun, easy, sounds nice in the background, but, mostly, requests no urgency. Again, the fetishized nature of MLK Day is an easy pill because all one really has to know is that Dr. King gave some weighty (but for our purposes, triumphant, agreeable) speeches, had "A Dream," and now the stratified society and opportunities are no more. (Phew!) Dab that brow, we're all living in an anybody's world without race-catering or predesignated modes of living, working, etc. We can look back and think, "Yep, I heard you loud and clear. Now please, let me continue unmolested by pleas for socio-economic reconfiguration."

+I'm interested in how one of the commentators described "Strange Fruit," when sung by Billie Holiday (though Columbia wouldn't dare record it, for fear of a wholesale boycott the South), as "the first protest song." Now, of course the very Orleans-Creole, slave-hymn roots of the Jazz/Blues genre included (just as poetic/allegorical) protest content. I won't make a huge fuss about his comment, except to say that a "defining" moment in any cultural history must somehow exist purely in terms of audience. Heaven only knows how popular such protest hymns (disguised, hidden from "my Massa") were to however many pre-Emancipation African-Americans there were. Of course, their history is somehow unrecorded and supposedly distinct from ours. The good-hearted commentator probably meant it was "the first protest" song to be composed and presented in such a way the white majority would find attractive tonally, yet disturbing and offensive subtextually. (We only need a futile scan of the numerous "Greatest Hits" volumes of Holiday's repertoire to notice this. "Strange Fruit" isn't there). It is, indeed, a beautiful, beautifully sad song:
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
(as Dylan put it, "Now's the time for your tears.")

+Finally, during the Coltrane chapter in episode nine of Ken Burns' JAZZ, Wynton Marsalis describes Jazz in the only way it (as a sprawling category of disparate genres and influence(e)s) can be described:

"Jazz music is existence music. It doesn't take you out of the world, it puts you in the world. Makes you deal with it... It's not a religiosity of 'thou must,' but of 'this is!'"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Asocial" authors involve audience

The latest advances in e-literature include:

Blurring the Line Between Apps and Books
the smashed writer/programmer distinction, by making the author literally approachable through the book which is installed as an app (with communicative capacities)

The Medium: E-Readers Collective
the marketing of a work/passage by the populist (and, yes) compositional practice of readerly highlighting, here called "crowd-sourced literary criticism"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Salvation of moment

I'm glad to have caught the s/ART/q 2010 Invitational after work today, which included terrific new work (my personal definitions, by no means descriptively literate): Jen Nugent's abstracted landscapes, conflating neighborhoods/classes, Michael Panarella's portraiture-play, Caui Lofgren's "accidental collisions", Kim Russo's line and mind vagaries, and Kim S. Anderson's decontextualized subject sketches. A refreshing detour through others' minds as my own plods through the avalanching logjam of rhetorical fallacies this jolly election season.

Tonight is a Smörgåsbord of great new music, visual art, and projective curiosities at the Venue.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A radical voice amid regressive ethos

The NY Times: Syrian-born/French-citizen poet Adonis is A Revolutionary of Arabic Verse who admits, “The textbooks in Syria all say that I have ruined poetry."

“I wanted to draw on Arab tradition and mythology without being tied to it,” he said, adding, “I wanted to break the linearity of poetic text — to mess with it, if you will. The poem is meant to be a network rather than a single rope of thought.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Merci, youtube

Video adaptation of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, part 1 of 10.

Art as the Unnameable

A plea was published in the NY Times by Robert B. Pippen, In Defense of Naïve Reading, on behalf of the as yet, and thankfully, uncemented and not well-framed relationship of Literature and scholarship. He mentions an important point along the way about the sort of knowledge/understanding gained through experience of a piece of art that resists purely formalized and theoretical explication, and in turn, any necessary application of "results" in the scientific sense. Radical poets (even tenured ones) recognize and celebrate this reality in their performances/publications that call attention to the inadequacy (and aft-reckoning, really) of academic observations and valuations. Of course, the humanities programs must insist on having methodological criteria so to be taken seriously enough by the populace to receive funding. And given the fear of artistic compromise and assimilation by academic forces of rigid, expositive communication, I think most true, working artists prefer it that way. But what interests me is this casting of Theory as professing to be a totalizing or summative extraction of a "whole" or wholly exploited meaning. Granted, the worst kind of criticism pretends to this very idea. But some, and let's employ that word, the best, critical analyses that I have read typically admit from the get-go their reductive and cognitive mythologizing or archetypal tendencies, and really only crippling one's admiration for works of art (classical as well as modern) when taken as the say to end all says, rather than one ideologically grounded inference within a vast constellation of possible inferences. The business of academic discourse has, so far as I've seen, recently been to detract such monumental positions toward aesthetic experiences/investigations. Drawing one's own sense of several critical perspectives can be daunting, but we already (hopefully) do it with the two-party political system, acknowledge this and that exaggeration or misstep, and being widely informed enough to justify voting for/against a party-sanctioned candidate. Of course, this is my take, not necessarily yours.

"Literature and the arts have a dimension unique in the academy, not shared by the objects studied, or 'researched' by our scientific brethren. They invite or invoke, at a kind of 'first level,' an aesthetic experience that is by its nature resistant to restatement in more formalized, theoretical or generalizing language. This response can certainly be enriched by knowledge of context and history, but the objects express a first-person or subjective view of human concerns that is falsified if wholly transposed to a more 'sideways on' or third person view. Indeed that is in a way the whole point of having the 'arts.'"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Old men write books about cataclysms," therefore heroism and mortality

Philip Roth discusses his new Nemesis and what he intuits is the decline of the novel in the wake of the lit-digerati. This is undoubtedly an old codger's take on "those darn things," though few would deny that questions of concentration (both the attentive and process of pure cognitive consumption sort) linger in most everybody's mind at the merest mention of e-texts and alternative reading (or should it go by another name) practice. Is the tradition of holistic mental engrossment via alphabetic print justified? What are the benefits/disadvantages of our tuning-out capacities? Isn't reading an archaic and wasteful distraction? Is a return to primarily oral/aural/visual transmission desirable? Hasn't television and new media already supplanted that musty literary medium? Is there a use for history/values-based cultural conditioning? The ultra-capitalist answer is simple. My own, however, is not. But, half-ironically, I don't have time to divulge that now. This blogging business leaves too many openings for hyperlink-sensitive absorption and confusion/obfuscation of sources and their legitimacy. And anyway, that grad. school personal statement isn't going to finish writing itself.

Rather than an acute sense of the responsibilities of the reader, there's always room for that on those of the writer; which Philip Roth succeeds:

"'Writing a book is solving problems,' he said. 'You don't think about your place in this or that, or prizes, or reviews, or anything. It's the last thing that's on your mind, it's the work that is on your mind.'"

Wish list/ Name drop

While it's common for bloggers to share what books, films, articles of clothing, means of transportation, etc. they have consumed, utilized, or mail-ordered, I'm caught between want and wealth, having not yet achieved my school-season cushion capital. So I share with you a list of to-acquire items, to remind myself that while I haven't read half the titles on my procreant shelves, and while it is nice to eat every now and then, my consumerist lust for MORE perdures:

(titles by no means rarified or novel)

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat

The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History by Jill Lepore

The Coming Insurrection (Semiotext[e]/ Intervention) by The Invisible Committee

Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff

Half Empty by David Rakoff (the first chapter did it for me)

Political Writings 1953-1993 by Maurice Blanchot

In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan by Seth G. Jones

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future
by Robert B. Reich

This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff

James Baldwin: Collected Essays (Library of America) by James Baldwin

Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook ed. by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins by Bob Blumenthal

Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

Le Style Apollinaire: The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire by Louis Zukofsky

Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word ed. by Charles Bernstein

The Alphabet by Ron Silliman

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tea-Party as "Beat"en?

Lee Siegel's essay in this Sunday's NY Times Book review, The Beat Generation and the Tea Party (if that isn't a stretch...), seems to me to, above the surface counterculturalism, suggest that this anachronistic anti-political, politico-populist movement is, likewise, a momentous (but momentary) breeze.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Of being numerous

An ever-important voice in American poetry, George Oppen continues to resonate for me personally and politically, having so delicately scanned the social landscape of his contingent world with a ready admission of his constituent and consequent place in it. No poet in his time (that I can presently recall) so drove home the point of our existence's singular/plural condition, and with such meaning-ridden economy (even the hesitancy speaks through). We need a poetry today that is descendant with/from his compassionate(ly blunt) panorama of "presentness."

Charles Bernstein insists that for Oppen, the "loss of the 'transcendental signified' does not necessitate the abandonment, or absence, of knowledge but its location in history, in 'people'. This view entails both a rejection of the crude materialism of things without history and the crude idealism of history without things...
an ideal communication situation... The autonomy of the root, of the individual, allowing for the music of the social, the numerous." -from the essay Hinge, picture, published in Ironwood 26 (1985)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Another short list

-Hyperlink digital collection of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine

-The late Pinter stars in a film adaptation of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape

-DeGeneres confronts bullying