thought about responding in detail to Brian Kim Stefans’ screed over the first half
of my Lowell commentary, but found (find) it impossible, at least
personally, to untangle his thinking from the ad hominem attacks that he loads into it. Of greater value &
interest are Kasey Mohammad’s & Michael Magee’s discussion
of the same issue. Though, frankly, Brian’s second approach on the same subject
seems less over-the-top & thus more thoughtful. Alas, he slides back into
the ad hominem mode for his third commentary.
I do want
to reiterate that anyone who lived through the 1960s will remember that, in
politics, the “third way” strategy advocated by Stefans – Walter Mondale was
its apotheosis – invariably came out as road kill. While the intentions of a
rapprochement may always be noble, in the world of American letters it requires
amnesia to imagine it possible. If you’re anywhere on the post-avant spectrum –
as Brian clearly is – the idea of rapprochement is virtually a death wish.
Kasey, on the other hand, is exactly on target when he suggests that a “17th
way” will be possible before a “third one” is.
offers a more cogent criticism concerning my comments in his email below:
quick comments on your otherwise spot-on assessment of all this Lowellmania of late.
When you say that when Time "could have focused on the
aftermath & implications of the first Harlem riots
of the decade, it chose instead to feature Lowell on its
cover," I think it misses many points.
To wit: Time could
have had another poet, not from his clan, on the cover — Ginsberg, perhaps, an
obvious choice, but perhaps a feature on "The New American
Poetry." Granted, that last proposed feature would have been four
years late — not so unhip for mainstream media — but
my point is by saying Time should have focused on the Harlem riots,
you're implying that
poet beside Lowell couldn't have competed with him for a Time cover —
indeed, if we are to believe poets of your generation (Larry Fagin's asinine
bloviating comes to mind), this was a glorious time for poetry, filled with
cheap rents, great pot, and hot chicks;
and his lot didn't care about the Harlem riots
— they probably did, they being of the aristopoet,
armchair purply liberal pedigree;
is less important than the Harlem riots
— it is not, and to imply it is demonstrates that in the absence of good ideas
all we have is moral indignation;
Granted, your comparison goes
for cheap points, and does point out Time's oversight of engaging with the
real world, just as Lowell, in
his diction and topics, avoided the real world as well. But by saying
non-pedigreed poets, by right of Time magazine's exclusion, are
"down" with Harlem riot concerns suggests alternapoets
of the early 60s were political heroes, and the pedigreed ones weren't.
I'm afraid neither is the case.
I just don't think you need to
invoke the Harlem riots to point out the
iniquity of the poetry world back then. Is all I'm saying.
editor, Unpleasant Event
author, God Save My Queen
absolutely right in some of his points. I wasn’t trying to suggest that Lowell or his immediate circle were in any
way involved in the decision to cover poetry over social eruption on the cover
of Time. There is no reason to
believe that Lowell didn’t feel some sympathy for the
rioters, although frankly at that early moment most of the Left didn’t know how
exactly how to react to that event.
editor, my experience tells me that a “poetry cover” on Time is what you choose for a week of little or no news of great
topical importance. In the face of the first modern urban uprising, to have
missed that was a major editorial comment on Time’s part. It’s not that poetry is “less important,” but rather
that its importance functions on a very different dimension.
it’s a comment more on the school of quietude’s (SoQ’s)
integration into the social milieu of the publishing industry, as such, that Time would think to put Lowell, rather than Ginsberg, on its cover
– the latter would almost certainly have sold more copies in 1964. It reminds me
of the degree to which many of the quietude poets don’t even know how that world
represents their own small press scene. As one Pulitzer-winning SoQ said to me
a couple of years back, “It must be hard to come out of college without a book
contract.” Yeah. Right.
Labels: School of Quietude
My comment on a single allusion
to David Bowie in Louis
Cabri’s “Salon, salon”
in the new Kiosk 2, evoked
a response from Louis that has “Big Post Error” inscribed all over it. Jim Behrle, my personal P.R. agent, tells me that Blogger is claiming
to have solved that irritating quirk.
I admit, reading what
follows, it took me a couple of passes through Louis’ text to realize that retrochic should be understood &
pronounced retro-chic & was not
related to trochees.
The crux of your question about allusion, for
me, is: When does one decide to go “up,” when “down” in interpreting and making
allusion? Somewhat simplistic down/up metaphor, but: one can go “down” (or
sideways) into allusions to specific details (intertexts) of form and history.
Allusion can then be differentiated from quotation (Diepeveen), textual present
(i.e. reading) from historical text (i.e. allusions), and so on, at a formal
level. One can also go “up” into textual allusions to a general idea or concept,
Example, from criticism, where both directions
for allusion might intersect under the rubric of white studies : Bob
Perelman’s reading of Bruce Andrews’s violence in I Don’t Have Any Paper So
Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) goes “up” – into Kantian concepts of aesthetic
disinterestedness and autonomy. “When Andrews writes, ‘sink the boat
people’, he doesn’t mean it – and thus finally could be said to write under the
aegis of Kantian disinterestedness, even though that leads to a liberal poetics
of free play” (107). The violence that concerns Perelman in Andrews’s work is
too conflicted to get a specific reading as this or that, even though there is
an insistent and concerted effort to get into its details, for instance, with
the line: “Where’s a battered woman – I want to beat her up?” (Don’t Have Any 193). Perelman writes:
How much credence are we supposed to put in that
question mark? The rhetoric is indecisive. It’s not “I want to beat up a
battered woman” (which would be like Baudelaire’s “Let’s Beat Up the Poor”), but neither is it “Can we possibly understand
the twisted feelings of someone who wants to beat up a battered woman?” It’s
hard to imagine Andrews is condoning abusive men, but what, besides triggering
a conflicted response, does such a sentence do? (Marginalization 106)
This passage offers two interpretive scenarios,
one negative, one positive. The first, a negative
scenario, proposes a formal and historical allusion for the line to
Baudelaire’s penultimate prose poem in Paris Spleen (1869), which, while
by no means excusing, would nevertheless underscore that Andrews’s offending
line has literary precedence. The second scenario foregoes allusion and tries
to put the sentence into other words by introducing empathy and the question of
empathy’s limits – a positive scenario.
dilemma is that while his essay’s principle focus is political in the modernist
sense of asking how words translate into action, Perelman emphatically does not
want to “endorse a retreat to more normative genres and content” (108).
But I want to focus on the social, not the
political, evaluation of violence in Shut Up that to me is what makes
Perelman’s reading so compellingly connect to the question of allusion. I’ve
only just figured this out. Why has Perelman “decided” (this word in quotation
marks, because I want to suggest a deconstruction of sorts) to go “up” into
Kantian concepts instead of “down” into details? Because, going “up” into
Kantian concepts preserves the ethical judgment upon
“conflicted response,” upon aestheticizing violence (with all its dire
modernist connotations). One unintended consequence however is that going “up”
like this relieves the reader of having to deal with any historical mediation
between his/her experience of textual violence and the text itself. This despite the caveat that “we should remember the situation in
which he [Andrews] is writing. […] Andrews is publishing in small-press
books and magazines: what prestige they have is literary.” I venture that a
retreat into the aesthetic as the ultimate apologist’s safe-haven for violent
expression (along the lines: poets can write whatever they want) would be
unacceptable to Andrews and Perelman. If we wanted to remember the
situation in which Andrews is writing, then wouldn’t we want to discover
allusions going “down” into, sideways through the text? Doing so would
problematize the ethical judgment, however, in the following way.
Which suggests that perhaps capitalism’s
continuous cultural “background radiation” is retrochic. Allusions to it in the
last few years might include: the Big Allis 8  black-and-white cover
photo of a vulnerably-young boy’s face, cropped so that we see only the barest
hint of a hairline (the man he will grow into), but most of his chin line (with
a few droplets of water on it, the boy that he is), suggesting the raw social
material potentially of, at worst, a skinhead (the effect is created by
cropping only a detail from a larger photographic work by Roni
Horn); the early paintings of Attila Richard Lukacs
(especially his “True North” series, presenting Doc Marten boots à la mode); Clint Burnham’s short-story
collection Airborne Photo (retrochic might be an apt allusion for the
entire axis of Burnham’s poetic and critical work); and even the revived
success (in various contexts) of Alfred Jarry’s
King/Father Ubu character; among other works. A stunningly paradoxical
assertion by Lippard, with interesting implications, is that retrochic’s source is Italian futurism (“Hot” 41). However,
Baudelaire’s moment, particularly his prose poems, facing as they are Georges Haussman’s thirty-year plan for Paris under Napoleon III
(urban planning rationalized to carry the automobile future) is also key, since
linked to the idea of the ephemeral, retrochic ultimately may be modernity’s
symptom, and the modern – one important articulation of it anyway – begins with
Baudelaire’s prose poems and his famous fashion essay on newspaper illustrator
and painter (of bourgeois life and of the Crimean war) Constantin Guys.
Allusion is one way to socially saturate  a
text, raising complex questions for contemporary poetry that is apparently
notoriously allusive. I’m only feeling my way here (I don’t know the
literature on allusion that well), but maybe it’s useful to think of
contemporary allusion divided not only up and down but into at least three
kinds: wild, studied, illusive. Most allusion is
studied . An extraordinary recent example would be Harryette Mullen’s
“privileging the codes of the oppressed” (interview, n.p.) in Muse & Drudge by utilizing
Library of Congress slave recordings, Clarence Major’s From Juba to Jive,
blues language, and colloquial expressions. Allusion exists wild  in
Andrews’s texts, and in the texts of numerous others in varied ways and degrees
(these categories exist of course only as far as they are useful) – and in
certain respects perhaps he might stand tokenized here as a return to allusion.
There is a third kind that mimics the gesture of allusion, producing, instead
of a specific allusion, the rhetorical gesture of alluding (allusion does not
require that the referential function of language predominate, but Perloff’s
effect of indeterminacy of referent from Rimbaud to Cage relates ).
criticism constitutes, for Jameson, “the predominant code in terms of which the
question ‘What does it mean?’ tends to be answered” (59), but “lives by
exclusion and predicates certain types of Otherness or evil” (60). In the
context of words’ relation to action, Perelman’s political question for Andrews
might be put as follows: Is the relation going to be like Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s
influence on the anti-slavery movement, or like Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s on
fascist-flamed anti-semitisim? Thus Perelman’s
ethical judgment is a form of “social praxis” (Jameson 117), and my intent is
by no means to dismiss its value. Perelman’s incisive review of The
Political Unconscious has a similar focus as his Andrews essay, concluding
that while Jameson discovers this vast intellectual zone of the political
unconscious, there is little that seems to be politically conscious in
the literary works he examines. A similar comment could be made, from
Perelman’s perspective, about Shut Up and, in relation to this work, allusion
“down” into history. This to me only demonstrates how social consciousness is
uneven in culture (retrochic as proof). Jameson’s treatment of ethics via
Nietzsche is impressed on me thanks to a paper by Nicole Markotić
on the subject.
 The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics describes six kinds of allusion (Miner).
 Cf. Andrews’s notion of “a writing that is itself a ‘wild reading’”
(Paradise 54, cited by Spahr) and your “Wild Form”
the signified is a template, not to be reproduced but
entered into, much as a
musician might move through an improvisation with others” [n.p.]).
Andrews, Bruce. I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism). L.A.: Sun & Moon, 1992.
___. Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern UP, 1996.
Battered Wives. The Canadian Music Encyclopedia.
Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen. Trans. Louise Varèse. NY: New Directions, 1970.
___. “The Painter of Modern Life.” The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Ed. Jonathan Mayne. Phaidon Press Inc., 1995. 1-41.
Big Allis 8. Eds. Deirdre Kovacs, Melanie
Neilson, Fiona Templeton. Brooklyn, NY. 1998.
Burnham, Clint. Airborne Photo: Stories. Vancouver: Anvil Press, 1999.
___. Be Labour Reading. Toronto: ECW Press, 1997.
___. Buddyland. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2000.
___. The Jamesonian Unconscious: The
Aesthetics of Marxist Theory. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
Diepeveen, Leonard. Changing Voices: The Modern
Quoting Poem. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Hoberman, J. “No Wavelength: The Para-Punk
Underground.” The Village Voice (May 21, 1979).
Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially
Symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981.
Lippard, Lucy. “Hot Potatoes: Art and Politics in 1980.” Re-Visions:
New Perspectives of Art Criticism. Howard Smagula,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991. 35-49.
___. “Retrochic: Looking Back in Anger.” The Village Voice (Dec.
10, 1979): 67-9. Lukacs, Attila Richard. “True North.” Diane Farris Gallery.
Markotić, Nicole. “Decentring the Whole: Women and Subjectivity.” Unpublished. 1995.
Miner, Earl. “Allusion.” The
New Princeton Encyclopedia of
Poetry and Poetics. Eds. Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1993. 38-40.
Mullen, Harryette. Muse & Drudge. Philadelphia, PA: Singing Horse Press, 1995.
___. “Harryette Mullen in Calgary, Alberta.” Interview compiled and edited by Louis Cabri (featuring Louis Cabri, Jeff Derksen, Nicole Markotić, Steve
McCaffery, Victor Ramraj,
Sheryl Teelucksingh, Fred
Wah). BOO 7 (July 1996). Vancouver, BC. n.p.
Orange, Tom. “the social word.” Private email. November 1, 2002.
Perelman, Bob. The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and
Literary History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1996.
___. “Exchangeable Frames.” Poetics
Journal 5. Berkeley, CA, 168-176.
Perloff, Marjorie. The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1981.
Silliman, Ron. “Wild Form.” Electronic
Poetry Center. <
July 4, 2003.
Spahr, Julia. “‘I’m Dracula’: Bruce Andrews and White Studies.” Electronic Poetry Center. <
July 4, 2003.
Sullivan, Gary. “Quick Digression.” June
27, 2003. Elsewhere. <http://garysullivan.blogspot.com/2003_06_22_garysullivan_archive.html>.
July 5, 2003.