Saturday, July 01, 2006

 

The most expensive reading ticket
I’ve heard of in some time
promises to be a bargain.

$60 Canadian
gets you a book-length reading
of The Men
by Lisa Robertson,
a three-course dinner
& all male fashion show

Friday, July 7, in Toronto
as part of
The Scream

literary festival

& for $5 more
you get the book too.

§

Soft Skull Press is bringing out a new edition of Eunoia.

§

I’ve been getting thank you notes
for shutting down
the comments stream.

But there has also been a drop-off
in the number of visits per day.

Personally, I miss the serious comments
that were on topic.
But toward the end,
that had declined to no more than
ten percent of the comments overall.

So if & when I reopen that feature
it will be after I have figured out
some way to ensure
that comments stay focused.

§

There will be a memorial event for
William Talcott
at Moe’s Books in Berkeley,
2476 Telegraph Ave,
Saturday, July 8
at 7:30 pm

§

One of the great presses
from the 1960s onward
finally has its own web site:

Coyote’s Journal

Check out those early journals
& those up-to-the-moment books

§

Sunday’s NY Times Book Review
looks at the collected poems
of Ishmael Reed.

§

The best piece I’ve read lately
on Donald Hall
is in the Harvard Crimson

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Friday, June 30, 2006

 

I don’t teach that often, maybe once every five or six years, save for one-day deals here & there. Over the years I’ve turned down a couple of tenure-track positions – they always assume you’re willing to take a 50 percent (or more) cut in pay – as well as a number of adjunct and one-semester or one-year positions. So when I actually do run into a class of bright, energetic, talented individuals, especially at the graduate level (thus having thought enough about what they want to do for writing to be more than a distraction in the undergrad hookup scene), I get a great rush of enthusiasm. These folks are great and a few of them have the chops to do something serious with writing.

But they’re so unread! This was an observation I made with my first grad level class at San Francisco State in 1982 & it really isn’t any different today. If anything, the sheer fragmentation of literary communities as the number of published books of poetry have expanded each year has made the problem far more daunting. When I was at SF State, I passed around a list of 25 author and 25 book titles – typical examples would have Ed Dorn & Sylvia Plath, Gunslinger & Ariel – asking my students to connect names to the titles. Nobody in that class got more than a quarter of the answers right. At Naropa, I’ve run into students – not all of them, thankfully – who had not previously heard of Charles Olson or Robert Duncan, let alone all that has happened in the 40 years of American poetry since the New Americans reigned pretty much unchallenged over the post-avant landscape in the 1960s. Don’t even get me started on who had heard of the Objectivists.

These folks are not dunderheads, not in the slightest, but unless you’ve had John Taggart as a teacher (one of my students has), studied at one of a handful of identifiable schools like SUNY Buffalo, Brown, Bard, Temple, Penn, Mills, Wayne State or UC San Diego, or are some kind of manic autodidact, your chances of entering a graduate school program with even a remote understanding of the history of American poetry over the past half century are pretty minimal. (High schools, where poetry is routinely taught by people who don’t even read it for pleasure, are of course a million times worse.)

Think for a moment of just what the problem is. If you read two books of poetry per week, you will fall behind in your knowledge of what exists and is out there to the tune of 3,900 books a year at minimum. Another way of putting it is that, at two books per week, you could read the poetry books published in the U.S. just in 2006 by roughly 2045. If you read a book a day, however, you can get it done by the end of 2014 or thereabouts. And then you could begin on 2007.

This is obviously where canons, anthologies and selection comes in. You really don’t want to read all 4,000 titles that will be published this year, regardless of what your allegiance is to aesthetic camps. Indeed, you can’t possibly read just the post-avant texts that will be published this year, just because it’s probably the largest single semi-coherent grouping of those titles today. It would not shock me to discover that, of the 4,000 titles, as many as 1,500 can be identified as post-avant, either some kind of poetry that grew out of the various traditions once represented by the New American poetry or some other postmodern tendency (Stein, dada, surrealism, sound poetry & vispo, for example, were all noticeably not a part of the New American scene). Perhaps 500 books out of that pile of 4,000 can be traced likewise back to the School of Quietude, itself an ensemble of different tendencies wedded toward a view of poetics that shuns ongoing formal development. Maybe another 500 are involved principally in some kind of identarian practice. And the last 1,500 have no allegiance or connection really to anything. Some of these are fiercely independent isolatos, but the bulk are no more well read than are my students this week. These authors are disconnected because they really are disconnected.¹

Now I may have my numbers wrong here – there may be as many as 2,000 post-avant books, for example – but if you want to challenge the numbers, I suggest you put up some alternative ones of your own, thank you.

The culprit here no doubt is undergraduate curricula, which sees no need to teach contemporary poetry, or does so ahistorically, without reference to the shape of the landscape. You can call that educational malpractice – and it surely is – but the real question isn’t what to call it, but rather what to do about it. I would presume, for example, that even the sleepiest of MFA programs² confront the same problem with each incoming class.

I do have a suggestion. Two actually. One for students, another for schools. For students I would seriously recommend taking a year off between your undergraduate education & any MFA program you might be thinking about. Use this year to read voluminously and historically. I would start with Donald M. Allen’s The New American Poetry. Of the 44 poets in that volume, there are least 30 whose work you should know pretty much in its entirety. You should also be able to trace at least three of the groupings – the Projectivists, the New York School and the Beats – to their current manifestations. How do you get from Robert Creeley to Graham Foust? From John Ashbery to Laura Sims or Catherine Wagner? From Charles Olson or Ed Dorn to Dale Smith? From any one of the Beats, say, to Lee Ann Brown? Then take your favorite contemporary poets and trace their lineages, their influences, back to the 1950s. Does it take you to the Allen anthology or lead elsewhere? For example, is Philip Lamantia the only connection you can find in the Allen for what Linh Dinh is doing now? Is there any evidence that Dinh has even read Lamantia? If not, what common sources elsewhere might these two very different writers have?

There are more recent anthologies, of which Paul Hoover’s Norton Postmodern is almost certainly the best, that attempt to give a sense of the broader contemporary landscape. How do these poets fit into those same historic lineages? Then take an anthology devoted to new poets – such as Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics – and conduct the same exercise. If you can get through all this in one year, ask yourself why there has not been a good anthology of Objectivist poetry – the generation that comes after Pound & Williams, but before the New Americans – since 1932. Read all of them & then work your way back to the modernists.

That would be a year of excellent reading, and it would give you a foundation to build upon as a poet. The choices you made for your own poetry would be based on some perspective, not simply because you don’t know better.

For schools, my recommendation isn’t so different. Rather than simply admitting students to MFA programs if they have a remotely decent manuscript (or simply the dollars necessary to pay the tuition), grad programs should require prospective students to write a critical or historical paper. For prospective poets, that paper would take the Allen anthology, The New American Poetry, as its starting point. Students would have a large number of options including tracing on grouping in the anthology up to the present, identifying major new poets and formal evolutions along the way, analyzing the relationships between one another (and between the poetry of one another) of one or more writers from each of the different sections of the anthology, writing about the absence of people of color from the anthology and the relationship of a particular identarian poetics to the poetics of the Allen anthology as it has developed from the 1960s to the present, writing about the relative absence of women from the anthology and doing pretty much the same thing there, writing about a new trend in American poetics and how it relates to (or contests) the poetics implicit in the Allen anthology, writing about a particular kind of poetics or poet (vispo, deep image, performance poetics, chance poetry, W.S. Merwin, Robert Lowell, Robert Bly, James Wright, rap poetics etc.) that is absent from the anthology, analyzing why that is and what that means, and tracing the influence of that alternative poetics to the present. All of these essays would require prospective student finally to position themselves with regards to whatever they’re writing about, and to write about their hopes for this line of development going forward and how they fit into that.

This is not, you might have noticed, so terribly different from the questionnaire that Jack Spicer used for his own Magic Workshop back in the 1950s, where he asked prospective attendees to choose one of two models for literary inheritance (one looks like a genealogy chart, the other planets in outer space, some larger, others smaller, some central, others not) and to fill in the boxes. Spicer’s Magic Workshop was not only a seminal event in the history of U.S. poetry in the 1950s, it should be noted that some of the successful applicants went on to become significant poets of a kind completely unlike Spicer, such as Jack Gilbert.

I don’t imagine that this exercise would beget a generation of students who sought to write like the next New American Poetry, only that it would help generate a cohort of MFA students who were not illiterates when it comes to American literary history. That way MFA programs would not have to spend at least half of their two-year programs on remedial education. And it just might cause a few more undergraduate programs to look at what they’re doing when they teach contemporary poetry.

 

¹ These numbers also suggest that the quickest way to become famous as a poet is to become a School of Quietude writer. There aren’t as many of them, they have almost bizarre dominance over the Big Six trade presses with all the distribution that implies, and you don’t have to be very good to be one of the very best. It’s exactly this same logic that has enabled Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice to become historic trendsetters in the African-American community, without ever being even remotely close to being the best or brightest. This strategy does mean that you’ll have to play at the shallow end of the pool all your days, but some folks find that to be their comfort zone.

² And wouldn’t it be fun to have contest identifying those.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

 

Laird Hunt, Rebecca Brown and Thalia Field were discussing “The Poetics of Prose” on Tuesday morning, although from my bailiwick at the rear of the auditorium it felt more as if Thalia Field had decided to take on genre once & for all as having no true value beyond “getting in the way” of whatever you need to write next. She was, so to speak, taking no prisoners. It made for such a lively discussion – one student after another clung to the questioner’s microphone in the middle of the audience trying to see if Field would bend even a little – that I forgot I was supposed to step outside at 11 o’clock to take a call from Jordan Davis. My bad, Jordan.

Certainly anyone who has ever written a work that gets mangled & muddled by the institutions that surround literature is going to sympathize deeply with Field’s frustration, if not necessarily the moral terms into which she was casting her jihad against genre. I won a Pushcart Prize for Fiction in 1979, although in fact I have never, to this day, written any. It was nice to receive an award & all, but I made them take the word fiction off my work in the paperback edition. The work that received this curious honor, Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps, one of the satellite texts of The Age of Huts, has neither character, plot nor even, for that matter, verbs. But it does appear as a single block of print that might be read as a paragraph. Which apparently is all that is required to be an award-winning author of fiction.

Then, three years later, UC San Diego offered me a visiting lectureship to come and teach fiction there. This appeared to be a result of the books Ketjak and Tjanting, works that have verbs for the most part, tho plot & character never really darken their doors unless, as Bob Perelman once theorized, the repetition of sentences in these poems is understood as plot. I insisted that UC let me teach a poetry course before I said yes. Did I feel guilty saying yes, knowing how many thousands of hardworking, dedicated, intelligent fiction writers there are who haven’t been getting such support for their work, either in the way of Pushcarts or teaching jobs? Yes, for about 30 seconds. It says something about the state of fiction – or maybe just the state of fiction in that little pocket of time 25 years ago – that someone could garner jobs & awards just by virtue of reaching the right-hand margin.

Elizabeth Willis, one of the shining presences at Naropa this week, rose up from the audience to note that genre distinctions are a necessity for institutions such as the New York Times Book Review as well as for bookstore managers. Since I’m teaching Povel this week, a book that received a poetry award that led to its publication but which has been reviewed almost exclusively as a novel, I wondered about that. It might be a bit much expecting bookstore managers to read the product before stocking their shelves, but what would the New York Times lose by the disappearance of easy categories besides the ability to know that it was dissing poetry as ever? Later, I pointed out to Elizabeth that, back when Small Press Traffic was primarily a small press bookstore on 24th Street in Noe Valley, it divided its stock into three sections: men, women & fiction.

The discussion also reminded me of an experiment I conducted in the mid-1970s when I was invited to give readings within a two-week period at the Maximum Security Library at Folsom State Prison¹ and at UC San Diego through the Visual Arts program where David Antin was teaching. I gave the same reading in each institution, centered around the poem “Berkeley,” a text that predates anything in The Age of Huts, even Ketjak, that was written using found material, every line in the text beginning with the word “I.” At UCSD, the students were appreciative and wanted to talk afterwards about how I saw my work vis-à-vis the likes of Roland Barthes. At Folsom, I got an enthusiastic response from African-American prisoners, more so even than from the students at UCSD, and a more polite but muted response from the white cons. Talking with the prisoners afterwards, I learned that the blacks, mostly urbanites from either LA or the Bay Area, heard what I was doing as a kind of verbal jazz. They hadn’t heard anything quite like it, but they could relate it to something they knew & understood – they had a genre category for what I was doing. The white convicts at Folsom were mostly displaced cowboys from the central valley. Their preferred music was Merle Haggard, not jazz, and they really didn’t have any clue as to how my writing might fit into their world.

The students at UCSD heard my writing as theory-savvy in some way – that accounted for their positive reaction there, but I suspect that on other occasions it has been every bit as much a turn-off to other student listeners. Certainly an awareness of theoretical debates later proved to be one of the great crimes that I & other langpos were charged with, mostly by professional academics, but also occasionally by some poets who had consciously rejected the academy themselves. Theory-savvy text is not (or was not then) a category among urban black felons, but they had their own set of categories & I happily came close enough to one to fit. But the white cons at Folsom had a different set altogether & there wasn’t any slot that seemed appropriate.

So in this sense I don’t think that categories or genre are a plot by Times editors, curriculum administrators or the buyers at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Rather, all of those institutions are trying to work with & shape, however ineptly (& it’s pretty profound), categories that begin with readers, as such, that come out of their own life experiences, which will differ dramatically according to their backgrounds. At some level, they’re not much more than an awareness – it can be quite vague in the absence of a specific text to identify & type – of the ensemble of cognitive frames we carry for any literary or textual phenomena. Some of it is learned, of course, but not necessarily always in school.

It’s not unlike the question of the relationship of a blog like this one to so-called serious critical writing. There no doubt are some readers who don’t trust a text that hasn’t been refereed by representatives of a critical journal. I’ve been pretty clear over the years that I tend to think of refereed journals as second-rate repositories of critical sludge and that direct discourse by poets amongst each other is really the only critical writing of lasting value. Which is to say that all the Fred Jameson texts in the world will never have the impact of a single copy of The Mayan Letters or Call Me Ishmael. Now there are some writers – Barrett Watten, Bob Perelman, Rachel Blau DuPless all immediately jump to mind – who successfully address both worlds at once. That’s a phenomenon worth studying on its own, but I would suggest that it’s a success that comes not through denying the differences between genres as Thalia Field seems to desire, but rather through acute sensitivity to the active dimensions (and limitations) of each.

 

¹ That way minimum security prisoners could attend & so could those in maximum security. Had I read in the minimum security library, the prisoners assigned to higher levels of security would not have been able to be there.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

 

When I was a student at Berkeley circa 1970, Fred Crews used to teach a course on literature & ideology. His reading list had all the usual suspects, starting with Orwell & Brecht. And that was part of what kept me from ever bothering to take the course – it struck me as obvious that the writing one ought to be reading in such a class were exactly the works that appeared to be “non-ideological” and not about politics at all. The politics of a Pound or Celine or Bellow, on the right, or a Rushdie or Vonnegut or Denise Levertov or Amiri Baraka are all over their work. But what about the politics of John Ashbery or Billy Collins or Ted Kooser or Ted Berrigan? It’s not that they don’t have ideological commitments, even if their personal politics might be incoherent, but rather that they don’t foreground this dimension in their writing. That always struck me as being the right place to look if you wanted to have a truly useful discussion of a dimension like ideology.

Similarly, this summer at Naropa, I’m teaching a course that looks at the dividing line between self & other in contemporary writing. There are, of course, a million works these days in which the poet has brought in various literary devices to ensure that everything in the work is not the “pure expression” of the poet’s ego. In class, we’ve discussed John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, Oulipo, flarf, Kenny Goldsmith’s uncreative writing. At the same time we’re reading three major critical pieces by Charles Olson – “Projective Verse” and “Letter to Elaine Feinstein,” two of his programmatic statements of projectivism, very much articulations of how the self might proceed in poetics, as well as “Proprioception,” Olson’s dialectics, which contains within itself a glimpse finally not just of self, but of other. Against this, what I didn’t want to do was simply pose works that offer the polar opposite practice, such as Mac Low or Goldsmith (different as they from one another), but in fact writers who don’t normally proceed as if the self/other question in the work is a major axis of their writing. The three books I chose were Aaron Shurin’s Involuntary Lyrics, Christian Bök’s Eunoia, and Geraldine Kim’s Povel. Not only does each poet come to a very different conclusion in these works as to how this question plays out in their writing, each represents a different demographic approaching this issue.

Shurin, with whom I went to UC Berkeley (for all I know, he may have taken Crews’ class), is a member of my own generation, old enough now to have had a couple of different careers as a poet, emerging first as one of the gay activist poets of the post-Stonewall period, then pushing himself further toward a post-avant poetics after working with Robert Duncan at New College. Involuntary Lyrics represents a return to the line after 15 years of prose poems, but for the project he chose the end words of Shakespeare’s sonnets (not necessarily in the same order as they appear in that sonnet) for which he wrote new lines, so to speak.

The best-selling poetry book in Canadian history, Eunoia is a marvel of narrative & sonic invention, as Bök, a generation younger than Shurin &, like many Canadians, as close to the European tradition of experimental literature as he is to the U.S. poetry scene. You can, if you wish, read (and even hear) the whole of Eunoia online, which you should. If you’re like me, you will still need to own both the book & CD as well, tho I must say that Bök’s reading on the CD seems muted & paced in comparison with the high-energy performance I heard him give of this at Temple a couple of years back. Each section of Eunoia presents a tale written entirely using a single vowel. The story of Helen is told all using words that contain only e, and there are some fabulously obscene moments in the i chapter. If the question in Shurin’s work is where does he end & Shakespeare begin (or vice versa), the question for the Oulipo-influenced Bök is where is he in the work?

Gerald Kim’s Povel presents this issue in exactly the opposite way. One could read her new sentence structured verse novel as tho it were an autobiographical text and, tho her book received the 2005 Fence Modern Poets Series prize from Fence (Forrest Gander was the judge), at least some reviews treat the book as though it were entirely a novel. Born in 1983 – she couldn’t have been more than 21 when she wrote Povel – Kim is of a new generation entirely, as well as a Korean-American writer, a cultural take that U.S. literature is only now getting to know. But the best part of this is that the distance between the Abbott Street neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Charles Olson grew up and Brooks Crossing, West Boylston, the street on which Kim was raised, is just 7.4 miles.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

 

Last Sunday night at Naropa, there was a celebration of Howl, in print now continuously for the past 50 years. There were excerpts from a documentary called Fried Shoes, Cooked Diamonds, Steven Taylor used Allen’s old harmonium to lead everyone in a song by William Blake & Taylor, Anne Waldman, Randy Roark & others got up & said or read things (I never noticed before just how much Anne stands with one foot raised off the ground as she reads, as if ready to spring into flight or dance). But the key to the evening was everyone – maybe 300 people! an SRO crowd in what I take to be Naropa’s largest auditorium – reading Howl aloud simultaneously. You should try this sometime.

One of things that happens is that the event itself takes over – there really are only one or two ways that that many souls can sound the same text at the same time & it sounds curiously similar to the pledge of allegiance, only this time to a very different nation, the real one. But underneath this overtone – it borders on the chants of Tibetan monks after awhile – you become aware of the lines in the text that fit comfortably with such a mode, both declamatory and almost hushed, and those lines that don’t. In Howl, there are many that don’t. Consider for example this six-line passage & how radically the four-part structure of that last line slows down the incessant forward motion:

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword,

 who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom.

The key word in Howl, at least part I, is who. After the first three lines, in which the word doesn’t appear at all, it then is the first word¹ in 56 of the next 63 lines, 89 percent of the time. It occupies this position only twice in the final twelve lines², just enough to infer the cohesion of parallel syntax, even as the poem opens out to a wider range of syntactic forms as it winds to a stop.

Because Ginsberg uses anaphor and long lines, the poem encourages rapid pacing & few breaths at the end of line breaks. Yet these last lines are line brakes as well as breaks, as Ginsberg takes great care to let the text coast to a stop.

 

¹ There’s an argument to be made that the word in a line that receives the most emphasis is the one at the line’s end, followed by the first word, followed by the word that comes immediately before a caesura, followed in turn by the first word after that, etc.

² It is the second word in the 73rd line.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

 

Philosophy after Auschwitz is barbaric.

That sentence, which is true in the sense that it is possible, that we can say & think it, can hear echoes of other similar sentences within it, can substitute any discipline into that first word-slot – mathematics after Auschwitz is barbaric – can substitute any horror into the third position – mathematics after Hiroshima is barbaric – can even, if we are prepared to cross a line not everyone will be comfortable with, substitute any characterization into the last slot – mathematics after Hiroshima is transparent – bedevils me.

Poetry & philosophy are twins, each looking to the other, anxious to compare. For every Adorno or Sartre or Cavell who addresses literature as a professional philosopher, we have poets who mime, as well as mine, philosophy itself, from Ezra Pound to John Taggart to Anne Carson & Susan Stewart, from Charles Olson to Charles Bernstein to Allen Grossman to Geraldine Kim. And then there is Wittgenstein, more widely imitated by poets, yours truly included, than any other practitioner of a “non-poetic” genre, more even than Bob Dylan. Not to mention Walter Benjamin – him I see as philosophy’s Jack Spicer. Both were obsessed with the task of the translator.

Like a lot of poets, I enter into this with a history & a bias. My formal training in philosophy consists of two classes, one on set theory, the other an intro course at Merritt College while I was picking up the units needed to transfer from the creative writing program at San Francisco State, which had been decimated by the 1968 student strike, to the English Department at UC Berkeley. My instructor was an Algerian-born Frenchman who’d gone into exile when it became unsafe for the French in Algiers, and who used Bertrand Russell’s decidedly idiosyncratic history as his text. Like a lot of kids – or at least guys with intellectual pretensions – of my generation, I’d read around in Kierkegaard & Heidegger in high school primarily so that young women would notice me reading the books. By the time I got out of high school, tho, I had the idea that a poet probably ought to know as much as possible about linguistics and about philosophy in order not to be simply a fool with a pen.

I found Chomsky’s linguistic texts impenetrable. The most intelligible line I ever read there, to this day, is ”Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” though I think it’s considerably more meaningful than does he. On the other hand, Dwight Bolinger’s Meaning and Form, a basic text, and the writing on linguistics by Charles Hockett in Scientific American, had a deep and lasting impact, sending me back through the history of linguistics first to Saussure & then to Roman Jakobson. It is not an accident, I think, that when MIT math major George Lakoff wanted to take a course on poetry & got Jakobson as his teacher, that Lakoff was destined – one might say doomed – to become a linguist. Nor is it an accident that when Claude Levi-Strauss heard Jakobson at the New School while in exile in New York during World War 2, that Levi-Strauss was similarly doomed to develop the structuralist school of cultural anthropology, which is exactly the structuralism to which all post-structuralism today imagines itself to be post-. The series Levi-Strauss attended was later published as Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning. Sound & meaning, not accidentally, are the critical dimensions of the poem. Jakobson’s ideas first began to percolate when he was still in Russia, where he was a young poet collaborating with the likes of Mayakovsky. This is how Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov & their kin among the doomed poets of the Russian revolution, ultimately begat Derrida, begat Deleuze, begat Gayatri Spivak, begat Zizek, none of them the wiser.

Reading Wittgenstein for me was a life-changing event, perhaps because I read Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations back to back & could see there the passion of the self-tortured mind. Passion, I would argue, is precisely what separates the very best philosophers from the bulk. It’s what I love about Willard Van Orman Quine & about Sartre, with whom I never ever agree. It’s what I love about Adorno, even if his attitude toward jazz makes me want to club him with a saxophone. Philosophy is all about feelings, but that’s not all.

Poetry & philosophy are two practices that propose their texts as instances of the self-valuable word. It would be easy enough to sketch them out, one pulling on the side of connotation, the other denotation. But as twins, this pair is incestuous. One could argue that continental philosophy is on the side of connation, analytic philosophy on the side of denotation, that continental philosophy as such has been infected with the poetic.

When I was a creative writing major in the 1960s, the obsessive quest of such programs was to help young poets find their voice. It was early in that decade when Charles Olson first drafted the nines essays that make up Proprioception, the closest thing we have ever had to a dialectic of, by, and for poets. Over the decades since the obsession with voice has changed. We live now in the age of flarf – at least one definition of which is poetry created to be deliberately awful or anti-literary – as a genre and of Google-sculpting & myriad chance operations as everyday literary devices, of appropriated texts & found ones. Kenny Goldsmith, sometimes known as Kenny G, writes &teaches what he calls uncreative writing, scanning in an entire edition of The New York Times, offering us a year’s worth of weather reports. Today, younger poets find themselves in exactly the inverse position of the one I confronted 40 years ago, seeking not so much their Voice as ways out of it, seeking not their Self but their Other. But what does that mean? I think it’s at least as nebulous as the concept of voice. My own goal for this week is to explore that dividing line in as many ways as possible.

§

This statement is for a panel, to include Elizabeth Willis, Anne Waldman, Chris Tysh, Donald Preziosi and me, Monday morning, June 26. The description of the panel itself is as much instruction as we were given, save to prepare a statement, seven to ten minutes in length:

What is it in philosophy that writers find so attractive? How important should philosophy be to a writer? Panelists will discuss how philosophical inquiries have informed their thinking and writing. Be it Marx, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Jean-Luc Nancy, or some other French guy, our panelists will discuss the philosophers they have been reading. Panelists will also discuss which investigations‹whether class, gender, society, desire, philosophy of language, or other areas‹most inform their work and thinking.

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