David Hess, the Heathen in Heat (does the plural come when you, I, or anyone, click on him?) also takes issue with my post on his blog, though he's more courteous about it. There seem to be two issues here: 1) who we (the nature of this "we" is a little unclear, but I take it to be the self-selecting group of young post-avants) should be opposing and 2) should we even be using paradigms like "oppositional poetics." Dave rejects the wanton "mixing of literary and political values." Maybe I'm too much of a theory-reading academic (I've never pretended not to be one) but I wonder how that would be possible. At the same time, I'm ready to support most anybody's non serviam. If you want to opt out of this particular fight over the scraps of cultural capital, go right ahead. But it seems to me that Dave's wrong to think that his poetry and his blog don't exist on some continuum of dissent from the cultural values routinely expressed in The New York Times and by our poet laureate. He's so deeply in dissent with that mode that he discounts its relevance:
Spooge on Billy Collins and spooge on W.S. Merwin. Are they truly relevant? To devote one's time to exposing the fraud of Collins would be like wasting your time criticizing Amy Lowell in the early '70s -- that's not where the debate is anymore. The langpos have already done that work of criticizing someone like Merwin or Collins.I wish I could be quite so sanguine. I'm an academic, and I teach undergraduates, and they are imbibing a notion of culture in which Modernism, much less Langpo, never existed. The fight against the School of Quietude (it's far too Sillimany a name, but let it stand) is not over. And if people are going to get in a twist over Jorie Graham awarding prizes to her students (which I agree is gross and unfair), shouldn't they be in just as much a twist about the fact that Dana Gioia, that unpolitical Republican, is going to be handing out the dribs and drabs of NEA money for the forseeable future? I understand Dave's frustration about the mode of political/poetical discourse that the Langpos have left us with, and I think we might even be in agreement at bottom. Weinberger, Bernstein, et al are all caught up in a paradigm that was born out of the 60s, a paradigm that looks nostalgic, ineffective, and surprisingly unhistoricist when transferred to 2003. There's something antiquated about their approach to an oppositional poeticsas dated and antiquated as the solipsistic, hippie-ish tone found in most of the poems from the Poets Against the War chapbook. What would be new? What will work now? What can we do with a president who can blithely say that he never listens to protesters? At the moment we can only protest, and I share that frustration and anger, which I find all too easy to dump onto the shoulders of the cultural and intellecutal workers who are supposed to be leading us right now. And I don't think I can separate my own frustration and anger from a desire to do a better job, somehow, a desire to seize the megaphone from the bald or bearded men (why always men?) who grip it in their tremulous fingers. Feels kind of...Oedipal.
You're Oedipal, I'm Oedipal, we're all Oedipal. Everyone wants the biggest slice of pie they can geteven or especially if they want to share out that pie with someone elseand they don't want to stand in line for it. I'm not asking anyone to play nice, though it would be, er, nice. Fight the good fight against what you see as Bernstein's deception, Dave. Fight me or the image of me if that gets you off, Andrew. But I for one can only fight an enemy that I can see clearly. Which is maybe how we all got into this mess in the first place.