Tuesday, March 11, 2003


I have to confess to a lot of ambivalence about Piombino and his project. Thematized in the book, and nakedly apparent in the correspondence between Piombino and the unfortunate Ramez Qureshi (available at Piombino's EPC page), is his powerful desire for recognition, even canonization, along with a certain bitterness at not having yet received that recognition: "At times it seems the whole world contrives to escape my warm embrace" ("Aperitifs"). I'm interested in my own discomfort about this, and in the powerful imperative I feel to conceal my own ambitions—ambitions which cannot easily be separated into categories of artistic ambition (which is generally valorized in both the mainstream and avant-garde communities) versus careerism (commodity culture/AWP is more or less brazened to this, but anyone who wants to be invited to the post-avant party is required to make a show of disdain for this kind of thinking). Piombino's work offers us a dichotomy between "the author" and "the person" in a piece like "Fourth Silent Manifesto (01/01/01)," but both are of course constructs within the "silent" writing of a nonauthor who wishes to dissolve such distinctions in his ironic acids. Still, his writing is stained with an anxiety about his readership and his necessarily limited ability to control his reception, or even to be received in the first place.
ANOTHER VOICE: You cannot command me to speak. I am silent by your definitions. I am posed against you. I could watch you no matter how long you continue to reveal what you think you are. If you try to invent me for your sake, you'll get only my laughter.

      —from "Unidentified Theoretical Object"
Theoretical Objects deliberately muddies and mixes both writing about epistemological issues and writing about writing. This latter catgory further subdivides into writing about what we might call the graphological possibilites that follow from epistemological openness (knowing what we know, or knowing what we don't know, what can we write about?) and writing about "scenes," po-biz, the means of (re)production. Navigating between "silence" and "music" is the "freedom" that he imagines not as a condition or state of being but as the artist's primary tool for saying something, given the resistance offered to saying anything by both silence ("Although silence and understanding are not the same thing, their mtuual rejection of warring particularities unites them in harmonizing all things ineffably, and completely"—"Silence") and music (which I read as the texture of an overdetermining culture that pregoverns or predigests the tradition of lyrical language). What Piombino might be interested in saying is not clear to me; unlike Watten he does not display, at least in this book, a desire to come to grips either with actual historical events or the language through which historical events are being (mis)represented). He strikes me in some ways of following in the Emersonian tradition of calling for a poetics, or a poet, without actually being able to fully enact that poetics or be that poet. Would Piombino be willing to greet some posse of young post-avant Whitmans at the beginnings of their great careers? Difficult to say. But the book's intense testing and questioning of all the normal criteria for "literary value" make me wonder how his or anyone's poetic career can take shape in the absence of claims for producing that value. His position would seem to be more that of the critic than that of the poet, though like most binaries he seems intent on deconstructing that.

The poet notices it is no longer possible to read. Even a few minutes of looking at words and even briefly considering their meanings produces a prolonged reverie. A recent bout of this allowed the poet to "think for hours" "idly circling familiar thoughts" like a child on a "merry-go-round." In any case, reading itself invariably leads back to the original motivation—this is "the categorical avoidance," perhaps. The poet then observes with chagrin that even Beauty itself is not a consolation for unread poems which are "unseen shadows" the inevitable and "undemanding shleter" of "meager and unfed thoughts." But just as a "room is rarely noticed and almost never the foundation" the poem is the "rock of ages, the ground from which we spring." Yet it is one in which "the singing's not in the voice but in the deep breaths arising from the song."

    —from "Explications"
Why can't Nicky read—because we have critics, or publishers charging $20 a pop, or Eliot's Tradition, to read poems for us? Piombino hints at no positive scheme of values for poetry except perhaps something grounded in bodily experience (a body which he imagines as "one third appetite, one third shelter, one third history" in "The Lapsed Reader (Automatic Manifesto #8—a clear companion piece to "UNREAD"). Again this strikes me as Emersonian: the Sage of Manhattan valorizes and calls for a poetry of "original relation to the universe" but "'refuses to dirty his hands even in flowing water'" ("Explications")—the cerebral aridity of his language possibly paving the way for poets willing and able to commit themselves to those objects of the world that have concrete, messy materiality as at least one component of their existence. Piombino's body of text incarnates appetite and shelter, at least in a privative sense, but history is absent, except perhaps in the necessary silence that the reader brings to the page. It's kind of a do-it-yourself book in that way.

I can't separate out my ambitions for this blog. I began it because I wanted to create a public persona for myself, and I've succeeded: there is now this surprisingly concrete virtual creature, "Josh Corey," who pops up as a character in other people's blogs, is taken to task for misreadings or challenged to back up his assertions, and perhaps even cited as an authority. He has a recognizable tone—more academic than the angry-young-man bloggers, less pompous than those whose projects of self-canonization are decades old. In recent days the number of hits I've been getting has doubled from about 50 to more than 100, and as I become more conscious of having an audience the mask that is "Josh Corey" is threatening to stiffen my "real face" like a shot of Botox. How to maintain flexibility and freedom—the oxymornic discipline that is freedom?
Where freedom is employed as a tool (illustrated in painting by Jackson Pollack, let's say, and in science by psychoanalysis) the tool itself tends to put severe demands on those who employ it. Like life itself, it is far easier to create it than it is to preserve it.... Time lifts things out and puts things back differently. Although this is hard to "contain" it offers morsels, tid-bits of a kind of satiety that reality deems impossible. This can be seen as the split from the phenomeonological mind/garden to institutional maintenance of the subletted sub-plot. But, gradually, in a more and more sinister way, it becomes clear to Freedom that it too must sometimes punish, in order to define itself as separate from her sister Chaos. This punishing itself, though, becomes a heady elixir to Freedom, who soon is wounding Reality indiscriminately—but this monarch is more impersonal than the King or Queen. Time is its ally and time is more liquid, soon it is surrounding every pore of Freedom's grandiose schemes, and late and soon large chunks of Freedom's monument are in ruins.

     —from "The Writing on the Wall Is Off the Wall"

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