Friday, March 07, 2003

Much ado in blogland and beyond this morning, and I'm supposed to be brushing my teeth and getting ready to teach. A few quick thoughts:

On his blog David Hess takes me and Jonathan Mayhew to task for misinterpreting his parody of Jorie Graham's over-the-top blurbstyle—he even threatens to stop responding to what people blog on his blog because of frequent misunderstandings: "E-mail me if you want to get all dialogic." I'm personally in love with the talking-past-each-other perpetual-cocktail-party mode that blogging enables and misheard words, awkward silences, drunken babbling, and taking away of keys are all par for the course. So I will here dialogically implore you, David, to keep overhearing other people's monologues within your own. S'more fun. And his essay (to return to the fiction of addressing some Kantian disinterested reader) is good, go read it. Mea culpa if I misrepresented David's position in my little presentation, but of course I was using it as a springboard for my own thoughts about one particular book, having read little besides Bad History (which I do highly recommend) though I have Frame and plan to spend my next nonexistent chunk of free time reading it. And I was relying largley on the ideas in the first half of the essay, which is probably irresponsible of me; the second half is where things get really interesting as David starts exploring the autonomy/engagement gap in literary works beyond Watten's, principally and surprisingly the "blank generation" fiction of Raymond Carver (Raymond Carver, get out of my blog!), Frederick Barthelme, Bobbie Ann Mason, and most especially Bret Easton Ellis. It's the best and most spirited defense of American Psycho that I've ever read, a book I've been willing to consign unread to the scrap pile of 80s decadence before now. (I still have too weak a stomach to go read it, but maybe I'll rent the movie, which I'm told is as good in its way as Fight Club.)

Alan DeNiro posted an interesting comment on the D&D thread at his new brand-new blog at Taverner's Koans. For the record, Clark Coolidge is an 18th level half-elf cleric, Ron Silliman a 9th level dwarf fighter, Barrett Watten is a 15th level gnome fighter/illusionist, and Barbara Guest is a 20th level elf magic-user.

Walking home from my Finnegans Wake reading group last night (it was Savory Night—usually we bring sweets but last night there were two kinds of pasta salad, a bacon-and-blue-cheese quiche, nachos, and cold cuts. Joyce is making me fat) I found myself thinking about Heriberto Yepez's desire to kill off authorities and the category "reader"—his utopia is a utopia of writing. The Wake strikes me as a step in Heriberto's direction, because we are all of us "writing" the book as we read it word by polysemic word. There is no genuine authority who can tell us what it means, including Joyce himself. The foe that Heriberto would like to slay is the craven desire within each of us for the authority who will tell us what it all means. This is why Deleuze & Guattari celebrate the schizophrenic and certain readers of Lacan celebrate the psychotic and/or pervert positions: these are people for whom the Law does not obtain. I've always been wary of the valorization of madness that their thought, and Foucault's thought, seems to enable—not that these thinkers truly endorse madness as a genuine alternative to discourse/power, but that they lend themselves very easily to being read that way.

Last thought: before I went to bed I read the interview section with Benjamin Hollander at the end of Ammiel Alcalay's From the Warring Factions.* It's a stimulating and disturbing discussion of his poetics, which for the first time clearly illuminates for me how to describe the value of poems from other cultures that might seem trite or sentimental from my invariably formalist perspective. Here's a paragraph worth quoting in full on Mahmoud Darwish:
Writing and form in the United States, while incredibly rich and unique, are only beginning to grapple with the historical burdens of being part of the world, figuring out why the world is structured the way it is. It is hard to think, for example, of passages that resonate with the absolute particularity and timelessness of the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, as he writes about himself as "the poet" retracing the routes of his exile, searching not for "the homeland" but for "the boy that used to be in him, whom he had left behind some place and forgotten." I can think of many writers whose first reaction to such a passage might be that it is "sentimental." But if you know soemthing about the poet's personal history, about the historical circumstances of the people he is a part of, and about the time this text refers to, the passage is both revolutionary and lacerating. It is revolutionary in the sense that it opens up personal history in a tradition of writing that has largely concerned itself with the fate of a people; it is lacerating in that it tears open the loneliness and emotional suppression so often woven into a national history.
I really have to go teach now, but the gist of Alcalay's approach for Americans would seem precisely to invert the first part of that last sentence: an American poetry would be revolutionary insofar as it opened up the history of a people's fate within a tradition of writing that has largely concerned itself with the individual. The second half of the sentence would be preserved intact within Alcalay's poetics. His trumpet call is a real challenge to a decadent like me whose ideas of what poetry is were permanently shaped by encountering Wallace Stevens at age 14 (a prime D&D age). Not that such a poetry precludes concerns with history, but It Must Give Pleasure, damnit. Of course, one must be awake—dialectically?—to really experience pleasure.

More on this later, maybe.

* I would use an SPD link but I don't really know how.

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