Monday, December 29, 2003

A useful clarification from Gary on the question of disruption—one which carefully amplifies the meaning of the term so that the notion of a "disruptive poetics" becomes a contradiction in terms. The contextual and historical nature of disruption is made much clearer by his latest remarks, though: where you're coming from entirely determines your judgment of how disruptive a thing is or not. Barrett Watten, to use one of Gary's examples, was certainly disruptive to me when I first encountered him—my educational background up to then had persuaded me that the only "experimental" poetry worth noticing was that of the Beats, whom I dismissed as naive, sloppy, and jejune. There was no room on my map for someone like Watten: I had to get used to the idea of him, and Language poetry generally, before I could actually read him. The poetics, the new map, had to be assimilated before I could make any sense of the poetry itself. Which doesn't speak very well for my capacity to react like the ideal reader sometimes hinted at in the statements made about those poetics: someone who accepts, who yields, who completely opens to the work, not finding it any more or less "strange" or "difficult" than a Shakespeare sonnet or a Burma Shave ad. These statements, which "empower" the reader to understand Charles Bernstein while taking away his or her ability to make sense of NBC news, have always struck me as disingenous in their effect, though not their intent. Nonetheless I myself find myself paraphrasing this idea with my writing students, urging them to abandon all their usual props and contexts. As if I myself were capable of doing this—as if I've ever been able to bring myself to just look at a painting in a museum without studying the little printed card next to it! (I usually do refuse the recorded exgesis that you hold to your ear, though.) But we keep exhorting readers to discard their need for ground to stand on and see freshly, probably because we so strongly desire to do this ourselves. Yet so much of the game of poetry, the intellectual part, the interest, comes from logopoeia: the foregrounding play of etymological context in one's poetry. Naievty is always faux and unconsciousness has to be interpreted by consciousness. I've been reading too much German aesthetics, I think.

Still you have to applaud a statement like this one of Josef Albers', which I find in the beautiful coffee table book that we're selling here: Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art (edited by Vincent Katz; Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002). It seems entirely applicable to the way I want to teach poetry. He said this in 1928:
To experiment is at first more valuable than to produce; free play in the beginning develops courage. Therefore, we do not begin with a theoretical introduction; we start directly with the material. . . .

The most familiar methods of using [materials] are summarized; and since they are already in use they are for the time being forbidden. For example: paper, in handicraft and industry, is generally used lying flat; the edge is rarely utilized. For this reason we try paper standing upright, or even as a building material; we reinforce it by complicated folding; we use both sides; we emphasize the edge. Paper is usually pasted: instead of pasting it we try to tie it, to pin it, to sew it, to rivet it. . . .

Our aim is not so much to work differently as to work without copying or repeating others. we try to experiment, to train ourselves in "constructive thinking." . . .

. . . an essential point in our teaching is economy. Economy is the sense of thriftiness in labor and material and in the best possible use of them to achieve the effect that is desired (22-23).
Well, that last bit could go. Baroque excess often leads to the palace of wisdom, or at least freshness. But the fundamentals are very sound. I do wonder though what might constitute the "edge" of language.

No comments:

Popular Posts