Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Well, Emily and I are off to Chicago for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I probably won't blog again before Monday. So to tide you over, here's a dialogue that's been going on between Kent Johnson and myself that Kent thoughtfully formatted for easy perusal. No doubt it will be an ongoing conversation. Speaking of conversation, I'd like to thank all the participants and observers of the recent and I think useful argument that's dominated this page and others for the past several days: Mike, Henry, Jordan, Stuart, Jason, Laura, and Hannah. Apologies if I missed you—send me an e-mail!—and happy turkey/tofu day to all.

[On October 27, Josh Corey wrote on his blog]:

Sometimes I forget what a wonderful ear the man [John Ashbery] has. The fact of Ashbery's popularity, or at any rate his canonicity, tickles me greatly. How did such a manifestly strange writer become mainstream? There is hope for us all.


[Kent wrote back-channel]:

Though Josh, a question from one of your sympathetic readers here:

Why and in what way should we hope to become mainstream?



[Josh’s reply back-channel]:

Let me turn the question back around on you Kent: what value is there to
be derived from sheer marginality? Particularly since, as you've no doubt
noticed, the margin has its own centers.

I have not given up hoping that the circles of readership for my writing
and for the writings I care about will continually expand.

Rather than try to recuperate Ashbery for the margins, why not celebrate
the fact that his strategies of mental and textual openness have a wide

Thoughts for the day,



[Kent’s response]:

That's a good reply, Josh.

But I'm not talking about "sheer marginality," much less pumping for its "value." And I'd certainly agree that "marginality" has its "centers"-- marginal centers which are hardly innocent of unacknowledged complicities with the mainstream (you know I've written about that elsewhere and aplenty).

The question, I think, might be something like this: Is an "expanding readership," for poetries of "mental and textual openness" as you put it, necessarily contingent on becoming "mainstream" (or, put another way, does having ever-larger numbers of readers necessarily mean a drifting towards an official "center")? I don't think so.

Why not new locations/unfoldings of poetry-audience relations that might begin to lift free of the old, symbiotic binaries (traditional/experimental, S of Q/post-avant, etc.)? Opening such a space of operation would mean, in the first instance, I believe, starting to challenge certain codified beliefs about authorship and attribution and the ideologized rituals that attend them--ones upon which the "margins" depend as much as the official center: ones, indeed, upon which the whole Institution Art depends (I remember you had been reading Berger).

So how to make it new is still the question, of course. But maybe it's not so much a question of how to make it new on the page. Poetry (or so the weird voices in my head tell me) is much more than what is on the page-- or what is bound at the spine.



(On November 23, as part of a multi-blog discussion sparked by Josh’s comments on “poetic ethics” at Cahiers on same day, Kent sent two comments to Henry Gould’s blog.)

[Comment 1]

Henry, maybe not, but I think I'm following your "difficult eloquence" here. If so, then may I add in support that this is why we *cannot* reduce an "ethics of poetry" to the empirical "face." (Josh, though I may be misreading, seems to be proposing this in his substantial post of today, and I would say such would be a simplification of Levinas's notion of otherness.)

To say this is not to deny an ethical respect for or commitment to the Other, by any means; rather, it is to propose that poetry's force can transcend the "institutional correlates," including conventional demarcations of authorship, that are so easily taken (not least by our "experimental poets") as natural and inevitable.


[Comment 2]

Part of the point in my comment above would be that the empirical self (the Author, that is) is very often the most forged Other of all. No one in the poetry world should have any trouble coming up with favorite examples. (There is also the mirror in the bathroom, or one's photo on the cover of a book.)

Speaking of the "person," as Josh does, think of Pessoa, whose name, eerily, means, precisely, Person. Art is the lie that helps us to see the truth, the saying goest, and Pessoa, for one, helps us to see the truth that the Person (at least the person of the Poet-person!) may, in intense imaginative circumstances, not be defined by his or her conventional "identity."



[Josh responded to Kent back-channel]:

Thanks for the very sharp comments. I like the distinction between "person" and "identity." Maybe I am being a little too glib with Levinas--I don't mean to say that poetry can be reduced to that particular ethical mode. Actually to say that poetry is about representing personhood is nearly to miss the boat unless you say something about that mode of representation, which has its roots in language's tendency to represent/signify beyond what anyone (any one identity/author) can intend. The practice of heteronymy extends this play of language away from self-identity and toward the person-other to the name below (above?) the title. The bridge between aesthetic and ethics becomes most visible in
that sort of play, since you're introducing (in Kantian terms) the scene of judgment (enlarging indeterminacy) into the scene of practical action.

I'd like to put up our discussion on the blog, but I'm not quite sure how to format it so it will be readable. If I get time to fiddle with our collected e-mails before taking off for Thanksgiving, I'll do so.

In the meantime, happy turkeys to you,


[to be continued]

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