Friday, December 03, 2004

Been busy with the dissertation—busy dissing. Now that I've more or less sorted out what I want to say about pastoral, I find myself working on the question of what exactly we mean when we say "avant-garde." Peter Büurger has the strictest definition, which not only requires avant-gardistes to intend to destory the institution of art so as to reintegrate artmaking into the praxis of daily life, but he also insists that it is an entirely historical term for a failed movement which has come and gone. Most others seem to use the term more casually, as if its meaning were self-evident—which is also how most people use the word "pastoral." One question I'm wrestling with is that of tradition and lineage: if I want to tell the story of pastoral and the avant-garde (the 20th century American poetry avant-gardes, to be more precise), I have to focus on movements, circles, schools, and palpable influences. That might end up leaving a figure as interesting to me as Ronald Johnson out in the cold. Certainly he follows in the Pound-Williams tradition, but what influence did he have? He's sui generis, and the problem with lineage/tradition narratives is that they leave the truly unique poets out in the cold. Of course one could argue that Johnson is starting to have an influence now, and I am increasingly interested in the possibilities poets of his generation offer to those of us with the experimental itch who nonetheless do not want to join the nth generation of the New York School or the Language poets (these two are persistently cited as the most pervasive and influential avant-gardes of the postwar period—the multi-generational nature of the NY School giving it more staying power than the other New Americans: the Beats, Duncan & Spicer et al, Black Mountain, etc.). Because pastoral is a representation of happinesss and a refuge for beauty, I think it might be important to younger poets like myself who are invested in the critical negativity of the Language school but who are also attracted to Personism and the fostering of relationship within the space of poetry. It probably comes down to the attitude toward subjectivity. If Language poets are skeptical of bourgeois subjectivity and the I-cry, Personists yet cling to an I and its experience—though the amount of "noise" they permit into their poetry suggests a corresponding awareness of interpolation and skepticism on the order of "we know she's not a chickenn, but we need the eggs." The pastoral meeting place retains significance for the Language poets (who did, after all, call their great anthology In the American Tree) as a site where collectivities can assemble or be generated—the tree of communicativity that any Eve with a high tolerance for theoretical discourse can take the fruit from. That's my half-formed idea, anyway. It's all increasingly interesting and increasingly unmanageable, at least insofar as I'd been thinking of writing something with the usual single-author oriented chapters. At what point is it best to make the compromise between the book in your head and the book on paper that will inevitably be less than ideal? Do I somehow do that in advance or during the process of writing, or is it only after it's done that that moment can arrive?

Still in my PJs, if you can believe it. To work.

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