Monday, June 06, 2005

Allergies + humidity = yuck. At least the bookstore is air conditioned. But here's another e-mail from Aaron Tieger to raise the rhetorical temperature:
I realize we're dealing with an ideological difference here, and we're never actually going to change each others' minds, but I do want to finally address a couple points.

"Genuine outsiders who don't feel the house ever belonged to them and simply want to burn it down have the simplest, most overdetermined, and most commodifiable response to hegemony: people read someone like Bukowski and enjoy the vicarious thrill of sticking it to the Man."

This gross simplification is condescending to anyone who feels alienated from "the house." What if I said "Academic insiders who assume they own the house and want to precisely delimit who can go in what rooms have the simplest, most overdetermined, and most commodifiable response to hegemony: read some theory, get a degree, and enjoy the palpable thrill of being the Man."? Seems to me like it's easier to go with the flow, join that workforce etc. than it is to try to implement ways of negating what one perceives as a hostile, alienating system.

It seems to me that the House model (as opposed to the Yard model) actually is more founded on commodification, as it makes it its business to label and organize into easily-identifiable categories. (The more we look to these categories, the more we overlook the stuff that doesn't fit and the faster it disappears.) The Yard model, on the other hand, is less concerned with commodification and more with creation and creators: process as well as product, and a suspicion of standardization and uniformity. As Ric Caddel puts it, "the ability to develop your work in your own way, at your own pace, without unwanted interference" and to build a community based on this. (It reminds me, tangentially, of Henry's phrase "service, not power.") Granted it's a more slippery, less objective model, but it allows for a lot more surprises.

Finally, I dislike the term "scenester" because not only does it imply a dismissive dimunition (cf. "youngster," "rhymester," etc) but because the root, "scene" is inaccurate (at least in my mind). "Scene" implies a certain transience and pretension. I'm looking for something greater than that. Something more like a Way than a job.
Yes, I'd better take back "scenester," it's a term laden with more snark than I intended. Perhaps we should call 'em "Yardworkers." But I wonder: where does Caddel's "ability to develop your own work" and the community built upon this, come from? Doesn't that require at least the minimal power of self-determination? What is the relation of the Yardworker not to the House as existing institution(s) (which is not really what I meant it to stand for) but the House as power? If you are working to "negate" a "hostile, alienating system," how is that not equivalent to working to build a better system? Power can't simply be destroyed: its imaginative dispersal would in effect comprise a new, decentralized system but it doesn't mean the end of power or systems as such. It seems to me that choosing subversion for subversion's sake, or a Way for the way's sake, is to give up on building something from which one would not be alienated—it's to surrender power for a moral high ground whose reality (and morality) seem dubious to me. See, I don't think Aaron and I disagree about the value of his Yard-oriented tactics. I just think we conceptualize the goal differently. If one succeeds in building a viable community where you can "do the work," you haven't just thumbed your nose at the House or torn it down: you've built your own wing, and rendered the House's old configuration unstable, so that you might find yourself in the master bedroom someday without even necessarily having wanted to go there. If you have a Way that works, a House will build itself around you, and maybe it will be better built and more welcoming and more attractive than the one we have now. But there is no Yard that is not either dominated by its House or presenting some kind of challenge to it.

To let that overextended metaphor go, and to go back to categories and drawing lines: I think we may be engaged in a hoary old debate about theory vs. practice. A lot of people—maybe most people—find the practice of theory alienating, and that's mostly theory's fault. Even the most open and postmodern of theorists tends to validate through their actions and stance the notion of the theoretical viewpoint as being superior to that of those who keep their heads down in the immanent periplum. Hazarding a theory can look like an arrogant gesture of foreclosure and not the educated guess intended to discover possibilities that it is. The fact that theory is associated with the academy is another strike against it, of course: many intelligent people dislike being disciplined (in all senses of that word) and with good reason. Refraining from theory can feel more organic and holistic, and strikes a blow against the relentless engine of the division of labor that is grinding all of us into more and more specialized particles. Yet you can't even formulate these ideas without a little theory; and a pure theorist of poetry who never gets her hands dirty with practice is hardly worth listening to. The intersection or point of sublation between the two poles is called poetics. I happen to believe that most poets are better off for making an effort to formulate a poetics (which is not the same thing as reifying a position or choosing a camp, though those are risks) because only then is real conversation between poets from differing aesthetics and millieux really possible. It may be necessary and galvanizing to tear down your poetics as soon as you've built one up, but that doesn't mean there isn't a great deal of energy and movement to be gained from building it in the first place. (I'm reminded of a bit from Waiting for Guffman where the music instructor tells Corky he wants the cast of the play to understand their technique so well that they can forget about it. "But they've already forgotten it," Corky blandly replies.)

Okay then, I've got shelving to do.

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