Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cognitive disarray is the (dis)order of the day. In mental preparation for the big Las Vegas trip (where I'll be meeting Richard Greenfield, Gary Norris, and Robert Strong, and a few others) I've been dipping into Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, which opens with a few allusions to Venturi's Learning from Las Vegas as well as a now-dated seeming quote from William Gibson's Neuromancer. Almost any urbanity, even the parodic version Las Vegas offfers, seems out of date and out of tune with our current sensibility, in which a paranoid nationalism is lightly overlayed atop the sameness of every town's edgeville strip: WalMart, Home Depot, Applebee's ("your neighborhood place"), etc. Feeling very nostalgic for the city as representative of... as representative. Tonic for this is Robert Fitterman's extraordinary Metropolis project; Jordan's post about 1-800-FLOWERS (based on a talk I heard at the Zukofsky conference) sent me to Metropois 16 - 29, which I picked up from the Coach House table at the Vancouver AWP but haven't really read until now. It's a riotous pastiche or sampling of cityness with an anti-nostalgic edge. Section 16 consists simply of repetitive, subtly varied lists of stores, marking the rapid transformation of New York into Anymall, USA and turning Anymall in turn into the barest of readable (scriptible?) texts:
Dunkin' Donuts
Taco Bell
Home Depot
Sunglass Hut
J. Crew
Section 17 starts with what I think is an allusion to Blake ("An amazed maze of mills / pursuing impoverished vintages // slain, hilly, cedars") that starkly illustrates Jameson's page-one thesis (prophecy?): "Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good." Fitterman can sound rather prophetic himself: Metropolis 17 resembles a cheery jeremiad against our tendency to accommodate ourselves to the broken universal—to become postmodern people. I may not get the spacing exactly right:
   in data this is where
                         the conspiracy begins: I don't

but if I did have a gold chain
           it'd glisten       on a shore         in NJ

                            where ransom speaks louder
               than random if the opposite is true:

when you asked me if I'm a dog lover
                               I was being ironic
I am reminded inevitably of Kevin Davies (who has a blurb on the back cover) and his talent for streaming a consciousness that has seemingly every sort of cultural detritus floating in it without ever becoming shapeless. Fitterman's capacity for linguistic invention is on display here and in 19, which has an amazing subtitle: "Dream Cuisine: Neo-Colonialism, Nouvelle Cuisine, Lewis & Clark and the Union Square Cafe." I'm a L&C fan myself, but Fitterman takes them to spicier places than I've yet dreamed:
bridged ginger and curry leaves

kosher red
      Thai chili, sticky black-tipped Brant

are plenty, no buffalow
      in the Mountains
Form runs rampant in this book: 18 kerns letters together and breaks words apart in a manner impossible for me to reproduce here; 20 uses hyphens to simulate the rhythm of a blues song (Son House's "Am I Right Or Wrong") so that it functions like the return of what's suppressed in the scramble for commodity satisfactions; we have the pseudo-noir musings of a detective without portfolio in 21; the marvelous hash made of Milton's greatest hits in 24; 25's mash-up of popular song lyrics with Biblical and Marxian references, reminding me nothing so much as Zukofsky's Spinoza-Marx canzone; 26 is visual poetry; and so on. The formal restlessness here is sustained in large part by the larger work's attachment to New York, though never as a nostalgic island of historicity in the postmodern stream (a sentimentalizing tendency I myself am not immune to). Perhaps contingent poetics and Henry's ongoing articulation (in his "Notes Toward & So On") of a new poetics of the dynamic speech-image, capable of both representation and "resonance." In this case I find some of the resonance is achieved largely by the scale of the project: it's interesting to read what is in effect the middle volume of an ongoing arc whose end-of-the-rainbow has yet to be determined. The implied future of the work pulls this reader along, in fact is what implies a "work" and not the kind of solipsistic "text" Henry deplores. But maybe I'm lapsing into Heideggerian nostalgia again with my desire for a work that might exceed or at least point the way toward exceeding the merely aesthetic and do some actual liberation.

At any rate there are many pleasures here, of wit and the ear and the decoder ring. You may not be able to handle Duluth, but Fitterman hands the reader an electric soothsayer's view of the entrails of our time, from which some new thing may yet arise.

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