Saturday, June 04, 2005

I am pleased and flattered by Henry's asessement of my poetry: the fact that he finds my poems more "original" than my blog posts is something of a relief, really. My blog is an open notebook of real-time ephemera; the poems are, I hope, built to last. What Henry seems to regard as naivete, a "ponderous" reinvention of the political wheel, and even maybe a kind of sucking up (to whom?) on my part, Jonathan more charitably regards as a "youthful political earnestness." Well, shucks fellas, maybe I am as naive as all that, but what Henry calls ponderous reinvention I call thinking for oneself. The democracy Henry movingly describes as "an inspired dispersal of power" (not a bad characterization of anarchism, actually—something I incidentally tend to think of as an unachievable ideal, at least on the national level, but still literally inspiring) is not something I recognize in our present system, what with shameless gerrymandering, attacks on the courts, the paranoid secrecy of this White House, and other iniquities that Jonathan has pointed out. But you can't blame the Republicans for everything: the very undemocratic Senate and the electoral college are both enshrined in the Constitution, along with the three-fifths compromise over slavery it took a bloody Civil War to revoke—all of which are pretty damn far from the ideal of one person = one vote (not that voting in itself can meaningfully disperse power). I don't dispute the essential radicalism of American democracy, but I think it's seriously decayed and we are already living in a de facto (and nearly de jure) Galactic Empire, whose nakedness the skimpy ideological blanket of the flag can never entirely cover. Hope for the future, if I'm understanding Badiou correctly, lies in recovering our fidelity to the original Event of American democracy, or in recognizing some new, unanticiapted Event that has yet to occur or may already be in progress. If we're lucky, they'll turn out to be one and the same.

His Tiegerness writes again:
You seem to be arguing that ignoring or working against (the existing) hegemony is tantamount to engaging it. I'm completely baffled by this. I'm more engaged with the academy than you? Are you more actively engaged with the Republican party than Rick Santorum?

I'm not at the moment arguing against academic and instiutional support of poetry (another issue altogether). But I am saying that the unwashed in-law of obssessive categorization is pigeonholing. I ask again, what about those who don't fit into the categories you draw?
The analogy that comes to mind is: there's this house, that you grew up in, thinking it belongs to you. One day this guy (let's call him Otherguy) who moved in around the same time says it's HIS house and starts doing all sorts of stuff you find obnoxious: rearranging the furniture, painting the walls black, etc. Now if you stay in the house, you might fight directly with him room-to-room... or you might just shrug and sulk and say, "It's not so bad," or "I can live with it," or "At least he's keeping the REALLY scary people out," and you retreat to your room for the next four (eight, twenty) years. OR you say, "The hell with this, I'd rather be in the yard or on the porch—Otherguy can HAVE the house if it's so important to him." And you may make a nice life for yourself and your friends in the yard. But you're in a space that's defined by what it's not—it's not the inside. Standing with your back to the house doesn't make it disappear, or erase the fact that you once thought it was yours, or that Otherguy has a nice fridge where you used to be able to keep your leftover Chinese.

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. Most of us have more complicated relations with hegemony than that—us well-intentioned white guys benefit from it in all sorts of ways we mostly don't recognize at the time. Very few people manage to unplug completely, and I'm arguing it's not even desirable to do so, at least for me. I really like Henry's phrase about an inspired dispersal of power: how can we achieve this in poetry? I think considerable strides are being made in the democratization of production thanks to the Web, the increasing visibility of small presses, DIY-stuff, etc. Consumption is the more problematic side: how do we increase poetry's readership, why do so many of the literate people who would enjoy a copy of The Hat if it fell in their lap not even know it exists? Maybe guest columns in prose-oriented venues like Reb Livingston's Crucial Rooster are part of the answer.

As for pigeonholing, that is a considerable danger: not that categories are bad in themselves but if you become overzealous about them you'll end up ignoring, condemning, or misunderstanding work that doesn't fit. The first two are pretty bad; the consequences of misunderstanding are less grave, even welcome. Exceptions prove the rule or become their own rule: really powerful work that can't be categorized is a sign of the New and recognizing that it doesn't fit existing schema helps you recognize its newness. I don't think there's anything to be gained from ignorance. The risks of pigenholing are real, but cognitive mapping must take place, regardless. Again, if you don't take an active part in it, you will take a passive one. Which is not to say that "categorization" is the only mode of such mapping: any number of poetic, intellectual, and social practices are capable of producing the maps that we need to negotiate the world with. Many people prefer and praise the mode of immersion in whatever local scene or network they have access to, which makes intimate and particular knowledge of a number of poets possible; meanwhile poets outside the scene have a more hazy reality, though usually your scene will contain people who used to have other attachments and who can therefore fill you in on what's happening elsewhere. Of course the Web has changed that a lot—it's just barely possible now for a "scene" to transcend the geographical. In the meantime, even scenesters may find the occasional book of theory useful. And the vast majority of people interested in poetry probably don't have big enough local scenes to serve as a map for them.

What am I doing here, anyway? It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the Ithaca Festival is on! Their unfortunate slogan is "Catch the wind," but it's a good time anyway. Emily and I caught the parade with the world-famous Volvo Ballet on Thursday.

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