Thursday, July 07, 2005

Not Melancholy Enough

Horrible news from London. Can't help wondering if their winning the Olympics bid had as much to do with it as the G-8. I don't have a lot of use for the concept of evil, but this is an evil action. I wish we knew how to respond to it with justice rather than retribution and hatred.

Ran into Jasper at Gimme this morning: his partner and child are leaving for California today and he'll be following at the end of the month. He reminded me of his own short review of Fourier Series, which fully anticipates the objections raised by Joyelle McSweeney in her review of the book. Anyway, I find it useful to put them in dialogue with one another.

Jasper also reminded me of Henry Gould's response to my gloss of Christopher Nealon's "Camp Messianism". I think Henry's within his rights to find the relations between capital and cultural production oppressive or depressive; maybe that melancholia is what marks him as a dyed-in-the-wool modernist (though I'm certain he'd grouse about that or any label). But he ought to read some Jameson. Yes, I do think there's a correlation between post-1989 politico-economic conditions and literary utopianism: as capital tightens its grip on our collective imagination in the absence of any substantive opposition, I think many American poets are coming to grips with the crisis that Steve Evans grimly and succinctly describes (in the "Field Notes" section of the latest Poker) as finding it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It's odd of Henry to gesture toward China and India as examples of the "irrelevance" of an admittedly cheeky term like "late-late capitalism." First of all, I was talking about American poets and their experience of hyperdevelopment, total mediation, and heightened consciousness of the disconnect between our political system and the multinational economic system that dictates terms to it (instead of the other way around). But second of all, if late-late capitalism means anything it means the tightening of international networks of capital and labor flow: we have Indians in Bangalore with perfect American accents taking customer service calls from Peoria, we have Chinese laborers a half-generation from the soil making Swedish cellphones for a dollar a day. Some of us seize upon the cultural production of these developing nations (Chinese martial arts epics, Bollywood musicals) because they show us what happens when a culture that has not yet shed its precapitalist foundations encounters the transforming power of a freetrading capital that demands in an ironic recapitulation of Whitman, "Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!" To us a Bollywood film looks like camp for the reasons Nealon describes: it discovers the surplus value in an outdated mode of production (in this case, the Technicolor Hollywood musicals of the 50s and early 60s). But in this case our ironic embrace rides atop the fullthroated embrace of an entire culture whose ambivalence about capitalism's solvency (I use that word in both its major senses) is palpable, so that in an odd way to be a Bollywood fan is to be somewhat in touch with with energies that become radical when transferred from the a scene of "high" capitalism to our own late-late capitalism. (Any thoughts on this, Gary?)

Anyway: if Henry finds this kind of thinking depressing or restrictive to his own creative practice, by all means he should cultivate whatever theories he finds generative. But it's no use his pretending that Marxian-influenced poetics hasn't a leg to stand on. And any poetics is best proved or disproved by the vitality of its practice: something Nealon's example poets, not to mention Nealon himself, demonstrate in abundance.

1 comment:

Johannes said...


I read Jasper's short review of your Fourier Book and I can say that perhaps he "anticipates" the objections Joyelle raises to the book at the constant critic, but he does nothing to counter the objections.

To paraphrase Joyelle's objections as "not melancholy enough" is ridiculously simplistic. To say that her objection is an objection to breaking with "table etiquette" is equally simplistic. If anything Joyelle argued that you did not go far enough, that your too-"etiquetted" poetic tone did not delve into the problems you raise.


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