Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Thomas wonders, "In what sense (if any) are "Westward Ho, or the Migration of Guilt" (Ryan G. Van Cleave) and "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay" (Michael Magee) "in the same neighbourhood" (Josh Corey)?" Well, I don't think those poems are in the same neighborhood; I just see the Van Cleave poem's reprocessed pop culture texture used to tell a story of the return of the repressed as derived from an impulse similar to what I've seen in flarf. Really my thinking about this was influenced by Jasper's idea about flarf as opposed to the lyric abstract of A Tonalism, a dichotomy which places both tendencies within the larger category of a would-be oppositional poetics. In the sketch he provides ("Flarf's odes to A-Tonalism's elegies; pressure of speech to aphasia; plenum to void"), the Van Cleave poem falls clearly on the flarf side. But it's true he doesn't get anywhere near as "inappropriate" as the most daring flarf poems do, like "Their Guys" or "Chicks Dig War." So maybe the je ne sais quois of flarf is not the manic social constructivism but its capacity for activating the squeamishness of its readers vis-a-vis sex, gender, class, and race? It seems to me that social constructivism is the genus of which flarf is a species, and that any poem of that genus succeeds or fails by affectively implicating the reader in its discourse. By pushing hard against the boundaries of the "inappropriate," a poem like "Their Guys" achieves something like an implicative sublime. Your feeling about the poem may be largely determined by whether or not you see its author as a fellow implicatee or as a righteous prosecutor or as getting away with being transgressive (or not getting away with it). In that respect flarf, and social constructivism generally, might require more specific information about the author and his or her intent (the kind gained most readily from membership in his or her coterie) than poems that are received as fitting into a pre-existing context or genre. Call it the intentional fallacy of flarf. It will be interesting to see how it evolves formally—that is, as a mode or modes of language attempting to be adequate to its content, which at this time seems mainly to be "inappropriates" that, almost by definition, resist all legitimate formulation. It's an attempt to think the obscene without reconciling us to it—a neat trick if it works.

Can't help but think that David Hess' essay Two Poems by John Ashbery for Now, posted yesterday on his long-hiatused blog, is somehow relevant to this discussion.

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