Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Premises for Creative Writing

"Writing articulates living in contradiction."
—Carla Harryman

Darwin: biological determinism. We are genetic accidents. Marx: economic determinism. We are shaped, produced, and deformed by class. Freud: determination of the unconscious. We are fragments of desire, misdirected by our dreams.

This is the terrain the postmodern writer must navigate, seeking impossible and necessary freedoms.

Liberation by any linguistic means necessary.

In class yesterday, meditating on Harryman's quotation, one of my students said, "Well, good writing's about conflict." Exactly. But some conflict is not out in the open. It stands concealed by our habits, if not our hypocrisies.

We'll be reading Mary Burger, et al, Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative, an anthology of pieces many of which were originally published in the online journal Narrativity. The vector carved out by these writers is a new alternative to the renunciative pleasures of Language poetry and the New York School's high "I" jinks. Narrative—the relationship to time, and most emphatically the time of the body—is the means they wish to rescue from the fragments of epic history on the one hand and lyrical timelessness on the other. So these writers foreground sexuality and abjection, the "not okay" to borrow a phrase. But to borrow it with a difference: flarf is scatological, whereas the writers associated with narrativity claim for themselves a genuine erotics, "not okay" because of its excess, the pungent body.

The irony of the narrativity writers is more porous, they seem more vulnerable to the world's desiring machines than the flarfists. Pop culture, yes, but also and importantly queer culture, which invites a counterhistory of genuine liberation into the larger despair-narrative of late capitalism. This too is a story, the story of cultural identity politics' victory over the Marxian class narrative. But is there not a negotiable contradiction here?

The body, the body, the body: that's what I, history of a head with wings, continually return to as the stake in new writing. The grubstake, the poker stake. Ante up. A new body, my child's, is about to be born, as my wife and I will be born into a new family romance. We bet on life against considerable odds in the long and medium term.

So: Kathy Acker's "The Killers" and Hemingway's "The Killers" and Acker's "Dead Doll Humility": "(In literature classes in university, had learned that anyone can say or write anything about anything if he or she does so cleverly enough. That cleverness, one of the formal rules of good literature, can be a method of social and political manipulation. Decided to use language stupidly.)"

"I can’t stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he’s going to get it. It’s too damned awful."

You better think about it.

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