Tuesday, November 04, 2003

We Will Rock You?

I've just added a link to Daniel Nester's blog, which has the subtitle, "Daniel Nester's Blog of Poetry, of Queen, of All Things in Between. That'd Be Me." As you may know, he is the author of God Save My Queen: A Tribute, a book which I have not yet read but which I have, quite possibly, already written. Or rather, I have written a book (or nearly all of one) who main character is completely and utterly obsessed with Queen, to the point of having named himself Freddy Mercury (not that's Freddy with a Y, not the bonafide IE). The false intimacy created by his having a blog and being just a click away, plus what appears to be consonance in our ages (judging from this photo) makes me have the urge, for the first time in years, to haul this brick of a DOA novel out from under my bed and make a copy and send to him, if only as a kind of fan mail (again, for a book I have not read, though I'd like to), a validation of his obsession. What makes this stranger is that I myself have never been a huge fan of the band (though I can sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety when drunk) but my character Freddy was. Freddy was meant to be a kind of reincarnation of Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet; the whole misbegotten novel was a reimagining of the play in a Verona, New Jersey high school (with the delicious initials VHS) from his perspective, only instead of getting killed in the middle he gets sent to an insane asylum/rehab center after attacking the novel's Tybalt character (a closeted quarterback). At the end of the book he escapes and hijacks the high school's production of West Side Story, instead forcing them to perform a rock opera he has written which gives new lyrics to Queen tunes. You know, as I describe this it doesn't sound that bad. Even if I were interested in resurrecting the novel, though (I was 24 when I wrote it), it would probably drown in the sea of post-Columbine literature that's been littering the "new books" table at The Bookery across from my usual post.

Anyhoo. A shout out to Daniel Nester and his musico-literary obsessions.

Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

I'm interested to see Jonathan rather than Silliman or some other react to the big, juicy bait that the Oren Izerman article offers. Like Jonathan, I fail to understand how he could so completely separate the aesthetic from the ontological and ethical spheres; as I noted, his endorsement of beauty in Michael Palmer's writing, a poet he certainly includes under the Language umbrella, seems a direct contradiction of his argument. It seems to me now that any poem has to clear a space for itself, make a Lichtung, and this action is always an index of the generative capacities of language itself. I'm starting to read Habermas' Legitimation Crisis and I think he has some useful things to say in this context about language and how somehow removing what he calls "systematic distortion" (another term, I think, for reification and the distortion effects it extends to meaning) and domination from the place of discourse (or creating a new such place?) is the only way for truth and freedom to re-enter it. Here's a quote describing "the ideal speech situation" from the introduction by Thomas McCarthy, the book's translator:
[Habermas'] thesis is that the structure is free from constraint only when for all participants there is a symmetrical distribution of chances to select and employ speech acts, when there is an effective equality of chances to assume dialogue roles. In particular, all participants must have the same chance to initiate and perpetuate discourse, to put forward, call into question, and give reasons for or against statements, explanations, interpretations, and justifications. Furthermore, they must have the same chance to express attitudes, feelings, intentions and the like, and to command, to oppose, to permit, and to forbid, etc. These last requirements refer directly to the organization of interaction, since the freeing of discourse from the constraints of action is only possible in the context of pure interaction. In other words, the conditions of the ideal speech situation must insure not only unlimited discussion but also discussion which is free from all constraints of domination, whether their source be conscious strategic behavior or communication barriers secured in ideology and neurosis. Thus, the conditions for ideal discourse are connected with conditions for an ideal form of life; they include linguistic conceptualizations of the traditional ideas of freedom and justice. "Truth," therefore, cannot be analyzed independently of "freedom" and "justice" (xvii).
The ideal speech situation is clearly a kind of nirvana that, as McCarthy goes on to write, "are rarely, if ever" actually achieved. But it seems like this zone might be what Izerman is claiming the Language poets are gesturing toward; Habermas formulation has the advantage, however, of not excluding content (maybe this is what Izerman claims is lacking from Language poetry: not the aesthetic in terms of the artistically appreciable but the transcendental aesthetic—what can be perceived, phenomena). Clearly it's beyond the capacity of any poet to singlehandedly establish such a speech situation on the page; only a community of writers could hope to achieve such a thing. But I think Habermas offers a fascinating description of what a certain kind of poet, such as the Language poets' Objectivist predecessors, is trying to achieve by renouncing subjective domination over objects and also in trying to make the networks of relation and domination that the objects of the poem exist in more visible. The fictional "ideal speech situation" of Habermas, free from conscious and unconscious sources of domination, sounds pretty darn close to what I've been thinking of as the space of postmodernist pastoral, in which writers at least try to fantasize a deliberately miniature utopia in which these conditions of speech prevail.

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