Thursday, October 19, 2006

I am moved and enthralled to discover, via Nada, that Richard Foreman of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater has started keeping a blog, named for his upcoming show Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! Like Nada, I find his statements about theater applicable to poetics. I am especially interested, in the context of my dissertation and thinking about the poetics of fragmentation in general, in his desire to avoid the completeness that generally comes with theatrical or cinematic representation: the Gesamtkunstwerk that's pretty easy to associate with fascism, though not necessarily political fascism. (On the other hand, that seems exactly what Pound was after with the Cantos—but lacking the collaboration of history they devolved into something more useful and more interesting.) As Foreman writes, "Why can I return to a painting, a poem, aphorisms, music—? Yet to see a play or film more than once is usually unbearably boring? Because these other forms elude one by leaving out at least one level of perceptual experience." Of course this makes "a poem" a sort of undefined baseline, when in fact there are poems and poems. Those I tend to think of as being more aesthetically conservative do seem intent on presenting a kind of miniature totality of expression: here is me, here is something authentic, here is a piece of my beautiful soul. Sometimes I think poems that do not actually belong to this category are misread as such: in fact, maybe Foreman is right about the nature of language as a means of representation, and it's the reader who brings totality to the work. In that case the question is how ready-made a given reader's responses are (and thus more or less able to respond to a work that doesn't belong to some genre the reader's already familiar with).

Anyway, Foreman's method for avoiding completion in theater is worth reading about: he cites Stein, who saw her plays as "landscapes" for consciousness to wander across, and seeks to achieve a similar affect through his juxtaposition of stage and film:
No—-we seek a form that forces the perceiving mind to “jump” like a spark from one level of “potential content” (film) to another (on-stage performance)—-which means that normal “tracking consciousness” is bypassed while the new field created between spectator and the “in between” space manifest on-stage in a field of total alertness --without a subject! (The minute you have a subject, you have a prison created by that subject—and the deep content of this art is freedom)
In his first entry, Foreman elaborates on the nature of that "freedom":
What I do in my theater is simply to layer different self contained ‘realms of being’ (image, sound, idea, or movement) over one another in ways that allow such overlapping layers to bleed through each other and create thereby, maps of new mental territory in which heightened sensibility re-energizes the internal mechanism we all share in common.
Inspiring stuff. For some reason it has me thinking about the Adorno project currently being engaged in by Robert (love that photo of Adorno on the beach with headphones on—sounds like a sequel to Einstein on the Beach, don't it?), Mark, and Dave Park are currently embarked on. I'm fascinated by this because Adorno is probably the single most important theorist to my dissertation: the idea for the "negative pastoral" that I see avant-pastoralists like Zukofsky and Ronald Johnson practicing was inspired by the tantalizing hints Adorno drops in Aesthetic Theory and elsewhere about the nexus of the modern artwork (critical and negative) with utopian representation (almost always a false image of reconciliation between human beings and nature). How does Foreman enter into it? Because of that phrase "maps of new mental territory," which for Foreman seems more psychoanalytic than Marxist-utopian (I'm thinking of Frederic Jameson's "cognitive mapping"), and that interests me because sometimes negative pastoral as I've sketched it can seem a little abstract and dry, without the excitement of libidinal charge that Foreman's artwork, unashamedly pursuinng in full cry the riches of the (dead?) unconscious, wants to carry. In the context of my project, the joy and sense of freedom he describes comes closest to articulation in works like Zukofsky's 80 Flowers (which by at least doubling the meaning of every word and every provisional syntactic structure demands split consciousness from its reader, even as an affect of delight prevails over the text as a whole) and Johnson's writing (especially the concrete poetry, which cultivates the gap between visual and legible). It seems to me that the preservation of this gap (formal manifestation of the negative) is what makes it possible for these works to pull off an amazing trick: they are pastorals, having all the energy of the truly utopian, yet avoid being false. They are stimulating rather than wholly consolatory.

A last note, irrelevant to what's gone before: I'm very interested in the exchange between Mark and Ron that suggests how literally Ron may have taken the notion that Quietude = Anglophilia. Is that whole trouble-making dichotomy Post-Avant vs. SoQ derived from Ron's inability to "hear" English verse? A gag reflex his only response to "ceremonious words"? (Mark quotes a blogger new to me named Sean Lysaght as saying, “I think the missing piece of the Yank auditory canal is the ability to hear 'ceremonious words'. American poetry is so tuned to the vernacular that it no longer recognises poetry pitched in a higher key.") This is too simplistic, as Mark goes on to point out: but I wonder how much of it explains my own unwillingness to sign on to Ron's dichotomy? As I mentioned in reviewing Camille's book the other day, at Vassar in the late eighties/early nineties we English majors got a pretty traditional education in the British literary tradition, which did in fact seem vampirically to embrace the few American poets taught there (Bishop, Lowell, Berryman). My ear was very much conditioned by iambic pentameter, so much so that it took me some years to accliimate myself to the wild proliferation of New American vernaculars. But I'm still very fond of English verse and there's no erasing the primal grooves Herrick and Herbert and Milton and Shakespeare have carved in my mental records. In fact lately I've been contemplating writing some blank verse, partly because teaching a Shakespeare course has reminded me what an amazingly flexible and powerful instrument it can be. Anyway, it would be amusing if much of the controversy between the raw and the cooked simply comes down to "He (or she) who has the ears to hear, let them hear." Me, I plan to continue to cultivate binaural listening habits.

Off to Maryland for a couple of days tomorrow for a last wedding-related hurrah.

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