Sunday, November 14, 2010

Collaborators with Reality, Part Two

The future, like the past, belongs to poets who perform the self, who metastasize their corporeality, shame, and will-to-power on the page. When younger women do it we call it the Gurlesque. When younger men do it we don't have a name yet, but the men are there: Anthony Madrid's ghazals and now there's Nick Demske by Nick Demske, both of whom foreground their own names as a sort of body to stand outside of, ex-statically. Here's a little video of Madrid performing (as you'll see the word "reading" is just plain wrong) a poem from his manuscript The Getting Rid of What Cannot Be Done Without at Myopic Books:

Put aside the page and close your eyes, Madrid. Bring us into the presence of the oracular, the medium, the stance of he who testifies to something beyond. A stance that's never (only) ironic.


The public has always responded to the writer's personality, or the performance of that personality, and writers have always done a striptease with how much or how little of the "authentic" self and its experience can be located in a given work. The Romantics, broadly speaking (Goethe-Wordsworth-Byron through Dickinson-Whitman) can be defined at least epiphenomenally by the performance of persona, though the grandiosity of the High Romantics has become impossible except ironically. It's Low Romantics like John Clare, combining precision of observation with a performance of abjection and self-consciousness that gets linked, appositively, to the objects of that perception, that offer a way forward now.


I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.


Poets are no longer famous, yet they go on performing personality, just like the ordinary "stars" of reality television. Some of them still lay claim to craft, subject matter, something to say, like the contestants on Top Chef or Project Runway. The purer breeds (Real Housewives, Jersey Shore) stand seemingly naked in "the nothingness of scorn and noise, / Into the living sea of waking dreams" to delight and scandalize us. Poets like poems are disposable (but recyclable) commodities. Poems interrupt the prose of life (as the formatting of poems in The New Yorker has always taught us), indistinguishable from cartoons or advertising.


The difference between poetry and reality television is that reality television is popular.


Warhol's Marilyn Monroe silk screens and his Double Elvis work as metaphors because their images are so common in the culture that they can be used as shorthand, as other generations would have used, say, the sea. Marilyn and Elvis are just as much a part of the natural world as the ocean and a Greek god are.
—David Shields, Reality Hunger #240

But the gods have not returned, as nature has not returned. Celebrities no longer have the iconicity they once had, any more than poets do. (High Romanticism = the Hollywood studio system. Low Romanticism = straight to video.) As Warhol predicted, everyone is equally (un)famous, equally (un)worthy of performance and attention. Romantics of all stripes mine our nostalgia for a glamor, heroism, gods, nature that the individual, even a famous individual, never can possess. (I wish I was Cary Grant, said Cary Grant.) As Schiller says, the sentimentalisch poet always defines himself by self-conscious difference from the naive poet. It doesn't matter whether or not naive poets actually existed. We have had to invent them, as we have invented media to which we deform and conform our lives. Because mimesis, like the sublime and beautiful, is not a quality of objects or artworks. It is a faculty of the self.


When I say "collaborators" I mean the decentering (as opposed to the death) of authorship, the defederalization of the author. But I am also thinking of >épuration légale, of those French women with their heads shaved in 1944, marching in ignominy to social death past jeering crowds, bearers of the shame of collaborating with power, sleeping with the enemy, doing what it took to survive.


I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.


Kent Johnson said...

I wrote somewhere, I think in a post at the defunct Digital Emunction, that I thought there was a good chance Anthony Madrid could become the "next John Ashbery."

But he sure doesn't *read* like John Ashbery!


MASchiavo said...

"The Greek had, it seems, the same fellow-beings as I. The sun and moon, water and fire, met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted distinction between Greek and English, between Classic and Romantic schools, seems superficial and pedantic. When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me, -- when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar fires mine, time is no more. When I feel that we two meet in a perception, that our two souls are tinged with the same hue, and do, as it were, run into one, why should I measure degrees of latitude, why should I count Egyptian years?"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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