Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



★★ The Latest Posts on Hatter's Adversaria
Something I Read #17 – D.S. SavageDelillo's Underworld – a Review/Response
Visual Labyrinths in Body DoubleSomething I Read #16 – David Perkins


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#Poppoetry: The Unsurprising Culture of Poetry in the U.S. -- Part I

So, the plan to pull back and organize has worked quite well. Ditched or clicked off a number of minor projects; finished or shelved the stack of books. (Others have come to take their place. But at least now there's only one stack.) Got seriously organized on my two major projects, and mostly put to bed the two sub-majors.
 

One of those is this essay about my post on this blog about the poem "Spook House" and the replies thereto (which is here). It took much longer than I expected, and ended up much larger than I expected. I believe the cause is that I had opportunity here to organize some long-pondered thoughts, and my mind grabbed that opportunity and put it to use.

I am wondering if there is anything that needs to be said up front (that need to be said up front, and that won't be repeated below). Primarily I am concerned with ideas that might falsely arise from out of this being a full essay, not a passing post. To that end:

  1. This essay is still very much in tune with and a continuation of the project that is this blog. This blog and the central ideas of the essay go hand in hand. Indeed, by the last third of the essay it is mostly oriented within the blog's normal subject of writing (and reading) poetry.
  2. When it comes to it, the motivations here have little to do with the actual "Spook House" exchange. This is an essay, a demonstration, I've long wanted to put to paper. The exchange (coupled with the greater context of the blog project) was but the arrival of opportunity.
  3. Though this is an essay, and as such carries a flavor of formality in it, I have no editors reading behind me. Imperfections will exist. I plan to revisit the essay editorially in a while. Right now, I need to get it off the ledger.
  4. In line with that, like everything else on this blog, the purpose here is discoursive and not argumentative. Even though this is in essay form, this is still an idea being presented for people to read, explore, ponder, discuss. All comments, continuations, and corrections, are welcome.

I also want to state, perhaps mostly for people for whom the ideas in this essay are new, for people unfamiliar with literary theory and criticism: there is nothing said here that does not come out of well established ideas. (Even if, for reasons which are in part explained in the essay, there are many who reject those ideas.) Indeed, the reading of the texts of the "Spook House" poem, posts, and replies is a fairly basic, literary endeavor. In fact, it is what literary studies -- and literature -- is supposed to be about: engaging texts. That is really all I am doing here: engaging the smaller text of the post and replies, and through it the larger text of the culture of contemporary poetry. This is not an out-of-the-ordinary endeavor, nor an out-of-the-ordnary idea. It is only something that is not often -- if even rarely -- said.

Though it wasn't planned as such, it ended up being a long-form essay. So I'm posting it here in parts. It is four parts on its own, but the third is large so I'll divide it into two, which makes five posts in total. I will space them out over time: I have no fixed schedule. (In truth, I am not yet finished cleaning up parts III and IV.) After I post them here I will also put them on my Hatter's Cabinet site, with a bit of a delay.


Now that they are up, here are the links to the other parts:

  • Part II. Emotionality, Authority, and Morality
  • Part III. The Poem and the Replies: Structure and Ideation
  • Part IV. Summation, Conclusion, and the Inevitable J'accuse

The full essay is also on my Hatters Cabinet site, here.


 

#Poppoetry: The Unsurprising Culture
of Poetry in the U.S.

I. Introduction: That Which Should Be Assumed

 

It is remarkable that the great masters of prose have almost always also been poets, be it publicly or only in secret, in the 'closet'; and verily, one writes good prose only face to face with poetry!
-- Nietzsche, The Gay Science (trans. Josefine Nauckhoff) §92

"Look, an epigraph."
"Yeah, like we didn't see that coming."

-- two snotnosed graduate students in an uptown café

 
 
 

Once upon a time . . . .

Yes, that has been said before. But it is as good a way to start as any.

And yes, that too has been said before as well.

Still –

Once upon a time not so long ago there was a blog, a blog about writing and reading poetry; and on that blog there was a post about a poem. And it came to happen that that post rather irked the poet who wrote the poem. So much so, the poet felt something needed to be done. So, he replied to the post on the blog, and in his words he let it be known that, generally speaking, this would not stand, and something needed to be done. And in the following exchanges of reply on his part and response on the part of the blog-writer, he made to do that very something.

Until there came the point where the blog-writer knew there was nothing more to be said to the poet. "Except," that blog-writer added in departure, "this was all very interesting on its own, in that you felt something needed to be done, and in how you did it. There is something worth exploring here. So I will off to do that; and, when I am done, I will on this blog post those explorations, to see if what happened here is as interesting to anyone else as it is to me."

This essay is that exploration.

 
••¤••

I have the want to start with a quotation. I usually try to avoid such -- it is a gimmicky way to get to third gear. But occasionally there is honest, rhetorical value to it, so I am daring the practice. I do have a place to go from out of it. In fact, at least two.

It is from Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, the opening words to the chapter titled "Some Critical Implications of Stanzaic Forms":

It should neither surprise nor distress us that most poetry in English ranges from the mediocre to the very bad and that most poets are technically incompetent. So are most waiters, physicians, carpenters, lawyers, gardeners, and teachers. The genuinely successful poems to which we return again and again constitute a tiny selection from the vast and almost measureless rubbish heap of the centuries. Anyone with access to a good library who has read assiduously in the now entirely unrecalled poetic effusions of the last three centuries -- the sort of poems that no anthologist, no matter how silly, would think of collecting -- is in a position to estimate the importance of formal technique in redeeming a poem from oblivion.[FN]

Now, one might think that opening with a quotation from this particular book is a cue that somewhere beneath this essay there lies the belief that formal verse outranks and will always outrank free verse in the realms of poetry. Which is absolutely not the case. In truth, my use of this quotation is wholly of happenstance: chance had it that I was reading Fussell when I began thinking about this essay. And nothing more. Yet, some people, I am sure, would still insist the bias does and will yet here exist, simply in that I was reading that particular book -- an entirely false conclusion even within the context of the quotation itself. Fussell is not at any point in his book arguing that formal verse is superior to non-formal verse. Rather, what he is arguing (to give it one form of expression) is that a poet who has developed proficiency and sophistication in formal technique and understanding is going to be a better poet than that same poet without such proficiency and sophistication, irrespective of what kind of verse they ultimately write. Not because they will instill even in their free verse some presence of formality, but because an artist who understands and works out of their medium will always find more effective and engaging results than an artist who does not.

********************
[FN] 154, rev. ed. (Random House, NY) 1979. First published 1965.
********************

Which is an astoundingly important idea: a rather fundamental idea for poetry (and literature) in the broad, and a central idea for my project in the specific. But that is not the immediate direction I wish to take from out of the above quotation.

Rather, where I want to go comes out from the very first words of the quotation: "it should neither surprise nor distress us."

For it shouldn't. In truth, if such an idea does surprise or distress a person, they are either naive, unknowledged, or in obstinant denial. The phrase is well known, if not often said because of its impact: 99% of anything is crap. (I'll refrain, and stay PG.) The percentage offered will vary from person to person (and is in the end irrelevant to the idea), but the notion, the understanding of culture (and profession) that is carried in the phrase is a conclusion everyone will come to once they dare to give a look: in any field of endeavor, be it gardening, or carpentry, or doctoring, painting, or poetry, the exceptionally large majority of it will be mediocre at best.

This, I would argue, is particularly true with poetry and literature. Why? Because poetry is about language. And language is a medium immediately available to everybody and in continuous use by everybody. All you need is a piece of paper and a writing utensil and you can make poetry. To be a painter -- to be nearly anything else in all of civilization -- requires first of all that you go out to the store and actually buy the supplies: which seems like a small thing, but is a hurdle sufficient enough to weed out from the start a large body of would-be bad painters, for it puts in the path to the endeavor a first question: "is this going to be worth the monetary expenditure?"

Second of all, the far majority of I'm-thinking-about-it painters would also carry into the decision the knowledge that merely buying the supplies would be wholly insufficient to their becoming a painter of any degree of mere competency: they would accept from the start the onus that they needed some amount of instruction, from whatever source, be it formal classes, self-bought books on the subject, or a kind man painting happy trees on PBS.

There are no such obstacles to poetry: even should that initial purchase be necessary, it is miniscule in cost; and language, well, everybody talks all the time. Competency is met once the people most commonly spoken to can understand what is being said. It is a remarkably easy thing to be a poet: you need only be able to write, to know what a line break is, and to have a thought or emotion you want to express. In truth, to meet minimum qualifications for the status of "poetry," all you need is a couple, three line breaks and the word "love." Voilá -- poetry is brought to being.

With painting, in the minimum, you have to spend time merely training the muscles in your hand how to hold and wield a brush. And beyond that a bit of practice to figure out how to get the gobs of paint being smeared upon the canvas by your brush to look like a tree, or a rock, or whatever you might intend and be able to manage. There is a learning curve even to the point of the painter's own satisfaction in their own abilities with verisimilitude. With poetry, if you want to speak of a deer standing alone beside a great, granite rock, you need only those words.

As such, I would posit, where with most endeavors "99% of anything is crap" (which is really to say mediocre at best), with poetry the number hyperbolically approaches 99.99.

Am I arguing that people should stop writing poetry? That the poetry community should be actively trying to point out to the greater body of poets, "I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you suck; please stop"? No. Indeed, I would argue, from a different angle, I am saying the very opposite. There is something good in that poetry has about as expansive an invitation to participation as can be found. And that goodness derives from out of that poetry –- and literature -- has importance far greater than cultural value. Yes, the more people reading it, and the more writing it, the better for any society. But more importantly, the more a person is reading it, and the more a person is writing it, the better for that person. However, that "better" does not lie within the mere acts of writing and reading. Rather, it lies in the development of sophistication -- which is to say sophistication of the self -- that always rests, in potential, within those acts, if the individual dare make the effort to mine it.

Why?

Why is poetry and literature of such greater importance -- both in its writing and reading -- than everything else?

Why does the accusation that "99% of poetry is crap" matter so much that it should hang on the wall of every poetry workshop?

Why should it be (to inverse Fussell) that it should distress us "that most poetry in English ranges from the mediocre to the very bad"?

(1) Because the attitude of acceptance waters down the concept of and struggle for sophisticated in the world of poetry, which creates a culture of poetry where the mediocre is praised and brilliance becomes all the more difficult an achievement. And this may seem tinged with elitism, except for what inevitably, logically, follows.

(2) Because working with language is more than a creative endeavor: it is how we engage the world, our society, and our selves. When the idea of sophistication in poetry is being watered down, so also is sophistication in language being watered down (both in general and, more importantly, within the educational arena), which directly and inevitably means so also is sophistication in thought being watered down, and as such so also is the sophistication of the human person as an individual self being culturally watered down.

 
••¤••

But I have passed by the turn-off which would take me to the body-proper of this essay. Where the road we are on is paved by "ranges from the mediocre to the very bad," the desired turn-off sits at the word "most." Ultimately, the turn-off will lead us to the same fields of play as does the road first followed, above, though to different corner from a different direction. The commonality will be found, within this essay, through that word sophistication.

Just as readers of this might have prematurely and falsely concluded that the quotation above was argument by Fussell, or that the use of the quotation above was argument by me that formal verse is inherently more sophisticated than free verse, so also you might be concluding here, at this moment, that sophistication means for me something like quantifiable standards, or some linear charting of performance, or a particular style or method of poetics -- an idea equally false. The importance of sophistication lies not in the "measurement," as it were, of a person's sophistication; rather, the importance lies in the very endeavor for sophistication. (I use "endeavor" there with intent, to link it to its previous use, above.) For not only is poetry an endeavor, but so also is sophistication in its abstract form: indeed, the goal and process of sophistication is sophistication itself. That is, sophistication, here, in this essay, is far more an action than a characteristic.

Ergo,

It should neither surprise nor distress us that most poetry in English ranges from the mediocre to the very bad and that most poets are technically incompetent.

Though, I admit, it is probably not immediately apparent why.

Here is the turnoff –

Any endeavor that is not focused on sophistication in that endeavor will neither, in turn, have effect on the sophistication of the individual self. Sophistication is an endeavor, not a product. Cessation in that endeavor brings about diminishment. As such, contrary to what we might want to believe, 99% of anything is actually depreciative, attenuating, even detrimental to the development and sophistication of the self, intellectually, psychically, and spiritually: in toto, aesthetically.

It is an intrinsically literary idea that reading is inherently beneficial. And, obviously, intellectually, it is. Though, literature, and especially poetry, makes a claim to something higher: they stand on a tradition of art, of beauty, of the rarified air of elevated thought wrought in heightened language. Literature -- and the arts as a whole -- is upheld as demonstration of that which raises humankind above the animals, of that which is most precious and most beautiful within the human race. And poetry, even in its more quotidian forms, lays claim to that heritage, quality, and desire. Even political poetry, which strives to anchor itself in the ideologies of time and place, by being poetry, still intentionally taps into and withdraws from that heritage and standing in want to raise their texts out of the material and into -- or at least towards -- the celestial.

So it is quite a thing to say, then, that 99% of all poetry is merely conventional -- that the accusations are true, and irrespective of their claims 99% of all editors and publishers are, actually publishing the same thing, the same poems, the same banal thoughts writ in mediocre (if not technically incompetent) style; poems representative of a mass whose striving is not sophistication, but duplication, replication; poems that find their value not in being remarkable, irruptive, spiritual, beautiful, but in resting safely within the expected. (With enough variety to give lip service to the idea of "creativity"; but not so much so as to be of poor decorum.)

Yet, that is the inevitable conclusion of recognizing the existence of any established culture, including the culture of poetry in the U.S.: especially in that it is a culture that is ever increasingly invested in its own importance, as is readily evidenced by the growingly ubiquitous MFA industry. Though, "conclusion," there, may be wholly the wrong word. For this is not the result of argument -- it is the norm. It is what is and should wholly be expected within any culture’s nomos. Let me be clear: there is no indictment here that the MFA-industry has intentionally created a culture of acceptable (and expected and awarded) mediocrity within poetry. Rather, what I am saying is that the energies that have established and that are manifested within the MFA industry are an absolutely natural occurrence within a nomic culture such like that of poetry culture in the U.S. (I use the word "industry" intentionally, to say it is not just a cultural but also a financial enterprise, including the departments within which the MFA programs are found, and the universities owning those departments.) There is nothing about MFA culture, or the greater culture of poetry in the U.S., that is not what might wholly be expected within an established, nomic culture. It just so happens this one concerns poetry and literature; and it just so happens that it manifested contemporarily in the manner of the MFA industry. As such, I am not focusing solely on MFA programs: rather, I will be here talking about the entirety of the culture of poetry and its normalizing energies: include the editorialship, publishing, writing, award giving, the social and academic systems by which the culture establishes its leadership and its authorities -- leadership and authority which hold their positions because they reinforce and are no threat to the culture of the nomos; leadership and authority which must then support and replicate the social mores, lest they lose those positions of leadership and authority.

Again, let me be clear. My argument here is not a j'accuse!. It is rather a far more sedentary well, of course, that is how it is. Duh!. Of course the culture of poetry (and literature) is just as susceptible to conventionality and nomic definition as is every other culture, and of course the culture of poetry, once established, will strive on its own to maintain stability and cultural identity. That is the nature of culture: it establishes that which it is, and then it defends that which it is: we are us; we know what we are in that we are us; we praise our selves in that we are us; and we are successful in that we are us.[FN]

********************
[FN] I feel a need here to bring up Homi Bhabha's book The Location of Culture as an aid to understanding my use of the word culture. Bhabha's book (particularly the title essay) gives an argument that the real "culture" of a society is found not in the established and the traditional, but at the borders of such, where the established and traditional, where cultural identity is in engagement and negotiation with the traditions, values, and identities of other cultures. That is, Bhabha is arguing that we should see culture where it is most desedimented, most in flux, most in change (which is to say most aesthetic) rather than where it is most concrete and stable. Now, while I wholly agree with him in his placing of what is, in honesty, the true site of growth, development, and value in a society -- the only site for liberatory belief, philosophy, action, identity –, I prefer to use the word culture to stand for the concretized, the stable, the traditional, since that is what most people, in every day language, would identify as culture. As such, my use of the word will almost always not be a positive. Where it is, context will make it clear.
********************

It needs to be said -- more accurately, it needs to be spoken -- that poetry is going to fall in the greater part at any time into conventionality: which means Fussell's statement above, and the essays in critique of contemporary poetry such as Marc Edmundson's recent essay in Harper's (essays which the poetry culture will and must always lay assault to, to the degree they are a threat to their nomos-provided identity and stability), are not in the end arguing a peculiarity: they are stating, each in their own way, and not always cognizantly, what is a fundamental truth: 99% of anything is crap; and the culture of that anything will not be about the outlying 1%, it will be about the far more popular 99. And that 1% will thus be marginalized, hidden, refused access, or when all else fails, re-characterized as something more like the 99 than not: for that 1% will not only be more challenging and demanding of effort (and thus inherently critical of that great mass of work that does not display such effort), it will be the most aesthetic, the most created, the most creative and thus the most difficult to reify, and the most threatening to the stability and identity of the nomos. So, culture gives them labels like "Dead White Men" and bids them go away.[FN]

********************
[FN] A category within which you neither have to be either dead, nor white, nor male.
********************

This is the nature of the nomic. Most of those persons who are regarded today as leading voices in U.S. poetry hold that position of leadership not because of aesthetic achievement but because of the self-stabilizing workings of a nomos. Which is to say that the majority of those living poets held in esteem today are little more than the Lady Gagas, David Greys, and Tim McGraws of our literary time. They can be considered, for all intents and purposes, pop -- I'll get twittery and slap on the tag #poppoetry --, however their presence within culture. Pop music is the parallel example: the music industry has much at stake in keeping their listeners believing that Lady Gaga has meritable talent and cultural value; so also with of culture of poetry.

But, I want to risk repetition and emphasize: this is not and should not be a surprise to anybody. This is not accusation, this is description, not just of the culture of poetry, but of every established culture. The majority of popular poetry is always going to be pop poetry, just as the majority of novels that make the NYTimes list are really pop novels, just as the majority of music on the Billboard top 100 is pop music. This is the default situation. I am not here making an argument for something new; rather, I am deciding to talk about poetry just as though it were any other performance culture. Except, as I said, there is here so much more at stake with literature than with pop music, because of the relationship between language and the psyche and the individual's engagement and understanding of the world.[FN] In fact, considering what MFA-culture claims for their literature and poetry, you would think that the dominance of conventionality in poetry would be constant subject of critique and discourse. Rather, because of what is at stake on the other side -- careers, reputations, and a growing MFA industry -- the idea that poetry is going to be primarily pop poetry, even the poetry of the leading poets of our time, by necessity must be what is refused from being talked about, what cannot be talked about, and what is not wanted to be talked about.

********************
[FN] Which is in no way to say music -- or by extension the arts -- are not of supreme importance.
********************

And yet, it is so very important a thing.

 
••¤••

This essay is about the replies made by a poet, also a professor at a university, to a blog post about one of his poems. The reason for this essay is that the replies were of such a nature that they perform wonderfully characteristically the nomos of pop poetry. For that, what I see in them is an opportunity for demonstration. It is my contention that, even for those elements that make it individual (which will always be present to some degree), the overall performance is demonstrative of the deeply nomic nature and system -- and voice -- of the culture of poetry in the U.S.

Now, most essays of this nature will be met with demands for and expectations of proof -- which I will not provide. Nor will I attempt to argue out of example (beyond the poem and the replies), for such is always a path to failure with topics like this one: it is offering specific cases as evidence for broad, cultural energies, which is fallacious. Just as the single event tells us nothing about statistics, the single poem (or, even, poet) tells us nothing about the contemporary state of the culture of poetry.[FN] In truth, the use of specific example within discussions such as this -- which is to say discussions such as this in print, where there can be no active, in-the-moment exchange, negotiation, and correction of ideas -- will only serve to open the door for misunderstanding and straw man arguments (intentional or not). (Indeed, and ironically, the strength of the Edmundson essay would have increased greatly if he had avoided arguing from example. Though, that might not have been apparent to all.)

********************
[FN] Which also means the single event can speak nothing in refutation. Which is the same thing as saying trotting out examples from the 1% does not refute the existence -- or the anchoring of culture of poetry within -- the other 99%.
********************

This is especially true when what you are trying to demonstrate is ubiquitous, or an obviousness, or in some other way the norm, for the aim with such is not to get the reader/listener to see the part but to see the whole. For example, in teaching the difference between nomic and aesthetic language, in wanting to show that the majority of speech by the majority of people is nomic in modality (and a great part of that phatic), the single instance is remarkably ineffective. Better is to send the students out with an idea of what to listen for, to tell them, the next time they are in the local, popular watering hole or some such type of social environment to listen to the conversations going on around them, especially when new people enter the conversation, and see how it is mostly the same things being said, over and over, from conversation to conversation; and within the conversations; and see also just how much of it serves a purpose that is not informational, but phatic. That is, the best way to show the norm is to set up a participatory demonstration.

Yes, some of the students won't ever bother, or won't remember, and some of the students won't see it. But those who do stop and look usually come back with an understanding of the event far greater than could ever be offered by example in the classroom. (In added benefit, that seeing it is remarkably contagious from that point on.)

That is my primary aim and intent here. As is the general intent and practice of my Poetry Daily Critique blog, I have no intention of offering proof per se to any end. I am offering discussion, discourse -- and the aesthetic can only be spoken through active, creative discourse -- with the hopes that the ideas being discussed can be taken away, observed, and explored. Here, in that I want to discuss the culture of poetry and that culture's performance, I would hope the reader can engage the ideas presented not as fact, assertion, or proof, but as discourse and exploration; as ideas with which they might observe the world of poetry, the culture of poetry in the U.S., so as to both see how and even whether those ideas play out, and what it means for poetry: that is, what it means not only for the culture of poetry in the U.S., but also what it means for poetry itself, and most especially for the reader in their own writing and reading of poetry and literature (and, even, for their support -- including monetary -- of poetry and literature and the arts)..

Granted, I am using but one instance as my source text: which makes for poor proof generally. And, normally, it is inevitable and unavoidable that any argument will be weakened by arguing out of a single case: thus the requirement for replicability in the hard sciences. Except that this isn't an argument to a conclusion. This is only observation; but, an observation that can then be duplicated, through further observation within the world -- which is also parallel to the hard sciences, in that the single demonstration does not truly offer proof until it has been replicated. And so the value of this one instance of performance: it so aptly and overtly demonstrates what would be expected to occur within a culture of poetry that was governed by a societal nomos rather than a will to promote individual creativity.

Now, it might be argued that what appears in the replies were far more crafted by the defense of ego than by the defense of a cultural nomos. Except that the ego must always have some investment in its nomoi; and the degree of that investment will usually be proportional to the emotionality and energy put into the defense of those nomoi. A nomos, after all, offers the person identity within and through the culture. If a poet's identity as a poet is dependent upon the definition of poet as established by, maintained by, and given importance to by a nomos of which that person is a part, then it is no small thing to question the poet's judgment and authority (or, the merits of their poem) as it is defined by that culture. For you are questioning the very identity of the poet, the station of the poet – even, the definition of poet. The energies of defense, then, will come out of both emotion and the defense of and assertion of the nomos: the former being greatly fed by the latter. Though, I do not rest the strength of this presentation on that psychological expectation, but on that this performance so greatly follows what would be expected in a vociferous, nomic defense. (For example, it is the same as that which you would see in defense of the nomos of an established religion by a person psychologically invested in that religion.) Similarly, what conclusions as to the culture of poetry might be drawn from the demonstration bear only in minimum upon on the specific case; the greater weight bears upon the greater culture of poetry: which is, that the culture of poetry in the U.S. is exactly what would be expected in a firmly established nomos of pop poetry.

The proof does not, and can not lie here. It lies in that what was performed in the replies can be seen being continuously performed throughout the culture of poetry -- though, usually, not so obviously. I am not presenting an exceptional or peculiar or heretofore unobserved case. I am offering observation (on my part, demonstration on the poet's part) of the absolutely expected case: that the culture of poetry in the U.S. is in fact a firmly established, sedimentary nomos, and that that culture will be performed exactly as a nomic culture would be expected to be performed. Nor is this demonstration anything new as regard the arts. In fact, that is very much what Fussell is saying (though obversely) in the excerpt above. It has been said many times over through the history of literature and the arts -- Wordsworth was so arguing against the pop-poetry of his time in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads; Hawthorne's distress that his books would not ever sell as well as the genre romance of his time is a like complaint; Manet's statement before his painting of Olympia, "It seems that I must paint a nude" is directly comment on the difference of modalities between the nomic and the aesthetic.[FN1] Now we have decades of theoretical exploration -- if not a more than a century if we go back to Nietzsche and Freud, or centuries if we go back to the Romantics -- of language and of the aesthetic and of nomic culture, of the human mind and person. We have in the arts developed from Romanticism through Impressionism and Symbolism to Modernism; we have in theory and criticism passed through structuralism and into post-structuralism (mis-named in that the former is really pre-curser to the latter). We have Nietzsche; we have Lévi-Strauss, Cassirer, Eliade, and Campbell; we have Freud and Lacan and Jung; we have Worringer and Bataille; we have Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva, and Deleuze, and launching the post-structural directly into assault on the cultural, we have Butler, Bhabha, Wittig, Irigaray, and Sedgwick; and, on a wholly different tack, we have Berlin.[FN2] We understand now what convention, ideology and culture is, and we have delved into and explored and given voice to its counter: free play, the individual, and the aesthetic. Indeed, there is no excuse, any more, in academia, for not understanding the nature of the nomic and the aesthetic.

********************
[FN1] Ross King, The Judgment of Paris, 22-23, quoting Antonin Proust, Édouard Manet: souvenirs (Paris: H. Laurens, 1913), 43.

[FN2] That is a wholly off-the-cuff list. Read nothing into the decisions of who is present and who is not.
********************

For all that, the burden of proof with this essay lies on the other side of the argument: with those that might argue that the culture of contemporary poetry is not governed by the nomic nature of cultures.

Which would be an extraordinary proof, indeed.

 
••¤••

A couple of notes before I continue into the body proper.

1. The entirety of this demonstration hinges on the acceptance that what was happening within the replies was not merely emotional rant -- and I believe there is sufficient evidence to that one point -- but the performance of something greater: the defense not just of ego but of a belief system and its governing nomos. Unless you can make this first supposition, the rest of this essay will be pointless, and you can stop here. And it will be a supposition, a cultural thought experiment, because the "proof," as it were, of the supposition will not -- and can not -- be provided within this essay. It will come in observation of the culture of poetry, and whether that culture does indeed perform equally (if not so vociferously) the nomos supposed here. For a nomos can only be witnessed through the constant re-appearance of its performances. That is the nature of the nomos: it exists, externally, within that constant being-performed. Though, what I can contribute, is that I see this very thing play out continually, and in all the old expected places.[FN]

********************
[FN] Thus much of the rhetoric of my blog project: proof is pointless if the readers can not first see the language of poetry that is hiding behind the conventionality of poetry. Indeed, proof, per se, is non-existent. In the end, there is only seeing: which is possible only when the individual reads their world as an individual, and not as a cultural creature.
********************

2. The ideas underlying this essay are neither new, overly idiosyncratic, nor secreted in their origins. So, for reasons of style, I will mostly avoid criticial or theoretical reference or quotation, with infrequent exception. For example: I will speak Jacques Derrida's name, though primarily I speak that wonderful word of his, desedimentation: a word whose use I enjoy because it is itself so demonstrative.[FN1] Though, it cannot be denied that some works are here more dominantly present than others. And, for that, if I were to chose some theory-oriented titles to name -- books to offer in the nature of a PBS "for further reading" -- they would be Criticism and Truth (1966) by Roland Barthes, Gender Trouble (1990) by Judith Butler, and The Sacred Canopy (1969) by Peter L. Berger. Three books that approach the same topic from out of three fields (literature, society, religion). Some of the language below is theirs. Some of the language is primarily of my own enunciation: sophistication and validity, for example, words whose purpose are to bring theory into the domain of the writing side of literature. Using the word nomic (and nomos) to speak of the modality of the social side of our being is very old; however, using the words the aesthetic (as opposed to aesthetics) and cosmic (and cosmos -- words I use elsewhere) for the modality of the individual side of our being is mostly my own.[FN2]

********************
[FN1] And, also, so inherently accusatory.

[FN2] In truth, Nietzsche might not have used the term the aesthetic quite as I do, but he all but did. And in that Derrida, like Nietzsche, states that everything they wrote was, in the end, about the aesthetic, the same can be said for him. So my use is not ungrounded.
********************

3. Because of the nature of this essay, in that it is an engagement with a person's responses to a post upon my blog, anonymity is essentially impossible, unless I were to go back and delete the original responses. But that seems rather pointless to me, and exactly counter to both the project of which the blog is a part and my own philosophies on discourse: especially written discourse, where you have opportunity to think it out and correct. Simply: if you're going to say something, then put your name to it.

Which leads to the post itself, which, I will admit, is not my best writing. (And isn't that always the case.) Normally, I do go back and edit my own posts, primarily for the sake of clarity. If I ever substantially change the ideas in any moment of a post I let it be known that such a change happened. (Personally, I would hate to see a post and read one thing, only to come back a week later and read something else. That doesn't generate much trust on the part of the reader.) And, if ever I am correcting something that was accidentally derogative of another individual, I make that known as well. In turn, if the poet here had requested editing of his own replies, I would have gladly permitted it -- within those guidelines. To be honest, I can respect that he did not. Because of the nature of the exchange in the Replies prompted by the blog, however, I have changed almost nothing in the original text of the post.

Since the the poet's replies and my responses are the source of this essay, I have made new files of them to make them more accessible and readable than as they are in the stream of the original exchange. One can also go back to the original post and see the replies and responses there. The new files are explained and presented in the next part.

 
 

Next: "II. Emotionality, Authority, and Morality" -- here

No comments:

Post a Comment