Friday, May 22, 2009

Moore, Formalism & Post Avant [Part Five]

Watten's Progress, as an example of his mature work, casts a shadow of negation across the field of its probable uses. Here, finally, we get a work emptied of body, personality, identity, emotion, lyrical expression and coherent philosophical organization. 

In its refusal to capitulate to any of the normative purposes which "verse" or "poetry" have traditionally relied upon, it approaches a precipice, affording a view of what an idealized future of reflexive, transformational catharsis might feel like: A state of advanced depersonalization, in which all cognition is suspect, all action futile, and all meaning provisional. 

Such a "poetry" takes nothing as a given, even its own essence (the alphabet, words, grammar & syntax). Disorientation, displacement, decontextualization (Quine). Early Modernists like Eliot had attempted to treat the text as a personification of the despairing artist-profile, impotent and adrift, parroting sad routines of performance and fake ceremony (The Waste Land). In the Post Avant landscape, all of the structures of plight and condition are eviscerated, in favor of a non-identity, a receptor of data, a processor of impulse and apprehension. 

Each of the assertions in Progress--whether through the "I" voice or as unassigned utterances--falls outside the boundary of implication, cut adrift from reference or context. 

Such anxiety is not uncommon.
A line stems from a point.
View of cement factories
At Suisun Bay,
inside cement....

A paradigm for mass aggregate.
The outline of the city
In lozenges.
Rock walls
Line the road to the airport....  

In Moore, words (as things, or emotions, or expressions) are treated as in a botanist's glossary: Perception is a process, empirical and methodical. In Watten, even the attractions and repulsions among individual words are suspect. No style, no habitual manner, no pattern qualifies as safe.
Marx believed that social alienation was a hallmark of capitalist enterprise. It has been fashionable for at least 75 years to imagine that the artist must be a critic of the given, occupying a special position just outside the realm of exchange, subject to its whims, but imaginatively free. Among the early Modernists, compartmentalization and spiritual exile provided provisional identities, held in contrast to prevailing modes. Artisan-Writers like Heidegger, or Charles Olson, or Darger, were able to map out alternative spaces of occupation, while nonetheless functioning at the level of the zeitgeist. 

Language Writers' supreme interest in criticism--as auto-didacticism, as self-description, as dialectic with literary history--inevitably leads to a schizophrenic separation: The divide between language treated as a medium of engagement, and as a symptom of a larger conspiracy whose challenges must be met, instance by instance. In public or official discourse, we demand precision and fidelity and consistency. In Progress, none of these allegiances is remarked. The poem cannot be permitted to belong to the context from which it derives, therefore all aspects of its pedigree, its terms and conditions, must be scrubbed clean of association. All "events" "feelings" "episodes" are merely jealous fictions, possible exhibits in the conspiracy of bankrupt cultural residue. 

[End of Part V]   


eddie watkins said...

"In public or official discourse, we demand precision and fidelity and consistency. In Progress, none of these allegiances is remarked."

I know that you like Ashbery's The Tennis Court Oath, which includes some poems that don't satisfy the demands of being precise and consistent. Is it because "Europe" is almost innocently and purely aesthetic, and not so concerned with socio-political commentary, that it is different than Progress?

Anyway, Progress seems very precise to me, even if I can't follow that precision back to its source or forward to its object.

Can't Progress be read aesthetically?

Curtis Faville said...

Progress seems not to want to be experienced as an aesthetic object. It resists pleasure. Pleasure, as with all "capitalist" blandishments, is suspect.

Its consistent, obdurate ellipses deny completion.

Tennis-Court Oath is a salad bowl of sensual pleasures. It's camp, but so rich and potent!

But pleasure, like taste, is within the eye of the beholder.

Ed Baker said...

been meaning to"read" Watten for some time now seeing his name around however

been putting off readin (any) Kathy Acker since mid 70's whe she scared the shit out of me up in Manhattan


out of ESSENTIAL Acker well

she doesn't "talk about" doing (it) she does (it)

excerpts beyond the two prefaces (which are integral too) Acker's
first tow pieces THEN Rip-off Red, Girl Detective!