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.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Moore, Formalism & Post Avant [Part Five]
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,
A paradigm for mass aggregate.
The outline of the city
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]