Saturday, September 10, 2005

Modern Sources

In "Blowing Up Just to Say Something to Us", Tony proposes that Flarf should be situated

in the tradition of other modernist poetics made possible by technology, with Google playing a role somewhere between Personism's telephone and Projective Verse's typewriter: a new instrument for both gathering information and for re-imagining the construction of a poem. (p. 5)

I think that's correct. Modernist poetics are best understood as driven by technical advances in the physical properties of the medium of poetry (e.g., the printed word).

Where I disagree with Tony is when he says that "the re-imagining of source, and the reader's knowledge of the source of Mohammad's language, is perhaps the great realization of these poems." (p. 2) Here it will be best to look directly at an example.

you are an anus mouth , are you retarted
this has damage bonus fruitcake

fuck up u are obviously have some kind of obsesion wit me
it's a wonder why your husband left you and you're all alone

you venture into my valley and you then ask for your life??
you will not leave this valley alive little dwarf

(From K. Silem Mohammad's "The Led Zeppelin Experience", quoted on p. 1)

As Tony reads them, what these three strophes do is to juxtapose the "general state of some type of obliviousness" of the first with the "full and sinister awareness" of the second. What he may mean is that as he "re-imagines the sources" of these lines, the first is taken as throwaway invective and the second as mean-spirited jab from someone who knows the addressee.

In fact, however, the third strophe, which may be imagined as a part of a Dungeons & Dragons scenario, reveals that this re-imagining gets us literally nowhere. The real power of this poem is the stability of the speakers voice and the stability of the addressee's attention.

YOU are an anus-mouth
YOU're all alone
YOU ventured into my valley

It is in the possible world where this situation arises that the poem exists. If we re-imagine a real juvenile (who knows no married people) and a fictional D&D valley (where they would not call each other anus-mouths) then we have missed the point of the poem by trying to connect it to its sources.

T. S. Eliot agreed to pretend that the sources of The Waste Land were important by adding his endnotes. Google has undermined the sacredness of the Outside as a holy source of high poetic sentiment, that is all. Our awareness of the sources annihilates the importance of the sources. And therein lies the damage bonus fruitcake, friends.


Phil said...

The difference between emphases: the celebration of "googling," versus that of language constructs, I suppose. I do not "necessarily" have to google, so "re-imagining" the source can't work. What is after "googling?" What are the sources of the "google" results? Clearly, the resulting emotional transaction is key to these poetic experiences, and not the "gel strips" themselves.

I have done a series of "vocog" translations (voice-recognition); being a different "source" obviously than "google," but different also in that only after the translation has occured, do the source materials become manifest. It is interesting that when these are read aloud, the sonic qualities of the original work are maintained (and even amplified) to a large degree, while the poems become something else completely (transactional/experiential). with "vocog," one may readily "re-imagine" the source, because one hears it in the sounds, but that is not the point (the point being a new, and different experience, with an alternative presence).

Also, the titles Kasey selects are an integral part of the completed work, much like Pound's "In a Station of the Metro," but this is another subject I suppose.


Thomas Basbøll said...

I like the way the vocog experiments reveal the difference between what a source says and what a sensor hears. (If I understeand the procedure correctly.) Something similar happens when a poet finds something useful with Google. What was said was not poetic, but was picked up, in the context of a particular creative projects, as fit material for a poem.

Phil said...

Yes, exactly.

Tim Peterson said...

Um...I think it's pretty widely acknowledged that TS Eliot's footnotes to "The Waste Land" were a joke. There's a story about how he wrote them simply to fill out the rest of the book's pages and complete the signature. C'mon Thomas, let's see that funny bone of yours...he these lines (this is the scene with the crowd crossing London Bridge):

"To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine"

...and the footnote says "A phenomenon that I have often witnessed"! That's funny!

The more interesting question to answer after that would be "why is it funny" and what does that reveal about the situation in which Eliot wrote (and which Kasey/Ashbery writes) poetry.

We've evidently been working without footnotes for some time now.

How can you tell when a poem is based on google searches and when it's not? Is all of a Flarf poem based on google searches, or can this effect be re-created in other ways? Could part of it be googled and part be aleatoric? How you know which parts? You seem to have a very naive approach regarding procedural writing here. The point is just as much the effect of such writing as how it was produced...unless of course we're talking about a Jackson Mac Low, who wanted people to understand what process he went through as he worked.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Tim, I'm not sure what you think we're disagreeing about here. When I said that TSE "agreed to pretend" the sources were important I meant something along the lines of what you're saying. The joke is an inside joke (and while caution was urged when I was taught the poem, we were not told to construe the notes as arbitrary space filling). The surface effect was to indicate greater depth in the poem (in part by producing greater thickness in the book).

"The erudite obscurity of the Wasteland disconcerted (and still disconcerts) the critics, but is less important than the poem's beauty. The perception of this beauty, moreover, precedes any interpretation and does not depend on it." (Borges, Total Library, p. 167-8)

I think Tony is allowing himself to be disconcerted (cf. "sinister awareness") by Flarf's analogue to erudition, i.e., the in principle Googable sources and the correlative acts of re-imagination. It seems to me that he is looking for the footnotes.

You say: "You seem to have a very naive approach regarding procedural writing here. The point is just as much the effect of such writing as how it was produced." But that second sentence is exactly what I thought I was saying.

What am I, or are you, missing here?

Tim Peterson said...

Right, what I'm getting at is that everything you're discussing is backstory. Now that we've finally approached the starting line, let's get down to actual acts of reading!

There is a larger issue at stake here too, though: the act of reading a poem called "The Led Zeppelin Experience" in such an elaborately formal way is much much funnier than any of Eliot's humorous footnotes.

How do you read something like this without the analysis itself coming off sounding like some kind of Monty Python skit? That embarrassment quality is important to why some of Kasey's poetry, and Gary Sullivan's wonderful writing (why haven't more people written about Gary) works so effectively...when you get up close, it just dissolves...

Thomas Basbøll said...

Oh, yes, I think we should read poems! I don't propose that my post here is an alternative to an act of reading. In fact, I'm not sure what you would do in a blog post that would constitute an act of reading without engaging in formal analysis.

I think Flarf radicalizes the sense of "disconcerts the critics". But it wouldn't be nearly as much fun if critics (like me) didn't carry out the analysis.

Formal analysis as a mode of laughter?

What poem(s) of Gary's should I read?

Tim Peterson said...

He has several books out there...all of them worthwhile...

Nada, too...