This very faculty for amalgamation is a part of their genius and it is, in a way, a sort of modesty, a sort of unselfishness. They have not wished for property.
Now, of my early work, a critic has said:
"It was open, so I let myself in."
Looking back over my archives, I see that flarf has been with me from the beginning. In my first installment of "The Annotated Pilot", for example, written almost exactly a year ago, I opened with the following rather confident assertion.
Flarf is not just a principle of literary composition. It is also a principle of literary criticism. And it is not so much a principle as a procedure.
In his last contribution to this discussion (comments), Gary offers (or inspires me to construct) a distinction between flarf-as-attitude and flarf-as-procedure (if only then to dissolve it). Gary distinguishes between the "formal" ambitions of OuLiPo and the "attitude" of the Flarflist; I have no problem reconstructing this so that an attitude-driven project begins with content and lets the form emerge as you go, whereas a procedurally driven project (one that starts, say, with a set of mathematical properties that must belong to the finished poem, which is then generated by an algorithm to that end) will begin with formal constraints and see what, so to speak, flows into it as content.
That is, attitude is to content what procedure is to form (what texture is to structure), using these words in pretty orthodox senses. We can say this without having yet said anything about flarf, i.e., without deciding whether flarf is best approached in terms of its form or its content, its procedure or its attitude. Lining up the discussion a bit more neatly than it has in fact developed, let's say Gary has been pulling for content and attitude, and I've been pulling for form and procedure.
Flarf as such, i.e., the Great Flarfette Above and/or Beyond Us, is, of course, sniggering lovingly at these debates. (Some participants to the discussion have been channeling Her laughter.) I think the reason for this is that, in flarf, the attitude is the procedure and the procedure is the attitude. Or, again, that is what I hoped I discovered when I stumbled on it.
Works of flarf are openly the result of aggregating "search results" (though we may grant a broader definition of "search engine" than Google, and even go beyond our confinement to the Internet). They are made out things that were just lying around in plain view. And this is also one of the things that struck me about flarf from the beginning (of my awareness of it):
Flarf, it seems to me, has made one thing very clear about the relation of the strophe to the poem. Building a poem is not a matter of arranging strophes, i.e., of putting poetic atoms together. If that were the case the poem would owe its poesie to the accumulation of strophic matter that was originally poetic. But strophes become poetic, become strophes, only in their arrangement with other strophes. A coherence theory of poetry.
Another way of saying this is that flarf is just barely poetry, made out of something that is obviously not poetic. Mainstream poetry, by contrast, is usually made out of words ("solace", "nocturnal", "translucent") and imagery (rain, jazz, herbal tea) that are canonically poetic. When flarf succeeds, then, it is very precisely poetic; it produces something that is just exactly a poem (which may be Katie's point).
The risk of failure is of course high, as is the possibility that someone else will take one's experiments and run with them, producing "major work" out of one's own "minor" efforts (if Chronos bestows on them this favour, as Pound noted in the same paragraph that I drew my epigraph from; cf. "The Serious Artist", LE, p. 48-9). That is, flarf is itself something that looks like it's just lying around, "gratis". May as well make something useful of it.
I just got Ben Lerner's Lichtenberg Figures in the mail. The lines quoted in the epigraph occasioned much laughter yesterday. They describe me (perhaps ridiculously) as a critic when I discovered the "secret" of "I Am Not the Pilot". It was the sensation of being let into the work, the works, the workings of the work. It opened the poem in a radical sense. That sense of openness is what I thought flarf was "as such", i.e., the complete exposure of a poetic attitude as a completely perspicuous procedure for working unpoetry into poetry. The heart of all making. Poiesis, itself.
Stealing a page from A Thousand Plateaus, we might say that there is no difference between what flarf is about and how it is made. There is no separation of attitude and procedure. My hypothesis had been that "flarf" is a quality that is common to Deer Head Nation and Invisible Bride, Petroleum Hat (just been added to the list) and The Lichtenberg Figures (the back cover has "academic theory collid[ing] with American slang, the idiom of the Old testament [with] the jargon of the Internet, and clichés..."). I now think that flarf belongs to two of them more than the others (is there, perhaps, in flashes) and what I'm looking for is our particular "modernism" (to go with that bad dada), which they would share: the glad intensity (glee) of openly displaying one's procedure as one's attitude (flarf being just one attitude-procedure among many). Poetry is (just) putting words together. Words are available everywhere, 24/7. They're all over the place.