Saturday, November 26, 2005

Flarf and the Flail of Jehova, part I

Lenin was a very moderate person ... Apart from the social aspect he was of interest, technically, to serious writers. He never wrote a senctence that has any interest in itself, but he evolved almost a new medium, a sort of expression halfway between writing and action.

Ezra Pound

The experiences are not "recollected," and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is "tranquil" only in that it is a passive attending upon the event.

T. S. Eliot

Poetry and politics are profoundly related. Politics is to poetry what science is philosophy; a place to begin. But a poem is not to be judged on its politics; on the contrary, it is to be judged on its ability to extricate itself from the policies that impinge upon it. (Similarly, you don't judge philosophers on their scientific knowledge but on their ability to compose themselves in specific ignorance thereof.) This is the idea that I want to explore in this post.

Take the simple case of wanting to write a poem on the occasion of meeting an intriguing woman. The troubadour, for example, was for a time faced with the problem of "finding a new way of saying in six closely rhymed strophes that a certain girl, matron or widow was a like a certain set of things, and the troubadour's virtues were like another set, and that all this was very sorrowful or otherwise, and that there was but one obvious remedy." (Pound, LE, p. 102) Well, the girl was obviously also caught up in a number of other "courtly" intrigues, i.e., she and the poet were what we today might call "politically situated subjects". ("The 'trobar clus', grew out of living conditions, and ... played a very real part in love intrigue and in the intrigue preceding warfare." LE, p. 94) But to be situated politically and there to write a poem is not to engage in a political act. Not if the poet is good.

The poet is not trying to remind the woman of her political responsibilities. In most cases, he is trying to make her forget them, set them on one side, promptly to imbibe the "obvious remedy". That is, it is the task of the poem to negate or neutralize the politically charged content of the situation, releasing its aesthetic moment, its pleasures. The poet must "understand women", their political situation, and play on this understanding to manipulate the situation, bringing the emotion to presence, writing it down on the page.

In so doing, as Eliot tells it, the poet brings an enormous amount of impersonal experience to bear on personal matters. And the effect is to release us from the subjectivity that our political apparatuses (our "royal courts") produce. A good poem overcomes the difference between "man" and "woman", transcends, say, the politics of gender.

Consider Pound's idea that Lenin invented a new medium for writing: "a sort of expression halfway between writing and action." We can gloss this in all sorts of ways. Most importantly, there was obviously a sense in which only Lenin (who acted by pronouncing) could produce such writing. The point, however, is that this power, according Pound, showed in his writing. Lenin proceeded from the emotion, through the writing, to the action.

The poet works in the same medium but in the opposite direction. Starting within a field of ongoing political activity, (Heidegger's translators render Betrieb sometimes as "ongoing activity", sometimes as "hustle", thus) the hustle and bustle of the city (polis), the poet must pass through the writing to the emotion. This is what is noted down, committed to the page.

Bureaucracy (what Pound called "the flail of Jehova") is automated politics; it is the material reality of policy, not its social ideal. It is the system of machination (modernized court intrigue) that willy-nilly "goes on" in culture. It is the working (wirklich, real) aspect of the political context. Pound advised us to accept it, but to keep it within its bounds. To contain it.

Today, the Internet (the manifold of policy documents, technical manuals, war blogs, chat rooms, pornography, ...) renders perspicuous the political context of modern love. Google allows us to collect (not recollect) its experience, not to attend upon it passively, but to play technical jargon off hard core porn like second rate diplomats, opening a space for sensible, sensitive, sensual people once again to find "the one obvious remedy". This is flarf's potential to bring comfort. I wonder what Gary thinks.

(Coming soon: part II on Dewey, Burke and pragmatism.)

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