Sunday, November 20, 2005

What New Wave was to Punk

It looks like Gary and I are agreed on the error of using the word "flarf" to track the aesthetic I'm interested in. I'll just keep looking, I guess, and thank him for the tip about reader response poetry, though I'm doubtful I'll find what I'm looking for. (After all, for me, the light was so bright and so blinding at, specifically, the level of Google that my mind was bewildered.) Most of what I find interesting about language poetry so far brings me back to our shared inspiration in Wittgenstein's innovations.

As for the idea that "I Am Not the Pilot" is a sort of New Wave, Post-Punk, derivative of Flarf, well, I'm not sure why that would make it bad or uninteresting (beyond its possible historical inaccuracies). I don't expect Tony to agree with me about this, but if New Wave is, say, what the Jam, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and, maybe, the Police and the Cars, did with an undisciplined "Fuck You" that was "invented" by, say, the Sex Pistols or ´(depending on how you tell the story) the Ramones (which would also change your list of leading New Wave figures, no doubt), but all somehow comfortably nurtured by the basic Rock impulse and industry (no matter how much they might have wanted to deride it) to explore the potential of the electric guitar, then its lasting contribution strikes me both as richer and deeper, but I don't see why anyone should be forced to choose. Perhaps look at the strange and beautiful relations between "God Save the Queen" (Pistols) and "Tramp the Dirt Down" (Costello). Both were gleefully working on the hypothesis that you can tell the ladies in charge to fuck off. In any case, I don't see any basis for using "you're so New Wave" as an insult. Beyond the arguable sincerity of some of its participants, punk was about marketing, it was a cultural phenomenon, first and foremost, which happened to work with musical tropes. New Wave was made by people who wanted to make music more sincerely than they wanted to make a scene.

Will there be a Flarfy Lucre Tour in 2020? Looking forward to it. As I will be looking forward to the Complex Sleep of the Blue Turtles.

Always remember, kids: anger is an energy.


Michael said...


I'm reading the back-and-forth between you, Gary and Tony with interest. I'm hoping to post some extensive thoughts on the new Combo blog later this week but for now I'd like to state my own position (of the moment) simply:

Gary and Nada were/are and will I suspect continue to be the main engine behind the Flarf Collective: their desire, their energy, their creative concerns, drive and intelligence, along with the social/family-dynamic of the Flarflist make this happen. I don't think anyone in the Flarf Collective has a problem with this (certainly not me) and in fact, to a poet, they (we) are wildly grateful for the catalyzing/liberatory impact they've had and continue to have on our writing. So, everything Gary says about "How to Proceed in the Arts", Nada's work of the last decade and the general history of the Flarflist seems quite true to me.

That being said, no one has any proprietary control over flarf. The wide range of opinions about what flarf is -- from Gary's, to Kasey's ("there is no flarf / flarf is dead") to Katie's ("flarf = poetry") should make this abundantly clear. And while I understand Gary's concern that a) it is too soon to start writing the critical history of Flarf (he used the LangPo analogy); and b) the emphasis on Google is far too limited/limiting; I think it would be a mistake to discourage you, Tony, or anyone else from giving critical attention to the work as it becomes public.

I still stand, more or less, by the statement on Flarf that Bernstein put up on the EPC site. In that statement I try to make sense of Gary's emphasis on the id-driven/un-pc qualities of Flarf vis-a-vis my own sense of it as a complex negotiation between exasperation/panic/glee which is (as I see it) both a post 9/11 response (including a response to the giant , censoring shadow of the patriot act) and a response to the stultifyingly boring, sort of technocratic (or alternatively too-preciously NY School-abstract) aspects of *some* Language and post-Language poetry.

I think Google *does* play a central role in the writing of Flarf as I understand it and practice it but only because 1) it helps you orient yourself vis a vis cultural production in a specific "flarfy" way; and 2) it enacts a de-authorizing reader-oriented ethic of collaboration -- something I probably see as more central to Flarf than Gary does. And here I'm certainly sympathetic to your and Tony's emphasis both on the technology-driven aspects of and authorial complexity of Flarf.

I think the clearest, canniest statement on Flarf thus far is Drew Gardner's statement regarding Googling and social filters.

I think as books of work produced on the Flarflist continue to appear (Katie's The Anger Scale, Kasey's Breathalyzer, my own Mainstream and My Angie Dickinson, Rodney Koeneke's book will all be out in the coming year) there'll be occassion to broaden your own sense -- if you want to -- of what's going on in Flarf, but I don't personally imagine this will negate what you've already had to say about it. My guess is it'll allow you to see how what you are emphasizing is taking place within the context of what Gary, Drew and others are emphasizing.

Mike Magee

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm looking forward to your posts at Combo. (Ron Silliman was collecting input about Flarf at his blog sometime back in 2003. Did that ever amount to anything?)

I think both Google and Blogger (search engines and weblogs) are an important twist on this discussion and one that largely justifies repeating old ones (about language poetry, for example). After all, no one is writing a critical history of anything yet. We're "just blogging" and the apparent "interest" in flarf is only conspicuous because of the accessibility of media. Thus whatever poet we are writing is "flarfy" in the same way that the flarf poet can "orient [himmerher]self vis a vis cultural production". Not in any rigorously "critical" sense.

So I'm neither disputing nor endorsing Gary's narrative. Like most biographical criticism, I find myself simply unable to track the implications. (I sometimes pretend not to be interested, but the truth is that biography is darkness to me.)

The specifically political responses you mention are interesting characteristics to emphasize and their relation to the social filters is something I'll be interested to hear more about.

I think you are right about the differences of emphasis. It makes sense that "actual" flarfists or flarfers would emphasize the narrative, while outsides, like Tony and I, would try to come away from the experience with new tricks and techniques. (A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, right?) But I'm not sure that this is necessarily going to change very much, except by becoming clearer.

My prediction is that a version of Flarf will emerge which is stripped down to its tone and technology, and divested of both its community structure and its politics (about which you are quite specific). In many ways, I think the sorts of things that Tony and I argue about may define that discourse (and that's why I take Gary's concerns seriously: I think he does have something to complain about, though I'm not sure there's very much he can do about it.)

So I propose to talk about "tone and tech" with connecting it to "flarf" for the moment, allowing the publications you mention to find whatever audience is there for it.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I meant withOUT connecting it to flarf.

(The above comment is a first stab at a response, by the way, I'll post something more coherent a bit later.)

Michael said...

Great, Thomas. I would highly recommend that you take a good long look at Gardner's PETROLEUM HAT. Not only is it, IMHO, the best book of American poetry to come along in a decade; it will also I suspect challenge and deepen your understanding of how Google gets employed as a tool in Flarf -- this is because, unlike with Deer Head Nation (for example -- and this is not a comment on the relative quality of the two works) I find it impossible to reverse-engineer most of Gardner's poems by going back to Google and examining source material.

The relative transparency of Google sources in Flarf is a very worthy topic I think.