Saturday, March 11, 2006

Explication de Texte 1

If we compare Ryan G. Van Cleave's "Music Theory as, or the Magical Breasts of Britney Spears" with Kasey Mohammad's "Wallace Stevens", I think the virtues of Flarf can be seen quite clearly.

At a general level, both poems combine references to literature with references to popular music and both poems evoke the vernacular. More specifically, both poems seem to turn on an error in this combination. Van Cleave's speaker mistakenly tells his students that the Parthenon is in Rome. He calls this a "boo-boo" and later says, "I wanted to Ctrl+Alt+Delete the/ whole / thing, reboot the damn class". Mohammad's much less definable voice simply notes someone "fuming" next to him (over the practice of "writing for high people") and offers an apologetic, "my bad, people /I could fast-forward life/ and look at all this with a numb eye/ to be like the total past". Note that the word "bad" here is a noun, like "boo-boo". Note the reference to technological mediations of experience that foster the dream of reversibility.

The differences begin with the choice of poets and pop icons. Britney Spears vs. Danzig, Walt Whitman vs. Wallace Stevens. In Van Cleave's poem this is no contest; it is clear that Britney Spears really doesn't belong in a poetry classroom. But Mohammad, in part because he draws his language verbatim from a positive review of Danzig's album 777: I Lucifero, makes the confrontation a fair and interesting one. Mohammad is not defending Stevens against vulgarization, he is exposing him to it. Van Cleave, however, is clearly simply shaking his head at "a pack of beaky, cheeky geeks who can't understand/ that their / trajectory in the universe is one of their own making,/ fueled / not by sugary gimmicks or cool turtle bone shades, but/ curiosity".

I think Van Cleave is trying to satirize his students but really just succeeds in moralizing from his superior position as their teacher. There is nothing to suggest that "Wallace Stevens", however, is satire. What vices are being ridiculed? What values are being defended? Nor is he making fun of anything. Rather, he is coordinating a field of social forces (heavy metal and high literature, crack heads and thin, Japanese women), he is writing down a particular emotional equation.


Presskorn said...

I have a hard time getting really excited about the whole Flarf-business, which takes up a lot of your blog these days, but your (almost parenthical)statement about a poem as sort of written emotional equation - an emotion brought into composition - strikes me as very interesting. My immediate thoughts about it:

It is almost a "potential" statement in the sense that several themes seem to be able of merging in this statement:
We have the Thomsian(not Aquinas but the danish poet S.U.T.) theme of the poem as an equation(in f.x. his 'Det skabtes vaklen'). We have the Rilkian theme of emotions, which connects with his aestetics of vision by its insistence on a descriptive content, the description of emomtions. And finally, of course, we the modernist theme of writing, which radically displaces a naive ekspressionist approach to and interpretation of emotions - The writing of (as opposed to expressing) emotions. In other words, it is tempting to see the "writting" of emotion as a Blanchot-ian theme of impersonality, which here (as we might say) demands of the poet what St. Paul demands of man: The poet(man) must have (emotions) as if he did not and must possess (emotions) as if he did not possess.
In any case, Rilkes insistence on balancing impersonality with the description of actual "sense"(perhaps as in both 'sense-impressions' and the 'sense of an expression') could be somewhat enlightning of such a conception of poetry. Consider, for instance, this quote:

"Do the New Poems still seem so impersonal to you? You see, in order to speak about what happened to me, what I needed was not so much an instrument of emotion, but rather: clay. Involuntarily I undertook to make use of use of 'lyric poetry' in order to form, not feelings, but things I had felt; every one of life's events had to find a place in this forming, independently of the suffering or pleasure it had at first brought me. This formation would have been worthless if it hadn't gone as far as the trans-formation of every accidental detail; it had to arrive at essence."

- Rilke, Letters, Rilke to "une amie", February 3, 1923

As stated: just, immediate (i.e. unorganized) thoughts about the "potentiality" of such a statement... Whether these thoughts, too, connects to cetain Flarf-matters I would be quite unable say....

Thomas Basbøll said...

Jay, Laura and I touched on this issue in relation to an earlier post:

I think I mean basically what Pound meant by "emotion". He said that only emotion endures, but I would add that concepts are durable in a similar way. I mean by "concept" more or less what the later Wittgenstein meant, though without severing the connection to Frege completely. Poetry is emotional notation, Ergriffsschrift.

I'll probably return to that. But, yes, right now I'm interested mainly in the emotions that pertain to Flarf.

Presskorn said...

Concepts, Frege etc.: Yes! And of course an idea of an Ergriffschrift connects nicely with the thoughts you put forward in your "Likeness"... It would be a nice addition to the quasi-aristotelian "division of labor" implied by Likeness.(Perhaps like this: Logic writes down concepts, Sociology writes down actions, Science writes down obejcts and Art writes down emotions and Philosophy deconstructs this very divsion by displaying the inherent relations between the elements in an "ubersicthliche darstellung"... Although this way of putting it is not completely in line with Likeness.)

In any case, I think(obviously like you) that Pound and emotion would make a very interesting addition to the "framework" of Likeness, so I do hope you'll return to it at some point. Regards etc.