Gabriel Gudding's A Defense of Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002) arrived today. I'm convinced.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
We cannot think if we have no time to read, nor feel if we are emotionally exhausted, nor out of cheap material create what is permanent. We cannot co-ordinate what is not there.
Cyril Connolly (Palinurus)
The Unquiet Grave, p. 2
Anatole France is said to have spent a great deal of time searching for the least possible variant that would turn the most worn-out and commonest phrases of journalism into something distinguished.
Such research is sometimes termed 'classicism'.
This is at the greatest possible remove from the usual English stylist's trend or urge toward a style different from everyone else's.
ABC of Reading, p. 70
One of the most important aspects of anti-Palinurian poetry is what Mike Magee has called its "extensive" "sympathies and empathies" or what Kasey Mohammad has suggested might be the "stickiness" of its ethical complicity. It neither valorizes or satirizes its sources (pace Ange Mlinko's blurb on Drew Gardner's Petroleum Hat). When it comes to Google-sculpted works, what this means is quite easy to demonstrate.
Compare the following patches of prose and poetry.
Here is part of a draft for the Galactic Guide written by Nicholas Gurley:
I, Nicholas Gurley, am not a pilot. I've studied all of the books, so I know the basics of hurling large metal cocoons  filled with people into the sky, but I have not taken the test that allows me to take over the controls as of yet.
I do, however, know about pilots. My father and my grand-father were both pilots. My father is a private pilot (he takes groups of four or less people into the sky at a time) and my grand-father was a Captain on a DC-3(a type of plane) for a commercial airline.
Besides that, I am quite familiar with all of my father's pilot friends, and can speak though pseudo-experience . If I'm wrong, I'll fix it in an update. Just notify me immediately!
And here is a section of Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot" (Cortland Review #22, Feb. 2003):
I am not a pilot nor a teacher.
I am not an athlete.
I, Nicholas Gurley, am not a pilot.
I've studied all of the books,
so I know the basics of hurling
large metal cocoons filled with people into the sky,
but I have not taken the test
that allows me to take over the controls as of yet.
I do, however, know about pilots.
I am not a pilot and I never asked for your message.
I think what pilots do is wonderful.
"But what of the "bad boy" phenomenon? Every man knows, or has seen in action, that the more he abuses women, the more successful he will be in attracting them; and the nicer he is, the more likely he will wind up as a "friend". But most men are socialized to cultivate harmony, not discord, and so they refuse to participate in such pathology. Most men are nice guys, who have no interest in acting like jerks to women. Logic would suggest that a woman would want to avoid being brutalized..."
And here is a passage from Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War" (Petroleum Hat, Roof Books, 2005, p. 21).
But what of the "war boy" phenomenon?
Every man knows, or has seen in action,
that the more wars he starts,
the more successful he will be in attracting women,
and the more peaceful he is,
the more likely he will wind up as a "pacifist."
But most men are socialized to cultivate harmony,
not discord, and so they refuse to participate
in such pathology.
Most men are pacifists, who have no interest in war.
The means by which these two poets have co-ordinated what is there are different, but the effect is comparable. Worn-out phrases become distinguished (without being erased), cheap materials are given permanence (or, rather, something permanent is made out of them). Both make use of enjambments, but Gardner (much of whose material for this poem is drawn from the same page) replaces individual words to achieve his effects, while Tost situates a verbatim quotation in the new context of the poem.
In any case, I don't see any reason to think that Tost or Gardner are in any sense satirizing their sources. They are using materials that are "just lying around" for effects that are wholly unrelated (or at least only speciously related) to the effects they produced in their original context. The poem is not a "comment" on the materials. It is a new presentation.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Poets arguing about wartime poetry: jackals snarling over a dried-up well.
Cyril Connolly (Palinurus)
There seems to be some weariness out there about the discussion of Flarf. I want to quietly devote the next several posts to two poems and their relationship to Google in order to think some issues through in my own way. These two poems are Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot" and Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War".
I was going to provide links to them, but it is interesting to note that, while both of these word strings (i.e., the titles of these poems) clearly existed before the poems went online, the poems are presently enjoying the grace of the Page Rank algorithm. So you will have no trouble finding them. It is also relatively easy to locate much of their "source material", or what I sometimes call their "ideoplastic". Before I do that, later this week, I thought I would leave the fun of discovery to those who haven't already done so.
I want to use the poems as an immanent critique of the Palinurian experience on the assumption that there is something essentially anti-Palinurian about making a good poem. So, to begin, imagine Palinurus, Æneas' pilot, on the beach in Sicily among "elaborate games ... brooding over the storm and his leader's conduct while the noisy sport proceeds around him. Finally, to prevent the men leaving, the women set fire to the ships ..." (Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, p. 130)
Q: You are a pilot? That is SO cool!
A: I am NOT a pilot.
I just cannot, you know, believe in a war
against chicks when they've got the anti-chick war
thing goin' on.
The women will be like "Ooh, what a cute war!"
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
"If, as we suggest, he was tired of the fruitless voyage, horrified by the callousness of Æneas, by the disasters which he seemed to attract by his rowdy games, by the ultimate burning of some of the ships by the angry women,--that act unforgivable in the eyes of a man of the sea,--then was his disappearance as accidental as Æneas supposed?"
The Unquiet Grave, p. 132
Monday, February 13, 2006
specious adj. 1 superficially plausible but actually wrong. 2 misleadingly attractive in appearance. [ME, = beautiful, f. L. speciosus (as SPECIES [L, = appearance, kind, beauty, f. specere look])]
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1990)
flarf n. 1 quality of intentional or unintentional "flarfiness". 2 a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness.
flarfy adj. & adv. 1 wrong. 2 un-P.C. 3 out of control. 4 "not okay".
The (Intermittently) Concise Gary Sullivan
(adapted from the Flarf Files)
Monday, February 06, 2006
...it certainly can't explain or explicate how language goes from being on a search engine page to how it becomes "Mars Needs Terrorists."
Most of Dan Hoy's recent essay, "The Virtual Dependency of the Post-Avant and the Problematics of Flarf", in Jacket #29, "is about the uncritical use of corporate algorithms as a generator of poetic chance and catalyst for engaging the Other." Later in the essay, however, he reframes the issue in terms of "the problematics of using [Google] as [an effective generator of poems]", a characterization he uses again near the end, casting "Google as a poetic generator". This conflation of Google as a chance-generator and alterity-catalyst with Google as a poem-generator is perhaps just an imprecision in the essay, but they share an important assumption: that the use of Google directly explains or accounts for essential features of the poems, i.e., that Google constitutes a "generative" deep structure that explains the surface structure of the poems. Hoy's thesis is that Google-sculpted poetry is Google-structured poetry because the poets are either unable or unwilling to bring their material to crisis (to make "critical" use of it). He sees this as "a trend [, which I'll refer to as 'flarf',] among the ‘post-avant’ ... that betrays not just their mediated upbringings but an antiquated technophilia."
I think this is the most substantial thing that is wrong with Hoy's essay. He has simply failed to consider the difference between pages and pages of Google search results and the poems that are built out of them. (Despite the fact that this difference was the primary focus of those parts of my criticism that he cites.) He offers no demonstration of any isomorphy between flarf works and Google results and therefore no basis for the claim that the procedures that generate flarf poems are isomorphic with the algorithms that generate Google returns. This is an admittedly formal refutation of Hoy's scholarship but, since he proposes explicitly not to read the poems, very little more is possible at this point. My brief (and ironic) despair over the presence of marketing on the Internet (the "muses" were never a serious option) was very precisely an awareness of the possibility his essay takes (for granted) as a structural necessity. Anyone who briefly considers the matter will realise, as I did, that it is very unlikely. It would be interesting, however, to show that the structure of a page or two of Google results corresponds in some striking way with the structure of a page or two of Deer Head Nation. If Hoy ever attempts such a demonstration of his thesis (a demonstration that his rhetoric is in some sense already obligated to provide) I would be glad to examine it.
Until such time, Hoy has simply failed to demonstrate that the object of his essay exists: a trend towards the uncritical use of Google to generate poetry.