Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flarf Reading #2

Mesmer, Sharon. 2007. "I Am Beautiful". Annoying Diabetic Bitch. Combo Books. Page 55.

Flarf does not mock the language of its sources, it simply uses it. Often, of course, it uses it for purposes beyond those originally intended. Sometimes more purposefully but often actually less purposefully, at least at the level of the individual line. We will, however, get nowhere in our understanding of Flarf if we imagine that there is some interestingly Bloomian "clinamen" or "swerve", or some sort of irony, sarcasm, or satire, in the relation between the intentions of Flarf and the intentions of its sources. They are as related as the purpose of a tree in a forest is related to the purpose of the hardwood floor in your living room.

"I Am Beautiful" is a great example. While the language has been gathered from personal web pages, obscure songs (like Dax Riggs's "In Death I'm Only Hiding"), and popular culture (like the 2004 movie Sideways), the most interesting reading is one in which we take seriously the recurrence of the "I" as a single speaking subject, and let it bring all the emotions together into the one intense and singular, but of course always fragile, sentiment of the title.

There are moments of real referentiality. We all know what "Al Gore" and "no fucking Merlot" stand for. In fact, it is with the connection of the speaker's sense of her own "famous and gorgeous" body (and soul) to the connoiseur's famous vitriol and the environmentalist's famous spam ("I am also really sick of getting emails from Al Gore./Fuck you, Al Gore, you fucking loser") that a rapport with the reader also becomes possible. There is nothing ironic, mocking, satirical, or sarcastic about the tenderness we next come to feel for this "ballerina with a clown face encased in a big beautiful teardrop". We are now willing not to hate her just because she is beautiful. We are, perhaps, even again becoming capable of loving her outright—for, not despite, her beautiful body, her beautiful soul. And "Daniel"? Well, yes, of course. We "fucking hate that song" too.

Last thought: though I love Sharon Mesmer's delivery in readings as-is, I have found the image of Elizabeth Alexander's "poet's voice" reading the poem (and other poems, like "Squid versus Assclown" and "I Accidently Ate Some Chicken") through a PA system aimed at the Washington monument useful when approaching her work.


Kirby Olson said...

Flarf is a communist notion -- it derives from the idea that the zeitgeist is more important than the individual.

However, it is also an attack on this very same communist notion, and it is an individualistical attack on the notion that the zeitgeist is more important than the individual.

I see it as fundamentally healthy, as it walks on the border between individuality and the collective, and seeks to annoy our notions of these two apparently separate spheres.

The problem is that aside from the theoretical work it's doing, the actual poems are insufficiently good from the conceptual viewpoint to affirm anything like a universal beauty in any particular flarf barf.

But I think it's a necessary cure to the notion of the individual poet's relationship to the collective, as it allows poets to put together morally challenging work and not have to take responsibility for it.

The main problem is that this is by its very nature an aesthetically challenged movement in that it doesn't permit lyrical intensity, but is content with a certain half-assed wobbling.

I'm basing all of this on one poem that I've read by Michael Magee.

I don't know anything else about Flarf.

however, I think on the basis of that one poem I know everything there is to know about the movement, and everybody who has ever practised within its parameters, and moreover, no one can tell me any differently.

The poem was something racist about Asians, according to Timothy Moo (I think this was his name). I don't remember anything else about the poem. It may have had a movie star in the poem.

It was just dreadfully poor, as poems go, but an exciting development, as it allowed Magee to say what he actually thought, without however having to take any responsibility for it.

Second thought, second best thought!

I like it as a strategy, and think it will help move art back into the realm of the insignificant and meaningless, where it belongs, and away from illustration of communist shibboleths, which is totalitarian, and ooky.

Thomas Basbøll said...

"The actual poems are insufficiently good," you say. One of my aims with these readings is to show that Flarf has produced a number of actually good poems (or has actually produced a number of good poems). Mike Magee's "Glittering Guys" cannot prove that Sharon Mesmer's "I Am Beautiful" is half-assedly wobbling.