Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flarf Reading #3

Gardner, Drew. 2005. "Control Is a Beautiful Thing". Petroleum Hat. Roof Books. Pages 71-2.

I was going to stay clear of too many polemics. But my first two readings have had a "corrective" bent anyway, and Kirby's comment to my last reading is well worth countering, if only because it is representative, not least because its general claim is based, he notes, on his familiarity with one (1) poem.

The main problem is that [Flarf] 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.

When I read it, I was immediately reminded of Dorothy Sayers. In his "Simple Art of Murder", Raymond Chandler quotes from her introduction to the Omnibus of Crime. The detective story, she says, "does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest aims of literary achievement". Chandler's reply is terse and precise: "The Maltese Falcon may or may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not 'by hypothesis' incapable of anything."

Drew Gardner's "Control Is a Beautiful Thing" may or may not be a work of genius, I want to say, but an art that is capable of it is not "by its very nature" challenged in any way, nor prohited from anything. Something like that. The poem does not wobble, though it perhaps quivers, and while it's theme is arguably a certain kind of equivocality, there is nothing half-assed about the poem.

It has a very definite mood and a very precise emotion in view. Like "I Am Beautiful", "Control" has a single speaking subject that unproblematically (if this time reluctantly) calls itself "I". There is a "liquid inside" it and "the liquid isn't sticky or confused". The trick is just to keep it, or something like it, from "rolling away". The subject seems to move between the office ("I sat at my desk") and the apartment ("I got home") and has spent some time in "training courses" of various kinds (which you get home from just as they begin). The subject has hands (which are sometimes washed) and emotions ("flecks of rage") and appears to have some experience with what William S. Burroughs called "the crime of separate action": "I'm sure my other half/will use its hands for this." What other half? "I just looked in the mirror/and my head was there again."

Two passages represent the concrete and abstract components of the mood that the poem presents—the emotion that the poem "controls" if you will—"the problem":

The liquid isn't sticky or confused
I move several times a day
directly toward the problem

Then, later:

it was no problem
you can pull
this into the new range
that meets the beautiful sounds,
like a silver shaped cylinder
floating outside your bedroom window.

It is not simply incorrect to say that Flarf "doesn't permit lyrical intensity". Flarf arguably makes a lyrical intensity possible, at least within a certain "range" that we might otherwise "never use". Were it not for Flarf, Mesmer's "ballerina with a clown face encased in a big beautiful teardrop", like Gardner's "silver shaped cylinder floating outside your bedroom window", would be well-nigh impossible.

I'm grateful to Tony for his elegant rephrasing of one of my theses: poetry doesn't make us feel better emotions; it makes us feel emotions better. Here, the poem does not make us feel better about control, but better able to feel control.


Kirby Olson said...

Just as all the members of the high modernist group (Eliot, Moore, Williams, Pound) shared a certain high seriousness, and just as the New York poets, or the Beats, shared a certain sensibility, so must all the members of Flarf share a certain sensibility. That's what makes a group a group. So if you've read one of their poems, in a sense, you've read all of them.

However, there has to be variation of goodness within an oeuvre, but no work can achieve lyrical perfection that begins with Flarf's coordinates.

I'm more than willing to be proven wrong, in spite of my initial challenge. Where is this poem? Can I read it?

I'm more than willing to be mesmerized.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'm liking the idea of defending Flarf as a lyrical form.

I think there will be a handful poems that, taken together, might be able to represent a movement. There will never be just one poem that can do this (or, if so, it wouldn't be much of a movement, I guess). And certainly not just any randomly chosen poem written by someone who happens to be associated with the movement.

Also, NO poem can achieve "lyrical perfection". Before, you said that Flarf would not be capable even of lyrical intensity. I really do think you are wrong about that.

I don't think "Control" is available on line, though. I did Google a few lines while reading the poem and didn't come across a full version it, just a few reviews. Whenever I know of an online version, I will link to it. I'm going to try to stick to poems that are published in book form (or established online journals). I don't want to get into the question of whether I'm reading "work in progress".

Kirby Olson said...

Another problem I have with Flarf is that it seems to be an industrial form, again based on the one poem that I've read, by Mike Magee. That is, it has the kind of Factory quality of Warhol's studio -- playing with the notion of mass production. At the same time it pretends to keep a soul, but as Benjamin shows in the era of mass production the aura of the art work disappears.

Recently in some journal there was a piece about how quality of life was superior in two countries -- Finland and Denmark were mentioned, as being two of the places in the world where people were most happy, most satisfied. The reason?

It's because we trust our neighbors, they said.

Indeed, in Finland, there's a sense of trustworthiness. I in turn attribute this to the Lutheran heritage of the country, and to the sense that God is with us, and also watching us. And we want to be accountable to God.

Flarf is missing this, and I think as a result makes its practitioners as miserable as the suicides and junkies that worked in Warhol's Factory, where cynicism was the essential product.

Instead of that, I think more on the money would be to write or to somehow emboss In God We Trust, on our productions, so that we are sincere, and so that our productions can be trusted.

Flarf by the very nature of its name (which closely resembles a combination of "snark" and "fluff") means that the work that is produced under its name isn't trustworthy.

True intensity is trustworthy because it is authentic, through and through, and therefore profoundly meant.

The utilitarian basis of capitalism (of which Marxism is the worst variety because it is a STATE capitalism, and thus twice as monstrous as individual capitalism), tends to turn everything and everyone into a tool, into a commodity, that can be exchanged. Flarf revels in this sensibility, and yet keeps a kind of snarky and jaundiced viewpoint.

We need instead to stand outside the paradigm of capitalism, and to insist that there is a soul, and that our God operates on another plane altogether, and His coinage is of another kind, another caliber, and to deny the zeros of the Neros who are the heros of Flarf.

Down with Flarf!

Matt said...

"So if you've read one of their poems, in a sense, you've read all of them."

I'd just like to take a moment to point out how completely ridiculous this statement is, and how it doesn't remotely apply to any of the groups you mention.

Ok, I'm done now.

Anonymous said...

You write in the above post that:

"Kirby's comment to my last reading is well worth countering."

But in Olson's last post, he writes:

"I'm basing all of this [i.e. his opinions with regard to Flarf] on one poem that I've read by Michael Magee."

I find it It is nothing short of laughable that you find it worth the time to respond to someone who champions his own ignorance. To make blanket statements about an entire aesthetic movement based on a single actualization by a sole writer is at worst dangerous, at best anti-intellectual.

IMO, there seems to be little utility in pitching underhand to the likes of K.O.

Thomas Basbøll said...

To stick with that metaphor I'd rather say that I, perhaps unsportingly, hit at Kirby's underhand pitch. Hitting it out of the park wasn't very impressive, I know.

But you quote me out of context. What I said was: "Kirby's comment to my last reading is well worth countering, if only because it is representative, not least because its general claim is based, he notes, on his familiarity with one (1) poem."

What I meant was that part of what makes Kirby's comment representative of criticism of Flarf was its utter lack of any basis. For some reason there are people who (a) don't want to read Flarf and (b) do want to say something about it.

In any case, I am countering a remark by someone who has not really read any Flarf simply by actually reading a piece of Flarf. Isn't that a perfectly good framing for a blog post?

If this post is "nothing short of laughable", friend, then surely an anonymous comment that doesn't even read the whole sentence it is laughing at is ...

well, you get the picture ...

Kirby Olson said...

Thomas, what your readers don't seem to realize is that I'm laughing quite a bit while throwing you that slow ball. As I said, I'm more than willing to be mesmerized.

Magee is a member in good standing in Flarf, though, is he not? And is not Glittering Guys therefore a canonical poem within the group's output?

If it is, then I think we could say that it is representative, and we can derive certain aspects of Flarf from reading it.

I read better than most people, and so even if I am just reading one poem, I can see more than can someone who's read the whole oeuvre of Flarf.

But I'm going in way over my head in terms of making claims, partially to press you to make counter-claims.

It's a game.

I throw you the ball.

You think you hit it out of the park.

I call it a strike, because it seems to me you entriely missed the point I was making, by concentrating on what you perceived as a soft pitch.

We learn from each other's viewpoint, and are mutually astonished.

I was throwing you a screwball.

Flarf specializes in screwballs.

I met Kasey. I would like to read an entire poem by him. His hands are big, which means that he probably has some intellectual power.

My guess is that he's the Babe Ruth of this club.