Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ereignis: contributions to flarf

Gary has now posted the introduction to How to Proceed in the Arts and, as promised, it is all about inappropriateness. I don't want to say "the art of the inappropriate" because, if I understand the gist of it, inappropriateness is a category he introduces to understand all art. There is something essentially aesthetic about the boundary between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, something I want to blow altogether out of proportion in this post.

Martin Heidegger's famous "other book" (in addition to Being and Time his ouevre consists mainly of lectures and essays) was called Beitrage zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis). It has been translated as Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) though some argue that From the Event would have been sufficient. I am inclined to agree: in most cases the individual words in Heidegger's German should be translated into colloquial English (and certainly an ordinary German word like Ereignis should not be rendered as an English neologism). The profundity of Heidegger's work does not lie in the meaning of the individual words he uses but in his arrangement of them (as with all writing, the depth of philosophy is an illusion arranged on the surface of the page). In any case, Ereignis is also sometimes translated as "event" and sometimes as "the event of appropriation", to wit: en-own-ing, i.e., making something your own, appropriating it (er-eig-nis, I think, is how it goes). I've been playing with a passage from Heidegger's "The Turning" here at the Pangrammaticon for reasons that are, therefore, now becoming clear to me.

There is, it seems to me, an altogether crucial aesthetic moment implicit in the appropriation of an experience as one's own. Art makes an event of it, of course. And flarf, it seems to me, makes exactly as much out of it as it (or anyone) can bear.

Art cannot be content to be "appropriate for the occasion" (making paintings that match sofas, for example) and I think Gary is onto something in drawing attention to the inappropriate. But I also think Gertrude Stein was right to caution against being "inaccrochable", which amounts to being radically inappropriate (appropriate to no occasion). Being repulsive is not (necessarily) an artistic stance. I think this is what Gary means with the quotation marks he sometimes puts around "inappropriate".

For a long time now, I've been convinced that poetry works with (and upon) our institutions much like philosophy works with (and upon) our intuitions. (Kant's whole critical project can be understood as an investigation of intuition.) Intuition is the immediate givenness of things to our knowledge of them, whereas institution is our immediate takenness with people through our power over them. (That's a rough pangrammatical homology.) That is, intuition is the moment of immediately "seeing as" (e.g., "That's a rabbit") whereas institution is the moment of immediately "doing as" (e.g., "I am attending a funeral"). Institution and intuition are what I call "the media of immediacy"; they condition the "first impression" that an action or perception makes on us as meaningful experience. Making us aware of these media is the task of philosophy and poetry (and, no doubt, all the other arts, albeit in less easily pigeonholed ways).

On this background, I want to venture the hypothesis, which I will develop later (when I've read Gary's book and Petroleum Hat and the rest of Deer Head Nation), that flarf is really the appropriation of the inappropriate, i.e., what Gary calls a "toggling" back and forth between institutionally defined appropriateness and inappropriateness. Art plays with the difference between them, making notions like decency and debauchery absolutely central to its production. Again, I think the genius of flarf is that it only just barely makes the inappropriate, the debauched and the indecent "fit" for public display. It produces just exactly poems. They are not the events, but the incidents, of appropriation.

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