Sunday, March 05, 2006

Contra Flarphilia

It is important to dissociate criticism of Flarf from criticism of the hype that surrounds Flarf. Since I admittedly contribute to the hype, I have to be sensitive to both kinds, though I find the former more interesting. It is also increasingly rare. Most of the critical intensity is now focused on the appreciation of Flarf rather than on the poetry. (New criticism began by shifting attention off of the poet and onto the poem; we now seem to need a shift of attention off the critic and onto the poem.)

Dan Hoy's essay is of course in this category of critical criticism (rather than literary criticism). R. J. McCaffery and Seth Abramson can be read the same way, I think. Julie Carter offers some heckling here. What they all share is a negative reaction to the positive feelings that go with Flarf, which in McCaffery's variant amounts to construing the excitement as "pretentious". This reminds me of Norman Mailer's dismissal of Beckett on the basis of its positive reception by people he believed were snobs. As his wife put it after they finally did go to see the play, "Baby, you fucked up." (This anecdote comes from Mailer's Advertisements for Myself.) I hope some of these critics of "the love of Flarf" will one day come around, as Mailer did, and admit that they dislike people like me more than they dislike the poems. People have been asking whether the poems "live up to" the hype, when the poems are actually far more interesting than the hype. That is, I hope one day Seth Abramson will count at least ten or fifteen poems that are distinctly flarfy as also somewhat "actual".

In an interesting twist, Abramson warns his readers that "negative remarks about flarf made in a public forum are likely to be met with death threats, cocaine-fuelled internet rants, disinvitations to AWP parties, and/or a vicious cartoon-based lampoon featuring naked stick-figures and much playground-grade scatological buffoonery." It's reasonably precise hyperbole as far as it goes, but I should add that positive remarks about Flarf have also been ridiculed (mine, for example).

I'm beginning to think this reaction from the Flarflist and its promoters (including its non-response to Hoy's essay at Jacket) attempts to perform the idea that it is ridiculous to have critical opinions (Sullivan's spoof reviews of Flarf seem a part of this performance) whether positive or negative. If that's the case, today I disagree with the Flarflist Collective. I'm confident that Flarf can be assimilated by the more or less orthodox critical opinion (though not without making some necessary changes, which is something that McCaffery and I seem to agree about). What is ridiculous, I think, is having an opinion about the marginal utility of the 835th work of Flarf without reading, say, seventeen such works very closely first.

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