Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kenneth Goldsmith's Amazing View

"This new generic horizon rising before us is one so saturated with embedded calculation that it sucks almost every prior mode of literary production out of view. A new ecstasy of language has emerged, one of algorithmic rationality and machine worship; one intent on flattening difference: meaning and nonsense, code and poetry, ethics and morality, the necessary and the frivolous. Literature is now approaching the zero degree of blunt expediency — a chilling, thrilling, almost Darwinian opportunism in action. Writing it appears, at this scale at least, is dead"

I admit that I read the Harriet Blog and the Poetry Foundation website in secret. It is out of jealousy at not being able to contribute to it that I read it. With this envy in mind I am amazed by some of the poets who are highlighted. Sometimes posts make me think and challenge me to be more as a poet.

Over the past year or so I have withdrawn from poetic socializing as I have descended into the self absorption that is the Great Recession. I am more worried about surviving the deluge than jousting with poetic adversaries. I have not had the emotional energy to debate and I have concentrated on translations and writing while I have tread ed water and hoped that I survive this flood of despair and wreckage.

This morning on Facebook- I read Christian Bok's critique of Kenneth Goldsmith's post on Harriet. I have to admit that I think that Bok is the worst kind of poetic elitist. There is a whole world of poets whose work is simply academic masturbation and I usually find his work painfully self serving along with many of his poetic friends. Goldsmith on the other hand I have found interesting and unlike Bok he usually writes things that are profound.

I needed to read Goldsmith's post. So I found it on line....

Goldsmith expounds on the use of technology and modes of literary production in a way that I think is important. He uses the term "blunt expediency" as a hinge for the article. I think that this is the opposite of where we really are in poetry. He talks about the new ways poetry can be consumed and created and also the fact that poetry is no longer built around the book or the great work which is a shame for us who dream of re writing the Cantos.

The fact is that Poetry, the art form which I practice and love, is pretty close to the most irrelevant art form in the American artistic idiom today. Poetry has never had the place in American society that Painting (Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko), Novels (O'Connor, Faulkner, Hemingway) or Theatre (O' Neill, Williams) have held but poetry has often been the art form that lead the way.

In the past poetry and poets have been in profound dialogue with our society and been forerunners of what society could become. If you look at the last great Economic disaster of American life, the Great Depression, we see poets serving this role. Langston Hughes, Kenneth Rexroth, Gwendolyn Brooks and many others were echoing the times they were living in and challenging the society to change.

They used new mediums to do this work. No one can convince me that Film and Radio were not as revolutionary in 1925 as the Internet is today. Global poets like Vallejo, Alberti and Neruda were using their great gifts to expose Fascism years before it was an important issue for most ordinary people. This is a role that has been abrogated by most American poets. While poets in places like Mexico (Laura Solorzano) and China (Bei Dao) are in that place.

As a poet who does not dwell in academia but one who dwells in the non academic business world most poetry appears to be precious literary gymnastics created by academics and intellectual thrill seekers. So much poetry today seems simply written to impress other academics or to appear "innovative" when in reality it is simply artifice.

Goldsmith compares Poetry to the new business cycle where most people are disposable.
As one of those who was disposed I think that poets and poetry need to ask another question why do they write? And why does it matter? Does anything they are doing have a purpose or is it simply to self-serve ego and self worth?

Our society is transforming from one set of assumptions to another. The growing dominance of China and their model of unfettered Capitalism with political and academic oppression is taking hold in many places in the world.

Poets are regularly imprisoned in China. In China Poetry is a political act here it is not. The Chinese model is taking root and is having a profound influence on places like Brazil, Indonesia and many nations in Africa. We are living in an age where the ideals of Freedom that have defined the West since 1945 are in retreat and a new norm that is best embodied by China's new high speed train to Tibet are becoming ascendant.

Yet most American poets are choosing to remain within the crumbling tower of Academia doing poetic gymnastics for their friends not dialogueing globally or choosing to move outside their small restricted world. The Internet has made this worse since it kills serendipity and causes people to read only sites they agree with. Yes, we can read poetry from around the world on line but how many Americans do this? I would venture I know all of them.

The issue is not that poets who dwell in the academy are not essential and broadminded, Sina Queyras, Jennifer Scappettone and Mark Nowak are academics but their work is about allot more than pleasing that audience. But are poets using technology to create a poetic hot house where they do not have to challenge or dialogue with the rapid change around us?

The issue is why poets and poetry tolerate artifice and weak writing no matter in what form it takes? Why is it that we do not demand from our poets more? Why is it that the technology is used as an excuse to accept narrowness and lack of breadth?

Poets need to ask the question why do they write? Not how they write. Poets need to understand that the world is changing and that the new world being created will not be friendly to poets.

1 comment:

Benjamin J Robertson said...

Bok is so elitist that Eunoia was a bestseller in Canada. Damn Canadians and their popular elitism. and that cyborg opera, man is that ever elitist. My undergrads love it, and we all know how avant-garde they are.