josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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8 May '03 08:28:03 AM

Notes. Only notes.

Was looking through In the American Tree, the "language poetry" anthology edited by Ron Silliman, tonight; came across a paragraph that casts the "reader has to work too" deal common to lots of avant-garde movements or traditions in a light new to me. The paragraph (from p. xviii):

"As is manifestly clear in the pages that follow, neither speech nor reference were ever, in any real sense, "the enemy." But, because the implicit "naturalness" of each, the simple, seemingly obvious concept that words should derive from speech and refer to things, was inscribed within all of the assumptions behind normative writing, the challenge posed by This was to open a broad territory of possibility where very different kinds of poets might explore and execute a wide range of projects. If nothing in the poem could be taken for granted, then anything might be possible. In turn, the poet must be responsible for everything. A parallel demand is made of each reader."

The last three sentences interest me the most. Saying that the poet must be responsible for everything makes the large responsibility often demanded of the reader seem more acceptable to me, somehow. For some reason I think the demand on the reader is often raised without keeping in mind the parallel responsibility, because the picture, instead, is more like "anything might be possible," without the focus on the greater responsibility required when anything is being attempted.

But if the picture I typically encounter associated with avant-garde artwork is something like "anything might be possible," then the reason I'm supposed to bother putting forth the effort is something like "man don't you like exploring new possibilities and stuff, you know?" Or something about challenging assumptions. But the talk about "responsibility" indicates that something different is going on when the picture involves shared responsibility of poets and readers: it's not just the responsibility to work harder, read more carefully, be more intelligent than readers of poetry of the past. Making the parallel demand a responsibility for everything moves things beyond just being more careful, more intelligent. I think it demands that the reader be responsible for doing the work of nontraditional reading and understanding, which means in part reading that is all tied up with that dirty social stuff "outside" the poem, and possibly reading that requires that the reader end up seeing something a different way before they get it. Moral responsibility, political responsibility. Why this makes more sense: it seems a bunch of obviously politically aware poets could not in good conscience demand "responsibility for everything" of their readers, when that responsibility is understood merely as a requirement to be avant-garde (formally speaking) as fuck - nothing outside the poems really, syntax itself, dumb little games. Only jerks seriously recommend that to others as a high ideal to strive for, and in that case few people take them seriously because they just seem like self-centered, snotty jerks. ("Our art is better because it's way more tricky and obscure and shit!" -- "Fuck off jerkface!") So, like, I don't know all that much about language poetry or its reception yet, but what I do know about its reception seems slightly sad: lots of people taking the language poets to be those jerks, and the language poets really really believing that readers working hard to understand the experimental poetry avant-garde poets are working to write can effect some kind of positive social change. And so the "lots of people" missing the point.

(Cf. posts here from Mark about Eddie Prevost and AMM, and a post from Eddie Prevost. No surprise that Silliman draws his own connection to say Anthony Braxton and others, as a parallel source of experimentation for reasons broader than simply experimentation for its own sake, or for "musical" or "aesthetic" reasons.)

8 May '03 07:49:11 AM

I am going to tell you about the Oreos. Two things about them. One is that I never noticed before tonight that is that I always experience this particular sense of disappointment when I bite into one of the halves. The way I eat them, you see, is often to take the Oreo; and use my top teeth as a fulcrum and pry with my bottom teeth; and break off part of the top of the Oreo; and do this about three times or so if I am lucky and the parts come off cleanly; lifting the last part off gently by gripping it at opposite edges with my top and bottom teeth, so that when it comes off it doesn't disturb the filling; and then there is the other part where I either eat the filling or just eat the whole remainder of the cookie; and when I eat the filling first somehow and then bite into the bottom piece of cookie, I always, always always always bite down as if biting down will just break the cookie right along the line of my teeth, and then feel a little (oh) inside, maybe frustration even if it breaks too much or crumbles, when putting the pressure on the cookie causes it to break along some other direction, or more than one. Why in more than twenty years have I kept expecting anything else?

The other thing: tonight was the first time I can ever remember where I actually tried to eat the filling as if it were some kind of separate thing to be savored by itself rather than just a thing to scrape off the cookie with my teeth and be disposed of quickly.

The banality of all this impresses and pleases me.

A note on method: just like when I write a lot about how some music sounds, to figure out what I wrote above I had to keep eating more Oreos. I would come to a point and think, I would like to say... that thing about the way I scrape the filling off and eat it. What is the thing? I do it all the time but can't remember it fully enough to make it into words. I just did it! I will go back and eat another cookie and then write down what I think right then.

With music, same thing.

7 May '03 04:45:53 AM

Why does Dr. Dre spell so much more than any other MC I can think of?

30 Apr '03 07:53:37 AM

Is Giddens right that the main difficulty in accepting the reality of American music would be administrative - figuring out how to fairly select jurors? The reason there would be disagreements about which jurors to pick is presumably that there is disagreement over what counts as valuable music. Deep, deep, deep disagreement. But Giddens knows that. Perhaps phrasing it in the way he does is a concession: the disagreement is so serious that to hope to resolve it by simply starting to acknowledge (with shiny shiny prizes from guys in elbow patch jackets), potentially, any musical creation, is pointless. That can't happen. So the solution is to try to represent as many different partial points of view as possible. Now, imagine the strong disagreements that exist inside the circles of jazz critics, art music critics, pop critics, sneering arts weekly critics, jaded post-ILM pan-musical hipsters, what have you - and then try to imagine whether those disagreements would persist when we tried to look for critics that could move comfortably within all the circles. If we could even find any.

30 Apr '03 07:21:35 AM

"You ever hear the one about the middle class idiots who sorta spend all their time analyzing their own emotions, and writin' bullshit poetry, that we're s'posed to read? I mean, as if we're fuckin' interested."

29 Apr '03 08:09:03 AM

"put your hands opposite to the ground if you lovin that sound"

28 Apr '03 10:52:13 AM

And what do you suppose is more profitable, looking for an ethical theory promoted by a television show, or looking at how the show explores - investigates, experiments with - how we go about being ethical? (And the answer won't be: well, first don't we need do figure out what the ethical theory should be, or what the one they're using is, so that we can know how they're doing? Isn't it clear that all the parts from your favorite ethical theories are in there, knocking around, like kids bashing G.I. Joes together? And if it's not, will we really get anywhere by arguing about that point?)

(Cite Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self - can't agree with his goal in particular, whatever exactly it is, but in general part of his deal is, look, to get a decent account of good human life you can't go following this or that constitutive definition of the good, like Mill's or Kant's, out into Bizarro world: you've got to try to keep all the balls in the air, somehow.)

28 Apr '03 10:39:53 AM

Or as Geoff put it - "oh no they're talking and it's moving and going so fast and I can't keep up!"

28 Apr '03 10:39:09 AM

For example - reading, I get the impression that the show is actually just a big set of dialogue, and those really are just there to express the stances and actions of traditional moral agents. When am I gonna come across something, anything, that wonders at the significance of the way Buffy constantly seems mock-imperious, in kind of an idiotic, confused-child way, when insisting in the face of a problem that the Scooby gang has to do this, this, and this, when "this" almost always amounts to "do the thing that will fix this problem somehow" in a totally non-substantive way? There's always an element of determination in that, I suppose, coming as it does when they have a problem they have no idea how to respond to: OK, uh yeah we're gonna be OK, we've gotta do it, do something, what what what, go guys and do it. You can sense it in the Scoobies' reaction - a tinge of resigned acceptance, yes we will soldier on in apparent (temporary we hope because it's always worked before) futility, ignoring the fact that you are telling us "we really have to do something you guys" when we are well aware of that fact. And it's not always that way - just look at the frequent tension in the group, say in the final story arc especially, where everyone keeps chafing and blowing up at Buffy's insistence that they have to do something, because the not getting anywhere has gone on too long, the futility is getting to be too much to bear. When is that look on her face, that tone in her voice, going to show up? How does it factor in to what the show "says" "about" "duty"?