Consistency and didacticism. I think that I am being slightly too didactic in approach to in working out syncretic arts. I don’t really want to be proscriptive towards any art. Were I to do that, I would become what, in effect, I oppose. I’m going to take this opportunity to list a) what I want syncretic arts to do b) why syncretic arts are necessary c) alternatives to syncretic arts that are still syncretic. List a). I want syncretic arts to: • Erase the boundaries between various art forms as a tactic to repudiate specialization • Operate on a level of flux and continued change • Not be a tradition • Be a mode of communication that is not only concerned with communication, but with investigation unrestricted by genre List b) Syncretic Arts are necessary because: • In a world of increasing specialization, Marx was right in identifying reification and fetishism. Syncretic arts oppose specialization. • They create possibilities for “expression” of which individual arts are not or may not be capable. • Artists and poets would be forced to look for genuinely new vocabularies* List c) Alternatives would be: • Traditional art forms (verse poems/ paintings/ etc) that incorporate ideas from other fields (this has been done quite a lot): i.e. Xenakis, Duchamps, etc *I just added this after reading Ron Silliman’s blog. (www.ronsilliman.blogspot.com). Snoring my way through the same ol’ Freudian terminology makes me mistrust the author. I’d much prefer a physical explanation of the so-called unconscious than this annoying claptrap going on in poetics. This is coming across as intensely personal so let me add some conjecture vis-à-vis the unconscious.. or automatic writing. One of the things mentioned in a post there from Nick Piombino refers to “free association”. Piombino associate this process with the unconscious, he says that free association is a collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious. One problem with this is that, even if we accept this bipartite division, what is to say that the act of becoming conscious isn’t itself a collaboration of the unconscious? Thus, consciousness itself is never fully conscious. So let’s be generous with our interpretation of this and say he means free association is ‘tilted’ towards even murkier realms that are not allowed to be conscious. My point here is that the positing of an unconscious is unnecessary. David Hume talks about contiguity and ?? (can’t remember the other term), and notes that when he goes far away from his home, his impressions of home become less and less distinct, but as he nears home his impressions become stronger and he may even have a sense of nostalgia. The most physical expression of this phenomena is that of electrical or neuron patterns responding to external criteria, thus activating a previously inactive part of his mind. Now why not assume that that which we call unconscious is just that, a reactivation of familiar neural patterns in response to external criteria? Why not assume that language itself is external? This can be made even more complex when we look at a phenomena termed “intentionality”. Basically, this is when we choose what we want to be aware of. It is an organizing principle of consciousness, more or less. The idea assumes, as far as I understand it, that we are aware of much more than we know, it is a matter of our choosing what we want to see hear taste etc. This would mean that much of what is termed the world is unconscious. Etc.. I want to just add here that the explicit project of Madeline Gins and Arakawa can be viewed as extremely useful in regard to this idea. That they want to reconfigure awareness, though a kind of environmental awareness is important. Anyway, I’m out of time. More inanities tomorrow, perhaps.
Combinatorial Arts. By this I mean to suggest when possible a deformation of traditional demarcations or boundaries between the Arts, but also a kind of dialogue that has appeared at various times throughout history, most notably in the early C20th. Dada, Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism (Russian & Italian), Vorticism, etc all shared a tendency to allow for “readings” done in one field, say painting, be reinterpreted in another. Certainly in the popular imagination painting and sculpture were the memorable products of these movements. I will be bold and arrogant here and say fuck popular conceptions. A paper on music theory I’m reading at the moment suggests that often the mediocre is often the most memorable.. and popular culture is certainly mediocre. That is not to say that the works appreciated are not good works, actually. I do believe, nonetheless, that popular explanation of the works, which has thus made them comprehensible, has also killed them. To return to the theme, often these dialogic works (I’m reappropriating Bakhtin’s term for wholly other purposes), were still distinguishable as genres. A surrealist poem was recognizable as a poem etc. While I still favor this dialogism, I also favor the type that renders genre impossible. Conceptual artists were highly successful at this, though as far as I am aware they still tried to explain their work in relation to historical precedent. Because they have done that it will always be problematic to look to conceptual artists as predecessors. The Poetry Plastique exhibition held in NY last year seems to contain, save some egregious inclusions like Rob Creely, much of the type of work of which I’m speaking. Still, the question, “so what of poetry?” is nagging me. To answer this, I will answer a the question, why combinatorial arts/poetry? Firstly, for aesthetic reasons. Much as I love John Donne through Roethke, I don’t want to read a 21st century rendition! Another reason is political. Suffice it to say that the nature of capitalism and communism is specialization, and we become specialized to the extent of reification. In this field, look at poets who look at past poets who were also looking back! Mine is a call for poets (primarily, as musicians and artist are less guilty of this than them), to look left and right before they cross the road, instead of over their shoulder. That is look around! If poetry is really a human art, then why are poets simply responding to issues such as cloning with Ethical concerns? Is poetry now just the editorial? Poets, clones will be made, regardless of the amount of ink you pound out of your breast. Even Star Wars offers us an ethic! That is not to say that poetry has to engage only cloning, but that it needs to become playful again with what is going on in other practices, not only the arts or philosophy. Personally, I think that poetry can deal with these issues much more effectively than Science Fiction.. Finally, I want to reject, very flatly (pun intended) the assumptions of language poetry and post-modern linguistic theory, that language makes us. Yes language is important, and the manipulation of it is crucial to the production of good writing, but do we really want to waste our time defamiliarizing it for the purposes of deconstruction and self-reconstruction? Biological bases for cognition are becoming more convincing, poets as well as theorists need to take these seriously or run the risk of no longer being taken seriously. I don’t want to deny the importance of language, that it plays a part in cognition, but that it is not all. So what of poetry?? Well, I don’t see mainstream poetry dying, unless, that is, there is a revolution in education. But for the avant garde, which is the most worldly arena of the arts, there needs to be a let up in specialization. A dialogue might really begin between artists in all disciplines, and the concerns and practice might be carried over to poetry. Today, I don’t see poetry engaging on the same level as the arts. Many arts are takng risks combining forms, sculpture/photography/ etc, with ideas in science, medicine, philosophy etc. One key point here is that the arts have flattened practices to an equivalent plane. They come together to give something of a view or even world view, there is no separate practice. When poets come together to put songs to poems or poems to songs I can’t do anything but cringe. Why not poems that become songs, that become more than poems with music? This is not new.. musicians are still doing this (Paul Lansky).. I’m out of time and steam!
Demos, Bodies, & Marxists. The Demos over the weekend were totally inspiring, aside from the poor show yet again here in Japan. That so many people would pour out into the streets goes to show the intensity of feeling surrounding this war. Unfortunately, not only has the hawkish American administration gone out of control, but the real differential between the needs of individuals and the drive of government lays bare and very few people are willing to exploit it. What I mean is that these governing bodies (or affiliates of, like the UN) have little regard for what people need or want (by their very nature they never could) and act on one hand as symbols of some god-like battle. America vs. France, the UN vs. America, North Korea vs South Korea. On the other hand, the outcome of these squabbles is very real, and actual death, destruction, and domination result from this monotony of political maneuvering. I think the realization of this is for this reason that people were protesting yesterday. Nevertheless, that what we’re watching is a simulation, a façade of experience, is never taken to what to me seems a logical conclusion: a removal of the façade. Part of the reason I believe is that we continue to live under the domination of the symbols themselves and the resulting confusions, e.g America/ Americans/ George Bush, are tantamount to a continual conceptual misrepresentation of geography with identity. It seems that post-modernists would like us to believe that because we, “live under the domination of symbols” that the subversion of these symbols, the subversion of a language that shapes , would be a kind of answer or counter. This idea can be traced back to the Marxist superstructure and the complex rule it places over, ultimately, consciousness. By placing language at the top of the throne, pomo is also building on the “blank-slate” theory, that we are born tabla rasa and can be filled by language, the environment etc. While I am now entering a subject I admittedly know little about, it seems worthwhile to day that biology is also participating in our responses to the world.. language, in my view, being a response. Thus, subversion of symbols is not all, but a subversion of biology, which is now happening in the fields of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, etc. And on this, I am at an impasse. Nothing will stop these fields from developing, aside from, perhaps, a severely devastating war. And these fields can be used in the acquisition of power.. and as we should know by now, you can’t end power, only have it manifested in different structures.
War. From Tokyo the war with Iraq seems much more distant than the threats and actions of North Korea. Nevertheless, I think that most Japanese people are opposed to the war. It is unfortunate that because of the general apathy of the society here, the views of Japanese rarely enter a world stage. What has shocked me, vis-à-vis the debate on the war is this assumption in some quarters that poetry and art are somehow separable from politics. If you don’t believe me, check out this link: http://opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110003029 I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear this from a politician, or my mother, or any of the chattering classes, but a poet! Someone who reads poetry! I guess the question has to be asked to Mr. Kimball, what art actually relates to, if not the world? Is it a self-referential system, concerned with beauty, form, etc? Is it even a form of self-expression? If so which self are you expressing? The one you wake up to? If you look to Mr. Kimball’s magazine site, you may find some of the answers. They are against “mediocrity” (yes, aren’t we all), and “staunch defender[s] of high culture” (cough). Instead of engaging with these problematic terms, I will understand them as someone who wouldn’t find them problematic. High culture must refer to a Canon, the most recent additions being TS Elliot, Ted Hughes (perhaps), John Betjelman, etc. and can be defined in opposition to, I’m guessing, those who haven’t really contributed to a continuity in the “tradition” of art music, and poetry. Thus, he claims this separation by dismissing the political actions of poets who have entered his exalted chamber. Ah yes, the article makes all the more sense. I wonder if he is aware of how unstable his argument is? Moreover, I wonder if he is aware of the irony of a magazine calling itself “New Criterion” that represents nothing but the old? Now, I will return to real mediocrity..
Interesting discussion on the poetics list at the moment about Cubism. The thread began after a query as to whether there was such a thing as Cubist poetry or Cubist poets and transformed into a discussion on a Korean poet/artist Yi Sang who described himself as Cubist. He apparently used mathematics and a shifting perspective of an object in his poems. It was further mentioned that these methods were used to “run systems down into decay and collage” . My reaction to this, thus far has been “ah! Another predecessor!
John Ashbery. After a weekend spent with all I could get my hands on (from anthologies), I know little more than I did before. His poems, at least the more resistive ones, seem to follow themes. The first section of Rain, for example, I read pivoting off of “livid” both color and emotion. His lines are admittedly awesome, very tight collections.. but doing something quite different from Pound wringing lilies from on egg corn. There is often little to wring. This is not a criticism. One aspect of a lot of avant-garde poetry of the last 50 years, with Stein and Dadaists protruding through this conceptual curtain, is this creation of poems that don’t have a center that can be read (i.e. a center of meaning). Rather there is a kind of collage that follows a pun or some other theme (I’m grossly simplifying here). Some find this writing akin to finding shapes in the clouds, and mean this as a form of opprobrium. Of course, this is a totally unacceptable criticism, quite simply because they are not clouds! Jackson McLow once said no matter how hard he tried to take himself out of the piece he was writing, he never could. No matter how aleatoric and random the piece was, he was still “in” it. Now, the argument that these “cloud” poems invite the reader to become part of the process of writing is true, but tired. There can’t be a poet out there who hasn’t heard that one! Poems such as these do also invite the reader to reassess the production of meaning (though this may not be so new either). Anyhow, the point is, the author is there, and the poems should be a creative investigation into communication. Clouds are there as part of the process of nature, these poems are there to invite readers to look at processes themselves. The criticism I do have of this kind of poetry is several-fold. One criticism available for some of poets is that there is an over reliance on centripetal forces (as identified by Voloshinov) in language. That is, dictionaries, thesaurus’, and obviously Standard English (though the last point may reflect more in the way of class and ethnic background of certain writers). Rae Armantrout, and perhaps some of the language school, fails to see language operating dialogically (c.f. the Boston Review). Another is that poets have not yet taken a look to see what is beyond the parameters of their discipline. Poets, following in the trend of whichever stage of capitalism we are in now, may be guilty of specialization, and this, to finish my lunch break should be resisted..