01 August 2006

Modèle de l'année

One thing I notice in the poetry blogosphere and internet publications is the ‘year’ fixation regarding style: I’ve seen it used over a dozen of times by different young authors, all in the last few years. ‘That’s so 1978' ‘as if it were 2004' ‘it’s not a matter of bringing back the early 80s,’ etc. This has replaced the rhythmic doctrine, serving the same purpose the old forms served: facilitating the act of being told how to write and maintaining hierarchization resistant to discourse, at which time discourse is accused of being an act of telling people how to write.

It would be hasty and charitable to conclude that this practice is rooted in an inherent belief in progress, rather, it seems to exist astride utter indifference to it. Some are on the record as not believing in progress, which is their prerogative, and it is no coincidence that none of those people have ever done ‘the year thing’ to my knowledge. Meticulous planning and trillions of dollars of investment have gone into bringing about the decline of culture, including privileging fashion over art; whether a few artists have managed to withstand that is always a matter of speculation.


andy gricevich said...

In regard to the first paragraph:
This phenomenon drives me bonkers, as does its twin, the idea that one is (for example) writing "language poetry," as if that were a style, and as if the pre-"language" lyric were actually "post" and also more "original." Harold Bloom's stupid theory of the anxiety of influence actually seems on target with regard to himself and to a large number of my, um, contemporaries.

Regarding the second paragraph: implied here is a view characterized by belief in progress and indifference to it. That's interesting. I'm musing over the idea that something has to be given attention as legitimate in order for it to be treated with indifference.

In light of what you correctly point to as an intentional destruction of culture, I think of my friend William Gillespie saying that he felt like bashing the work of other poets was often like sawing off one of the remaining legs of a three-legged dog. That's an attitude I've found beneficial as a counterbalance to my tendency to grumbled (often private) accusations of aesthetic reaction.

andy gricevich said...

Also, looking at the comments from four posts ago, and your highlighting of Gudding's shift from bad-boy aggresivity to a colder, jaded, new-agey aggressivity (the universal contempt in "I like everyone"), I wonder: do you think a good deal of this anxiety is birthed in an academic situation in which more-or-less contemporary avant-garde poetry is actually taught? Do you think people would worry so much about whether "it's too 1978" if Bernstein had never become a professor?

The idea that 1978 was "so long ago" seems like a symptom of a pretty restricted temporal sense to me...

david raphael israel said...

The theory (or assumption) of progress as a pervasive trope or paradigm applicable to cultural history in general, is presumably rooted in various layers of post-Renaissance optimism, with branches in Hegal and flowers everywhere. My old dabblings in Chinese studies fetch forth recollection of the counter-view (positing the lost golden age in antiquity), where things are assumed to go downhill as the centuries roll. But "That's so Kali Yuga" seems too broadly applicable to convey much nuance or offer much granularity. ;-)

Ian Keenan said...

I posted this by accident: I thought I hadn’t, and was going to table it to revise it to include various 20thC theories of the avant-garde. Well, I’m glad I did I guess, since you folks enjoy seeing this phenomenon cited and critiqued, and there can be Part II.

But ‘progress’ is one of those elements that art can’t avoid nor understand like ‘fate.’ I think artists should certainly not do what has been proven to be boring, to not work, or encourage stasis, and the ‘make it new’ imperative is inherent in the creative act. All the models that have accumulated are tools. But if you are copying, why does it matter what you are copying, unless you endorse the certainty of progress?

When I teach drawing to little kids I say, ‘you can’t draw wrong, you sometimes show your picture to your friends and they get bored, so why would you want that?’

I guess a lot of this has to do with Langpo dismissals but that wasn’t the entirety of the point I was making. The ‘bringing back the early ‘80s’ (Langpo as Duran Duran) line is paraphrased from Alan Gilbert recently about Langpo. He for one rhetorically attacked Langpo from the standpoint that it wasn’t spiritual but then resorted to using the ‘timeline argument.’ The artistically healthy act would seem to be to ‘go beyond’ or ‘renounce’ an influence, whether to yourself or all.

Spirituality, btw seems to creep up on all these issues and is very political. This is probably the reason Gudding hates Langpo too, when you get right down to it, ditto F. Wright, Salter, so on and so on.

About Bernstein, someone could (and probably will) do a study of what he did as an educator and what response it got over the years. Which is that Buffalo decided to have a vital faculty, and Bernstein came and innovated education, which included the pioneering use of the internet and persuasion to alter the syllabus. I wasn’t paying attention to the Buffalo list during its meltdown period, where CB was being lambasted by people accusing him of asserting control through the list, but that strikes me as being a case of people who want to get tenure and sit on their hands getting angry at someone who created something for scholars that they were using and not wanting him to get credit or any influence whatsoever from it.

David: I agree with your summary of the western notion of progress, even if bringing in Hegel is sooo 1923. But I'm very interested by what you said about the Chinese belief in progress, is there a name, book, reference, that can lead me to something?

david raphael israel said...


taking up that last point, my late Professor Michel Strickman (UC Berkeley) was one of many who cited this as an obvious truism about Chinese notions of history; -- the basis (or one basis) of it involving the great era of the bygone, legendary heroic figures of antiquity, which model -- how could contemporaries ever quite match? The veneration of antiquity has, as its correlary, the disparagement of the present, degraded age (even if that age happens to be 300 AD or 1200 AD or whatever), (I feel this also has a bit of a relationship to ideas invoked by Schiller in his notable essay "On The Naive and Senetimental in Art.") My late Chinese art-stuff teacher (California Institute of Integral Studies) Tseng Tayu, I think used to point out that after the Confucians touted their great ancient heroes, the Taoists did them one better by saying, oh yeah? -- well our Ancient heroes were even better, and were MUCH longer ago! The Hindu system of Four Yugas [ages] of course reflects a kindred (much more systematized) cycle of historical degradation, from the sacred past to the profane present.

But for specific sources, I'll have to resort to some googling. Ah but one possibility comes to mind: Feng Youlan's classic History of Chinese Philosphy (1934) might (?) expound this, not sure.

I mainly recall that book for its fine exposition of the feng-liu (literally something like "wind-flow") sensibility found in a remarkable book called Shi-shuo Hsin-yu (approx., A New Account of the Affairs of the World, circa 6th cent. AD). Though here I digress.

Okay, to google. Well, this rather generalized text (a very secondary source) --

serves to remind me that what I'm describing is mainly rooted in the Confucian classics, i.e., the utterances and views of Confucius [Kong-ze / Kung-Tzu]; e.g.:
<< Confucius lived in the period of Spring-Autumn period, it was a time of constant warfare among the states, Confucius taught that most of the ills of society happened because people forgot their place in life and rulers lost virtue...>>

Those sentences sound bland enough, but this notion of the "lost" correct sort of government and society, is the key point: it was a thing posited to have existed in the long-ago past, that current rulers and people had gotten off track from. And this nostalgiac (and antiquity-venerating) attitude became so generally culturally pervasive (partly because Confucius' words were learned by rote by every literate person for more than 2000 years)....

James Legge's (a Jesuit translator) old versions of the classics of Confucius presumably have scattered amid them some of the primary-source utterances to which I allude.

This, from the Wikipedia, gives a thumbnail history of all the Chinese dynasties--

More googling, there's this stray reference (not certain how on-point it may be):

<< During the past year Paul W. Kroll, Director of Graduate Studies in Chinese, completed the section on "Poetry of the T'ang Dynasty (shih and fu)" for the forthcoming Columbia History of Traditional Chinese Literature. . . . . In October he presented a seminar on "Nostalgia and History in Ninth-century China" at the University of Washington. >>

Anyway: normative Chinese ideas about the primacy of antiquity evinced (I'd hazard) effects and reverberations in most spheres of Chinese art and culture. One might do well to recall that the (arguably) ultimate Chinese archetype of the wise man (Lao Ze / Lao Tzu) -- his name literally means "the old guy."
Older = better. ;-)


david raphael israel said...

<< I agree with your summary of the western notion of progress, even if bringing in Hegel is sooo 1923. >>

Maybe so. But bringing in 1923 is soo 1966. ;-)

Ian Keenan said...

Confucius and Hegel, Pound and Williams..