04 August 2010
As the title of this blog used to be All About Your Caste, I think about genre from time to time, a concept that doesn't have the same traditional relation to fate as caste does. Genre is and isn't a private matter, genre is a drama of opportunities and impediments, genre is a imprint of culture and an artist's reaction to it, genre consists of models and aspirations contained within subgenre, genre consists of real limits and the perceived limits of hierarchies. The Venetian Renaissance was a moment when secular patrons enabled painting to be reimagined as limitless, something that, like Elizabethan drama, leads to the genre reaching its summit in a short period of time, the same national tradition of theater that Dennis Potter recently felt the need to circumvent by going into television. People then and now criticize Joyce for his effect on the novel, after he applied the methods of Rabelais who people didn't perceive to be a novelist. Sterne arrived at the beginnings of the British novel.
What I always liked about the comment fields as genre is people don't know what it is yet. It's not that I've wanted genre luminaries to stay away, but I thought something could happen that wouldn't happen otherwise. I have no nostalgia or specific expectations about that genre now, nor do I assume Silliman will keep the comments off or that phenomenon will resituate itself, but history doesn't support the hypothesis that reevaluation, refinement, and 'improvement' of internet discussions will do anything but suck them dry of every aspect that made them remotely interesting. The celebration over their closing by people offering their services as inspirateurs and administrators of poetry that thought they themselves could write better criticism if the comments didn't exist, that discussion will be better if there were fewer discussions, that their delicate appreciation for poetry has been violated, that the condescension expressed by some exceeded their own, indicates to me that the comment fields were sufficiently abhorrent to those that trade in these limits, models of the past that deny its essence.
Genre hierarchy is communicated acutely by these reactions. People don't say that a university press publishes a lot of crap but occasionally has an original idea, a statement that would be accurate nine times out of ten, nor is there much attention paid to religious and gender discrimination of university hiring and enrollment during the 20th Century when every avant-garde artist is being raked over the coals by the university presses for anything that could possibly be interpreted as a slur. It would be inaccurate to say I'm oblivious to genre hierarchy so much as I try to evade the traps that come with the terrain.
So it follows that I have no idea what just happened. Whatever points I made that came off as compelling and different generally seemed too obvious to me to have emotional resonance (like the existence of the avant-garde itself, until recently a discredited notion), and my floated ideas arising from sustained preoccupations have been altered little if at all by feedback. As for Silliman's blog, without question the main influence has come from Silliman himself, the reiteration and elaboration of his fertile ideas grouped largely in The New Sentence, the most important book of poetry criticism of the past sixty years, studied by many but underrated to the point that his contempt for his contemporary counterparts in the critical field is understandable.
The navigation of genre hierarchy is a creative process in and of itself and not a mass initiative responding to ideals of justice, except in situations like France's, a country where Sarkozy has maintained the Culture Ministry but is raiding the gypsy camps, a culture painted by Manet, Courbet, Daumier, Seurat, Picasso, Rouault, so on and so forth. For the first time in a few years I put on Sawdust and Tinsel last night, perhaps the best film ever made about genre hierarchy, its theater director telling the circus performers “you risk your life, we our vanity,” its bear scenes never paid for due to bad box office. The bear's not on Youtube, just an unfortunately clipped opening scene. But there's gypsies (colorful and stereotyped) in the Kirov Petruscka, and the bear arrives in the sixth minute of the third installment.