You are…conceptual poetry

March 31, 2010 at 10:08 am (Digital Lit)

In reading the introduction to Charles Hartman’s “Virtual Muse” one of the things that caught my eye was this: “Poetry is something we do with language. Or rather its a lot of different kinds of things we do with language. It’s a place where we can attend to language.” This very vague statement was somehow mysteriously appealing to me, and it very much seems to describe what is happening in both conceptual and computer generated poetry. We’re “doing something” whether we know what that something is or what it will accomplish, we’re keeping poetry alive and moving it forward, refusing to let it be Marinetti’s dead, decaying museum of culture. One example of poetry doing something is Kennedy and Wershler’s “Apostrophe (ninety-four).” Although on the surface it is simply a series of “you are” statements, I found it captivating and engaging my mind, and in the way that the best poems do, inspiring original and creative ideas in my mind. Some of these statements are legitimately funny, “you are having a paranoid delusion that a figure much like Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude is following you around trying to get you to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” in particular, made me laugh out loud, but when one stops and starts to deconstruct the web of references that are necessary for this joke, one starts to realize how complicated this poem really is. One must be aware of popular or at least pop culture representations of schizophrenia, know who Matisse is and what his Blue Nude looks like, and who the Jehovah’s Witnesses are, and that they typically try to recruit door to door. One definition of art that I was taught as an undergrad studio arts major is that “art is making connections that other people don’t make.” This one example from Kennedy and Werschler’s work makes all sorts of connections that other people don’t make, and it does something with language to make me think about the juxtaposition of those things, and the large amount of referential material that I’m familiar with that I find this example really funny.  And then there are all of the other examples in this poem. Some of them are beyond me, they involve mathematical or scientific language and examples that I haven’t thought about in years, if ever. Still this poem, as simple as the form and concept are caught and held my attention through pages and pages of “you are” statements, and it made me think and make connections. It made me do something with language, and even as simple as it seems, this makes this poem succeed for me.

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Conceptual Poetry

March 10, 2010 at 11:07 am (Digital Lit)

“On the conceptual side, it’s the machine that drives the poem’s construction that matters. The conceptual writer assumes that the mere trace of any language in a work—be it morphemes, words, or sentences—will carry enough semantic and emotional weight on its own without any further subjective meddling from the poet, known as

 

non-interventionalist tactic.” -Kenneth Goldsmith

I love the idea that any mere trace of language in a work will carry a semantic and emotional weight. Maybe because I’m not a poet or a fiction writer, so I don’t feel the drive for my writing to be creative or necessarily break new ground. However, this idea that any trace of language will carry through and somehow draw attention and weight to itself has a lot to do with points that I have made earlier about the inevitability of the human drive to search for patterns. I’m a strong believer that humans will always try to create patterns, even when none exist, and that there can be beauty and interest, even in the patterns of coincidence. For this reason, one of my favority pieces of conceptual art, and perhaps conceptual poetry, is Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs.”

As charming as I find the actual piece, it is the title which has caused me to smile. The piece itself operates as  a demonstration of Saussurian semiotics, but the title to me is poetry, and it lets me see the weight, and think about the objects and the text here.

One of my favorite things about this piece is that its appeal is not universal. I have taught this several times in intro art history classes, usually to students that despise it. Like a lot of digital poetry, this piece takes time and thought and effort to appreciate, it is something that grows on you. I’m not sure how this relates to digital poetry, or to anything we read this week, but I think its interesting and connected even if I don’t quite know how.

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Suzan-Lori Park’s “Venus”

March 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm (Multicultural Lit)

This play was very contemporary, and took full advantage of the ability of modern playwrights to experiment with staging, pace and tempo in drama. Its subject matter also necessarily deals with issues of race, gender, and sexuality.  The issue of race follows many of the expected tracks when the subject under discussion is a black woman who is exhibited for a white audience. The issue of slavery is certainly present in the background, as is the issue of sexual relations and sexual attraction between the black and white characters. However, one of the aspects of the race issue that was most interesting to me was the extensive use of chocolate throughout. The Venus character is motivated to perform certain actions throughout the play by being given chocolate, and at several points chocolate is associated strongly with love. However, the associations between chocolate and love and chocolate and Venus must point the reader in the direction of interracial sexual relations, a problematic subject in this text, as the interracial sex taking place has definite overtones of coercion and slavery. The use of chocolate in this play is further complicated by scene 3 “A Brief History of Chocolate.” This scene reminds/informs the reader as a substance originating in the Americas, and one that was associated with religious ritual. This scene seems to me to complicate the way that chcolate is used in the play even further. On a very simplistic level I suppose that one could equate the “primitive” tribes of Africa with the “primitive” tribes of the Americas, but that feels reductionist and overly simple for a playwright who succeeds in bringing up a whole host of other issues in a much more subtle way.

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Concrete Poetry and Gibberish

March 3, 2010 at 11:35 am (Digital Lit)

The premise of this video is that it sounds like spoken English to Italians (In the same way that the noises that Mario makes sound like Italian to English speakers). While this isn’t necessarily a form of concrete poetry, this use and exploitation of language seems to be somewhat related to Futurist and Dada sound poetry.

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This video plays with gibberish and nonsense in the same way that some of the other examples that we’ve looked at so far. It also seems to be somewhat related to concrete poetry as well. This is an English translation of the video:

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Although the subtitles are sometimes a little off for what I hear in the video, the way we go about creating meaning from this nonesense seems to resemble, for me the way that we create meaning from concrete and nonsense poems. Even when there is no meaning, or the meaning is perhaps not clear to us (concrete poems which use languages we don’t speak, for instance), human beings are programmed to try to create pattern and create meaning. In the same way that we create meaning out of this video, we see and recognize patterns in concrete poetry. An example of this is Haroldo de Campos’ untitled poem from 1958: http://www.ubu.com/historical/decampos_h/decampos_h1.html. I’m not sure of the meanings of the Portugese words here, but I cannot help but equating them with their English cognates, whether those cognates are true or false. Thus, in looking at the particular example of concrete poetry I have constructed in my head a reading that is about the transparency of form and the transparency of meaning on concrete poetry, without knowing if this meaning has any relationship to the actually meaning of the poem, the actual words on the page, and the actual intent of the author. Although as a historian, this posistion is frusterating to mean, because I want to know what it means and have it be historically situated and backed up with evidence, as a literary critic whose views have been shaped by modernism and postmodernism, this reading seems as valid to me as any other. So I’m left in limbo.

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Frank Portman’s King Dork

March 2, 2010 at 1:59 pm (Young Adult Lit)

While I thought moments of this book were very funny, I was mostly annoyed by the book. I don’t know if its because I haven’t read “Catcher in the Rye” in years, and am not part of what Portman calls the “Catcher Cult.” I can see that many of the things in this book are meant to be references to “Catcher,” but I’m not close enough to both books to make the connections, which mainly makes those connections have the irritating feeling of a reference that is slightly out of reach. I also felt with this book, like with “Feed” by M. T. Anderson, that this is a book written by an adult for other adults dressed up as a YA novel. The constant references to 70s music, as well as the curious absence of appropriate technology, make this seem like the author is imagining his 70s adolescence as it would have happened in the 90s. This also something that feels true about the central premise, the retelling of “Catcher in the Rye” for a new generation.  I don’t think “Catcher” is as important a book about teen alienation, or at as singular of an example in the 90s as it was in the 60s or 70s. I didn’t identify with the protagonist, and I don’t think his situation is one that would be widely identified with by contemporary teenagers. In the age of the internet everyone can find people with similar interests. Also, by the end of the novel, the character has swung too far to the opposite extreme. He’s not popular, but he has a place in the social structure of his school, and he’s getting three blow jobs a week from “semi-hot girls,” in what seems to be an unnecessary touch of misogyny.

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Teshome Gabriel, Nomadic Aesthetics and Black Independent Cinema

March 2, 2010 at 1:05 pm (Multicultural Lit)

I found many of Gabriel’s arguments about Nomadic culture and black cinema fairly problematic. First, he starts off by conflating all nomadic cultures, and categorizing the contributions of all nomadic cultures in two sentences. While I find his assertion that an aesthetic “without frontiers or boundaries” reductive and problematic, I also like it (396). However, I’m not sure that I actually like the idea that Gabriel is trying to express, and instead I have a sneaking suspicion that what  I like may be instead a romanticized idea of the nomad, created by the power that Gabriel is writing against, the power of Hollywood. Another idea of Gabriel’s that I find simultaneously alluring and problematic is his statement, “In black films there is often the depiction of journeys across space or landscape” (403). Claiming the idea of a “journey” as a space that is occupied by black cinema seems to at least imply the exclusion of other cultures. However, the story of a journey is one that transcends cultures, and is as old as literature itself, with some of our most famous examples of early literature being journey literature (thinking of the Odyssey, or the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer”). I think there is certainly a space within this tradition for black literature and black cinema, and the African-American community might have a unique space within the journey narrative, telling the story of the Middle Passage, but as always, the trick of multiculturalism is inclusion without conflation or degradation.

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