Thursday, December 07, 2006
Bob Archambeau, of the Samizdat Blog, has joined our pleasure party.
(Bob! You may actually get me to join the Midwest MLA if you're going to talk there with any regularity, especially on poetry in Chicago. I'd love to meet some time if you're in the city; give me a holler at DePaul when you next head into town. I'll buy the drinks if you'll give me a badass picture next time. Rumor has it I look like Edward Norton, Patrick Dempsey, or an aging, Yiddishe Fabio.)
I like Bob's observation that "something like Language Poetry isn't necessarily "difficult" to its primary readership: other language poets and the profs who swarm around them"; that's one of the reasons I don't love the term "difficult," although I'm not sure what adjective to put in to pinch-run for it. ("Vexing"? As in Mrs. Bennett's "you take delight in vexing me!" No, probably not. But isn't it pretty to think so?) I'm equally fond of his skepticism, which shows itself in tone as much as substance: "The otherness of unabsorbable language becomes a kind of homology for the otherness of the Other, and our recognition of it somehow makes us, you know, better." Well said, that! Well said.
On the other hand, I do want to correct him on two small points:
First, I don't actually take an "it's all good, to hell with the hierarchies" position. Rather, I take the self-debunking, self-deflating position that "my aesthetic hierarchies cut no mustard, morally speaking." I'll go to the matresses to defend them, but I won't kid myself that they make me a better person. I'm sorry, folks, but doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Deity Formerly Known as El-Shaddai count for me in the moral category; the preferences you show for one kind of art or another generally don't, except in extreme cases. (No, I don't really believe that in my gut, but I don't trust my gut on this. My gut sense is that people like me in their tastes are better than people who are radically different from me, but I know too many fine, fine people--people who are better than I am, by any reasonable standard, who don't like poetry at all.)
Do we really mean, perhaps, that certain kinds of literature invite the exercise of certain moral qualities or habits of character, as though we were acting towards something or in a context that really mattered, morally speaking? They allow or invite us to cultivate patience, curiosity, a taste for ambiguity, all the values of what used to be called a "liberal" education? They beseech us, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible we may be mistaken? (To quote the butcher Cromwell, whose cannon, Joyce reminds me, were embellished with the slogan "God Is Love.") Mark, Josh, is that what you're getting at, finally?
Second, I completely agree with Bob's wish for "some actual data." I didn't actually "call for a discussion invoking "Barthes, Adorno, Freud, Lacan, even Aristotle"; at least I don't think I did. (Trust me: I'd never call for anything involving Lacan, and my gut says that anyone who would is morally inferior to me. Thank you, gut--that will be all.) That list came from a plea for some new names, new points of reference, and preferably some female ones. I second the call for data, but stand by the wish for women's voices to enter this discussion.
Any debate over pleasure that only involves men is going to be, well, slightly skewed, and will probably miss something. Gut sense be damned; twenty years of marriage tells me that. So: who's up next?