Archive for April, 2014

Is the Foreigner Baroque? (Haroldo de Campos and Yoko Tawada)

by on Apr.30, 2014

In response to Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article, Lucas and Joyelle wrote posts questioning the exclusion of the foreign, and in particular the Latin American engagement with the baroque. Lucas suggested that this “nearly baroque” not only omitted the Latin American poets, but that in fact it was a way of dealing with the threat of the foreign (fully baroque).

For me this is a key issue. One of the volatile aspects of translation is that it asks us to question what might be domestic tastes and conventions. I am fond of stating that translations cause problems because they generate too many versions of too many texts by too many authors. And as we know from the “too much” trope that has become increasingly common in contemporary US poetry discussions, this excess is tightly intertwined with the idea of taste. Taste saves us from the too much, the “plague ground.” It’s in fact because of the too much that we need taste. (See for example my Ranciere post from a while back.)

As I wrote in my last post, “baroque” is a kind of tastelessness, a kind of excess. The tasteless art that is seduced by the artistic, causing it to write too much, to put too much into the writing/art.
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Is the “Baroque” Tasteless?

by on Apr.29, 2014

There has been some discussion here and on facebook about Steve Burt’s article on the “Nearly Baroque.” And not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on this “nearly,” a word that suggests both an open-ness to this baroque, and a restraint, an an ability to control this (possible dangerous, decadent impulse). It’s “extravagant” but not *that* extravagant.

I agree with Lucas’s (and Joyelle’s) suggestion that it has to do with a defense against the foreign, that the “fully baroque” may not even be a particular foreign poetry, but a more general foreign-ness. Lucas asserts:

“The exacted inexactness of Burt’s ‘nearly baroque,’ his ‘almost rococo,’ thus indexes a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”

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I am interested in how Burt’s “nearly” plays into a dynamics of Taste, a sense that I think is enhanced by Burt’s standing as an arbiter of taste. For isn’t the most obvious meaning of baroque in fact “tasteless”? The word was first used as a derogatory term calling attention to an excess of ornamentality (which equals crime, thanks Modernism). And this is largely how Burt uses the terms as well. With this important change: the poets he writes about are “NEARLY” baroque.

Or: NEARLY TASTELESS.
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Provincialism at its Limits: On Stephen Burt’s Very US-American “Nearly Baroque”

by on Apr.18, 2014

Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article  the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency.  That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.

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Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.

In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:

….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?

After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them.  Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place?  Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch?  Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be.  I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend.  In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.

A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it.  As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. Continue reading “Provincialism at its Limits: On Stephen Burt’s Very US-American “Nearly Baroque”” »

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Scott McFarland’s O Human Microphone (and related thoughts)

by on Apr.18, 2014

Markets predate capitalism. Capitalism is better understood as designating a society that subordinates all processes — notably the metabolism between humanity and nature, the production and distribution of goods and services, the function and composition of government, and of course, market exchange — to the private accumulation of capital.   — Benjamin Kunkel

Occupy Wall Street says / yes to spectacle./ Yes to virtuosity. / Yes to transformations / And magic and make-believe.      — Scott McFarland

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I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace — I tend to think of him as probably the best American fiction writer of his generation — and yet there has always been one aspect of his work I’ve disagreed with: the theme of irony versus sincerity. We see it in some his interviews, and it’s a shaping force in many of the stories in Hideous Men. Irony, here, seems incompatible with sincerity, with an expression from the truer aspects of the self. As Wallace said in one interview, irony becomes the bird in love with its own cage. In some of the stories in Hideous Men, there is a constant attempt to undo irony, to take off the multiple masks, to approach the reader as a naked self (fully aware that this self might be a mask too, and not free of manipulative impulses).

But I don’t think there has to be a divide between irony and sincerity. As the Narrator says in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, sometimes we are at our most sincere when being at our most ironic, even mocking. For example, the scene where the Underground Man is waxing sentimentally about family life to Liza, the prostitute he has just slept with. Though the Narrator is performing, and deliberately trying to make Liza uncomfortable with his sentimental visions, he also realizes, as he goes on with his speech, that he is moved by it: he is performing, and yet caught up in his own performance (“I was so carried away by my pathos that I began to feel a lump forming in my throat…”).

And what could be more sincere than Swift’s Modest Proposal? Or Voltaire’s Candide? Works dripping with acidic irony. Godard is one of the great ironists in film, and yet it would be strange to argue he doesn’t have deep-seated political beliefs, or a “sincere” vision of a better world.

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Kim Hyesoon Trailer

by on Apr.16, 2014

Paul Cunningham made this awesome trailer for the new Kim Hyesoon book, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books):

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Corpses and Ruins: More on “Ruin Porn”

by on Apr.04, 2014

Memories
From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
– Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)

Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
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I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:

“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”

But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no bodies in it?

Of if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn?

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And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:

“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”

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Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?

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Detroit is Baroque: Ruins, Pornography, Kitsch, Pedagogy

by on Apr.03, 2014

This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):

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For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”

Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
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Strange Tongues: Arielle Greenberg on Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon in APR

by on Apr.01, 2014

In the new issue of American Poetry Review, Arielle Greenberg has an essay on the state of translation in contemporary poetry:

“Nonetheless, as new poetry books have been arriving on my doorstep over the past couple of years, I’ve been deeply heartened to see so many weird, wild, exciting works – both modern and contemporary – in translation…”

Arielle Greenberg

Greenberg goes through some of the anxieties about translation – how she doesn’t have access to the cultural context, the original etc – but concludes that she nevertheless thinks it’s important to read foreign works in translation:

“… since many of the literature that have avant-garde American poetry originated on other soil, it behooves us to have a more complex sense of the ways in which idea and art intersect and develop across cultures and tongues…”

She then goes on to discuss Graham Foust and Samuel Fredrick’s translation of Ernst Meister, Tomaz Salamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game (translated by Sonja Kravanja), Lidija Dimkovska’s pH Neutral History (translated by Ljubica Arsovka and Peggy Reid), my translation of Aase Berg’s Mörk Materia and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!.

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This is how Greenberg describes Dark Matter:

“Dark Matter is, as its title suggests, a relentlessly macabre collection of prose poems in sections (though certain landscapes and characters seem to melt from one into another), informed by imagery from sci-fi and horror movies and video games: black shells, glowing castles, radioactive lemurs, crystal germs. The whole book feels LCD-screen-blue in a blacklighted cavern, and in true Gothic mode, the body is itself the site of horror: “I haul myself,” the speaker with a gashed-up mouth laments in “Life Form”…

Greenberg’s method throughout is to draw connections between American and the translated poets:
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