Against “Context”: New Essay on Translation

by on Mar.03, 2015

I have a new essay, “Toward a Sensationalistic Theory of Translation.”

In many ways it’s a response to Mia You’s review on Kim Hyesoon’s Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream published in Book Forum a while back. You basically made the argument that we (the American readers of Kim Hyesoon) were “gross sensationalist” because we lacked the proper context for understanding her work.

I picked up on this critique and turned it around because I think the idea of context as a stable, determining force has become pervasive in our culture – both in discussions fo poetry and translation, but also wider culture – and that this is an incredibly simplistic idea of the way art works. The context-model posits that context basically determines “meaning” of a work of art. As a result, translation becomes impossible. Instead we get “gross sensationalism” and “appropriation.”

(I’ve even been accused of appropriating Swedish poetry, which I think is a really interesting charge because it makes clear the problems that not just translations, but immigrants, cause to this model of “context.” And authors – as I mention in the Volta essay – are not always (or even mostly) central figures of some kind of monoglossic illusion of “central”, true language/culture, often existing in peripheries and crossing all kinds of borders.)

Rather than stealing or decontextualizing, what translation – and art! – does is continually forge next contexts. Don Mee Choi and Action Books have for example forged a lot of contexts for reading Kim Hyesoon’s work. There is not one true meaning of Kim Hyesoon’s poems that can be gained from some supposedly stable idea of Korean culture (the instability of ideas of “context” is actually brought out in You’s essay since she questions some common ideas of Korean culture in the US); there is in fact no one true context for reading her work. In one recent interview (in South Korea) for example, she talks apprecriatively about what an essay I wrote about her work as “gurlesque” for the Swedish journal 10-tal, discussing how this brings out the important figure of “the girl” in her work. This is how poetry work: it constantly brings artworks into contact with readers and writers, creating new “contexts” for reading.

This doesn’t mean we should forget about the fact that Kim Hyesoon is a Korean poet, and that Don Mee Choi translated her. That is why I invoke Joyelle’s and my phrase “deformation zone,” a booklet we wrote for Ugly Duckling in which we argued that artworks are deformation zones (“appropriating” this terms from Aase Berg’s Swedish poem) that includes various contexts and deformations and translations and forgeries.

24 Comments more...

Conceptualism Beyond the West: Divya Victor on Displacing the “Imperialist Pedigree”

by on Jan.27, 2015

A ver, compañeros, does “Gringpo” exist?  How might its colonialist frameworks operate not just on behalf of but also within Conceptualism?  What happens when a conceptualist writer of color faces these frameworks and works to wrest herself out of them?

To open up the discussion proposed by the Mongrel Coalition, I’m sharing an intriguing quote by Divya Victor that Walter–a commentator on yesterday’s post–excerpted from a convo featuring Victor and fellow writers Swantje Lichtenstein and Riccardo Boglione.

As Walter notes, Victor’s take on the need to “circumvent a Western, primarily imperialist pedigree” doesn’t sound far off from the Coalition’s decolonial aims.  Victor suggests how the narrow critical imaginary of ‘gringpo’ conceptualism ultimately lies in its Euro/US-centered canon formation and coterie:

I want to argue that if there is to be an articulation of conceptualism’s globality, and if we want to use its trans-national significance as a way to catalogue and historicize contemporary literary production, then we must insist on thinking repetition without Stein. In other words, we’ll have to circumvent a Western, primarily imperialist pedigree. The critical effort (Goldsmith, Perloff, etc.) has portrayed conceptualism as a historical continuity between two origin myths— one set in European, sometimes transatlantic, modernism (Duchamp, Stein, Klein, etc.) and one set in North American conceptualism in the 60s and 70s (Huebler, L. Wiener, Acconci, Cage, Schneeman, Kosuth, etc.). These artists and writers supply our ur-texts that then essentially allow us a convenient, but narrow, regionally- and racially-specific way of imagining the projects that present as conceptualist right now. It gives us good mothers and fathers, and then in turn defines our pedigree. This is obviously insufficient.

If critical efforts have managed and controlled our genealogies of conceptualism, the continually documented simulcast of coterie has defined its geographical parameters. Of course contemporary coterie matters, but that too is only a partial explication of influence. It is necessary for us to imagine and articulate conceptualisms not only as a product of regionally specific scenes or communities— for instance the thriving and brilliant community of poets working in New York city, and circulating in the gyre generated by the compelling and ever-dynamic Segue series. We need to also describe emerging forms of conceptualism as results of historical pressure and consequences of globalization. To do so is to include a consideration of who else is making conceptual works and to pluralize the poets who can occupy the cartography of conceptualist tendencies. To do so is to explain these emerging tendencies as a response not only to already institutionalized origin myths, or already privileged urban centers of making (New York, L.A.), but also as responses to lived practices of immigrants, travelers, or those who have systematically eschewed the fabrication of localized community by being itinerants. Conceptualism has made space for new forms of inclusivity, but these spaces have to be articulated into existence. Conceptualism’s “globality,” in other words, has to also make place for placelessness in practices of writing that come out of geographic transitionality.

In addition, Victor explains how misreadings of her work in the US have been used to uphold the white avant garde’s frames:

As someone who did not grow up in the United States, the record of my own trajectories of influence is quite other. I do not see my work as responding only to forms of art I’ve consumed, studied, or engaged with in the last ten years or so. When I began writing poems, the objects or oeuvres they resembled were entirely alien to me. I made Beckett-like poems or Joyce-like narratives knowing nothing of either writer. I was told I was “channeling” dead white men even as I tried to explain that I had never heard of them. Institutions instrumentalize even alien life, such as my own, and I was understood through my resemblance to these men— their beards and frosted noses superimposed on my flesh. As an immigrant and a woman of color, these networks of influence that have defined conceptualism in the United States— whether modernist literary experimentalism or post-punk commodities— continue to remain alien to me, and necessarily so.

3 Comments more...

The Latina Gurlesque vs. Everyone Else: A Preface to a Reading Against the White House of Enlightened Poets (this Friday in NYC!)

by on Jul.09, 2014

AMIGAS, get ready for the World Cup of all poetry readings!  The throw-down featuring Jennifer Tamayo, Monica McClure, and me will be in NYC this Friday, 7:30pm, at the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (details here).


de Lima, Tamayo, and McClure (possibly not in that order) getting warmed up

Me and my superstar fellow readers, I must point out, are not battling each other as opponents.  Far from it, we’re joining forces as the one and only LATINA GURLESQUE, a luminous, feminist, outrageous decolonial parade.  Taking a SPICY, CALIENTE line of flight south of the original Gurlesque anthology, our aesthetic already throbs in contemporary performance art.  Consider the mystic genitalia and unholy queer ‘spictacles’ of La Chica Boom:

ChicaBoom_Background_Virgen (continue reading…)

11 Comments more...

Exploded Tranströmer: On Ye Mimi and Translation

by on Feb.25, 2014

The past few months I’ve been reading and re-reading the little chapbook His Days Go By the Way Her Years by the young Taiwanese poet and filmmaker Ye Mimi – and translated beautifully by Steve Bradbury and published beautifully by Anomalous Press.

You can read some of the poems here.

A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)
That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year:

I have already begun to view Tranströmer’s poetry – purely internally, in my brain – as kitsch. That makes it easier for me to communicate with it because I see kitsch as something generative: banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union. The idea of Tranströmer’s images as kitschy allows me to associate to other images, instead of getting stuck in an image mysticism which may seem chokingly water-tight.

Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).

My favorite Tranströmer poem is “To Friends Behind a Border”

To Friends Behind A Border

I wrote so sparsely to you. But what I couldn’t write
swelled and swelled like an old-fashioned zeppelin
and drifted at last through the night sky.

Now the letter is with the censor. He turns on his lamp.
In the glow my words fly up like monkeys on grille
rattle it, become still, and bare their teeth!

Read between the lines. We are going to meet in 200 years
when the microphones in the hotel walls are forgotten
and finally get to sleep, become orthoceras.

Part of what I love about this poem is how lovely and ridiculous his famous metaphors are here: the letters become monkeys (like in a Disney fantasia), the spy-microphones becomes fossils.

This element of goofy-brilliant metaphors are all over Ye Mimi’s work:

but he is bored to pieces and has to have a smoke
a ghost nods off beneath the blackboard tree in a punitive gesture the kittens are made to crouch in tummies
we are mortified at vomiting a layer of sea
the skin of which could not be whiter

(from “And All the Sweat is Left There”)

One big difference is that Ye Mimi’s work is more flippant, following the odd metaphor off in different directions, creating an effect like Exploded Tranströmer.
(continue reading…)

1 Comment more...

A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story

by on Dec.13, 2013


It’s cold in the Rust Belt. The children have disappeared, but they have littered the house with their alt manifestations:  Mumins—white, gelatinous manifestations of cold. Mylings, half baby, half breast.  Parasites and hosts. Mamifestations. Cold, mammary, scandinavian breath-collects in the fairy hollows, lumpy fairy cairns. Carrion comfort. The mumins are not wraithlike but plump. They look like spores and lungs. They will ludicrously digest you through the lung.




At the end of the year, stumped in snow, I want to write about an exhibit I did not see, an exhibit which ran in Hong Kong this summer.  It was curated by Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero and based at their gallery, Para Site.  It featured 27 artists, mostly based in Hong Kong. The title of this exhibit reads like it was scraped up in the future as a specimen from the inside of my cranium when I am a dead human 6,000 years ago:

“A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story”



As the lengthy millipedinous title with its jointed, segmented abdomen suggests, this exhibit was many things, but it could be summarized as a portrait of Hong Kong in the plague year of 2003: the year of the invasion of Iraq was eclipsed by the the SARS epidemic which was then trancepted by mutable superstar Leslie Cheung’s leap from the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Participants, with their heads sticking out from holes of a large white fabric, perform during a performance, "Divisor" during an exhibition, "A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, Ghosts, Rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong Story," in Central business district of Hong Kong

Recreation of Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s 1968 ‘Divsor’ performance at the opening of A Journal of the Plague Year



The plague year: 2003. The plague year, 1894, the year the plague bacillus was isolated in Hong Kong, like ghost gold in the bank, ‘confirming’ racist hyopthesis and funding the bad currency of the ‘yellow peril’ for a century to come[i]. Isolates and contamination. Alien exclusions. Mutations and killer apps.  The plague year, 1665, when the Great Plague struck london.  Daniel Defoe was 5 during the plague, which did not stop him from publishing his ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ in 1722, a fradulent first-person account culled, probably, from the diary of his Uncle Foe. The fake is the real. The fraud is vicious and virulent. Counterfeit money costs more. The black market’s steepness reveals the real cost of death and life.  The value of a star explodes and cannot be zero’d-out. On the heart-scale. On the black market.

Leslie Cheung.

cheung sars



The magnitude of Leslie Cheung’s life and death probably cannot be grasped by one who did not exist in Asia in the gilt penumbra of his stardom, soaked in his nutritive Cantopop. For this American cinephile, his incredible beauty, his tenderness and violence, his mutability, this way he IS image. The strange, greeny, gelatinous light-eating corpse-garment, Film, seems to have evolved for him, for his image, for his cheekbone, his hairline, his face.  His suicide contaminated Hong Kong with a viscera and drove Hongkongers to disobey the quarantine to congregate in grief. A grief congress, drenched in fame. A drought of fame. A  plague of fame. A counterepedimiology. A group show. Unparaphrasable. It must be spelled out, term by term, in spirit writing. A journaloftheplagueyear: fearghostrebels. SARSleslieandthestoryofhongkong.


In the elevation and evisceration of Cheung;  in the condemnation and quarantining of Hong Kong, in the caricatured visage of the Asian male, at once weak and viscious, whose swarm-body can barely be individuated from the hyperinstrumental group body of the ‘yellow peril’; in the historical identity of Hong Kong as a valuable disputed territory and a conduit for capital; in the role of Asian bodies as specimens and contaminants in the Western imaginary in recent centuries—all these themes are animated, pierced, denatured, re-mounted in the various works which made up this exhibit.  Gender becomes denatured in the title of Ai Wei Wei’s ‘with milk’,  a kind of black fathermilk involving 65 tons of milk and 15 tons of coffee, produced by this very male artist. ‘with milk’ more directly references the milk-powder scandal, involving the contamination of baby formula with melamine in 2008, and the resulting fallout, whereby a crackdown on formula-exportation through and from Hong Kong created a blackmarket favoring very wealthy and/or connected Chinese families. As always, the obscene father Ai Wei Wei provides/fails to provide nourishment through an act of Bataillean expenditure. (continue reading…)

Comments Off on A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story more...

"I was kitsch": autobiography of an immigrant and a translator

by on Aug.12, 2013

I wrote an autobiographical account of my interest in translation for the poetry foundation:

I wrote a lot of poetry and I read widely (Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Surrealism, Genet, Plath, Ginsberg, etc.). I wrote all the time. Until I got to college. I loved college but I also learned about taste. I learned that my poetry was tasteless. From the quietist workshop I took I learned that I was “Romantic” because I used “too many metaphors,” that I didn’t “earn the images,” that my I wasn’t authentic. I.e. kitsch. We did read language poets in that class. I went out and read more by and about them. And from that reading I learned: I was too “Romantic” because I used an “I,” because I used metaphors, because I was interested in fascination and absorption, not distance and critique.

I stopped writing poetry because I was kitsch. I lacked taste, and poetry was all about having taste. Knowing when to say when. As Daniel Tiffany argues in Silver Planet, his forthcoming book on kitsch, kitsch is mostly not about a lack but about an excess: “excessive beauty.” It’s about not knowing when to stop. I would add, that kitsch brings the violent immersion of art. Art is kitsch in part when it’s so much that you cannot stand back and maintain your critical distance.

But some things brought me back to poetry. I read Vasko Popa in translation, I read Clayton Eshleman’s translations of the late work of Antonin Artaud. A girlfriend who worked for an interior decorating magazine told me that she had seen photos of an artist named Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose canvases of disassembled and re-assembled bodies reminded her of my poems. She showed me the letters from insane people she had collected at work (“Dear Mr. Randolph Hearts, I want to be president of the United States! I just smashes a mosquito!”). Most importantly, I came across the work of the young Swedish poet Aase Berg in a Swedish journal and that immediately inspired me…

Life as an immigrant is also something that inspires my work. Which reminds me, one of my friends is currently in the process of applying for a Green Card. Did you know that foreign nationals seeking permanent residence through employment must first obtain a labor certification through PERM processing? PERM is an acronym that stands for Program Electronic Review Management.

With regards to PERM processing time, the wait can seem tedious. However, if you discover delays to your PERM processing, you might want to consider consulting an immigration attorney with the knowledge and experience to help speed up the employment-based Green Card process

I found a fascinating guide to the Green Card application process on the Nova Credit website so I must remember to pass it on to my friend.

Read the whole thing here.

2 Comments more...

"There can be no immigrants in utopia": John Yau on Haute Surveillance

by on Jun.06, 2013

Adam’s comments about pornography below reminds me that I don’t think I ever posted a link to this wonderful review of my book Haute Surveillance by brilliant poet John Yau.


What the poets associated with “Flarf” recognize — and the literary mainstream still ignores to a large degree — is that the Internet has flattened daily life into a constantly swirling, cacophonous mosaic. Instead of extending that jarring, two-dimensional world into poems, Göransson has absorbed Frank O’Hara’s “intimate yell” and made it all his own. Haute Surveillance is a world of wounded voices.

“I have a nightmare about a girl covered with blood and when I wake up sweating my wife tells me a fairytale.”

For all the disparate information that Göransson brings swiftly and confidently into play, Haute Surveillance is not a collage. None of it feels arbitrary, which is nothing short of miraculous. At the very least, the author’s ambition was to write a new “Song of Myself” addressing these confusing, contradictory times in which we are at war, as well as to construct memorable situations without resorting to a plot or other familiar literary devices. He succeeded at both. His reasoning is simple and direct:

“Sometimes I want a room of my own, but mostly I just want a room without all these corpse-patterned wallpaper.”

Göransson’s fast-paced, present-tense writing critiques itself while moving forward, collapsing together all of discourses and vocabularies associated with the nightly news, feminism, sexual identity, Hollywood movies, science fiction, performance art, pornography, and poetry invested in the stable lyric “I.” Bots from academia mix with bits of the street.

Haute Surveillance is written in blocks of prose, lists, and lines. The collapsing together of different discourses doesn’t stop at the literal. Goransson turns it into a book that is unclassifiable — part epic poem, part science fiction, part pornographic film, and all literature. He writes sentences that the reader has to stop and think about. This is what I found so powerful about Haute Surveillance.

1 Comment more...

"The voice can develop in any direction": David Applegate on Sounds, Performance and Poetry

by on Jan.21, 2013

[This was written by frequent Montevidayo-commentator David Applegate.]

“The voice can develop in any direction”

As an undergraduate studying poetry in New York City, I once had the opportunity to see an acapella performance by Mike Patton (the vocalist of Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, and countless other projects) and Rahzel, a virtuoso beat-boxer. The venue was a large music hall, the concert attended by several hundred people. The tools of the performers were minimal, Rahzel and Patton each had a microphone and Patton also wielded what appeared to be a micro-cassette recorder. The range and expressivity of the sounds the two men were able to achieve using only their voices stunned me; their tools and the tools of the poet at a reading were startlingly similar. Yet the poetry readings I was then regularly attending lacked the electric energy (not to mention the sizable audience) of this performance. Why?

I spoke with a professor about what I had seen and heard, wondering if the performing poet might benefit from some new tactics. By abandoning performances which focused strictly on the recital of a text, couldn’t a poet expand the range of expression in her work through the distortion and manipulation of the voice? The professor was skeptical. Tampering with the poet’s voice would be tantamount to destroying the singular vision and purposeful expression supposedly inherent to the work of poetry. I thought I’d give it a try.
(continue reading…)

Comments Off on "The voice can develop in any direction": David Applegate on Sounds, Performance and Poetry more...

"It's All Dada" or "Dada, by way of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, drag and Pachuco culture": Immigrant Aesthetics, Authenticity Kitsch and ASCO

by on Jan.17, 2013

A while back I wrote about homesickness and immigration. I thought I would add a few more words about it. On one had the immigrant is a really heroic figure in both American culture. America loves the story of the strong immigrant who forges ahead and makes a new life for himself, forgetting about his old world life. He maintains his wholeness (and I’m using the male pronoun because this figure is very much identified as masculine).

The flipside of this coin is the bad immigrant, the immigrant who suffers from homesickness, who cannot forget about his home and family. This is the weak, sentimental immigrant, the feminine immigrant who becomes torn, loses his wholeness. As Susan Matt shows in her book Homesickness, such feelings were increasingly pathologized in the 19th century as part of American nation-building. We needed our citizens to be whole, to belong fully to America.

I am thinking about how this dilemma and how it pertains to ethnic writing. Immigrant cultures tend, strangely, to produce conservative art. In part “conservative” as in trying to “conserve” their heritage. If you go to Swedish-American cultural events you’re more likely to encounter Maypoles and Dala horse (ethnic trinketry in other words) than avant-garde poetry (even though, as I hope I’ve shown over the past ten years, there’s a lot of amazing poetry and art being conducted by Swedish artists and writers). In other words, ethnic kitsch.

But is this conservatism an act of sentimentality? And is it an attempt to remain whole or an inability to sever ties with the past? Or is it an easy way of making the past past? To make relics out of one’s home.

“The urge to collect objects, for individuals as well as societies, is a sign of impending death. One finds this need acutely manifested during preparalytic periods. There is also the mania for collecting – in neurology, “collectionism.” – Paul Morand, 1929

“Kitsch is dead from the moment it is born” – Celeste Olalquiaga


In poetry it seems that a lot of immigrant and ethnic poetry seems very much focused on the kind of aesthetic of “personal narrative” that was invented in the 1970s – as we talked about in the Larry Levis discussions a while back – to “mature” the immature, translation-based aesthetics of the late 60s and early 70s.

And on the other hand, I know of so many “experimental” writers who dismiss “identity art” as the worst, most regressive kind of art.

This may all seem pretty odd because modernism and the avant-garde is so largely predicated on the immigrant experience. You have Shklovsky’s famous idea of art as an “estrangement” (“ostranenie”) device that in essence suggests that art makes us feel like strangers in the world, makes the world fresh to us by making us into foreigners. This kind of thinking goes back to the same German Romantics on whose work Walter Benjamin famously drew in making his evocative claims about translation. And you have someone like Brecht and his “defamiliarization” devices meant to push us out of the ideologically saturated space of our homeland to view it at a critical distance.
(continue reading…)

2 Comments more...

"…overcrowding, doubling up, debility and damage": Vicuna, Asco, Ethnic Fan Fiction and Possession

by on Jan.04, 2013

I’m going to piggy-back on a few recent posts by myself and others.
Yesterday, Joyelle wrote the following about “The Black Art of Hilma af Klimt and Kim Hyesoon”:

“…and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself.”

A while back I wrote about Fan Fiction in similar terms:

What became apparent to me from reading Megan’s review is this crucial notion, the “vampirism” or “cannibalism” or “channeling” of art: it’s art that makes more art, that feeds off other art to make it immortal, to pass on fluids from one art to the next artwork.

The difference between the “black art” of Kim Hyesoon and a vampire however might be the sense of the poet as a medium rather than a vampire, the art moves through the poet with much less of a conscious sucking of blood (and shitting out immortality?). A few years ago when Joyelle wrote about the art of Fi Jae Lee (KH’s daughter) as “body possessed by media,” she was already calling forth this occult dimension of art:

(continue reading…)

3 Comments more...

"The morning / dew / is alien cum": David Applegate on Dan Hoy

by on Dec.16, 2012

[David Applegate, frequent commentor of this site and maker of strange music, wrote this piece about Montevidayoan Dan Hoy:]

“Revelations & Confessions: Blood Work Volume II” by Dan Hoy, an occult science-fiction chapbook

Dan Hoy’s new chapbook “Revelations & Confessions: Blood Work Volume II” from Slim Princess Holdings introduces so many ideas, it seem to overflow its short length.  Thoughts on sexuality, technology, pornography, and free will explode from its thirty-three pages.  Taking the pulp science-fiction trope of aliens versus humans as its central conceit, the chapbook follows a narrative arc which begins with the invention and subjugation of the human race by aliens and culminates with the reclamation of human autonomy.  In the opening poem, Hoy writes: “Aliens / invent human beings / out of aliens / and fuck them.” A few poems later: “People are… / forced to fuck each other” as sex slaves under alien authority.  When we arrive at: “The morning / dew / is alien cum / on my face” it becomes clear the aliens are functioning in these poems as a metaphor for nature at large; the nature which invents human beings out of itself and lays them low by imbuing them with a sexuality which appears, at first, as a degraded drive which can only lead to misery.

(continue reading…)

6 Comments more...

It's STILL "TOO MUCH" – The Plague Ground of Poetry in the Age of Internets (Part 1)

by on Dec.06, 2012

Those of you who have read this blog for some time, and/or read my last blog, Exoskeleton, knows that one of my interests is the use of anti-kitsch rhetoric in modern poetry (and by modern I mean from Wordsworth through Pound up to Perloff and beyond). The most dominant strain these days seem to be the “there’s too much” argument: there’s too much poetry being published, and too much bad poetry, so we can’t keep up, we can’t read it all, and most importantly (the subtext sometimes, sometimes just the text) we can’t police what’s good and bad.

Basically, it’s the anti-kitsch critique. Modern technology has brought poetry to the masses, now how do we make sure that they have taste? How do we keep this, what Joyelle has called the “plague ground” of contemporary poetry-writers/readers from forsaking our Taste, our narratives, our ideas about what poetry should be.

I kind of feel like I ‘ve written a lot about this… But this topic keeps popping up. Recently, there was recently a really great discussion over at Boston Review between Jed Rasual (my PhD thesis advisor) and the scholar Mike Chasar. And it’s really in response to that interview that I write this.

In particular, I think Chasar’s statements are some of the most insightful I’ve read (especially coming from an academic). In the discussion Jed, who is generally pretty suspicious of mass culture (his book “American Poetry Wax Museum” is both one of the best books about contemporary American poetry and a massive brick of anti-kitsch rhetoric) keeps expressing doubt about the proliferation of contemporary poetry, making it a symptom of capitalism etc.

I think Jed makes very good observations, but I think Chasar totally re-directs this conversation (by which I mean the larger conversation about “too much-ness”, not just the discussion with Jed) brilliantly:

My gut reaction (you could maybe call it my glut reaction) is to say that questions like “Is it a glut?” or “Is it a problem?” aren’t nearly as interesting as questions like “Who is it a problem for?” and “Why do those people think it’s a problem?” For critics like Burt, it’s a problem because it challenges what it means to be an “expert” in American poetry. Whenever someone’s status as expert is predicated on knowing everything—all the good poems (i.e., a canon), what everyone is saying, etc.—a glut is going to be a problem because, as Burt puts it, “I just can’t keep trying and failing to get myself to read everything,” and thus the governing paradigm for what it means to be a poetry expert is put into crisis; how can you be an arbiter of taste if you can’t read everything to pass judgment on it? Insofar as the centrality of Official Verse Culture is affected by a period of glut—where there is no longer an official center—then Official Verse Culture has a stake in the matter.

(continue reading…)

15 Comments more...

The Bad Foreigner/"The Melancholy Migrant"

by on Nov.16, 2012

I’ve often talked about the position of the foreigner. Recently I’ve been interested in homesickness, a condition that was increasingly pathologized in America in the 19th century – identified as a disease that troubled the image of the Good Immigrant who forges ahead without any memory of the past, maintaining the model of the self-sufficient, autonomous self. The homesick foreigner troubles this idea of Selfhood, holding on to stuff he/she should let go of.

A lot of my ideas are elaborated on by Sara Ahmed in her essay “Happy Objects.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The figure of the melancholic migrant is a familiar on in contemporary race politics. The melancholic migrant holds onto the unhappy objects of differences, such as the turban, or at least the memory of being teased about the turban, which ties it to a history of racism. Such differences become sore points or blockage points, where the smooth passage of communication stops. The melancholic migrant is the one who is not only stubbornly attached to difference, but who insists on speaking about racism, where such speech is heard as laboring over sore points. The duty of the migrant is to let go of the pain of racism by letting go of racism as a way of understanding that pain. The melancholic migrant’s fixation with injury is read not only as an obstacle to his or her own happiness, but also to the happiness of the generation to come, and to national happiness. This figure may even quickly convert in the national imaginary to what I have called the “could-be-terrorist” (Ahmed 2004). His anger, pain, and misery (all understood as forms of bad faith in so far as they won’t let go of something that is presumed to be already gone) become “our terror.”

Comments Off on The Bad Foreigner/"The Melancholy Migrant" more...