Louis Cabris writes again:
Kasey's third question/scenario that ends his post today on torque deprecatingly implies that his own desire to articulate a neutral taxonomy and Ron's desire to evaluate under-40 poetry both may be equally reifying a literary past of collective prose-poem practice. So or not, I believe there's a missing, larger point in "all this," and it peeks out in the language of Kasey's third scenario that asks: "How much of all this really has to do directly with any formal considerations of syntax or grammar or lineation or whatever, as opposed to drawing on a set of associations which have accreted around surface features of Language writing, but which ultimately have much more to do with superformal considerations (political contexts, statements of intent, social dynamics, etc?" It strikes me that a larger and more challenging point stems from a directly opposed premise to that of Kasey's third scenario, namely that the "formal" and the "superformal" are not differentiable (Kasey's scenario suggests they are differentiable, it would seem). Or at least they are not differentiable except in a guidebook way (as in a guidebook to form and ideas about poetry). Surely form as inherently neutral pure essence doesn't exist except in guidebooks and the rhetoric of criticism ("A sestina is..."). Frankly the social as neutral pure essence of "sociality" doesn't exist except in the loins of partygoers' heads and the drawing rooms of Georg Simmel. As Adorno a window no writes: "In order for the work of art to be purely and fully a work of art, it must be more than a work of art"--which sounds like an enormous challenge for any of us. The "more" in this quotation points to a different understanding of "torque" than as either "formal" or "superformal" elements of a "work" and its context. Le torque, here, however, is no longer Ron's torque (as he outlines it in his torqu-ography--the recent blog-post that I only just read), nor is it Kasey's torse / torsion / torque triad, and yet Le torque informs both Ron's evaluative comments and Kasey's umbrage to them. As I said, it sounds to me like an enormous chilly lunge for any of us to take.
I don't get how the Adorno quote relates to any notion of torque--I'm probably missing some pivotal cultural reference or other, and/or revealing the shallowness of my theoretical range. I will say, however, that as much as I agree with Louis that the formal and the superformal "are not differentiable except in a guidebook way," our very ability to make that kind of differentiation in itself speaks to what I was trying to get at: when Ron writes in "The New Sentence" of torque as a (presumably) measurable quality of the phrase or sentence, he implies that it is something one could diagram or define in relatively definite grammatical/syntactic terms. Kaz's post from the other day is an example of just such an effort. I am thinking of the superformal as an unstable horizon that recedes at the encroachment of definitions like Kaz's, or for that matter, mine. When Tom initially took issue with my account of torque, I suspect the problem he perceived was only superficially that I had neglected syntax in its strict grammatical sense; to borrow a phrase from Barrett Watten, I was not acknowledging torque's relation to a "total syntax" of radically embedded linguistic/social/political tropes, tropes that are/were specific to a moment or scene of Language writing's positioning vis a vis the literary climate of its inception and continuing reception. By (perhaps willfully) ignoring that dimension of torque (a dimension, as I've said, that I associate with Ron's original usage, but that he himself may or may not have consciously intended to be understood), I was making a bid for the formal over the superformal, or for the possibility of physical analogy. Did I ever believe this bid would pay out? I don't know. I remain (or am at last?) suspicious of both, on the one hand, "guidebook" definitions of mechanical poetic technique, and on the other, the kind of resistance to mechanical summation that the desire to render "torque" and similar terms somehow conspicuously superformal evinces. I am suspicious of this latter resistance not because it ideologizes (everything is ideological, including any notion of the "purely" formal), but because it ideologizes anxiously, wanting to substitute an abstract notion for a concrete one in such a way as to render that subtitution conspicuous and provocative. Putting it that way, maybe "suspicious" is the wrong word to describe my feelings about it: I actually think it's an appealing strategy.
One of the things that makes torque attractive as a candidate for a poetic concept in the first place is the obliquity of the physical metaphor in relation to whatever material textual phenomenon it is meant to be mapped onto: I mean, honestly, finally there is no real relation between the idea of an angular force that causes a change in rotational motion and the idea of some mysterious species of syntactical defamiliarization. It's a sexy (okay, geeky) postmodern metaphysical conceit. As, I might add, is the idea of the differentiability vs. the non-differentiability of the categories of the formal and superformal. My thesis is that what poet-theorists tend to be after are not expressible concepts, but concepts that hover on the brink of expressibility but don't ever quite yield or resolve. This is what I have in mind with my pet variation on Stevens' formula that I like to repeat every chance I get: the poem (or in this case, poetics) should resist the intelligence almost unsuccessfully.