Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Competence Redux


Despite having just complained loudly that I too reject the idea of poetic competence/competition, I am intrigued by the etymological sense shared by these words, both of which come from the Latin cum + petere, meaning "to strive together." How strange that a concept which now automatically calls to mind the idea of aggressive forces in opposition (or in the case of competence, simply to be suitable) originally had as its emphasis the ideal of cooperation in the service of a common cause. Not that aggression and opposition weren't integrally connected with the concept from the start, but it is interesting how the definitional valence has shifted.

So now I ask: what if there were a notion of poetic competence in which the point of the competition involved was on mutual effort and commitment? Or, more pointedly, is there such a notion in active practice?

What if competence were not about maintaining a benign inertia that makes one just barely viable as a participant in a scene filled with other vaguely "suitable" participants, but about having a unique ability that, put into play with the unique abilities of others, is capable of making something happen that is bigger than any one person could manage alone?

41 comments:

sa said...

Certainly, competence demands a community to determine whether it exists or not, and one could go on to say that competence can only exist in the perception of a community. Communities can be quite attentuated, but in terms of new poetries competence or incompetence are usually perceptions held by group members about fellow members of their group or about outsiders who do or don't seem to conform to group standards.

Avant-gardists could be perceived as incompetent by mainstream poets with different aesthetic standards, for instance.

I'm interested in the claim of competence as a measure of bad faith. Like when someone like Dana Gioia might defend boring poetry because it fulfills an aesthetic agenda--the notion that competence could redeem bad poetry.

Certainly much of your poetry, and I mean this in a very positive way, has to be seen as gloriously and deliberately incompetent. That is one of its aesthetic strengths. And yet there is also a context (the Flarflist?) where this willful incompetence becomes competence of the highest order, because it does conform to a collective ambition.

Anyway, my point is competence is always cooperative, since members of a group must cooperate by recognizing it.

xo,

Stan

Thomas Basbøll said...

Your etymology reminded me of the epigraph to Deer Head Nation: Watten's "go to your nation and strive". Your post also reminded me of a chapter in Bourdieu's The State Nobility called "The Ambiguities of Competence". The ambiguity is essentially the difference between what you are good at and what you are authorized to do. He raises an interesting point about the difference of emphasis on these two aspects in terms of the relative dignity of social positions. "So, for example," he says, "in official taxonomies agents are increasingly defined in terms only of what they do, by the technically defined skills or tasks that fall under their title or job, the further one descends in the hierarchy, and conversely, by what they are as one moves up, as if (relatively) fewer technical guarantees were required as diginity increases." What someone is, meanwhile, is often simply defined in terms of social identiy, i.e., membership in particular groups. Interestingly, your approach to competence seems to "move up", which may confirm Stan's suggestion by explaining the, as it were, deliberate indignity of Flarf. I.e. the "incompetence" of Flarf is an attempt to write without authorization.

Henry Gould said...

Kasey asks :
"...what if there were a notion of poetic competence in which the point of the competition involved was on mutual effort and commitment? Or, more pointedly, is there such a notion in active practice?"

I would say there are general standards of competence which stem less from poetry per se than from grammar and overall language usage.

Whenever a group of artists combines around some shared enthusiasms or aims, then the question of competence (in this general sense) is shaded by an atmosphere of mutual encouragement : ie., the poets' uneven struggles with their work, & uneven results, will be given some slack for the sake of the shared aims of the group.

This genial attitude of the insiders, however, may not be shared by critics on the outside (heated polemics from various directions usually follow).

In answer to Kasey's question, then, I would say that there is such an (in-group) approach toward competence which is "in active practice" WHENEVER you have an ongoing artistic group or movement.

The theoretical exception to this rule would be a poetic movement which tied its aesthetic goals DIRECTLY to a strenuous and strict attention to general linguistic/stylistic/grammatical competence itself. This is an interesting idea. Such a focus would not be sufficient cause for the making of interesting art, but maybe it's a (neglected) necessary cause.

Artists are always stretching the grammatical/rhetorical/linguistic envelope : but this only pleases when we recognize either 1) that the artist is CONSCIOUSLY bending the rules, or 2) other virtues of the art-work outweigh or render negligible the weaknesses in this area (of general competence).

Jordan said...

Community... too many people in a small room. Is everybody sitting there reading the poem with me? Writing it?

How (why) do these individual judgments -- these private experiences -- get cast as social events? Because because because people are lazy and timid and believe what they're told and refuse to read for themselves or simply don't have access to the material?

People, community, social experience. I'm starting to get why most people think poetry readings are the worst things in the world.

Henry Gould said...

Jordan asks:
"How (why) do these individual judgments -- these private experiences -- get cast as social events? Because because because people are lazy and timid and believe what they're told and refuse to read for themselves or simply don't have access to the material?"

I would say it's because the contemporary intellectual trends in America have pretty systematically - & from many directions - dismissed, criticized, denigrated, and denied the value of individual persons and personal experience.

We're taught by the neo-Puritans not to think or experience or respond as individuals - in fact, the very existence of "individuals" is brought into question, devalued.

It's as if "persons" were merely by-products of capitalist-bourgeois propaganda. As if their ontological status is not that of "subject" but "illusory phenomenon of capitalist mystification". And this ideological attitude is the exact mirror image - the twin - of the commercial approach to persons (they are primarily "consumers"). The result is the same : the denigration of the person.

Providence said...

Henry Gould writes:

It's as if "persons" were merely by-products of capitalist-bourgeois propaganda. As if their ontological status is not that of "subject" but "illusory phenomenon of capitalist mystification". And this ideological attitude is the exact mirror image - the twin - of the commercial approach to persons (they are primarily "consumers"). The result is the same : the denigration of the person.

Can't help but think of Deleuze's “homage” to his mentor, the Hegelian scholar Jean Hyppolite (Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature):

Hume’s philosophy reaches its ultimate point [where] Nature conforms to being … We call “purposiveness” this agreement between intentional finality and nature. This agreement can only be thought; and it is undoubtedly the weakest and emptiest of thoughts. Philosophy must constitute itself as the theory of what we are doing, not as the theory of what there is. What we do has its principles; and being can only be grasped as the object of a synthetic relation with the very principles of what we do. (133)

What we do is produce and consume--two categories that work quite well to envelope all human endeavor.

Perhaps more to the point (or my original point--see the comments box on Kasey's initial post on competence):

Agree not merely to the right to difference but, carrying this further, agree also to the right to opacity that is not enclosure within an impenetrable autarchy but subsistence within an irreducible singularity. Opacities can coexist and converge, weaving fabrics. To understand these truly one must focus on the texture of the weave and not on the nature of its components…

The opaque is not the obscure, though it is possible for it to be so and be accepted as such. It is that which cannot be reduced, which is the most perennial guarantee of participation and confluence…In Relation the whole is not the finality of its parts: for multiplicity in totality is totally diversity. Let us say this again, opaquely: the idea of totality alone is an obstacle to totality.

We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone. (Eduard Glissant, Poetics of Relation 191-4)

"Relation" (community) graduates from an idea to a concrete fact of "what we are doing" through mutual aid, not competition (which hinges on an abstract idea of totality).

sa said...

I'm not sure what you're saying Jordan. You don't want writing to be social? Is that possible? Don't you need readers?

Are you saying you'd rather have more readers you don't know, or who are not also practitioners of the art? But the problem, in the case of poetry, is everyone can practice the art. AS Kenneth Koch proved, a six-year old can write worthwhile entry-level free verse. So essentially, everyone's a poet to some degree, and all the audience are practioners with aesthetic opinions, like it or not.

Ryan said...

Carrying Sa’s statement on Dana Gioia a bit farther, I feel like DG might defend bad poetry because it fulfills the “need” to write (Is there really a “need” to write poorly?) rather than the aesthetic value of poetry per se. And what of the competence behind writing poorly? Operators in a post-Flarf system, should rush to attribute competence to poetry that is “un-PC, not okay.” I list this as one major contribution of Flarf and the un-okay-lyric to the debate: Aren’t we past labeling poetries that don't fit personal aesthetic criteria as “incompetent”? If we are, then what kind of competence makes us label “bad” flarf poetry as "good", and how does this competence differ from Billy Collinsesque competence?
Or does incompetence really just denote a peerless poem, poet or writer? The inability or lack of competition? A poem unequaled in its ability to be either grating or gracious or gratis?
Henry's statement that there are forms of group encouragement that (if I understand this correctly) exist outside of the competent/incompetent scale (or within the scale, but eschewing its criteria/rush to judgment) seems to me a great aside. Assuming one's group encouragement comes from a trust/belief in the said work's value, then continuing the important work separates its curd from the (in)competence debate. The work of Kenneth Goldsmith comes to mind: there's no real way to critique the work as being incompetent or competent if approached as a "book" of poetry, rather than a conceptual piece? So does this mean that competence deals most directly with context? Could Gioia's taste in another context be seen as good faith? Does competence rely on context?

phaneronoemikon said...

this post was brilliant!
cum petere! nice.

which also seems to echo
the term jihad is based on a root J-H-D whose core meaning is "to strive" or "to exert effort".

but about having a unique ability that, put into play with the unique abilities of others, is capable of making something happen that is bigger than any one person could manage alone?

this sort of sounds like 911..

hmm..

well. let's drop that string.

yoga! sorta fits.

The Sanskrit term yoga has a wide range of different meanings.[7] It is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, "to control", "to yoke", or "to unite".[8] Common meanings include "joining" or "uniting", and related ideas such as "union" and "conjunction".[9] Another conceptual definition is that of "mode, manner, means"[10] or "expedient, means in general".[11]

I think Kasey is being really positive and trying to say

that as physical variables
there may be some unique construction or assemblage
which could be formed.

sort of like a social golem.

something that is more than the some of its parts.

Nothing can be more beautiful
than that dream.

Our very genes sing this song.
why our societies are confused
because our protoctistan omnisexual
"food-learning" and innate constrctionism has plateau'd
into a sort of faux-organo-subjective "god-hood"

in this equation consciousnes = god.

so Kasey is right. the next step
is to begin directing the construction of a poetic golem.

do blogs register as virtual proto organelles? in new social eukaryotes?

Excellent form Herr Mohammad!

Jordan said...

Hi Stan. I'm underscoring that it's complicated, shifting the terms of discussion from aesthetics and individual reception to sociology and group dynamics.

I'm also saying that it isn't easy to avoid conflict by seeking consensus.

Thanks for sending me Info Rations, by the way. I loved the generative/obsessive ones like "It Can Be Done," "World," and "Forget Political Poetry."

a said...

I guess I would say that I have always distrusted this notion of community centered around a common aesthetic -- even if the each individual is not subsumed by the vision and makes a unique contribution to it (somehow that part of a whole sounds like a familar neo-liberal discourse). Communities are based on histories and histories of exclusion.

I am interested more so in inter-group conversations. For example, say my emphasis as a poet is on gender; I would be interested to see how 'race' becomes a poetics in another group, or an individual poet...I am much more interested not in a communal effort, but moreso in the dialogues across different aesthetic formations and political formations. I learn a lot more from people that are different than me, than those who are similar In this sense, something larger occurs BETWEEN, learning is enabled and new possibilities open up, outside the already constellated groups which their aesthetics which often seem monotone in theory and practice. Can we talk about those who exist on the border of aesthetic formations, who are skeptical of the aesthetics that are practiced and preached, because that is where newness comes in, IMHO. Monotone in the ways they purportedly undermine the notion of subject and yet the structures of white, male priviledge still remain relatively intact. Who has money, who operates presses, etc. No dent in those.

The audiences seem too predictable. The laughter, staged.
Perhaps I am too cynical; I distrust these things because ideology usually runs underneath them, and ideology may be necessary to oppose conservative aesthetic formations. Yet, I think this undermines forms that arise more out of necessity (historical, social, vis a vis 'race' and other particularities which seethe under the skin like fists). And so perhaps you can describe the tension between individual social/political necessity and how that often destabilizes community. If there is any sort of community that I would belong to it would be an inter community with those who remain on the edges. In that dialogue, there seems to be hope. This inter dialogue (amoungt those who resist neo-liberal ideology, despite differences in aesthetics) seems like it could be interesting. The poetry wars are boring deadends.

sa said...

Hi Jordan,

Well, true dat about it being complicated. And of course I accept that aesthetic preferences are individual choices. I like the continuum you suggest between thinking of writing in terms of individual tastes and experiences and thinking of it in terms of group dynamics. A person thinking about how to write can think about it as a private act or they can write by looking for an opening within a field of group activity (ie nobody's done it quite this way yet, everyone will be impressed if I do it like this, etc.) And, despite the liberty to think about it either way, I do think the role of groups as influencers can't be left out. If I read or show a poem to people and they're bored (or nonplussed, or appalled), I have to be affected and challenged by that. The effect is unavoidable, even if I don't really want to think about the effect.

I suppose the emphasis within the canon on hermit poets and isolato poets (Dickinson, especially) serves to privilege the view of poetry as individual practice based on personal taste. However, if they were to start to canonize groups, I think perceptions might shift a great deal. I think aesthetic concepts have been developing within groups for a long time, despite a lack of emphasis on that.

Thanks for the good word on my book. Congrats to you on your marriage, if I haven't said so before.

Jordan said...

Thanks Stan. As I was saying in response to something Jonathan Mayhew said, canonical history rewards the best differentiators - and isolatos have a jump on that quality don't they. The problem is, isolatos have to survive excruciating indifference in the hopes of.. what, immortality?

If you read or show a poem to a group of people, and the group reaction is tepid, maybe it's the poem and maybe it's the group.

As for groups... Breton did pretty well by surrealism, and Eluard and Char maybe, but what about the footsoldiers. When groups get too big (more than five or six writers, maybe?) they have to work consciously to avoid becoming pyramid schemes.

I write something, I want a response. I want someone to read it, I want to see how they receive it, before I'm ok with broadcasting it. And once it's broadcast, I'm interested in the reaction .. but not on the level of the word or the line - at that point I just want to know if the reader gets it. More than that can get to feel like a referendum.

Henry Gould said...

I hate this pseudo-psychologizing of poets, this flock, that flock. Just read the poems & shut up.

- Henry Isolato

Jordan said...

Nice tongue, Henry, but it belongs in your mouth.

Henry Gould said...

Nothing personal, Jordan, sorry. Just exercising my wasp.

- Henri de l'Isole de Rhode

phaneronoemikon said...

Henry. I have a watermelon.

[sticks out tongue]

competence
is a natural language term
or a notional marker

for some "element's"
"performance" in a "fitness space".

fitness spaces can be provisional
cultural assemblages or can be actual landscapes as in fitness landscape.

ideas
people
social organizations

all of these are set out
into the striational fitness space
as it modulates

harmonizing modulation
is one strategy
as has recently been detected
in the proteins involved
with common photosythesis.

another version of harmonic
modulation are the various "phasmidics" or copying procedures,
animal mimicry.

If you look at cuttle fish physiology and behavior
this works rather well.

but it doesnt always work.
what i mean is that sometimes
a prey will see the cuttle for what it is and start to haul ass,
but the cuttle has devised not a perfect reponse, but one which works on a surprising high % of species. It is an incredible lateral strobing effect which in effect is very strong candidate
for animal hypnosis or what one might consider a "psionic" facility. This has been pretty well documented.

If poets are animals and they are,
they will devise any number of strategic attempts to get to whatever goal they are orienting themselves to. Goal directed behavior involves alot of terms with taxis involved; klinotaxis, chemotaxis, penitaxis, vagitaxis,
lovitaxis, famitaxis, lucritaxis,
etc.

The Eunoiaglenoid (poet)
will thrash his quill-like appendage and try to orient his cultural office (shell) to whatever
goal his little slot-machine goal-o-meter stops on and generally
begin to squirt ink in short "syntactic" quips. This is its way of "synthesizing a tactic"..

This isn't to say he/she/it
isn't a "phony," but is rather
a member of a special class of
virtual units known as the
"phonese" whose aesthetic and linguistic components are grown together in rather odd and extremely baroque fashion, often
making rather loopily luscious forays into "blank logic" as well..

Kent Johnson said...

Kasey, everyone,

There is this book by Pierre Bourdieu, called Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field.

You should really carefully read it. It's fantastic!

Kent

Kent Johnson said...

Incidentally, speaking of "competence," I wonder where and how Ethics might make an appearance? Can competence, communally pursued and granted in exclusive social networks, as Kasey seems to want it, sometimes come to trump ethics? That is, could the desire to enjoy a network's sanction of "competence" (Bourdieu would call it a "position-taking" desire) make competent people hold their tongues when it's professionally, as it were, convenient, say?

For example, the editors of Soft Targets are quite competent, in many aspects. Yet what does it mean that these competent young writers can publish, several weeks ago now, an interview with Slavoj Zizek in latest issue (interview reprinted at ST site) wherein, summing up, Zizek calls for a new, collective, cleansing Terror, one of very bloody kind, like (he makes the link) the Jacobin Terror, and no one, not a single person, not the editors conducting the interview, not a subscriber on the Poetics list where the interview was announced and linked, not a blogger on the blogs, nowhere, no one, says a word... With all the "competence" that abounds in this "post-avant community," no one makes a mention of this utterly remarkable and obscene proposal, as if it were because, well, the Great Zizek said it, deigning to enter our little field, so maybe best not to rock the boat, you know, make a scene.

Perhaps it's just an accident that this has gone uncommented. Perhaps the pursuit of poetic competence and its technologies has other more urgent things to distract it. But I wonder. And I wonder what it means.

Just a thought. Or I guess it's a question--one I also asked on the International Poetic Exchange blog, but which no one has cared to answer, so far.

Kent

jane said...

I dunno, Kent, maybe folks are just rilly stoked about the Terror, you know?

Or at least stoked for the overcorrection to the absurd overcorrection which goes the Terror was really bad, hence "progressive change" is all that civil society can sanction, so shut up and vote.

Or as AB sez, "Of course, the point from which a politics can be thought — which permits, even after the event, the seizure of truth — is that of its actors, and not its spectators. It is through Saint-Just and Robespierre that you enter into this singular truth unleashed by the French Revolution, and on the basis of which you form a knowledge, and not thorugh Kant or François Furet."

Kent Johnson said...

Jane, yes, I forgot to mention that a certain measure of the mumness among our revolutionary post-avant poets toward the obscene Zizek blather no doubt reflected tacit approval on the part of a key layer "stoked" by it. (And no doubt most in the post-avant arena implicitly know that certain "influential" people were stoked by the comments and thus chose not to challenge them. My general point in the previous post about ethics...)

It is perfectly predictable, and Marx analyzed it famously, that petit-bourgeois academic intellectual spectators, to use your term, are among the strongest sentimentalists when it comes to terror...

Who is AB? Is that Anne Boyer? Did she really say that? If so, maybe she will step up to the plate when the time comes and help send a few thousand souls to the chopping block.

Is this the bloody side of Flarf? Fascinating.

Kent

Kent Johnson said...

Jane, yes, I forgot to mention that a certain measure of the mumness among our revolutionary post-avant poets toward the obscene Zizek blather no doubt reflected tacit approval on the part of a key layer "stoked" by it. (And no doubt most in the post-avant arena implicitly know that certain "influential" people were stoked by the comments and thus chose not to challenge them. My general point in the previous post about ethics...)

It is perfectly predictable, and Marx analyzed it famously, that petit-bourgeois academic intellectual spectators, to use your term, are among the strongest sentimentalists when it comes to terror...

Who is AB? Is that Anne Boyer? Did she really say that? If so, maybe she will step up to the plate when the time comes and help send a few thousand souls to the chopping block.

Is this the bloody side of Flarf? Fascinating.

Kent

jane said...

Kent: AB is Alain Badiou (whom you would dismiss as a petit-bourgeois academic intellectual at your peril).

And though you've taken me to be ironic, not so much: I might even be the New Sincerity here. Which is to say, as blathery as Zizek might be in this case (and I'm no defender of the dude), the main ideological function of invoking "the Terror" for the last century has been toward a panicky-yet-boring defense of falsely progressivist parliamentarianism, designed to discredit any and all revolutionary demands. And that won't do.

So Zizek's comical countercorrection is just that, and a way of pointing up the problem — let us not be too brittle in our responses, lest we replicate more of the liberal-humanist counter-revolutionary same. I do believe we can do better.

Kent Johnson said...

Ah, Badiou (Sorry Anne! Sorry Flarf!). I've always been bad at initials. That's kind of funny...

But actually, Jane, I suspect Marx would have classified Badiou as precisely that. He called Bakunin more or less that, too. Badiou is small potatoes next to Bakunin, after all. In any case, Western Maoism was always a decidedly petit-bourgeois, largely academic manifestation from the outset.

And I fail to see what is comical in Zizek's "overcorrection," or why invoking the Jacobin Terror as exemplary is in any way a necessary correction against the false seductions of parliamentary democracy! We have proof, in numerous examples, past and current, that radical social change need not be accompanied by massive class terror, nor by the destruction, even, of prior political institutions. In fact, Marx himself, to whom Zizek keeps alluding, also believed this could happen in some circumstances--even that certain nations with developed bourgeois democratic forms might be able to enact radical transformations through fairly peaceful parliamentary means. For him--in the U.S., particularly, for example--the problem was not democratic laws and institutions themselves; it was that there was no independent political movement capable of challenging the ruling-class parties of capital. That problem remains with us today, obviously, and leftist types, literati and otherwise, go making their radical noises in the off-season, and then go turn themselves over to the Democratic Party as the only "realistic alternative" come poll time. This is what needs "correcting," not the traditions of representative democracy, for goodness sakes, which have been largely won by the working classes, at considerable cost.

Yes, it's easy, truly, to see some of our post-avant "progressives" aping Zizek, whispering about "buying" into a future, necessary, revolutionary State Terror, then closing the booth curtains and voting for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in 2008. That would be another fine example of petit-bourgeois political behavior, actually.

Kent

jane said...

You seem to want everything both ways: The radicals are too radical, which is bad...except they're secretly not radicals but democrats, which is bad...Except that democracy is good.

I fear waving Marx's name around doesn't turn contradiction into dialectical thought. And while Marx might have he might seen your "representative democracy" as a historically necessary phase, he wouldn't have had a good word for it — remember the withering away of the State?

Meanwhile, while I scarcely hang on Badiou's every word, I'll hang my part of the discussion this one, quite specifically Marxian in character: "'democracy' neither is nor can be a philosophical category. Why? because democracy is a form of the State; because philosophy evaluates the ultimate aims of politics; because the aim is also for the end of the State, and so too the end of all relevance for the word 'democracy.'"

Kent Johnson said...

Jane, some comments in reply. You began by saying:

"You seem to want everything both ways: The radicals are too radical, which is bad...except they're secretly not radicals but democrats, which is bad...Except that democracy is good."

It's not a matter of wanting things both ways. Sometimes ideological reality is very contradictory, it points forward and backward, and Marx talked about this plenty, in analyzing the political contradictions of certain classes (so did Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Gramsci, etc, this is basic stuff). Such contradiction, contrary to what you suggest below, quite comfortably fits into a historical materialist analysis...

So I would say to your comment above: Exactly. Such ambivalence and confusion--arm-chair theoretical revolutionism dovetailing with placid political and careerist accomodation--aptly describes the politics (witness the sociological results of Language poetry!) of much of the current US literary-left intelligentsia, just as it has always described the politics of a good section of the "radical" intelligentsia, just about everywhere. (And by the way, I must say, it was *you* who began to allude to Marxist theory via Badiou, thus my bringing in Marx!)

And yes, democracy is good, Jane! Its enrichment and expanded dissemination would be the heart of any viable and decent socialism, reagardless of outre sanctifications of "Revolutionary Terror" spewed by washed-up Maoist types like Badiou, the latest darling of an also washed-up academic "Post-Colonialism."

Then you said:

"I fear waving Marx's name around doesn't turn contradiction into dialectical thought. And while Marx might have he might seen your "representative democracy" as a historically necessary phase, he wouldn't have had a good word for it — remember the withering away of the State?"

In fact, Jane, Marx had plenty of good words for bourgeois democracy. He saw it both as a necessary phase toward something better, as you say, and a progressive historical force, which the working classes could use, at certain conjunctures, to great advantage in the struggle against capitalism. Have you read Marx lately, in additon to the ultra-left Badiou?

You say, then:

"Meanwhile, while I scarcely hang on Badiou's every word, I'll hang my part of the discussion this one, quite specifically Marxian in character: "'democracy' neither is nor can be a philosophical category. Why? because democracy is a form of the State; because philosophy evaluates the ultimate aims of politics; because the aim is also for the end of the State, and so too the end of all relevance for the word 'democracy.'" "

Maybe. But it's going to be a long time until we get to the end of the State, if that ever happens. The transitional period might be a prolonged one, and within it there will certainly be, let's hope, some "relevance for the word democracy."

Kent

jane said...

Kent, there are contradictions in the world and how people live there; I believe the Marxian term for that is "duh." But then there are inconsistencies in one's analysis, wherein claims can be conveniently held and not held at the same time. And those are not ideological symptoms of the fundamental contradiction within the commodity etc etc. They're merely non-arguments. Which I generally think is beneath you; I don't always agree with you (though sometimes!), but you generally have a position.

Kent Johnson said...

"Not ideological symptoms"? Well, uninteresting as these sociological effects in our subculture may be for their ubiquity/predictability (please note I did acknowledge I was talking about something pretty "duh" in the literature), I think that even Badiou, as disciple of Althusser, would fully agree that these manifestations of contradiction are ideological phenomena through and through--and of much more potential relevance, frankly, to a consideration of the post-avant literary field and its politics of value/"competence" than the contradiction within the commodity, etc etc., as you put it.

Jane, Bourdieu is much more interesting, helpful, and clear-headed than the Stalinist/Maoist Badiou... Really. Badiou was an apologist of the Soviet purges and the Cultural Revolution, for goodness sakes (there's some Terror for you!). Why would you give someone like that real credence? Actually, didn't he also think Pol Pot was pretty alright, too? Correct me if you think I am making any errors, here.

[I'll say, though (and here's a glaring contradiction of my own for you, I guess), that I do find his writing on Fernando Pessoa to be rather fascinating, and tend to agree with him that FP is a case that philosophy has not yet found a way to assimilate--though AB might find Mikhail Epstein's writing on heteronymity and hyperauthorship to point in productive directions. But that's another issue. Or maybe not...]

I apologize if I am misunderstanding some of your points. But here's an idea: How about you and your team invite me to the ARK conference when you have your ducks in a row--maybe we can have some discussion on the general topic of poetic ideologies in current US innovative poetry, or something like that, in a panel format!

If so, I'll do my best to present a paper and/or reading that shows some competence.

Kent

jane said...

Yes Kent you misread, and hey, I want to be clear, so let me run it back: But then there are inconsistencies in one's analysis, wherein claims can be conveniently held and not held at the same time. And those are not ideological symptoms of the fundamental contradiction within the commodity etc etc.

The point being, yes indeed the contradictions in social consciousness are ideological symptoms of material contradictions in capital, per Marx (who I am quite sure I have read as recently as you). That's what I indicated. We agree on that.

However, that doesn't justify inconsistencies in one's analysis of social consciousness; self-contradictory accounts are not somehow magically more accurate. They are, in fact, not accounts. Had Marx said that labor was both fixed and variable capital, shifting depending on whom he was arguing with at any given time, that wouldn't have improved his account, hmm?

As for ARK, I think it might be a pleasurable experience in general. I'd be happy to hash things out with you. But I feel quite certain that, should it come together, I won't be inviting or not inviting anyone; my guess is that everyone who wants to give a talk or panel will suggest one, right?

Kent Johnson said...

Jane,

The thing about the ARK conference was meant as a bit of lightheartedness. But please let me know when the abstracts are due. I'm sure the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade will look favorably upon mine! (That's pretty clever, actually, you have to admit--the Abraham Lincoln Brigade...)

It is a pleasant thing (at least for me) to jaw-about over Marxism. Let's remember, though, that the topic pertains to issues concerning the ideological trajectory of the so-called post-avant, as well as innovative poetry's position in the larger cultural sphere. Kasey's post above on "Competence" is a gesture in that general direction (and I love the anaphoric "Let's back up a bit" touches--ah, that winning nonchalance!), even if he doesn't seem to realize that most of the questions he's posing have already been given rather powerful answers in advance (albeit at higher sociological levels) in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, in the book I noted above and in various other essays of his connected to the topic of the literary field. Anyway, that's why I made the initial reference to PB.

Which is to say that analogies based on hypothetical contradictions that Marx might have made in his Labor Theory of Value (which, by the way, Jane, he probably would largely discard today, were he alive, so probably best not to make too much of that) seem to me somewhat beside the point. And what on earth fixed and variable capital could have to do with what you feel are my "inconsistencies in...analysis of social consciousness" is beyond me. (Do you mean my "inconsistency" in proposing that representative democracy, in principle, is a good thing, that its instruments are in no way ipso facto reactionary in nature, and that these might even be employed in the context of a revolutionary society? I hope not... Or do you mean my inconsistency in stating (contrary to the still unrepentant Stalinist Badiou--and now Zizek, apparently, too) that mass State Terror is illegitimate and that any revolutionary society worth defending would reject it? I hope not, too... )

Anyhow, and getting back to the topic of poetic Competence, its ideologies and its expressions, I did want to highlight one thing you say in your last. You write:

"...yes indeed the contradictions in social consciousness are ideological symptoms of material contradictions in capital, per Marx (who I am quite sure I have read as recently as you). That's what I indicated. We agree on that."

In fact, we don't agree on that at all, and that you say it clarifies for me where some of our misunderstandings may lie. You see (and Engels's old ready-at-hand saw about "in the last analysis" duly noted), serious Marxist theory has long abandoned the idea that ideology, or "contradictions in social consciousness," as you say, are direct symptoms of "material contradictions in capital." It used to be, back in the 1930s and 40s, when people were getting shot right and left in the purges, or later in Mao's Little Red Book, which Badiou brandished about at the Sorbonne, that this was more or less the line. But not even long-discredited reflectionist theories advanced by Lukacs or Goldmann, say, would argue that ideology is some unproblematic "symptom" of economic forces... Why, even Badiou's master, Althusser, materialist of materialists, who builds up his whole theory of ideology from a dismantling of linear assumptions about base/superstructure reflection, arguing (and "per Marx," as you say!) that certain institutional spheres function with an important measure of ideological autonomy, didn't make this claim (thus, come to think of it, I doubt Badiou would either, once he put his Little Red Book back into his pocket).

Forgive that unreadable last sentence, but surely you must be aware of all this? It's just that given your phrasing, I'm not entirely sure, now.

Again, this is why (I'll say it again) Bourdieu is the person you Flarfists should read, or re-read. He is all about the relative autonomy of the literary sphere, an autonomy--part of my point in previous posts--that helps explain the structural amorality that subtends the moralizing rituals of its economy. He has much to say about the nature of strategic group formation as means of cultural capital accumulation, about individual *and* collective moves of Authorial position-taking, about ways the dynamics of rebellion are implicated in processes of institutional assimilation, about the radical contingency of literary value within a dense subcultural matrix of power moves and games, and so on. In short, he's every bit a pragmatist, just what the Flarf doctor ordered...

Jane, I'm curious, and though I ask this with a smile, I hope you, or someone in-the-know will tell me, for I am half wondering, sitting here, as I am, nursing my allergies: Could you tell me if your views represent, in any measure, the evolving views of others in the Flarf collective? Has there been, perchance, some kind of sharp Left turn? Is Flarf, perhaps, now a kind of Marxist-Leninist theory study group? Has it set out to be Marxist like early Language poetry, but with a determination to follow things through to the end this time? Does it believe, with Badiou, that we shouldn't cringe at the idea of massive State Terror after the Revolution and that certain School of Quietude Poets might well best be sent to the guillotine? If so, will Flarf poets (I for one hope not!) replace the kazoos and rabbit costumes with more severe accouterments at their performances?

Well, back to Days of Our Lives. Thanks for the exchange.

Kent

jane said...

Kent, good sir: I'm happy to leave your last post as some quasi-final word, averring only that the idea that ideas are "discredited" doesn't resonate historically. It's like saying that the idea of socialism was discredited by the failure of the Soviet Union or the policies of Stalin: another strategy for not thinking about stuff.

History is without credit; categories are preparation for thinking. Some people think M Postone's theory "discredits" Marx's account of labor's historical role; he himself thinks it's a "true reading of Marx"; others think its just plain wrong; others think it borrows from Balibar's contribution to Althusser's Lire Marx; others that its just the Seventies "capitalogicians" redux. [See, I can throw around names too.]

But this is only one example of how discredited is the idea of accounts being "discredited." Much is alive and much dead in Lukacs, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Gramsci, Paris Hilton, Negri, ? and the Mysterians, Bourdieu, Schlegel, Josie, and the Pussycats.

But as to your operative last question, that doesn't look so good. I have never been on flarflist, written flarf, had a good story to tell about it...and couldn't possibly speak for such a thing. I've met Kasey; I like him a lot. Some days when I feel too anxious about my own duties, I like to read poetry blogs; and on a subset of those days, I like to have a friendly debate about politics. I still think you err by reading Zizek's proffer regarding The Terror as a proposal for class liquidation, rather than as a corrective to the kneejerk discrediting of any revolutionary thought by merely pronouncing the name "Terror" (or "Stalin" or etc), rather than thinking the politics. Yup, that's what I think, and with that, let's wait a bit and wrangle over something else next time?

Ryan said...

Yes! Competence. Ahar.

phaneronoemikon said...

ah, the sad humm of opportunics,
the bone needles aimlessly threading
digits of stylized flame, the labyrinth squirts out even moire moirse code, labyrinth at labyrinth labyrinthing. see monster labyrinth with gesticulating opportunism of preformatted code material, labyrinth
utilizing labyrinth under terms of labyrinth..

flarf is flowing arf

the cynocephaloi howling blankly
at the dangling cephalomodulant
acephale gruesomnia

the imperor materia
who dawns the emerald
minotaur chestplate
to enter the melee blizzard
of proteomic linguistic transduction

a sort of colloidal confete-e
of spasmiodelic interferences
mimicking the opportunistic
label-space of communication

the sad humm
as the animals as they dart and flibbet in the whine of meme-projector-recorders

there is no Dana Gioia
except as some disturbed
water echo of

"Didn't enjoy ya"

sequence this as
ape erecting temporal drone pipe
to pass iconic comparison scans

structural differential
collapses man / mayfly margin

cyborg
melts down crankwise
to sigh, bourg

machine armor
coruscates
across the granular
glandular spheroctopeu

Henry Gould said...

Responding to Joshua Jane Clover's comments : as I see it, it's either/or. Either you have government by consent of the governed, or dictatorship sustained by force (ie. terror).

Violence doesn't establish "facts on the ground" any more solidly than non-violence does; violence is just the more traditional mode (what we're used to). As it says in one of the Gospels : "since the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has come by violence, and violent men take it by force. But it shall not be so among you." This attitude - choosing peaceful resolution of social disputes & conflict - is the basis of normative civil society.

I think your assent to such notions as Zizek's & "AB"'s - & I do read your comments as assent - is a kind of decadent pseudo-intellectual gamesmanship. It's only a game, because actually translating such notions into reality is too depressing to contemplate.

Kent Johnson said...

Jane/Josh,

Interesting response. I agree that things are always open. But some things history does shut loud enough (with a bang), as if suggesting we best not knock again... Like State Terror.

Jane, I just realized that you are Joshua Clover! Pleased to meet you. I like The Totality for Kids considerably, and I do realize, I hope you will believe me, that it is hardly Flarf.

One thing I'll take the opportunity to say, if you don't mind: Someone some months back pointed me to the PDF of a paper you gave at, I think, the recent AWP, one around issues of Poetry and Politics, and I saw therein, at the beginning, that you contrast the position of Barrett Watten with mine on that general relation. But I have to tell you (I've been meaning to write to tell you, actually) that your description of my view is not really accurate. The critique I've offered on Language poetry and the post-avant in regards the current situation does not argue that "anti-war" poetry should be written only in "accessible" veins, nor does it argue that more abstract modes have no role to play. My complaint, rather, is with the elitist, embarrassingly arrogant postitions taken by Silliman, Bernstein, and (though a bit more nuanced) Watten. Most (though with some impressive exceptions) of the younger post-avant followed along, quite obsequiously, it was clear. Anyhow, a big topic.

I see that Simon DeDeo on his blog has also joined this conversation. I wonder where the Comandantes of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade are... Of course, their mentors in the Comintern (I am allegorizing veeeery carefully here), we well know by now, are famous for hiding behind the scenes when real discussion comes up!

Silence is Power, comrades.

Take care, Jane. Paris Hilton's inclusion on that list of theorists was a nice touch.

Kent

Jasper Bernes said...

Kent, Henry, Joshua et al:

I join the conversation over at www.jaspebernes.blogspot.com

Kent Johnson said...

Hi Jasper,

That's an interesting post.

Allow me to say, first, young man, that I am really not paranoid about Flarf. In fact, I get a great deal of pleasure from Flarf. They are funny, the Flarfists. They get really mad sometimes, like in cartoons, and this is funny to watch, especially when they pretend they aren't watching you. No, I really enjoy the Flarfists.

OK, now on Marx's Labor Theory of Value, which apparenlty somehow we must strive to relate to the matter of the field of cultural production, which, as I have pointed out, is a super stretch of a task, since the literary field is, in fact, an autonomous economy (again, Bourdieu), operating by dint of its own interior laws, ones only very marginally connected to the immediate operations of capital and the struggle of classes, etc., though this is not to say that these operations are not *allegorically* consonant to each other.

By the way, speaking of obsessions for syntactic recursiveness, have you heard about the Piraha tribe in the Amazon and the big controversy this has generated in linguistics, namely its challenge to Chomskyan dogma? Check it out.

In any case, please don't think that I am putting myself forward as some kind of economist. I read Capital and a bunch of other things in a study group while a freight-car mechanic on the Milwaukee Road for a number of years (sent there by the Executive Committee of the Socialist Workers Party Milwaukee branch), and we rehearsed all manner of defenses of the LTV, under atack as it had long been, and is, by the theory of Marginal Utility and other even more common-sensical arguments (like, for example, why does your poetry book cost only $7 at SPD? Or, who on earth sits there on the NYSE matching labor hours to prices?) Then I went to Nicaragua.

And we did this becasue we thought that the whole edifice depended on the LTV being true. But it turns out that this is not the case, that there is much in Marxist theory, most of it, in fact, that is very true and useful whether the LTV reflects the real operations of capital, or not.

So I say not to worry too much, Jasper, for the exploitation of labor is real regardless of whether the extraction of surplus value depends on exchange values matching up nicely with the quantity of labor invested in their corresponding commodities.

The question I ahve for you is this: What do you think of the rapid professionalization of the US poetic avant-garde? Do you think it has implications for the politics of poetry and the role the latter might play in the culture?

avanti,

Jasper Bernes said...

Yes, well, I'm no economist either. But I do know that somehow profit is connected to labor people do, however many intermediating and distorting apparatuses. But enough of that.

About the professionalization of the avant-garde, I don't know. I'm probably not reliable since I'm a PhD student in lit., even if one of the reasons I'm doing a PhD is because I'd like to teach things besides creative writing. The other reason is that I wanted time to read books that I wouldn't have been able to scrounge together as quickly otherwise. And I like teaching students, it feels like a better thing to do than most others. Maybe you blame me, maybe you don't. You teach too, right?

It has much to do with the difficulty of being a bohemian these days, no, cost of living high as it is, work hours getting longer, higher, longer since the end of the glory days of US capitalism, 1945-1973? It's hard, although not impossible, many amazing poets do it, to work a full-time job and be a poet. And nigh impossible to work 20 hrs. a week and live, especially if you have a child, health issues, etc., and especially if you want to live somewhere with other poets around.

But, that said, here in the uber-expensive Bay Area, some of the best poets do it, I don't know how, partly through mutual aid, I think; most don't have a professional affiliation. Certainly, the professionalization is a worry, it's bad for the poetry no doubt, but what can you do?
People need to eat, and find a way to find time to write.

My wish is for a strong non-academically affiliated and non-corporate literary culture, yes, certainly, but I only imagine this happening if labor conditions substantially change. A 35-hour living wage workweek would do wonders for poetry.


Jasper

phaneronoemikon said...

"Heedless Adventurers" aka "On the Long Evolution of Flarf"

Mohamed Bush has entreatied me
To inspect further the humorless surface of Cialis,
To vaguely diorama the conflict between
C.C. Abbot and William Henry Holmes.

Bop your Bishop with Ancient Indians,
Ornery Dick Domocile! The Bishoprick still
Needs inclide to dignity. [sniff*] Dig nightly for dead
Indians for cowardly and greedy Jews need feathers.

Everytime this amateur HOWLMES, "The Stones are inspected,"
Say a few doggerel poems might get published in Science:

And Holmes cries, "rejected,
They're nothing but Indian chips."
He glanced at the ground,
Truth fancied he found,
And homeward to Washington skips...

So dear W.K.J.,
There is no more to say,
Because you'll never agree
That anything's truth.
But what issues, forsooth,
From Holmes or the brain of McGee

Which o can only mean for pillsake
Afro brain coral yokes black irish Haplogroup of Choctaw
"poly-twinnings".. Holmes was a rigorous, orderly man,
with no heedlessness Adventuring, all these poems from "Science"...

michael said...

for a poetry tradition as social as ours is individualistic:

http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft10000326/

m.

Providence said...

My dear Kent Johnson,

How do you mean "allegory"? If you are beholden to an economy of scale, perhaps class concsciousness and literary consciousness are as tenuously related as you suggest. But one could say so in a highly ironized sense (to bring a "literary" consciousness to bear on the matter), and I still don't see how any of this is allegorical. Class antagonism was never as reductively dialectical as Marx had it anyway--I think this is firmly established at this point in "progressive" thought--but it is especially complex and perilously ignored in literary and other "cultural" spheres.