Most of you reading this have probably seen the continuing discussion initiated by Dale Smith about Flarf that is going on at Possum Ego as well as my own and several other bloggers' comment boxes. Dale, with the help of several of his friends, has leveled a series of challenges and indictments at Flarf which I have hitherto not answered. It is my painful duty to report that the reason for this silence is exactly what Dale and other anti-Flarfists have probably suspected: the incriminating weight of their arguments is simply too heavy to ignore or resist, and thus any attempts at self-defense must necessarily appear bloodless and ill-considered. In plain terms, Dale is right and we are wrong. Flarf is an untenable poetic adventure whose minor successes have only thrown into bolder relief the abortive misgottenness at its center. I take its most egregious missteps to be the following (I am confident that Dale will point out anything I have neglected):
1. Flarf appropriates the discourse of many persons, many of them undoubtedly disempowered, by scavenging the traces of their utterances on the internet for use in the composition of poems. Since no credit is given to these persons, and since some of said discourse is extremely stupid, it is evident that Flarf is mocking the underclasses.
2. Flarf deploys a wide sampling of sometimes tasteless and insensitive language under the guise of social critique, but in ways that make it difficult for some readers (particularly those who are ignorant of the use/mention distinction, or who reject flatly on moral grounds anything that resembles irony) to tell the difference between said critique and the injuries perpetrated by the original subjects who are the source of that language.
3. Flarf sometimes takes advantage of the media attention that is focused upon it (a relatively small amount of attention compared to that enjoyed by more commercially viable art forms such as music, customized T-shirt design, or those plastic testicles some people hang from the tailgates of their pickup trucks, but more than is usually focused upon the work of Dale or his friends, and therefore enough to throw into disequilibrium the fragile economy of all the poetic communities concerned), thus making no attempt to hide its complicity in the Spectacle.
4. Flarf commits the dual error of a) resorting to humor as a means of engaging its readers, in a social climate where humor must be considered a grossly self-indulgent bourgeois barbarism; and b) not always bothering to make sure its jokes are funny.
5. Flarf fails to provide a coherent theoretical apparatus with which to contextualize its disruptions of sense and syntax as acceptable modes of political intervention, and so leaves itself open to the charge of willful obscurantism. This failure is exacerbated by the apparently total lack of interest exhibited by most Flarfists in answering its detractors' demands for such an accounting.
It's not clear what the appropriate response for us, the defeated, is in a situation like this. It has taken some time for all of us in the Flarf Collective to agree on an acceptable course of action, but after due deliberation, we see no alternative: we hereby renounce Flarf.
Lest we be suspected of histrionics, we wish to make it clear that this does not entail an abandonment of either our individual poetic endeavors or our collective practice as a community. Flarf as an aesthetic concept, however, has proven itself irremediably vexed, and it must be jettisoned. In order to preserve the salutary creative energy we enjoy as a group, we will continue to collaborate and share ideas, but we feel that the following changes are in order:
1. Getting rid of the name. The word "Flarf" is probably the main thing that makes most of our opponents hate us anyway. A big part of the problem is that although it looks sort of like an acronym, it doesn't actually stand for anything (unlike that other FLARF with whom we are mostly unaffiliated, the FLoridA Renaissance Faire)--just as, politically, Flarf does not take a clear and determinate stand on pressing social issues. From now on, we will be called PORPO (Poets Organized around Responsible Political Objectives).
2. No more Google. Google is a tool of the hegemonic capitalist system that instantly contaminates anyone who touches it with its symbolically deficient statistical false consciousness of pseudo-hierarchizations. All PORPO composition will be undertaken in longhand, preferably with a quill-tip pen or other archaic writing implement. In this way, we will render our aesthetic compatible with the aims of Dale's own Slow Poetry, and related socially conscious submovements like Thin Poetry, Faint Poetry, Not Too Scratchy Poetry, and Extremely Difficult to Smell Poetry.
3. Being serious. The first step toward realizing a poetics with any potential for effecting real social change through motivated gestures of resistance and intervention is acknowledging that under today's grave global conditions, absolutely nothing is funny. We will thus immediately cease writing any poems containing references to squid, assclowns, chicken diarrhea, "pubic" apologies, diaspora-flavored breath mints, crotchless dolphin underwear, or David Hasselhoff (unless we can offer some reasonable political gloss on such references, enabling the free flow of liberatory meaning in a productive discursive context).
4. Never getting famous. Recognition and/or endorsement by any of the official organs of the establishment media (nationally circulated magazines, public radio, universities, museums, blogs that people actually read) indicates that the work in question is too susceptible to recuperation and cooptation by the system. To be seduced by the allure of "coverage" leads down the moldering funereal corridor of bad faith. And it's not fair to those other poets whose work is too steeped in integrity, too ideologically uncompromising, too dedicatedly slow ever to show up on the mass media's radar.
Thank you, Dale, for the tough love. It's no fun being made to confront one's own inadequate capacity for being assimilated into someone else's heroically erect code of right poetic conduct, and I know it can't have been pleasant for you to assume the burden of setting us straight. Thank goodness you got to us in time before we undermined the revolution any further by drawing impressionable young people to our side and away from the true cause.