“Fog, Bank’d Up Against Its Minions”
My Monday night “social relations” put my ass in a sling, sitting for a couple of hours dumb-buttedly stuck to a gymnasium floor, waiting for the boy. Good thing I brang a book. And dodder’d myopically through the next section, Silliman’s. Funny thing, just the length of a blog note—as if suddenly nobody’s up to sustaining a piece longer, with more nuance, or complexity. Here’s what I put down, one thing that spiked up out of the Jurassic sludge: “Doubt may be pervasive, but it’s not because we’re unsure of our writing.” That’s cosy, in a tired way. I mean, to be sure of one’s writing—wouldn’t that be reason enough simply to forego it completely? So Ron Silliman in The Grand Piano 5 in a short sputter against the word “experiment” in the series subtitle: “An Experiment in Collective Autobiography.” Too, he niggles—whilst admitting that the “autobiography fits into a tradition . . . wrongly characterized as experimental”—that the term itself suggests “the scientistic ‘antennae of the race’ fallacy that has bedeviled poetry for two centuries.” (Nobody ever finishes the Pound line, “but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust the great artists.” That split between individual delicacy and common thuggery.) Which hotch-potch (Silliman’s) of terms betrays both an inadequate comprehension of the scientific method, and a somewhat pre-modern—“bedeviled”?—irrational witchery regarding it. Silliman wants to oppose experimental science against “tradition” and “community,” saying: “Tradition is important, as community is important, far more so finally than as [sic] a pseudoscientific paradigm like the one that caused Zukofsky to foresee a day when there might exist ‘a scientific definition of poetry.’” Sloppy, comme on dit, thinking. Science proceeds precisely through the steadying rigors of tradition and community (with, for the Kuhnian showboaters impatient, occasional glorious jump-sequence paradigm shifts). Experiment begins in the prior literature, no hypothetical excursion gets bump’d up to flight status without reference to earlier similar attempts, &c. Experiment ends with further speculations—“pervasive doubt” and its sidekick “overbearing surety” got no nothing to do with it. Think if each poem pluck’d down its debts, precisely detail’d its procedures, total’d up its conclusions, critiqued its failings, and proposed directions for further research? That’d be “scientistic,” and communitarian. I, for one, don’t think one ought proceed so: preferring the rampant individual in momentary cahoots with the absolute, God-tongued, clubbed to smithereens (that is, “floor’d”) by a lingual propensity not one’s—or anybody’s—own. It doesn’t take a village to write a poem.
Silliman: “Striking out articles is the revision I’m most likely to make in my poems as well.” In a tiny note (in a fold-up fan of tiny notes) on Ginsberg’s revisions “in order to arrive at a more immediate notational style.” I wonder how that factoid integrates with the definition of “pseudo-formal” that Silliman offers up in one of the six definitions of “Language poetry, as a category” that bulks up—interminable rehash is my general “brat gut”-response to Silliman’s prose “project” after its continual, albeit dwindling (only stray droplets of actual thinking falls out of the Silliman heavens these days, lost amongst the feed-deliver’d fodders and inconclusive mash notes to the “other” arts), daily presence after five or so years . . . “Pseudo-formal,” he notes, “in that it presumes that form is limited solely to the text and not to the social relations in which the writing itself is produced.” Fault of the “just any old syntactical wreckage” purveyors. That syntactical wreckage would not be Language poetry; furthermore, it would be “trivial.” Unh. Does ridding a text of articles for notational immediacy change the social relations that produced it? Or not? And howso? What social relations are presumed by the man riding the bus writing down sights and sounds? Are they the same as those presumed by the same man rearranging those writings (and knocking out articles) for publication a year or more later? Another question: are the social relations in which Silliman’s blog-writing gets produced evident? What is the formal effect on that writing of a comment stream? Of a moderated comment stream? Does only a pseudo-formal text remain if all the comments in the stream are removed? If one is removed? What is the formal effect of one’s refusal to engage? Of high-minded silence (quietude) in the face of critical “interventions,” provocations, recklessnesses? (Late modus operandi for a whole beefy slab of the original Language poets, control criticism by refusing to brook it, or acknowledge it. The Sous Rature Gang.)
Kent Johnson, he of boundless good nature and quick wit, sent me a copy of the comment Silliman’d removed out of the comments stream here:
Reginald Shepherd wrote:(I like how “sous rature(ly)” echoes “good naturedly” to obvious friendly effect.) Too, Johnson report’d how he’d then ask’d Silliman in disbelief:
“Ron, Thanks for . . . listing me among the contributors to Poet’s Bookshelf II.”
Geezus, Reginald, do you have to RUB IT IN?!
Ron, I’ve been patient. You either put me on that list NOW, or I’m going to take back all the ink I’ve shed these past years for you, Barrett, and Charles.
And then I’ll call John Latta.
Ron,And received the following Silliman counsel, reproof, and justification:
Did you really delete my harmless, and funny, last comment? The one that refers to Reginald Shepherd’s comment?
Yes, it went over the line from a legit complaint to inviting a flame war in the comments stream. So I didn’t think it was harmless. Your earlier comment made the point.To which Johnson reply’d (knockkneed, dumbfounded):
In actuality, I was typing quickly and didn’t think about editing you in or out when I put that list together.
What is there in that comment that could ignite a flame war? I really don't see it.All rather minor, seemingly. Though: against a history of reception-control (there is one funny moment in Silliman’s number 5 Grand Piano utterance where he blurts “Context rules” as if he were a schoolkid with a black marker emblazoning a backpack), the scotching of the mildest joke is noteworthy. To the devotee of writing’s “social relations” that joke—by nature, humor is uncontrollable—pitches the “product”—here a list of contributors—into an uncontrollable space. It puts an unintended “spin” to it, a mockery, and so, must be quash’d. It’s as if I’d follow’d up on the somewhat tortuous (though inventive) reading of “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts” Silliman indulges in (“It’s a sentence I think about often, one of my favorites in the whole history of poetry, certainly in the work of my own generation.”) with a crude (quick) mistyping: “Instead of Ann-Margret I saw Brad Pitt.”
And why on earth would you type in all those names when all you had to do is cut and paste a list that was readily available?
Really, I’m not upset by it. I just think it’s funny. And I was only trying to inject a bit of self-deprecating humor.
Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts.
“Does this sentence look more like Bob, Steve, or Kit?”
“Does this sentence look more like Bob, Steve, or Kit?”