LATE CAPITALISM AND THE AVANT GARDE

 

Modernist and post-modernist avant movements of every stripe present themselves, in one way or another, as authentic, revolutionary attempts to smite late capitalism.

Ron Silliman, the good Leftist, revels in Modernism and Neo-Modernism, with his Leftism seemingly rising out of the very Modernism he celebrates.  Ron’s example, one of thousands, is perfectly normal and unquestioned.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that Modernism and neo-Modernism are the very essence and expression of Late Capitalism.

Capitalism and Modernism share self-indulgent caprice, the wide gap between elites and the many who don’t ‘get it,’ chic vulgarity, market excess and manipulation, control of wealth and taste by the few, and the final proof is that the artists themselves, from Ford Madox Ford to Pound to Eliot, to the Southern Agrarian new critics, were “revolutionaries” of the Right, not the Left—even when some, like William Carlos Williams, paid lip service to the latter. 

Perhaps, standing where we are, in the early 21st century, with the true nature of the actual modernists themselves fading away in the mists of delusionary nostalgia, we are too far away from the truth to be aware of the truth.

Randall Jarrell, however, saw it in 1942, and wrote in his essay “The End of the Line:”

“For a long time society and poetry have been developing in the same direction, have been carrying certain tendencies to their limits: how could anyone fail to realize that the excesses of modernist poetry are the necessary concomitants of the excesses of late-capitalist society?  (An example too pure and too absurd even for allegory is Robinson Jeffers, who must prefer a hawk to a man, a stone to a hawk, because of an individualism so exaggerated that it contemptuously rejects affections, obligations, relations of any kind whatsoever, and sets up as a nostalgically awaited goal the war of all against all.  Old Rocky Face, perched on his sea crag, is the last of laissez faire; Free Economic Man at the end of his rope.)  How much the modernist poets disliked their society, and how much they resembled it!”

How well Jarrell puts it; and what he describes is much more than mere left/right politics; I certainly don’t intend this essay to be some cheap political grudge match—where I try and score points for some ideal Leftism; that I point out that the Modernists are far Right and so many of their fans, like Silliman, are far Left, is for mere amusement only; the real issue is much larger than gasbag, contemporary, cafe politics: right now it’s a simple issue of mostly pure ignorance—how ignorance reigns in Letters and what we ought to do about it.

Few know that a key Old Rocky Face supporter was T.S Eliot—which doesn’t make any sense in the way we typically read 20th century letters.   The horrors of the 20th century were, of course, inhuman, and Modernism, as Jarrell saw, was often inhuman.  The mystery of Modernism is difficult to solve, like Poe’s mystery in the Rue Morgue—because of the murderer’s nature.

Centuries hence, Modernist art and poetry will be seen as sick, not great.

Of course, most of believe, without realizing it, what Thomas Mann told us: that art is sick, and therefore, yes, poetry like “The Waste Land” is a triumph.

For now.

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56 Comments

  1. Anunnaki said,

    September 24, 2010 at 12:32 am

  2. September 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    You’re making me feel bad for loving the modernists.

    They may be “sick,” but I’ll take the priests of high modernism (Eliot, Pound, Joyce, early Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eluard, Char, Breton, Mann) with me to my desert island any day.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm

      F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby” is lovely; obviously there are exceptions. I don’t include Fitzgerald in the sickness so much, though he did let Zelda destroy him and did destroy himself with drink, according to Hemingway.

      You might be right—about the desert island. The moderns wrote for the desert island, not society. That’s why nobody read them, and despite sneaking into the academy and having their works assigned to naive students, few really enjoy them. But, a desert island, yes, that’s perfect for them.

      Tom

      • Noochinator said,

        September 24, 2010 at 11:33 pm

        F. Scott’s talent shone most bright,
        I think, in ‘Tender is the Night.’

        Peter Strauss should have played,
        In a film or TV version,
        Dick Diver — that he didn’t
        Is really a perversion.

  3. September 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    [...] reading Scarriet the other day, I saw Alan Cordle’s posting on modernism. He posits a couple of points – [...]

  4. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 24, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    “Yet, the truth of the matter is that Modernism and neo-Modernism are the very essence and expression of Late Capitalism.”

    How profoundly true. We can see in the dislocated perspectives, the sense of crisis in subjectivity, and the weired existential and radically alienated perspectives that emerged. Modernism, the material and social culture of late capitalism, and psychic life are not causally isolable; they are one and the same psychosocial nexus – hence what you say following is dubious;

    “Capitalism and Modernism share self-indulgent caprice, the wide gap between elites and the many who don’t ‘get it,’ chic vulgarity, market excess and manipulation, control of wealth and taste by the few, and the final proof is that the artists themselves, from Ford Madox Ford to Pound to Eliot, to the Southern Agrarian new critics, were “revolutionaries” of the Right…”

    I agree with all of this but now you are treating modernism as purely ideological; you are leaving behind the insight that you intimated previously.
    The politics of modernism is another matter completely and the Frankfurt School give the most profound perspective on the politics of modernity. The last thing they would have done is assume modernism was the autonomous ideological production of the modernist.

    “How much the modernist poets disliked their society, and how much they resembled it!”

    Mainstream poetry, sure

    “Centuries hence, Modernist art and poetry will be seen as sick, not great.”

    I think yr spot on here – L Sass wrote an excellent book, Madness and Modernism; he was a psychologist who found all the kind of disturbences in scitzophrenia – profound alienation from the external world, a sense of profound subterranian terror, relativism etc – powerfully evoked in all modernist literature. At the same time there was a mushrooming in discourses dealing with psychic crisis – psychoanalysis, psychology, existentialism, the insights of the Frankfurt School – the dissolution of the subject, one dimensional man and so forth – what unites the efforts is a concern for psychic dissociation – which settles into a cultural norm in todays society.

    The problem is the whole, not the many cultural producers. I agree modernism is sickness – but as Adorno said in Minima Moralia, the symptom that emerges in Freudian theory itself is repressed by social aesthetics. The sickness hides itself – that aint progress.

    Sorry didn’t mean to be a rant.

    Aaron

    http://asphara.wordpress.com

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Aaron,

      Thanks for writing. You obviously have a critical nature, and this is good. The critical faculty is crucial for literature, never mind philosophy and politics, yet so many use literature as a way to escape their critical nature (‘I like this poem, so you leave it alone’).

      It may be the chief reason poetry and literature suffers today; our poets and literary arbiters shun their critical natures—as if that belonged to politics or philosophy alone.

      This is the reason, I think, why my readers fall into fainting fits when I describe Modernism as “right-wing.” I sin. I am being “ideological.” I am a sinner because I am indulging in “ideology.”

      Ron Silliman and probably 99% of literary academia, if asked, would openly describe themselves as “left-wing” and “anti-capitalist.” Sure, they indulge in all kinds of popular society-schtick, but when they are really being earnest, they are good leftists all the way. This part of their intellectual being is real, and I think we can assume that this part of their being is important, and in terms of this reality, sincerity abounds on all fronts.

      But their leftism is left behind when they confront literature, and here’s the real key point: since leftism gets fuzzy when applied to literature as an historical whole (which is how we should think of literature, if we can) their leftism gets jettisoned along the way, but the unfortunate result is what really gets lost is the critical faculty; the criticism of literature (as a whole; the poems and the poets and the men) disappears altogether, and we are left with mere pedantry.

      Modernism is right-wing. The modernists, as people and poets, were right-wing. This may be a political judgment, but it is also a critical one, and it is for the latter, that I am condemned.

      Tom

  5. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Hey, honestly, I’m with you on that; the right wing is the psychology of late capitalism; I suppose my response might have been over-inflamed – I’m with you politically. I suppose where I’m comming from is that it feels, to me, utterly hopeless targetting a political group for what is a total psychosocial problem. It seems hopeless; the only way forward politically seems to be to incite and inflame a human, social and emotional consciousness; the intellect never binds people, and political energy is better spent promoting this emotional community rather than turning outwards and attacking right wing people who are epiphenomena of a much more profound sickness. God I cannot but rant about these things, I apologise.

    Aaron

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm

      No need to apologize, Aaron. I’m the ranter around here, if anyone is. I agree with you that a “way forward” is what we need; my wake-up call re: the modernists (who I condemn only for the sake of argument, finally) is only a first step in bringing out a new and more honest conversation re: poetry, letters, art, philosophy, politics, pedagogy, etc. The last thing I want to do is create a finger-pointing left v. right environment; I realize left and right are inflamed terms; I’m using them as sticks to wake the slumberer.

  6. Marcus Bales said,

    September 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    For about a decade, from 95 to 05, I was a pretty active member of a series of online poetry email groups, composed mostly of academics, but peppered with people who wrote free verse and who just wanted to hang with people who taught English or Creative Writing. The most amazingly common thread between these groups — there were about 20 of them — was the astonishing amount of prescription drugs taken therapeutically by the members, combined with the aback-taking number of psychological issues the members claimed.

    Claimed — proud of their afflictions, proud of their intake of prescription drugs, not merely open to reporting them. I don’t want to say there was a competition to be the person with the most issues taking the most drugs, but there was a clear hierarchy, and the crazier you claimed to be, and the more medicated, the higher your empathy-status in the group. You could be bullet-proof, in terms of criticism of your reported personal life issues, your views on how the world works, and, most importantly, on your poetry. The crazier you were and the more medicated for it you were, the less criticism, and the more praise, you got.

    Now, you may say that it was a sort of “There, there, Blanche, go lie down” sort of thing, but it wasn’t. It was respect and even awe for the plath-like suffering that such folks were doing, and the necessarily fine poetry work they must be doing. The worse off you were from a ‘normal psychological’ point of view, the better your poetry had to be — or at least the most bullet-proof to criticism.

    I don’t ascribe this to ‘late capitalism’, unless you want to think that all the really smart people abandoned poetry and went into arbitrage, leaving only people who had to be medicated to write the poetry. No doubt all those medicated folks were doing the best they could under trying circumstances. My question is how did having an array of psychological issues for which you had to be medicated become the standard for whether your poetry was any good?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm

      Marcus,

      A fascinating social observation.

      I think of Thomas Mann’s notion that the artist is sick, and by sick, he also meant ugly and weak. Who becomes the poet? The handsome quarterback with the pretty girlfriend or the pimply nerd? Pimples require medication, as does the mind created by the pimply face.

      This is the sort of thing which Nietzschian, dionysian fascism embraced, the ‘solution’ to the anxiety of social inequality. Dionysus welcomes the athlete and the nerd to his party; differences and social anxiety are overcome by the life of ‘the party.’ The mania of the violent athlete or soldier and the mania of the psychotic (and suddenly ‘cool’) poet become one. Exhilirating not only on a personal level, but, more importantly, on a large-scale, mass level, a frenzy at-large, as the athlete and the nerd are united in one cause as one.

      Modernism’s muse was Mars, not Venus. Imagism of the modernists was born from a 1906 haiku rage, sprung from the stunning triumph and emergence of Japan on the world scene, victors in a major conflict, the Russo-Japanese war (modernist London allies of Japan in that war).
      Then you have that pointless meat-grinder horror, WW I, of course, and who is fighting in it, in Italy, at 18, shunning college, and teaching Pound to box, and working as secretary and editor for Gertrude Stein, although he loathed her for her sex life? Hemingway. Not a poet, but a muscle-bound, school-boy, war novelist, the taciturn, shamed, beaten, sad, athlete-type who becomes more and more ridiculously macho in the 1930s, as one horrible war is forgotten and the preparations for another are in the works, Eliot giving his Jew-speech at Virginia in 1935, Pound settled in fascist Italy, the pre-New Critics publishing their Southern agrarian version of happy fascism in 1930 (“I’ll Take My Stand”). Ford Madox Ford, the towering piece of filth, World War I propaganda minister, and modernism founder, travels to the US in the 30s and hangs out with confederate-flag-on-the-wall Allen Tate, mentor to Robert Lowell and the psychotic ‘confessionalism’ movement.

      But back to the 20s and the ‘golden age’ of Modernism: what the ‘golden age’ of Modernism really was, was the triumph of the Nerd; TS Eliot was the Bill Gates who soon everybody was going to work for, the handsome quarterback was buried in a shallow grave in the fields of France, as the first world war, with its ‘old beautiful poetry,’ killed everything that was athletic and sublime. Eliot begat New Criticism in London (and all the American New Critics would study at Oxford with Rhodes Scholarships, including Paul Engle, with a WW I poet/survivor) and the Nerdy School Topic, New Criticism, through the work of Engle, Tate, and Ransom, would create the new Creative Writing university where WW II soldiers would flock to under the GI Bill, the Nerd ideology would triumph in the corporate University, at last. One in a thousand could be a quarterback, but everybody could be a poet, even the quarterback, Ginsberg the nerd, and Kerouac, the athlete, united, post-war, in dionysus, the same Nietzschean formula playing itself out.

      Here is Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent:” “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” (1920)

      Tom

    • Noochness said,

      September 25, 2010 at 4:58 pm

      Too much stimuli and
      Too little thinking
      Leads to too many drugs
      And/or too much drinking.

      New movies coming out,
      New shows this season,
      Let’s go shopping, I’m bored,
      And have blunted my reason-

      Ing powers to the point
      Where I’m nobody’s fool,
      And my mama’s so proud,
      I get all As in school.

  7. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Marcus, I’m sorry, but I have to say I think your perspective is completely skewed.

    “I don’t ascribe this to ‘late capitalism’, unless you want to think that all the really smart people abandoned poetry and went into arbitrage, leaving only people who had to be medicated to write the poetry.”

    This is completely incoherent. It seems to me you’re taking for granted a notion of modernity as progress, and saying late capitalism is an empty concept because there has been no progress – in fact a regress – from smart and clear headed poetry to mad medicated and addicted poetry. I think – I can’t be sure – but its utter bollox. Late capitalism is a distinctively different era – the development of a mass media culture and the anihilation of emotional-social structures, and a profound dissocation along the lines of the emotional, sensuous, social side of subjectivity and the intellectual side – causing mental illness.

    Think of the paradoxical behaviours of binge-purge cycles, an addiction to self-dissolution, self-harm, massochism, compulsive and asocial behaviours. These are distinctively different from the repression illnesses and integrity illnesses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Culture and psyche today are dissociative, whereas before they were suffering the effort to retain psychic integrity – an effort that collapsed in the air of postmodernism. You need to join these things up. Medical illness as a fucking fashion? You idiot!

    Plath was classically dissociative; think the moon, the collosous, the baren moon, the paper and paperiness, the rubber breasts and crotch, false teeth, glass eyes, scortching dry sun; and in contrast the black sky crackling and dragging, the oceans heaving, the deep tapping roots, the red woman, the wound, and finally the sumptuous night garden and oozing scents; you have the language of the ossified intellect and its social reality on the other, and the dark instinctual depths of the other. There was a real battle between two psyches of plath – the ossified social psyche and the emotional, somatic life.

    Hence the many accounts o the two women – one white one mottled, once calous and moonlike, one catching the run. And then the last sentences she writes;

    “The moon has nothing to smile about;
    she is used to this sort of thing.
    Her blacks crackle and drag”

    If you think about that hard, and the fact that a few days later she gassed herself, you can see she was part of a much larger psychosocial dramma that explains too the profoundly ossified communicative ethics of Habermas to the mad dionysian primitivism in underground music.

    “She committed suicide because of her trying circumstances. My question is how did having an array of psychological issues for which you had to be medicated become the standard for whether your poetry was any good?”

    Shame on your stupidity.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      Aaron,

      Such a vituperative attack on our dear friend Marcus Bales, one of the finest poets writing today!

      The “medicated” topic is a hot one, I suppose, and has the potential to create a geat deal of unease and embarrassment.

      Plath was a follower of the New Critics. If there were a chance to marry John Crowe Ransom and leave Ted Hughes, I think she would have done so, in a heartbeat. She was eager to publish in the Kenyon Review.

      Plath was a bookworm, and her suicide occured just as she was beginning to write real poetry, instead of poetry approved by the bookworms of the New Critics. Path was a martyr for Romanticism, the sublime poetry which was attacked, killed and buried by TS Eliot and the New Critics.

      Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      September 27, 2010 at 2:28 am

      Marcus wrote: “I don’t ascribe this to ‘late capitalism’, unless you want to think that all the really smart people abandoned poetry and went into arbitrage, leaving only people who had to be medicated to write the poetry.”

      Aaron wrote: “…Late capitalism is a distinctively different era – the development of a mass media culture and the annihilation of emotional-social structures, and a profound dissociation along the lines of the emotional, sensuous, social side of subjectivity and the intellectual side – causing mental illness.”

      First, if it’s a distinctively different era, when did it start? Second, annihilation, really? There are no emotional-social structures left? Define ‘mass media culture’; define ‘emotional-social structures’. You’re throwing a lot of jargon out here, and it’s going to take some time to understand what it is you’re trying to say – at least for me, at least if you want to take the time to try to explain what you’re trying to say.

      Aaron wrote: “Think of the paradoxical behaviours of binge-purge cycles, an addiction to self-dissolution, self-harm, massochism, compulsive and asocial behaviours. These are distinctively different from the repression illnesses and integrity illnesses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.”

      In order for your thesis to be true, you have to show a number of things, not least that there are sufficient records to demonstrate that the diseases you’re claiming increased and decreased (I think that’s what you’re saying – it’s not really clear) can be shown to have increased and decreased. Mental illnesses are notoriously difficult to define even within a single therapeutic community. Trying to determine what disease is what disease across several centuries of changing terminology and understanding is a daunting task well beyond mere assertion in a comment posted on an internet board.

      But for the purposes you seem set on using this board for, I deny your thesis: there is no addiction to self-dissolution, self-harm, masochism, compulsive, or asocial behaviors that is not adequately explained merely by increase in population.

      Aaron wrote: “Culture and psyche today are dissociative, whereas before they were suffering the effort to retain psychic integrity – an effort that collapsed in the air of postmodernism. You need to join these things up. Medical illness as a fucking fashion?”

      Mental illness is easily the most fashion-ridden area of humn research. It’s not very long now that homosexuality has not been considered officially by the mental health profession’s Big Book Of Diseases to be a mental illness.

      Second, though, anyone who has had long-term contact with a legitimately mentally-ill person will laugh in your face when you assert that amazing numbers of people who hold down middle-class academic jobs are mentally ill – so mentally ill that they must be medicated to inure them to the dissociative effects of an artistic or literary theory. These are people who still take their children, and themselves, to the hospital when they’ve got appendicitis; who still drive on the right side of the road, even though these dissociative effects you carefully fail to name must be constantly tempting them to test whether they can land safely on the sidewalk 20 storeys below by leaping out the window.

      Third, it’s simply not true that culture and psyche are dissociative – or else people would be leaping from windows, driving into oncoming traffic, and throwing their babies into the waves in ever-increasing numbers. And they’re not. Every age is about as hard to save your soul in as every other age – to claim that THIS age is the worst age of all is merely middle-class narcissism overlaid with academic hysteria.

      Aaron wrote: “… If you think about that hard, and the fact that a few days later she gassed herself, you can see she was part of a much larger psychosocial drama …”

      Mental illnesses are rarely symptomatic of a larger psychosocil drama. Mental illnesses are individual sadnesses. They are terrible, ugly, miserable, and misery-making. But they are not “part of a much larger psychosocial drama”. Plath’s poems do not grow out of her mental illness, but are the result of the times she was not afflicted with that illness, or those illnesses. Art is a craft, not a matter of inspiration. There are no ‘naturals’, no mute inglorious Miltons, because it is the meaning of being “a Milton” that one is neither mute nor inglorious. Plath’s work is not well done because she was mentally ill, but in spite of her mental illness.

      My question is why so many people seem to have clutched on to the notion that some evidence of mental illness, however small, some prescription for some drug, possibly, some eccentric behavior or feeling, will mean that they are gifted artists. I aver that it’s because it’s hard to be an artist, whether you’re gifted or not. You have to work at your craft, get good at it, be criticized for innumerable small and large failures, grow a critical faculty of your own, learn to apply it with some degree of consistency to your own work, and try, try again. But ah! If you’re ‘mentally ill’ perhaps you’re another Plath, and can disregard the years of work that went into her increasingly accomplished poems. Maybe there is a mentally-ill road to learning, even if there is no royal one.

  8. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 27, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Firstly, Marcus, sorry about my tone – but I’m a very mentally ill writer and I can tell you its not an f.ing style/identity choice and such a view really is, to my mind, not just sloppy thinking but down right ideological. Your assumptions are so individualist and rational choice oriented. You really lack psycosocial insight.

    Aaron wrote: “…Late capitalism is a distinctively different era – the development of a mass media culture and the annihilation of emotional-social structures, and a profound dissociation along the lines of the emotional, sensuous, social side of subjectivity and the intellectual side – causing mental illness.”

    “First, if it’s a distinctively different era, when did it start?”

    Firstly you’ve got to remember that periodizations are analytical useful, its niave to the extreme to imagine there are neet periodizations; sure my language might have implied it but read beyond the denotations; its obvious I didn’t mean there was a day when the objective reality of late capitalism prung up.

    Capitalism as such one can see int he rise of industial manufacture, mercentilism, foreign markets – but most importantly, the principle of captal, a wage dependent labour market, and the rise of a borgeois class. John Locke, wig and trader, gives us a sign post for the emergence of a capitalist consciousness though it is really the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries where one can say the above benchmarks became socially dominant above church and crown.

    The notion of late capitalism is clearly analytically useful because it exists and is used; and we can see a distinct shit in the twentieth century towards a form of capitalism in which the whole of consumption and social life had become integrated in the process of capitalism; capitalism is no longer a process but a settled and increaingly global reality. The alterity – emotional, social life – becomes competely annexed and all this comes to Western culture in post-Marxian thought – Weber’s psychosocial perspective, Gramsci’s theory of Hegemony, Lukac’s notion of totality, and the work of the first generation Frankfurt School. Capitalism had become a total social phenomenon and the world of mass consumer culture is a distinctly different situation then capitalism in labour and subsistence.

    “Second, annihilation, really? There are no emotional-social structures left?”

    Don’t be stupid – normal human beings use language loosely – your trapped in denotation in your analyses.

    “Define ‘mass media culture’; define ‘emotional-social structures’. You’re throwing a lot of jargon out here”

    Well, mass media culture is the industrially produced media – magazines, images, advertising, communication and so forth – while emotional-social structures are the social ties and systems of values and meanings between people that are distinctively different from rational, conscious, social life. Raymond Williams uses the notion of “structures of feelings” – and they explain otherwise completely baffling phenomena as sudden and simultanious shifts in fassions, sensibilities and so forth as if we were all instinctively connected in some way.

    “In order for your thesis to be true, you have to show a number of things, not least that there are sufficient records to demonstrate that the diseases you’re claiming increased and decreased”

    Sorry but I’m setting out a perspective; do you think I have time to write an academic paper here? Read Louise Sass ‘Madness and Modernism’ or work from the Frankfurt School – particularly Eric Fromme and Adorno’s social criticism if you want a proper job. I’ve satisfied myself in these questions – now outline the intellectual foundation of your views. Of corse there is no intellectual foundation for a muddle of common prejudices.

    “Mental illnesses are notoriously difficult to define even within a single therapeutic community. Trying to determine what disease is what disease across several centuries of changing terminology and understanding is a daunting task well beyond mere assertion in a comment posted on an internet board.”

    Listen, we all have a right to make sense of the word we live it and we do so in words and concepts. I used mental health language – I coud have talked in psychoanalysis or existential psychology, or in other ways. Just think about it; we don’t have the steriotype of the hysterical or neurotic, constricted, middle class late victorian woman; she was not just a literary fiction; repression illnessess dominated discussions in psychology and was the cheif concern of psychoanalysis. This is well established stuff; completely uncontrovesial.

    Just as uncontroversial is the fact that today the experiences which WE KNOW WHAT THEY FEEL LIKE even if the label is odious, is definately depression number 1; which is an emotional dissociation from social life and the self; then bipolar, massive swings between highs and lows – one dissociation to another; self harm and eating disorders which show self-violence – not a confused and paradoxical psyche but a conflict between intellectual ad emotional life. We have the psychopath who is completely dissociated emotionally. Just sniff the air around you – don’t ask for stats; judge for yourself. There’s no point in me quoting sources because you would want to verify them yourself.

    “that is not adequately explained merely by increase in population.” Bollox!!! Just google schollar or google book “cross cutural studies mental illness” and look “madness modernity OR modernism”. Lay out your perspective/argument intelligently – this is the way to argue, not to try and pick holes in what I’m saying.

    “Mental illness is easily the most fashion-ridden area of humn research.”

    BECAUSE OF THE PROFOUND EXPANSION OF THE PROBLEM YOU DICK HEAD! NOT JUST POPULATION INCREASE! YOU ARE STUPID!

    “Anyone who has had long-term contact with a legitimately mentally-ill person will laugh in your face when you assert that amazing numbers of people who hold down middle-class academic jobs…”

    I have bulimia and have had bouts of severe anorexia (hospitalised), obsessional and impulsive behaviour and OCD behaviours; when I was fourteen also I was anorexic, bulimic and self harmed. My brother is scitzophrenic and has been unable to work for years. My Dad went to prison for killing someone in a psychotic epistode. My Mum a breakdown. I have come to known people with all eating disorders – binge, bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia and so forth – in groups and in hospital. I have a friend who’s live completely imploded due to a canabis psychosis. Someone I knew – my brothers next door nabour – committed suicide because she couldn’t access the help she needed for a terrible mood disorder. If you are judging the reality of mental health by a few people in middle class jobs then it is no surprise you have such a skewed perspective on these matters. By the way, if you think I’m lying about any of these experiences check my blog.

    “it’s simply not true that culture and psyche are dissociative – or else people would be leaping from windows, driving into oncoming traffic, and throwing their babies into the waves in ever-increasing numbers.”

    Hah fucking hah. Read Elizabeth Howell, ‘The Dissociative Mind’, ‘Dissociation: culture, mind, and body’ (Speigel) for the history and the contemporary significance of the theory of dissociation. Throwing babies and driving into traffic is so rediculously funny – well done.

    “to claim that THIS age is the worst age of all is merely middle-class narcissism overlaid with academic hysteria.”

    I am working class that went to uni. Check my blog if you think I’m lying.

    “Mental illnesses are rarely symptomatic of a larger psychosocil drama.”

    HAHAHA!

    “Mental illnesses are individual sadnesses.”

    EVEN FUCKING FREUD THE ARCH INDIVIDUALIST RECOGNISED THE PSYCHOSOCIAL NATURE OF MENTAL ILLNESS. READ CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS YOU TIT.

    I’m sorry – I cannot go on. Your stupidity winds me up so much – I’ll be thowing babies out the window in a minute!

  9. Marcus Bales said,

    September 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Aaron, your entire screed misses the point entirely. I don’t say there are no people with mental illnesses; I don’t say there is no connection between how a given society treats individuals with mental illnesses and those individuals’ prospects for palliation or even improvement; I recognize the terrible personal costs of mental illness on the sufferer and his or her friends and family.

    I’m sorry to hear about your condition, and your family members’ conditions, but I’m not about to say that BEAUSE you have the mental illnesses you’ve recounted that THEREFORE you must be a great artist. Nor am I much interested in hearing, over nd over again, from you or from anyone else, what great ostacles you face, or have overcome, in prose. Write your poems, write your novels, make your art, and show it to me and the world, just like every other artist. The world will judge it, and it’ll either be appreciated and last, or it’ll fall into the oubliette of oblivion like 90+ percent of all the other art ever made. But claiming that your mental illness gave you a head start or held you back — whatever it is you’re trying to claim here (and it often seems, in talking to people who make claims similar to yours that it is either one, depending on which one seems likely to garner more sympathy or praise) — is just not on. Your art is your art; it grows out of your life and your interaction with the cultures in which you live your life, but we, all of us out here in the rest of the world, not you, and not your therapists or your therapeutic community, will determine whether your art is any good by whether we continue to enjoy it over the next several hundred years.

    You also miss the point I was making initially, that there is an astonishing number of middle-class academics, but not of ordinary working-class folks, who complain of an astonishing number of not-too-debilitating mental illnesses, for which they’re being medicated, and which they use shamelessly as a shield against any criticism of their work, their behaviors, or their characters. Not only that, but there is a common culture among academics to enfold people who claim mental illnesses in a warm and fuzzy blanket of ultimately disillusioning praise – because outside that tiny academic community the rest of the world looks at the art products of that community and yawns.

    You may be answering my question, how did all this come about, with your references to the books you cite. Ive read the books. I’m unpersuaded by their claims. But you do make a good point that perhaps within the academic community, and only within that community, people have come to believe that the culture in which they live is corroding their abilities to be fully human. I think that’s a load of crap – middle-class narcissism overlaid with academic hysteria.

    The people who are finding they’re ‘dissociated’ from ‘late capitalism’ turn out to be people whose very livelihoods are dependent on late capitalism. There was no broad middle-class group of academics in the West who suffered the depredations of cultural anomie until after the Industrial Revolution – and that group came about BECAUSE OF the material wealth benefits of that revolution. It’s preposterous to say that that group of people, who would probably otherwise be suffering the depredations of cholera, bubonic plague, the Roman Catholic Church, and farm life absent the Industrial Revolution, should be whining so nasally about how bad they’ve got it.
    But don’t take it personally, Aaron. No doubt among the wide variety of spurious claims to artistic merit among the mentally ill of academia there are yet a few Plaths, and perhaps you’re one of them. But still, Aaron, if you are, you’re not a good artist because you’re mentally ill, but in spite of it.

  10. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Marcus, I won’t be responding to this point because it is a set of judgements that have clearly been nurtured in complete ignorance of the attendant realities of mental illness or working class experience. It shows that poetry is of another order to critical intelligence.

  11. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Interesting discussion; Marcus owns the reasonable, sane position, but there may be more than is dreamed of in his philosophy…

  12. Marcus Bales said,

    September 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Medicated Star

    Sung to the tune of ‘Kansas City Star’ by Roger Miller, with apologies

    Got a letter just this morning,
    It congratulated me
    On the progress I was making
    In my psychotherapy:
    They say with mental illness
    Medication I’ll go far,
    So I filled all my prescriptions,
    Now I can’t quit – I’m a star.

    Medicated star – that’s what I are —
    Yodel-deedle-ay-hee I’ll meet you in the bar.

    At every local poetry reading
    I wear my troubled frown —
    I know my dark depressing shit
    Will bring these people down.
    I’m the number one attraction at every
    New-age therapy class
    My condition’s why I’m legally high
    On something better than grass.

    Medicated star – that’s what I are —
    Yodel-deedle-ay-hee I’ll meet you in the bar.

    I get a big long bill from my insurance shill,
    Extra postage on the envelope;
    I got a chapbook published by a vanity press,
    And my support group helps me cope;
    I’m the number one attraction at every
    Local art therapy class,
    I’m the king of psycho-babble, baby,
    And you can kiss my ass.

    Medicated star – that’s what I are —
    Yodel-deedle-ay-hee I’ll meet you in the bar.

  13. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Marcus, I will shoot myself in the head for you if you convince me that anyone on this planet would rate this poem.

  14. Marcus Bales said,

    September 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Aaron: don’t do it.

  15. Noochinator said,

    September 27, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    The piece it links to is incomplete,
    But even so, it cannot be beat,
    Will the link below work? It’s so, so long!
    Wraparound link technology is not my song.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=0bf97kCBSUAC&pg=PA235&lpg=PA235&dq=florence+king+sylvia+plath&source=bl&ots=me1S7NcNLp&sig=KPTj3D67GFvJ8K45jUhR4FndJPw&hl=en&ei=DcqgTLmuLsKAlAerpeTrAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCcQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm

      The link, she works, and Florence King
      On Plath is most interesting—
      If a little cruel, but her knife
      Is kind, for it gets the life.

  16. Noochness said,

    September 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Through the tears and sadness,
    I’m flashing back to ‘March Madness’…..

    Country Western Singer

    by Alan Shapiro

    I used to feel like a new man
    After the day’s first brew.
    But then the new man I became
    Would need a tall one too.

    As would the new man he became,
    And the new one after him
    And so on and so forth till the new men made
    The dizzy room go dim.

    And each one said, I’ll be your muse,
    I’ll trade you song for beer:
    He said, I’ll be your salt lick, honey,
    If you will be my deer.

    He said, I’ll be your happy hour,
    And you, boy, you’ll be mine
    And mine won’t end at six or seven
    Or even at closing time.

    Yes, son, I’ll be your spirit guide;
    I’ll lead you to Absolut,
    To Dewars, Bushmills, and Jamesons,
    Then down to Old Tangle Foot.

    And there I’ll drain the pretense from you
    That propped you up so high;
    I’ll teach you salvation’s just
    Salivation without the I.

    To hear his sweet talk was to think
    You’d gone from rags to riches,
    Till going from drink to drink became
    Like going from hags to bitches,

    Like going from bed to barroom stool,
    From stool to bathroom stall,
    From stall to sink, from sink to stool,
    From stool to hospital.

    Now the monitors beep like pinball machines,
    And coldly the IV drips;
    And a nurse runs a moistened washcloth over
    My parched and bleeding lips,

    And the blood I taste, the blood I swallow
    Is as far away from wine
    As 5:10 is for the one who dies
    At 5:09.

  17. Lucas said,

    September 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I’m going to have to step aside from the debate on mental illness…

    As for the original idea about Literary Modernism and its descendants being products of Capitalism… of course it’s got some real insight, but in this particular expression I think we’re relying on some real simplifications, and overlooking some very important points. For one, Left and Right are aptly named in that they are relative (Progressivism tries to mitigate some of that, but still rests on an agreement about what direction counts as “forward”); for another, we may all be products of Capitalism, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all capitalist, and we can comment on something, and even be reliant upon it, without wanting to support it.

    The latter is important because it draws a distinction between where we are and where we want to be, and keeps us open to some of the fundamental contradictions that are all around us in Capitalism (and any other economic system I can think of). Elements of Silliman may be Right-wing, but that doesn’t change the fact that he considers himself a certain kind of Leftist, at odds both with other kinds of Leftist and most kinds of Rightist. And Pound may have seen himself as a Rightist, but I’ve always felt like the multi-cultural, polyvocal, open-endedness of his work was a real precursor of a lot of our New Left values (and evidently the fact that Pound’s readers today are almost to a person of the broadly-defined Left Wing means that other people agree with me at least a little).

    And that brings us back to the former point (that Left and Right are relative), because we won’t go very far in this discussion if we think that Pound’s Fascism was either wholly consistent with his poetry, or that his Rightism was the same as, say, Dick Cheney’s or the Tea Party’s. Pound’s Fascism was based on anti-Capitalism! You and I may think he got it wrong, but that doesn’t really have much to do with how he associated, or where he placed his loyalties.

    Lucas

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      Lucas,

      Pound’s “multi-cultural, polyvocal, open-endedness” characterizes Leftism. “Pound’s Fascism was anti-Capitalist.”

      Very well put.

      And I agree: much confusion and contradictions re: Left/Right. I am certainly not telling Silliman, et al, what to be, only pointing out inherent anomalies.

      “Fascism, uni-cultural, uni-vocal, closed, v. Capitalism, multi-cultural, polyvocal, open-ended.”

      Okay.

      But the first thing an American Leftist would say is that Capitalism is cynically and dishonestly polyvocal and open-ended. And of course, anyone might ask, “Is open-ended always good?” Also, it might be argued that Fascism is merely an effect, while Capitalism is a cause; the stripped-down, war-mode character of Fascism is not really an economic or governmental blueprint—it is only an animal backed into a hole.

      Finally, I just don’t buy this argument: “Pound may have been fascist politically, but pedagogically, Pound was wonderful because he was multi-cultural, polyvocal, and open-ended.”

      Because 1) Throwing two dozen languages into your ‘Cantos’ does not make you ‘polyvocal.’ I don’t know anyone who goes to Pound to learn languages. 2) Open-endedness may be good for politics but not good for art. 3) Too much open-endedness may be politically ineffective and weak 4) Pound was not just not that good a poet, critic, or writer, period, and he actually said a lot of ridiculous things, and the merit we find was all but stolen.

      Tom

      • Lucas said,

        September 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm

        Hi, Tom–

        As an American Leftist, I certainly agree that if Capitalism is open-ended and multi-cultural, it is so cynically and dishonestly. But I would go further than that, actually: I would say that multi-culturalism is, at least potentially, anti-capitalist, and whether it turns out to be so, or whether Capitalism manages to co-opt multi-cultural diversity for its own ends, is one of the struggles of history. How are these cultures going to organize themselves–as among equals, with fair trade between them, or by reiterating hierarchies, and asserting various kinds of dominance between them?

        This relates to Pound, and through his life and work to the rest of this question, in that many have criticized his translations, for instance, or his use of other languages, as reiterations of the colonialist logic that pits West above the Rest (I believe you refer to this argument when you say “the merit we find was all but stolen”). I take that as an open question. But if one alternative is, for instance, Silliman’s general ignorance of the non-American–which has its own historical roots, too: he was raised in Cold War working-class America–then we have an even opener question about which one to model ourselves on, which legacy to build on, and how, as we move forward (whatever that means) and try to create a Leftist Literature that can be a model for our politics. If we want to do that.

        And while I’m still interested in Pound (an in Silliman, though differently: I find myself compelled by the poetry of one, and the critical writings of the other), I didn’t say that “Pound may have been fascist politically, but pedagogically, Pound was wonderful because he was multi-cultural, polyvocal, and open-ended”; I said–or meant, at least–that Pound can be useful pedagogically because he raises difficult questions, such as–for me, anyway–how can we understand the contradictions between his vision for the world as implied in his poetry and his vision for the world as implied by his politics? Was it “just” madness? Was it something else? And are we repeating equivalent contradictions in our own work?

        Lucas

  18. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    “Also, it might be argued that Fascism is merely an effect, while Capitalism is a cause; the stripped-down, war-mode character of Fascism is not really an economic or governmental blueprint—it is only an animal backed into a hole.”

    Hmm, this strikes me as light thinking. You fucking idiot.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm

      A fascist is a plotter, not a planner.

    • Marcus Bales said,

      September 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm

      Lucas wrote: “Also, it might be argued that Fascism is merely an effect, while Capitalism is a cause; the stripped-down, war-mode character of Fascism is not really an economic or governmental blueprint—it is only an animal backed into a hole.”

      Aaron wrote: “Hmm, this strikes me as light thinking. You fucking idiot.”

      Riiiiight, like ‘You fucking idiot’ is deep.

      What’s your strategy, here, Aaron? Are you trying to piss off all the talented satirists hoping to be made famous by being the butt of their work?

      Lighten up on the name-calling, or one or more of us will show you what name-calling is really like.

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

        Marcus,

        I’m not sure why Aaron blurts out the f- word like that. It merely seems like something not quite right is getting the better of him, so I don’t really blame him, and leave it alone.

        Anyway, I made the ‘animal backed into a hole’ remark, not Lucas, and I can see how it might provoke, so if Aaron wants to get mad, that’s OK…

        Tom

  19. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Lucas,

    Pound did know something about economics, but I think Pound’s work proves that sound economic policy and literary ambition don’t mix. The idea, for instance, that economic insights should be hunted down in a long poem (?) Why not write a coherent book on economics on one hand and produce a coherent poem on the other? Is that so much to ask? Perhaps I offend the Pound-ites—but am I really missing something when I ask this?

    Of course we have to go back to their day to understand what Pound and Eliot were thinking. Finally, I think, Pound and Eliot were aesthetes, and that’s all they’re really good for. But what curious aesthetes they were, really. Both dismissed Russian Literature, and perhaps this was just fear of communism, but for an aesthete, this doesn’t look good. Pound in ‘How To Read’ (his survey course) sneeringly dismisses them as ‘Rooshuns.’ Eliot, in his famous essay on Verse Libre, gives the Russians and Dostoevsky the back of his hand. The Russians lost 29 million people (or more) defending themselves against Hitler, and the fact that Stalin was bad, too, doesn’t change the fact that Pound, Eliot, and most of their friends leaned far to the right in the 20s and 30s, with their politics skewing their aesthetics and their intellectual content as critics. Churchill hated the Slavs/Russians as much as Hitler did, and while Eliot embraced Tory culture, I think what Pound did, in his move to Italy, was to turn his back on Britain after his humiliation in London by Amy Lowell; Pound was bitter that England did not love him or make him famous, as it did Eliot, during the 20s & 30s, for instance, and so Pound put his chips on Mussolini (who had invaded Ethiopia already in the 1920s) and it’s not out of the question that Pound and Eliot thought the political landscape would shape up as England/Italy/Germany against Russia and the U.S. in WW II. None of us were there, so we don’t know. This is mere speculation on my part, of course, and perhaps unseemly, but my point is that day-to-day literary ambition is what drove Pound, mostly, and the politics played out based on that, though this does not excuse the poisonous nature of much of the politics.

    Tom

    • Lucas said,

      September 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      Hi, Tom–

      So you don’t like Pound. That’s cool. I don’t like a lot about him, and even his writing, too. But there’s still a lot I like, that speaks to me, that I respond to. But you seem to present an argument about why not to like him, and I’m afraid that I don’t find that very compelling. For me, the best reason not to like a writer–or any artist–is that you don’t feel like she or he or they is or are speaking to you. All the rational arguments and disagreements, to me, only mean something when put up against the people I like. I only have arguments with my friends. No one else is worth my time.

      You write, “Pound did know something about economics, but I think Pound’s work proves that sound economic policy and literary ambition don’t mix. The idea, for instance, that economic insights should be hunted down in a long poem (?) Why not write a coherent book on economics on one hand and produce a coherent poem on the other?”

      I’m not sure that one example can prove anything. As for economics and poetry, well, sure, he could have written a coherent book on economics (I haven’t read The ABC of Econ., so I don’t know) and then a separate poem, coherent or not. But I wouldn’t want to discourage people from writing poems that can deal with economic issues, and I wouldn’t want to discourage economists from reading poetry. I think part of the problem with our world today is the over-specialization of interests, where only people in the poetry-world read poetry, and only people in the economic policy / business world read economics. Of course, I blame Capitalism…

      You write, “this does not excuse the poisonous nature of much of the politics.” For me, it’s never about excusing the poisons of Pound’s or Eliot’s–or Yeats’s, of Stevens’s, or Kerouac’s, or Neruda’s, or Dante’s–politics, but rather figuring out to what extent the politics were consistent or inconsistent with the poetics. It’s kind of an academic question, I guess, but, well, I’m an academic. But it’s also a question for anyone who believes in the power of language, of history, of ideas, and of people.

      Lucas

  20. Dean said,

    September 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    We have always been, and always will be Modernists, from Chaucer to Sir Thomas Browne to Walter Benjamin to Virginia Woolf to Dr. Seuss to Anita Brookner and so on. Modernism and neo-Modernism are the very essence and expression, too, of anarcho-communism. I believe we are incapable of conceiving of works of art, literary or otherwise, outside a frame. That frame is Modernism.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Dean,

      “Modernism and neo-Modernism” are the very essence and expression, too, of anarcho-communism.”

      Gotta agree with this.

      Pound’s fascism, and Modernism’s right-wing character can easily be described as “anarcho-communism.” It doesn’t take much at all for communism to slide over into right-wing.

      Art attempts to solve the lie of the politician by turning it into a double lie.

      Something like that.

      Tom

  21. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Lucas,

    “Ode to Accounting” doesn’t sound attractive, but I suppose a good modernist might be able to pull it off.

    I agree that we should encourage economists to read poetry and poets to read economics, but Pound almost seems where that reality goes to die.

    I’ve never heard Pound advocates discuss economics.

    But economics is a worthy subject, absolutely.

    This is a pretty good take, discussing guys like Dante and Ruskin and Morriss, re; Pound:

    http://www.flashpointmag.com/accame1.htm

    It seems to come down to ‘lending is bad/small and homegrown is good.’

    Pound was a ‘small is beautiful’ fascist?

    Tom

  22. Lucas said,

    September 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    A “small is beautiful fascist”–see, I told you EP was full of interesting contradictions!

    Lucas

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm

      Lucas,

      Ezra Pound, then, seems to be in the eccentric, small-is-beautiful, John Ruskin, William Morris tradition.

      Ruskin was extremely influential and the Karl Marx of the art world: Ruskin was against division of labor, monotonous work that made poor people tools instead of whole persons, and advertised the Wordsworthian notion that dwellings should blend in with local nature and builders should use local materials.

      Well, you’ve got big, hulking fascism and big, hulking socialism, but this is definitely veddy British and veddy ‘small is beautiful’ socialism, and really, ‘small is beautiful’ fascism is obviously a lot closer to ‘small is beautiful’ socialism than any of the ‘big, hulking’ varieties.

      So, both Ezra Pound and the pre-Raphaelite traditions and the “anarcho-communist’ tradition of Modernism/post-Modernism/neo-Modernism all share the following:

      1. Offended by happy, breeding, industrialized poor.
      2. Lending at high interest is bad
      3. International trade and commerce is bad, since ‘local’ is best.
      4. Christianity which excuses ‘be plentiful and multiply’ is bad
      5. Big, out-of-control progress is bad.
      6. Small is beautiful
      7. Grounded, factual, detailed, aesthetics is good

      In the context of the actual world, 1800 to the present, which DOES feature 1. the poor multiplying, 2. big, out-of-control progress, 3. international trade and commerce, 4. Lending, lending, lending, at all sorts of interest rates, 5. Religious following, and 6. Large as beautiful, it is no wonder, then, that the Pound-Dynamic often appears eccentric, crackpot, out-of-touch, fascist, etc etc

      The only place where Pound-ism or Ruskin-ism HAS triumphed is no. 7, in the Factualness of Modern, Post-Modern ART. The sublime Renaissance Old Masters, which Ruskin explicitly attacked, have been overthrown.

      Tom

      • Lucas said,

        September 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

        Hi, Tom–

        I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know enough about Ruskin, or don’t know what you mean by “anarcho-communism” (I know what I mean by “anarcho-communism,” but that might be different…), but unless you’re trying to imply that “Grounded, factual, detailed aesthetics” and analysis are bad, I don’t think your list makes much sense.

        I don’t have it in me to get into it right now, but I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “anarcho-communists” are “Offended by happy, breeding, industrialized poor,” and I can’t see how any major poet of the “tradition of Modernism/post-Modernism/neo-Modernism” really believes that either “International trade and commerce is bad, since ‘local’ is best,” or that only “Small is beautiful”: from The Cantos to the Alphabet, from “A” to Drafts, from Structure of Rime to Mountains and Rivers Without End, the scope has been very large–Maximus, even–and reliant upon, and often “about,” the mechanisms of international trade.

        Lucas

  23. Aaron Asphar said,

    September 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    “Anyway, I made the ‘animal backed into a hole’ remark, not Lucas, and I can see how it might provoke, so if Aaron wants to get mad, that’s OK…”

    Well, if the boot fits wear it!

    Sorry, I’ll put my cards on the table; I love saying outrageous thing to very clever people. You guys have read more books then I’ve heard of – but luckily its not all down to the books you’ve read! All you need to do is cheat; read the begining of the Western tradition – the existential wholeness of Heraclitus; the fractured cosmos of Plato; the hight of metaphysics, Kant; the end of metaphysics, Nietzsche; and then pretty much anyone after the 1950s. These are the important signposts in the development of subjectivity and you can feign the bits between!

    OK, sorry, I’m a bit manic and I promise no more insults. xxx: )

    ou can

  24. thomasbrady said,

    September 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Lucas,

    “I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know enough about Ruskin”

    Ruskin is HUGE. Google him, Wiki him, know him!

    “or don’t know what you mean by “anarcho-communism” (I know what I mean by “anarcho-communism,” but that might be different…), but unless you’re trying to imply that “Grounded, factual, detailed aesthetics” and analysis are bad, I don’t think your list makes much sense.”

    I stole “anarcho-communism” from Dean’s comment on Modernism/neo-Modernism. No, I don’t mean to imply that “Grounded, Factual, Detailed aesthetics” a la Ruskin AND Pound is bad. It’s not always my cup of tea, but it’s certainly too ubiquitous to reject.

    “I don’t have it in me to get into it right now, but I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “anarcho-communists” are “Offended by happy, breeding, industrialized poor”

    You’re right; that’s a leap, so let me briefly defend: Anarcho-Communists want the industrialized poor to be UN-happy, and to question their lot, and to join the revolution. They don’t want the poor happily breeding themselves into fodder for capitalist consumer/war-machine ends. Plus, too much breeding infringes upon the garden plot quietude, ‘small is beautiful’ ethos of the ‘small-is-beautiful’ anarcho-communists.

    “and I can’t see how any major poet of the “tradition of Modernism/post-Modernism/neo-Modernism” really believes that either “International trade and commerce is bad, since ‘local’ is best,” or that only “Small is beautiful”: from The Cantos to the Alphabet, from “A” to Drafts, from Structure of Rime to Mountains and Rivers Without End, the scope has been very large–Maximus, even–and reliant upon, and often “about,” the mechanisms of international trade.”

    Sprawling literary output can still chime in with ‘small is beautiful.’ It’s sprawling urbanization that’s the culprit, not lots of poems/books/sermons, especially if those poems are ‘factual, detailed, grounded, etc etc.’

    Recall, also that Charles Olson, the great Pound disciple, Olson’s Maximus poems and his whole existence, was explicitly about saving/preserving the small is beautiful, local identity of Gloucester.

    Tom

  25. Lucas said,

    October 1, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Hi, Tom–

    So I’ll go along that the modernist tradition of poetry and anarcho-communists writ large are into consciousness raising and challenging the way things are, overall. But that sounds very Leftist to me (basically, anything I like, I’m going to call Leftist… makes me feel better), and at odds with what you seem to have been saying about the avant-garde being pro-capitalist.

    But while it’s undeniable that “Sprawling literary output can still chime in with ‘small is beautiful,’” it’s also a bit simplistic, since any epic is just made up of many individual words. It’s like saying that all of the Iliad is based on “Rage.” Well, yeah, but isn’t there more to it, too? The question really, I say, is about the relationship between large and small. That’s Pound’s question with how to structure an epic upon the “ideogrammic method,” and Olson’s question about the relationship between history and international currents and Mayan writing and Gloucester, and it’s Oppen’s question in “Of Being Numerous,” and it’s probably even Silliman’s question in the Alphabet, and The New Sentence… I don’t think the small goes away, but it doesn’t exactly stay.

    Lucas

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

      Lucas:

      As much as I have seemingly veered from my original thesis, I believe what I originally wrote still holds true:

      “Capitalism and Modernism share self-indulgent caprice, the wide gap between elites and the many who don’t ‘get it,’ chic vulgarity, market excess and manipulation, control of wealth and taste by the few, and the final proof is that the artists themselves, from Ford Madox Ford to Pound to Eliot, to the Southern Agrarian new critics, were “revolutionaries” of the Right, not the Left—even when some, like William Carlos Williams, paid lip service to the latter.”

      The contradiction—if you want to call it that—is not mine, but inherently belongs to my topic: modernism/neo-modernism.

      “The question really, I say, is about the relationship between large and small.”

      Nicely said, Lucas, and I agree, and this relationship is part of the contradiction we see manifest in Pound and Olson and in the whole aesthetic modernist milieu, where voluminous footnote-commentary sinks the weighty poem to the bottom of the sea for a few elite fishes: “Pound’s question with how to structure an epic upon the “ideogrammic method,” Olson’s question about the relationship between history and international currents and Mayan writing and Gloucester, Oppen’s question in “Of Being Numerous,” Silliman’s question in the Alphabet, and The New Sentence…” Have you got 16 hours to listen to me talk? Of course you do, because here in sleepy Gloucester there is nothing else to do but drink in this small, beautiful, place cut off from the rest of the world—and listen to Charles Olson…

      “I don’t think the small goes away, but it doesn’t exactly stay.”

      With Modernism and neo-Modernism, these two issues—politics and aesthetics—feed each other in precisely this way: ‘small and beautiful’ Gloucester and its ‘king,’ the manic, out-of-control, BS artist, neither small nor beautiful, Charles Olson.

      Tom

      • Lucas said,

        October 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

        Hi, Tom–

        Yes, politics and aesthetics feed each other, and feed into each other, in the Modernist tradition, as they do in most things. But while in general I agree with you, the idea that Modernism is only a right-wing apology for, rather than a left wing critique of Capitalism, doesn’t work for me.

        Now, I think that what you say when you say “Capitalism and Modernism share self-indulgent caprice, the wide gap between elites and the many who don’t ‘get it,’ chic vulgarity, market excess and manipulation, control of wealth and taste by the few” is very interesting, but I think overstated. If we take Pound & Eliot as exemplars of the right, and Silliman as an exemplar of the left (I don’t know enough about Olson to describe him as an exemplar of anything), we might say that they all represent “elites” with a wide gap between themselves and “the many who don’t ‘get it,'” but I don’t think that associates them equally with “control of … taste by the few.” While I think it’s probably true that they all saw / see a cheapening of taste at the hands of Capital, Pound’s/Eliot’s response to it was to cling to their elite upbringing and re-invest poetry with a sense of learning, Silliman’s response I think was to write a poetry that he felt could be elite without being elitist (this is an important distinction I think not enough people are making: you are elite based on a combination of your upbringing and your talents; you are elitist based on whether you want to limit or expand access to elite privilege). So we’re back, I think, at Pound’s and Eliot’s rightist critique of capitalism and poetry under capitalism, put up against Silliman’s leftist critique of the same. Now, you may not believe that any of these writers actually achieved what they set out to do, but I think the fact that they want different things, and see themselves as disappointed by different things, is important, and I don’t want to lose sight of that in the urge to write a sweeping statement about different kinds of poetry under capitalism.

        Lucas

  26. thomasbrady said,

    October 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Lucas,

    “Silliman’s response I think was to write a poetry that he felt could be elite without being elitist (this is an important distinction I think not enough people are making: you are elite based on a combination of your upbringing and your talents; you are elitist based on whether you want to limit or expand access to elite privilege).”

    I have to think about this.

    In my gut I want to say, ‘no, you can’t have your cake and eat it; the distinction you are making is false—Silliman’s (and Pound’s and Eliot’s, because they gave evidence in belieiving in this distinction, too).

    Elitism is all the more insidious when it makes this false distinction between ‘elite’ and ‘elitist.’

    Either you make yourself understood—or you don’t.

    I know I’m going out on a limb, here, but that’s my initial reaction…

    Tom

    • Lucas said,

      October 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      Hi, Tom–

      Sure. Either you make yourself understood, or you don’t.

      But is it elitist of me to assume that you can’t understand me, or elitist of me to assume that you can?

      Silliman’s response I think was to write a poetry that he felt could be elite without being elitist (this is an important distinction I think not enough people are making: you are elite based on a combination of your upbringing and your talents; you are elitist based on whether you want to limit or expand access to elite privilege).

      Is it elitist to challenge the current system of education, which allows for an exalted few to have access to the best books and teachers money can buy, and expect that with a bit of application even those without a formal education can read and understand the best poetry? Or is it elitist to cop to the current system of education, which places some above others not by virtue of intelligence, but by virtue of access to tuition, the affordability of student loans, and leisure, and assume that people without the benefits of a formal education are too stupid to understand things like allusion and complex syntax, and therefore should be talked down to?

      Is it elitist to have health care, or is elitist to deny health care to someone because she or he can’t afford it?

      As for whether “Elitism is all the more insidious when it makes this false distinction between ‘elite’ and ‘elitist,’” let’s make it personal: I’ve got the best education money can buy (private school from kindergarten to PhD), which I consider to be the result of a mixture of what I had access to, and what I did with that access; am I irredeemably an elitist because of that, or am I not an elitist because I believe that more people should have the means to afford–in all senses of that word–the kind of “elite” education I have?

      Maybe elitism is most insidious when it convinces people that all the “elite” are “elitists,” without being honest about how the people peddling this idea are themselves the products of elitism? I’m thinking of G. W. Bush, for instance, and the Koch Brothers who’ve been bankrolling the Tea Parties.

      Lucas

      • Noochness said,

        October 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

        The Bush Administration

        by Frederick Seidel

        I

        The darkness coming from the mouth
        Must be the entrance to a cave.
        The heart of darkness took another form
        And inside is the Congo in the man.
        I think the Bush administration is as crazy as Sparta was.
        Sparta has swallowed Congo and is famished.
        The steel Spartan abs turn to fevered slush
        While it digests the good that it is doing
        In the desert heat. I felt a drop of rain,
        Which is the next Ice Age being born.

        II

        I stood on Madison. The sun was shining.
        I felt large drops of rain as warm as tears.
        I held my hand out, palm up, the way one does.
        The sun was shining and the rain really started.
        Maybe there must have been a rainbow somewhere.
        I hailed a cab and as I hopped in
        That was the first thing
        The radio said:
        They had beheaded an American.
        There was a thunderclap and it poured.

        III

        The downpour drumming on my taxi gets the Hutu in me dancing.
        Il rombo della Desmosedici makes machete music.
        I crawl into a crocodile
        And I go native.
        The white cannibals in cowboy boots
        Return to the bush
        And the darkness of the brutes.
        I am on all fours eating grass
        So I can throw up because I like the feeling.
        I crouch over a carcass and practice my eating.

        IV

        The United States of America preemptively eats the world.
        The doctrine of eat lest you be eaten
        Is famished, roars
        And tears their heads off before its own is sawed off.
        The human being sawing screams God is Great!
        God is—and pours cicadas
        By the tens of millions through the air.
        They have risen from underground.
        The voices of the risen make a summer sound.
        It is pouring cicadas on Madison Avenue, making the street thick.

        V

        Every human being who has ever lived has died
        Except the living. The sun is shining and
        The countless generations rise from underground this afternoon
        And fall like rain.
        I never thought that I would see your face again.
        The savage wore a necklace made of beads,
        And then I saw the beads were tiny human faces talking.
        He started crying and the tears were raindrops.
        The raindrops were more faces.
        Everybody dies, but they come back as salt and water.

        VI

        I am charmed by my taxi’s sunny yellow reflection
        Keeping abreast of the speeding taxi I’m in,
        Playful and happy as a dolphin,
        All the way down York Avenue to the hospital,
        Right up to the bank of elevators to heaven.
        I take an elevator to the floor.
        Outside the picture window, rain is falling on the sunshine.
        In the squeeze-hush silence, the ventilator keeps breathing.
        A special ops comes in to check the hoses and the flow.
        A visitor holds out his palm to taste the radiant rain.

        VII

        The Bush administration likes its rain sunny-side up.
        I feel a mania of happiness at being alive
        As I write you this suicide note.
        I have never been so cheerily suicidal, so sui-Seidel.
        I am too cheery to be well.
        George Bush is cheery as well.
        I am cheeriest
        Crawling aorund on all fours eating gentle grass
        And pretending I am eating broken glass.
        Then I throw up the pasture.

        VIII

        CENTCOM is drawing up war plans.
        They will drop snow on Congo.
        It will melt without leaving a trace, at great expense.
        America will pay any price to whiten darkness.
        My fellow citizen cicadas rise to the tops of the vanished Twin Towers
        And float back down white as ashes
        To introduce a new Ice Age.
        The countless generations rise from underground this afternoon
        And fall like rain.
        I never thought that I would live to see the towers fall again.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

        Lucas,

        I cannot tell if, by introducing the notion of health care for all, you are expanding the discussion or narrowing it. Every argument has exceptions, so there is nothing, finally, that can be assumed.

        Let me quote Philip Larkin, because here’s what I’m talking about re: modernist poetics:

        “We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try. Repeatedly he is confronted with pieces that cannot be understood without reference beyond their own limits or whose contented insipidity argues that their authors are merely reminding themselves of what they know already, rather than re-creating it for a third party. The reader, in fact, seems no longer present in the poet’s mind as he used to be, as someone who must understand and enjoy the finished product if it is to be a success at all; the assumption now is that no one will read it, and wouldn’t understand or enjoy it if they did.”

        Larkin goes on to say that the “poet, literary critic, academic critic are now notoriously indistinguishable” and “the reader has been bullied into giving up the consumer’s power to say ‘I don’t like this.'”

        Tom

  27. Lucas said,

    October 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Hi, Tom–

    Rare is the man who can go from tense enthusiasm about Charles Olson to quoting Philip Larkin as spot-on authority. Good for you for being rare!

    But I’ve rarely found anything of Larkin’s worth re-reading, and as a result I haven’t read much. So I can’t say what Larkin was trying to achieve in saying or writing–whom or what he was pushing off of, and how far he wanted to go, and in which direction–when he said or wrote what you quote. But if the whole passage is as vague and broad and unburdened by specifics and examples as the section you cite, I have to admit that it means nothing to me. While “poet, literary critic, and academic critic” may be “notoriously indistinguishable,” good theory can back up lots of bad writing even in the best of times (think of the Language Poets en masse, or in another vein all the self-indulgent translations done in the name of “poetic inspiration”). The test of any theory has to be the writing it’s trying to describe, and–leaving aside the kind of interpellated Capitalist ideology I’m surprised to see you put forth–I’ve never read anything (least of all from the Modernist tradition) where I felt “bullied into giving up the consumer’s power to say ‘I don’t t like this.'” Have you? (In fact, I’ve always felt greater social pressure to say, “Modernism? Why read all that elitist masturbation?”; but my resistance to such pressure might in fact have compelled the attitudes you see me depict here).

    And maybe one day you can describe to me what you mean by “narrowing” a discussion by bringing in more elements. Sure, health care isn’t poetry, but I think a certain fundamental question links them: is it a privilege, or a right?

    Lucas

  28. thomasbrady said,

    October 4, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Lucas,

    “I’ve never read anything (least of all from the Modernist tradition) where I felt “bullied into giving up the consumer’s power to say ‘I don’t t like this.’” Have you?”

    Good question. I think this bullying takes place all the time. Try taking a course in college, and arguing against the poetry the professor is teaching. See how the professor treats you. See how many doors open for you. This was Larkin’s point, and why he put ‘poet, literary critic, and academic critic’ together. Try taking an MFA poetry course with Poet X, without swearing you love the work of X and all of X’s friends. I was treated like a leper when I didn’t grovel before a modern poet taught in a seminar—the professor (I discovered later) was writing a laudatory book on the subject of the seminar and several of the graduate students in the seminar were helping the professor research the book. Shame on me for not knowing how the game worked; I was getting a Masters in English and I naively thought I was in it to learn as much as I could about literature. So it’s not really about whether you like ‘modernism,’ per se; you don’t have to like all of it; but the dead modernists give license to the edifice of the contemporary modern poet/literary critic/academic critic nexus which reigns in the university today.

    Tom

    • Lucas said,

      October 5, 2010 at 9:24 am

      Hi, Tom–

      Well, from your quotation of Larkin, I expected that you meant that something about the poetry itself, not the way it’s presented or taught, tried to badger us as readers out of our personal decision-making power to say, “Nope, don’t like it.” But evidently that’s not the case.

      Look, I can’t say anything about your experience, or even how you understand your experience (though really… a leper? People in literature classes argue against their instructors, and their instructors’ taste, all the time–in the US a good deal more than in other countries, I can tell you–and while you’ve got to expect a bit of pushback, you’ve also got to expect that ‘how the game works’ also includes some degree of bickering. Were you ever kicked out of a class or asked not to sit next to someone else because you didn’t like a given poem?). But let’s say that you’ve felt like a pariah for not digging certain writers… does that have anything to do with the poetry? Or, to provide a parallel, does the fact that I might call you names if you oppose health care for everyone have anything to do with the quality of that health care?

      And, to get back to the “consumer’s power to say ‘I don’t like this'”… is it any worse than what some people say to me when I try to explain to them that I don’t want an iPhone, don’t like Apple products, and would prefer to buy something else?

      Lucas

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

        Lucas,

        Perhaps I am being histrionic.

        I realize that ‘choice’ is often an illusion—fate is at the wheel, not ‘choice.’ Too many ‘choices’ and we go off the beams, anyway. Most people want choices made for them.

        You could argue for an hour about why you don’t like Apple products and the result could be a disdainful shrug. I could argue for an hour about why I don’t like Pound: same result.

        There’s a beauty to simplicity: modernity slid over into hairy, manifesto-ish complexity which left readers cold.

        It all happened so fast, too.

        1938: Ransom publishes an essay called “Poets Without Laurels” where he welcomes discussion of the new, anti-Romantic, modernist poets whom the public despises. Frost and Millay are mentioned as the poets with laurels.

        1942: Randall Jarrell publishes an essay, “End of the Line” where he says Modernism is merely an extension of Romanticsm and Modernism is dead, over.

        It all began with that essay which Hulme published in 1908 in which this must be replaced by that.

        But the great artists don’t write marches or waltzes; they write whatever they damn want, and for them, nothing is ever replaced or outmoded. Beethoven put a silly march in his 9th Symphony.

        The two guys who at one time seriously wrestled with the whole idea of modernist poetry were Eliot and Ransom. The rest were pretty much crazy.

        Tom

  29. Noochness said,

    October 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    And speaking of Beethoven,
    Don’t forget that too
    He put a boogie-woogie in
    Sonata 32.

  30. Lucas said,

    October 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Hi, Tom–

    If I shrug, I hope you don’t think it’s disdainful.

    My responses to all you’ve written have been ways at getting at a couple foundational principles: you like what you like, and I’ll like what I like, but we can still talk intelligently about things we don’t like, and may be able to gain some appreciation for those things even if we still don’t like them. And let’s try to consider as many different things but always in ways as specific and precise as possible.

    Lucas

  31. thomasbrady said,

    October 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Lucas,

    Excuse my hyperbole! I’m certain there’s no disdain between us!

    Precise dislike! You got it.

    Tom


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