DEAR, I’VE GOT BAD NEWS

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Andrea Brady, as quoted on Digital Emunction, humbly makes it clear she’s better than you:

I’m per­fectly aware that my poetry isn’t going to change the world because it is “far from a mass move­ment,” as I wrote some­where: it’s not part of the class strug­gle, ener­gized by direct action or likely to inspire it. I can carry on writ­ing it if I think it will be avail­able to future read­ers as a record of a pecu­liar dis­si­dence. At times that in itself has seemed like a major accom­plish­ment. At my most opti­mistic, I hope it encour­ages its readers—who, as read­ers seek­ing out this kind of work, aren’t likely to require encouragement—to think crit­i­cally about pol­i­tics, or per­haps to be inspired by such think­ing to par­tic­i­pate in col­lec­tive efforts to over­come the tyran­nies of cap­i­tal­ism. As a reader myself, I’ve been inspired by poetry to do what else I have done; and I would include, among my polit­i­cal acts, teach­ing, con­ver­sa­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion. I think I share with other Cam­bridge types the belief that engag­ing with 300 or more stu­dents every week in debates about lit­er­a­ture, pol­i­tics, rights and forms and lan­guage, is a polit­i­cal and eth­i­cal activ­ity. When I teach dif­fi­cult late mod­ernist poetry (includ­ing the most recent poetry writ­ten by my peers) along­side the tweedy canon, I hope I am not being a hope­lessly nar­cis­sis­tic self-advertising git. I con­sider it my ped­a­gog­i­cal duty to those stu­dents, to exam­ine with them the full range of alter­na­tives to the regal dis­courses of jargon and bathos and greed. They can take what they want. I say this not because Archam­beau has thrown the typ­i­cal stink-bomb at the politi­cized poets who are also ghosts in the uni­ver­si­ties’ ivory machine, but because lec­tur­ers, who spend their work­ing hours immersed in cri­tique and neg­a­tiv­ity, can be a very masochis­tic bunch when it comes to describ­ing the pol­i­tics of their work. I think it’s worth pro­claim­ing pub­licly that that work is a kind of activism, which pro­motes cre­ative, intel­li­gent, belligerent… well, yes, resistance.

What’s so pathetic about this is that poets don’t  defend their art anymore, even in a pedagogical or idealistic manner (Shelley’s “Defense,” for instance).

Poetry is, if I might be really direct and simple about it, the essence of prose combined with the essence of music; what could be a more powerful cultural force?  It happens that Advertising in various guises is, in fact, a powerful cultural force, and though we don’t call it poetry, it is using poetry’s power.

But look at this quote by Andrea Brady above, a typical pedagogical expression of a contemporary poet-intellectual’s immersion in the philosophy of dissent and dissidence and resistance.

She begins by using the word “poetry” self-pityingly.

“I’m perfectly aware that my poetry isn’t going to change the world.”

Then she goes on to boast in very vague terms about how her politics will change the world.

She goes on to talk of “political acts” and “language” and “resistance.”  Poets such as her want to have their cake and eat it.  They are poets only nominally; the philosophy of “dissent” is really their bag.

The problem is this: if dissent is not specific, it is merely quixotic, and when persisted in, becomes a blinding, killjoy philosophy.   If to resist the “tyrannies of capitalism” is the ruling animus of one’s aesthetics, how is this anything but a path away from the main point?  It is a truism to say resistance drives critique, and in fact drives all Letters, all science, all expression, all art, since, if we were content, and had no need to resist, we would never exert the effort in the first place, but it weakens, even invalidates all human enterprise to foreground dissent itself, since dissent is the default background of the whole activity.  To argue that the good ‘resist’ what the bad ‘make’ is bad reasoning, since the ‘bad’ are really ‘resisting’ too, if the ‘good’  could only see it.  We’re all “resisting” something all the time.

Andrea Brady rails against “regal discourse,” and, in the act of heroically “teaching difficult late modernist poetry,” puts herself (blindly, as it turns out) in opposition to the “tweedy canon.”

But platitude is her doom; she is caught helplessly in the web of her own making, unable to see that the New Criticism is both the “tweedy canon” and also the inventors of “difficult late modernist poetry.”  And the guy who influenced the New Critics, T.S. Eliot (his and Pound’s reactionary politics fit right in with the Southern Agrarian New Critics) was as “regal” as they come.

“I hope,” she says, “I am not a hopelessly narcissistic, self-advertising git.”

Dear, I’ve got bad news.

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6 Comments

  1. Marcus Bales said,

    May 15, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Postmodern Bard

    What asks the new postmodern bard
    Whose anti-reality ways
    Have made her chopped-up prose so hard
    To praise?

    She asks we say that all we know
    Is language and habit and fear:
    That all is fake as her own faux
    Career.

    She keeps her hatreds clear and bright,
    Detecting the patriarch’s stench
    On every guy who doesn’t write
    In French.

    All principles are infra dig,
    Self-interest is all she infers –
    Except your heart is not as big
    As hers.

    No, not for her the outward sweep
    Of science’s infinite shore –
    She feels her creed within her deep
    Heart’s core.

    She’s sure she’s sure, and sure her claim
    It’s not her intent to be right
    Is right, as if there were no shame
    In sight.

    Sincerely sure that nothing’s true,
    Unladen by theory or thought,
    She knows it’s true she’s right, while you
    Are not.

  2. Anonymous said,

    May 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

    She fights against, against, against
    The regal and the greedy.
    You are lazy, she is tense
    And needy.

    Her goodness asks the lower price
    Of all that brutes’ desire
    Slashing the price of expensive vice
    Higher.

    Her politics are lunacy,
    Her poetry’s even harder:
    So wear her verse if you would be
    A martyr.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    May 15, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    As for the comments re: Andrea’s para on DE,

    http://www.digitalemunction.com/2010/05/10/poetry-and-teaching-as-resistance/#comments

    we get a ‘how many angels can dance on the head of pin?’ discussion until Henry Gould gets Adorno dropped on him by Michael Robbins after Gould finally brings the discussion to a head:

    I’m not at all against poets & poems being polit­i­cally engaged, crit­i­cal, out­spo­ken. Vallejo is one of my heroes. But is any­body out there besides me dis­turbed by the over-​politicization of art & poetry?

    Here are some things I don’t like :

    1. Flip, glib, self-​righteous slo­ga­neer­ing & smears of the “other side”, slathered on daily, in every avail­able medium, in order to bol­ster street-​cred PR with your bud­dies & cheer­ing sec­tion.

    2. Ten­den­tious brand­ing & brack­et­ing of poets based on polit­i­cal agen­das, a for­mula dia­gram­ming sup­posed or pre­sumed socio-​political “attitudes” (for exam­ple, the Sil­li­man binary).

    3. The glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of any bizarre man­ner­ist weird­ness in style, and its jus­ti­fi­ca­tion on polit­i­cal grounds (we have to shake up the status quo!).

    4. The quick-​sorting of poets based on eth­nic­ity &/or pre­sumed polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tions; the “friending” of the polit­i­cally like-​minded or the (careerist) mutually-​supportive.

    5. The cor­re­spond­ing “quietude of the avant-garde” within their professional-​academic career tubes. Silence is golden.
    —Henry Gould

    Why MR would respond to this by saying, ‘read Adorno’ illustrates the hopeless nuttiness of academics, I suppose.

    Then Jeffrey Side succinctly caps the rigamarole:

    I agree with Bob Archameau in all of this.

    It seems to me that avant-​garde poetry in par­tic­u­lar will find it dif­fi­cult to affect any sort of polit­i­cal change or influ­ence simply because to do so it would have to have a wide read­er­ship, as well as being writ­ten in a way that is read­ily under­stand­able to those read­ers it intends to influ­ence (pre­sum­ably those in the wider soci­ety out­side lit­er­ary coter­ies, and, per­haps, one or two politi­cians who read avant-​garde polit­i­cal poetry—not a lot of those around, I expect). If these con­di­tions are not met, then avant-​garde polit­i­cal poetry can only really func­tion as cathar­sis for its writ­ers, or as inter­est­ing philo­soph­i­cal rhetoric.
    —-Jeffrey Side

    I prefer the verse responses on Scarriet, however.

  4. May 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I had never heard of Andrea Brady (and given the way my brain operates, will likely never have heard of her again as early as next week) so I googled her. The first example I found of her work was essentially what I would expect from a self-described “difficult late modernist” poet (btw–when did these folks quit calling themselves post-modern? After Zizek lit up post modernism? I’ve been away from the academy a long time, I suppose). There was what I assume to be a rhetorical swipe at “fascists.” Oddly enough, if I were going to attach a critical tag to the sample of her work I saw, it would definitely be: “Granddaughter of Pound.” So go figure.

    I do not think I will ever stop having my jaw drop in astonishment when these sort of intellectual functionaries contrast their own production with the “tweedy canon” and “regal discourse,” as if their “difficult late modernist” poetry were some a subversive movement from outside the academy. Are these highly educated people really that lacking in self-awareness? They could really do with a few of Auden’s “Cartesian doubts.” I took graduate courses in literature and creative writing in the 1990’s. I was on the ground when the “difficult late modernist poetry” was struggling to over-turn the workshop Mcpoem. The whole “difficult late modernist” (re: language poetry) movement is the natural evolutionary consequence of moving poetry into the academy. Having to exist alongside post-structuralism eggheads in the same English departments made the poets of my generation feel self-conscious about the “simple” poetic desire to communicate and invoke strong feeling. They were worried that if they failed to be as obtuse as French language theory, that somehow meant they were intellectually lacking. I suspect they were open to this kind of virus due to the fact that most of what they had read were other contemporary poets, instead of becoming immersed within the entire history of thought, as expressed within the history of their language.

    The idea that “experimental” (in my own mind: derivative) poetry somehow “smashes dominant discourse” by being unintelligible to anybody who hasn’t taken an upper level English department seminar: That’s just fucking batty.

    “She keeps her hatreds clear and bright,
    Detecting the patriarch’s stench
    On every guy who doesn’t write
    In French.”

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

  5. notevensuperficial said,

    May 16, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Two Ways of Looking at a Dead Parrot

    A quiet person says silence is golden.

    A noisy person says silence is golden.

  6. Tom said,

    June 7, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Marcus Bales is still doing this shit? How fucking tiresome.


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