CONCEPT OR THING?

Jim Behrle: He’s no Duchamp

The Kill List poetry phenomenon consists of a book (of conceptualist poetry) and the various responses to it by poets on, or not on, the list.

The Kill List is an actual list (four per page) of living poets with either “rich” or “comfortable” after their names.

The fake outrage by Jim Behrle—one of the poets (“comfortable”) on the list and obviously thrilled at the publicity for himself, and the chance to exploit it for more (ads for T-shirts, “comfortable” or “rich”)—is currently at the center of the hyper-self-conscious, intra-reactive, analytical, blog-storm.

Conceptualism’s first rule is: In the presentation of the work, thing comes first, whether it is Duchamp’s urinal or Josef Kaplan’s The Kill List.  The presentation of the object must be pure; there can be no visible authorial intent in the presentation of the object qua object.

Since pure objectivity can never be presented as such, however, the thing presented, the instant it is presented, moves in the public perception from thing to concept.

The moment the public shifts its view from thing to concept, a second round of narrowed public consciousness finds it once again to be a thing; this movement between thing and concept is the very engine of the known and knowing universe.

The Kill List itself will always be safe in its thing-ness.  Its validation as a thing grows more secure with each new round of conceptualist speculation.

If it were only a conceptualist work, in fact: a comment on drone killing, a Marxist commentary on middle-class po-biz, an examination of the nature of personal threat, an analysis of social awareness and identity based on simple inclusion and exclusion, it would merely fizzle out, intellectually and ineffectually, and quickly become yesterday’s news.

But because the book, The Kill List, exists as itself, as a “real list,” and was presented merely as that, it survives, forever swinging back and forth, in the public mind, between concept and thing.  Long after Obama’s drone “kill list” or Frederick Forsyth’s espionage novel, Kill List (the google champ) is forgotten, the poetry “joke” will be remembered.

Because this phenomenon exists only among poets, the Kill List, as a public event, is small.  Duchamp’s conceptualist joke rippled the pond of the general press.

Behrle’s “Penis List,” a short poem which jokes about po-biz penis sizes (Billy Collins, 4 inches) and calls poetry itself a large vagina, recently published on the website HTML Giant as a joking response to The Kill List, is hopelessly banal, because it is conceptualist (abstract) only and forgets the rule: life and art require first a thing, and then, only then, will the proper conceptual transmorgrification occur in the public consciousness.

In a bygone era, it was the technical, metrical wizardry of a work by Alexander Pope that was its immediately presented thing-ness—no idea was present except as it was launched in the minds of readers by physical arrangements of sound-harmonics, and these exist as solidly as the porcelain shape of Duchamp’s toilet.

We say Pope’s rhymes and Duchamp’s toilet, but in presentation, no owner (authorial intent) is visible—the public gets wind of a toilet in a museum, just as it gets wind of a specific set of verses which offend the public taste.

Offense is key here. The offending words either melt into air, or the villain who uttered the offending words is made to feel the cudgel of punishment upon frail flesh and blood.

But if the offense is an everlasting object, real fame is possible.

A NEW THEORY OF LOVE

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Bridget Bardot: Bob Dylan’s first muse.

Most of us can go about our lives for long stretches—months, even years—before we spot a celebrity: a movie star, a model, a famous musician, a professional athlete.  They exist, however; they are out there; and spotting a celebrity, no matter how we pretend otherwise, gives us a little thrill.

There are some people, however, who are not celebrities, but who nonetheless have a powerful effect on us: we think of them—probably not consciously—as celebrities who somehow missed being a celebrity; they could be celebrities, we think; but they occupy ordinary places in life—like we do.

One thinks of the two ballplayers who were twins: one swung the bat a thousandth of second faster than his twin: he was the major league baseball star, and his brother, physically similar, unknown.  This is not to say the world is populated with potential stars, for humanity, as we interact with it, seems imperfect indeed, and even the celebrity can turn human in an instant.

The celebrity is rare, and also rare is the celebrity-who-is-not-a-celebrity, the ones we might be fortunate to call our friends, or even marry.

In this new theory of love, we are making the case that celebrity-thrill is love.

We are thrilled to discover a celebrity, living without fame, right under our noses, and we fall in love with them, and this, in fact, is what defines love.

In the reverse situation, our lover makes us feel like a celebrity—but, of course, if they are skillful enough to make us feel that good, they must possess celebrity charm themselves.

We are smitten with someone’s beauty—we feel they are so beautiful that they could be a model, but we don’t care that they are not, for it is the beauty we love—but it is the idea that they could be a star which is how we measure them, which is what makes us love them—it is the same excitement we get from fame—the fame, even though it is not “there,” is what gives us that thrill which drives our feelings of love.

Love is not, then, as traditionally thought, a desire, a weakness, a hunger, an urge, an addiction, a need to fill an absence.

Love is a celebration, an excitement brought on by celebrity and fame.

We can certainly convince ourselves, in moments of weakness, that the traditional model of love (addictive urge) is the truth, for hunger afflicts us daily.

But the recluse, who is truly a recluse, does not feel love, even as the need continues for food and sleep.

Love belongs to the social, and what is more social than fame?

The latest love statistics from Japan support Scarriet’s thesis: large percentages of young people opting out of sexual relationships; the government worried about declining population; high percentages of Japanese men and women no longer interested in love or sex; the urge for love and sex literally drying up—in a society bombarded with virtual-reality celebrations of cute/sexual perfection, a futuristic society overwhelmed by cartoon celebrities.

The latest poetry buzz—stirred up by the poet Jim Behrle—concerns a book, The Kill List, which is driven by one thing: who is on the “list?”

Is it any accident that poetry lost its public just as Modernism decided poetry and love (always linked) didn’t really need each other?

We might reject this view as superficial, but we do so at our peril, for here’s the truth:

Love is love of fame and love of fame is love.

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