Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yeah? Well, you're a capitalist: Part two

Could it be that Flarf, despite every effort to the contrary, is actually a tool of the Man? Are they mimicking (and therefore supporting?) the coercive structures of capitalism? It's a scary thought to me, and while I do admit that such a thing is possible, Dale hasn't quite convinced me in this case.

Perhaps I'm not getting this. How is Flarf capitalist (and Langpo too, according to Kent Johnson and Henry Gould in Dale's comment section)? Is the argument that Langpo and Flarf's "disassociation" of words from their meanings is analogous to capitalism's disassociation of labor from its value? I can immediately imagine a conservatively inclined poet arguing that poetry that supposedly disassociates words from their meanings is communist, analogous to communism's disassociation of personal property from its exchangeable value. Actually, this seems like a way more plausible metaphorical relationship. Words-as-currency unfortunately makes more sense than words-as-labor. Labor has a concrete productive value, whereas currency and language are worthless outside of any mutual exchange.

But perhaps I'm getting away from what the actual argument is. I didn't actually read anyone making the "disassociation of labor from its value" metaphor, it just seemed to be implied in certain people's approach to the issue. What was said, however, was that tag-clouds (almost synonymous with Flarf in Dale's post) represent the breakdown of symbolic efficiency. Actually, it becomes difficult, at this point, to talk about my problems with this argument because what Dean's article means by "tag-clouds" is different from what Dale applies it to, and they both leave me a little perplexed as to how they connect to capitalism. I suppose I'll talk first about Dean's article as it's the source of Dale's current thinking about the issue.

Dean says that tag-clouds are a "symptoms of the decline of symbolic efficiency" and that it is indicative of "communicative capitalism". It seems like the more obvious connection between capitalism and tag clouds is that tag clouds are a visual way of organizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) data, a very important tool for Internet business models. Unfortunately for Dean's main point though, this data is utilized to more effectively link people to the contexts they are looking for, expanding, rather than breaking down, "symbolic efficiency". I'm not arguing that this is "good", but I remain skeptical about this supposed loss of effective communication. I'm not sure how effective communication was before tag clouds.

And what is this "symbolic efficiency" anyway? Why are we to believe that our current "symbolic efficiency" is this pure Platonic entity that is being polluted by capitalism? Did capitalism not coerce our communication methods before the Internet and tag clouds?

More later perhaps.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm not a Capitalist. You're the Capitalist.

Dale's post today is very interesting. It comes after a battle (taking place on his blog over the past few days) over whether Flarf should be taken seriously or not. There seems to be this desire to frame particular "meaning models" of poetry as Capitalist. Dale posits that Flarf is analogous to a Ponzi scheme. He links to an article that suggests that "tag clouds" are symptoms of the breakdown of symbolic meaning.

Dale makes a few connections that I'm really not quite ready to jump on board with (they are certainly interesting though):
1. That "tag clouds" represent a "breakdown of symbolic meaning".
2. That this breakdown has something to Capitalism.
3. That Flarf has anything to do with this.

Dealing with 3 first, can Flarf really be thrown in with this whole "tag cloud" business? I suppose that many Flarf poems do track the fragmented contexts and instances of certain words or word combinations. But are they really divorced from their meaning as much as "tag clouds" supposedly are? Jodi Dean is suggesting that word frequency becomes the whole point in tag clouds, which is hardly the case for Flarf. Words in tag clouds become important for their statistical values, they become (or at least it is argued that they become) decontextualized. Flarf is dirty, jagged, ugly, disgustingly cute, it collages meanings together that we'd rather (perhaps) be presented to us in a beautiful cascading web of statistics. Essentially, I think it could be argued that Flarf attempts to make us face the things that tag clouds supposedly pave over.

Also, is Flarf's use of google necessarily an endorsement of google? I can certainly see arguments either way. However, arguing that it is an endorsement is something I'd expect more to hear from Kenny Goldsmith, more than Dale. Goldsmith believes that engagement with a system is endorsement, which is why he doesn't vote. Personally, I'd argue that being apolitical is necessarily an endorsement of the status quo. Google has a hold on our lives whether we like it or not. They have a lot of say in the way we look for information, they way that information is organized, and what information connects. Don't we need poets who are willing to engage with and question this system?

Slow Poetry intrigues me. I like the idea of small communities, local investment, anti-expansion, etc. In my personal life, I try to be as anti-consumerist as possible, I'm a "locavore" if you will. However, I'm on the internet (as in "like white on rice"), because I think it is a new territory that Capitalism hasn't totally figured out yet. I think we can still prevent it from taking over this space as it has taken over so many other spaces. As a side note, I think it's really exciting that we have a president that understands the importance of net neutrality and free universal wireless access. However, I don't think being a "locavore" is going to successfully usurp Capitalism's hold on our food industries. In fact, it could be argued that it makes me passive, putting me out of touch with the actual lifestyles of Americans (content with my own food consumption, fragmented from the needs of others). Not that I necessarily need to be eating at m*donalds, but it's good to remember that an "abstinence only" approach is not going to win this war.

I'm mostly just thinking aloud here. I'm going to try to get to some of the other points I said I'd try to get to in a part 2 perhaps.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ooo, your dislikes are so impressive, show me some more

I, for one, have read more Flarf books than I'd like to remember, & I wasn't magically converted to a sympathetic view.
I'm going to, sort of unapologetically, take this quote by "Superman" out of context (but only a little really). Click here for all the context you can handle.

OK, so it actually amazes me that this sentence I quoted could ever have been uttered by an intelligent person (not to completely single out "Superman" here, intelligent people say this kind of shit all the time). "Hey, you know that band you like, I've listened to them, and I really don't like them". Why do people take so much pride in the things they've somehow "managed" to hate?

I know this sounds crazy to a lot of people, but: If you don't get Flarf, why are you talking about it? Reading a bunch of their books and hating them is a failure not an accomplishment. I'm not saying you should be ashamed or anything. there's a lot of stuff I don't get and don't like, but I'm not proud of it.

I may guide someone away from the New Formalists. But what kind of asshole would I be if I actually entered into an arguement with someone who loved them and tried to tell them that they didn't write "real poetry"?

someguy: "hey, I really love the New Formalists"
Me: "on the contrary, they are stupid because I have read a bunch of their books and think they're stupid"
someguy: "yeah, but... aren't you kind of an asshole?"

And they would win because I am, in that scenario, being kind of an asshole.

And so what if the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes? Why are you being such a prude?

Monday, January 19, 2009

What is poetry?

Could there be a more inane question? Maybe I don't mean "what is" poetry, but "who is"; as in: who the fuck does poetry think it is? Perhaps it's because of wikipedia's featured article yesterday, or Ron's post today, or because of the recent explosions at the harriet blog, but either way I've been thinking about it.

Is poetry a definable "what"? Is it any more than a political question? Does this make the question more or less valuable? Personally, I couldn't be less interested in arguing with someone whether or not something I make is poetry or not.

Etymologically speaking, "poetry" is even more vaguely defined than "art". An artist is, by historical definition, a master of his craft; whereas "poet" just means "one who makes". Makes what? Makes art? Makes words? Makes her way to the coffee shop? Makes excuses? Makes noise? Makes faces at children?

Divisions of art (painting, sculpture, film, animation, comics...) are usually distinctions of medium, but not poetry. Poetry can be spoken (one medium), written (another medium), printed, or uploaded. And then there's visual poetry. Stranger still is that poetry lays no claim to the media it falls into. For instance: Everything painted is a painting, everything sculpted a sculpture, and so on. However, a spoken piece of art could be a performance without being called poetry, or a play, or a speech, or storytelling. In fact, poetry doesn't dominate a single medium. Most writing is prose, not poetry. Is poetry, by definition, the interstitial space created by the arbitrary distinctions cultures make for art, the marginalia of any particular medium? Are we who are left over when the Empire's create their boundaries, the Hebrews, the Wealas, the Gypsies, the Gazans? Is this too cheezy of an idea? Maybe. It would certainly trivialize the groups I've mentioned to suggest that merely by being a poet, I align myself with them. What I acually mean is that the more I empathize with the dispossessed, with those who fall outside of government sponsored definitions and align myself with them, the more of a poet I become.