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.


Dale said...

Lain, a quick comment. The Ponzi metaphor for me applies to a vast chunk of contemporary poetry--not just flarf. The MFA-workshop-prize-winning circus thing is just as easily involved in this--actually more so.

And, also, Google's not necessarily the problem. It's a source for many poets, obviously (Flarf isn't the only group exploiting that resource).

What I'm pointing to is a distinction in how language, poetry, and information are arranged. Flarf's stress on meaning (multiple readings of meaning, meaningfully magnified meanings, etc) without forming explicit contexts of reference puts them unwittingly, I'm sure, with other aspects of consumer culture. It's cute, the re-arrangements in a poem can provide an a-ha moment--at times. But the project as a whole doesn't further our understanding of the conditions we currently inhabit: those conditions instead are half-consciously exploited.

Iain said...

Dale, thanks for the clarification. I'm am, though, having trouble connecting "multiple readings of meaning" sans concrete context to consumerism. Why read this particular meaning-model as consumerist, rather than say, democratic?

To me, poetry's job is not so much to convey a message, but rather to teach us how to read and interpret in a wide variety of ways. For me, Flarf highlights a particular aspect of our mass-culture's id, and I think it is very important to "read" that id rather than to gloss over or ignore it.