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.

1 comment:

Dale said...

Lain, these are really great and thoughtful comments, and I wish I had time to treat them all closely. Maybe in the next few days I'll try to write something to help clarify this tag cloud thing.

The symbolic efficiency stuff comes out of modernist rhetorical theory, or that's where I take it. All language, for Kenneth Burke, et al, is symbolic action based on motives that are peculiar to the situations that enact them. Language is active in this case, signifying motives.

Those motives are lost in tag-clouds. The tag-cloudification in a way happens prior to flarf's use of them. Following a literary studies bias for interpretation over action, flarf poems stress multiple meanings from the coordinated efforts of their words.

It's only "capitalist" I think in that flarf doesn't do anything to draw attention to motives that sustain it. It's another ironic product on the cultural stage from which to sample.

These are all quick responses. I'll develop this more down the road. Essential to this debate for me is the disciplinary distance between literature and rhetoric embodied in this debate.