[-empyre-] digital canon cannons

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Mar 20 01:30:45 EST 2009

Thank you, Alan.  I agree, I like this discussion, but I also think
maybe it's time to give this thread a little nap.  I would hate to
distract from other, equally important issues.  (If you want to, maybe
we can pick it up some other place or time....  but maybe after I have
taken the time to reflect upon your comments more carefully...  and
after I have tracked many of the sources you've suggested.)

But before I put this discursive baby down for the nap, I'll give it
one more quick blast with the air horn.  I don't want people to walk
away thinking that I am advocating a return to the Dead White Men

When I started on this discussion, the furthest thing from my mind
was saying which pieces AREN'T poetry.  Rather, I envision that a
canon could be constructed in positive terms, which attempts to mark
examples of turning points or the emergence of generic conventions
within the field.  This of course is rudimentary work, it is always a
day late and a dollar short, and it always happens after the "event."
This kind of criticism might even be useful for working artists,
because it builds an awareness of cliches and dead formalities, but I
suspect that artists already know these things before critics even
catch wind of them.  At the same time, it gives artists alternative
genealogies (which tends to be something of an oedipal relationship--I
love Debord, I also think he is a fraud).  I remember learning about
Marcel Duchamp, I was looking at a library book when I was like 5
years old, and was very pleased to see a potty in it.  And it is
something that I come back to (several times a day, even) to pay my
respects (and by my respects, I mean sincere respects, the full range
of considerations--from dread, loss, guilt to joy, love, and hope).
It's certainly not new and it is certainly canonical, but the spirit
of the thing frequently sutures itself to my experience of life and
art and thew absurdities of culture.  And I think that such things can
function as a heuristic for the considerations of other things.  If I
hadn't studied the Situationists, I don't know that I would have even
recognized my favorite piece of poetry in recent memory: Throwing a
shoe at George W. Bush.  (But, of course, if art history did not
contain the Situationists, I might not have studied them either.)

On the other hand, I feel that people do pay attention to what a
"critic" says.  I know that I give your words careful consideration,
and am more likely to be influenced by what you say because I hang it
to a certain collection of works and writings associated with you.  If
I see your name (or someone else who I recognize) on something, I am
more likely to read it.  It's totally unfair that I would do this.
And it is a habit that I studiously try to break.  But it tends to
happen.  Thus the role of the critic is a loaded one, not entirely
different from a canon, it's just more dispersed and transient.

Also, I don't think that the presence or absence of a canon leads to
lawlessness in the civil sense.  Rather, I think it functions in the
literary world as a formal code, which can be treated as law.  And, in
the context of my class concerns, when the nation-state (and the legal
frameworks associated with it) disappears, exploitation usually ramps
up.  Whenever an artist or journalist has had to go up against power,
their only hope is that they can make an appeal to the code, "First
Amendment!"  And when a law is blatantly unfair, you attack it.
Similarly, the canon can also afford the opportunity to defend the
work of the artist.  Is Mapplethorpe a smut peddling pervert?  Maybe
he is...  but this smut is wonderful art (please refer to the entire
history of the nude in the history of art, and you will see that he is
adding something significant to it).  Of course, it could go the other
way.  But such things can offer strategic tools.  I know that I have
used important books in the emerging field of electronic literature
along with an argument about the history of modern poetry to convince
my department that we should have a course in electronic literature
every other year, and now we do.  (And, a number of my students have
shown their puzzled parents and/or troubled teens what we have read in
class, and now some of these people, who aren't even my students, read
and/or complain about it, too).

So, with that, I am going to take a vacation from this thread.  But if
people want to answer on the list or off the list, I would be happy to
hear.  I am just going to stop crowding things up so much.


More information about the empyre mailing list