[-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic

David Chirot david.chirot at gmail.com
Tue Jan 5 04:33:25 EST 2010

Hello Everyone and a Happy New Year to all!--

This is an interesting discussion (as is the concurrent).  The roles of
fashion, taste, advertising, politics and ideologies of what a "good" or
"difficult" poem or work of art in themselves engender a sense of
competition and "values" aesthetic, ethical and monetary which often resorts
to the "compare and contrast" method in order to produce those "proofs"
which will govern for sometime the constructions of New Canons and
terminologies.  As Johanna rightly pointed out, a good deal of what is
called critique--especially of the academic variety-- has become a set of
negatives which purge "art" or "poetry" of everything not conforming to a
certain dogma.  A current example in poetry would be the Language Poetry
"non-movement, non-group" and its recent off shoots as "avant," "post avant,"
etc-- What begins as the assertion of something "radical, innovative,
experimental" ends up being a set of assumptions and idees recues used to
remark on any poem or art object with an air of total "correctness" and so
creates a rigid structure of power relations and Institutional
bureaucraciesjudgment and categorizations.  Gertrude Stein in
'Composition as
Explanation" noted how what was yesterday considered "ugly" today or the day
after is suddenly found to be "beautiful," and it is very hard to
rememberwhen and how it was ever "ugly.  As Stein notes, the
interval between the rejection and the acceptance of works as ones of beauty
grows smaller and smaller--pointing the way towards the "instant Classic" so
often found on book cover blurbs or in art articles. Since movements
per seneed to "
justify" some of their choices, there is the usual ferreting about in the
past for predecessors, as well as the requisite creation of "Instant
Classics' to establish a group/movement as "legitimate" and instantly,
nearly, acceptable, anthologized and taught in the academies’ by their very
nature, however, such structures are also dependent on 'contrasting' works
of one school with those of others, in order to create a competitive and
"war-like" atmosphere in which one school has to triumph at the expense of
others--which may in turn someday be unearthed as the predecessors of a new
movement, an antithesis to the present Stars.

Running through al these stages is the continual act of purging, a form of "
cleansing" a la ethnic cleansing in the sense that certain forms, ideas,
methods, ideologies, standards, have to be banished in order to protect the
"homeland" with ever new systems of 'security."

Often the best way to understand these actions is through tracing the
historical receptions of a work or an artist's or poet's oeuvre through
changing fashions, trends, movements, canons and the like. Sometimes even
the study of the current reception of a new work can elucidate some of the
operations described here at work.

>From the moment its (year later) publication was announced, I had followed
with great interest the story of the translating, editing, difficulties of
bringing into being Poets of Guantanamo The Detainees Speak; once published,
I followed also the initial reviews and also the remarks re the poems on
primarily the Buffalo Poetics List as well as a few others.  What greatly
struck me was that poems for the most part were immediately jettisoned from
serious consideration by deeming them bad poems by bad poets/bad people and
at that badly (meaning by non-literary translators) translated. The book
became a kind of triple or quadruple threat of the "bad," an affront
to algood poets especially those in the USA who are inclined for the
most part to
the Formal discussions of poetry, which in part gets one off the hook--as
Amiri Baraka has written-- as far as making or taking a stand on any issue
which might make one's job and position controversial and one's standing in
the "Poetics" hierarchies subject to downward revision if not disappearance,
always a possibility in the era of what has been called "The New

A few decades ago, the poems might have been hailed as new entrants in the
genre of prison writings or human rights poetry--"brands" that have fallen
out of fashion, fallen "off the shelves" so to speak-- especially since 9/11
when it comes to “enemy combatants" and their writings--

I wrote two essays on the Guantanamo poems which may be of interest here as
they examine some of the possibilities for the "bad" treatment of the bad
poems and poets, and make a link between torture and the "forcing one to
speak" as much as the censorship by the military (ever afraid that "hidden"
messages intended for the "enemy combatants" on the outside  might be more
easily concealed in poetic language than any other--)

Since 9/11, it has been interesting to me to look into the changing of the
guard so to speak from "avant-garde" to "avant;" the change indicates the
separating out of what has once been a dual concern--art and the militant
aspects of "movements" or single artists and poets.  The early avant-gardes,
such as Italian Futurism (pro) and Dada (anti) were very much concerned with
the military and the changing technologies which are sped up during war time
by the "military-industrial complex." I found it interesting that today with
two and perhaps more wars being waged by the US, the "avant" should turn its
back from involvement in any way with questioning actions in the
military/political/corporate-industrial sphere (Mussolini's definition of
fascism after all was that of the Militarized Corporate-State complex--).  A
self imposed censorship n a sense may be claimed to exist for fear of
disrupting in any way the actions however dubious of "Homeland Security."
One wonders, given recent debates over the lack of critical criticism in
poetry, with reviews so dominated by puff pieces, if the critical function,
except for negative towards those one opposes in a Formal sense, or approves
of as one's "allies," has not been affected by the concurrent dearth of open
criticism of the wars by most American poets and artists. Like Bush's
foreign policy, one is faced with a "you're either for or against us"
attitude in poetry and the arts. Ironically, the turning away from actual
war fare has increased for many the sense of "poetry Wars" and the like.

One of the writers I cite in my essays is Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and his book
Torture Cancer of democracy France Algeria 1954-62.  One aspect of this
cancer is that it effectively eats away at the language used in daily life
and in literature, poetry, the media, for in order to cover up, deny or
minimize human rights violations, tortures, war crimes, language is reduced
steadily towards the later stages of Orwell’s "newspeak" in 1984.

The cancer eating away at language also eats away at what is thought
critically, for criticism has become undone at the core of dealing with
reality, eschewed in favor of Formal arguments and "poetry wars" and games.
A language which has to lie to itself to preserve the lies it is told so as
not to "get into trouble" effectively begins to damage thought, in that more
and more thoughts are not allowed, and others are increasingly forced upon
one to speak--which is the goal of torture, or, as a Russian artist has
remarked, the nature of language itself as a fascism, not for what it
censors and silences, but for its forcing one to speak.

Besides the fear of censure which develops one's inner self censorships, the
fear of anything beyond certain” secure" areas is paramount in developing a
form of covert paranoia--again a case in which language is forced to speak
against itself, for in order to feel secure one has to lie to oneself and
become ever more afraid--of things which are deemed "badly handled" when it
comes to "intelligence."  A fear of incompetence grows while al the while
competences within say poetry are al the more asserted as that of one method
compared to another, is one kind of poetry and poetics compared to such and
such another--

Fear begins to grow and gnaw at the heart of language--which increases the
conformity one may observe across a wide spectrum of works of any genre or
"method" or "movement" or "school."  "Safety in numbers," so to speak--

The role of various propagandas--for there are many varieties--as well as
the development of "instant classic' assumptions and idees recues also
affects language--leading not only to the continual purgings of styles,
forms and poets themselves, but also of any ideas which are different from
those taken to be, UNQUESTIONINGLY, as "true." Or "good."

Along these lines in recent years i have been reading a great deal re the
developments military technologies, the various works 'classic" and recent
re Propagandas, torture, its uses and histories, its manuals, the uses of
forgeries and unquestioned make believe a la Curveball in determining the
existence of WMDS--there non-existence, or shaky existence, being
exemplified in Colin Powell’s famous speech to the UN laying the groundwork
for the Invasion of Iraq, in which the trucks supposed hauling the weapons
and the buildings housing them were presented as "artists' conceptions'
rather than actual fotos.  Likewise, images on line that were to prove that
Curveball was telling the truth were of course the same images he had seen
online and simply given a different spin.  Since the images were found by
the US govt bureaucracies to be on line--this was taken to mean--another
idee recue--that they were "true."  At every step of the way, once a certain
direction has been chosen, what must be eradicated is any form of doubt, any
form of critical thinking, and the development of the kind of unquestioning
belief usually associated with the 'willing suspension of disbelief" thought
to exist only among readers of fiction.

What is striking tome is the development of this unquestioning attitude not
only to events in the world, but also to those on the page, so that a great
many things if written by so and so or belonging to a certain school of
thought, are taken to be true without any reflection or examination. Indeed,
persons asking questions or expressing doubts are often attacked in swarms,
to drive out the unclean unbelievers--

Again, this buttresses the sense of safety in numbers and the welcome given
the warm womb of security in the homeland--

Until the next episode--such as flight 253 on Christmas Day just passed--
giving cause to ratchet up the fear levels comes along, demanding ever
greater sacrifices individual rights and privacy in the USA in order to
protect the citizens against others while making them al the more easy prey
to be detained for any reason no matter how ridiculous--again reinforcing
the kind of silence which turns its back on events in favor of finding a
refuge for safe expression on the page--

I don't think of this approach as "political" in that it is really an
examination of those symptoms, which as Pasolini wrote, first show
themselves in language. B language one extends the poetic throughout the
entire sphere of language as any word at al may be used for poem, so an word
is sued by propaganda, by control, by security--yet in order to understand
the effects besides using the methods of study i have written of here, does
not mean to forget the tools of poetic criticism either, if one takes poetry
to be the most condensed form of written expression--therein one may perhaps
find the most condensed forms for study of what is happening to
thelanguageof which is invaded by the cancer of torture--

   1. *David*-*Baptiste Chirot* // Word For/Word: A Journal of New Writing *
   ...* <http://www.wordforword.info/vol13/dbc.htm>
   Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate, while acknowledging the situation of
   *poetry* in a raw state of the *Guantanamo poems*, also remarked: "No
   Mandelstams here *...*
   www.wordforword.info/vol13/dbc.htm -
   2. KAURAB Online :: A Bengali *Poetry* Webzine :: Translation
   With the *Guantanamo Poems*, as Flagg Miller suggests in his excellent *
   ....* *David Baptiste Chirot* is an amazing litterateur, artist, reader
   and critic. *...*
   kaurab.tripod.com/english/books/*guantanamo*.html -

On Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 2:06 AM, Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk> wrote:

>  Good and bad are relative concepts, being the poles of an axis of value.
> That axis might be personal or public but it is always contingent. It does
> not exist as an absolute geometry but is variable, depending on context.
> That context is prescribed by other values of equal contingency.
> Art is a relative concept. Some people consider something to be art, others
> do not. There will rarely be agreement and it will not include everyone. You
> cannot please all the people all the time.
> It is only a good idea to get into arguments about relative concepts if you
> enjoy interminable word-play and the ultimate outcome of agreeing to
> disagree.
> Best
> Simon
> Simon Biggs
> Research Professor
> edinburgh college of art
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> www.eca.ac.uk
> *C*reative *I*nterdisciplinary *R*esearch into *C*o*L*laborative *E*
> nvironments
> CIRCLE research group
> www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
> simon at littlepig.org.uk
> www.littlepig.org.uk
> AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
> ------------------------------
> *From: *davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>
> *Reply-To: *soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> *Date: *Sun, 3 Jan 2010 19:13:43 -0600
> *To: *soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> *Subject: *Re: [-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic
> Maybe bad art is art that does a "bad" thing.  There is art which
> tries to make a moral evil look like a moral good (take, for instance,
> nature photography that is used to give a notorious polluter a
> positive reputation....  or, say, propaganda which seeks to convince
> people that a human rights abuser is a human rights defender.)  Yet,
> even art which seeks to tell a lie, at least has the good sense to
> know that the fictional utopian world is preferable to the grim
> realities that they mask.
> Then there is the kind of badness is that which wants to wash its
> hands of ethical considerations, altogether.  I would argue that works
> that aestheticize violence might fit into this category.  There are
> plenty of games, for example, which have no content beyond the
> representation of killing as fun.  But I would also lump purely
> capitalistic "art" into this category....  think about high-concept
> movie merchandise (novelizations of films, picture book adaptations,
> direct to video sequels, coloring books, soundtrack theme songs,
> etc.).   For every dozen crap trinkets, the manufacturer could
> concievably hire an actual artist to make something meaningful....
> but instead they choose to flood the world with garbage, made in
> sweatshops, that hurts the minds (and sometimes the bodies) of the
> people who consume them.  (But you could argue that the mindless
> acquisition of tripe represents a different utopian impulse, working
> in an archival/d-base aesthetic).
> And then there are those works that are productively complicit....
> that exist in the zone between two worlds...  the kinds of things
> which might fit into one system, but which create change in another.
> I think of the many movies that actually do make me think, but without
> the heaviness that comes with message films... (I think that Where the
> Wild Things Are, for instance, is a great movie that goes beyond
> simply cashing in on children's desire).
> As always, where somebody begins is an interesting thing.  But where
> people are going, or trying to go, is much more so.  It is always
> fascinating when someone betrays their narrow interests in favor of
> broader ones....   Or when someone unexpectedly questions their own
> biases.  Even if people end up in the wrong place, there is something
> to be said for effort, intention, affect, etc.
> Happy New Year!
> Davin
> On Sun, Jan 3, 2010 at 8:40 AM, G.H. Hovagimyan <ghh at thing.net> wrote:
> > gh comments below:
> >
> > On Jan 3, 2010, at 4:30 AM, Sally Jane Norman wrote:
> >
> >> where and how do/ can we draw the line between bad art and bad causes?
> >
> > gh comments:
> > Bad art is an aesthetic decision that is subjective.  I've seen in my
> > lifetime art that was considered bad to become re-evaluated as good.
> > Actually I think the aesthetic kick is in playing with that
> > contradiction and skating close to the line of bad art and bad taste.
> > Otherwise good taste and good art turn into so much decoration.  I
> > don't know what you mean by bad causes but in terms of art I would say
> > that when you make art as a political statement its propaganda rather
> > than art.  If you make art to make money it's commerce rather than
> > art.  If you make art to illustrate a particular theory or piece
> > demonstrate a piece of software it's illustration.  I think the only
> > proper cause for making art is to advance the art discourse or
> > critique it or expand the aesthetic milieu.
> >
> >
> > G.H. Hovagimyan
> > http://nujus.net/~gh <http://nujus.net/%7Egh>
> > http://artistsmeeting.org
> > http://turbulence.org/Works/plazaville
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> >
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
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