|Jacket 39 — Early 2010||Jacket 39 Contents page||Jacket Homepage||Search Jacket|
This piece is about 40 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Tim Shaner and Jacket magazine 2009. See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is http://jacketmagazine.com/39/perelman-shaner.shtml
Photo: Bob Perelman
Back to the Bob Perelman feature Contents list
“. . . my whole economy of writing is in fact based upon an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing something. I always have to begin with one or two observations that lead on to other points — and so on.
So it’s almost like tricking yourself to write?
Absolutely, yes” (Žižek, Conversations 42–3)
One of the things that first attracted me to Language poetry was the willingness, on the part of its poets, not only to talk and write about each other’s poetry — to be each other’s co-producer — but also about their own work, as if they were just another reader
Yet, if the author is dead, as presumably many of the Language poets believed (at the time, at least), then the writer of their books was just another reader, right? And so why not dive in? Especially insofar as it’s yours and you now have permission or, license. Besides, as the writer, as the subject who constructed the text, what you had to say about the text was less a laying claim to its ‘true’ meaning as an added dimension to the text, like any other
As if they themselves had to figure it out too
Besides, given the complexity of what many of them were writing at the time, and the novelty of that complexity, which made it even more opaque, or is it the novelty that made it complex
“I think that an issue that continually lurks near the surface (and also near the heart) of almost all language writing is an ambivalence of intention, of intentionality as such”
(Silliman, “The Marginalization” 11)
But, as a co-producer, I may intend to read it a certain way, for a stretch at least; I mean, I mean to read it that way; sometimes just so I can carry on reading; not that it’s me behind any such intention
Also, explaining their works was a way to work out their own poetics, to spread the news, and to, in so doing, create the critical space for their reception. Yet, it was more than simply their breaking of a taboo that appealed to me in their talks
When I co-edited the festschrift for Robert Grenier (Verdure 3–4, Feb. 2001), I came to realize how the call for work becomes a form of writing itself, how my asking Robert Creeley (and others) to write something on Robert Grenier created something where nothing would otherwise be; and so in that way, I thought then, back there in Buffalo, I might be writing too
Can one talk of Bob Perelman and not talk of Language poetry? If I say one thing of Bob Perelman, must it also somehow apply/be in relation to any or all of the other Language poets? If for, example, I focus on repetition and the spatial dynamics of Bob Perelman, don’t I also have to compare/contrast repetition and spatial dynamics in Lyn Hejinian and Ron Silliman’s poetry, not to mention some or all of the others, even though, I know, I know, “language writers do not, and never intended to, ‘say the same thing’” (Silliman, “The Marginalization” 1)
I’ve spent the first month of my summer break thinking of how I would write the Jacket essay on Bob Perelman, in what form, knowing that writing about Bob Perelman’s poetry gives me license. I knew I wanted to write it in what I call the fict-crit mode (fictional criticism) that I explored in my own text I HATE FICTION, an unpublished “novel” written when working, or trying to avoid working, on my dissertation at Buffalo. (It was in that mode that I wrote an introduction to Bob Perelman when he finally came to Buffalo to read.) What fict-crit amounted to, in my mind, was writing criticism in the vernacular of fiction, as if I was a character in a novel talking to a friend about a poet, perhaps even a close reading of a particular poem (at the risk of boring my fictional friend, who, naturally, does not read poetry, to death). As it happens, writing in this mode about some of the stuff I was writing about in my dissertation helped me air it out, helped in its development, or so I rationalized. So why not just write it here and keep it here, in this form, as such
Ben Friedlander’s Simulcast is one kind of fict-crit, not to mention Bob Perelman’s own fict-crit, like “A False Account of Talking with Frank O’Hara and Roland in Philadelphia,” which gives permission or license, a risk that ricochets, for better or worse
“Language writers’ attacks on the self were intermixed with desires to construct or enact some sort of person in poetry who would be of political consequence. The Vietnam War was the context” (Bob Perelman Marginalization 109)
Note that this desire is aimed at poetry itself, insofar as it’s in poetry that Perelman wished to locate this “person of political consequence”
Political poetry at that point in time, like it still is in many ways today in certain quarters, was generally regarded as a mistake, an aberration, hopefully, on the poet’s part. If one were to indulge oneself and give in to the pressure of the political, then it was at best a temporary matter. Once the war what-have-you had passed on, poets were expected to return to what was properly poetic
I picked this up at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in 1982, when Carolyn Forché, Terrence Des Pres, and John Gardner (just a month before his fatal motorcycle accident) made the issue of politics and writing the hot topic of the conference, to the dismay of many
Perhaps then, although Vietnam was the initial context of this desire on Perelman and his peers’ part, it was in fact the post-Vietnam context of the mid-to-late 70s and then the advent of Reaganism during the 80s (and the latter’s erasure of Vietnam as memory) that ultimately gave shape to the political forms and contents of Language poetry. For it was not until 1984, with To The Reader, that Bob Perelman’s poetry took its turn toward the more overtly political. This is one of Language poetry’s legacies, then, this reinserting of the political in poetry, in poetry’s very fabric, its form (with content never more than an extension of form); I mean it gave us a new way to think and act and be political, on both sides of the co-production
One of these fict-crit modes I thought must be in The Chris Farley Show mode, a la that skit he did on SNL where he played a clueless TV talk show host. The running gag of Farley’s skit is, first, that he is incompetent as a talk show host, and second, that his line of questioning never leads anywhere beyond Farley’s pleasure in the text
Reading The Trouble With Genius this morning, picking up where I left off after the tangent into Žižek, I’m reminded of my earlier thought that the “genius” in Bob Perelman is in his being part of a group of writers now called Language poets — that Language poetry, at large, is the genius — not that there can be said to be such a thing as genius in this day and age
“Since the being of the subject is the lack-of-being, it is only by dissolving itself into a project that exceeds him that an individual can hope to attain some subjective real. Thenceforth, the ‘we’ constructed in and by this project is the only thing that is truly real — subjectively real for the individual who supports it. The individual, truth be told, is nothing. The subject is the new man, emerging at the point of self-lack. The individual is thus, in its very essence, the nothing that must be dissolved into a we-subject” (Badiou, The Century 100–1)
I feel a kind of jealousy when reading the talks and, more recently, the collective autobiography The Grand Piano, to be honest. I said once to Kit Robinson, who was up in Portland to give a reading at the Wig launch three years ago, that I feel I might very well could have been at least peripherally associated with the Language “moment” in San Francisco if I had joined my friends back in the early 80s and moved to San Francisco, instead of Europe (first West Berlin, then London, then Brighton), where I eventually found a different community of writers (some of whom were bent on mastering inherited forms); I might very well have gone to live in San Francisco instead, having grown up as a child in the Bay Area, Redwood City and Los Altos, to be precise, and so having a fond memory of it. But for a certain twist of fate, said I to Kit, rather shamelessly, I might have been part of you
I mean in a different way than Rich, Lorde, Baraka, Ginsberg, many others
But isn’t that what reading The Grand Piano is, in part, like? I’m speaking of course of nostalgia, where it feels like part of your past too there in the writing as you’re reading it, and now that I’m on that topic, I guess you could say that “movements” are in effect always-already nostalgic, in that they become, seemingly by their very nature, movements largely in retrospect, and that, even when we consider that movements, if they are to become movements, must consider the possibility that they may become a movement while engaged in the movement-moment, that they, in other words, must be aware, fully or not, that they are in fact aiming to become a movement, that in that awareness they are already nostalgic, because, in looking ahead, anticipating their status as a movement, they must momentarily project themselves into the future, where they can think back nostalgically to those days. What would we say if they never amounted to anything, regardless their “output”? And what of all those moments that never amounted to a movement however much they conceived of themselves in the moment as a movement, foolishly as it happens, for now
Going to school in Buffalo was like that; thinking ahead of how we’d look back; wondering who’d become ‘famous’ (successful); but, if we never managed to create our own movement, at least we got our degrees and, some of us, jobs
A nostalgia for results?
And so, perhaps because of that jealousy, I thought too of approaching this essay as if I was a “member” of the Bay Area Language poets and therefore involved in the Grand Piano project. This, of course, would be part of the fict-crit approach, but it’d also be related to the idea of writing a reader’s response to Language poetry, where the reader-as-co-producer-of-the-text claim was taken literally. If, that is, the reader really is, in all seriousness, a co-producer of the text, then this text is one such co-production, and I, as a co-producing reader, get to lay claim to a piece of said author Bob Perelman’s poetry, not to own it but to be a part of it (just like the poet). This, of course, would apply to any of the Language gang. Employing this concept of the reader-as-writer would enable me to drift away from Bob Perelman, so that I could talk about other things, take a break from Bob Perelman all the time, dominating my entire summer
“‘an outlaw until he is a classic’” (Stein qtd. in Perelman TWG 161); according to Stein’s rubric, Bob Perelman is still an outlaw, despite the so-called institutionalization of Language poetry; and indeed, evidence of this is readily at hand here, in the city of Eugene, Oregon, where I live, where Language poetry is largely nowhere to be found, neither in the book stores, second hand or not, nor, indeed, in the University of Oregon’s library, where a paltry four texts of Bob Perelman’s exists on its shelves: Ten to One; The Marginalization of Poetry; The Trouble With Genius; and Writing/Talks; but then UofO does have a fairly high-ranked creative writing department
We academics look forward to our summers, not only because we want to lie around and be lazy while the rest of the workforce slaves away, but because we want to get to work on our “projects.” In fact, usually the summer begins with “projects” in the plural and then these projects quickly get whittled down to the singular, if that. And while I am not exactly an academic, insofar as I teach as a full-time part-timer at two community colleges, which frees me, for better or worse, to write this essay on Bob Perelman in this manner (something there’s no way I’d do if I was at university), I did come from an academic institution — even if it was the Poetics Program — and hence still act in many ways like an academic, even if actually not, and therefore treat the summer as I would an academic. And so I too, naturally, approached the summer with projects plural in mind, figuring I’d get up early, go out get in an early morning walk (for exercise and for getting the ideas going, juiced up) and then plug away at the Bob Perelman Project the rest of the morning. Then I’d take a break, eat or something, then shift gears into another project, maybe my own poetry. As it happened, I somehow got detoured into Žižek one afternoon
There has to be a reason for fict-crit, after all, an advantage — something fict-crit brings to the table that differs from academic criticism itself, as it stands today — though, my reason is that it serves as my “trick”
I had grand plans: I would begin the summer reading three texts that would be the focus of my essay: To The Reader, First World, and Face Value. I would
Then the books I had forgotten I had ordered arrived: Notes on Conceptualisms, by Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman & Barf Manifesto, by Dodie Bellamy
Among other things, this is what langpo has brought to poetry, to the table — that genius is a collaboration, a collective practice — they have ruptured the notion of the solitary genius — they have made the latter corny, embarrassing, pathetic. But what of collective genius
I suppose some of what helped me in writing fiction while writing my dissertation was that it made me realize that the latter was a kind of fiction as well and that when writing scholarly prose it helped to think of it as the writing of fiction — making things up and hoping it works, in the end
I like how sloppy some of Bob Perelman’s poems look, on the page. Those big, clunky stanzas in Face Value
Farley: “That was awesome”
What I also like(d) about Language poetry was that its poets, the Language writers, did not pose as sages vs. my Breadloaf experience (1982), where they had separate housing, with their separate parties, based on your rank as a writer — perhaps that’s the real insult behind their complaint against langpo: that not only do they insist on continental theory, they reject “genius” and in so doing discredit the pose of wise-old sage, however humble, warm & fuzzy, big-haired or bearded, frequently nurtured in creative writing programs. In The Trouble with Genius, Bob Perelman refers to a commercial to define the laughable status of genius today:
Gaping awe and situating oneself in darkness are no longer popular critical stances. When its attributes are stated with such bold drama, the transcendent impetuosity of genius with its lightning flashes seems quite close in spirit to the old ads for Tabu, the “Forbidden Fragrance,” where the picture freezes the narrative one frame beyond the Grecian Urn, so to speak: here Truth and Beauty have consummated their affair. The female pianist’s back is arched, and her fingers still linger above the keyboard as the male violinist has seized her mouth in a passionate kiss, his violin grasped in one hand. They probably were playing the ‘Kreutzer’” (2)
In “IFLIFE,” a poem that returns us to Bob Perelman’s work from the mid-to-late 80s, the poet seems more adrift, desperate, cynical & lost (or at a loss) than in the more confident and strident Face Value/First World/To The Reader phase
“Remember when it all meant?” (54)
“Fighting off bad old / glum” (50)
“The point is writing // Erase that” (50)
“so there’s no way to learn anything? / just drift around on lacy jags of meant stuff / and see who you meet” (51)
Sure, lines like “fighting off bad old glum” are ironic, but the real irony moves from the ironic to the sincere or earnest. In order to convey a sense of actual melancholy or gloom one has to write it first as ironic, so that one immediately reads it as ironic, when in fact the irony is that it really says what it actually says, or that it also says what it actually says, though the “glum” here is social not personal, or beyond the merely personal
Is Bob Perelman’s discussion of form in the penultimate section of “IFLIFE” a sign of his self-doubt regarding the currency of his action, the action of a poet who cannot not be political, and who must thus continue to write as such, regardless, a politics of “means without end” (Agamben)
“A day of worldwide protests against a looming US-led war on Iraq has culminated in giant peace rallies in Washington, San Francisco and other US cities.
More than 50,000 Americans converged on the National Mall in the centre of Washington, in one of the biggest protests since the build-up for war began.
Anti-war demonstrations spanned the world on Saturday, including rallies in Japan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Russia, France, Britain, Argentina and Mexico” (“Global Protests Against Iraq War”)
Reinserting the political in poetry, in its form as much as, if not more than, its contents (though form is content too, no?), because, as Kit Robinson says in The Grand Piano — Part 8, they had come to distrust “plain speech”: “For the first-generation of Language poets — who called themselves ‘Language writers’, never ‘Language poets’ — the infrastructure space [of the poem] was the interesting place. There were political reasons for this. Government war propaganda and a lot else had caused them to doubt the value of so-called plain speech. (‘To speak is to lie.’)” (99)
“Tityrus: And suddenly novelty becomes historical
Daphnis: That the gestures that Language poetry triumphantly says are still radical are actually super-codified now. And that’s my whole point. We need to rethink the equation” (“IFLIFE”)
“IFLIFE” is punctuated throughout with numbered lines from Laurence Britt’s “fourteen characteristics common to fascist regimes”
What has become of the fict-crit of Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, et al? Does this form of writing now count in the academy? Or are their attempts at changing the institution from within — their hybrid forms of criticism — merely tolerated, and hence confined to these writers in these certain institutions
“‘Rebellion is its own justification, completely independent of the chance it has to modify the state of affairs that gives rise to it. It’s a spark in the wind, but a spark in search of a powder keg’” (André Breton qtd. in Badiou 141)
One of the advantages of teaching at the community college “level” is that I’m free (at the cost of financial security) to write more or less as I please — and yet, in this case, I’m wondering whether in my writing in this fashion I’m passing up an opportunity to publish my way out of this full-time part-timer status. This question leads me to think of what must have been Bob Perelman’s situation when he first started teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and of Ron Silliman’s accusation that Bob Perelman wrote The Marginalization of Poetry to fulfill the requirements of tenure and that, as such, it is a compromised text
“Aphoristic writing has no true legitimacy. It’s recognized in France because it has a literary history to it, but it isn’t in America! When the Americans read America, they reacted very badly. Writing of that kind seemed to them the work of the devil, being a sacrilege against the canonical form of the well-argued essay. They are, in fact, right in this, and that’s the whole point. The aphorism is, in general, quite poorly accepted. It tends, in a way, toward evil, being a violence done to discourse, but not to language” (Baudrillard 23)
America made me ready to come back to America, or America made me willing to come back to America, just as Bob Perelman’s Virtual Reality helped me, actually, live in it
Currently, I am experiencing technical difficulties in the form of three young girls, running up and down the halls, yelping, opening and closing doors, drawers, knocking on the door, giggling. At least the bastard across the street’s not at it with his weedwacker, leaf blower, chain saw
In late June, a week or so after the end of the quarter, I told myself that I must have a first draft done by the end of July. Now it’s July 9 and along with having to host and therefore prepare for a poetry reading, I’ve learned that there’s a one year full time position open at one of the two colleges where I teach as a full-time part-timer, and so I return to the thought that this will look good on the CV, if I could just get started
Speak of the devil, the neighbor’s presently at it with his tractor-lawnmower; sitting still, he can’t sit still
For the teaching statement: “an approach … that focuses not on their essential nature, whatever that may be, but rather on how they might, not ‘fit’ together exactly, but come into productive dialogue with one another” (Patricia Bizzell, Professing in the Contact Zone 51)
And so once again this essay, which has yet to be written, is mediated by concerns over career, or rather its absence. I should
Then one day soon after finishing the texts that had arrived, I got some itch for Žižek. And then with the Žižek itch came Alain Badiou’s The Century, which I’m currently reading, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community. And then, of course, in the course of reading The Trouble With Genius, I had to delve into some Pound and Joyce and Stein. I’d say Zukofsky but I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet
“[Lacan’s] elementary political position is one that affirms this contingency and this means that you don’t have any guarantee in any norms whatsoever. You have to risk and decide. This is the lesson of Lacan. Do not compromise your desire. . . . You must risk the act without guarantee” (Žižek, Conversations 163)
In “IFLIFE,” Bob Perelman reaffirms his commitment to that “person in poetry who would be of political consequence,” (not that he ever lost it), a person similar to what Badiou calls ‘the poet-guide,’” a remnant of the 19th century (20). Yes, but
“As heir to Mallarmé, the twentieth century establishes another figure, that of the poet as secret, active, exception, as the custodian of lost thought” (20–1); this new figure emerges after WWI effectively ended the 19th century for good
Because of the density of cultural references, the books To The Reader, The First World, and Face Value anticipate Google. The poems are all context, yet they also transcend their moment. Their historical particularity, found in lines like “day after day of Reagan’s sense of humor,” is partially offset by the opaque or abstract, by theory:
We have come here today to be plural
sit in rows or sprawl
in the wind-tunnel of design competition
to find out how many a dollar will buy
eyes focused on the spinning disk, the picture.
(First World, “We” 15)
In words like “Reagan” language poets like Bob Perelman take the risk of naming and thus dating their works; they defy the imperative to “future-proof” their poems (James). Or perhaps it is Reagan that is the transcendental element here and “sprawl,” “design competition,” and “spinning disk” the ‘compromising’ elements. Though, when disentangled, the disciplinary world of consumer capitalism referred to in the stanza may (hopefully) be as historically specific as Reagan. The fact that both still apply to the world we live in today confirms Badiou’s claim that ours is (still) a period of restoration
“What are we to call the last twenty years of the century, if not the second Restoration. . . Since a restoration is never anything other than a moment in history that declares revolutions to be both abominable and impossible, and the superiority of the rich both natural and excellent, it comes as no surprise that it adores number, which is above all the number of dollars and euros. . . . More importantly, every restoration is horrified by thought and loves only opinions; especially the dominant opinion, as summarized once and for all in Francois Guizot’s imperative: ‘Enrich yourselves!’”
(Badiou, The Century 26)
I like the low-budget quality of Bob Perelman’s earlier books. The cover of The First World, for example, is in itself jarring, off-putting, dry as a spaghetti western. With its black and white cover photograph and its cheesy-orange all-cap lettering at the top and bottom, and then the content of the photograph itself, showing a desert like mountain in the background, presumably we’re in southern California, with a row of orange trees I gather between the conspicuous foreground of a man in a black suit, white collar, and black hat, his hand resting on a large, chalky-white orb — a giant orange or a miniature planet/world — occupying the center of the photograph, to the right of which stands a boy (the reader?) of some twelve years or so with over-alls, a jean jacket, and Kerouac-style cap, staring perplexedly at the orb. There is no information to be found about the photograph, so I take a guess and say it was shot in the 1930s or thereabouts. Things look pretty scruffy and decidedly unlike the “first world,” or rather exactly like it, in truth. Here, our society’s penchant for numbering and ranking things is in evidence. Of course, we don’t refer to ourselves as the “first world,” but it is certainly implied in our unreflective use of the term “third world” (now “developing world”), and the name’s connection to the military actions and economic policies the designation permits
I had planned to do my master’s thesis at the University of Louisville on Bob Perelman. In fact, I had gotten quite a ways into writing my master’s thesis at the University of Louisville on Bob Perelman, but somehow found it possible to manage not to actually complete it. I had it all worked out more or less, had taken scrupulous notes, filled up notebooks with notes, scribbled all over Bob Perelman’s books, basically ruining them in the process
What I decided to do was to codify three of Bob Perelman’s texts: To The Reader, First World, and Face Value. I assigned certain letters or combinations of letters to the keywords. Like, for example, identity was assigned “I.” And references to the military was “M” or foreign policy “FP.” Though that’s where I began to run into trouble, where military as keyword was pretty much the same thing as foreign policy as keyword. So I would codify each text, noting on which pages “I” appeared and on which pages “M” or “FP” appeared. The idea was that when I had finished tracking each of these keywords throughout each of the three books, I would then create maps for each text, acting as if the pages unfolded like a map, accordion style, thereby proving Jameson wrong (as if I needed a map to counter Jameson’s charge). Lines could be drawn from each common nodal point, so that if “I” appeared on page 1 and then again on page 3 and then again on page 7, a road-like line would connect these three I’s horizontally from page 1 to 7 and beyond. After I had connected all the various keywords together, one could literally read the texts as maps; in particular, one could see how these keywords, in crisscrossing each other, related to each other. One could literally see where foreign policy intersected with identity, “number one” with the military. Through this collaboration between poet and reader, the latter as well the former (in our respective forms of writing) would literally gain their bearings. And indeed, if one is to believe what the blurbs say, that is precisely the effect Bob Perelman’s books has had on his readers:
“Bob Perelman, who is sardonic and wise, makes the world more apprehendable, if not a better place, with each passing poem.” –emph. added, Charles Bernstein (IFLIFE)
“By laying bare the textures of prevalent thought-patterns, Perelman produces a shadow-graph of the society that implants them.” –emph. added, Geoffrey O’Brien (Face Value)
But it was only through the vertical reading of the text — this would be the other aspect of mapping Bob Perelman — where each poem is read separately, closely, line by line, that one encounters the disjunctive syntax that causes one to step back, like Brecht’s alienating effects on the stage, step back from the text in hand, from the words on the page. It is the seeming schizophrenia of the text, in other words, its disjunctive syntax, that begins the process of co-production, if there is to be one. Because, in stepping back from the text in hand, one begins to look more closely at the words on the page and the ways in which syntax tends to hide words, to naturalize them. And then, from apprehending these words, one begins not only to see their connection to other keywords (“thought patterns”), but also how they get repeated (advertising is the model here); and it is this latter point that is learned through the reader’s apprehension of the poetry’s form as it relates to the book as a whole
I say “learned” because that is a crucial aspect of Bob Perelman’s poetry, in my mind, and indeed with much of Language poetry: to revive the didactic (pedagogic) function of art — as opposed to the purely aesthetic imperative “to delight.” But this didacticism is in the Paolo Freire vein: it is reader-centered rather than writer-centered, participatory rather than representative
Jameson seems to want the cartographer-artist to do the work for the reader, to lecture —
Postmodernity may be chaotic or schizophrenic, as Jameson explains in his description and analysis of the Westin Bonaventure building in LA, but it is experienced as smooth, as normal. I mean, disorientation is experienced by the consumer as choice. Being lost is part of the shopping experience — which is why movie theatres largely exists in malls today
Do scholars say “lay bare” anymore
Considering that my thesis was that Bob Perelman’s poetry is ironically a perfect example of “cognitive mapping.” Later, I decided that actually it was a more accurate depiction of cognitive mapping than Fredric’s Jameson’s conception of it, with Brecht’s plays, instead of his poetry, being the better example
What Jameson seemingly misses is the reader’s role in the mapping process. Perelman, as writer of the text, has provided the keywords; it is the reader’s task to draw connections, to map their relations, far and wide, close at hand
This co-production essentially amounts to a mapping, the accretion of ideological keywords horizontally across each text; even from book to book. Now, of course, the same could be said of any poet’s work, more or less: that certain motifs repeat themselves, echo throughout from book to book. But what differs in Bob Perelman’s work is that they are keywords and not motifs, metonyms not metaphors. And as metonyms they do not point anywhere but to the thing of which they are a part, just as the dot on a map does not connote any meaning beyond the city or town of which they . . . no, wait, that doesn’t work . . . I mean, what I mean is that these keywords are not motifs, okay, and that Bob Perelman’s poems are not “about” any one thing, but any number of a possibility of things their syntax makes possible no, okay, they are about, in that sense, or, no, they teach us how, for example, “the box of plutonium” might link up with “A nation’s god” (“Seduced by Analogy,” To The Reader) no, okay, they are about the action of their own writing, they are about living in this language dump or, they are about what the USA’s all about have you noticed, my townspeople, that when it comes to blurbs, the writers, critics and poets alike, are ready and willing to say what Bob Perelman’s poetry is all about but that in their essays there’s no about about; not that I have a problem with this or that, said the co-producer to his non-reader friend, a specialist in fish
“But the leitmotiv of the quoted passage above is ‘don’t cut yourself off from us’. The demand of the ‘we’, whose concrete form is the ‘Party’ [Language writing], appears as a demand for inseparateness. Brecht does not contend that one must obtain the pure and simple dissolution of the ‘I’ into the ‘we’. Far from it, since ‘we can go astray and you can be right’. The ultimately very subtle maxim proposed by Brecht is that the ‘I’ abide within the ‘we’ in an inseparate form. . . . The essence of the ‘we’ is not agreement or fusion; it is the maintenance of the inseparate [collective autobiography].”
Badiou contrasts this inseparateness of the “I” from the “we” with the erasure of the “I” into the “we.” (which is the right’s bogeyman, as if there’s no other I in the we.) he’s talking of fascism: “The dissipation of the ‘I’ plays off energy against inertia. It is first of all a matter of tearing off the ‘civilized suit’, of breaking with ‘sedentary, static, orderly, all-too-familiar life’. . . . [town hall meetings; tea parties] This tearing away authorizes one’s disappearance as a personal subject, letting oneself be swallowed up by the ferocious ‘we’ which is animated by ‘the passion to do absolutely cruel, abominable things’” [the Federal bldg in Oklahoma City; assassinating doctors who perform abortions and that guard at the Holocaust Museum; the something more that may come of this] (123)
If it seems contradictory to focus exclusively on just one poet of the movement, a movement/moment known for its critique of “I-centered” poetry, well, it’s not, okay. For, as Badiou points out, it is through the “we” that the “I” emerges. This is very Hannah Arendt, I thought during the act of reading Badiou. It is through one’s participation in the public sphere, and the risk that involves, that one’s subjectivity (the condition of one’s natality) emerges. For Badiou, the “I” exists only insofar as there is the “we.” For Arendt, however, the “I” is not nothing, as Badiou calls it, but lies dormant until it enters “the space of appearance” (Arendt’s term for the public square), till it takes that risk
And so it is in the event of the language moment that Bob Perelman’s “I” emerges and becomes known; and so by reading Bob Perelman’s poetry we find our way to a community of writers and readers, producers and co-producers alike, and
Thesis (?): I just wouldn’t want to give up on the utopian concept of the co-producer
“It’s at this juncture that the thesis of a perpetual commencement [to begin again and again and again] rears its head, a thesis that constitutes one of the century’s chimeras — and a suicidal chimera at that, one that a number of artists have paid for with their life. But there are other problems, especially the following: If commencing is an imperative [make it new], how can it be distinguished from recommencing? How is one to make the life of art into a sort of eternal dawn without thereby restoring repetition?” (Badiou 136)
Didn’t Stein answer that
“Tityrus: OK, here’s the thing. Is originality, the fact that Virgil did this first, more important than . . . . or is the fact that here is a form that’s historically and culturally portable. And that that’s what’s good. Virgil could do it and since Virgil discovered it we’ll give honor to Virgil but Dante can use it without any blame and it shows how virtuous the form is” (“IFLIFE”)
Paper idea: Considering that almost all of the poems in To The Reader — the title, by the way, of a poem by Samuel Daniel Clive James’s cites in his defense of traditional metrical verse (“portable forms”?) — in the July/August issue of Poetry (the Conceptualist/Flarfist issue, as it happens) — considering that almost all of the poems in To The Reader are (thankfully) reprinted in Bob Perelman’s Ten to One: Selected Poems, what do the poems left out say about Bob Perelman’s aesthetics, of where he is today as opposed to where he was then? Okay, paper idea not very good; but it is the kind of move one might make in academe, the kind I in fact made, whilst in the academy, in an essay on Samuel Daniel’s sonnet series Delia, as it happens . . . it had to do with Daniel’s entrance into the Pembroke circle (employment); thesis: Daniel’s revision of some of his sonnets, published after he was employed by the Pembroke circle, effectively smoothed over their rough edges, made them safe
“‘Rebellion’ means that within the extremity experienced in negative excess abides the certainty that we can change its sign. Resignation, on the contrary, is the acceptance pure and simple of the inevitable and insurmountable nature of pain. Resignation maintains that the only apt words for pain are words of consolation. But for Breton such words are merely mediocre ‘attempts at distraction’, since nothing in them points to the surviving possibility of vital intensity” (Badiou 143–44)
Becoming his most political during a period of “restoration,” as Badiou describes the last twenty years of the twentieth century, meant that the poetry would inevitably amount to a matter of endurance, of keeping the memory/act of rebellion alive through the action of the poem. This too must have been part of the complaint by Official Verse Culture against language poetry, since political poetry was only permissible during political moments, such as wartime or say 9/11. (In this sense, Bob Perelman’s “Against Shock and Awe” is excusable, if unfortunate; by the way, note the humor in “Against,” as if the poet had to make that clear — though, now that I think it, “against” has other registers, as well.) One could excuse pathetic language like “to kill while falling asleep” (To the Reader) when the country was at war, but during times of peace, like the 1980s, when America was not engaged in any war (save the usual perpetual one), such language was a sign of weakness on the part of the poet, a sign that the poet lacked the necessary distance that comes with artistic maturity. Implicit in this argument is the notion that the political can be bracketed off from life, something one can choose to engage or disengage in, a lifestyle. And of course one had to frame it as such if one wanted to write about life as such, as if it could somehow be left behind, like left behind at the office (see Charles Bernstein’s “Three or Four Things I Know About Him”), whether turned off or tuned out; others I know say they just can’t stay focused on it like that all the time, that it would depress them, paralyze them; a former neighbor was like that, stayed inside, in bed, I heard, like all the time, was into fairies, here in Eugene, Oregon, in the forest
Of course, it was their inventive forms, and their insistence that form is political, that made the political possible, that lent credibility to the naming, that distinguished their writings from proletarian poetry, which is boring, some say; I propose we read proletarian writing through the lens of kitsch, if anything as a way of actually reading the material; we might end up liking it that way
Flarfists should get hold of that stuff
“We then have the very beautiful passage affirming the complete sufficiency of rebellion — which does not need to measure up to its own results — for life. Rebellion is a vital spark (i.e. the pure present) ‘completely independent of the chance it has to modify the state of affairs that gives rise to it’. Rebellion is a subjective figure. It is not the engine of change for the situation; it is the wager that the sign of excess can be changed.
It is here that the persona of resignation, which Breton calls the miserable priest, makes his entrance. His ruse lies in not simply insisting on the intrinsic badness of rebellion. The ‘priest’ adopts an insidious voice which is ubiquitous today, in the murmurs and vociferations of politicians, essayists and journalists. Day after day this voice entreats us to weigh up the worth of rebellion against its results, and to compare it, according to that sole criterion, to resignation” (Badiou 144).
And, indeed, this is what we so often find in OVC poetry: the sigh, the melancholy of resignation that produce those oohs and aahs at readings
Portable? See: http://epc.buffalo.edu/ezines/rust/
“The word ‘politics’ has a history and we must postulate that the century has reinvented its meaning. When art is assigned a political vocation, what does ‘political’ signify? Ever since the twenties, the word dilates to the point of vaguely designating every radical break, every escape from consensus. . . . ‘Politics’ is the common name for a collectively recognized break. . . . The word ‘politics’ names the desire of beginning, the desire that some fragment of the real will finally be exhibited without either fear or law, through the sole effect of human invention — artistic or erotic invention, for example, or the inventions of the sciences” (Badiou 150).
Regarding the romantic notion of the artist, Badiou writes: “Art is the descent of the infinity of the Ideal into the finitude of the work. The artist, elevated by genius, is the sacrificial medium of this descent. This is a transposition of the Christian schema of the incarnation: the genius lends Spirit the forms it has mastered so that the people may recognize its own spiritual infinitude in the finitude of the work. Since in the end it’s the work that bears witness to the incarnation of the infinite, romanticism cannot avoid making the work sacred” (154).
If language poets rejected these romantic notions of genius and the sacredness of the art object, the work itself does not disappear, as it does with the ephemeral works of conceptual artists — though, I’m not so sure about that either; and regarding the conceptual itself, we need only reference cognitive science to recognize its materiality –
for it is in the materiality of the work itself, that the reader becomes co-producer of the text and thereby joins the “I” to the “we” of the group/event. The work itself is not sacred, but it is more than simply the material residue of an action or a concept
I have to say that, insofar as the work is more than evidence of the act, the work itself is to some extent bound to the aesthetic questions Clive James raises in “The Necessary Minimum” — I mean there’s something fantastic about Bob Perelman’s poetry
In regards to the act being the definitive mark of the 20th century artist, according to Badiou, where the act itself, signifying a materialist aesthetic, replaces the romantic concept of the work, I cannot locate the action in Bob Perelman’s poetry as I can with some of his peers, such as Kit Robinson, Robert Grenier, Ron Silliman, except in a larger societal sense. Whether at work, on the beach, or on the subway/bus, it is easier to imagine the action of the latter three than it is with Bob Perelman, basically because with the other three there is the sense of the poet writing in public. Okay, I take that back, there is the poem in Virtual Reality where the poet is caught in a traffic jam. Even so, I get less of a sense of the poet writing on the run in the case of Bob Perelman. I do not mean to say this is either good or bad or even correct, for that matter
I found it a welcome relief to return to university, to work there first (as a secretary) and later return to school there, after working for quite a while in the real world; I’d like poetry to have more say in the real world but I’m glad that it has some say in the false world; I was glad to leave business behind but found a lot of business there too; but then I found Bob Perelman there too
“I’m with Jason, Matthew, Jennifer, and those who support single payer, first and foremost, but who insist on a substantive public option otherwise. Forget about bipartisanship and forget the co-op sell-out. Like Jason, I’ll take my vote elsewhere if that’s what we end up with. I’m pissed off too, but pissed off that our Democratic representatives are allowing Republicans — who lost the last two elections — to set the agenda. I expect at least a bill with a public option, and preferably one that allows all of us to choose Medicare-style coverage, even if we’re already covered by a private plan through the workplace. I want the freedom to choose a policy that values human life over the ideology of the so-called market” (Note to Senator Ron Wyden, on his Facebook page)
Where’s Barf? Ah, there it is, underneath One-Dimensional Man
I’d like to align myself with that kind of criticism, in fact when I think of fict-crit I think precisely of Barf Manifesto by Dodie Bellamy and stuff by Eileen Myles, who, by the way, wrote in my copy of Cool for You: “You Rule!”
How about a conceptualist essay on Bob Perelman in which Bob Perelman’s poetry is never actually critiqued or even quoted, and where the critique occurs not on the page itself but conceptually elsewhere? An essay that discusses what it will say about Bob Perelman and how it will say what it will say about Bob Perelman but which never actually says what it says it will say whether it says it or not about Bob Perelman
“I think we should all produce work with the urgency of outsider artists, panting and jerking off to our kinky private obsessions. Sophistication is conformist, deadening. Let’s get rid of it” (Dodie Bellamy, Barf Manifesto)
“The Barf is feminist, unruly, cheerfully monstrous. . . . Its logic is associative, it proceeds by chords rather than single, discrete notes” (Dodie Bellamy, Barf Manifesto)
This is what poetry, good poetry, does for us; rather than consoling us, distracting us with its everyday epiphanies, it gives us permission, license to be otherwise to think otherwise, to continue to resist what Badiou calls the “tyranny of results” that so characterizes the “second Restoration” and that so strangles thought
“I don’t mind today, but the everyday makes me barf” (Myles)
Where we find ourselves now in Bob Perelman’s poetry, what it tells us of our new millennium, our new century and the sense of promise implied in its turning, may not be inspiring, may in fact be dispiriting, if we take IFLIFE as our text, and aptly so considering the context of IFLIFE, of course, but it is in fact this very dispiritedness in IFLIFE that keeps me going, keeps me in good company, in that communal embrace, not that I want to hug anyone, an embrace that posits a defiant, Bartlebian “NO” to the tyranny of results
“‘I’m hoping that the bus loads of people coming as far away as Oregon and Nevada give an indication that this isn’t just the crazy loons in San Francisco — but we reflect the opinions of the entire United States,” said Tim Kingston of the anti-war group Global Exchange” (“Global Protests”)
Notice that “if” is a part of life itself; as such “iflife” is rather iffy, not to mention “life itself”
Jameson’s notion that we urgently needed an aesthetic of cognitive mapping to combat the institutionalized disorientation of late capitalism (if only it was late) now seems quaint, not that “the humans” (as Grenier calls them) are any less disoriented by the spectacle. If anything, the latter is more evident today than ever, particularly in the USA; witness the current fictions surrounding healthcare reform — and remember, this is still the nation that elected, or re-selected, Bush a second time. Now Žižek would say that first and foremost what the Sarah Palins and the Rush Limbaughs and the Glen Becks do for people is give them permission (a bad permission); that it’s not so much that the humans believe their lies — death panels for twilighters; so-called Birthers’ claims that Obama is an illegal alien, a Manchurian Candidate, a commie and Nazi at the same time — but that they enjoy what the lies do for them, how the lies free them to believe what they desire and say what they please, whether they believe them or not
Has the spectacle lost some of its sparkle: “No matter how big you make Shock, you can’t get to Awe” (Perelman, IFLIFE 10); as if you have to hide things today
On top they’re hearty, fussy old ladies;
Underneath they’re murderous cold war hypnotists.
On top they’re discussing hydrangeas, underneath
they make soldiers strangle each other.
On top it’s a movie;
on top the frozen war.
(Perelman, “The Manchurian Candidate”)
“. . . ideology does not conceal or distort an underlying reality (human nature, social interests, etc.) but rather reality itself cannot be reproduced without ideological mystification” (Žižek, Conversations)
“Reality is always a ‘virtual’ take on the Real” (Žižek, Conversations)
And so perhaps we find a similar recognition in Bob Perelman and IFLIFE: that mapping the simulacrum — the title, btw, of my would-be thesis — of laying bare the frame, as we liked to used to say, is no longer felt as urgent, a sensibility felt at the time due perhaps to the 1980s proximity to the late-sixties/early seventies and hence the inability to see at the time the century’s turn from its “passion for the real” (Badiou), for revolution in the flesh, realized here and now, to the second Restoration and resignation. In other words, maybe what we read in IFLIFE is the poet Bob Perelman’s turn, as Badiou speaks of Mandelstahm before him, from “the poet-guide” to poet as “custodian of lost thought,” in Bob Perelman’s case, the lost thought of the 60s/70s
“‘don’t cut yourself off from us’”
But I don’t mean to suggest in any way that Bob Perelman has lapsed into resignation — far from it — only that there is now a more evident melancholic tone to Bob Perelman’s poetry than there was in To The Reader et al and that that may be a sign that he, like many of his generation, has lost some of the zeal, the audacity of hope materialized in the utopian claim of the reader-as-co-producer of the text. Certainly 9/11 and the subsequent wars and the shift toward a society governed by Intelligent Design and Total Information Awareness was the cause for much dismay, if not bloody anger — also, by the way, the context of Flarf — especially witnessing how easy it was to manipulate the American public (again and again and again), despite the lessons of Vietnam (already erased by the first Gulf war, if not Just Cause and, before that, Top Gun), and then later the totally disheartening election/re-selection of the Bush/Cheney thugs
Must the co-producer provide evidence to back up his or her readings. And must these forms of evidence make a rational appeal; must they make logical sense to be persuasive. Perhaps the co-producer’s readings activate certain synapses that trigger certain metaphorical frames that in turn conform to the co-producer’s world view brain-matter making logical evidence decidedly old fashion if not obsolete however much the latter still operates as the discursive norm in dominant critical circles
And perhaps that’s why mapping the simulacrum, laying bare the frame, may not feel so urgent today, since it was predicated on the notion that the humans were susceptible to reason, to logic, that they were willing to listen, that they read; but then how else to proceed (and so perhaps not so quaint after all) — perhaps that’s where Flarf comes in
“. . . I soon realized that the assurance of his [James Merrill’s] early formal patterns provided the warrant for following him when his patterns became more complicated and finally ceased to be patterns at all. In the twentieth century, this was a not uncommon progression among revolutionary spirits in all the arts. Picasso had conspicuously mastered every aspect of draughtsmanship and painting that had ever been applied to the recognizable before he moved on into the less recognizable, and the best reason for trying to follow what he was up to was that he had proved he could actually do what he was no longer doing” (James)
In fact, you find in IFLIFE the enactment of this temptation toward resignation, the succumbing to bitterness and cynicism, in the final series of the book, titled “FUBAR,” an acronym used by US military personnel meaning “fucked-up beyond all repair,” and then the poet’s defiant refusal. Though the poem and the book itself is evidence enough of that refusal, as resignation would come in the form of silence or a turn toward the more mature work we find in OVC, exemplified by Clive James’s celebration of Michael Donaghy’s supposedly “future-proofed” poetry, a poetry that insures its future by “cutting back on context” and by mastering meter; showing that you can do it
For example, the first poem of the “FUBAR” series, “Tank Top,” begins (literally on its couch-potato ass):
The remote isn’t that big a deal
But I’m asking. Do you have the remote? It was right here
Are you sitting on it? Check
Look under the corpse. That’s where it usually is (123)
That’s all very well, very much in keeping with the stinging wit we expect from Bob Perelman’s poetry. In fact, the lines bring to mind Bob Perelman’s poem “The Unruly Child” (To The Reader):
There is a boundary, mother, very far away, and very
Continuous, broken, to interrogate civilians, the self,
The text, networks of viewers found wanting a new way
To cook chicken, why not?, to kill while falling asleep.
There is the one language not called money, and the other
not called explosions.
In “Tank Top,” the poem devolves into a dialogue between couch-potatoes meant to represent the average (US) American, those “networks of viewers” who “kill while falling asleep.” Now, as a country, the couch we are slouching or sleeping on, represents/becomes the corpses we think are “very far away,” our indifference to their plight making zombies of us, in turn: “That’s where it usually is / You just don’t want to get up / I don’t need to get up. I’d feel it / Your butt isn’t that sensitive / My butt is as sensitive as it needs to be / You are becoming a serious corpse potato.” The poem continues on in this Beavus and Butthead vein until, suddenly, the poet Bob Perelman calls the whole enterprise to an abrupt halt. Here’s how “Tank Top” ends:
Just get up and change it then. Are you too paralyzed without the remote to get
Up and look for the remote?
No, the thing about things is that they are things, if not always just the thing
But a person, perhaps playing with a thingee perhaps not it doesn’t matter
even if one has a thing about certainty
can appreciate the mutability of the whole thing
It’s a good thing and therefore
STOP THIS (124)
We find a similar stop-action in the poem “Sunday Morning,” Bob Perelman’s play on the Stevens poem which begins with a riff off that — “Complacencies of the money shot” — continuing on into a second stanza that reads:
The viewer turns around in a controlled mental circle
like a dog getting ready to lie down
but more advanced, thanks to evolution
and the intelligent design of the couch
FINISH THIS (127)
In both of these self-reflexive directives, we find the poet stepping back from the impulse toward cynicism and resignation: “STOP THIS”; “FINISH THIS.” These directives come across as notes the poet made on the poems themselves, as if he had grown impatient and perhaps even disgusted by the direction the poems were taking. The final intervention by the poet Bob Perelman in the poet Bob Perelman’s poetry comes at the very end of “FUBAR,” in the poem titled “Beating the Bushies.” Most of the poem is motivated by a poetics of disgust and bitterness whose only relief comes at the hand of humor. The poem begins:
Evolution started in the 19th century
No real reason
And stopped in the 21st
No real reason
So now we have to keep going back
and defend the past
which has become such a dump
Grab your bananas, men,
and squeeze! (130)
Here, Bob Perelman fuses the “debate” over Darwin’s theory by Intelligent Designers (it’s just a theory) with Fukuyama’s thesis about the end of history: capitalism has won the day and is here to stay, hurrah! Perelman’s answer comes in the form of a question: “Why does now / have to be History’s / nap time” (130–31). If one had to pick a time in which to end history, why of all times now?!
To the faces beyond the screen
he makes the secret sign
to eat what’s there
as it disappears into some unseen account
trading good views
for shows of force
by the eternal boredom
of the entertained, fleeing
the future, sulking in the reruns
But rather than settle for this unsettling picture by lapsing into the resignation that, as Badiou puts it, “entreats us to weigh up the worth of rebellion against its results . . . suffering and tragedy,” Bob Perelman leaves no doubt as to where such apathy leads. The poem and the book itself ends with a journalistic account of torture (Jane Mayer’s “A Deadly Interrogation,” published in The New Yorker), such as that captured by the photographs at Abu Graib. The sterility of what appear to be the words of military or CIA personnel recounting so-called interrogations, bundled in six prose-like stanzas (one of which is a single line), contrasts with the witty, if cynical, tone of the poetry preceding it, creating an effect much like the abrupt stops I have cited above. Here’s the last three stanzas:
The plastic bag could have impaired his breath, but he couldn’t have died from
If his hands were pulled up five feet — that’s to his neck. That’s pretty tough. That would have put a lot of tension on his rib muscles, which are needed for breathing. It’s not only painful — The muscles tire, the breathing function is impaired, so there’s less oxygen entering the bloodstream
The hood would likely have compounded the problem, because the interrogators can’t see his face is turning blue. We see a lot about a patient’s condition by looking at his face. By putting that goddam hood on, they can’t see if he’s conscious. It also doesn’t permit them to know when he died (133)
“The American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the term ‘manufacturing consent’, later made famous by Chomsky, but Lippmann intended it in a positive way. Like Plato, he saw the public as a great beast or a bewildered herd, floundering in the ‘chaos of local opinions’. The herd, he wrote in Public Opinion (1922), must be governed by ‘a specialised class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality’: an elite class acting to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, which is its inability to bring about the ideal of the ‘omni-competent citizen’. There is no mystery in what Lippmann was saying, it is manifestly true; the mystery is that, knowing it, we continue to play the game. We act as though we were free, not only accepting but even demanding that an invisible injunction tell us what to do and think” (Žižek, “Berlusconi in Tehran.”)
And what if I as a co-producer reader were to say something decidedly wrong; should I stand by it? What if I decided to write a kind of criticism that is deliberately far fetched and downright wrong if not false. I’d have to stand by it right
And yet the lines keep twisting, swerving into the unexpected, as we have come to expect, slamming the distant smack-up against the near, jamming future into past, death squads tucked in under napkins and pillows, and so forth. It is a grim picture lightened somehow by Bob Perelman’s incredible wit, his skill, his care; if cynical at times, it is as such cathartic, it frees the reader, however momentarily, from the grip of a language that no longer communicates (Agamben 81)
And I could not help thinking
of the wonders of the brain that
hears that music and of our
skill sometimes to record it
(the ending of “IFLIFE”)
“IFLIFE” is dedicated in part to the memory of Robert Creeley
And then we took our road trip to Colorado to visit my parents, through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming (Cheney country) — my mother having spent the past year battling cancer, now considerably thinner and decidedly older, but not of mind — I had put the trip off till the end of August so that I could meet the September 1 deadline, which I didn’t meet, deciding as a result to bring the material along with me, to work on it there, at my parents house, which I couldn’t do, the writing part at least, rereading the Impercipient Lecture Series issue on The Marginalization of Poetry instead, checking to make sure I was right in my memory of what Ron Silliman said: “The book is literally a step in the long march toward tenure and an eventual full professorship” (3). To be fair, he has many positive things to say as well, before the inevitable “But”; and his critique of Bob Perelman’s reading of Bob Grenier’s “JOE” is spot on, in my mind’s eye. But then reading Ann Lauterbach’s piece and then Juliana Spahr’s and Steve Evan’s and lastly Bob Perelman’s rebuttal. Remember that part where Bob Perelman says to Ron Silliman and Steve Evans and certain members of the audience: “Many people who attended the original panel had their desire for poetry at least partially piqued in school. To dismiss academia as irremediable comes pretty close to perpetuating the old anti-intellectual stereotypes that made the notion of ‘creative writing’ such a provincial totality a few decades back” (38)
Scorcese: Yeah, what about it?
Yet, in Clive James’s estimation, this skill would be hard to recognize or believe in because with a poet like Bob Perelman . . . well, Bob Perelman never started out showing that he could master form, form naturally being inherited form, the sonnet etcetera. And so now that he is off on his experimental journey, his “lacey jags,” a journey that should only be possible after he has exhibited mastery of fixed forms, how can we be assured that the poet knows what he is doing and that we are reading masterly work when we have no record of mastery to begin with? I mean I love what I’m reading but I’m not sure it’s any good
Okay, I suppose I shouldn’t be taking this stuff so seriously, but James’s essay was after all published in Poetry; note: those who master inherited forms today, tend to stay there, true to form; think Wynton Marsalis; though John Coltrane, who practiced the scales endlessly in the late 50s, right around the time he did his gig with Thelonius Monk at Carnegie Hall, proves the other argument true too; even so one suspects that the likes of Clive James would not care so much for Coltrane’s later free jazz phase, though, true, I’m likely to be wrong about that too; and then what about those who start out avant-garde, like Charlie Haden, and then return to more traditional forms, not for good, necessarily, and not at the expense of the avant-garde, like Robert Creeley did with some of his later poems, but just to keep it fresh I imagine
“But an actual discussion of language writing cannot occur until the topic of aboutness is itself simply set aside and we get beyond its twisted sister, value, so that we might then begin to read what actually is present” (Silliman, “The Marginalization” 11)
Robert Ryman would be in that school, those who never mastered draughtsmanship or learned how to paint, and yet became famous painters. How do we know it’s good? 1) Follow the money 2) Just say so
“Oppen has always been a touchstone for me because of the depth of his attention to the extra-literary world. In other words, in his work there is an ‘out there’ there” (Perelman, “Oppen’s Poetics and Politics Today”)
“I have this desire to read each poem of Bob Perelman’s IFLIFE closely, to worry over it and poke at it. Andy Gricevich’s comment to yesterday’s note — he calls IFLIFE “one of those “Oh –THIS is why I love poetry” experiences — strikes me as exactly correct. It’s definitely one of those books where the more you look, the more closely you read, the more you will find” (Ron Silliman, Silliman’s Blog, 1/16/07). Yes, but
But there’s also a way to understand Bob Perelman’s poetry without slowing down, without dipping down for a close-up, in fact when reading Bob Perelman’s poetry one may be advised to think of Chuck Close, where the closer you get to the painting the more the picture blurs (becoming, let’s say, more complex, dense, opaque), whereas reading with a certain speed, in the case of Bob Perelman’s poetry, produces the same effect that walking backwards does, away from the Chuck Close painting, where the painting suddenly comes into focus, producing a kind of intuitive sense of the poetry’s global (possibilities of) meaning
“It’s a dizzying display of mastery, and one thing about IFLIFE is that Perelman never lets up. The book as a whole can be exhausting, but in the exhilarating way that rafting whitewater is, although there are moments when Perelman will remind you that you’ve forgotten to bring the boat” (underline added, Silliman’s Blog 1/15/07)
“No poet can completely escape the ‘poetic’, that often sneaking assertion of poetic prerogative” (Perelman, “Oppen’s Poetics”)
The cover of IFLIFE reminds me of the beginning of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart
At every turn we run into the dead end of a language that has been hijacked by the can-do spirit of results
Ann Lauterbach: “a kind of negative / ideology: not that, not that either” (16)
but this brings me to
ask an embarrassing question
about the place of affect or feeling or spirit —
there is a pervasive sense that, unless
ironized or satirized to extinction
or, as in the case of Bruce Andrews,
emitted as full-throttled Eros
embracing Thanatos in a cultural headlock,
these are verboten.
Juliana Spahr: “writing that is concerned with egalitarian textualities and is valuable because it encourages readers to enter into a community. . . .” (25)
If the negativity Ann Lauterbach speaks of is found in the content of Bob Perelman’s poetry, it is in the form of Bob Perelman’s poetry, its syntax, that we find the affirmation, the community that Juliana Spahr speaks of, for it is the latter that invents/invites the co-producer; it is in this move that the poet steps into the public square (Arendt’s “space of appearance”) — but affirmation is also found in the humor and wit; the syntax cathartic too
Perhaps it’s an upper-level/lower-level thing
Genius = “‘creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed’”; “‘Of genius the only proof is, the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before’” (Wordsworth qtd. in TWG 160)
Introduction to Bob Perelman
Wednesdays at 4 Plus
October 7, 2004
by Tim Shaner
enmeshed in the dissertation victimized by the sheer brutality of its instrumentalist prose i decided i needed a break from the hegemony of the expository. so instead of writing my intro to bob perelman in the terrorizing prose of the expository i decided to make my intro to bob perelman part of my novel I HATE FICTION which is fun to write and a relief from the terror of the expository. after all, as Williams notes, “the writing / should be a relief, / from the conditions.” writing the intro to bob perelman in this fashion is in fact entirely in keeping with the writings of bob perelman who once presented a paper at the twentieth-century literature conference in louisville kentucky called “A False Account of Talking with Frank O’Hara and Roland Barthes in Philadelphia,” a fanciful text, if you will, in which bob perelman the author chances upon the two dead authors — who share the fate of being run over by automobiles, one a dune buggy the other a laundry truck — as he’s flipping through channels in a fake dream on some sort of hyper-cosmic television set. when I first read bob perelman’s poetry i was largely unaware of this institution-in-the-making called language poetry, which is by now of course totally institutionalized and so in effect dead on the page that is to say totally tamed and hence docile which is a good thing because now we can start really reading it for a change, language poetry’s reception by its critics being like the republicans’ reaction to michael moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. why see it when you know for sure you’re like totally against it. when i first read bob perelman’s virtual reality in alan golding’s class on contemporary american poetry at the university of louisville — my first real exposure to language poetry — so late in the day, i think now, where was i all those years, i think now, pensively, i thought this is exactly the sort of poetry i have been trying to write for the past ten years. trying to write but failing to write while bob perelman was totally succeeding. more specifically i thought at the time this was exactly the kind of poetry that needed to be written in the united states. that this was the only way one could write in the united states considering the fact that it is the united states, the same united states that elected the movie actor ronald reagan to play the lead role in that bunker-busting blockbuster called america. when i first read bob perelman’s virtual reality i thought about doing a sherrie levine and signing my name to his poems appropriating them as mine given the fact that here was the poetry i sought, here was the poetry that lived its time, which is to say a poetry that countered its time that wrestled with its time like those three small figures in Playing Bodies — “two bendable people and a plastic dinosaur” — his recent collaboration with the artist francie shaw. (is it a dance of extinction, i’m thinking right now.) this is what i’ve been trying to write all along, i thought, so why not simply steal it and say it’s mine, reading, after all, being a kind of stealing in this age of GATT and intellectual property. aren’t all introductions really about the one who’s introducing. i could and no doubt should speak instead then of the facts on the ground. that bob perelman has written some “sixteen books of poetry, most recently, Playing Bodies,” as the copy on the Wednesdays @ 4 Plus calendar has it, and that he is the “editor of Writing/Talks,” a collection of that most crucial of discursive mediums — the talk — that proved utterly crucial to the bay area language writing scene in the late 70s early 80s, of which bob perelman was needless to say a crucial member or shall we say participant it being above all a participatory movement (movement in terms of circulation, like breathing for example). that bob perelman has written two important critical works: The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky and The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History. of course many of the academic people know bob perelman because he’s that poet fredric jameson uses to prove his point about postmodernism being a symptom of late capitalist schizophrenia, once a burning issue now a mild amusement of sorts, a pastime as it were. so here’s jameson going on about the need for an art of cognitive mapping to combat the late capitalist schizophrenia that is scrambling up our brains making us generally confused and hence prone to follow some kind of evangelical monkey off the cliff into Armageddon and the rapture when right before jameson’s very eyes lies the answer to his problem if only he’d expand his range beyond china to such examples of cognitive mapping as to the reader the first world and face value those three amazing books from the mid to late eighties that more people ought to know about and read and write about today now that language poetry is institutionalized and so readable. i mean what we have here in the person of bob perelman is this incredible body of work that is such a pleasure to read because it’s funny and biting and clever and alive in the language of the page and inventive and political and aesthetically pleasurable, this incredibly tight wit tumbling over every syllable, every line, page after page, book after book, a kind of modern day swift or pope or something. anyway, i will end this fictional introduction now with a true story about the last time i introduced bob perelman. naturally as you can imagine i was nervous, given the fact that i was introducing to a classroom full of academic heavyweights one of my all-time favorite top ten poets. so being nervous and all i naturally screwed up when it came time to introduce bob perelman. instead of calling his new book, at the time, The Future of Memory, instead of calling it The Future of Memory, i called it “The Future of Meaning,” which of course is totally lame. fortunately bob perelman quickly and graciously corrected me, rescuing me from my embarrassment and certain doom, as i hope he’ll do now
Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print.
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998. Print. Badiou, Alain. The Century. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Cambridge (UK): Polity P, 2007. Print.
Baudrillard, Jean. Fragments: Conversations with Francois L’Yvonnet. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Bellamy, Dodie. Barf Manifesto. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2008. Print.
Bizzell, Patricia. “Multiculturalism, Contact Zones, and the Organization of English Studies.” Professing in the Contact Zone: Bringing Theory and Practice Together. Ed. Janice M. Wolff. Urbana: NCTE, 2002. 21–57. Print. “Global Protests Against Iraq War.” News.bbc.co.uk. BBC News World Edition, 19 January 2003. Web. 4 September 2009.
James, Clive. “The Necessary Minimum: Dunstan Thompson Slides Out of the Shadows.” Poetryfoundation.org. Poetry (July/August 2009). Web. 4 September 2009.
Lauterbach, Ann. “Lines Written to Bob Perelman in the Margins of The Marginalization of Poetry.” The Impercipient Lecture Series 1.4 (May 1997): 13–23. Print.
Myles, Eileen. “Everyday Barf.” Sorry, Tree. Seattle: Wave Books, 2007. 73–81. Print.
Perelman, Bob. “A Counter-Response.” The Impercipient Lecture Series 1.4 (May 1997): 36–46. Print.
———. The First World. Great Barrington: The Figures, 1986. Print.
———. IFLIFE. New York: Roof Books, 2006. Print.
———. “The Manchurian Candidate.” Ten To One: Selected Poems. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1999. 185–200. Print.
———. The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996. Print.
———. “Oppen’s Poetics and Politics Today.” Jacket Magazine 36 (2008): 30 pars. Web. 8 September 2009.
———. To The Reader. Berkeley: Tuumba P, 1984. Print.
———. The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein and Zukofsky. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994. Print.
Perelman, Bob and Francie Shaw. Playing Bodies. New York: Granary Books, 2004. Print.
Robinson, Kit. “Development.” The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, 1975–1980 (Part 8). Detroit: Mode A, 2009.
Silliman, Ron. “The Marginalization of Poetry by Bob Perelman.” The Impercipient Lecture Series 1.4 (May 1997): 1–13. Print.
———. Silliman’s Blog. 15 January 2007. Web. 8 September 2009.
———. Silliman’s Blog. 16 January 2007. Web. 8 September 2009.
Spahr, Juliana. The Impercipient Lecture Series 1.4 (May 1997): 23–27. Print.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Berlusconi in Tehran.” London Review of Books. 23 July 2009. Web. 8 September 2009.
Žižek, Slavoj and Glyn Daly. Conversations with Žižek. Cambridge (UK): Polity P, 2004. Print.
Tim Shanerwork has appeared in Kiosk, P-Queue, Shampoo, 88: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry, The Portable Lower Eastside, Ambit, The Rialto, and other magazines. He is the co-editor of Wig, a magazine devoted to poetry written on the job, and curates A New Poetry Series in Eugene, Oregon. He has a Ph.D. from SUNY-Buffalo’s Poetics Program and adjuncts at Lane Community College and Umpqua Community College.
Bob Perelman: see the bio note in this issue of Jacket.