Gabe Gudding Talking to Adam Fieled
David Orr, Kind of Yawning
I think the Gudding interview is terrific, and offers much to agree with, as well as much to argue against - I intend to write quite a bit about it, later today, perhaps. The Orr article, is just plain silly, but I think worth reading, you know, for it thoroughgoing middlebrow attitude. GRRRRRRREATNESS!
Before reading the following, please read GG's interview, cause I'm a bit selective in my quotations.
What I like about Gabe Gudding’s writing is its kind of blissed-out ferocity. He writes:
Most poetry is a kind of verbal costume. An ideational schmaltz. An emotional uniform. A mental getup. This is just as true for avant garde and post-avant work as it is for mainstream stuff. Though I don't think the costumed life or the costumed mind is peculiar to poetry, necessarily, as a genre, it's no secret poetry tends more toward stylization than other modes. Poetry is the country music of literature. Given to schmaltz, nostalgia, over extension, socio-emotional reactivity, and alienation from material reality. The flipside is the hipster reaction to this: flaff, whathaveyou, langpo…our capacity for delusion is almost total.
Now, of course, I totally agree with his analysis of the “hipster problem.” I don’t agree that a ‘mental get-up’ is in any way a problem. I don’t want to see a bare brain. ever. Unless I can tuck in a penny into one of its folds. What I do like is his outright mockery of our falso avantiness, but only because of it’s ‘delusion.’
The book [R.I.N.] became in one sense oppositional to the idea that the imagination is a refuge. We are told by poets for the last two hundred twenty years there is some kind of glorious refuge in imagination, imagination is this transcendent, palliative kingdom: the safety and order in the supreme fiction, the imagination as oasis, a good poem as a Wallace Stevens' Memorial vacation get-away, and that this capacity of fantasy is some kind of "palace of wisdom." This is complete bunk. Absolute delusion. It's the intellectual equivalent of tourism: the knowing, willful engagement in the delusive economy of deflected escape. It makes sense that Stevens constitutes the pinnacle of this romantic ideal -- as his poetics is strongly related to the rise of modern tourism. Where Stevens thought he was speaking of the nature of mind and imagination and its relation to reality, he was in fact writing deeply classicist and racist poetry. This book stakes an oppositional poetics to Stevens, Ginsberg, Spicer, Ashbery, siding with Loy, Lola Ridge, Rakosi, Niedecker. I wanted to write the kitsch, the radio, the a-magical, the quotidia of civic life, the road sign -- things normally kept from poetry -- as a means of reminding myself how much stuff we IGNORE in order to pretend to touch the real or the supreme – or “the mind,” as if the mind were this Ashberian numinous burning collagic machine of lyricism.
Of course, I don’t know what Spicer he’s talking about here. Much as I like GG, he doesn’t seem to have read Spicer very well at all. Spicer is a-magical in his magic, and I think JS’s writing is closely related to the GG’s own method.
On the other hand, GG gets right to the heart of my problem with Stevens. On the one hand, Stevens “mental get-up” makes me like his writing. On the other hand, Steven’s sort of monomania about it gets really annoying. “Burnshaw” and “The Revolutionists Stop for Orangeade” being the kinds of poems that really bug me. It’s the Insurance Dude coming out.
This idea of the imagination and tourism as these twinned, isolating ways of being in the world are totally perfect. GG talks earlier about the inclusiveness of R.I.N. as being anti-imaginative, and I really really appreciate that. This is Me ‘n’ Scott’s New Literalism, I think. How to move through your imagination to a non-abstract REAL.
And yet, I must protest, I continue to honor the fabulists and mages. A. Joron, for example. I find an unresolved tension between the ‘imposition’ of the imagination on the landscape (as in D. Abrams “Animism and the Alphabet”) and the naming of the trash, and the crap, and the trashcrap of talking about crap and trash. I still believe in song and singing.
At an aesthetic level, [R.I.N.] is textured by what Bakhtin calls "primary speech genres" (road signs, radio utterances, bumper stickers, the makeshift reality of internal mental dialogue, embarrassing first draft crap), the book is perforce built on speech realities that fall outside what Bakhtin calls official speech. It is overtly badly stylized (poorly realized) speech. But nowhere does it touch on the nature of the real. It’s just proffering the other things often left out of a book, a history, a politics, an organized “life”: buildings the size of dust motes, blurry towns smeared into a chain of ramps and roadside islands. It says nothing about the way these things exist, just that they might. The towns we see from the road might exist. The people in the Hardees might exist. The rest stops might exist. The jerk in the adjacent car might. Your hands on the steering wheel might too. A way out of my sorrow might exist. A way out of literature might exist.
Ha! And of course, this is an act of the imagination engaging with the language of the boring. This ties R.I.N. to Whitman, in the sad, official abstraction of actual places that highways always enforce, lovely as they are in their own mononomic use.
I mean, basically there have been over the past 150 years a limited range of techniques that just keep getting relabeled and rebranded: collage becomes "cut up" becomes "flarf" or "flirph" or whatever it's called now; disjunctive anacoluthon becomes what William James called "automatic writing" and Stein takes that into cubist dada which is then rebranded via a different set of theoretical apparatuses (Frankfurt School) as L=A=N....; a hodgepodge of sleep-based techniques and collaborative aleatoric methods morph (thank goodness) with oppositional leftist politics into surrealism which then meld with the rightist political quietism of late modernism into deep image and ...?
This is a market. Markets need a predictive mindset. If "art" and "writing" cannot divest itself of this fascination with symbolic exchange-value in favor of a use-value, it will continue to be just another inverted extension of the economic system.
Too, markets need a projected null point that serves to mask the manufacture of collective misrecognition: the new; imagination; the originary; celebrity and celebration.
And after having written, is it possible not to vie for status as a consecrated writer or as a writer who displays his own performative disinterest in the field of production?
So, what can you say? Does GG presume he exists outside of markets? Or is this a dream of being unattached, some residual individual wish? Perhaps no – there’s a lot of ass covering in this interview – I feel like the asking of the question is fine, but there can be responses which are answers, I think. I mean, he’s setting himself up to be a target here – I mean, we could ‘brand’ R.I.N. as any number of kinds of writing – I suppose he tries to avoid it through the thoroughgoing ‘crappiness’ or ‘badness’ of the writing.
What I do like here is the kind of mockery of Silliman-ish insistence on movements and literary ‘branding.’ AMERICAN HYBRID, dorks?
As to whether I think of my more ardent poet friends or acquaintances as "fallacious": no. I don't think of people caught within the dream of literature fallacious. I just think they are following the logic of the game they find themselves in. Part of that logic is belief -- believing in the religion of literature -- and part of that is the pretense not to believe. Performative indifference is part of an avant garde (or, as it's called now, "post avant") symbolic economy, just as the dream of what you call "lasting value" is part of a more established symbolic/financial economy of letters. And the machine has to turn: margin to center; acoustic to electric; Alan to Golding; outlaw to classic. The two different non-desirable-locales, as you call them, depend on each other. Sure you can find a viable third realm if you believe in Santa Claus. And lots of people do -- and one can make the flock move this way or that way: there are lots of tactics and strategies for planting one's brand. Take your pick. One can form a group, a "movement" -- or go it alone and play the transgressor, the outlaw, the shaman, versions of the sacred heretic: all of these things work. They each have their tactical logic. None of it matters.
I like the idea, but the tone is pretty snotty, in a bad way. But, wait, none of it matters? That’s surely some academic blasé shit, I think – it does matter. Or Buddhism? Otherwise, American Idol is allowed to matter. And, American Idol is real shit that doesn’t matter. GG is, I think finally so interesting because he prefers the ‘dream’ of the public space of the freeway to the ‘dream’ of literature, which matters only to literati. And we KNOW that Hardee’s matters more to the world than poetry does – So, I appreciate the outwardness of the idea here, even as I bristle at the tone. GG and all of us benefit from our lil dream inside the bigger dream. And I think that being on the line between dreaming and waking is the kind of tense experience of ‘reading reality’ that poetry persists in offering. Or, as F. Gander put it in Make Magazine (paraphrase) – poetry doesn’t have to matter to everyone to matter.
Instead of where post avant poetry is going, I find myself these days wondering about why the Flarf movement is so white. Why "post avant" poetries are so white. Why is the Chicago innovative writing scene so white? Why for instance is there so little crossover between the scene surrounding the Palabra Pura reading series in Chicago and the experimental scene (Myopic series or Series A or Danny's Tavern). Why has there historically been so few women in the European and North and Latin American avant garde poetry scenes? Why is the spoken word scene at Nuyorican so much more ethnically and culturally diverse than the St Mark's crowd and why is the spoken word scene in Chicago whiter than white? Why did so few "experimental" poets write anti-war poems? How are some so sycophantic: why do they need an iterative white transgressive hero, a Ginsberg, a Spicer, a Berrigan, an Ashbery? or a white masculinely safe heroine, Stein, Moore, Bishop. Why do people keep reading the same writers over and over, even when they're ridiculously boring and shticky and predictable (Ashbery) or they know their poems by heart already? Why do so few study the anthropology and/or sociology of literary scenes?
Well, for all of GG’s interest in history, he doesn’t seem to understand Chicago very well. The segregation of Chicago is corrosive, and really got into my mind in a troubling and destructive way when I lived there. I’m glad he raises these questions, though. Also, why conflate this with all the sniping? I mean, JA is snipe-able, as are many of these other writers, but they are part of the compost library, much as many other unnamed writers unincluded also are. And, btw, I can’t think of a more boring subject than the anthropology/sociology of literary scenes. That said, the SF world really is engaged with some of these ideas – I’m not totally convinced by a lot of the projects that come out of that engagement, but it troubles the mind, post-avanty or not.
By way of conclusion, and solution, GG offers this:
I think a really fruitful way of doing the above is to develop a loving heart. A loving heart is an open heart. An open heart catalyzes a flourishing, courageous mind. I do think Emerson is right when he says in "Friendship” that "our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection.
I mean, I don’t disagree, but what I find missing is a sense of work. This sounds like the kind of false comfort many East Bay hippies find in slogans like “your contagious enthusiasm for justice will influence millions.” Bosh. Also missing is cosmic humor. None of these is missing from the Rhode Island Notebook, and many of the ideas herein included are explored in a much more, er, beautiful and emotional manner in the book.
I love the Rhode Island Notebook, and it is undoubtedly one of the most important books of poetry to come out in my time. That said, GG gives us a lot to argue with here, and for that, thanks, dude.