Thursday, June 22, 2006

Avant-ness

Back in March I posted an excerpt from an interview with Dean Young in which he suggested that it's now all but impossible for any sort of meaningful (or fruitful) avant-garde to exist today. And yet this feeling is nothing new. Guess who wrote the following, and when?:

"Previously, vanguard artists never had to face the problems of integration into the art of their time because this usually happened at the end of a long career when the direction their art would take had long been fixed. When it took place earlier it could be dealt with by an explosition of bad temper, as in the possibly apocryhal story about Schonberg: when someone finally learned to play his violin concerto he stormed out of the concert hall, vowing to write another one that nobody would be able to play.

Today the avant-garde has come full circle--the artist who wants to experiment is again faced with what seems like a dead end, except that instead of creating in a vacuum he is now at the center of a cheering mob."

The answer is Ashbery. In 1968!

I'd like to raise the possibility that so much bland, over-determined poetry gets written today out of a fear of naivite. In the aftermath of the marriage between poetry and literary theory in the 70's and 80's, a marriage that's been playing out ever since, there's a palpable fear of NOT aspiring toward an intellectual poetry.

Or put it this way--a sculptor doesn't need to be a geologist in order to see the shape in the stone. Sensibility and intuition have a way of carrying us pretty damn far. Time for the pendulum to swing the other way.

More on this in future posts.

8 comments:

steph said...

M, a good thread to follow.

In general, considering all poets writing today, I don't think one can argue that fear of naivite and/or sentimentality is that much of a problem.

I think the issue is with the term "avant-garde": "in advance of the field." Nothing can always be in advance, yet somehow we've gotten lazy about identifying what exactly is considered experimental today. Or has the term just come to define a period of poetics, like when people say "80s music" they really just mean "80s pop."

So, right, I don't know where I'm going with this. I just think you're throwing some big punches and I'm trying to understand your position.

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

It's funny this idea of the avant-garde should bother me so, considering I'm naturally weary of labels to begin with.

But yea, I think the term naivite may be a problem. I've also toyed with the idea of ignorance, or, better put, ignore-ance. Maybe that's how I need to conceive this issue. We need to leave theorizing to theorists and get back to writing poetry.

steph said...

It's funny to me too that the idea of the avant-garde bothers you, and maybe that's why I raised the point, because I would say that you tend to embrace experimenting, as a verb, in your own work and that of others. Maybe what you're saying isn't that much of a contradiction. Maybe you can understand the usefulness of the term experimental, as a noun.

steph said...

Oops. I meant "maybe you CAN'T understand the usefulness of the term experimental, as a noun."

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

There's a quote by Pound (or at least I think it's Pound) that touches on the very issue of committing yourself to a particular artistic movement. Something about how only the mediocre artist ever really wants to be part of a movement, perhaps because the label, when applied, covers up so much that is lacking in the art itself. I'll have to try to find that one. At any rate, I've always been suspicious of those who feel the need to align themselves with one group or another. The idea of having to give oneself and others a name. It's really, to me, merely a cover for insecurity. Perhaps all this bothers me right now because both you and Charles insist on placing my work in the elliptical camp, even though I wrote every poem in Verge without an awareness that such a school even existed. I don't like being pinned down like that.

I guess what I don't understand are those poets like Silliman who assert it's a one side or the other contest. I would counter by saying that the true experimenter is a pragmatist at heart; he begs, borrows, or steals what he needs from anyone, be they avant or derrier.

Kristi Maxwell said...

I wonder if "naivete" could be replaced with "need to be accepted." I guess what I'm interested in (in both of your poetries) is that you have overcome the need for someone to pat the work on its spiny little shoulder or to kick it straight in the shins; it IS. To me, the avant-garde and the experimental has a willingness TO BE...REGARDLESS. I like your conversation.

A sidenote: the theorists are the poets, too, because they care to think about poetry. The caring matters, I think, even if there are flubs. The "thinking through" is a neat part, and a continual one.

steph said...

I know you resist being placed in a "school," that you feel hemmed in by that idea, and I publically apologize for trying to fit you into one. :) Meanwhile, I keep asking, "what school do I belong to? what school do I belong to?" I agree, it's a little childlike to want to identify oneself by a single term, the way kids put so much import on one's class, in their own terms, or exact age: "I'm not five, I'm five-and-a-half."

For me, the idea isn't to belong in a sense of having a public identity, or to cover up insecurity about whether I belong, though those things probably exist too, but to have a metaphorical index or search term I can use as a way to find other poets, predecesors, of the same temperament that I can learn from. I like identifying a lineage; it's like having an extended family; one that comes with bragging rights, too. (And perhaps that's the issue?)

Kristi raised an interesting point, about theorists at least caring to think about poetry. Sometimes it's such a love/hate relationship. But, that's how families are, no?

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

Two things:

Kristi, I absolutely agree with you that poets SHOULD be thinking about poetry. I love the idea of a "willingness TO BE regardless..." That sounds like defiance, and you know both know how much I love that because it means risk of folly and criticism.

Steph, I don't think you're anxiety comes from searching for a contemporary school so much as from the search for some kind of lineage, a geneology that you can trace back to some sort of origin. You're feeling adopted and just want to know who your birth parents are ;)