Random Displays of Affection

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I like Gerald L. Bruns already. First, he’s got the dog, who looks quite comfortable, which means his empathy bone is strong. His author photo isn’t some pompous monstrosity; he looks like a human who reads and might garden too. I bet he even has a bathroom in that house. Next, he’s currently at work on a book about the poets, Susan Howe and Lyn Hejinian – hurrah! Also, he wrote this interesting review that has tweaked my mind already this morning.

Finally, I picked up his latest book, ON THE ANARCHY OF POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY: A GUIDE FOR THE UNRULY, the other night. Even if I don’t agree with his points ultimately (don’t know yet!), I applaud the draw for those of us who fancy ourselves rule breakers, poets of another sort, etc.

Now I don’t wouldn’t call myself an attendant of modernism, or rather, a scholar of modern or postmodern action, but the back of the book certainly drew me in,

“… the difficulty of much modern and contemporary poem can be summarized in the idea that a poem is made of words, not of any of the things that we use words to produce: meanings, concepts, propositions, narratives, or expressions of feeling. Many modernist poets have argued that in poetry language is no longer a form of mediation but a reality to be explored and experienced in its own right. But what sort of experience, philosophically, might this be?

In this provocative study, Bruns answers that the culture of modernism is a kind of anarchist community, where the work of art is apt to be as much an event or experience–or, indeed, an alternative form of life–as a formal object. In modern writing, philosophy and poetry fold into one another. In this book, Bruns helps us to see how.”

Now my plan is, as I read from this new book, to provide snippets to whet your appetite, but before I provide today’s news brief, I just wanted to draw attention to the last detail that sealed the deal for the book’s purchase. My very smart friend, Isabella Winkler, has been revising her dissertation for a few years now. She lived here in Brooklyn for some of those years, working hard at perfecting the thing. Luckily (for me), my naivete played a role in this editing work — I became a sort of sounding board for her ideas because our interests overlap, though they’re not the same. Her book is related to gender and a few branches of theory that befuddle me. Over many wonderful sushi dinners and bites in the backyard at Relish, my job was to ask whatever questions led me wherever my interests dictated and hers was to answer, dumbing down as necessary (sometimes ad nauseum – sorry, Isa!).

One point of recurring interest was on Derrida’s concept of singularity. I won’t go into it here, but in my very cursory research away from Isabella, I have had trouble finding much on the concept at all, though apparently it’s integral to understanding much of the work he does (& has much bearing on the work of poetry). Anyway, jump ahead to me flipping through Bruns’ book the other night at St. Mark’s Books. I did a quick read-through of the chapter on “Poetic Communities” and never have I seen anyone, outside of Isabella, wield the word “singularity” as much as this author does. A superficial cause for purchase? Perhaps. But after reading the preface and noting the theorists and poets Bruns speaks on, I’m certain now that I’ve invested well. And I’m really looking forward to spring break next week digging deeply in.

Now, for you, an excerpt from the Preface,

“Modernity also gave us the concept of art as such–art that is not in the service of the court, or the school. But unlike other of modernity’s innovations, art proved to be an anomaly. The fact is that particular works of art appeared to lose definition when transported outside the context of these legitimating institutions. As Hegel and the German romantics saw, art cannot be brought under the rule of a universal. Its mode of existence is open-ended self-questioning and self-alteration. The history of art as something self-evident has come to an end. Arguably this condition of indeterminacy (or, better, complexity) is the beginning of modernism, the consequences of which (in terms of particular artworks) would only appear later in the nineteenth century, starting perhaps with Baudelaire, who gave us our first definition of modernism as that which is no longer concerned with the universal, the eternal, or transcendent beauty but rather with the local, the transient, the everyday.

What I try to do in this book is to give fairly detailed accounts of the writings of European thinkers that bear upon the problem of modernism, including (to start with) the problem of how to cope with a work of art in the absence of criteria handed down in tradition or developed by comprehensive aesthetic theories such as one finds in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. A recurring argument in the chapters of this book is that what counts as art or poetry is internal to the social spaces in which the art is created, which means that there are multiple and heterogeneous conceptions of art and poetry, a condition that gives rise to the phenomenon of conceptual art, which argues that in order to experience a thing as art, we need to have developed or have in hand a conceptual context–theories, arguments, appeals to or rejections of what is happening elsewhere–in which the thing before us ‘fits,’ that is, as the conceptual artists say, in which the work itself exhibits the theory that enables it ‘to come up for the count’ as art. My book is essentially a defense of nominalism in the sense that it proposes that criteria for determining whether a thing counts as a work of art are not universal but are local and contingent, social and historical, and therefore the source of often intense (and sometimes fruitful) disagreements among and within different communities of the artworld. Hence what I am proposing in this book is an anarchist aesthetics or poetics: anything goes, nothing is forbidden, since anything is possible within the historical limits of the particular situations in which modern and contemporary art and poetry have been created. It is as if freedom rather than truth, beauty, or goodness had become the end of art.”

–from the Preface of ON THE ANARCHY OF POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY: A GUIDE FOR THE UNRULY

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Okay, one last thing. If you knew me in the nineties, you might remember that I was a photographer for awhile in Buffalo. I even hung some work in a few cafes. One of my first favorite photographers whose work I researched, explored, and emulated was Mr. Robert Frank’s. So I was pleasantly surprised today to find he did this collaboration with Patti Smith on her song, “Summer Cannibals.”

Even more, I was excited to find Robert Frank’s short film, “Pull My Daisy,” complete with narration by Jack Kerouac and acting by Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Pablo Frank, Larry Rivers, Peter Orlovsky, Alice Neel, and a few others I don’t recall.

May you enjoy this New York City and the explorations these poets and filmmaker provide!

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