I'm a round dimmer person, not a toggle dimmer person. I'm struggling with putting a -- I suspect three way -- toggle dimmer (Levitron) which came with the house in a bank of four Levitron toggle dimmers -- while having a dimmer for one's closet light might seem odd, because the closet light is the rightmost switch (facing -- closest to the door when entering the room (I know -- whaaa / rip it out! hire a professional to re-do the box! it should be farthest to the left!)) works fine with reversed polarity (i.e., you switch it to off, it goes on) with a red to red and black to black match and vice versa. It has a brown wire. Yes, the dimmer. I'm beginning to realize it is not the ground...
Here is my unabridged talk from AWP. I didn't read parts of it, deliver the Opennheim examples, etc. and need to rewrite it, but
One term is formalism. Formal consideration of a work attends:
systemic structure, not the system or its content;
techniques used to create a piece of writing rather than context;
representation of a structure rather than representation of reality, other art, emotion (and is that representation a replication or reproduction or imitation?);
or a series of statements which interrelates symbols.
Formalism is one approach among many possible approaches to any given subject.
Part of my struggle to articulate the fullness of my efforts and where possible meanings lie – something that is increasingly the job of poets (we’re all poet critics) is to get beyond or behind the formalist approach to writing -- to explain the why? Why this content, why these techniques – and part of this is in order to create a context for the work, but perhaps more to show the context for the creation of the work.
The formalist approach is best at revealing structures so that these can be used as a crutch to interpreation or reading. That’s easy pedagogically for lit (reading) and creative writing, but it is not the best approach to reveal context as a means to interpretation or to explore “unbridled content.” For example, it is probably easier to hit the critcal theory, philosophy, meter, rhyme, etc. of a poem than to see how these treatments are similar or different from other possible applications, to see how they’ve arrayed the content, with a formal approach. I think this is part of the reason one sees really quite wonderful work dismissed as being theoretical or technically accomplished – it is only being formally viewed.
One of these rubrics is the idea of the avant garde. Is it devoted to what’s “new”? (Can there be an avant garde content or context or is “avant garde” a formal view of the development of art?) Is the avant garde marginal because it is at a boundary? (Is “being” on the “edge” a context?) Is there a tradition of avant garde-ness / writers and other artists taking this position? Yes. How does this relate to commercialism and culture and class (context and content?)?
One of these is inventio. What is its relationship to information, topoi, content? The idea “make it new” being so old – and having such a fraught relationship to science, ideas of progress and hierarchy – what then new form? Must new forms be created (are they?) and why? What’s a new form? What’s good about it?
It is here – at invention – that I spend a lot of time. Progress, process, project, idea, concept, back and forth, forth and back.
Another of these is the numinous, and ITS relationship to information, topoi, form/process/ritual. I can’t talk about temples. They are institutional structures supporting moral and ethical structures.
Thus, formalism is point of view, avant guard is a position, inventio and the numinous are places -- our panel title formally viewed might be said “place in a place: position point of view”
now I’m going to make some claims.
Tradition cannot be identified with formalism. “Tradition” is not the opposite of “avant garde.” Is traditionalism the opposite of avant garde? Classicism isn’t. Neo-Classicism isn’t. Is modernism the opposite of tradition? Is postmodernism or post post modernism appropriating structures or content – of tradition -- and to what purpose? There are many traditions. To reword Hilbert the mathemetician, no more than any art can writing be founded or related to structure alone. But Hilbert also considered the numinous to be a priori.
Formalism isn’t the most useful pov for art after the whole “post structural” idea came and went; the idea of “new form” is formalist. When poorly conceived, new form separates the structure of language from other structures, and from practices, and uses. Some new form is format, not form – this is not to dismiss it. We are confronted with many formats for which the poems have not been written – this is part of what I do, writing these – but these are not forms, these are useful illusions, appearances, the dance of new media.
Invention is always related to information, topoi, and form/process/ritual. The numinous is not, but invention – even though it is a place -- is one of the ways of getting to the numinous. This is perhaps the reason for the “mystical” cast to a lot of procedural writing, the way it, on the surface, confuses the speaker, though I resist that, too. Dwelling in a place involves coming aware of ones situation and positions – I just don’t think that involves a numinous or invention separate from – factors.
Now, I want to repeat my little definitions and abstract statements , and I’m going to do that because these are dirty, sullied, terms.
You know formalism isn’t sonnets, new formalism isn’t sonnets, and a 13-to-15 line short poem is not a new form of a sonnet. We think of a formalism around the “turn of the century” – the twilight of the Celtic twilight, 1900-ish – we think about the Fugitives, et.al. mid-century – and we think of about ten years ago until today – the end of the short 20th century, the end of the second millennium –we mark formalisms the same way we mark time, eras, etc. i.e., artificially.
New York School isn’t clever sestinas only, first, or most importantly. To me, the New York School long poem with its soap-bubble thin, minimalist form, “Second Avenue,” Flow Chart, "necessary path", which is the trajectory to which the system tends to return, the “true subject the process of its own unfolding” – if you’re going to view things formally – is the crucial bit.
You know the avant garde isn’t a privileged, theory-riddled position of a highly educated elite deliberately marginalizing themselves by writing the unreadable. They’re scouts.
“Cutting edge” or “bleeding edge” might be better terms than avant garde if they weren’t so useless in technology and digital poetry. It helps to note that I am a former system analyst, even of esoteric systems not merely technical ones. To me thinking about the avant garde is like being urged to “think outside the box” by engineering middle management, or asked how close to the “bleeding edge of technology” I am by a chubby IBM exec-cum golfer in Orange County.
Referencing David Antin, it is a war term I resist. It is a position.
I think its all too easy to view and adopt positions – rather than acts or art. We view avant gardes in Time divided by violence, we think of there being three or four avant gardes in the 20th century – that before wwi, that between the wars, that in the 50’s, and that in the latter part of Vietnam.
We’ve – and I mean writers writing now and in English especially – have made a cult of invention, of coming upon, finding, discovering some thing or process, and viewing a discovery, embodied in a work, as a thing or process, usually separately from its meaning or context. But these aren’t things in space. These are things valued because they are newer, better, later, “further on in the process,” “lifted up on the shoulders of” what came before. I wonder how useful it is to view art – result, perhaps -- as one certainly MUST view what is really new , which is the way more of us people have access to pen, paper, and an education, but also, through reproduction and some free archiving, to art, other artists. This is what breaks down barriers –
I spend most of my time trying to figure out the best way to deploy some piece of knowledge I have to get more knowledge – to get some place. I think this is a fairly unifying view, a vision of a community praxis in a world where academia, writing, poetry within writing, other arts, all seem hierarchical, competitive, fractious.
How do we, our stuff, our thoughts, relate to our systems? What about the ones made of words? Why has questioning authority come to seem elitist, privileged, snide, ironic, beside the point? There are structures and structures of power. How can a group – say women -- operate within institutional structures?
And perhaps that is part of the freight of “new” meaning “progress”
OuLiPo’s vision of algorhythm disassociated from reason has been conflated with ‘pataphysics – and so pataphysics’ rejection of scientism is elided. Why apply algorhythms to language, and what does one hope to achieve?
existentialism, phonomenology, epistomology – I’m taking these slightly out of order, historically – we take in experience, language is a part of experience we take in – we experience language as well -- but the language we put out doesn’t reflect what we take in – of course there’s internal censorship, the twist of form – is there an emergence of the numinous – whatever it is? – we take in what we make again to make it part of our experience, again –
and where does this leave the audience – well, for example, women’s writing is my content, and in may ways, my chosen context, but more so is time. So if you got lost on the way to the time panel – hey! I think of some poems as applications where you’re carefully choosing inputs and design to be in control as much as possible, to measure control against surprise or pleasure – so most of my techniques are applied, in part, for reasons, or to provide a specific context. Not as a “new form.” Perhaps as a process and project with an agenda;
I frequently bring techniques from various arts, crafts, and sciences into poetry – most recently, quilting, knife techniques, dough handling… but I also like .
Thus, I argue we learn stuff by attempting to deeply embed immanent meanings – different ones than previously -- in a flawed, incomplete, disassembled language system – that’s a way that some contemporary poetic practices influence how we read modernism now. This rubric would explain why we’re still misreading postmodernism, Oulipo, the New York school, Language poetry, Black Mountain, abstract expressionism, ethnopoetics, performance art
I was reading in the new york times – Wednesday, on the plane, about Robert Rosenblum the art historian, and the way he thought of job of the art historian – poet critic – was to revisit the terms of the compromise artists make to move beyond oppositions, conflicts – the one of form is one, and the idea of avant garde formalism is one such comprimise –
and to the energy available for new ways of seeing the world. Artist and audience as one.