Sunday, May 20, 2007
an ever deepening reservoir of jargonized muck:Notes and half-baked assumptions on Post Modernism and Writers
Some nuggets regarding the subject of postmodernism and writing, surely a blast from the distant nineties when anyone could sound like a language philosopher around the time clock . It's my vanity to think that this is writing of some heft other than the volume of words; honestly, what I like was learning the art of conversation drift, that is, starting at one point with one idea, maybe two, and then letting the words drive through whatever neighborhood they felt like. It's my vanity here, but then again, it's my blog. Sometimes I just like to "hear myself write", as Duncan Shepard has remarked of Quintin Tarentino's dialogue.
Isn't "deconstruction" an attempt to apply scientific principles to the analysis of language and what it implies? There is a lot of science - envy among the critics in the arts and humanities, and they've seemed to latched on to the extrapolated language of anthropology and linguistics in order to keep their jobs: there is an effort, in the mission of literature departments, to continue to prove that there is stuff of quantifiable worth to be extracted from the study of novels and poems, and that they in some way adding to body of knowledge. Since post-modernism , as a style, as an artistic impulse, as habit of mind and gesture inevitable in an image-saturated time has cut-up, bricolage, pastiche, parody, and other sorts of archival hooliganism at its heart, and that the artist (writer) should use the images at end, what ever their source, and give them free play and transgress boundaries, the notion remains that the impulse is, in fact, pre-modern, about ritual and mystery, the universe shrunk down to symbolic particulars that have a power to establish order in things that ultimately not quantifiable by science or argument.Writing and literature is all veils, I would think: if anyone could get "IT" with a piece of work, we would have to assume the writer, and his audience are satisfied, sated, and are disinclined to hear the story again. But there is always another wrinkle to relate, another nuance to discover, another veil to be taken away.
This echos Barthes idea of writing / writing as being an erotic function, that the end that one gets to at the end of the tale is not the point of the quest, but the quest itself, the unveiling of the language, the constant reassimilation that names for things are made to under go as the nature of the material world defies literary form; it is the imagination that needs to work within the waking sphere, not the world that needs to fit within it's contours. We find, with reading, that writers we care about themselves could care less about what kind they are supposed to be, according to literary archivists; thus, they will have stylistics extremes that venture into another camp, away from what common knowledge dictates is their "native" style, manner. Is Gravity's Rainbow any less a work of "Magical Realism" than what we've seen in Garcia Marquez or Borges? Is Nabokov's work Pale Fire less post modern than, say, Mulligan Stew?
It becomes the definitively moot point, irresolvable and subject to an unending detour the circles around the precise meaning of finally inconsequential terms. Imagination is trait that will use anything manner or style that is suitable to a writer's project at hand, and it ought not be surprising, or upsetting that many writers, assigned to roles by career-making PhD candidates , simply do what they need to do in order to get the work done. This gives us fascinating paradoxes: Norman Mailer, by temperament a romantic existentialist who might have been in the late 19th century, is one who took to post-modern strategies to render is work: the range of his assumed styles and experimentation creates specific problems with literary historians who might be eager to be done with his books and his name. Somewhere, so far as the criticism has gone in the last half of the century, the link was made with other discourses, which made much of literary study something of a gawky laughing stock: not historians, not scientists, not psychologists, not philosophers, the gamiest of theory wonks could prate on and onward on fields not his own, keeping the tenuous connection between their specialty, fictional accounts of experience, and real time bathos and tragedy obscured with an ever deepening reservoir of jargonized murk.
The result, of course, is an abandonment of criticism and theory's original mission to seek clarity, comprehension. Among the critics who are incapable of giving serviceable interpretations of books they reputedly teach, too many have produced a feeling that literary is as unapproachable to the non specialist as would a technical article in a medical journal. The post modern critic, too often, become the things they are nominally opposed to: they become a priesthood, the place where power is located!
Whether Ginsberg or Ashbery are post modernists skirts this issue, not uncommon here; it's more fruitful to trace post modern poetry's influences. Ginsberg is a romantic, sure, but he was one in the 20th century, confronted with mass-media, A bombs, televised unpopular wars, the whole 60s shot, and his response to these accelerated times had to push the hackneyed envelope. If he trusted his sensibilities to make sense of the world, apart from the mind of God guiding him ( the central conceit of the Romantic Movement and it's attendant schisms), Ginsberg had to expand his poetic line, blur crucial distinctions about well-rendered introspection, and essentially clear the field for further innovation.
Ashbery, in turn, developed a secret language, a self-addressing voice that managed not reveal much of the soul of the poet, but did much to reveal the writer's mind engaged with the world, musing in elegaic lines of things, their places in the scheme , their displacements by other things--this is the Supreme Fiction of Wallace Stevens, and it sought to bring harmony to a sphere of unknowable phenomenon.
Both Ginsberg and Ashbery, coming from Romanticism and moving straight ahead into the Modernists' obsession with inventing new forms from old to gain new ideas about a world that won't yield itself to the individual mind, quite cannily opened the territory for the poets who would be called post-modern poets, wh0 would be, I think, anyone from Ron Silliman, Rae Armentrout or Bob Perelman of the Language school, to the Nuyorican poets, the slam movement, rap and hip hop, and even the largely odious New Formalist group. Though a writer can bring all their resources to bear when they write, a certified grounding in philosophy isn't required to write fiction and poetry.
The learning doesn't hurt the work if the writer is posessed of demonstrable inspiration, or genius, if you will, but what is essientially an act of the imagination is not required to furnish it's own critical aparatus in it's length. DeLillo, for example, can parse his own imagery and subject them to a cold analytical eye, and creating a haunting poetry about the signifiers fading resonance in a reality that never stops blinking, but his genius is rare. John Barth is very clever, some times brilliant in his deployment of knowing literary conceits in his work, best, I think, in the The Floating Opera, End of the Road and The Sot Weed Factor, and it can also be said , though, that inspite of the "special learning" to attain the rarified information that was needed to construct these novels, Barth wrote the works to operate as novels, as entertainments, first before all, not as formal arguments against prior literary movements. The process is as instinctual as it is deliberate, I think, as is good criticism, who's task, repeat, is to interpret the books in an activity seperate from the novel. Post modernism, it appears, comes in as many stripes and hues and apologies as Romanticism, Modernism, or even classicism, and there is no hard rule that states that one cannot be a post modern Romantic. It's a reasonable distinction.