Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bitch slapping talent

I agree that talent that does not "risk" something in the expression --the poet , above all else to be interesting and intriguing to a inquiring reader, must have the nerve to risk failure and have, as well, a casual attitude to the possibility that he or she might wind up being embarrassed--gives us mere professionalism. 

But too often the creed is risk for its own sake with a contemptuous dismissal of the idea of "talent" as being a cruel hoax perpetrated by a long running gang of conservative, homophobic, racist, anti-woman punks; I understand and generally agree with the critique, but somewhere along the lines what used to be considered "risk taking" turned into another gathering of stylistics which has woefully influenced a couple of generations of writers.

I seem to remember that genuine risk takers , whether Burroughs, Artaud, Beckett, Joyce,Ginsberg, Stein, Joyce, had solid foundations in tradition ; they had a knowledge of what they were transgressing, taking apart and reassembling. They had that thing one calls "an ear" for the language they loved enough to master as writers and loved enough to goad it to forms that sharpened our collective wits with it in mind to see the world in new ways and so change it to something closer to truth. Criticism, of course, judges how well these writers and others succeed or lapse in the long run of their careers. History is not always kind: Kerouac was tone deaf, puffed up and pretentious in his rants, Ginsberg when from being genuinely inspired by visions and the legacy of Blake and Whitman and the Bible and became, in time, a mere self-chronicler, while Burrough's perversions, distortions, realignments and genre-jumping fictions remain lively, fresh, funny and sinister, the definition of the Edge so many of us want to flirt with.

My point is that talent and risk, ie , experimentation, need to be reconnected in a meaningful way that can , perhaps, spare us from another generation of too -easily published poets who seem little more than children banging on pianos that have had the keys removed.


  1. Burton Rascoe II9:34 AM PDT

    Talent is something of a cultural construct, is it not? There are times when those who constructed the Western Canon would not allow a work to be entered because of its subject matter and the disreputable pedigree of its author. Standards of talent are hinged to artistic value, which must speak to the concerns of the moment. The condemnation of risk-takers and canonical violators of all types is as old as written civilization. I have no doubt that the elites of Sumeria smashed any tablets that attempted to challenge the supremacy of Gilgamesh. True, there is a lot of trivia and self-indulgence clogging up the taste-filters of today. But the enemy has NEVER been from the outpourings of unfiltered individuals. Those who uphold the rigid standards of the past – whether set by Tender Buttons or the King James Bible – are the foes of a vital cultural life. It's the cultural pontiffs -- not the punks -- who deserve our skepticism and often our disdain.

    1. I agree with your general assessment of the risk/talent dynamic, but I would venture further and argue that we need to skeptical of anyone's say-so and disdain any set of world-shrinking absolutes. Cultural pontiffs--choice phrase, Ace--often enough start off as punks and wind up giving us revised histories of their salad day heros by arguing at length that the music, the novels, the plays and the poetry they liked in college and early professional life didn't try to smash rules, break forms or set fire to the palace , but rather tried to return art and aesthetics to principles that have been dormant, abandoned, forgotten. Eloquent apologies for one's formative taste, though, does not constitute a defense of the starker, more brittle frameworks that have dissolved like so much sugar in the guise of avant gard impulse; I am all for risk taking and rule breaking, but even the nastiest, least comprehensible bodies of work created by suitably sociopathetic experimenters there are things that catch your ear, your eye, your fancy as you read what's in front of you, there are measures of genius that find that one thing in experience, that issue that no one had engaged, that combination of forms, ideas and attitude that had yet to be combined that strikes you a get level as real genius. I think these elements are genetic, organic, a hard to phrase dimension of human experience that transcends , easily , the problematics of social construction and canon making. This is why I tend to support subjective or heroic criticism--the critic less as taste maker than as someone who gathers their responses, knee jerk and reasoned both, and conducts an inquiry to his own first-person criteria as to what constitutes failure or success in a frame, in a line, in a string of musical notes.

    2. Burton Rascoe II7:23 PM PDT

      You are quite correct in pointing out that yesterday’s punks are tomorrow’s overstuffed shirts who look back in dewy-eyed fondness at the radicalism of their youth as some sort of second coming of what was never there in the first place. Of course, one must think for oneself and examine what’s there on the plate before you. I would like to also insert that too much criticism is the equivalent of the Smell Test or the fabled opinion of the Supreme Court justice that he “knows pornography when he sees it.” The first-person criteria of even the best-intentioned critic is often the second-hand detritus of adolescent impulse and the residue of grad school bull sessions, examined like lint from one’s own navel. The echoes of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 address on The American Scholar – the one where he consigned irrelevant standards of Truth and Beauty to the ash heap and demanded an immediate relevance to all art, all perception – still resonate whenever the fat posterior of the Academy attempts lower itself upon the intemperate yowling cries of Youth. In the late ‘60s, I recall hearing some conservative radio commentator (George Putnam?) prate on about the prevalence of “writers who can’t write and painters who can’t paint” – to which, all these years, later, I say, “who the fuck are YOU to say what someone can or can’t do if they make someone else feel they are alive?” This is the real sniff test for me, not the dry breath of the hoary volume or the stench of an untouchable elder’s tomb.

    3. Teach them to say motherfucker


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