Thursday, February 16, 2006

Baudrillard's Conspiracy

Got around to reading Baudrillard's Conspiracy of Art. Baudrillard's main thrust is that after Duchamp, the banal got tangled up into art, creating what he calls a "transaesthetic" society; a society where everything could possibly be art. Warhol then took this to the extreme by turning "art" into a mechanized routine, taking out everything transcendent in art and replacing it with plain quotidian artifacts, or the simulacra of these. Baudrillard claims, staying on the surface of things, and accepting surface-level narratives of art history without inquiry or objection, that this influx of banality has destroyed art as we know it, and that art has reached an advanced stage of "nullity," with the art community frantically trying to pretend that this hasn't happened.

Significantly, Baudrillard never mentions poetry, so it's clear his critique is aimed at visual art and visual artists. Nevertheless, I took his rather vulgarized critique somewhat personally. In Language/ post-avant circles, there is a somewhat prevailing ethos that "anything can be poetry/make a poem." Certain experimental poets have used this as an excuse to substitute banality for transcendence, nullity for depth, simulation for authenticity. Authenticity, of course, is a dicey issue here; we get back to the lyric "I" and long-standing issues experimental poetics is trying to avoid; I mean authenticity in the sense that it implies a certain formal rigor, a commitment to aesthetically and not merely conceptually or politically valid poetics.

Pursuant to this reading of Baudrillard, I've come to the conclusion that the bravest thing a poet can do now, paradoxical as it seems, is to go backwards. Towards form and narrative. Going back per se is the bete noir of post-avantists in general; but, as Baudrillard noted, going forward into even more vapid banality isn't much of an option either. A brave retreat towards formalism and narrativity is a valid move because, as you can't step in the same river twice, a narrative-thematic movement would have to create new forms to reflect new circumstances and contexts. We wouldn't be going back in a merely imitative or Centrist sense; we'd be going back in our emphasis, our preoccupation with content, specifically as regards crafting a poetics out of an engagement with the most serious issues poetry and philosophy can address, the primordial ones. Philosophy in poetry, dialectic or not, nullifies whatever the transaesthetic impulse might be.


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