Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Narrativity and Stasis


A good number of the texts I've been dealing with on this blog over the last few weeks are non-narrative or anti-narrative texts. They do not tell stories or delineate premises in a linear or logical fashion, but move in ellipses. Something I said about Meteoric Flowers (Elizabeth Willis) holds true (more or less) for all these texts- they give an impression of stasis, of nothing moving. It is difficult not to feel psychically congested when you read them, because lines pile up, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and you feel no sense of velocity, of progress. This would seem to be a liability. On the other hand, many post-avantists claim this to be a conscious choice- that subverting, inverting, perverting, or (usually) simply doing away with conventional narrative structure is part and parcel of their stated or unstated mission. To my mind, though, in simplistic, reductive terms: the work winds up making no sense. Many post-avantists have very baroque explanations for not making sense, elaborate conceptual schemas. I would still rather read work which hinges on the incomprehensible than deal with Billy Collins, of course, but I don't feel that incomprehensibility necessarily equals profundity.

How much post-avant poetry is aware of the reader? If what you create is a kind of literary stasis or textual morass in which, for 20 pages or 200, nothing happens (or "dances," on either a logopoeaic or melopoeaic or phanopoeaic level), how much do you care about the kind of time your reader is having? Are you aware of an audience, or are you completely self-absorbed? I think it's a good question, an important question. My own feeling is that narrative cannot be thrown away as long as literature consists of word following word. If you use narrative in the simplistic way that many Centrist poets use it, then yes, narrative itself becomes (like stasis) a liability. However, why not play with narrative, skewer it, rather than discard it?

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