Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apparition Poem #542

Angie did not
arrive to white
me out— alone
in bed, 3 am, I
smoked butts,
blue lights, haze-
like, spinning, an
angel’s halo— I felt
dirty, upbraided by
blueness, as if it
showed me what
I was past
redness in me
atrophied— I
would have been
better, I thought,
inside Angie,
That’s what
was in dreams
once the haze left.   

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Copeland and Harp on Chimes

Brooklyn Copeland has blossomed into one of my favorite younger poets. I have a review of her Borrowed House coming out soon. I was honored that she chose to review my Blazevox book Chimes on Goodreads. Here is what she said:

To be perfectly honest, I was equally excited and skeptical about reading this, and I still wouldn’t want to read about EVERY poet’s childhood/adolescence… especially not in such literal terms. But the fact is that Adam has created a very likeable character, and it’s that character (and what he chooses to reveal v. what he leaves out) that keeps you reading from one colorful burst of recollection to the next- and even forget that you're reading "poetry." Many of his subjects are immediate, from takes on fractured family life to experiences with classic rock music, but the presentation is a really comfy blend of fresh-enough perspective and common-ground heartache/insecurity/self-obsessiveness. I hate the word “poignant,” but that’s the one that comes to mind. You almost wonder if you’ve seen this character before, in a classic novella or short story- Salinger or early Roth. Or as Bud Cort in Harold and Maude. There’s also something kooky and affected about the tone sometimes- almost like an imitation of an older way of talking. Like listening to old recordings of the first modernist poets. It’s usually pretty endearing. Since I don’t know Adam personally, I’m allowed to say something like that. It’s a lovely book all-around. You can’t NOT like it. The design is cool, too...

And this is Grady Harp, from the Chimes Wiki:

Adam Fieled is a poet who has discovered (or has evolved from) those fragile filaments that connect the cells of thought in their most nascent stage: he makes us aware of the intangible moments in the development of our memory and history that make us unique. Where this gift begins is offered in evidence in this magical collection of poems, CHIMES.

Able to retrace early thoughts from childhood in the voice of the memory catcher of that age is only one of the little miracles of these very personal poems. Perhaps autobiographical, perhaps not, the poems contain moments of awakening that are fresh and novel and yet connect with the reader in a way that makes them part of the reader's musings on pasts that hold moments of change or connection to the world of 'otherness'. From childhood through the journey to adulthood each of these poems - free form in style and placed at the top of separate pages to allow each thought to digest - describes moments in a manner that is deceptively simple. Re-reading or just recalling each poem unveils more, much like the music of wind chimes once moved by the air leaves vibrations in the atmosphere. In #20, 'Things shifted. I went from cool to killed-by-lack-thereof. In a period of isolation, I learned about reversals, about temporality and its ruthless one-handedness....I learned thusly how one must wait to be blessed, that patience is a virtue close to heaven, that all things are eventually answered by their opposites, if the soul is maintained closely. I learned that seasons have each a particular flavor and shape, like candy and snowflakes, and that each season must have a slightly different meaning.'

Adam Fieled takes us through discoveries, through music, through infatuation and tactile sensation to relationships, through moments of humor and of profound introspection. He is a difficult poet to quote for single lines of example, so tightly bound are his 59 poems shared here. On the cover of this very special book are simple handprints - green, blue, rust - from different hands, different lives, different beings. The manner in which Fieled writes somehow ties us all together, if just for a moment, as though he is able to see his and our thinking painted in words. This is a gifted poet whose talent in discovering our consciousness has only just begun. Highly recommended.

Chimes can be listened to in its entirety on PennSound (1, 2, 3, 4). This is a piece from Chimes in Scotland's Osprey Poetry.


Chimes is now ('12) placed in The Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London. Thanks to Chris McCabe.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bourdieu and the Big Picture

Internet Theory is closely related to a concern that is pertinent, both to America and to the entire Western world- the necessity (in 2009 and after) for a totalized sense of humanity, as it actually subsists on a global level. Bourgeois ideologies are difficult to overcome, particularly in America- material abundance is (often) presupposed, and minor setbacks in material gratification are taken for major crises. A "downsized" America is still the richest country in the world (despite China's recent displays of affluence), and Americans (particularly Blue Americans) have the tendency to view America as a miniaturized version of the world, rather than as an autonomous state, raised far above its neighbors in affluence and military power. Worse than taking affluence for granted, many Americans do not consider themselves to be affluent at all- only the super-rich are deemed to be legitimately wealthy, and those beneath gaze up, we assume, in envy and admiration. When competitive ideologies are thwarted, they transmute into a kind of "helplessness before riches," an envious gaze that has its roots in a feeling of absolute lack that is purely illusory. Illusions are always dangerous, but this kind is particularly pernicious- rather than positing the subject (through grandiosity and conceit) as having more than he or she has, this kind of illusion shows a wealthy subject to him or herself as being impoverished. This phenomenon, of bogus impoverishment, is endemic to bourgeois life in America- that nothing (materially speaking) is ever enough, and that economic modes of production are hegemonic to the extent that nothing else actually exists.

What is important to my thesis is that digital consciousness, in its ideal form, subverts both the base and the superstructure of American bogus impoverishment (the base being the perceived inadequacy of economic modes of production to produce an adequate superstructure, thus displacing the actual Marxist paradigm with an illusory one.) It is doubtlessly true that many Americans use the Internet to stalk celebrities (enacting a post-Roman sensibility), but there is no context or medium that cannot be abused. Moreover, in a digital context, stalking is far less destructive then in other contexts; traces are quickly covered over, the ability to disguise the Self is super-available, and actual violence is less of a possibility. However, the very ease with which linguistic traces are covered over can be problematic for serious discourse. This is a legitimate weakness of Net discourse, and difficult to surmount. What concerns us here is merely the implicit (and necessary) insult to bourgeois illusions of impoverishment visible, in the Net's own richness.

The richness of the Net can only be fully appreciated when thinking people recognize the cultural capital that can be gained there. However, it will first be necessary to recognize the inadequacy of Bourdieu's formulation. More than one of Bourdieu's formulations, in fact, suffer from the intellectual equivalent of bogus impoverishment that I have ascribed to bourgeois America. What is the ideology behind "cultural capital" and the positing of intellectuals as the "dominated of the dominant class"? It is an ideology of competition (though Bourdieu was not American) that nonetheless wants in to the institutionalized avarice that it reacts against. Bourdieu's strategy in these formulations is to join by competing, to emulate-via-rebellion. Bourdieu pays overt homage to the system he seemingly disapproves of; he defines himself in their terms. Thusly, he makes himself, and the thinkers he is speaking for, subaltern. It is the ambivalence of wanting in and out at the same time, and is not, in my opinion, the most intelligent strategy for subversion. "Cultural capital," puts culture, like held capital, strictly in the private sphere; culture is (as in Pater) a personal possession, leading (possibly) to a state of self-absorption and atomized lethargy. The indolence of the rich becomes the indolence of the cultured; the atomization of a materially wealthy subject becomes the atomization of an intellectually wealthy subject. All this cuts against the grain of digital consciousness and IT, which wants culture to be available for usage in the public sphere. Rather than cultural capital, what we should seek to develop is cultural fluidity; a sense of self-comfort in navigating the terrain that connects public and private culture, public and private discourse, public and private encounters of Otherness.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Do you save your e-mails?

Would we have Keats' letters, if there had been Internet in Keats' time? Think, we could be living in a world without Negative Capability (hoary as it has become) and the egotistical sublime. Yet, I do not know anyone that saves their e-mails, and there seems to be little cognitive dissonance about this. We know why- though some of us have begun to argue for the potential durability of blogs and web-sites, most currently accept that e-mail communication is ephemeral, a way of expediting other matters rather than an end in itself (as snail-mail letters often were.) What an unfortunate change! If younger poets want to develop a serious relationship with the epistolary form, attitudes towards e-mail will have to change. In this context, Reception Velocity is probably a bad thing- it encourages writers to treat e-mails in a cavalier fashion. Expecting instant gratification engenders a sense that communication can be taken for granted. Snail-mail letters from writers (often to other writers) tend to be discursive; e-mails are comparatively abrupt, and discourse is kept to a minimum.

Yet e-mail is another digital form that has potentiality for development- there is no evidence that e-mail cannot be used as a tool for discursive development. In fact, e-mail offers distinct advantages for such usage- Reception Velocity, if employed properly and not used as a kind of excuse, can manifest as discourses more heated, genuine, and (even) intuitive (born of a fluid context) than the discourses previously developed in epistolary exchanges. As with all the facets of the Internet Theory I am developing, what is required (for my own and previous generations) is a change in attitude- an awareness of the literary past as it applies to the literary present. Generations to come will (I predict) feel less conflicted- continued exposure to the Net from a young age will engender a sense of digital consciousness more thorough and more well-employed than we can even imagine. E-mail text will be a specific sub-genre of speech-as-text, with its own forms, potential permutations, advantages and limitations. There will eventually be a hierarchy of digital forms- how the forms will be placed in relation to each other I have no idea. But that decades of negotiation will take place before these questions are decided (and in literature, thankfully, little is decided with authority anymore) is one reason to begin a serious investigation of digital forms now.

What kind of subject is engendered by e-mail as a digital form? E-mailing, of course, presupposes an engagement with an Other- yet the non-tactility of e-mails abstracts the encounter, brings it into the realm of cognition. E-mails are resolutely private, while blogs are public; yet e-mail lists create the e-mail as a "public sphere phenomenon" not unlike Facebook- the difference is in the performative mode. Status updates on Facebook are expressions of compressed subjectivity; e-mail lists can engender expressed subjectivity, but are more likely to manifest demonstrations of rhetorical strength. They are politicized- the one stands before the many. Unlike writing on a blog, in this context the subject knows that he or she will be heard. People are generally more diligent about opening their e-mails than about visiting blogs- the subject addresses a crowd of known Others. E-mail lists, as textual contexts, do encourage soapbox pronouncements. Yet the circumstances around these utterances are interesting- performed for a group, geographically scattered and (in attendance) disembodied, who are not compelled to listen by the crowd psychologies that might have attended actual soapbox performances.

This can work for or against the speaker- some who would feel compelled to listen by the (physical) crowd will not listen, while others who would be loathe to listen if engulfed in a crowd will allow themselves to listen. That these pronouncements are made to an abstracted crowd can lead to a certain extremity- a disembodied gaze is less of a direct threat. It often leads to a scenario in which the reader feels like a voyeur- this is less the case in more formalized settings, like blogs (though some blogs do have a flair for the outre). Blogs necessitate a sense of responsibility that e-mail lists do not, especially individually maintained ones. Yet e-mail lists offer a guarantee; your words will enter the in-boxes of these people. E-mail lists are good examples of the ideal balance between sameness and Otherness- a crowd you both know and do not know at the same time. They are a kind of digital public square, or a marketplace of priceless commodities. Textual personas are on sale- speech-as-text becomes a mask to reveal, hide, or deconstruct ideologies. Discourse, on e-mail lists, is less likely than the perpetual enactment of competitive ideologies- it is a form that lends itself to the atomization of individual subjects (an audience not needing placation, as on a privately run and maintained blog), through the performance of rhetorical gestures. Yet there is potential here for great comprehensiveness, where Reception Velocity is concerned.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

In Praise of Flame Wars

Objections have been raised to me that much of the substantive content that constitutes the Net is negative. Even within the realm I have privileged (blogs), "flame wars" have taken their place as a not uncommon occurrence. What is a flame war? Essentially, a flame war is discourse gone bad; a digital conversation that has degenerated into a digital argument. As always, Reception Velocity insures that these fracases are fast and fluid (almost as fast and fluid as argumentative and/or discursive speech acts.) I see flame wars as positive incidents (apropos, considering how many I have been involved in), for several reasons: because they affirm speech-as-text as an adequate means of rhetorical display; straddle the line between public and private sphere engagements (and can thus, ideally, engender mass cultivation and availability as a "personal possession" at the same time); and because they subvert Romantic notions of the author as separate and atomized. When someone is flamed, a double vulnerability is made apparent: the target is exposed as subject to public censure (and even, sometimes, ridicule); the culprit displays in him or herself the weakness of the warrior- those who take the initiative to attack are most likely to be attacked. In this double vulnerability is the element of the human that grants digital consciousness amnesty from accusations of coldness and, to some extent, superficiality (flame wars tending to peel back and expose woundedness and insecurity.) An author in duress is more human than an author atomized.

Flame wars only get to be a nuisance to the extent that certain Net writers become addicted to the adrenaline rushes and frissons that they engender. Those who go around looking for flame wars are to be avoided. A healthy flame war involves both spontaneity and calculation, like a high stakes game of chess- as the one that happened between myself and several other poets over "post-avant" a few months back. Misunderstandings created self-revelations- I was accused of being (more or less) someone's dupe, and was forced to publicly state both the ethos and praxis of my poetics, and their connection to an entity known as post-avant. The revelation of character, where literature is concerned, comes to light in flame wars- what is usually visible (on the American side) is ideologies of competition and the desire for instant gratification. That substantial definitions of terms can (and usually do) take years to sink in is lost on the American, who wants resolution, affirmation, and acceptance now.

So bloggers are left to answer a pertinent and potentially confounding question: when to flame and when not to flame? When is it profitable to use specific names, and when to generalize? It would seem wise to apply the dictum of Wilde's Lord Henry Wotton: "one cannot be too careful in the choice of one's enemies." In other words, you learn certain lessons in maintaining a blog: if you flame a fool, or get drawn into a flame war with a fool, you will get a foolish response. Flame an intelligent poetry blogger in a purposeful way, and you may begin a valuable discourse. On the other hand, it is possible to be blind-sided, in such a way that self-defense is simply necessary. One cannot always choose the Other that one encounters. Heteroglossia is not always fun; it can be painful to be addressed in an alien language (especially when it seems to hold no rhyme or reason.) Yet this post is meant to act discursively, rather than as a how-to manual; what is important is that flame wars are both valuably illustrative of the most positive attributes of digital consciousness and valuable as incidents that demonstrate their own kind of heterogeneous logic.

Friday, May 01, 2009

I.T. and Historicity

Comparing the ideologies built into Internet Theory to the ideologies that established and supported the Enlightenment (and led to the French Revolution) begs an important question: how does this project, and the implicit ethos and praxis of the Net, relate to history? What is the potentiality for historicity, where the Net is concerned? There is no doubt that the Net is a historical phenomenon; but it is not really the Net itself that is the question, it's what (if anything) Net-Life will lead to in a fractured populace. Just as the Net has widened the boundaries for literature, and made general literacy more common, two hundred years ago print periodicals were established and maintained for the edification of a new middle-class reading public. The Edinburgh Review, edited by strict task-master Francis Jeffrey (a liberal Whig who nonetheless lobbied to keep class demarcations in place) was the first publication to take Wordsworth to task; Blackwood's, run by Tories, attacked young John Keats, and the attack was thought (falsely) to bring on Keats's early demise. The upshot of these publications was a new level of public awareness of literature, and a new kind of casual reader; one who knew important names (and general outlines of author's profiles) without necessarily reading entire oeuvres. This is what good, comprehensive web-sites can do for literature: create a new kind of reader, whose standard may be lower than those of experts and devotees, but who are nonetheless familiar with the conflicts, issues, and trends that are shaping literary history as they happen. The Net itself, in the abstract, demonstrates Revolutionary, "Enlightenment Possibilities": class levelling, equal opportunity, and an implicit affirmation of individual subjects on quests for expressive freedom. Individual web-sites are a different story: they are public in function, but privatized in form; they speak from a particular angle about particular things; they are designed to promulgate agendas; and they tend to be atomized by these agendas.

What we want from the Net is largely determined by the role that we feel art should play in society. Some artists think that art belongs in the public sphere- that it should be out in the world, demonstrating its own ideological coherences, increasing the cultivation and awareness of the populace, giving its audience something to look up to and live for. Others prefer the notion of private sphere art- that art is for individuals to appreciate, to be kept as a kind of personal possession, something separate from and having little relation to the praxis of daily life, a digital commodity that should (paradoxically) remain priceless. This debate about the function of art, about in which sphere it belongs, has been going on for centuries. I would argue that the basis of Internet Theory, its potentiality for political awareness, praxis, and subversion, makes it a model for a resolutely public sphere approach to literature (and art.) However, I am aware of a contradiction that is not easily surmounted: I am writing this book in language that most readers will find recondite. As such, I am speaking from a position of comparative weakness; arguing for utility in non-utilitarian language. Yet, this book is not to be an aesthetic object; it is meant to go into the public sphere and reach those who have in interest in creating a new vision of "America," through a new tool that has yet to be fully developed, plumbed, and exploited: the Net. The basis of this theory is not private interest, but public inquiry, and if the language (used discursively) is abstruse, I will have to live with the consequences.

It is important to note, however, that these issues will be played out (are, in fact, being played out) whether or not this book reaches a substantial public. The Internet has created its own sphere, placed somewhere between the public and the private- the same way that speech-as-text is an intermediate language, placed between speech acts and print text, the Internet has engendered a sphere that is intermediate, and has its own unique position. Crowds do not gather to go on the Net, as they would gather around a demagogue or rabble-rouser; the Internet is a manifestation of a kind of public sphere, but is generally viewed in private. Thus, "mob psychology" is not likely to be a factor, as it was during the French Revolution. What the Net can do is to reach individuals, who can then take the ideas and ideologies they have gleaned from the Net and disseminate them in whatever realm happens to be apropos (schools, bars, offices.) This is an ideal scenario; the disembodied quality of Internet voices makes misunderstandings more likely. Yet Reception Velocity means that these misunderstandings can be cleared up rapidly if (and this is a big "if") subjects care enough to sort misunderstandings out. What is the telos I am envisioning with all of this? A new political ideological framework to create a new America around "America." If a new ideology (and an efficacious one) is to be created, modesty, in 2009 America, is no kind of virtue. Why? Because as is readily visible in mass media contexts and in the geographic size of the nation, you have to shout quite loudly in America to get anyone to listen.

I have encountered interest, fascination, but intense discomfort with the way I have used Red and Blue archetypes. I have employed them, knowing them to be reductive, because I think they serve a useful purpose: in a population as sprawling and inchoate as America's, large trends are difficult to find. The Red/Blue binary has already, very demonstrably, manifested in the context of Presidential elections. As such, it seems like fair game to me, especially taken out of the realm of the sociological and into the realm of the metaphysical. Nevertheless, I understand that bifurcating America (murdering it to dissect, in Wordsworth's terms) leaves me open to accusations of intellectual naivete, hypocrisy, and narrowness. At this point, I have a double response: that these accusations would be (and are) true to a certain extent, but that the archetypes are both visible and viable enough that I will continue to use them. The narrow nature of these archetypes will be a weakness, perhaps an Achilles' heel, of this discourse, but will allow me to do what I want. To get around "America," we have to know what "America" is; in a nation of two-hundred fifty million, this is no easy task. Red/Blue is both limited and limiting, but if one wants to work on a broad canvas, broad strokes are often necessary. To bring this roundabout: my teleological vision, not just of this project but of the Net in general, is to create subjects who actually know what they mean when they call themselves "Americans." I have been stunned that not one person I have asked has had any kind of definition of what being "American" constitutes. The project is leading down the vista of Internet possibility to the vista of American possibility; hopefully, it is already beginning to do so.

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