IN THE first election year that mattered to me, 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, my country killed hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia, and Richard Nixon was elected president. In the decades that followed, I have always been unhappy with the leadership and direction of this country, usually very unhappy.
I was born a believer in peace. I say fight for the right. Be a martyr and live. Be a coward and die.
— Susan B. Anthony speaking in Gertrude Stein’s “The Mother of Us All”
Sarah Rose Etter joined Jacket2 editor Julia Bloch in the Wexler Studio last September for a short reading from and discussion of her debut poetic novel, The Book of X, which appeared in 2019 from Two Dollar Radio. Etter and Bloch talked about the impact of open poetics and visual art upon Etter’s prose style, the feminist politics of speculative narrative, the process of fact-checking menstrual blood output, and the etymology of the book’s governing image — among other things.
This commentary series has traced out just a few implications of bio-poetic work, and speculated on some of its futures. For all of the potential recklessness of such tampering and tinkering with genes and molecules, Steve Tomasula also imagines a “Midrash” of bio-ethics being forged, or at least illuminated, by the collective endeavors of genetic artists. Such work does much more than merely illustrate bio-tech capabilities; it performs an embodied auto-critique in which genes and bodies are put at deliberate and provocative risk. Bio-art provides us with wittily hypocritical (as well as hypercritical) risk assessments and bioethical conundrums, using the materials and the sensibility of the studio to make the “labor” in laboratory more ludic.
This commentary series has traced out just a few implications of bio-poetic work, and speculated on some of its futures. For all of the potential recklessness of such tampering and tinkering with genes and molecules, Steve Tomasula also imagines a “Midrash” of bio-ethics being forged, or at least illuminated, by the collective endeavors of genetic artists. Such work does much more than merely illustrate bio-tech capabilities; it performs an embodied auto-critique in which genes and bodies are put at deliberate and provocative risk.
In his entry for The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012) on the “objective correlative,” Louis Menand notes that since 1980, the term has appeared in several hundred scholarly articles. There’s also no shortage of forebears of Eliot’s concept, including Washington Allston, Arthur Fairchild, Pater, Coleridge, and Schiller. Robert Stallman’s The Critic’s Notebook (1950) is efficient in staging that conversation; in fact, The Critic’s Notebook in many respects is a textual performance that parallels the objective correlative.
Multilingualism has long been a key characteristic, even a central tenet of literary experimentation. So maybe it seems a bit weird that after all these commentaries I still haven’t found anything to say about the various streams of modernist literature that drew upon other languages. Why haven’t I addressed T. S. Eliot's attempted reconstitution of the “mind of Europe”? What about Ezra Pound's (also attempted) translation of Chinese written characters? Or what about the less well known but no less multilingual Zurich Dada “nonsense” poems that drew upon anthropological works, using fragments and phrases from world Indigenous languages to inform their experiments in non-meaning?
Analyses of avant-garde or experimental poetry typically understand multilingualism as a part of the modernist dream of breaking with the past in order to prefigure an unforeseen but possible future.
Simon Jarvis’s TheUnconditional: A Lyric, a single poem spanning 242 pages, might very well be the Waste Land of our times — only unsung, and way longer. Any number of light-hearted parallels can be drawn between Jarvis’s venture and The Waste Land as its modernist predecessor as a cartography of urban/consumerist experience, but a closer look and such comparisons collapse to differences and distances.
Martin Rowson’s The Waste Land “Seen” was published in 1999 — a modernist hermeneutic detective story (hard-boiled) in comix form. Now Rowson and Michael Barsanti are bringing it back as an iPad app, which is to say, more simply, an e-version for easy tablet reading. “It takes a lot of detective work to decipher modernist literature. Trying to figure how grail legends, the Upanishads, and vegetation myths all link up has left scholars chasing their tails for nearly a century, and has left us ordinary palookas in the dust. Lucky for us we have private eye Chris Marlowe, cartoonist Martin Rowson, and scholar Michael Barsanti to help shake out some of the clues and make some hasty repairs to a heap of otherwise broken images.” There's more here and also, naturally, a link to iTunes where you can download the app. The image above gives you a sense of where I am in the “story” as I write this: section II, “A Game of Chess.” “I lost Idaho Ez,” it begins, “so I decided to look up the only other person I knew in these parts. I remembered the first time we'd met. She'd looked like a million dollars....”