Commentaries - November 2007
After a dozen years of the Kelly Writers House - which I like to think of a learning community with a poetics - there are a few things that Writers House-affiliated students do each year that just thrill me, keep me going, make me want to put still more effort into this literary-communitarian project. One such moment has already happened this academic year. Kaegan Sparks, a spunky aesthetic Texan who's absorbing avant-garde energies like a sponge, dressed as the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven for Halloween.
I've long been a fan of the Baroness - as writer but still more as a figure, a modernist personage. In being what she was (or posed to be - same difference), she performed the modernist word. My English 88 course/site includes a page that serves as a quick (very quick) history of early U.S. poetic modernism. If you go to that page and scroll down to the section entitled "'Talking about things that are understandable only weighs down the mind': modernism at extremes" you'll see links to materials by and about the Baroness, including a famous excerpt from William Carlos Williams' memoir, and several audio clips of people reading about the Baroness, and also a link to scans of photographs from the Fall 2002 Fashion of the Times issue which featured a model modeling what the Times at least considered a 21st-century version of dada style.
It's possible that Kaegan got her idea for her costume from these photos, but I rather think she held more closely to the original dada that did the Times. Don't you? Well, no matter: it's the spirit of the thing that counts, for sure.
The Baroness cut the most compelling modernist figure. She literally wore New York dada, thus inventing it as a pattern of aesthetic costume to be worn so tight that it was her skin, her self. She was, as Irene Gammel puts it in her remarkable biography, an "assemblage of paradoxes embodied in one body." That the Baroness knew and inspired or inspiringly repelled nearly everyone associated with the rise of modernist practice in New York has been already part of the story, but it has never been so richly detailed. In Gammel's presentation the Baroness emerges as far more than an ingenue. She became a mature, self-conscious dynamic artistic force--and remarkably productive in her own right, not despite but because she exhausted herself up from the inside out.
I think quite a lot about the headiest days of what was then called "the internet revolution" - roughly 1996-1999. This slightly predates the bursting of the economic tech bubble, and when I think about the era I mean I'm only half-certain that what I'm thinking about coincides with economics so much as broad and nearly messianic hopes. At the same time there was a good deal of concern, typically expressed on the political left, about the gap between segments of the U.S. (and sometimes of the world) that had some way to connect to the internet and those that did not. This was and still is called "the digital divide." But have you heard about the digital divide lately. Not much--as least for the U.S., Europe and northeast Asia. That's in part because so many urban and rural schools have gotten access, and because connectivity is available in many public buildings and generally because the price of computer hardware has gone down.
In 1999 a report on the digital divide was issued. I linked it to my web site then and it got a good deal of response. Toward the end of this report - mostly a dull piece of writing - there was a list of several hopeful communal and even communitarian digital projects. One little section today seems both very relevant and also quaint in its tone, diction and word choice. Geez, it's only '99 - not long ago. And yet this little paragraph seems to come from another era. Here's a phrase: "public transit for the information highway." The little section of the long report is called "Public Transit For The Information Highway," and here it is:
Blue Line TeleVillage -- a project in Compton, CA developed by Los Angeles consulting firm Siembab Associates with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority -- is as a non-commercial network access center (NAC) that was strategically created to simultaneously reduce environmental pollution and provide community groups with access to high-tech digital broadband networks. Blue Line TeleVillage is located near the center of community activity and is close to bus and train lines. According to Walter Siembab of Siembab Associates, NACs can transform urban communities by making them more sustainable environmentally and commercially. By adopting this policy -- which he calls public transit for the information highway -- NACs can be positive examples of good-quality neighborhood or village life.
Siembab Associates, a very good planning firm, issued a "final report" on this project, by the way. It's 125 pages and available as a PDF file. (I've read about 40 pages of it. Am I a little insane? Don't answer that, please.)