Commentaries - August 2009

Poster depicts a student fleeing a mounted policeman during an anti-war protest, c. 1970.

The August 4 entry on the blog, “A Poetic Matter,” is called “On Metaphor,” and takes Kenneth Goldsmith to task, as follows:

[Owen] Barfield asserts that language needs poetry because through poetry language and meaning grow. I agree with Barfield. The point? If we keep theorizing about poetry (langpo, flarf, conecptualism, quietude, blah, blah, blah) we lose sight of meaning. Now, to someone like Goldsmith, meaning doesn’t even mean anymore so why try. But I think it’s a cop out. I wonder if this is why there is such a disconnect between the p-a crowd and everybody else. To say there is no meaning but in words is ludicrous as Barfield points out, because words and meaning depend on experience. So I would say this whole idea of poetry existing only through theories leads to a dead language, where people like Goldsmith dwell. Take the experience out of poetry, and you’re left with flarf and other regurgitations rather than humanity and a growth of language.

A reader replied:

KG does not dwell in dead language even if he thinks he wants to, or pretends to want to. His way of being boring is very exciting, actually. As is flarf. As are many other … I don’t think you need worry about “dead language” because there’s no such thing. It’s not even possible.

To which the blogger replied:

I don’t think KG dwells in dead language, but rather that purposely avoiding meaning can kill language. And I wouldn’t say that flarf is boring at all — I’ve read many examples that I thought were truly engaging and exciting. Language builds meaning, but not without some sort of experience.

For the record (it hardly needs to be noted), Goldsmith never says language is without meaning, nor does he want it to be. On the contrary, language is so always already meaningful that attempts at original writing are unnecessary. The ambient language — words in the world — is plentifully sufficient.

This photo was taken at the Writers House gathering in honor of Gil Ott. For more about this event, go here.

Speaking of the poetics of street life, and of blogs, over at Detainees, Linh Dinh’s blog, Linh and Murat Nemet-Nejat are having a back-and-forthish exchange in response to Linh’s photographs taken along Philadelphia’s streets. At the end of which Linh has now said: “A tangent to this discussion is our shared interest in street life, how the body needs to regularly swim through a common space while being exposed to a multitude of mostly unknown others. This intercourse, both comforting and menacing, is denied to those who only drive and surf.”

Linh’s caption for the photo above at right: I wasn’t trying to confuse him. He had asked for a smoke. “This ain’t a dollar, man.” “Yes, it is!”

I’ve been reading Beth Kwon at BK 2.0 probably longer than any other blogger. Simple daily observations, life in Brooklyn, smart person with camera and satirical sensibility — yet needy and loves to see. She’s at her best when snapping a photograph, often on the street, and permitting herself a momentary snark in response. Captions, in essence. Her response to this sign: I can scarcely think of anything less appetizing than avocado that’s been man-handled by a food service worker in New York City. Yet that is not stopping Chipotle’s pathetic knock-off, Qdoba Mexican Grill, from using “hand-smashed guacamole” as a way to lure customers. By the way, BK 2.0 (as BK 1.0, I think) started as a hand-typewritten (yes) xeroxed newsletter mailed to subscribers — a zine. Started in the latest zenith of such zines: 1999. It made the transition to blogging already very much bloggy in its mode and style. Mundanely observational, unapologetically personal, and yet widely appealing. That it was a blog before its time I find also appealing.