To say that the transcendental is historically constituted amounts to saying that universality cannot be assigned to it; it is necessary to think of a particular transcendental. But after all, there is nothing more mysterious than what is collectively called a culture. — Guy Lardeau, “L’histoire comme nuit de Walpurgis”
In such manner Guy Lardeau invites us to contemplate a contradiction – the particular transcendental. Contradiction, because one of the attributes of the transcendental is held to be its universal grounds. Contemplation, because that is what the mind does, at least one committed to both a cognitive process and a mode of thought that goes beyond the simply analytical. One concept that may occur to us here is “strategic transcendentalism”: one holds a condition to be transcendental or necessary to perception itself for specific political or tactical purposes. Another phenomenon that may come to mind here is that of the lyric poem: the lyric poem is a construct capable of maintaining equilibrium among contradictions and as such is singly able to accommodate the needs of such a slippery imperative (“negative capability”). Surely the allure of the poem is partly this, and the concomitant promise of mystery without belief. Our texts are the living evidence of an ethics of ambiguity.
I positioned the transcendental lyric in like manner in my essay from the 1990’s “A Flicker At The Edge Of Things.” Things here — “here” variously meaning in what passes for my mind, the room in which I sit and write, America, the shifting continents — flicker, and poetry is still the flicker at the edge.
The students in my graduate poetry course on documentary poetry worry about voices. Some of them are writing about persons at risk: a homeless woman who loves to dance, inmates sent to prisons in other states — or locked up here at home. They're also writing about themselves and what they’ve lost, be it a grandfather or a culture or the tangled combination of both. Whose voices can they use? How do they cite what they quote of these voices? Are they potentially causing harm to those whose voices they use? Should they use names? Specify places? Beneath all these questions are worries about themselves, the possibility for self-harm involved in act of speaking out. Surely to put someone else’s words to paper is to implicate yourself. So the question is, how to write voices without superintending them; how to be author without presuming an authority that puts others in psychic or physical danger.
Back in the fall of 2000 we invited nine poets to “read through” their relationship to a modernist poet. They talked and read their own and that modernist’s poems. Each presented for 20 minutes. We recorded the events (three nights) and made audio recordings available (then in RealAudio format). Recently, one of our digital editors, Mike Van Helder, organized all this material, converted the streaming RealAudio files into downloadable mp3s, made the links really easy to use, and copied the poem files onto the PennSound author page of each of the nine poets.
For the catalog of ICA show of Kathy Butterly, Félix González-Torres, Roy McMakin and Sue Williams, Siegler has included poems by John Ashbery, Robert Kelly, John Yau, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Cole Swensen, Charles Bernstein, Matvei Yankelevich, Anna Moschovakis, Lee Ann Brown, Lisa Jarnot, Tan Lin, Craig Dworkin, Frances Richard, Dan Machlin, Marcella Durand, Alan Gilbert, Damon Krukowski, Mónica De la Torre, Jen Bervin, Eileen Myles, and Miles Champion.