Monday, September 26, 2005

Some interesting stuff regarding New Formalism on K. Silem Mohammad's blog. I think I used similar arguments in a backchannel conversation with an occasional commenter who asked me to justify my calling Books in Canada's aesthetic orientation conservative:
[P]lenty of "New Formalist" poets are politically aware in their personal lives, even as their work is complicit with a retrograde literary ideology—an ideology that nostalgically fetishizes the most superficial aspects of form, at the expense of appreciating fully the contexts within which such forms were put to use in their own historical moments.
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I also need to qualify part of that stuff about New Formalism: better to say that NF work is "ideologically retrograde" to the extent that it is explicitly or implicitly presented as a corrective to other compositional tendencies. There's nothing "inherently" ideological about form.

There is nothing "inherently" radical or progressive about texts produced via aleatory procedures, etc., either. What makes them ideological in that sense is their deployment within a context of conscious poetic production in a given community and for a wider range of dominant response (or neglect).

2 Comments:

Blogger hugh said...

My first impulse was to disagree with the statement that there is nothing inherently radical or progressive about texts produced via chance procedures. An argument would be that such texts inevitably empower the reader to make what she likes of them, because there is no Authorized Meaning.

But on the other hand, isn't it sometimes the case that the Authorized Meaning of such a text is "How clever (or progressive) I am to be using aleatory processes! You too can be clever (or progressive), simply by liking the results."

So I guess I would agree that answering the question of whether a text is really doing something interesting (radical, progressive) does involve looking at the context in which the text is being written and read.

But I don't like this conclusion, because I prefer to believe that just from reading a text carefully I can tell if it was written out of genuine interest, or out of some kind of trend-following.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, I think what's key to Mohammad's point is the notion that what makes a particular form "emergent" is its relationship to historical conditions. What's key to him I think is the vitality of the form with respect to the now. In this view, strategies that use aleatory procedures, while they would still allow the reader freedom, will eventually loose their edge as a live choice and in some sense become dominant (I imagine scale would come into play here). Yeah, time is key I think.

12:43 PM  

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