Archive for the ‘The Brouillon’ Category

A nod to Louis Dudek

Louis DudekOne striking difference between, say, France or Germany and Canada is how the respective countries honour their cultural traditions. I remember seeing in Tübingen a plaque on a bookstore commemorating the one night Goethe slept upstairs, and, on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, the house where André Bréton resided during World War Two is indicated by a memorial from the French government, while the struggle to preserve poet Al Purdy’s A-frame is still fresh in my memory. Happily, we do have a counterexample to such willed amnesia, the Writers’ Chapel in Saint Jax Cathedral in Montreal, that features plaques for such canonical figures as F. R. Scott and Mavis Gallant and where, this evening, poet, critic, and scholar Louis Dudek will be honoured with a plaque of his own.

Bruce Whiteman provides a gracious portrait of Dudek on the occasion of Dudek’s death in 2001. I, too, had a chance to hear him read one snowy, weekend afternoon, and he was gracious enough to seek me out for a meeting when I published a polemical article on the reigning poetic aesthetics in Canadian anglophone poetry the year of his death. As it’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend the ceremony in his honour as I hoped and planned, at least I can post this notice here, now, and direct interested readers to a poem of mine that engages Dudek’s late poetry, “Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger.

Gratitude by the syllable

IMG_2590Tomorrow, here in Canada, it’s Thanksgiving. Regardless of the nature and origins of the holiday in the U.S. and Canada, there is mounting evidence of how gratitude can shore up happiness. It was this insight that inspired my composing the following poems, each noting some experience for which I felt spontaneously grateful. You can read the sequence, here.

Thanks!

RE: Itō Jetnil-Kijiner Niviana Pato

A lot of poetry stories get conveyed down my newsfeed. Here’re three of special http _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_1_12_Plato-4.png_200px-Plato-4significance from this week.

First is a short film of Hiromi Itō reading her poem “The Moon”. Itō is (in)famous in Japan, often credited with opening the space for a frank, fresh, new women’s writing. I discovered her in Rothenberg’s and Joris’ Poems for the Millenium, then her Killing Kanoko, a selection of poems translated by Jeffrey Angles, whose title poem recounts the common but no less hair-raising homicidal resentment mothers feel for their newborns. I still owe Action Books a review of her Wild Grass of the Riverbank—watch for it here….

Next is a short article by Bill McKibben concerning the poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana, two young women, one from the Marshall Islands, the other from Greenland, who grapple with the realities of climate change poetically, a topic often ventured here. I already knew of Jetnil-Kijiner:  I teach her poem “Dear Matafele Peinam” every year to my introductory English students.

Finally is an interview with a poet not too well known in Anglophone poetry circles (or so it seems to me), Chus Pato, arguably one of the most important poets writing in Galician.

 

Sometimes even just thinking sings

randonnée urbaine 5.10.10 Mile End

The sun, the warmth, the beauty

of my quarter make it

 

possible almost to forgive

the world for including

 

the likes of Ford and Legault

A Minor Festschrift for Michael Heller

michael hellerIn Montreal, Concordia University’s Liberal Arts College sponsors an annual lecture. One year, it was Helen Vendler; another, a reading by Allen Ginsberg; and, once, poet Michael Heller, who riffed off Walter Benjamin’s reading of Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus” (see the ninth of Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History), to develop what he termed a “phantomology.” The details of his argument are immaterial here, but, what’s to the point, of all the lectures I’d heard at this yearly event, his was the only one I hung on every word.

It’s been my luck to remain acquainted with the man and his poetry and criticism since, work that connects the present to the Objectivist tradition in poetry and poetics, especially Heller’s friend and mentor, George Oppen, and that develops an independent vision and practice of its own.

It’s therefore a great pleasure to see Heller’s work appreciated in a manner of micro-Festschrift at Jacket2, that features new poetic and critical work by Heller and himself along with a collection of appreciations. Read it all, here.

One for Tuilaepa Sailele, avant la lettre

Sailele, the prime minister of Samoa, delivered a speech in Sydney, Australia, 30 August Tuilaepa-Sailele2018, wherein he said that “Any leader … who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.”

2012, the year the world was supposed to end, I had a similar sentiment, except, of course, expressed poetically. You can read it here.

QAnon as (post)modern art redux

reve-steichThings move at, well, the speed of light in the on-line world.

A new acquaintance brought my attention to how the QAnon conspiracy theory phenomenon bears resemblance to the earlier activities of the Italian Autonomist art group(s) Luther Blisset and  Wu Ming. I’d started a post to supplement my earlier rhetorical probing from May, but this morning I found this article that already maps the same ground.

History moves fast!

Ontario Election Results 2018 in real time

As the results of yesterday’s Ontario election came in and it became clear Doug Ford’s https _www.insauga.com_sites_default_files_imagecache_lead-image-full_article_2017_12_header_photo_0Progressive Conservative party had won a majority, I recorded the reactions of my friends and collated them as they appeared, in the poem (or text) below. Readers can draw their own inferences about the politics of my social circle!

 

Ontario Election Results 2018

 

This is the worst possible timeline

…This will be much worse then (sic) we even know.

Go fuck yourself, Ontario.

Well, I’ve been voting for governments in provincial and federal elections since 1993, and my 100% failure rate is still going strong. Grotesque, Ontario

Maybe compulsory voting and proportional representation?

Based on the predictions that are coming in, all I can say is FUUUUCCCKKKK!!

Wow… Feeling a lot of stunned for my pals in Ontario.

Nice work Ontario, you ding dongs.

That was dumb.

Congratulations Ontario!

… Best case scenario: NDP gets a 15 year mandate to fix things after Ford enacts another Mike Harris-style sack of the province. Some of us may even live to see it.

…Damn… just damn…

QAnon as (post)modern art

The conspiratorial mindset likely goes back at least as far as the paranoid cosmologies of demiurge after fiddlingthe Gnostics two millennia ago. One of its latest iterations is Q or QAnon, a conspiracy theory that in its manner of dissemination, the style of its expression, and the wildness of its content makes it more impressive as an instance of modern art than a revelation of the secret order of the world it pretends to be.

Q appears first 28 October 2017 on /pol/, a sub-board of 4-chan, unwinding a thread titled “Calm Before the Storm” alluding, supposedly, to a remark made by President Trump early that month. The thread’s author claimed to have Q-level security clearance, having access to highly-classified information he then prolifically released in idiosyncratically worded “crumbs” that outlined an increasingly complex and bizarre vision of contemporary world politics, focused on Trump’s battle with the Deep State.

Why anyone would take the incoherent and madly speculative worldview Q lays out for the way things really are is as much a psychological or sociological as an epistemic question. However, if one brackets the question of the truth of Q’s revelations, then the trail of crumbs Q has left his public appear as a work of fiction or poetry that meets Rimbaud’s famous demand that “we must be absolutely modern” in remarkable ways.

Adopting a mask or persona, an identity other than the author’s, is an old literary device, intensified for various reasons in the Twentieth Century. Replacing one’s given name with one’s initials became a bit of a fashion among anglophone poets, T. S. Eliot or more radically H.D. being perhaps the best known. Postwar or postmodern poetry probing the implications of the death of the author have worked to compose works wherein the language rather than the author might be said to be what speaks. Q, too, in a not dissimilar manner, adopts a persona, a move with rhetorical affect. This pseudonym, evoking both James Bond and real-world security-clearance designations, lends Q an air of credibility that tellingly draws on both fictional and factual connotations. Moreover, his revelations are made to appear all the more true as their being shared in even such a piecemeal, obscure manner is made to seem to endanger his life. In the conspirosphere it’s an old trick of putative insiders to lend their leaks gravity by their being secret, to whatever degree.

Aside from developing and coining the expression “the death of the author” French critic Roland Barthes also articulated an important distinction, that between “work” and “text”, most fully explored in S/Z. All too simply put, the classical work stands over against the reader as a seamless, polished, finished monumental aesthetic object achieved by the labour of the genius of the author; the text, on the other hand demands as much engagement and work from the reader to complete the aesthetic object. Barthes describes a text as “a galaxy of signifiers” that need be “constellated” by the reader. (Admittedly, the distinction goes back to the Jena Romantics and is roundly deconstructed by Barthes himself in S/Z; nevertheless, it remains valuable in discussing modes of avant garde writing). In this light, QAnon’s conspiracy theory is a text, at both the micro and macro levels.

The theory is articulated by a thread spun of “crumbs”,  a series of short, telegraphic, sometimes encoded lines, that resemble, at least typographically, poems:

Q-Iran-Potus-in-Control

Some lines are complete sentences; others (e.g.,”Suicide watch” or “Bigger than people can imagine”) are more cryptic, demanding an active interpretation. Often, the reader is addressed in the imperative tense (“Ask yourself…”) or is posed questions (“Why is HRC in NZ?”) supposedly to push the reader in a particular, interpretive direction. The lines that make up each crumb are organized paratactically, demanding the reader supply the grammatical and logical  connections that would lend them even a linguistic coherence. These demands on the reader’s engagement reach a limit in encoded crumbs.

Q-Anon-Coded-message

Thus, at the lowest level of composition, the crumb and its components, the theory is very much a text, lent a significant amount of logic and significance by the reader.

At the next higher level of organization, that between crumbs, both consecutively and in general, the same demands are made. Just as each line of a crumb need be understood and each line connected with the other, the revelations of each crumb need be worked up into a coherent whole that is subject to subsequent modification by rereadings of already released crumbs and subject to revision with the release of each day’s new crumbs. The theory is thus in a state of constant flux, an instability exacerbated by the basic incoherence of the crumbs taken individually and as a totality, as well as the added complications added to the mix by contributions to the thread by its readers. The theory then is in a state of constant expansion and complication.

Another characteristic of avant garde art is its interest in exploring and exploiting the latest media technology makes available. In this light, QAnon is strikingly modern, availing itself of the possibilities of the digital medium:  being digital, appearing where it does to address a particular audience, being open-ended both in its own on-going composition and in its readers’ participation. In a more profound way, though, the theory depends on another dimension of our modernity born with digital culture, that of the demand for “transparency” and its consequences. As theorist Stanley Fish eloquently observes, the demand for equal access to data, free of the editorial manipulations of elites or other gatekeepers, produces precisely an informational galaxy of signifiers that are then open to an absolutely “democratic” or anarchic constellation by those with access to it. QAnon’s unwinding story is premissed on precisely this situation, made up as it is of just those bits of data that the thread’s readers in turn organize into a more or less coherent if incomplete picture.

QAnon, then, is a remarkable example of absolutely contemporary ((post)”modern”) art, in its adoption of a pseudonymous persona for rhetorical affect, in its inventing a new genre of linguistic expression (the crumb) that puts to use poetic and rhetorical devices, in its overall organization reminiscent of avant garde literature, and in its very medium and exploitation of various aesthetic possibilities of that medium, all premissed and arising from the media if not epistemic conditions of the age, the ascendancy of data over news and the increasing anarchy of world views and political polarization this shift enables and gives rise to.

Toronto Spring 2018 Getaway Takeaways

You can’t have the sameHeraclitus_in_Thomas_Stanley_History_of_Philosophy

Royal York Library Bar

All Canadian Beef Burger

 

twice. Bunner’s Bake Shop

vegan, gluten-free cinnamon buns

don’t travel well.