Friday, October 8, 2010

Erasing the Divide

It's nearly impossible to read Silliman's blog for any length of time without finding mention of "The School of Quietude." Nobody seems to be sure exactly what it means (though plenty have tried to define it). It is often contrasted by what Silliman has deemed the "post-avant." My question has nothing to do with what these terms mean but rather why they exist. Is making such a binary opposition between two "schools" of poetry useful anymore? Isn't it a bit reductive? Doesn't it create a false sense of community on both sides?

This isn't the cliched "why can't we all just get along" populist plea for a meeting place in the center, but cutting the world of poetry in half doesn't serve any other purpose besides creating an arena for political debate and marketing. Yet nearly every artist in the last one hundred years has sworn allegiance to one side or the other (whatever they may have been). I'm just surprised that someone like Silliman, who is obviously capable of thinking beyond the either/or systems we grapple with everyday, would resort playing this game.

I think, if I may pull up my soapbox on this issue, that anything that reduces what is thought to be possible in poetry is not conducive to pushing at the boundaries of the art form. One of the tenants of postmodernism, if such a nebulously-defined word could be said to have any, is that everything has been done. Indeed, a lot of things have happened, but everything? Gertrude Stein said that the only thing that changes with each generation is composition. Composition, more than anything else, is affected by technology. Consider the leap from the 19th century to the 20th century. New technologies became available that did not exist previously and the writing from the early 20th century is marked by them. Most immediately, e.e. cummings' experiments come to mind. There is also the photomontage technique of the Surrealists. With all of the radical changes that the early 20th century saw, can one say that the writers living in the 21st century aren't being changed by new technologies?

Consider translation. No matter how crude they come out, one can now translate from one langauge to another just by clicking a button. As an experiment, take one of your poems and run it through a translator a few times. You'll likely find something has changed when it is returned to English. you may even find a whole new poem.

Of all the new technologies to change the world, the internet has had the most impact. It has made the world smaller by closing the gaps in communication that used to exist when we relied on face-to-face contact, letters, and telephones. Though we have acknowledged the existence of what has come to be known as the global village, I'm not sure we totally understand it. Someone, commenting on the barbarism of World War I, observed that it was being fought with modern weapons and medieval tactics. Similarly, I believe the allegiances we have to things like countries are based on an outdated perception of the world when a border couldn't be crossed from the comfort of your living room. If something so complex as identity can no longer be defined in a two-dimensional way, then why would poetry be any different?

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