Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Joe Brainard's Parentheses. (The Best Part.)

(with little yellow flowers)
(the movie)
(As opposed to a refrigerator.)
(Without an airplane.)
(Second floor.)
(I was afraid to look at him)
(Especially good.)
(Mostly talk.)
(A girl.)
(where all the stores are)
(Tulsa's largest department store)
(I forget exactly what)
(so noisy)
(I had very long hair which was more unusual then that it is now.)
(I was going to ask to see him anyway.)
(It was the truth.)
(And I still do!)
(A flower that closes at four.)
(back view)
(Pale peach.)
(Made in Italy.)
(I still do that.)
(They were not married.)
(It had been in the cabinet.)
(That she was half Negro.)
(wet dreams)
(100 Strings?)
(when in bed but not asleep yet)
(From a movie with Sandra Dee.)
(but old enough)
(I like small feet.)
(I like underwear.)

To Be Continued. (Maybe.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blog as Georgic?

As for content, Jen's blog might be a kind of 21st c. georgic. That would complicate the time thing (or does already), b/c it introduces the cyclical, which is spittin distance from the mythic. Personally, I think you can have that alongside the historical (and do). When the climate starts radically altering the seasons due to human activity? That is where the two come together and crash.

And the georgic is another of those complicated genres: is it a real farming manual that's written in poetic form? Or a poem posing as a (faux) farming manual? From the little I know, I'd say Virgil's was the former. As is Jen's, not infrequently.

But the connection between literature (literacy) and agriculture is much older. In fact, arguably writing (viz., cuneiform) was invented to keep track of agricultural commodities. Here is a bit from John Heise's Akkadian Language:

"Already from the 9th millennium onwards clay tokens (Lat. calculi) where used to depict objects and abstract numbers and was widely spread: from present day Sudan to Iran. The clay tokens in various forms and shapes were used as counters. Each type of counter represent e.g. a bull's head, a sheep, a basket, a bar of gold etc. They were, in many cases at least, pictographicallly used: that is, they depicted concrete objects. They have meaning in any language. . . .

"A diacritical mark on a three dimensional token was often not clearly copied on the outside of a clay bulla and had to be inscribed by hand. In the two dimensional writing a symbol like could stand for 'sheep', not a pictogram anymore. Further diacritical marks, like removing a segment could indicate 'ewe' (female sheep) where as removing two segments could be an indication of a sheep in gestation."

And this from Ira Spar, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art web site:

"One of the earliest written texts from Uruk provides a list of 120 officials including the leader of the city, leader of the law, leader of the plow, and leader of the lambs, as well as specialist terms for priests, metalworkers, potters, and others.

"Some of the earliest signs inscribed on the tablets picture rations that needed to be counted, such as grain, fish, and various types of animals. These pictographs could be read in any number of languages much as international road signs can easily be interpreted by drivers from many nations."

(All of which raises the obvious literary-historical question: did the Sumerians blog? . . .)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Everything that involves more than one person (even if the other is imaginary) is political. Watering your lawn is political. So is eating a cheese pizza (BGH or non-BGH cheese?). But then blogs don't necessarily accomplish the same political ends as, say, calling all of your friends on the the telephone to get them to call Corporation X about abuses by one of their contractors. Or going door-to-door to generate support for a city commission candidate. And poetry? Well, poetry makes a lot of things happen, but not the same things as phone banking or canvassing, in my experience.

Oh - I nearly forgot - HAPPY X-MAN! - I mean, X-Box -

no, seriously, Merry X-Ma$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Friday, December 25, 2009

Then there is the very fact of seriality, which opens a gap between the duration of the narrative and the time of the audience. ("Is Little Dorrit dead??") Does Twitter aim to close these two temporalities?

I do think Jen's art-blog is also a political blog, insofar as it comments on GMO crops or community-formation or women farmers. Or blogs and MFA-granting institutions, for that matter.

For more on these, and other alphabetic ruminations, see Tinfish Editor's Blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Blog und Zeit

If you are a FB friend of poet Mark Nowak, you are accustomed to seeing reports of mining disasters. Miners are killed every day, in every part of the world, many if not most, while mining coal (like that which is keeping me warm at this very moment).

Mark's book, Coal Mountain Elementary, contains numerous accounts of deadly coal mining accidents (preventable) in China. It also contains an extended account of the Sago Mine disaster, the worst in US history.

At one point, I commented on one of Mark's posts: "This is an extension of your book. It never ends." By which I meant that the book never ends because the subterranean carnage never ends.

Then he commented that the real extension (in time) of the book is his blog, Coal Mountain.

It was only later that this made me think about Jen H's blog, Up From the Ground - which is her MFA thesis, and in which she is theorizing the blog-as-MFA-thesis. She (and I) has been trying to work through how blog-art differs from blog-everything-else.

Obviously, any blog that announces itself as an MFA thesis, and then proceeds to theorize itself as such, has got to be art. So there's that.

But it occurs to me now that another aspect to explore is time. The web log, like other logs, is written with time in mind - and marks time's passage. So do journals and letters. In that sense, these are all reflexive forms that invite reflection on their reflexivity. And the temporality is not just backwards (in the format), it's forward (new posts).

Moreover, there is the question of the frame. Part of a frame is temporal. Once you publish your book, or sell your painting, it's out there. But what happens when you keep writing and publishing the book - daily? Then it becomes like that John Cage piece that's going to take 8,000 years or whatever. The very fact of the work's duration creates its own context by gesturing beyond itself.

So if Jen continues the blog after the MFA defense (successful), and after the thesis is enshrined in the Library (in whatever form that may be), then it has automatically transgressed the art-frame, the parergon (which has already prompted some temporal anxiety from the Library). And by self-consciously doing so, the blog as thesis-extender will behave like those works of conceptual art or pop art that work by playing off of or against the Institutions of Art, or by making an object anomalous by moving it to a new location that is not coded as "art-space." Perhaps any Blog Art (or "bloggart," in Jen's definition) that utilizes the form - as distinct from using the blog as a delivery system for art - is itself de facto conceptual art (at least at this point in time).

But by the same token, a blog's ability to exceed the covers, in addition to being an artistic act, gestures beyond the Institution - towards the Public. In a sense, a book is private - one has to physically have it; it is enclosed between covers. It costs money and a lot of time to make it. The blog opens out to a much wider audience, and invites that audience in. Immediately. Indeed, it might double-back against the Institutions of Art, or open towards activism against non-art institutions - which is what Mark Nowak's blog does, I think.

So maybe the trick is not to turn blogs into art, but rather to blur the line between the two. And I have to think that time, as well as space, is part of that process.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The New Agrarians

My dad, watching Ken Burns' Civil War series, listening to Shelby Foote hold forth: "Hmph. I wonder what Confederate general he thinks he is."

There was an article in the Dec. 11 Chronicle of Higher Education about the Abbeville Institute - named after John C. Calhoun's birthplace: "[T]he group does not endorse secession but does say the idea has moral and political validity. . . . Abbeville's scholars conend, for example, that the Civil War - or as they often refer to it, the War of Northern Aggression or the War to Prevent Southern Independence - was not about slavery (the system was on its way out anyway, they argue) and that the antebellum Southern states had every right to secede." O-Kaaaay . . .  Their web site states that one of their goals is "to explore the metaphysical image of things human and divine to which the Southern tradition bears witness." And the white folks are under attack at the secular humanist universities, don't you know. . . . Jeeeeeezus.

Apparently, this is a group of white, southern academics who embrace the vision of the Agrarians, those 1930s white southerners who yearned for an antebellum south as a kind of Jeffersonian republic (one which, in the hands of Allen Tate, blurred into an agrarian Middle Ages oozing with noblese oblige). It's pathetic enough to be nostalgic for a corn-pone version of a regime based on slavery (or serfdom). How pathetic is it to be nostalgic for a movement that was based on nostalgia? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. They remind me of a society of eccentric elderly gentlemen who are convinced the plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare.

One "founding member," Clyde N. Wilson, emeritus historian at the U. of South Carolina, says, "The academic tendency now, because of America's preoccupation with the race question the last half-century or so, is to put the whole Southern history into a dark little cordner of American history." By "preoccupation with the race question," one assumes that Prof. Wilson is referring to what the rest of us know as "The Civil Rights Movement." Of course, a lot of that "preoccupation" (or occupation - of lunch counters, libraries, etc.) happened in the south. And most of the occupying civil rights advocates were southerners. But clearly, for Prof. Wilson, there are no black southerners.

Let me tell you something. I grew up around these clowns (not these particular ones, but ones cut from the same cloth).  And it all boils down to this: they can't admit that the difference between soul food and "southern cooking" is the difference between hog jowls and hamhocks.

If you're surprised to hear a Chinese person speaking with a Mississippi delta accent, then you don't know diddly about the south. If you pretend that such people don't exist, then you're constructing a south ("jury-rigging" one, perhaps?) based on palpable bullshit.

The fact is that this our era of transnational capital is a far cry from the era of primitive agribusiness that characterized the antebellum south. And this bunch differs crucially from the Agrarians. The latter were "values conservatives" before the term was coined: they were anti-capitalist racists. This new generation of apologists is a product of the era of neoconservatism - that marriage of capitalist interests and Nixonian "cultural politics." Abbeville "attracts about $30,000 in donations annually"? And is having its "Seventh Annual Scholars Conference" at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University? And attracts people like Eugene D. Genovese? Why do I detect the whiff of (corporate-backed) neocon dollars at work?

The Abbeville bozos have as much right to embarrass themselves as I do (and god knows I take every advantage of that liberty!) - it's a free country (no thanks to the white south). But you want to get Americans to stop viewing the white southerner as a caraciture? Great! Then stop acting like one!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

eclogues are about
political resentment in
the shadow
of power;
they are taking
my little plot of green.

- Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from Draft 53

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

". . . After so much 'I' to turn, to erupt into 'We'
with its peculiar shadow 'They.'"

- Rachel Blau DuPlessis, from Draft 49

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Upshot

All of which* is to say that the act of submitting a blog as an MFA thesis is perhaps the most important aspect of the project. The fact of it; the publication of that fact; and the form in which the text (and its medium) interacts with the gate-keeping institution - i.e., how it is registered and diplomaed (certified as art).

Has anyone ever written a blog as an MFA thesis? Not that I know of. Could Jen's be the first??

*(see previous several posts)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Conceptual Blogging?

Went to the Spencer Museum of Art this afternoon. Saw the Warhol Heinz tomato sauce box. It was under plexiglass. In an art museum. And that has made all the difference.

There was also an exhibit of video art from Asia. In one work, a Korean man related the story of an old love affair that revolved around trains and train tracks. In an adjacent screen, a stage curtain opens onto a video of train tracks, on a screen within the screen you're watching. As we "move forward" along these tracks, the screen is framed by computer-generated track and scenery that prefectly matches the "actual video."

It occurred to me that one could just as easily install computer monitors that only showed one blog each - or showed blogs' being updated, using time-lapse photography. Might not be very entertaining, but it would make a point.

So, let us say that any blog can be understood as art, provided it is framed or contained by the institutions or social forms of art.

One of those "social frames" would be an MFA thesis. Why not put a blog in it? Plenty of works of conceptual art have been. Of course, if this is as far as it goes, then the thesis would itself be a kind of conceptual art/writing project. For such a project, it would be precisely the (deadpan) blog about your cats (or family or hobby) that would be called for, in order for it to follow the logic of other conceptual art projects.

Conversely, Warhol's Brillo boxes would not have the same effect if they'd been printed in flourescent colors with the lettering in off-kilter, blurry black ink. Then you'd know something was up, regardless of whether they were stacked in MoMA or in the stock room at the supermarket. If it were the latter, the structure (or inherent form) of the piece would produce its own mental frame: this is not what the thing that usually goes here looks like. As opposed to: the thing that looks like this does not usually go here (see preceding paragraph).

Either way, it seems like space/place - esp. public v. private is a crucial determinant. So the fact of your blog's being an MFA thesis would need to be made public in some way - perhaps by blogging on a streetcorner. And videotaping it, and then exhibiting or publishing that video somehow (as some performance art - whether in public or private space - might be videotaped and then shown as DVD or in a gallery).

Probably the best way to do it would be to make the blog reader/viewer constantly aware of the process of writing, approving, and submitting an MFA thesis that is a blog. Culminating in the diploma as a permanent feature in the side-bar. Like the "show invisibles" command in a word-processing program. Then content wouldn't be an issue, since the form would be the explicit conceptual (and visible) "frame."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blogs qua Art; Media and Messages

OK - let's start with this. This is a work that makes use of the medium by commenting upon it - and upon the nature of representation. And there is text in a painting (!). In the original, wasn't the frame painted onto the canvass, too? 

Also, think of those paintings in the 70s that consisted of a single color applied to a huge canvass in such an even layer that one could hardly tell the paint apart from the flat surface (and that was, of course, the point - the rejection of mimesis and the foregrounding of the physical medium). Again, the "content" of the work commented upon the physical/social nature of the work of art.

As I've said before, the only analog that I've been able to think of in the blog world is Susan M. Schultz' Dementia Blog (Singing Horse). The backwards chronology backs us into the corner of the post-9/11 imperial overstretch and collective amnesia, but it begins with the personal and the quotidian. Likewise, it seems to me that transferring the contents of a blog to a printed book does much the same thing as the revolutionary visual art works I've been talking about - questioning the framing, both textual and social, of the work of art. And raising the question of whether or not web works are backwards-compatible with print works - which may be the most important question of our day, as far as literature is concerned.

So, I'm thinking that a blog as work of art either does one of two things: either it serves as a platform or medium for a work of art that might just as well exist in print form or in a museum, OR it does unexpected, original, imaginative, and subversive things with the structure of the medium itself. Those things might begin as simple parody, but it might spread - or link - from there.

But either way, it has to look radically, fundamentally, structurally different than your mom's blog about her cats.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"So for the blog, can we judge artfulness from an excerpt alone, or only within context?"

And is the context the content? Is the very fact of presenting a blog as an MFA thesis analogous to putting a urinal - or basketballs and fish-tanks - in an art museum? A kind of anti-art art-work?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ceci n'est pas une MFA thesis.

Now, that is a true statement.

But you wouldn't know it by looking at me. And would you know that this blog is not an MFA thesis, by looking at it? Or that it is?

If I said it was, I could be lying. If I didn't, it could be true anyway. Would there be any textual markers? "Damn, your art is sooooo fine! You' a master, baby!" Back in the day, you studied under the previous master, and he (he) decided when you were a master (or journeyman). Scholasticism. Rules. Frame: parergon - which, to Derrida, is a paregoric (cf. "Economimesis").

These questions are, perhaps, more to the point than asking, "What is art (or lit)?" That is, the institutional accreditation and sanctioning as such determines it, in any given time and place. If R. Mutt brings the urinal into the academy and presents it as his MFA thesis, who's to gainsay him? Indeed, has anyone ever failed an MFA?  I mean, flunked out - if they did the work? How do we say if something is art? Or fine? Or masterful?

If you reject such categories, you can do whatever you want, without the stick of conformity or the carrot of income. God bless you!

But if you accept them - to the point of earning or dispensing MFAs - you'd better be able to define them. Right? Did Jeff Koons have an MFA? Could an MFA thesis be a blog about tatting or a Lyme disease support group? How come? Why not?