I remember something else about the Q and A session. In response to the person who asked, if we cannot define precisely what conceptual writing is, could we define what it is not, or what we do not want to do with it? (I thought this question was interesting, given this.) Kim Rosenfield’s response was that she doesn’t write “to make meaning,” or at least, she said, not some predetermined sort of meaning.
I’ve been thinking about this, because while I agree with the second half of her statement, I feel quite opposite regarding the first: I absolutely unqualifiedly write (or make videos, or sew, or teach) to make meaning, and not just to make it, but to make it fructify and divide and morph and sing, and a ton of other verbs I could search down the path of this sentence if I didn’t feel I have so much to say about so many other things right now. And it seems to me that her work also is rife with meanings, so… hmm… I’m wondering about this… what is it writers do exactly if not dive into a sea of potential significations?
I’m sure I’m oversimplifying her statement or not quite understanding what she wanted to say. Certainly I am not interested in creating closed structures with “messages” or pat little “organic wholes”: perhaps that is what she wanted to say. Kim?
After our panel, I ducked out with Laynie Browne for a quick lunch down the street, and we ran into Joanna Fuhrman at the café. Joanna talked a bit about the keynote speeches (I had missed them), and mentioned that Eileen had dissed Language Poetry in hers, as well as, what was it?, group formation around what everyone is already doing anyway. I said I thought that Eileen had spoken out of a desire to preserve her rock star status against the combined forces of groups. That sounds as if I have something against Eileen, but I don’t at all, I think she’s amazing and brilliant and totally compelling, really genuinely a rock star, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it, because I don’t flatter people. It’s just that I am getting a little weary of people who identify as solo artists criticizing people who are in bands (as if bands can’t be formations of individual rock stars!) as if the bands are “merely” some kind of market label instead of indications of actual solidarity, affiliation, and identification.
I agreed with Joanna that individual differences of people in groups can be overlooked or glossed over, but I believe that anyone who reads avidly and respectfully will see and notice and maybe even love those differences; it is only those who are eager to dismiss the entire group categorically that will not appreciate them, and who will suffer the greatest loss, I believe. It is also true that unaffiliated or relatively unaffiliated individuals will often be overlooked, and this can be terribly unjust, but surely that is no reason to dismiss group formation out of hand. Anyway, it does seem to me that to bring up Language Poetry as a Big Baddie strikes me as silly now in 2009 (even sillier than it did in, say, 1984) when we have so many other things to think about.
After lunch I thought to go to the film panel, whose description sounded right up my alley. I reproduce it here:
The Event in the Image: Poetry and Cinema
Curated by: Angela Joosse
Films and poetry by: Peggy Ahwesh, Lise Beaudry, Abigail Child, Margaret Christakos, Moyra Davey, Kelly Egan, Laura Elrick, Su Friedrich, Amy Greenfield, Shana MacDonald, Bridget Meeds, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Selene Savarie, Joel Schlemowitz, Nathalie Stephens, Souvankham Thammavongsa,Gariné Torossian, Cat Tyc
Description: This program of recent experimental film and video examines the productive impact to be found at the intersection of feminism, poetry, and the moving image. Sharing common concerns with rhythm, duration, and the slippage and condensation of meaning, experimental cinema and poetry have had rich relations since cinema’s inception. Yet the avant-garde edge of these art forms does not rest with medium-specific concerns, but rather with the capacity to install the audience in a situation that enables a potent shift in one’s very perceptions of embodied, social, geographical, gendered, political, and cultural locatedness in the world. Through poetic approaches to cinema and cinematic approaches to poetry, this program explores varying possibilities of the image as an event situation.
I stayed for five of the films. My notes:
(Kelly Egan) crazy Yoko-ish singing, bodies, films of film strips, filed scratched words, like a parody of an art film, guns, clutched breasts, wailing, jumping bodies, more scratches, hands on bodies, masturbation
(Amy Greenfield) “Men Must have dreams but they should never be asleep”, skinny stripper against brick wall, thigh-high vinyl boots, skin, oh ugh, “there’s violence breeding inside this tube of lipstick”
(Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof) solarized, gels, effect, hexagonal light forms, crunchy scratchy sounds, giant bees flapping, breathing noises, underwater, OK got it, amniotic, “avant-garde” screeching, little sexy panting noises, I suppose this is beaut
(Shana MacDonald & Margaret Christakos) My Girlish Feast, seems a little Sesame Street (Stein?) … cutout paper dolls in natural settings, “your bust is guilt and hair of it,” OK, I like this poem, onto portraits, renaissance, I think of Berger, some kind of feathery net with orchids and maybe milkweed seeds? “thirsty cinema”
(Nathalie Stephens) “Entre J’entre a tender film of a lesbian couple riding a train
I left at this point, although there were many others I wanted to see, especially Laura Elrick’s and Peggy Ahwesh’s (of course I had seen Abby’s Mirror World, which she had collaborated on with Gary). There were moments in these films I liked or thought beautiful, but for the most part they seemed to me to be enactments of some of the worst clichés of experimental film by women: the screechy vocalizings, the tenderness (I just can’t deal with tenderness in art at all), the forced “sensuality”… I don’t know. Pruska-Oldenhof’s was technically interesting, and I loved the bees, especially, but overall none of these were working for me. This just reflects my own prejudices, I realize, and I am happy to hear your arguments for these films and why you love them. The comment box is just below.
It turned out Rob and Kim and David Buuck left exactly when I did, and we found our way in to the end of this panel:
Body as Discourse
Chair: Kate Eichhorn
Panelists: Joan Retallack, Trish Salah, Laura Smith, Nathalie Stephens (Nathanaël), Ronaldo V. Wilson
Description: This panel explores questions of the body, referentiality, remapping bodies and borders, intertextuality, narrativity, aesthetics, and the challenges of de-essentialization as we scrutinize “female,” “queer,” “raced” and “othered” bodies.
We got in just in time to hear Ronaldo Wilson, the last presenter, who was totally urbane and fabulous and switching codes all over the place. I was totally intrigued but since it was the end of the panel, just before the Q and A, I had no idea what he was talking about. The Q and A was really ramped up, with all the grad students batting around the word “alterity” like there was no tomorrow. I was sitting on the floor in my lace and boots, and very uncomfortable, so I didn’t manage to get my notebook out until a bit later, when someone left and I got a seat, and I wrote down this great quote from Joan Retallack:
“If you’re in a relationship of reciprocal alterity, it doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory.”
There were many interesting things said about trans bodies and cruising and vulnerability and rapture vs. rupture and the Christian problematics of the word rapture, but you know once again I had the feeling that I have just not been trained to discourse on this level, and I was a little stunned and amused by everyone’s facility. For me, you know, the road not taken, and that’s why I speak to you now rather straightforwardly.
Upon arrival, I thought to pass around a box of truffles that had been given to me by a student and were sitting around in my kitchen uneaten so as not to find their way straight to my hips. They were quite expensive, I know this because my student had left the receipt in the bag, they were $42.46. Later on in my narrative these truffles will emerge as being quite important, so I will ask you to hold them in mind.
Next, in the same room, was this panel, which I had already marked in my program:
Chair: Margaret Carson
Panelists: Justin Parks, Divya Victor, danielle vogel, Steve Zultanski
Description: This panel will be exploring the possibility of a Utopian promise in contemporary poetry. We will be looking at the work of Renee Gladman, Lisa Robertson, Melissa Buzzeo, and Jewel in an effort to explore these authors’ formal and political relationships to urban space, and to their readers. We don’t assume these writers share a vision, but rather that their poetics and poetry are in some ways at odds — suggesting that any recognizable Utopian impulse is not a fully-realized imaginative portrait of a better world, but a fractured and incomplete projection of a time yet to come.
I wanted to see this because I have recently become aware of Steve Zultanski as a wonderfully energetic poet, and I’m always delighted by Divya Victor’s erudite and mischievous witticisms on facebook. Plus, I was intrigued by the fact that Jewel was on the agenda. What would they find to say about Jewel, I wondered.
Steve started with his Jewel paper, which was really a sort of cultural studies-type of examination of the reception of poetry as well as a critique of celebrity. Divya then spoke on Renee Gladman’s The Activist, giving a critique of the failure of Jameson’s cognitive mapping. Justin Parks spoke on Lisa Robertson, focusing on The Weather. At this point the two ibuprophen that Kim had given me pretty much knocked me out, and I could barely attend to what danielle vogel was saying about Melissa Buzzeo’s work, something about the ductility of metal, in a very soft voice….
It’s a good thing (I guess) then, that the Q and A was so spirited, because it woke me up… or really I should say, it was vicious, with a couple of women in the audience, one in particular who had been a women’s studies major, slamming Steve for having chosen Jewel as the focus of his academic rigor and accusing him of condescension. He countered with a few points: 1) that his paper had opened with an anecdote about a male journalists who had mocked Jewel for using the word “casualty” when she meant something like “casualness,” 2) that he actually was interested in the poetry because it did have features of literariness such as tropes, and as such it was more than just “diary poems,” and 3) he said that in fact there is no such person as Jewel, as she was really a manufactured persona…. Finally one astute woman in the audience recapped his rhetorical strategy and framed the paper as coming from a cultural studies perspective, and everything was relatively peaceful thenceforth, but goodness, what a hullabaloo.
OK, still to come later: part 3, Closing Plenary and Performances.