Alcalay, Watten, Silliman


As friend Ammiel Alcalay pointed out in an email, I was somewhat overhasty when posting addresses to interesting, meaning radical, information sites on Mid East politics, and included MEMRI, which as Ammiel points out, & I totally agree is “really a bad news outfit (zionist/neo-con) & i wouldn’t even trust their translations…”

An interesting analysis on the war in Lebanon by Barrett Watten just up on his site, here, called “Thinking of War at a Distance: Proxy Violence and Real Victims in Lebanon.”

Ron Silliman, back from cross-country holidays, has re-kickstarted his blog with a reaction piece concerning an article about Afghani poetry published recently in the Wall Street Journal and picked up by several other national papers (you can still read it for free here). Not a bad piece of journalism (the original article), even if one could ask oneself why a piece of that order appears at this time and in those places; it is indeed a bit on the snide side, to say the least.
Silliman, faced with the occasion of momentarily climbing out of the American Tree, unhappily can think of nothing better than to lasso the Afghani poets & schlepp them right back into his own limited US-centric understanding of how poetry functions in the world, i.e., “School of Quietude” vs. “US post-avant-garde.” As if that was the only possible model with wich to gauge oppositions and struggles between different poetry constituencies.
Even if there were something to the comparison, the last thing these different Afghani poets’ groupings need to have done to them is to be stripped of their own differences and reasons for differing among themselves so as to be assimilated to the local hamerikan versions of different poetic schools. The least interesting way to think about differing sets of realities is to blot out the differences by insisting on the resemblances, i.e. by making sameness the hinge on which our understanding should swing — a move that can only be limiting not to say reactionary, and in a post-colonial situation even dicier than that. What would have been more interesting to do would have been to analyse and compare the differences between the Afghani and US poetry movements. But rather than trying to look at the Afghani differences or use some insight their analysis may have provided, the perceived sameness is then used to simply reflect further on Anglo-American lit-sociology. Ron, who has spent a good part of his life seriously thinking about — and working in — left-wing politics, should know better. Though maybe it is simply the problem of the limit of what thought can accomplish in the context of the quick daily blog-post — but (no buts), this would then also be true of my response here — which would, should indeed need much more reflection, thinking & working through than I can give it here, now.

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2 Responses

  1. David-Baptiste Chirot says:

    M. Joris–many thanks for your providing all the links and informations re Lebanon and Palestinian sites. I have just opened a Mail Art/Visual Poetry call at my blog For Palestine, For Lebanon & would like to contact people there–i have some friends missing now a month in Gaza–
    Thank you for your comments re Silliman’s incredibly narrow view of poetry, esp once it extends beyond the American–the way he looks at and immediately categorizes the Afghanis is about as subtle as the old Colonial bwanas–the Ugly American who is fast making enemies ofthe whole world–the binarism so doggedly pursued by Silliman of the Quietude/”post-avant” (post-savant?)–is very confining–much like our Leader–“you are either for us or agin’ us”–often the more one stares into the abyss of one’s chosen opposite, the more one is obsessed with the division between oneself and this other whom one continually flogs–the more one is in danger of becoming what one beheld–it could be suggested that Silliman’s own School is one of Queitude–or Languidtude–in that it has gone a long way in taking over chunks of academia–and its retreat in a sense into formalsim since the 1980’s coinciding with the rise of Reagan and the spread of conservatism, neo-cons et alia since–the “resistance” has been on the page–not in the streets and struggles in confronting in public what it purports to do in private, on the “transgressive” page–one is a product of one’s culture if one remains so resolutely within its confines–and i find often Silliman and many others more or less unconsciously mirroring the dominant culture and its leaders–
    i often think american culture has grown far more reactionary and conservative than it has any idea that it has–it is often frightening to observe and listen –when the war in Iraq started–my God–you wouldn’t believe the shit i got from strangers for having a french name! and surprised by the police on a drug sting while jaywalking–i had a very hard time convincing them i am not Morroccan! i don’t know if they had ever seen a Moroccan, but they were convinced i was one–all very bizarre–
    i appreciated much your comments–and your sharing all the contacts and information–
    je vous souhaite ” la belle aujourd’hui” comme disait Blasie Cendrars

  2. Richard Taylor says:

    Ron Slliman is a great poet say of “Tjanting”, “Paradise” etc but my feeling is he and others limit themselves to a US-centric view – (or they even comletely ignore politics) it is worrying -it may not be quite true; Ron S was indeed in politics as a young man – my view stil is that the US should not have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and that and nothing has been achieved in either place of good – Silliman needs to acknowledge he was wrong on all that as was Perloff.

    His work and hers cannot be dismissed however -it would be a tragedy if they (various of the Langpos and so on) lurched permanently to the right. I – in the past -have found much in her (Perloff’s) (critcism and comemmntary) and his and other Langpos works (eg Antin, Watten , Grenier etc) – of great isnpiration.

    The Langpos seem to foregt they had a big theoretical basis -or part of it -in politics – they talked about the commodification of the signifier and so on…

    Yes wait till all this is is cleared and the US et al are out – then start looking at people outside the US (or whoever we are – on an equal footing – or as equal as we can get)
    (This applies to anyone anywhere -we must respect multiplicity and others’ views and cultures).

    We must also distinguish between the good people of any country who oppose wars etc and those who have power.

    Richard Taylor

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