Industrial Poetics

Just in from University of Iowa Press is Joe Amato’s Industrial Poetics: Demo Tracks for a Mobile Culture, a seriously hilarious and hilariously serious industrial-strength voco-virtuosic stroll, I mean run, I mean meander, I mean march through the current landscape of US poetry and poetics as seen through a working man’s goggles, darkly-brightly. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but friend Don Byrd just sent the following notes on it:

Tzvetan Todorov coined the word “narratologie.” Happily, as far as I know, no one has conjoined this ugly suffix and poetry. To make a logic of anything, especially such a wonderful and innocent a thing as story, is almost criminal. To make a logic of making….

Well, it can’t be allowed.

“Poetics” is dubious too, of course. Aristotle conceived of it as a discipline to produce generalized plots, which would illustrate philosophic principles better than history, but poetry has to do with making things, not just imitating them. Aristotle missed the point and put poetry on the wrong course for more than two millennia (or found it on the wrong course and pushed it along).

A course in Poetics might be required in an engineering curriculum. Industrial Poetics.

When I met Joe Amato, he had just quit an engineering job. If I remember correctly, he had been working for an outfit that made hair pomades, lip balm, and such stuff. Perhaps it was a brewery. He wanted to be a poet. I encouraged him to go back to his engineering job and take piano lessons. Only people who have to be poets should be poets, but he seemed stuck.

At least since the secret meetings of the Pythagoreans in Crotone (mid-sixth century, B.C.), and perhaps before (Pythagoras may have learned this doctrine from the Memphite priests), it was solidly believed that “There is nothing so abstract as to escape the system of the universe” (I am paraphrasing Alfred North Whitehead). It is for this reason that a made (and made-up) thing, such as a poem, properly made, might express the system of the universe. Poets didn’t need to know anything; they just had to represent the empty forms (any story or sentiment, no matter how cornball, would do). Aristotle took advantage of the Pythagorean doctrine in his Poetics. After Descartes, there was nothing really for the poem to imitate (everything was interior), and poetics got balled up with the Kantian theory of imagination, which Kant thought had more to do with physics than art (it was necessary to furnish things that the Newtonian formulas described). In the early twentieth century, the system of the universe turned out to be grammar, and the discussion of poetry got bottled up in the dullest of all of the academic disciplines. The Old New Critics and the New New Critics (now old) were all grammarians of various stripes. And writing about poetry has tended to be the dullest of things. It’s worth going back to Blake and Shelley; they were really spooked, not just talking about subjects and objects.

The classical doctrine that everything belongs to the system of the universe can be boiled down to the formula, 2 = 1 (2 or whatever number belongs to the system of the one and the one-i-verse). This is a crude mathematical expression of the philosophic doctrine of the one and the many (i.e. the one idea of, say, stoniness is constituted of the characteristics of many stones).

2 = 1 can be taken as a metaphysical mystery and articulated through the history of western philosophy or it can be taken as a contradiction, in which case it is basis of philosophic deconstruction, so the one universe is constituted of all of the possible universes in which everything is both itself and its opposite. The deconstructed universe is much larger, but it still boils down to 2 = 1.

Certain forms of magic and industrial processes are based on another formula that allows the production not of everything from one but anything from nothing. In “Burden of Set,” Gerrit Lansing gives the formula 0 = n – n. Amato takes a version of this formula as his starting place: “industrial” [i.e. nothing] → metaphor + ̃ metaphor [where ̃ is a symbol for negation]. You can get everything from nothing so long as you produce both the thing and its object. Sooner or later you’ll have to give them both back, but the idea that poetry is eternal truth belongs to the specious godly universe, and not the mere Earth.

This changes everything. The figures prior figures in Industrial Poetics are Alan Turing, Alonzo Church, and Sun Ra. (Interested readers might investigate a book like David Berlinski’s The Advent of the Algorithm for more information about forms that independent of the system of the universe.) The discussion of poetry now finally begins. We are not talking dumb social constructivism. This is about “An earth of value, to construct one,” as Charles Olson said. Industrial poetics in that sense.

–Don Byrd
Albany, NY

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2 Responses

  1. Gabriel says:

    Wull, am looking forward to reading it. Joe’s a good friend. Am happy to see the book’s cover–really did a good job. Liked the comments by Don.


  2. Adam says:

    Thanks for posting Don’s notes. Its a good condensation of the things he’s been most attentive to for years.

    Just ordered Joe’s book, looking forward to digging in.

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