Here be Ron Silliman's extended encomiae (have I got that right, Gabe?) to Charles Bernstein's new book The Sophist.
Wagrant thoughts: a sophist is a professional rhetor, one who makes the daily bread by means of a persuasive appeal to Wisdom presented appealingly. Criticized, I believe, by Plato, whose notion of the transcendent Truth precluded a simple 2-step verbalization (ie. 1. Truth is; 2. I'm telling it to you). Maybe Aristotle too, who wanted a more disinterested Logic.
Bernstein works out an interesting confluence of Langpo & NY School attitudes; he imitates Ashbery, who perfected the wry self-negating/self-persuasive zennish non sequitur ("Beautifully the words reveal there is nothing to say." - HG imitating JA).
So to title a book The Sophist is classic self-deprecatory/self-affirming - disarming the critic beforehand.
Ashbery (& Bernstein) take the self-reflexive, narcissistic quality of poetry - inescapable, since poetry is the word, unlike any other language use except maybe the joke, which embodies a celebration of itself, among other things - and turn it into a comic system.
The limits of this kind of poetry are the limits of the comic: it appeals to the mind through a stringent disciplining (or mockery) of the feelings. There is something gnostic about comedy: those who are in the know get the better of the dolts who don't get it.
I suppose the opposite of the comic is pathos. Tragedy is based on pathos, the empathy with suffering. A lot of art, not just the tragic, appeals to pathos (think of Portuguese fado, for one thing. or Chet Baker). Emotion, feeling, music, duende. Language poetry built itself on a politically-motivated (moral?) mockery of the bathos of sentimental, self-centered 70s free verse.