Another comment sent into Harriet today (at Reginald Shepherd's Lyric Postmodernisms post):

"Such "comment-box interventions" as mine, here on Reginald's patient long-suffering Harriet post, are easy to dismiss.

Nevertheless I hope some poets will consider the implications of what I'm saying.

The big trends in 20th-century linguistic theory and philosophy have assumed as axiomatic that language is not only a system (either a system of order, as with the structuralists, or, as with the post-structuralists, a system of chaos or "difference"), but a system (either a logos or an a-logos) which is the actual substance & ratio of reality, identity, and literature.

And the prevailing currents in what is known as postmodernist, innovative, post-avant, and language poetries have taken up these theories and assumptions, and have made their literary consequences a hallmark of their style - that which differentiates them from the common herd of traditional poets.

Now if it's possible to think of language in a completely different way - as primarily a human creation, a tool of communication which we invented - akin to other forms of non-verbal (& non-human) gesture, signals and communication - then we have a problem with the theoretical obsession with language as self-regulating system. And we have a problem with a trend in poetics which emphasizes the dispossession of human invention, will & intent, in favor of the aleatory workings of socially- or internally-generated verbal materials.

It also strikes me as curious that 50 years ago, a group of influential literary scholars, poets & critics - the so-called Chicago School (R.S. Crane, Elder Olson & others) - had already analyzed the basic problems involved with the 20th-century fixation on language, and the concomitant notion of the poem as primarily a verbal artifact. And they outlined an Aristotelian counter-proposal to this dominant New Critical trend (which was, in effect, turned inside-out & re-applied by the Language Poets) - one which focuses on the poem as an aesthetic whole, an intellectual-emotional gesture or form, which is not reducible to its literal text, but is primarily an (aesthetic) ACTION, for which the text provides a kind of score.

I see the contemporary state of affairs (when poets & groups of poets glibly gather up such identifying markers at "postmodernist", "innovative", etc.) as somewhat similar to the situation which existed at the turn of the previous century, when Pound surveyed the landscape of versifying post-Victorians, and commented something to the effect that "they have no ground under 'em". "

No comments: