Tuesday, August 17, 2004

John Mulrooney writes the following in response to my post of August 11:

"Perhaps another obvious point, it is not just that we are westerners and caught in the western dualities, but also that the nature of experimentation in art owes a great deal to the nineteenth century’s professionalization of both science and art. You wisely point out the danger of focusing on the results, at the expense of processes seductions. But there is an even more sinister side to this shift. A result focus has been increasingly tied to the concept of production and blogsphere will attest that we are pumping millions of barrels of poems a day.

I hear people rally around the notion of “academic” poetry vs. “experimental” poetry. This hard to pin down duality has veered us away from the “schools” encampments that artists have used to identify themselves, with varying degrees of usefulness, for centuries. People are less inclined to join or form a school when they can fall on one side of a two party system. My concern is that experimentation is, in many ways an academic pursuit. It’s just not in the English department.

Every good scientist knows that a no answer is just as good as a yes answer. Is the same true in art? If, as an artist, I value the concept of experimentation, then are my “failed” experiments (if such a thing can be determined) just as valuable and worthy of another’s consideration as my “successes”? Must I state a hypothesis before I begin composition?

Art is seen as needing to progress, as science appears to, and suffers as a result.

Science suffers less obviously, since its refocusings still produce “results”, see the rapid technological advancements that wartimes have generated (recording tape, plastics, radio networks, rubber products, zippers, various efficiency measures in clothing, not to mention the overhaul the assembly line process undergoes with each war). All of those are the results of the work of scientists, and many of them resulted from failed experiments. Would science benefit from being freed of the chains of the scientific method? Perhaps. And perhaps a greater chaos would ensue.

I am troubled by these dualities, but I must admit, I use them daily."

(me again, now, in response) Yep. People like definitions. And they like comfortable narratives, even if its one about them transcending 'narrative.' I mean, what good narrative doesn't contain transcendence? Also, the idea that schools don't necessarily mean a breakdown into two-party systems, but that a plenitude also doesn't have to be an everything-equivalent system either--that value can be real and multivalenced at the same time--is honestly utopian and beautiful, to my eye.

And lots of other good stuff here, too. I don't knowwhy I'm trying to summarize in response, except that he brings up so many points so neatly.

The discussion-of-'academic' part of John's response came to my mind when I read this quote in the most recent Harper's Magazine, from an essay by Lewis Lapham:

"The liberal consensus hadn't survived the loss of the Vietnam War. The subsequently sharp reduction of the country's moral and economic resources was made grimly apparent by the impeachment of Richard Nixon and the price of Arab oil, and it came to be understood that Roosevelt's New Deal was no longer an offer. Acting on generous impulses and sustained by the presumption of limitless wealth, the American people had enacted legislation reflecting their best hopes for racial equality and social justice (a.k.a. Lyndon Johnson's "Great SOciety"), but any further efforts at transformation clearly were going to cost a great deal more money than the voters were prepared to spend. Also a good deal more thought than the country's liberal-minded intelligentsia were willing to attempt or eager to provide. The universities chose to amuse themselves with the crossword puzzles of French literary theory, and in the New York media salons the standard-bearers of America's political conscience were content to rest upon what they took to be their laurels, getting by with the striking of noble poses (as friends of the earth or the Dalai Lama) and the expression of worthy emotions . . . " (itals mine)

I guess I'd like to know from someone who was present as an adult during the seventies and eighties how much of this narrative is true. Especially the section I italicized. And how much of it is the monocular simplified view of an indignant-culture-jockey-essay-speak?

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