A few observations from the University of Louisville’s 20th-Century Literature & Culture conference last weekend, of necessity scattered & impressionistic, & much shaped by my having shown up a day later than originally planned.
•Lynn Keller on Cole Swensen’s Oh: reads the poem not on the model of the “fragment” but on that of the “fractal,” with its implications of self-similarity of structure at different scales (Hugh Kenner did something like this with the Cantos years ago, but not nearly as compellingly); a rushed but entirely distinct presentation, reminding me of just how smart, & just what a good close reader, Keller is; talk of opera reminds me how much I dislike most lyric opera; best phrase: “this minimal yet spacious art”
•Mark Cantrell on Christian Bök’s Eunoia and its Flash version (by Brian Kim Stefans): beautiful presentation – I’m glad he went after me rather than before me; serious discussion of the aesthetics & reading experience of the Flash Eunoia much disrupted by oblique & not entirely germane general comments on the oulipan procedures used to produce the original text, as if Bök were not in some sense producing a deeply traditional poem – ie one rooted in a half century+ of procedural compositional tradition (like American academics in the ‘50s assuming that phenomenology was a philosophy newly arrived from outer space)
•Mitchum Huehls on Nathaniel Mackey: one of those productions of one’s youth that attempts to overturn 40 years of critical thought in a stroke; he relies on the concept of the “contranym,” a word which contains contradictory meanings – “I will cleave unto thee all my days,” “let’s cleave that apple in half”; “the house weathered the storm well, though its shutters were weathered by the constant rain”; I’m interested (& have been for a while), not so much in the paradox of opposed meanings, but in the slippage between the structures of those meanings: ie, they are never perfectly opposite: to separate is “to cleave X,” while to come together is “to cleave to”; to allow is “to sanction” (v.), while to restrict is “to impose sanctions” (n.) – “weather” the only one I can come up with that functions grammatically identically in each of its meanings; gotta talk to a linguist
•Adalaide Morris on “ambient poetry”: puts up a background desktop of Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, then talks about a number of (mostly web-based) works that, like Eno’s ambient stuff, neither demand nor reject close attention; (of course, ambient music, pushed to its extreme arrives at John Cage’s realm of listening to sounds as music, as I’m presently enjoying the faulty ball bearings in the pool pump, which actually closely resemble some Zorn pieces I know); conceptually, this is great stuff, & something I’ve been thinking about for maybe two decades, since I read an interview with Eno where he compared his own ambient work to Samuel Beckett’s Company; but heavens – aren’t there enough bits of poetry out there earnestly entreating my attention thru their depth of insinuation, their wealth of craft, their cunningly wrought surfaces and mysterious depths? perhaps I’ll save “ambient poetry” for the day when I’ve no longer got the faculties to focus my attention – but then again, come dotage it’ll all be ambient…
•Andrew Rippeon on LZ’s “’Mantis,’”, Creeley’s Pieces, and Michael Palmer’s The Danish Notebook: I wish I could follow this one better – it’s a combination of 1) AR reading too fast, 2) AR reading in too low a voice, & 3) MS being deeply exhausted & having eaten (with the estimable Grant Jenkins) way too much pizza for lunch; gotta get The Danish Notebook; Andrew, do send me a copy of the paper, okay?
The climax of the whole shebang, the obelisk around which the conference was supposedly organized, was to be a talk by Alain Badiou. Ooops. M. B– had double-booked himself, so consented to do a videoconferenced talk Saturday from Seattle. (I boycotted on principle; my life is Baudrillardian enough without watching philosophers on TV.) The audience was in place, peering up at a blank screen, when B– phoned in the news that he was locked out of the building from which the feed was to originate. So, after the crowd shlepped to another AV-equipped room, B– delivered a 20-minute audio-only talk, which he ended by thanking them and hanging up – no Q&A, and M. B– wasn’t picking up his phone thereafter.
Norman and Alice Finkelstein have a Maltese (!) named Tchotchke (!), which despite myself I found really cute.