Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On the edge...

of the end of the semester. A storm of papers will arrive later today, to be followed later this week by a stack of final exams. And then I can get to work on what I ought to be writing. But for now a brief breather.
Snatching some time to read in the interstices: Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat); I've known Age for yonks, thru the old yellow Roof edition. "Sunset Debris" and "The Chinese Notebook" are old friends. And I've become very fond of "Ketjak" now. (The recursive structure assures it that by the time you finish the poem, you're either very fond of it, or driven to active loathing.) I have the typically anal project of working thru Ron's big poem Ketjak (not the short "Ketjak"), as outlined in the preface to Age of Huts, in order of its parts: Age of Huts, then Tjanting, then The Alphabet. That's what, maybe 1500 pages of elegantly processed quotidianity? Should keep me off the streets for awhile.

Mostly thru Beckett's How It Is. One of those books that when you lay it down, you can't pick it up again, if you know what I mean. Oh, it's brilliant all right – I wouldn't want at all to sell the thing short of brilliance. But it's frankly the  single most painful read I've ever essayed. The unpunctuated paragraphs are one thing, forcing you to read at pretty much speaking pace, pausing to internally punctuate & repunctuate at every turn, looking for where the pauses ought to (or might) fall. But while that's a painstaking process (a painful process?) not unfamiliar to the reader of contemporary poetry, it's the bleakness of the "action" that really does it for (to?) me. In a few words: Conveyance: standard Beckett blind mud-crawling; Diet: canned good of dubious provenance & sell-by date; Communication media: fingernails in back, digit in arsehole, can-opener to buttocks, sharp knocks to the skull. And other nastinesses, not least of which is the intrusion of "Love" into this hellish scenario. Kathy Acker, by comparison, is sunshine & lollipops.
Observations on the state of modernist studies, having read thru almost 200 job applications:
•James Joyce stock remaining high, with no perceptible dips; still King of Hill

•historicism the order of the day; even the crustiest formalists apt to swath their readings in a decent chiton of historical context or anecdote

•William Faulkner holding steady – who woulda thought?

•Langdon Hammer of Yale the busiest dissertation director in the land; how does he find time to chair the department and write James Merrill's biography?

•the Edwin Rolfe renaissance still failing to materialize, despite all of Cary Nelson's best efforts

•poetry, alas, the big loser: by my admittedly unscientific estimate (ie, I don't have the notes in front of me), something like 15% of dissertations


Anonymous said...

merrill a "decent" poet comes fro money (Merrill-Lynch out of Manhattan...

lots of infor regarding him on the net... just "string" the (net) articles together and after Merrill's Collected Poems, 2001

who needs another bio?

E. M. Selinger said...

Mark, the amount of reading you do continues to amaze me. I finished grading today--one student complaint by the time I got home from the office, over a B+, no less!--and need to switch gears to the four essays lined up for me this "winter break." Tomorrow's R's birthday, though, so I think the work will actually begin on Thursday.

Re: poetry (as 'the big loser'), I wonder whether that might connect with the pervasive historicism you describe. Not that you CAN'T read poetry that way (cf. Ma Rainey's "Institutions of Modernism"), but it's harder on a grad student timetable, perhaps.

If memory serves, I read "How it Is" in high school. Not going back to it--not with the fire in me now!

Steven Fama said...

"elegantly processed quotidienity"

Maybe it should be "quotidianity" but however it goes that's a great three-word description of the Silliman's poetry.

Steven Fama said...

I mean"great" as in accurate and concise.

And I wonder if what you say about Ketjak -- essentilly, that by the end you either love it, or not -- applies to Silliman's work as a whole?

I can't get enough of it (his poetry), really.

I am just a reader, and maybe with your more professional background you can help with something. I am trying to work through how the heck he's lumped in with the LANGUAGE poets, who allegedly abjured "the self" or the personal voice. I just finished the 1,500 page read-through of Silliman that you describe, much of which I'd read before as well, and those pages are saturated with the personal!

Mark Scroggins said...

Thanks for the eagle-eye proofreading, Steven! I think that RS's charter membership in the Lang crowd is pretty much a matter of historical record. What I think isn't accurate is the notion that all of them abjured the personal voice. (And this is true of most "movements," after all -- more a matter of Wittgensteinian "family resemblance" than of universally shared principles -- unless there's an André Breton enforcer in charge.) I hear the personal all thru Rae Armantrout and Leslie Scalapino, as well as Bob Perelman (at times).

I think at times what gets called the "personal" ends up being shorthand for the first-person, well-crafted, closural "workshop" poem of the 1970s and 1980s, which all of them did in fact reject.

Eric--"not with the fire in me now!" -- you made J. laugh long & hard with that one. Who needs this Krapp?

Interesting, tho -- looking at the apps, I see writing on Stein, on Hughes, on Pound, Eliot -- what's really missing, however, is very much hard spadework on the great "rediscovered" modernists who were supposed to be the next big thing a decade or two ago -- Loy, (Riding) Jackson, etc.

E. M. Selinger said...

Maybe it's still too early, Mark? My hunch is that Stein and Hughes wouldn't have shown up in force 20 years ago; a big Stein wave (Steinwayve?) broke over us both in graduate school, but I wonder how many dissertations there were on her poetry at the time. Ditto Hughes.

Or, perhaps, it's a function of the bad job market? Who wants to take the chance of being seen as a "(Riding) Jackson scholar" competing for slots against scholars of poets that the personnel committee is sure to have heard of, the students (more or less) sure to study? If I had Ph.D. students--which, thank heaven, I don't--I'd certainly advise them against doing a Loy or Jackson dissertation.

Or maybe (just maybe) it's something about the work? The hype based on extra-literary factors, and once that initial excitement wanes, there's just not enough there there?

...trying to force out a banana joke, but having some difficulty--