Thursday, December 02, 2010

the fénéon book

A couple years back, my most delicious internet reading was the blog Faits Divers de la Poésie Américaine et Brittanique, a series of for the most part brutally funny satirical squibs directed at the poetry "scene" in general, & emanating from the anonymous fénéon collective. Hoo boy did the fénéon folks stir up ire on all sides of American poetry (except perhaps for the trade-press-entrenched hyper-establishment, which doesn't really traffic in internet communication). Eventually, after pissing off just about everyone who is anyone in alt-poetry, the blog's contents disappeared.

I won't go into the history of the "collective," which is laid out in loving detail in "Anonyme"'s introduction to the recently released Works and Days of the fénéon collective (Skanky Possum/Effing Press) (hard to come by at the moment, but you might look here). Suffice it to say they take their name from the art critic and anarchist Félix Fénéon, and are inspired by his Nouvelles in trois lignes, cryptic and anonymous squibs which appeared in the Paris Newspaper Le Matin in 1906. Fénéon's "novels" are capsulized and crystallized social commentary:
A dozen hawkers who had been announcing news of a nonexistent anarchist bombing at the Madeleine have been arrested.

Reverend Andrieux, of Roannes, near Aurillac, whom a pitiless husband perforated Wednesday with two rifle shots, died last night.

Too poor to raise him, Triquet, of Théligny, Sarthe, smothered his son, aged 1 month.
The 232 "faits divers" of the "fénéon collective" are rather more loquacious, and focus their commentary on the angst- and ambition-riddled microcosm of contemporary poetry. The humor is for the most part broad. We encounter the perpetually needy denizens of MFA programs:
The MFA students of Iowa are on strike! Marching towards the Capitol, post-avant and School of Quietude as one, they brandished cans of Spam, the only aliment they can afford.

In the midst of economic crisis, things proceeded as normal at the AWP: bailouts, bonus packages, back-room deals, aimless loitering of the unemployed.
Conceptual poetry makes an appearance:
"Ouch!" cried the cunning oyster-eater, M. Goldsmith. "A pearl!" Someone at the next table bought it for 100 francs. It had cost 10 centimes at the dime store.
Time and time again, poets whose surnames assiduous followers of the "scene" will recognize collide head-on in the street.

The collective's primary targets are on the one hand the tired rhetoric of outsiderhood among post-avant poets –
Assistant Professor M. Devaney, of Penn, read a paper at the MLA, attacking Official Verse Culture. Now that it is printed in the Writer's Chronicle and collected in a prize-winning anthology from Wesleyan, the Literary Industry has been dealt another penetrating blow by the avant-garde.
– and on the other the failure of real world political engagement among poets who are otherwise assiduous at trumpeting their own heartfelt political beliefs:
Let's protest the war, poets, said M. Hamill! 15,000 did. Messrs. Bernstein, Silliman, and Watten gave speeches, protesting the poets who protested. Irony.

Well, Guernica's come and go... As Gaza burned, Mlle Dark, the self-appointed U.S. poetry medium of Badiou, devoted her blog to a personal "Top-40 Countdown" of pop music hits in 2008.

Yes, and as Gaza burned, the avant with 2,000,000 hits, former editor of the Socialist Review, devoted his blog today to an anecdotal homage for the '70s sitcom hit, Starsky and Hutch.
This sort of thing will certainly not do (as Samuel Johnson might say). The fénéon collective's squibs are nasty, mean-spirited, and not at all constructive. They are also for the most part wickedly funny & often very pointed indeed. The very anger they aroused on their first publication is an index of how close to the bone some of their satire strikes.

There is something here for everyone to be offended by, and likewise there is something to solace every resentment. My own favorite:
There is no god even for drunkards. The pugilist-poet M. Kleinzahler, of St. Germain, who had mistaken the window for the door, has left this world.


Anonymous said...

Reconfigurations journal will be having a roundtable discussion on the fenon collective book in its upcoming issue.

Some "impolite" stuff in a hyper- polite parlor.

Archambeau said...

Still waiting for the copy I ordered when the book was announced. But I did get a pdf from Kent Johnson. The targets are pretty much the same as the targets in Kent's Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, don't you think?

I'm pleased to find myself there, a bottle broken over my head by a Marxist who objects to my alleged interest in Zizek. I'd break a bottle over my head myself if I caught myself praising Z, though. Dude is frequently a chowderhead.



Kent Johnson said...


I don't have a copy of Homage to the Last Avant-Garde in front of me, and could be my memory is off, but I don't recall any poems in it that name living poets in a satirical manner. Much of the book, in fact, has little to do with satire, at least in sense of the feneon. So I wouldn't see much in common between Homage to the Last A-G and Works and Days of the feneon collective-- whether you got a PDF of the latter from me or not!

And hey, I suppose the fact you don't like Zizek makes the bottle over the head even funnier.

Kent Johnson said...

Also, Bob, just to say: At least you get out with just one fairly gentle faits aimed your way; I get three of them in the book, and each is decidedly of the humiliating kind. So a man shouldn't complain!

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

There's a big difference between witty, cogent satire and a couple of resentful & mean little boys snickering in the corner. I'm not going to waste my money on it, and I hope nobody else does either.

Raj said...

Miss Dream-Gazette (forgive me I am not a native English speaker I assume Annandale is female name, though with name like Anna-and-Dale maybe you some kind of shemale?),

My name Raj and I am one of a cabal of Indian poets carrying the loins of Tagore through the childrened streets of Calcutta. Anyway, I just received my copy of the Faits Divers and it is being passed around poetry community here like some say hooker in debt. We are all loving it very much, and have begun our own collective. Rahter than mean little boys snickering in corner, this book has impelled us towards a new brotherhood here, in which we die in faits divers, that we may live in life. My 7500 rupees was not wasted. I beg your pardon, Miss (or Mr., or Misster) Annandale, but I find your post tangential at best.


Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Ah, yet another metamorphosis.

Mark Scroggins said...

For the record, I dunno who "Raj" is, but he isn't Kent Johnson -- his comment doesn't emanate from a Johnsonian IP address (unless Kent is somehow being in two places across the continent at once). And it's really not at all the sort of thing he'd write, anyway.

Raj said...

Miss Dream-Gazette, or may I call you Anna?

What metamorphosis do you refer to when you write, "Ah, yet another metamorphosis?" Is it the great story by Kafka? Also, thank you Mr. Scroggins for clarifying that I am not Mr. Johnson. I am Raj.

Oh thank Ganesh for the internet! Otherwise how would I engage with this fascinating poetry community of Frenchmen named Archimbeau and shemales named Annandale!

From the depths of my Indian night to yours,

Edmond Caldwell said...

Dear “Annandale Dream Gazette”:

The exemplary Dullness of your “comment” can mean only one thing – that you are auditioning for inclusion in the next revision of The Dunciad. I regret to inform you, however, that Mr. Pope has been dead for a number of years, and there will be no further revisions. Some knowledge of the literary tradition of satire might have rescued you from this blunder.

In the meantime, readers of Scroggins' fine appreciation of Works & Days might also enjoy the review that John Latta recently posted on his blog:

Archambeau said...

Hey Kent,

I guess what I meant by the similar targets in the FC book and Homage aren't the personae, but the general themes -- positioning as outsider, difference between literary pose and political action, etc.



Edmond Caldwell said...

Hi Bob:

Leaving aside the works (and days) of the shifting, shadowy Feneon Collective for the moment...

I'm not sure what you mean by "positioning as an outsider" in Kent Johnson's Homage to the Last Avant-Garde. For me one of the things that's powerful about Kent's work is that he does precisely the opposite, including and implicating himself in those writings of his where "institutional critique" is at stake. To take only one of the most familiar examples, doesn't he stand self-arraigned in that perp-walk of progressive, privileged "American poet[s], twentyish, early to mid-thirtyish, fortyish to seventyish," in the last section of "Get the Hood Back On"? Otherwise it would not be so frightening and revelatory a moment, because we might also be able to assure ourselves that we could stand outside or apart from the atrocities. This way there's no escape; we have to face our situation and culpability, as writers in the imperial center, with sober senses. I'd even go so far as to call his a materialist rather than idealist poetics.

Similarly, the "difference between literary pose and political action" is not, at a fundamental level, a choice, but rather a real contradiction that constitutes the field. So one form of political action might be to strike poses that expose those very contradictions, which is what I think that Kent's work does (among many other things as well).

Just my two cents on this..

Bill Freind said...

I'm impressed that Annandale Dream Gazette could post such a self-refuting comment. The Feneon project is centered on the question of how reputations are made and unmade in the tiny world of the North American po-biz. So to dismiss the Feneonistes as "a couple of resentful & mean little boys snickering in the corner" -- a comment that simultaneously infantilizes them and places them beyond the bounds of "acceptable" discourse -- is to concede their point.

And in Vendeuvre, the corpse of M. Foucault chuckles lightly.