This Sunday evening, I’ll be live-tweeting while watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with Elisa Gabbert, Sommer Browning, Dan Boehl, and Dan Magers. The details:
For reasons I find difficult to articulate, even to myself, Sommer Browning (fellow Denverite, Birds LLC poet, and comrade in comedy) and I are planning to “live-tweet” Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey this Sunday night at 7 p.m. Mountain Time (9 p.m. Eastern). It’s not going to be on TV or anything; we’re just going to rent it and watch it and tweet about it. (It’s no coincidence that “MST” stands for both Mountain Standard Time and Mystery Science Theater! Unfortunately, we’re currently on Daylight Saving Time.) If you have this movie in your arsenal or can get access to it, you should join us! We’ll be using the hashtag
#2001#2k1. My Twitter handle is @egabbert and Sommer’s is (wait for it) @vagtalk. Also joining us will be Dan Boehl, Dan Magers and ________?
23 brief replies to Blake Butler & Elisa Gabbert & Johannes Göransson & Chris Higgs re: (dear god, what else?) the fucking New Fucking Sincerity
I’ve decided that, from now on, all I’m going to write about at this goddamned site is this goddamned thing.
… No, seriously, I’m delighted that so many have chimed in. Thanks to everyone! I thought one massive reply would be easiest. If you read this whole thing, may your god shower blessings upon you. And if I missed any pertinent responses, kindly direct me to them in the comments. (I was traveling last weekend, and as such had trouble keeping up with all the discussion.)
I’ve claimed (here, here, here) that one thing at stake in the New Sincerity is the discovery of what maneuvers currently count as “feeling sincere.” That such maneuvers exist I consider more an observation than a topic for debate. E.g., Blake, in his recent post about Marie Calloway’s Google doc pieces, wrote that Calloway’s recent work:
It made me very happy to read the various responses to Part 1, posted last Monday. Today I want to continue this brief digression into asking what, if anything, the New Sincerity was, as well as what, if anything, it currently is. (Next Monday I’ll return to reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose and applying it to contemporary writing.)
Last time I talked about 2005–8, but what was the New Sincerity before Massey/Robinson/Mister? (And does that matter?) Others have pointed out that something much like the movement can be traced back to David Foster Wallace’s 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (here’s a PDF copy). I can recall conversations, 2000–3, with classmates at ISU (where DFW taught and a number of us worked for RCF/Dalkey) about “the death of irony” and “the death of Postmodernism” and a possible “return to sincerity.” Today, even the Wikipedia article on the NS also makes that connection:
If the New Sincerity is anything real or coherent (and I wrote that post last Monday because I, like others, am trying to figure out whether that’s so, or will be so), then we should be able to identify the devices or moves that define it—that arguably make a piece read as being “New Sincere.” The “New” implies they produce that sincere effect right now, in the current literary landscape; whether the techniques or devices are entirely new doesn’t matter (they could be older techniques, fallen out of prominence, now returned). Similarly, it’s irrelevant whether the author using them is “really” being sincere. What matters instead is that
- Those devices exist;
- People think they “feel sincere” (as opposed to other devices, which don’t);
- “Being sincere” has some value at the present moment.
Why sincerity? What is its present value? My broad and still developing belief is that “sincere” writing is one means of breaking with the aesthetics of postmodernism and self-referentiality: invocation of Continental Theory, metatextuality, excessive cleverness, hyper-allusion, &c. What makes writing “sincerely” even more delicious when perceived against postmodernism 1960–2000 is that it proposes to offer precisely what pomo said didn’t matter or couldn’t exist: direct communion with another coherent, expressive self, even truth by means of language. (Don’t tell Chris Higgs!)
One of my first impressions of the NS came when I started noticing artists and authors using longer titles—in particular, long rambly ones with strong emotional resonances. My thought then and I think now was that both the length and the ramble, as well as the emotive quality, signaled non-mediation: a desire to appear uncensored, unrevised. Those titles stood out (defamiliarized the title) because they failed to comply with what a “proper,” “edited,” “thoughtful” title should be.
Is this a sensible thing to argue? Have I had too many G&Ts? Let’s pursue …
I wasn’t surprised that my Monday post, which was ultimately about reading & applying some ideas from Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose, mostly generated conversation about Tao Lin and the New Sincerity. I knew that would happen even as I wrote it. So I thought I should take a post to clarify my thoughts on “the whole NS thing.” What follows will be a mix of fact and personal reflection.
In the first post in this series, I outlined Viktor Shklovsky’s fundamental concepts of device (priem) and defamiliarization (ostranenie) as presented in the first chapter of Theory of Prose, “Art as Device.” This time around, I’d like to look at the start of Chapter 2 and try applying it to contemporary writing (specifically to the New Sincerity). As before, I’m proposing that one can actually use the principles of Russian Formalism to become a better writer and a better critic.
When I was finishing up my Master’s degree at ISU, I worried that I still didn’t know much about writing—like, how to actually do it. My mentor Curtis White told me, “Just read Viktor Shklovsky; it’s all in there.” So I moved to Thailand and spent the next two years poring over Theory of Prose. When I returned to the US in the summer of 2005, I sat down and started really writing.
I’ve already put up one post about what, specifically I learned from Theory of Prose, but it occurs to me now that I can be even more specific. So this will be the first in a series of posts in which I try to boil ToP down into a kind of “notes on craft,” as well as reiterate some of the more theoretical arguments that I’ve been making both here and at Big Other over the past 2+ years. Of course if this interests you, then I most fervently recommend that you actually read the Shklovsky—and not just ToP but his other critical texts as well as his fiction, which is marvelous. (Indeed, Curt has since told me that he didn’t mean for me to focus so much on ToP! But I still find it extraordinarily useful.)
Let’s talk first about where Viktor Shklovsky himself started: the concepts of device and defamiliarization.
So I hesitate to use this space to self-promote, but in this case I will make an exception, for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project is online and free.
Exits Are is a series of collaborative stories that are also games. The games borrow their format and many of their conventions from text adventures (“interactive fiction”). From the about page: “A text adventure is a game that takes place in prose. The computer describes a world to you one room at a time, writing in the second person. ‘You stand in the center of a cool, dark cave,’ says the computer. ‘Exits are north, south, east, and west.’ The computer waits for you to tell it what you want to do. ‘Go east,’ you might say. Or if there is a key, you might say ‘take key.’ The computer parses your commands as best it can and tells you what happens next. . . . love text adventures, but they usually disappoint me. I wanted a way to make them more open-ended, less about puzzle-solving and more about language: its weirdness, its beauty. So I started playing a game with some of the writers I knew. Using gchat, I pretend to be a text adventure. The other writer is the player. We use the form of the text adventure to collaborate on some kind of strange, fun narrative. The only rule is that we take turns typing. We never discuss what we’re going to do in advance, so the results are improvisational and surprising/exciting/stressful/upsetting for both participants. Every time, the player does things I never could have seen coming.” READ MORE >
[Much thanks this morning to Elisa Gabbert, who sends thoughts on plainspokenness. - BB]
Over at the new Ploughshares blog (I wrote for it back when it was a humble blogspot), Peter B. Hyland is talking about accessibility and the closely related (in poetry at least) matter of “plainspokenness,” as “plainspoken” poets (such as Billy Collins, he offers) are less intimidating and considered “more convivial.”
It’s a familiar idea that poetry should sound like speech. But Hyland doesn’t claim this; instead, he suggests that “maybe there’s no such thing as plainspoken poetry,” using “The Red Wheelbarrow” as an example of a seemingly plainspoken poem that doesn’t really sound like how people talk.
This reminded me of a post I read years ago (in 2007) on Jonathan Mayhew’s blog:
I learned something quite significant from this. I learned that C Dale Young and I do not speak the same language, poetically speaking. I searched through a recent poetic sequence of mine, The Thelonious Monk Fake Book, to see whether I use words like dark, sadness, chest, hands, water, rain, body, silence. Generally, I don’t use these words very much if at all. Where my vocabulary coincided the most with his was in an Ira Gershwin lyric I happened to be quoting at one point. “Holding hands at midnight , ‘neath the moonlit sky.” I did use “blue” a lot, but that was quoting the titles of Monk tunes, mostly.
It’s no criticism of C Dale’s excellent book of poetry of course to say that I simply couldn’t bring myself use words like that (very much). To me they are *poetry words.* In other words they might correspond to what the average person expects to find in a poem. I don’t like depending on an identifiably poetic tone. On the other hand I’m sure my own *poetry words* would be just as embarrassing, if I knew what they were… If I did know I’m sure I would be obliged to ban them, viewing them as crutches that I was better off without…
Elisa Gabbert begins her blog post, “Publish the Poem, Not the Poet” with the following anecdote-
Going through Absent subs lately, I’ve been reading a lot of poems that feel basically perfunctory. They are perfectly competent poems written by poets who have every indication of being good writers: I recognize their names and the places that they’ve been published; their credentials are impressive; often I’m already pretty familiar with their work. (Everyone submits to and gets published in the same online journals, for the most part.) But the poems are merely competent; they have no [oomph/je ne sais quoi/duende/poetry]. It’s like the poet wrote them just because you gotta write something. These writers are probably capable of turning out a “publishable” poem any day of the week.
The post is worth reading in full. Also interesting is the comments section, where there’s a lively thread going. It seems, for the most part, that people are in agreement with her, some of them quite vocally so. Personally, I felt my own agreement-strings tugged hard at the out-set, but then the upwelling of a consensus so perfectly in line with my own made me distrust my own first instinct. If we’re all in such fine agreement on what the problem is (that is, the problem of “competence,” as outlined above; later EG introduces and “image vs. idea” argument with a highly tentative relationship to the ostensible initial concern of the post) then why has the problem not resolved itself by dint of our own collectively adjusted behaviors? Is there anyone out there who knowingly practices the poetry of mere competence, or sufficiency? Is there a describable (defensible) logic or ethos informing such practice? I would love to hear from that person or those people. Also, does anyone want to make the argument FOR publishing the poet rather than the poem? I actually think there’s a strong, albeit difficult argument to be made for this practice, though not necessarily as it applies to the mid-rangers and “competents” EG is talking about. DISCUSS!
Way back in the comments on Danika Stegeman’s poem “Panacea,” a discussion started about “moves” in contemporary poetry, and I mentioned that I’d seen the poet Elisa Gabbert start pretty awesome discussions about “moves” on her own blog and on the Ploughshares blog. Then she posted the following comment: “Hi Mike, I have definitely talked about moves before, moves I like and moves I don’t like and my own signature moves, but haven’t made a real list, certainly not a comprehensive list, certainly not the DEFINITIVE list. Let me know if you want to collaborate on a list of moves for HTMLGiant.”
Well, I thought that sounded like a terrific idea. So here it is, our stab at cataloging 41 popular moves in “contemporary poetry,” an exercise that’s fraught with peril, what with the competing definitions, camps, roles, and processes of “contemporary poetry,” the nebulousness of calling something a “move,” the inevitable non-definitiveness of such a list, and so on, but hey: dancing is fraught with peril too, and no one’s managed to stop me from doing that. So here we go. 41 moves. With mildly related pictures! In no particular order! Please argue and add in the comments. Many thanks to Elisa Gabbert for the bulk of the work on this list.
rises from the giant patch, is out. Consider it an earliness, a bonus, since sometimes we run late too. Perhaps you have noted it and mocked us for it, or raised a glass to our tardiness. Both are fair responses. But this time the new issue is a preemie. So cute! So gross! It’s a live live.
Featuring some SCHEMATICS:
* A Baby’s Face is Small
* An Analysis of the Lever Escapement
* Another Method for Making a Cloud Descend With One or More Persons In It.
* Evidence of Validity of Sensory Evaluation of the Overall Appearance of Pap Smears
* Surgical Procedure: The Unicorn
Some smokin’ hot REVIEWS of books that are good: [Nicky Beer on Elizabeth Bradfield] [Amanda Maule on Clay Matthews] [Matt Dube on Ben Segal]
And horrifying contributions from:
* Arlene Ang
* Brent Armendinger
* Christopher Cheney
* Joanne Diaz
* Jehanne Dubrow
* Ori Fienberg
* Elisa Gabbert
* Melissa Ginsburg
* Boris Jardine
* M. Kasper
* Marissa Landrigan
* Daniel J. Langton
* Stacie Leatherman
* Margaret MacInnis
* Jack Martin
* Teresa K. Miller
* Trey Moody
* Sierra Nelson
* Kim Parko
* Isaac Pressnell
* Justin Runge
* Margot Schilpp
* Amy Schrader
* Jeffrey Skinner
* Don Thompson
* R. A. Villanueva
Have I mentioned that we are more than willing to wash you in your entirety? I hope so. I had really wanted to mention that. So: check it out at <http://thediagram.com>.
October 27th, 2008 / 12:56 am