In case you’ve missed it, Kent Johnson’s gone after Marjorie Perloff (PDF) for her entry on “Avant-Garde Poetics” in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed. Writes Johnson:

[With] exception of a passing reference to the Brazilian brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and their Concretista moment, not a single poet or group outside the Anglo-American/European experience is acknowledged. The entire Iberian Peninsula, even, goes missing!

Among those missing, he argues, are Vicente Huidobro, César Vallejo, Aimé Césaire, Kitasono Katue, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Raúl Zurita—plus he takes a few swipes at Conceptual Poetry and Flarf. Well worth reading.

Unresolved Latency

One important aspect of resolving the background in the cultural field is the attempt to destroy the art-industry consensus between producers and receivers in order to free events of “showing” in their radical specificity. It explicates the absoluteness of the act of production as well as the proper value of the act of reception. Such interventions have a combat value as acts of enlightenment against provincialism and cultural narcissism. It was not for nothing that the surrealists, in the early waves of their offensive, defined the art of baffling the bourgeois as a sui generis form of action: on the one hand, because it helped its innovators to distinguish between the ingroup and the outgroup; and, on the other, because it permitted protests from the public to be interpreted as a sign of success in dismantling the established system. Whoever scandalizes the bourgeois professes his progressive iconoclasm; he wields terror against symbols to explode positions of mystified latency and uses ever explicit techniques to force breakthroughs. The premise of symbolic aggression lies in the legitimate assumption that the cultural closets are overly filled with corpses and that it is high time that the latency-protected links between armament and edification be ruptured. If the early avant-garde fell into fallacy, however, this is because the bourgeoisie they set out to horrify always learned its lesson much faster than any of the aesthetic bogeymen had predicted. After only a few rounds of the match between the provokers and the provoked, it was almost inevitable that the bourgeoisie, loosened up by mass culture, would take the lead role in matters of explicating art, culture and signification through the activities of marketing, design and autohypnosis; meanwhile some artists continued on playing the public bogeymen, failing to notice that their methods were past their use-by date, while other artists negotiated a shift to neo-romanticism, renewing their pact with depth. Before long many moderns appeared to have forgotten Hegel’s fundamental principle of modern philosophy, whose analogue in aesthetic production would be: that the depth of a thought can be measured only by its power of elaboration–otherwise depth is no more than an empty symbol of unresolved latency.

–Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air p 74-75
Power Quote / 24 Comments
October 19th, 2011 / 12:10 pm

Geography Thursday

In “The Wrong Place” (published in Art Journal), Miwon Kwon argues:

Throughout the twentieth century, the history of avant-garde, or “advanced” or “critical,” art practices (however one might want to characterize those practices that have pressured the status quo of dominant art and social institutions) can be described as the persistence of a desire to situate art in “improper” or “wrong” places. That is, the avant-garde struggle has in part been a kind of spatial politics, to pressure the definition and legitimization of art by locating it elsewhere, in places other than where it “belongs.” (42-3)

Do you agree? Is this relevant to writing? Can writing be situated improperly? How so or not?

[Note: This post is being composed in a very wrong place for me: DC in a Starbucks with free wifi.]

Power Quote / 1 Comment
February 3rd, 2011 / 9:32 am


Camille Paglia says:

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”.

If avant-garde is advanced guard, or vanguard, is Lady Gaga indeed avant-garde?

Power Quote / 339 Comments
September 13th, 2010 / 6:57 pm

The Most Energy

This means starting with a very simple definition of the avant-garde. I stole it from Fairfield Porter, the great midcentury painter and critic, who said the avant-garde was always just the people with the most energy.

The scene seemed wild, but there were simple rules all along. You were given a white room in a Big Art City for a month. You had to do something in that room to generate attention beyond that month. You had to be written about, bought, or at least widely discussed. Then you would get to have the white room again for another month, and so on. If you did this enough, you had what was called a career. This generated what is perhaps this century’s biggest art movement: careerism.

A practical avant-garde is post-careerist. It seeks out low rent and private time, and it concentrates on powerful objects.

All of this means that the practical avant-garde has a lot of work to do. It knows that manifesto is the weakest genre and that promises are irrelevant, so it will use words but not hide behind them.

Read the rest.

Craft Notes / 10 Comments
May 23rd, 2010 / 3:48 pm

the “cute” avant-garde

I have this thing against cuteness. Cuteness is dismissable, cast to the side as irrelevant. And I suppose, to be fair, what was the last cute thing you actually took seriously? There seems to be something inherent to cuteness that begs to be cuddled and pet, smooshed and distorted. Taken seriously, though, nah. Nope.


Craft Notes / 88 Comments
May 5th, 2010 / 12:56 pm

Rest in Unrest

It has even been suggested that I spent six years writing my last novel in order to create a demand that cannot be filled. Basic Black With Pearls has had rave reviews and has been bought by William Morrow Company in New York. Success and 60 cents will get me a ride on the subway. No one can find a copy of my novel in the bookstores.

First published age 45.

Did, but did not enjoy, raising rabbits for food.

94 is way bonus years.

All the literary forms were men’s, all the philosophies were men’s philosophies. … I had to translate these forms into the female


Pointed out that gardens might be an answer to God Money (or that fleas do tricks for food).

RIP Helen. To be avant and overshadowed by a spouse. Push back? Harder? But it happens. But let’s pause.

Author Spotlight & Power Quote / 4 Comments
February 17th, 2010 / 7:38 pm