Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness.

I’m not saying I agree. I’m just putting this on the table, turning around, and leaving the room. Consider this your daily affirmation. Except, by affirmation, I mean this: something that will piss half of you off the the point of slapping your computer monitors off your desks.

On John Ashbery: “More responsible than anyone else for turning late twentieth-century American poetry into a hermetic, self-enclosed, utterly private affair. Displays sophomoric lust to encode postmodern alienation into form that embodies the supposed chaos of the mind. Though he has somehow acquired a reputation for the visionary (especially among the Brits, who think he’s the greatest American poet), John Berryman’s Dream Songs are infinitely more on the mark. Another amateur philosopher, like Jorie Graham, another acolyte of what he thinks is Wittgensteinian logic. Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness. Now we have no working definition of irony anymore–thanks, John Ashbery! Mixes low and high levels of language, low and high culture, every available postmodern artifact and text, from media jargon to comic books, to recreate a reality ordered only by language itself. When reality=language (as his carping cousins, the language poets, have it, just like him), politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can and will step in. Has been a Mannerist after his own outdated manner at least since Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Among the writers listed here, I want to like him the most–it’s too bad he’s been a parody of himself for so long.”

-Anis Shivani, in an article over at HuffPo called “The Fifteen Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers“. I checked; I’m not on it. Turns out I’m not American. Or particularly ‘rated’. Let me suggest to the blogosphere a single edit: let’s stop calling people “parodies of themselves”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just one of those inarguable things a young person can say about an older person. Here’s the matching take downs of Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham, Billy Collins, and Louise Gluck. from the same article. This thing has like 300 responses and counting. Anis is something of an anus. Either way, I’m impressed he thought enough about poetry to reserve almost half his hatchet swings for verse writers.

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11 Comments on “Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness.”

  1. voxpopulism Says:

    Hmm. Interesting. Maybe more of a tool for improving as a reader, than improving as a writer, then? Empathy is more a readerly necessity than a writerly one, at least in as much as a reader should be trying to gage intent in the reader, but vice versa is less integral.

    I’m concerned he’s discounting the real ethical, and aesthetic, value of conflict, though. Conflict (non-violent conflict, “argument”, if you will) is about as humane and civil as it gets. The product of taking other people seriously….

  2. Gary barwin Says:

    I think that he isn’t advocating a warm fuzzy world of marshmallow ponies and vague good feeling pixie dust but rather addressing the notion that to be aggressive, closed,’ and brutally iconoclastic is to close off meaningful engagement with the reader, the tradition, and society. One doesn’t have to be a puddle of benign goo, but sensitive,’aware, and engaged with one’s context and readership. This doesn’t mean monodimensional writing without complexity or ambiguity or invention. It doesn’t mean passive status quo acceptance, but rather proceeding out of a belief in connection. I think the implication of ‘a kind mind’ means respecting the other enough to argue, to care to engage. Writing from the idea that writing, even if difficult, is inclusive.

  3. voxpopulism Says:

    Sure. And I don’t think he’s doing all that either.

    I’m not sure, though, where this sort of manifesto of human kindness plays out in the actual communicative life of a text, and the interactionist life of a writer. Sensitivity is a given, methinks. Even something as cerebral and clever as metaphor is dependent on sensitivity to be first created, and then, understood. So what is he really saying that’s specific or new? I guess not everything worth saying is revelatory, we sometimes need to be reminded of the basics, too.

    That being said, overstating the holistic potential of poetics forgets its history as rhetoric. Everyone’s writing to try and “show” someone else something, whether a new image, or idea, or mode of thought. One needs a little egotism to do that well.

    I guess what I’m saying is I like the essay, like the idea, but I question whether it is something that can help in creating art. As art is a thing created by people, and not humanity.

  4. LH Says:

    Sounds like sour grapes, really. Anyone who does well gets taken down.

    Familiar tune.

    Go write a poem, I say.

  5. LH Says:

    Oh Lord. I had a look. It’s a parody of itself, Jake. 15 worst, 3 Best, 4 Overrated…it’s the equivalent of the made you look.

    I know, it’s my bad.

  6. voxpopulism Says:

    No, Hound. The “made you look” would be me saying that the critic has poems of his own available online. And if you were to go read them, you would prove your own point.

    Nudge: http://www.google.ca

    ;)


  7. Tall poppies, etc. I’d think that about Ashbery too if I hadn’t spent so much time, you know, READING him. And besides, this guy is wrong even inside his own sad rubric. If America is hermetically sealed, it was Stevens who done done it.

  8. voxpopulism Says:

    That’s the thing too, George. I couldn’t help but think, as I was reading through the takedowns, What a great instant, believable vocabulary for someone who has never actually READ Ashbery et al to come across like they A. Have and B. Were too smart for those tricks. These sorts of generalized, but vicious, opinion sets are really attractive for people who want to get into arguments at parties, but don’t want to do the actual work of reading the books and forming their opinions.

  9. LH Says:

    I’ve unsubscribed from the Huff Tweets because I realize just how many of them have headlines like that…

  10. LH Says:

    I did google, Jake, and it’s too easy…

    I will refrain.


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