notes on lyric 6
|Be it the Dadaists after the First World War, or the play-ploys of Gertrude Stein, or the post-Vietnam War and Watergate eruption of Language poetry, or the smouldering rejectionism of the “Cambridge School,” or the guerilla de-hybridizations of Murri poet Lionel Fogarty. There is iconoclastic intent in each expression, and language is the weapon.|
[The first sentence is (unintentionally, I think) a fragment, but it doesn’t interfere with the sense. The second restates a the one I ended with yesterday (“This paradox informs the desire…”)]
Of the poetries on this list, two are textbook cases of “historian’s modernism”: on the standard critical line, Dada and langpo are responses to specific moments of disillusion about the representational adequacy of language. (I waved my hand at just these moments in the same terms somewhere above.) In both of these cases, official public language (the lies of politicians, war reports, compromised news organizations) and traditionally literary language are both objects of critique. I’m not certain that the fact the language can be and very often is used falsely or deceptively (ideology) is proof that language is “in its nature” deceptive or ideological, but it’s surely the case that noticing and being exercised by these abuses in a given context motivates that broader theoretical claim.
Fogarty, a contemporary aboriginal poet writing in a porous English (and included in the anthology at hand) is also of this stripe, if the “crisis event” is the displacement and dispossession of his people by white Australians. As his biographical note states, “[H]e objects to having his language (Murri) drawn into English, so draws English into his own aboriginal time-space continuum.” This kind of work attacks dominant representations from a somewhat different angle, and aligns itself with a specific marginal community the way most of the other examples do not, but JK’s not at all wrong to suggest that the language is weaponized: one of the pieces included, “Memo to Us,” is basically a fantasia on the retaking of Australia by aboriginals, narrativized almost transparently but with enough syntactic and lexical distortion to register difference strongly.
It’s interesting that one doesn’t usually think of Prynne and his (loosely speaking) followers, or Stein, as arriving at their practice in direct response to a particular historical or political crisis – I’m sure they can be read this way, but it’s not the first thing we say, as with Dada and langpo. JK doesn’t require or assume that we do, it’s just worth noting that this list isn’t homogenous. (The centrality of sexuality to Stein’s writing, and way of writing, also give both politics and iconoclasm a different valence; Prynne’s interest in the “long view,” especially where economics is concerned, has implications for his own time and may have even started from contemporary considerations [I really don’t know], but makes a historically “nailed down” reading dangerously reductive. The “rejectionism” is in part the refusal to concede anything to accessibility.]
[Stein is oddly placed with respect to another of JK’s concerned. I have a hard time thinking of her as much affected by a “crisis of the self.” Is there another experimental writer so confident of the adequacy of her idiolect to her (expressive?) aims?]
By the way: in this paragraph, JK never did get back to the point about complicity and “different intentionalities.”
It could be argued, however, that the lyric has always been the vehicle for such expression, and the “form” itself – in its paradoxical combination of the universal and the centring [sic] of self – evolved as the most effective linguistic-musical vehicle for such expression of opposition.
New paragraph. This is supposed to be a challenge, one that JK doesn’t want to dismiss summarily, to something previously claimed (not necessarily JK’s own view, but something claimed for the sake of argument). What claim? I actually thought he was already assimilating the various modernisms just mentioned to “lyric” in some way, and that the recourse to the category of “expression” marked this. But now it seems as though he takes himself as having presented some the anti- or non-lyrical claims of modernism, which are now going to be re-examined.
I’m not sure I understand one of the poles of the latest so-called paradox. “Centring,” of course, means being written from a unified subject position, but “the universal”? Does this have to do with the presumption of communicability?
The material outside of the dashes wouldn’t be tendentious if JK had left it at “most effective linguistic vehicle” rather than linguistic-musical. Why does musicality (whether in a particular register, or just the unavoidable prosodic qualities of language, somehow foregrounded) make this a more effective vehicle. (More effective than…?) “Effective” is about a certain kind of instrumentality: perhaps musicality just makes the poem more rhetorically vivid. (Or more pleasurable to attend to, though I’ve noted above that pleasure is not on JK’s radar in this piece.) Ok, but few poets of any stripe would be sanguine about such a overt instrumentalism. Another hypothesis is that musicality is what constructs not the subject as such (this can be done in prose), but the effect of the subject singing, which is in turn an indicator that a certain kind of self-expression is occurring. This is just a hypothesis – JK hasn’t said anything that determinate on the subject. But it may be a useful formulation: it also suggests why there would be something problematic about continuing to use musical techniques in any traditional way for poets who find selfhood and self-expression problematic (and wish to have their poetry convey this).