Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Everything You Don't Know is Wrong": Why Bruce Andrews was a "Standup Guy" on Bill O'Reilly's Factor in 2006/More on Orono Poetry Conference

For those who missed it, Bruce Andrews--a political science professor and an experimental poet of the "language school"--appeared on Bill O'Reilly's phantasm of reality show in 2006 to defend his pedagogy, and he more than holds his own. Turns out language poetry may be O'Reilly's kryptonite.

At Andrews' reading this past week, Ben Friedlander's introduction noted how Marx once spoke of revolutions "produced by contradictions, not ideas," and that Andrews' poetry works through the "power of friction." Might I add, any poet who titles a book with the same title as a Clash album (Give 'Em Enough Rope, their weakest production, but it's the Clash) already deserves special attention.

Capturing what Andrews does in language is difficult to describe, though the simplest rendering might be: Andrews collides the various languages and discourses that we speak and write against each other, in ways that destabilize language itself. Decontextualized, stripped of their locational meanings, words suddenly become fraught with danger, humor, and possibility.

His reading was damned funny. That's something that's gotten lost in all the poetry world's worry about language poetry--some of it is just pleasureable. It's even harder to quote selectively from poems, since they function as the poetic equivalent of the machinegun, and to quote selectively is "to murder to dissect." So much logorrhetic chaos!

Still, in his hour long reading at Orono, I found myself jotting down some particular phrases:

from "I Work the Time Up":

sugar triangulation...
hatband of regret...
Afghanistan Cadillacs never die...
book ization, but you can't beat them walkie-talkies

from the table of contents to I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up:

Border State Has to Grow Up
Cerebellum Replaced with Joystick
Could Darwin Instruct Those Turtles
Don't Write Down Your Thoughts
Everything You Don't Know is Wrong
I Can't Watch the Freedom
I Regret Zoology
Is There a Hyphen in Hard On?
Tuck in Your Chains
We Confine Ourselves to Other People's Beds

Each title itself here has a resonant quality: "Tuck in Your Chains" feels like what Marx's mother must have told him, and how style itself becomes a kind of slavery. (Sometimes parsing these poems is like parsing a joke: thank you, idiot, for explaining why I laughed.) It occurred to me, mid-reading, that Andrews was a proto-Flarfist, maybe the language school's closest thing to Flarf. Though Andrews must have seemed really edgy when he began, next to Flarf, he felt somewhat restrained; even lines like "menstrual sorbet" can't quite compete to the truly offensive poetics of the Flarf people (who, incidentally, were well represented at the conference).

Andrews concluded with a new piece called "Uncle Abe," which was either a celebration or mockery of the Appalachian dialect's various tics and sounds. Though there was something absolutely brilliant about it as a sound piece, I could hear my inner Chris Green (an Appalachian poet) boiling inside--was it yet another yokelization of real people, or an homage to their tongues? Since the words were often lost in the sounds, I wondered.


Chaerephon said...

"Tuck In Your Chains" has to be a Fugazi song. It just has to be. Think about it. It writes itself.

Anonymous said...

Power rests not in any abstract and unweighted competition of ideas but rather in the degree of ability to control organizational structures. This means that Bill O'Reilly has the upper hand because he has a huge chunk of the big information pipeline network.

In some respects Andrews briefly shared in that power structure but of course never truly had the power to change the networks, not unless he could out-no-spin-zone O'Reilly (see Colbert's appearances for examples). But Andrews certainly brought a new way of thinking to O'Reilly's networks. Without repetition, however, it has little impact, and everyone remains a prop on O'Reilly.

Philip Metres said...

Anon, I (almost completely) agree with you; who are you, Noam Chomsky?! Sign your posts.

Anonymous said...

Sacrerouge! I am the ghost of Félix Guattari's ghost.
PS I like yr comment in re yokelization.