6 feb. 2007

It's often seemed to me that the canon of high/late European modernist literature and the canon of capital T "Theory" were co-extensive. Thus an interest in Celan, Char, and Beckett goes perfectly well with an interest in Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot, and Heidegger. Foucault wrote a book on Roussel, after all, and Barthes was an early defender of the nouveau roman. Blanchot himself was a novelist.

This idea is hardly new with me, but I think it has certain implications that haven't been fully spelled out. One is that a certain intellectual proximity between theorists and writers is taken for granted in certain circles. When French theory is applied in English departments, it is often done in a way that doesn't presuppose this proximity. In other words, the "leap" is greater from the theory to the text because there is not that ready-made connection that you find when Derrida writes about Jabès. It's the complaint that French (or European) theory is de-contextualized in the US academy. It would be like taking an essay by Charles Bernstein and "applying" it to some French poet, without taking into account the intellectual milieu of Bernstein, his own intellectual habitus and the way Charles might have been influenced by Creeley or Kerouac or Grenier.

Now when Gamoneda translates Mallarmé (with his daughter who is professor of French), then there is a desire to lay claim to that particular high modern / Blanchot tradition. That is the way Gamoneda is championed, in this kind of language and rhetoric. It is not so much that you need modernist theory to deal with Gamoneda or Valente, but that you want to establish a kind of affiliation, and this takes place through a kind of "high modern" rhetoric that draws on Heidegger and Blanchot for its vocabulary.

Here the theory is not necessarily de-contextualized, because these are indeed European poets, albeit Spanish ones. (The idea that Spain merely aspires to Europeanness!) I'm the guy in the back of the room who wants to raise his hand and say wait a minute, what's going on here? I want to question the naturalness of the move that sees European high modernism as the culmination of everything worthwhile. At the same time, I love this European late modernism myself, so I don't want to question it too loudly either. I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather look at the problematics of affiliation rather than simply produce a high-modernist reading that applies Levinas to Gamoneda, or what have you. Let other people do that.

7 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

"a high-modernist reading that applies Levinas to Gamoneda": you're right to queston such a move. Too many people see "theory" as something to "apply" to texts. Such criticism rarely sheds much light on the text at hand. I like the idea of applying the text to the theory: using the poetry (or fiction) to question the theory. Shifting the hierarchy, as it were, so that the work is seen as intellectually more powerful than the theory.

Check out my translation of Durs Grünbein's "The Poem and its Secret" in the January 07 issue of Poetry: "When an average intellectual today reflects on the last century's great artistic and intellectual achievements, he first thinks of such names as Freud and Picasso, Stravinsky and Heisenberg, Hitchcock and Wittgenstein. It is impossible to imagine that one of them could be a poet. Not a single poet from the ancestral gallery (whether Pessoa, Cavafy, or Rilke, whether Yeats, Mandelstam, Valéry, Frost, or Machado) will cross the mind of the historically-informed thinker, who dares to claim a monopoly on Modernism anyway."

Jordan dijo...

Re: Grunbein -- say wha? An historically-informed thinker won't mumble Eliot's name, truly?

Jonathan dijo...

I guess that's the problem with "average" intellectuals. I think we need more "above average intellectuals." Poetry is really a matrix of historical change in culture. Think of Ginsberg, Lorca, Celan, or Breton. "It is impossible to imagine" indeed! I have a very easy time imagining it.

Jonathan dijo...

Also, I don't see much of a problem with "applications" if done well and with tact. Let others do them, is what I say. Someday I might even apply Levinas to Gamoneda myself--just not right now.

Andrew Shields dijo...

Jordan and Jonathan both: keep me posted on the next time you come across an article on a cultural issue (but not about poetry) that refers to something a poet said or wrote about culture in general. Ever since I read that remark by Grünbein (when I first was offered the essay to translate), I have been keeping my eyes open. And I have come across NOTHING. Poets are not treated as intellectuals worth alluding to, except by other poets.

Jonathan dijo...

I'll do that, Andrew. That's a good point. I'll also keep my eyes open for a mention of Rothko in an article that's not about painting, a reference to Morton Feldman in an essay not about music, etc... I predict that there will a pattern of only a few names that get cited "iconically" across disciplinary boundaries.

I'm sure George Steiner mentions a lot of poets, even when he's not talking about poetry specifically. Would that count? Or Homi Bhabha mentioning Derek Walcott, when his focus is not on Walcott? It's kind of a hard thing to track, because once the mention goes beyond a passing mention, it become "about" poetry per se.

Andrew Shields dijo...

I think the main type of "artist" in the broadest sense who gets referred to beyond his "field" is the novelist. But after I wrote my last comment, I was wondering about someone like Frank Rich: what "artistic" references does he use to support his points? Well, songs, right? And TV. And movies. And maybe a few novels. But no poems. (Though C. K. Williams would often serve his purposes.)

I'll continue keeping my eyes open on this issue as well—with the broader perspective you justifiably suggest.