8 feb. 2009

One persistent critique of avant-garde movements is that they are merely repetitions of previous avant-garde movements. It's the question of "didn't Gertrude Stein already do that?" To call a new movement "old hat" in this way is to deny it its vitality.

Yet this critique tends to be profoundly disingenuous, since it seems to imply that there is something better to do than repeat the avant-garde gesture. What would that be, exactly? Usually, it means falling back on some previous institutionalization of another historical avant-garde. For example, when Stanford's English department wanted to hire Marjorie Perloff, Denise Levertov had a cow, leaving a letter in all the mailboxes of the department denouncing Perloff (she had read the paper on postmodern poetry and the return of story, from The Dance of the Intellect, I believe) because Perloff had taken the language poets seriously, I think. I remember it well because I was at Stanford at the time. So for DL, the WCW-derived avant-garde was legitimate, but not the "Gertrude Steinlets" of LP. Another example is the conflict between Octavio Paz and the poets of the Belaño group of infrarrealismo, dramatized in The Savage Detectives. Paz had been a surrealist but basically fell back onto an institutionalized high modernism, with himself as high priest and gate keeper. How dare these young poets emulate the American beat generation! After all, Ginsberg and Kerouac had already done that. (I'm relying here a bit on some papers by Heriberto which he has shared with me, and which I am reading as I read Belaño's novel.) Belaño also makes the connection between the "realismo visceral" of his own group and an earlier Mexican avant-garde movement, estridentismo. It's not like he wasn't aware that there had already been an avant-garde. The problem is that there is not position outside the avant-garde. Il n'y a pas de hors avant-garde. Well, there is, but it tends to be the attitude that we can pretend it never happened and get back to what poetry was supposed to be like before.

4 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Are you confusing Bolaño with his partial alter ego Belano?

Jonathan dijo...

No, not really. I state that the (real) historical conflict is fictionally "dramatized in The Savage Detectives." I also say that Bolaño (the author of the book) reflects upon estridentismo. Nowhere do I refer to the fictional character "Belano," who is not just "partial" alter ego but a full one. (Not that every fictional detail about Belano is accurate, I haven't bother to check, but that Belano simply IS Bolaño's fictional counterpart.) It's true that at one point i confuse infrarrealismo with realismo visceral, the historical and the fictional avant-garde movements.

Vance Maverick dijo...

I was responding to "Belaño", clearly just a typo.

Archambeau dijo...

I don't think of avant-gardeness as a matter of style, so much as an attitude toward the institution of poetry (i.e., that it is problematic, that it separates life from art, that it's got to go, etc.). I suppose, in this view, there are plenty of positions outside the avant-garde, including any art that takes the stylistic gestures of an old avant-garde into the existing institution of poetry (journals, academic departments, the idea of poetry as a separate genre, etc.). Not that any of this is new: it's kind of just Peter Burger's theory.

Fascinating about Perloff and Levertov, by the way.