Reading, Raiding, and Anodyne Eclecticism: Word without World

By Wheeler, Susan | The Antioch Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Reading, Raiding, and Anodyne Eclecticism: Word without World


Wheeler, Susan, The Antioch Review


"There's only one real, gut-level sincerity: that as readers we need only what absolutely had to be written, that as writers we must write only what absolutely has to be written. The question--Does this need to be written?--is an ethical one."

--Rachel Blau DuPlessis

What would successful assimilation look like, if "successful" were to mean both ethical in its writing and ethically enlarging in its reading?

I ask that from my own agreement with, my own assimilation of, Pierre Bourdieu, whom surely I will misrepresent here more egregiously than a recent Iowa crew "mis-re-presents" Michael Palmer or, for that matter, their successors mis-re-present Dean Young. I note this so as to pocket the assertions in a specific (and in any case apparent) I, for, as Ron Silliman has pointed out in an essay on poetry readings' self-"ventriJoquism," the poet (as well as the reader) is "a real person with history, biography, psychology," and this mix trails with her into the text regardless of that acknowledgement. Or, with Nietzsche, "all philosophers are sick."

[Four sentences and a quote in and, so far, seven brand names. Although we're all informed consumers here, I'll try to keep count on your behalf, while falling right into that hole Marjorie Perloff calls Big Name Collage, and upholding the Bourdieuian notion of a restricted field of production with its "holy men, that 'discrete elite' set apart from ordinary mortals." More on that to come. So: DuPlessis, Bourdieu, Iowa, Palmer, Young, Silliman, Nietzsche.]

For wrong assimilation--or appropriation--has been roiling the radical seas. Last year, a lambasting--on an ad hoc email list--of the journal Fence erupted. The magazine was taken to task for what was seen as an uncritical cooperation with a broader market, for "trendifying" difficult ideas; the disagreement that ensued was passionate. A characterization, by a contributor to the late journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, of young poets as "de-politicized" drew vociferous counter-arguments in a recent The Poetry Project Newsletter. "Mere aestheticism" (a term coined by the Cambridge poet Keston Sutherland) dilutes the integrity of ideas.

There have been, of course, other trickle-up appropriations, represented at their most cartoonish by this definition from a recent creative writing textbook by David Starkey: "Language poetry is an experimental movement that emerged in the 1970s and values playful irony, fragmentation, subjectivity, and 'open' forms. Like Jackson Pollack, who created memorable paintings by splattering paint across huge canvases, language poets have expressed interest in scattering words, phrases, and sentences on the page, believing that the unexpected juxtapositions they create reveal more about life at the end of our chaotic century than more traditional poems [sic]." Is this where graduate students are getting their crib-sheets?

But such whoppers are easily dismissed; "mere aestheticism" is more pernicious. It employs, to quote from the Fence debate, "surface characteristics" (disrupted syntax or Oulipian generators, say) of (O Lordy, what will we call it?--a) more rigorous work, while it continues to, for example, foreground the drama of the individual self. Inscribing self might be the phrase mere aestheticists would use, their feet in Bruce Andrews but their heads in James Merrill. At its worst, their use of certain linguistic features along with a mis-apprehension of these features' underpinnings is seen as a marketing ploy, the models now having obtained brand-name recognition. At the very least, the appropriators use these strategies to address, instead, "mere" Cartesian crises. These crises of the private lyric might be characterized, as Mary Jo Bang recently did, as:

1) The model of uninterrupted linearity or unidirectional progress is no longer viable.

2) Nor is "representation which does not admit and make evident the subjectivity and willful bias 'of its construction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reading, Raiding, and Anodyne Eclecticism: Word without World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.