The Critical Task

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from January 2010

One can only hope for readers who notice the cracks you’ve left, and the light that shines through from the other side.

I’ve been thinking about the Trace. As through a cloud chamber an energized particle passes, ionizing the cloud medium, marking the path of the particle–a trace that is not itself the moving particle that made it, but its sign. So a poem, a work of art. What is left on the page, the canvas, resonating in our hearing: the Trace of the encounter that is its meaning. An absence marked, or mark of what is absent.
The critical task, both necessary and impossible, is to evoke through a second level encounter with the Trace (the Thing left to mark the Absence… the Lacanian Real ?) — the shape of the relationship between the remnant and that which is no longer there and cannot be reclaimed, renamed, recounted. A second Trace, a second Absence.

Maddie Crum reviews Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island

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Satin Island
by Tom McCarthy
Knopf, $24.00
Published Feb. 17, 2015

“Last year Tom McCarthy wrote thoughtfully and passionately against the merits of Realism — that is, the mode of writing that prefers to describe events straightforwardly, under the pretense that such a style conveys truth more accurately than, say, stories about magicians or time travel. He dismisses the latest crop of Realists lauded by critics, namely Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose My Struggle is said to weave the epic and the quotidian together in the space of a single paragraph. Instead, McCarthy praises writers such as William S. Burroughs, whose photography keenly shows the approach he takes in his writing. Burroughs cuts up photos of city streets and reassembles them, forming fragmented images and explaining, “Consciousness is a cut-up; life is a cut-up.”

Read her review on the Huffington Post.

Reading at the Bride: a tribute and thanks to CA Conrad

I went to a reading at the Painted Bride on Thursday. A time for remembering. For reflection. I shared a reading at the Bride in — 1966? –with the late Henry Braun. That was when the Bride was on South Street–Gerry Givnish had recently opened a gallery in what had been bridal store–hence, the name.

I was 25–a very young 25. I don’t know how I got that reading spot–it was in this bare store front space, fold up chairs. Paintings on the wall. Don’t remember if it was before or after–but I brought some of my paintings–an open invitation for artists they thought might fit their vision. I didn’t. My paintings didn’t (large oils of faces–filled the canvas–somewhat expressionist mode). I think I looked way too straight and middle class to fit in, and my paintings too over the top for their more “cool” ironic aesthetic…Philly Warhol school.

Before the reading Thursday, I took in the paintings in the gallery. Remembered. How nice, I thought–that this had come from that. A poetry reading in a gallery, surrounded by art.

Such a beautiful reading –with CA Conrad and Frank Sherlock. Not only are they both great poets, but they have exemplified with their generosity and support of poets in Philly and beyond, something as important as the poetry itself. An idea of poetry that has rejected competition, exclusion, the musical chairs of who will survive, who rise to the top–that whole fucking capitalist Darwinian struggle, refereed by literary gatekeepers. They stand for another world, another way of living and loving, the world that we dream might be. This is the poetry of the extraordinary family that I’ve come to be a part of, and I feel so fucking lucky to have lived long enough to experience and share.
I felt this deep sense of affirmation as they read–that we are committed– together– in our poems and our lives, to making a better world, to supporting one another, to a creative struggle of imagination and compassion against indifference, cruelty and submission to the lordship of money and power.

I wanted to voice my appreciation here, and my amazement, at finding myself at such a time and place, in being able to be part of this unfolding creative family.

Thank you CA Conrad, Frank Sherlock… and all the wonderful Philly poets who have informed, and transformed my life.  I love you… all of you.

Georges Bataille, The Impossibility of Literature

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(from the Barking Dog, November, 2008) The essays in the beginning of Georges Bataille’s THE ABSENCE OF MYTH, Writings on Surrealism. are primarily of interest for the light they shed on Bataille’s early conflicts and later reconciliation with André Breton and on the history of surrealism: its flowering between the wars and transformation and reemergence after the liberation. The later essays deserve consideration in their own right, quite apart from their place in the history of a literary movement.

I would single out “War and the Philosophy of the Sacred, “Poetry and the Temptation of the End of the World,” and “Surrealism and God,” but those on Jacques Prévert, (From the Stone Age to Jacques Prévert), René Char (René Char and the Force of Poetry), Camus’ (The Rebel (The Age of Revolt), and his critique of Blanchot on Sade (Happiness, Eroticism and Literature) represent aesthetic critical thinking above and beyond.

Begin with the impossible. And never back off.

If you want to think about, to write about “literature” (I am more and more estranged from this word… let’s go back in time and call it all poetry… and what doesn’t come up to poetry (or merely aspires to it without overwriting all earlier attempts to define it, is merely “literature.” What we called the glossy hand-outs at the auto show when I was a kid in the 50’s).

“…poetry is…literature which is no longer literary, which escapes from the rut in which literature is generally entrapped. For us, ‘poetic’ cannot have a set value in the same way as an Anjou wine or a piece of fine fabric–if you want to think about poetry, there’s no where else to begin.

… but with the impossible.

You have volunteered to be shackled to two draft horses. They are pulling, one to the north, one to the south. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to never give way to one side or the other, even as they tear you, body and soul, asunder.