San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Report from the Front Lines of Oprah
[free press in America]

Live: 4:20pm PST

Things are looking good here. Technology "is key," so we're spending about the first twenty minutes touring the "unique conditions" at CNN headquarters. I tell you, you get an "adrenaline rush" walking into this place. We have to make careful decisions about what we show.

Special features from CNN outposts in Kuwait show us "how the latest technology brings the war into YOUR living room." Here, you see, is the "little box" that makes it all possible, as long as you have an electricity source, which, fortunately, we do. Just plug it in here, like that, and it's like your being there is like our being here, or something.

And you know, like Peter Jennings says, it's all worth it as long as we "make it real" somehow.

Watching at home, it's like you're "virtually riding along with the soldiers."

On board the U.S.S. Constitution with "Anne" now. We're getting a "private tour" of the facilities--quarters (a lot better than what they have down below, I tell you), bathroom, shower (cold for about the first ten minutes, seriously), and here (watch your head!) the bombs, planes, and "loud noises"--whoosh!

I tell you, Anne, "I can't believe you've managed to look so GOOD!"

Well, Oprah, it's amazing what you can do with a little "concealer." But seriously, um, we're thinking about focusing more on "humanitarian aid" now.

Is it true that you got caught without your gas mask the other day?

Yes, Oprah, sorry to say, heard the alarm, real "scary moment," but it's "worth the risk as long as I can shine a light in a place of darkness."

Thanks, Anne. When we come back, "what it's like for the families of these journalists.”

Break to commercial: ABC/10 News... leadership... Robinsons May...



Signs, Signs, Everywhere

‘Truth’ is the first casuistry of war. Truth in advertising (‘Iraqi Freedom,’ ‘War on Terror’), its capacious body bag. G.W. Bush and his loyalists, in waging war on the people of the world, wage war on language, speech, communication, too. The aim is artful evasion, coercion, and deception on all fronts, and they take no prisoners.

In an age of conservative demagoguery and military preemption, we are asked to make sacrifices not only of life, limb, treasury, and safety, but likewise we are compelled to trade in the terms and techniques of civil critique for the cable-ready inputs of the new ‘embedded’ journalism. Never before have the rights of free speech, press, and assembly been so confused with the rite of constrained consumption. Giddy with the thrill of ‘unprecedented access,’ network news correspondents (almost universally male) thankfully endure specially designed boot-camp training, then bond with the same military personnel who restrict what can be said, about what, and when. At the same time, the military threatens independent journalists and demands that they leave the war zone ‘for their own safety.’ A news media celebration—great footage, great TV—replaces news journalism. Tom Brokaw muses that we are probably “better off” not seeing the bad stuff anyway.

Anti-war protestors, admonished for questioning the truth of ‘just cause’ proclamations, are belittled as naïve and ineffectual cry-babies at best, threats to troop morale at worst. 21st century newspeak, twenty years later than Orwell predicted it, turns deception into an art form (the goal is to ‘free the Iraqi people’) and renders factual evidence powerless against the simple repetition of propaganda statements (‘Iraq is responsible for 9-11’). Meanwhile, pro-peace, pro-U.N., pro-diplomacy arguments are dismissed as adolescent ‘rhetoric,’ and not one major network journalist is ‘embedded’ to find out otherwise.

Terrorism, drug-trafficking, and (in some cases) immigration become synonymous, encouraging bi-national (U.S.-Mexico, for example) commitments to defending not nations but borders, and the former sites of land dispute are now protected sites of entrenched political and cultural divisions. The line between ‘soldier’ and ‘law enforcer’ blurs, and Mexican army personnel deploy to ‘police’ the border while the police departments of every major U.S. city are conscribed to defend "America" against international terrorist attacks.

Supportive governments—the ‘Iraqi Freedom’ coalition of 35-odd nations with an impressively combined GNP of about $1.5 trillion—nonetheless get none of the promised post-war booty, as suggested by the government’s decision to invite ‘only American corporations’ to bid on rebuilding contracts, with reconstruction financed in turn by the taxpayer. Saddled with the cost of destroying Iraq, we are then asked to pay for its reconstruction, supplemented by Iraqi oil revenue. ‘Freedom’ indeed comes at a price.

Conservative intellectuals (Wolfowitz, Perle, among others) are cited in the NY Times as the founding fathers of the new ‘lineage’ of radical preemption. The United States, the sole global ‘hyper-power,’ engages in ‘civilizing missions’ akin to those attempted by 19th and 20th century British imperialists. ‘Shock and awe’ becomes the battle cry of the new doctrine of ‘rapid dominance,’ and the 21st century mission of ‘democratic’ nations to civilize the undemocratic is sold to senior administrators and citizens alike as ‘mission capability packages (MCPs).’ Old world order, new world advertising slogans.

Poets, writers, journalists, playwrights, screen-writers, educators, bloggers, list-servants, web designers, and all other agents and artisans of language, speech, and communication enjoy no premium on truth. We can, however, pay close attention to the threats of invasive casuistry, and act accordingly.

[p.s. See Barret Watten on this as well: "We need to take the mechanized hardware of the language of war apart—by locating alternate evidence in multiple media, by questioning the pseudo-objectivity of its delusional conclusions, by unpacking its embedded metaphors and narrative frames, by thinking otherwise."]


Post-Poetry Poetics
[enough is enough]

Ethnography offers one way of talking about data collection, analysis, and interpretation as authoring activities. Poets make good ethnographers (and sometimes vice versa), trained as they are implicitly in the art of authoring data.

Poets should therefore be good activists, too, if it is granted that the new activism requires good skills in data collection, data recovery, interpretation, and maybe a kind of well-principled (responsible?) distribution.

An account like this of potential writing activities for 21st-century participants, while admittedly suspect and empirically untested, nonetheless helps me, at least, make better sense of gigs like B.K. Stefan’s Circulars and other blog-bodies pushing the respective envelopes of writing (poetry?), editing, and politics.

Reading Bernstein’s “Enough!” address on Circulars a few days back, I didn’t understand at first what he was getting at. I think I was too caught up initially in trying to understand more generally what it means to have a “Bernstein” in the first place making claims about poetry and politics.

Yépez likes to argue that there are no politically efficacious poet intellectuals in the U.S. (except maybe Eminem). Yépez, from his perspective in TJ as the ever-committed new-world modernist, can only be right in arguing points like that (and why his writing works so well!), and there is indeed in the character of Bernstein the embodied frustration of the poet-as-public-figure nonetheless not commonly recognized as speaking to or for a political front or faction. To make a case for his legitimacy or efficacy in this regard would be to invite laughter, maybe ridicule. For better or worse, poetry in the U.S. doesn’t work that way.

So Bernstein’s impassioned call for poets to stick to their poetic guns should perhaps be understood as just the latest installment of the ever recursive patterns of U.S. ‘avant-garde’ poetry. As poets in this country, we can do nothing but “pursue our own forms of ethical and aesthetic response,” offering “alternative ways not only to think, but also to imagine and indeed to resist.” That’s the extent of it, in fact. We can do nothing else, can go no further—that’s the way poetry works around here.

And because we all know those workings so well (embedded via years of invisible labor, deliberate cloaking, and silent consent), we can come together and (almost) celebrate the figure of the “poet” (handler of an “aesthetic probe”) as a tragicomic repercussion of the historical denigration of the poet’s “role” in U.S. society. The figure of the poet, in other words, claims its true efficacy in calling for what it otherwise cannot manage effectively. Poetry, as “aesthetic probe,” might also be a dud warhead.

To “draw away from our poetics” is indeed to deprive ourselves of all we have left. But it remains to be seen whether what we have left is, after all, enough.

Escaping poetry is not a rejection of the claims poets might make (on behalf of poetry) for greater, more sustained, and ideally more relevant political involvement. Rather the escape implicit to arguing out of poetry is tantamount to seeking elsewhere the manner and means of poetic activity, to issuing a public and personal cry of ‘enough’ (small ‘e’) not only to the architects of war and global domination but also to the tantalizing appeals of poets guarding poetic purpose and legitimacy in the guise of “alternative ways.”

To escape poetry is to model one’s daily life on different patterns—of recovery, distribution, and circulation—rather than perpetuate the exhausted urgency of “our own poetics.” True, art is a “necessary response to crisis,” and the relevance of today’s writers (as bloggers, list-servants, site custodians, whatever) may turn on the same claims (and calls) made by poets in defense of aesthetic and political relevance.

But what poets and anti- or post-poets might share these days is a mutual commitment to action and relevance that really has little to do, finally, with poetry or poetics, at all. The social truth of ‘poetic thinking,’ in other words, resides in consequences no longer reducible to language games and resistant formalism, however well such games and forms might manage the real in relation to even the woolliest political propaganda (e.g., Controlling Interest vs. the Bush-Fox News Machine).

Poetic activity has achieved movement status lately not in the pursuit of “forms” of response, but in the networking of groups and individuals beyond traditional categories of genre, place, time, nation, and, in some cases, language. Blogs, for one, are residual exemplars of that momentum, that movement.

Thus the true poet these days writes little (poetry), communicates much (data, interpretation), and trades in the urgency of formal accountability (“aesthetic probing”) for the network-force of recovery and circulation.

I love the way poetry encodes its own escape routes, and following them (paths of resistance, circulation) means giving up poetry along the way.

There are probably ways in which poetry can recoup itself as a kind of service or component part in the broader public engagement with language—but probably not. And anyway, writing of poetry (as here) as a failed or strategically weakened mode is symptomatic of habitual rejection, which paradoxically masks a kind of acceptance or tolerance. Best to back off on that altogether.

And better to let poetry find its own level, its own terminus. Meanwhile, poets should spend more time organizing over fields of data, ever vigilant, ever recovering. Perhaps this is the basic message of a post-poetry poetics.

[If this isn't "enough," see Kent Johnson and Heriberto Yépez for more.]


Live Reading On Campus (in ascending rows)

Believing like so many others that there’s no better time to talk about food than while eating, I’d like to say that blogs in the very near future will probably not be as “free” as many like to think they are now. The Guild, while grateful to blogspot for providing this domain gratis, is nonetheless shoring up petty cash for that inevitable day.

In the meantime, long live the revenge of TEXT on hypermedia! The candlelight vigils of so many poem-writing poets have clearly had their effect, and the troops are pulling back, demoralized.

Funny that the prevailing interface for what amounts to key-press journal writing sits on top of such a dazzling coordination of code and cable. It takes a mountain to move a mole-hill, I guess, and there’s that work as well—the alignment of forces and resources—that always comes at a price, invisible or otherwise.

Anyway, I’m logged on today not to read-write about blogs but to write-read about poetry readings.

Arrived early yesterday at UCSD’s vis arts performance space, home to the “New Writing Series,” which for this staging featured a couple of student warm-ups and one headliner. The space was milky warm and dark, with five rows of chairs ascending toward the back on risers, maybe fifteen chairs per row, with some lined up along the east wall.

For those who haven’t been there, the UCSD vis arts home to “New Writing” serializes darkness as well as it does poetry readings. Black walls, black floor, black chairs, (gray risers), black microphones trained on a lectern (oaky brown), attached to which is a small black clip-on reading lamp. The lectern sits on a 6-foot wide (white) fold-out table positioned about eight feet in front of the first row of chairs.

The room is dimly lit from above, boxy for the most part with 30-foot ceilings, three exits, and a glassed-in projection/control room (ever dormant) in back overlooking the performance area. Two sets of extension chords connect microphones to north and west wall sockets.

I’m there about 30 minutes early, so I watch the attendant set up the mics, test them, then settle into one of two chairs along the west wall, where she begins to tap gently into the gray-blue glow of her Apple notebook. I have taken the eastern-most seat in row three, on a riser about a foot off the ground. A man sits two rows in front of me, studying his spiral notebook. After ten minutes, he is greeted by a woman holding a sunflower, who sits down next to him, offering. They kiss, and she places her right arm around his shoulders, holding it there for a few seconds before pulling back. Now they are whispering.

Outside, through what appears to be the main entrance/exit (a long heavy black curtain reaches from ceiling to floor, and passing ‘through’ or ‘around’ that curtain is like doing the breast stroke with one arm tied behind your back—the curtain is that dense and that fluid, like black water), the sound of loud voices, talking excitedly in the open-air corridor. A few people pull through the curtain, look around, then retreat back outside. Eventually, everyone who enters stays. The room fills up. The reading begins.

What continues to impress me about ‘poetry readings’ is how rarely they seem to be about poetry. Which isn’t saying much really, because one can hardly expect anything to be ‘about poetry’ in the first place. There is the promise of poetry, though, or at least reading, and the promise is for the most part kept and reinforced in the language of those who come forward to speak to poetry or maybe about poetry or probably just to speak poetry, however that might come to pass in the carefully constructed dimness of the UCSD vis arts space.

[The work showcased via the NWS is not just poetry, by the way, but let’s use that word generally, and define it (poetry) for the time being as, roughly, the art of precision language + economies of art in practice, which will have to do for now.]

Anyway, from my p.o.v. as a third-row observer, what poetry readings seem to be about is not ‘poetry’ so much as the agitation of human form in relation to ever-fluctuating and resistant patterns of human interaction. Poetry readings are therefore, and irrevocably, never about poetry because there is always too much to be gained/lost in the choreographing and channeling of this agitation.

I begin to think like this when the primary MC/introducer gets up and, without introducing herself (not expected so much as duly noted in its absence), proceeds to introduce the Series and its pending operations by way of listing future readings and their associated readers. Then, the first of two student warm-up readers—coincidentally, the man who was there early and got the sunflower—walks up behind the lectern to read a short portrait of a homeless man who lives in Balboa Park (our urban ‘central’ park in San Diego, about eight miles south of La Jolla and UCSD, and which urban legend has it was one of JFK’s favorite spots). The portrait focuses on the homeless man and his things, his backpack, his clothes, etc. The man reading has no sunflower in his hand at this point but still speaks of the man as if, maybe, holding a just-picked flower and studying its petal-structure up close. The reader is here, that is, reading about a person he has observed from a certain distance there, at Balboa Park.

The second of two warm-up readers then takes his position behind the mics and reads a commentary on “red,” spending a few long and conspicuous moments adjusting the microphone in front of him while reading. This second reader has been identified as an “X-year” lit major at UCSD and there’s a hushed communal giggle as some in the audience get it (I think most here are UCSD students, but I can’t be sure, and I recognize a few people, older, in the front row center, poets, i.e., Rae Armantrout, Michael Davidson, Jerry Rothenberg, and I happen to be sitting next to San Diego-based poets Bobbie West and Hung Q. Tu).

After reading his story about “red,” the second warm-up sits down and then the main act is introduced (by someone). I am intrigued from the outset by what the reading now seems to be about, for the new reader makes it clear. The poems he is prepared to read, he says, are intended somehow to articulate “outrage” and “ecstatic pressure,” the “pathologies of violence and massacre.” I’m scribbling fast in my Canson hardbound 5x7-inch notebook because I know at this point that I will want to get some of these words just right, here, à la blog, and so I ease into the experience and transition (writer-reader, speaker-listener, and other managed components of this choreographed scene), and I listen, somewhat agitated, and sensing growing agitation in those around me.

He (the main act) begins with “two very early short lyric pieces,” and these are poems about:

bodies crystal falling
new breathing and I
lack of something
shifts of desire
glass break-/melting

He reads and talks about other poems, about:

’94 Chiapas
to bury shards into the corpses of moms and dads
pockets of my breathing
this magnificent bondage
Zukofsky’s “A” section 9
14-16 line pieces about ‘money and power’
altered voice
good thing
so be it

Again, I am scribbling wildly, trying to listen but also write, hear but also capture, and through the reading there is the reader’s hand, the right one, swaying and gesturing, punctuating, accenting, dancing. And in all of this—his reading, my writing, people listening, room warming—there is the lovely artifice of tribal ritual that makes of the poetry reading, today, an exercise in group agitation.

In the sound of the reading voice, I hear the choppy frenetic truncated syntax that I feel compelled now (as then) to associate with “outrage” and “pathologies.” There are fluid rushes of words intercepted by pauses, sometimes long ones of maybe 7-8 seconds. Some listeners lean in and cough. Others fidget, eyes closed. One gets up midway to leave, backpack over left shoulder.

I want to think that in the mostly quiet but sometimes restless listening of the audience there is something of the agitation I am feeling myself, but of course I can’t know, at all, what others are feeling. Nonetheless, the patterns seem to change, and I wonder if anyone else has sensed this too, at other readings: the patterns of interaction (scripted somehow in the reading of words inscribed, in this case, in books fanned open on an oaky lectern) morph and mix under the kind of “ecstatic pressure” promised in the reader’s introduction to his reading.

Here on March 12, 2003, at least, the moment meets its promise: agitation, choreographed for communal release in the staging of “New Writing” at UCSD, confounds the forms and functions of readers and listeners. The reading becomes about those forms, those functions. Energies loosed in an otherwise vacuous, milky darkness conform to the energies of reading, of reading poetry, centralized in the figure of the reading poet (voice, books, light) and the figuration of the poetry reading (listeners, chairs, darkness).

I, for one, have never and probably never will like poetry readings, but I do like this agitation.

It sustains until the last poem has been read, at which point the reader closes the book, thanks his listeners, and returns to a chair in the front row west.

A round of applause. A bit of movement. Any questions?


The Future of Poetry

Great. Now it comes to this.

For the past three or four years, I've been walking around engaged in a mostly interior dialog whose chief preoccupation has been whether or not to use the word "poetry" when talking or thinking about writing in its various (dis)guises. The dialog has come to nothing, first of all, so there’s no reason to reconstruct it here.

Besides, Yepez has done his usual great job of pointing out what might be wrong with a trajectory like "poetry”—and in the rejection of line, of the whole prose-line debate, of poetry’s history and fetishization, there’s a lot of wisdom.

Still, I have a friend who doesn’t “read poetry anymore,” and my first question on hearing that was how would you know it if you saw it?

I have other friends for whom poetry is nothing but “voice” and performance and even “witness,” and still other friends who think web-based video games are poetry, and others who make poetry out of magazine pictures and doodles and their very own arms and legs.

It’s true that “poets” are those who are convinced they do and must write poetry. But that may misrepresent not only the poetry but the poets themselves, who in many cases are after something otherwise denied, and whose projects are therefore laudable as strides toward anything other than the vacuous gestures of, among other things, advertising and State of the Union speeches.

I say let poets have their poems, their lines, their prose, their voices, their books, their history, their open-mics, and their “poetry.” In the practical maneuvering that comes with being a poet there is also the social maneuvering that aspires to a kind of activism in itself.

At least, it’s very clear that poetry has less to do with an ontological given than a pragmatic claim to poetry making, and that I think is the true charm of it, and why efforts to go “beyond” it—as line or prose or text or dance—get stuck before they get started.

I like the play that the term “avant-garde” gets as an epistemological category. That it gets talked about so much—in the abstract and in relation to other things—is probably the best indication that there isn’t one around today and really can’t be.

It’s a truly Modern phenomenon—in the sense that liberal humanism and representative government are Modern ideals (and pretty much in the tank these days, obviously)—so to bring up the subject of a potentially post-Modern avant-garde is like trying to make cheese more bread-like.

There’s no apt metaphor, really, so let’s put it this way: The “avant” of avant-garde assumes an “après,” an after-garde whose dilemma is one of absorption, inertia, and momentum in relation to a past fashioned in a likeness that really serves and supports the push for something “new” (and its institutionalization) rather than, as some might think, providing it with a bastion of influence against which the younger and peppier must wage their wars.

Read Montaigne, for example, a 16th century language poet who was so “before” the Modern (officially) that he is now a lot of people’s favorite post-Modern.

Really, the machinations of literary avant-gardism are ludicrous umbral cloaking devices out of which artists and writers and even “poets” today must seek a clearer vision (and visibility). UNCLOAK your avant-garde for what it is—the packaging flavors of an après driven to claim its own brand of sweetness, its own kind of decay.

By way of a modern (contemporary) example—and this is only an example—the kind of “anxiety” some people are seeing in R. Silliman’s response to B.K. Stefans’s response to K. Silem Mohammad's response to Stefans (debt to origin is the first sign of a true Modernist) is not only the anxiety of influence gone haywire in a rather twisted retro-proactive attempt to assert prescriptive presence (and deny preemptive access), but also the turgid under-flow of a self-conceptualized avant having it out with its respective après, and vice versa.

(All three are aware of this problem, of course. I’m just trying to “make it new” in this context.)

There must be the game of Modernism, in other words, before the various posts can grab their respective joy sticks, and frankly it’s a game I’m getting sick of.

“Poetry” I think died with the invention of scare quotes, so what’s left is, as HY blogs, a need to “address how writing is going to become a more direct political activist force.”

And not just “writing”—for to fetishize that activity is equally problematic.

But this general impulse to “address how" is not, I don’t think, an agenda for a self-appointed avant-garde, or an other-appointed post-LangPo, or, most of all, an anxiety-ridden après niggling over who gets what tree to piss on.

And make no mistake (Mr. President), I like the trees for what they are, both in their current/historical grandeur and in their stately post-greenhouse demise. But there are worthier fights—especially now, for writers—than how best to claim the “beyond” of “poetry” or whatever string of syllables forces a wedge between “ & ” .

Fellow FS architect J. Kuszai was recently in Louisville to discuss, with others, the institutionalization of Language Poetry. I don’t know the arguments too well, but that there is a place for those arguments on a stage in Louisville is proof enough for me. The most outspoken critics of licensing and licensing agents in American Poetry have earned their much-needed licenses. This isn’t bitterness. I’d rather have LangPo taught in first-year writing courses than how to summarize an authoritative source and make it “your own.”

But here is the “avant-garde” according to Daniel Kane’s What Is Poetry: Conversations with the American Avant-Garde: Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, Robert Creeley, Fanny Howe, Lisa Jarnot, Kenneth Koch, Ann Lauterbach, Bernadette Mayer, Harryette Mullen, Michael Palmer, Lewis Warsh, Marjorie Welish.

Half of these people count among my favorite writers (or poets). That all of them are important writers is beside the point. What bugs me is that a book like this is clearly invested not only in “the minds of some of our foremost experimental poets” (from the blurb) but also in the cash-value of the “avant-garde” and its prevailing sentiment. Even more, when a younger, perhaps peppier, set of experimental writers get a whiff of this, the first thought is indeed how to “separate” oneself from a pack of avants who now dominate the après scene in the guise of experimental “minds.”

Why play that game at all? Is there really a past that can be delivered wholesale into its grave via some calculated maneuver toward the future and its potential “beyond”? In separating oneself from a given history, how is the vacuum thereby artificially generated any different, any less laden, than the plenum of literary baggage assumed in claiming lineage to LangPos, VisPos, EthnoPos, or GardenPos?

I still like Wm. James’s idea that “we live prospectively as well as retrospectively,” that life is as much ‘of’ the past as ‘of’ the future. Worrying the “beyond” of poetry or writing I think misses the point of transition, of burning lines in the “dry autumnal field.”

“Experimental minds” know that well, I think. And know that writing is as much in the alignment as in the allies. By which I mean to say: I’m all for a “post-American writing era,” even though I wouldn’t scramble after separations, even a violent one (much as I’d like to see it!). Habits of turning-away have the unwanted effect of turning-one-into.

I for one think poetry—in lines, prose, voices, or pixels—is best understood as a potential component of a much broader transition. I see that as true for LangPos as much as for their post-garde equivalents. But I leave that notion—something like ‘composition by component’—unmarked for now. My fights are currently elsewhere.

In the meantime, let’s get away from the “new” and back to the news. Writing happens there more than anywhere, especially nowadays.


All About Reading
[active dancer theory]

Blogs, so much about writing, turn reading into a two-way mirror.

Reading Gilbert in Tripwire and then Yepez in the Bible, I’m writing a little bit here about reading. All about reading.

They’re both right, for the most part. Forget the ‘open’ text, as well as the ‘passive/active’ binary. These are unfortunate metaphors whose funeral knell has sounded. Other more appropriate salvage projects—especially now, begging the blog’s pardon—might focus on ‘generative’ writing and the anarchic utopia of ‘subsequent compositions,’ ideas available in the same paragraph as ‘open text’ in Hejinian and maybe suffering from an error in emphasis (my reading).

Otherwise, claims (Hejinian and elsewhere) on behalf of a more ‘active’ reader are themselves historically situated and pretty much meant to be disruptive as, if not outright theories, at least a set of calculated habit-busters delivered at a time of insidious habit-entrenchment in American poetry.

Hejinian’s (for example) was a pragmatic solution (like Stein’s) for a metaphysical literary world, not a justification for a ‘one-dimensional pursuit of formalist effects’ or a ‘dogged disruption of conventional modes of communication’ (Gilbert). She hasn’t made that claim and probably wouldn’t, so drawing the link makes the dangerous mistake of reading back to cause from a loosely clustered set of disparate effects. Formalism is no one’s fault but the formalist.

‘Form is not a fixture but an activity’ (LH 47).

There’s an equivalent danger associated with privileging terms like ‘dialogue’ (Gilbert), as if, in the meeting of minds in conversation (another suspicious keyword), all texts potentially once closed are now open to the world of difference.

Dialogue has the unfortunate habit of putting words in people’s mouths, of guessing motivations.

Trumped, as always, by metaphors.

Where there’s reading, there’s action and rest, participation and consumption, writing and sleeping—each to the rhythm of one’s own assumptions and a pragmatic investment in a set of preferred outcomes. These can be personal motivations. A desire for community. A less invasive sleeping pill. A violent interception of subjectivity. A passion for truth, redemption, or good looks. In any case, in all readings, in every read-write activity, a set of margins for keyword scribbling.

Writing about reading is like dancing with your own feet. So, it might help, in both the pursuit of and escape from theory, to give reading a rest and take up dancing. Consumer-dancing and producer-dancing. All hope lies in theorizing a useful rhetoric of dancing.

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