The Poker Sub Fiction Antennae
At the recent MLA conference, I split my time between roughly literary and roughly communication oriented panels. Highlights on both sides included Jena Osman's visually-aided presentation on journalistic found poetry and Peter Jaszi's rather gloomy predictions for copyright and IP law. It was my first time at the MLA, and I went primarily because it was here, in SD, and because I had a chance to meet and reunite with some cool poetry people, particularly the hordes on hand for the Harryette Mullen reading and (refreshingly un-mic-ed) follow-up panel discussion and Q&A. I left that particular event feeling good about poetry.
But left the building feeling pretty shitty about "lit" in general -- a rather sad academic discipline that can't get over its obsession with the literary artifact, be it book or poem or even authorial biography (or maybe "psychography"). I gave up on lit (and in some ways, poetry) and took up "communication" a few years ago in part because I'd had enough of literary artifacts, or at least the production and study/fetishization thereof, even those artifacts produced by artisans whose literary agenda speaks to a deliberate dismantling or troubling of the categories and processes typically responsible for the fetishization of literary objects.
The field/discipline of communication has its obsessions too, among them the rarefied "object" of sociological or historical interest, but in general these objects add up to a much bigger, and I think more interesting, set of things, procedures, policies, dances and moments, and rarely look like artifacts in the way an Elizabeth Bishop or even WC Williams poem can to a lit professor. The difference in disciplinary focus might come down to that rather simple matter of range of coverage.
I know there are some in lit working to add a little range (movement, plasticity) to the hardened categories of literary practice and criticism, and granted the MLA, let alone the conference industry in general, is hardly the place to look for even the "discipline" of literary studies, which even as discipline has its more reLAXed, flexible trench-workers doing their best to keep the concrete soft before pouring (a few of them on hand at the MLA). But building the monument is always the endgame of literary studies, so even the more wily experimental lit panels can end by offering up the same ritual of publicly witnessed foundation-setting. Okay, but that's the business of lit so why rehearse the knocking of it.
Lit/poetry journals are mostly epiphenomenal non-artifacts that live pretty short, snappy lives on the borders of literary studies and monument building. I spent the weekend packing old ones into a box to be stored with other boxes of old journals on a high shelf in my garage. It felt good to purge my already (and sadly still) overpacked bookshelves of these ephemeral beauties, making way for new models (new issues, new efforts) arriving weekly in vacuum-sealed bubble envelopes.
Great resources for watching the great work of literary communication transpire, lit/poetry journals give up the artifact in search of the fact. Evidentiary objects -- things in the Heideggerian sense of gatherings -- lit/poetry journals are great documents in search of dedicated readers-qua-researchers. The good-time of poetry and poetics, let's say, transpires in the pages of good poetry zines.
Journals communicate, then, in ways that books do not and cannot. At least that's how I'd like to go about reading them from now on -- as communiqés from the wilderness of poetry production which inherently resist the hardening effects of artifact-obsessing and the broader regime of literary studies.
In that spirit I was happy to receive last month Submodern Fiction 1, The Poker 3, and Antennae 5.
[...to be continued...]