Monday, November 05, 2007

Nathaniel Tarn on "difficulty and obscurity"

"While it is true that the great discoveries of modernism preceded the academicization of 'creative writing,' my sense is that the progression of 'writing' toward unreadability has been helped by that academicization. Many have commented on the disappearance of a true avant-garde and its replacement by avant-gardism... [see Paz quote below] I see this as a prolongation of experimentation usually leading further on from collage and montage into ever-increasing fragmentation and eventually into a degenerative disease which, adapting an already common usage, I call 'disjunctivitis.' The argument, used by some producers who, correctly locating the seats of available power in the academy, have ensconced themselves therein every bit as much as the establishment 'mainstream,' to the effect that the disruption of the common linguistic coin is part of a war against 'late-capitalist' discourse is singularly inept. I do not see oppressed workers of any kind devouring the products of avant-gardism. The death-of-the-author thematics, as commonly adapted, are another inanity: when society does its very best to homogenize us, what is wrong with a strong, knowledgeable, and responsible ego crying in the darkening wildnerness?"

At the beginning of the piece, Tarn quotes Octavio Paz's "Corriente Alterna" (1973): "If imitation becomes mere repetition, the dialogue ceases and tradition petrifies; if modernity is not self-critical, if it is not a sharp break and simply considers itself a prolongation of 'what is modern,' tradition becomes paralyzed. This is what is taking place in a large sector of the so-called avant-garde. The reason for this is obvious: the idea of modernity is beginning to lose its vitality. It is losing it because modernity is no longer a critical attitude but an accepted, codified convention ... it has become an article of faith that everyone subscribes to ... all this raking of the coals can be reduced to a simple formula: repetition at an ever-increasing rate. Never before has there been such frenzied, barefaced imitation masquerading as originality, invention, and innovation."

from "Octavio Paz, Anthropology, and the Future of Poetry" (1999) in The Embattled Lyric (2007)

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