Tim Kreiner has written a considered response to my previous post, an act of intellectual dignity given what else is out there. His piece circles around a conflict between abstract rights (Free Speech) and concrete acts (antiracist politics) he says Place herself caused when she pushed inadmissible racial content into the public arena. He also sees her timing as crucial: while I imagined that Place was grabbing a part of the limelight from Kenneth Goldsmith’s scandalous performance of Michael Brown’s autopsy, he believes that she “added the images in the midst of a live social movement against specific acts of state violence targeting black people.” [Correction: Place added the banner in 2012, and the profile photo in 2011; thus, both of our scenarios are incorrect. It is still an open question why a project that was not getting attention suddenly create intense outrage. The relation of image to text here is still crucial.] While we agree that adding the images converted a banal textual project into a racial provocation, he sees her opportunism as not simply in the aesthetic series but as an attack on the social movement, and thus criticizable from that perspective. Her cynical use of Free Speech, and by an extension the defense of her work in terms of it, cannot be dissociated from its effects on antiracist organizing and its larger concern, #blacklivesmatter.
June 2, 2015
May 30, 2015
A week ago, I returned from Germany to find the online poetry community in an uproar over Ron Silliman’s “Je suis Vanessa Place.” There, Silliman triangulates the Charlie Hebdo award controversy with the petition to remove Place from a steering committee at AWP, and her conceptual project to tweet Gone with the Wind in 140-character chunks over several years. Since then, a second letter campaign in part led to the devolution and canceling of the Berkeley Poetry Conference 2015 (BPC), a situation still unresolved. Silliman sees the primary issue as freedom of expression in a climate of projective and even rhetorically violent debate. Unfortunately, whatever the merits of his position—which I agree with on many grounds—his own rhetorical strategy makes analogies and leaps that are at turns defensive and projective to the point of offense to most readers. … More
May 29, 2015
May 27, 2015
an essay by Barrett Watten
The Cambridge Companion to
Modern American Poetry
ed. Walter Kalaidjian
Table of contents:
1. The emergence of ‘the new poetry’
John Timberman Newcomb
2. Modern American archives and scrapbook
modernism / Bartholomew Brinkman
3. Experimental modernism
May 1, 2015
It is forty years since the Fall of Saigon, and the first event I record, in my lead piece in volume 2 of The Grand Piano, recalls my activities on that day. I hope it still means something to put this out there:
On 1 May 1975, I attended a public meeting of a communist organization. The Fall of Saigon, of course, did not simply coincide with that date; it had been taking place for weeks. The meeting was in a rented hall on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Two million people, according to mass media, had been forced to evacuate Phnom Penh. The speaker interpreted this report in a positive light: Khmer Rouge authorities were only trying to prevent disease and panic. Half the people in the room read revolutionary newspapers as the speaker addressed them, while the other half listened attentively. He went on: now is the time the movement for revolutionary change must commence. There can be no going back. By next year the organization’s size must double. We have a simple choice before us.
April 4, 2015
March 17, 2015
Tracking the Chinese Avant-Gardes: Literary and Visual
Organizers: Barrett Watten, Wayne State University
Jonathan Stalling, University of Oklahoma
Jacob Edmond, University of Otago
American Comparative Literature Association
Seattle, 26–29 March 2015; stream B (10:30–12:10)
Dashpoint, Seattle Sheraton
The past thirty-five years has witnessed the phenomenal growth of numerous avant-garde art and poetry movements in China, from the 1979 Stars exhibition and Misty School of poetry to the present. This seminar will survey the formal innovations, historical development, and cultural logics of the Chinese avant-gardes, working across genres and disciplines in doing so. It will present examples of formally innovative and culturally provocative art, from its period of emergence after the Cultural Revolution in the 80s to the traumatic break that occurred with the events of the June 4/Tiananmen Square movement to periods of growth and dispersion in the 90s and global recognition in the 00s. How have Chinese avant-gardes developed, dispersed, changed, been absorbed—what are their influences, accomplishments, contradictions, historical mission? How are the Chinese avant-gardes global; how do they respond to or resist globalization; how do they reflect, affirm, or critique China’s role in the global order? How are the Chinese avant-gardes a moment of cultural translation or hybridity between Chinese and Western/avant-garde aesthetics, philosophy, and/or politics (including gender)? How were emergent forms of transnational art, such as Conceptual Art or Concrete Poetry, interpreted in China? How do the Chinese avant-gardes negotiate the visual/verbal interface between pinyin and roman characters as a part of its task? And finally, what does the emergence of the Chinese avant-gardes, in their specific historical and cultural conditions, mean for the theory of the avant-garde, given its Eurocentric historical basis?
March 14, 2015
The following is Martin Richet’s translation of “Magazines,” the first prose poem in Opera—Works (1975); it appears in the first issue of his handsomely produced translation journal Jongler (ordering information below). It does not address the question of whiteness, which has been preoccupying us, but does address feeling states around the possibility of being a poet.
Tu es dans un bâtiment puis à l’extérieur. À seize kilomètres de là, tu le visualises à peine — tu vois le sol depuis le ciel au ralenti. En même temps tu sens l’hélicoptère qui s’enfonce dans la rue. L’avion fend un nuage.
Le simultané comme attribut du non ressenti. Le littéral comme attribut du ressenti. Un simple intérêt littéral pour la diversité du monde et les implications des choses.
Un abonnement à une revue que l’on considère vaguement divertissante et complètement dispensable. Un carnet de correspondance — une bénédiction — un baiser mérité. L’horticulture variégée vue à la lumière ambiante. Les petites boîtes de plantes, les pots en céramique, les tiges vertes coupées, des tâches simples.
La gestion compliquée des tâches simples. Tu t’abonnes à une revue, la revue arrive, tu y jettes un oeil et tu t’inquiètes.
Les revues, c’est possible ?
* * *
Reaching further back into my personal archive of whiteness, I find this poem—written in Iowa City about 1971 or ’72 and published in 1975, on the theme. It is the second poem in my first book, Opera—Works. The title quotes a line from Charles Olson’s “The Kingfishers.”
The Whiteness Which Covers All
nested in whiteness
The triangle dilated
the voracious snake
in the sheets of—
flat under a white sky
The narrow eye, such that
it encompassed the
From Barrett Watten, Opera—Works (Bolinas, Calif.: Big Sky Books, 1975), 6; reprinted in Frame (1971–1990) (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1997), 280. Copyright (c) Barrett Watten 1975, 1997, 2015.
The current discussion on the “whiteness of the avant-garde,” following Cathy Park Hong’s article in the journal Lana Turner, has brought up the question of whether avant-garde poets fail to deal with a supposed “color blindness” in their radical forms and experimental practices. The following is a section from Bad History, written in 1992 and published by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz’s Atelos Press in 1998, that addresses the cultural construction of whiteness—my own, in fact. It was written the summer following the Los Angeles riots after the beating of Rodney King, and is informed stylistically by the art writing I had been doing in Artweek during that period—many instances of which took up matters of cultural politics across the spectrum of race, class, and gender. It would only be a short while before I took up my teaching position at Wayne State University in Detroit, but that is another story. Those calling out the “avant-garde” as not confronting its racial cultural logics need to look a bit further.
On being the white male heterosexual I’m supposed to see myself “as”—but who’s looking? For William Carlos Williams, as a pure product Elsie was the exception that proved the rule of his own impure lack of identity—the non-solution of “no one driving the car” being the prescient mastery of a situation the poet’s white male heterosexual heirs would have to negotiate sixty years hence. And so indeed have we come to see ourselves predicted as the outcome of our incommensurate acts—Williams in ironizing himself as “not” the pure product he would libidinally like to be; we in retreating from the historical sentimentality of his look. Now we can only admit to having no such desire left as Williams would have liked to preserve—unless we are willing to be seen, in self-contradiction, “as” violent dissociations of Williams’s self-objectification. But does the resulting desire—”not mine”—convey any more politics than the one I could claim by negating my own lack of identity in the white male heterosexual’s violently self-destructive but cannily self-preservative acts? Think of Chris Burden shooting at a jetliner in 1973—it is of course granted that he missed. Such desire can have no object—either it casts itself out as its own unknowing or it is observed, from a distance, as something needing to be controlled. Are you someone who needs to be controlled? … More