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Poetics as Value Thinking:
Transvaluations of Language Writing

Presented at Fondation des Etats-Unis, Paris
sponsored by Double Change/Ecole normale supérieure
15 March 2017

This lecture is a hybrid of two thought experiments—one, a discussion of the poetics of value that sees political economy and poetics as twin forms of historically specific making, linked discourses of the determination of value. The second is a proposal for the transvaluation of poetics, and specifically Language writing, as a prospective organization of poetic labor as a form of a “knowledge base” (adopted from information and digital theory). The notion that unites both is that poetry and poetics are forms not only of value making but value thinking—sites for the transvaluation of a general notion of value into particular values. … More

Paris, 13–20 March 2017

Monday, March 13

DTW > CDG

Françoise de Laroque
Juliette de Laroque

Le Tagada Bar

Tuesday, March 14

Isakaya Issé

Abigail Lang

Wednesday, March 15

Lecture and reading @
Fondation des Etats-Unis
sponsored by Double Change
& Ecole normale supérieure

“Poetics as Value Thinking:
Transvaluations of Language Writing”

Reading of “Plan B” and translation

… More

Poetics as Knowledge Base:
The Example of “Plan B”

Presented at the Louisville Conference
on Literature and Culture after 1900
24 February 2017

This paper is a thought experiment that reads experimental poetry and poetics in relation to the concept of “knowledge base”—even as poetic attempts to create a knowledge base itself. The making of poetry has always been attended by some kind of “lore,” the necessary but often obscure or intractable set of background knowledges and beliefs that are crucial for its understanding—T.S. Eliot’s notes to The Waste Land or Louis Zukofsky’s parallel texts for “Mantis” are modern examples of this. Historicism in poetics depends on accessing and developing this lore, which it extends to more nuanced contexts; at the same time, theory-based approaches creates a metadiscourse of key concepts that may become part of the knowledge base of poetics. From the romantics to the postmoderns, the construction of such a knowledge base is a necessary entailment of “the making of the work in its condition of possibility”—the task of poetics as a discourse. I want to look at a range of ways this knowledge base is represented and accessed, from the archiving of writings in poetics to modernist and postmodern concordances to major works (such as Zukofsky’s “A”) to online poetry/poetics archives to recent experimental methods. What would a rigorous use of the concept of “knowledge base” in computing and information theory bring to understanding poetics in such terms? … More

“Avant-Garde Counter-Ideology:
The Example of Ai Wei-wei”

“Ideology”
Humanities Center Fall Symposium
McGregor Conference Center
Wayne State University
14 October 2016

Alina Klin
Kai Xu
Elizabeth Stoycheff
Jeffrey Horner
Elena Past
Eun-Jung Kim
Anne Duggan
… More

“The Millennial Condition:
A Report on Knowledge”

The Wittreich Family Lecture
University of Louisville
6–7 October 2016

Alan Golding
Lisa Shapiro
Fran McDonald
Karen Hadley
Kristi Maxwell
Jameson Welch
Matthew Biberman
Simona Bertacco
… More

Barrett Watten, “The Poet/Critic:
Transvaluations of Value after Modernism”
MSA, 20 November 2015

I continue my discussion of the poetics of value in modernism (Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams) in taking up political economy and poetics as twin forms of historically specific making, twin discourses of the determination of value. For poetics as value making, let me advance that the thirty-six individual essays in our recent Guide to Poetics Journal, along with the editorial and publication work involved in soliciting, editing, rethinking, and repurposing their content, counts as such. Each essay in our Guide—for example, Ron Silliman on “the parsimony principle,” George Lakoff on avant-garde framing, Susan Howe on Emily Dickinson, Lyn Hejinian on “the rejection of closure,” in the volume’s first section—demonstrates how poetry is a value-making activity, in giving value to it. … More

Document 38: Occupy Poetics

Barrett Watten, “Occupy Poetics:
A Work in Progress”
ASAP, 28 September 2015

This paper follows on a contribution to the EAM meeting in Helsinki that tracked two opposing accounts of language-centered writing’s influence on experimental poets engaged in Occupy movements, specifically Oakland. Moving from a materialist account of utopian possibility realized in poetic form to a combinatorial freedom associated with chance-generated strategies, the essay sought a convergence between contingent decision, radical freedom, and experimental practices among Occupy poets, focusing on poets David Lau and Brian Ang. In extending my argument, I survey a greater range of poets in the movement, beginning with Sara Larsen and Jasper Bernes, to develop a set of terms that interpret Occupy itself as informed by poetic principles. I return to the proliferation of poetics in the various Occupy sites, both to confirm the importance of a poetics of “combinatorial materialism,” and to extend the analysis of my first two examples by alternative concerns more prominent or visible in other poets. … More

Event 49: Tomb of Fourier

Maquette of destroyed statue of Charles Fourier

Modern Language Association
Vancouver, Canada
8–11 January 2015

371. The Surrealist Enlightenment
Presiding: Jonathan P. Eburne, Penn State University, University Park

1. “Material Wonder as Catalyst for the Surrealist Collection,” Katherine Conley, Coll. of William and Mary
2. “Thanks for the Memories: The Repetitions of De Chirico’s The Disquieting Muses,” Joanna Fiduccia, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
3. “Sapere imaginare: Surrealism and Quantum Physics,” Nathalie Fouyer, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
4. “Light of the Image @ Four Corners: Breton’s Ode to Charles Fourier,” Barrett Watten, Wayne State Univ. [Presented in absentia]

Modernist Studies Association
University of Pittsburgh
6–9 November 2014

“Modernism @ Stunde Null: Lee Miller, Hannah Höch, and A Woman in Berlin

This presentation is a part of a larger project on the intersection of literary and visual modernism with the “moment” of destruction that ended World War II: Stunde Null or Zero Hour. A range of modernist poets—Eliot, Pound, Williams, H.D., Breton, and later Olson, Plath, Duncan, and others—interrogated universal ethical and aesthetic values through this “moment.” In this presentation, I read the literary and visual testimony of three women caught up in the moment of destruction as witnesses, victims, or even perpetrators. Lee Miller’s war journalism, published in Vogue through the war, is complemented by the traumatic record and reparative work of her war and Holocaust photography. Hannah Höch, the dada painter and collagist, emerged from internal exile outside of Berlin to participate in the first modernist exhibitions in the destroyed city after Stunde Null; these early exhibitions set the stage for the recuperation of modernism after its banishment and humiliation under Nazism. Finally, the anonymously authored A Woman in Berlin, documenting the survival strategies necessary in a climate of mass sexual predation by Soviet troops immediately after the defeat, may be read in relation to search for or skepticism about universal values in modernism. In each case, writing or art not only add their testimony to history but posit and test new ways of being during and after the experience of trauma—they are prospective and retrospective.

European Network for Avant-Garde
and Modernist Studies
University of Helsinki, Finland
29–31 August 2015

“Language Writing’s Concrete Utopia: From Leningrad to Occupy”

Language writing has a differential, both concrete and critical, relationship to the horizon of utopia—which, we should remember, is a “nonplace,” an alternative time and space that is only momently (or eventally) possible as lived experience. “Language” itself offers an expansive and holistic medium for poetry as a ground for combinatorial fantasy and potential agency that simultaneously invokes radical particularity, material opacity, spatial alterity, and temporal deferral; “language” is a poetic nonsite that may be powerfully transformative, if not finally utopian, in its radical potential. In this paper, I will chart the relationship of Language writing to the horizon of utopia at four specific moments: 1) in its development of poetic practice in radical formal terms, as a social formation, and as a collective practice (seen in terms of the material history of its publications and performances); 2) on the occasion of four Language writers’ participation in a conference on avant-garde poetics in Leningrad, in the former Soviet Union at the end of Perestroika (1989), and our subsequent multi­auth­ored account, Leningrad: American Writers in the Soviet Union (1991); 3) with the completion of the multiauthored The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography by ten Language writers who met in San Francisco in the 70s (2006–10); and 4) after the performance and reception of The Grand Piano in a series of readings in the Bay Area during the Occupy movement of 2011 and the convergence of certain tendencies of the Occupy movement with avant-garde poetries such as Language writing. The convergence of Language writing with the events of Occupy, and their continuation as a radical democratic, anticapitalist politics, is an exemplary instance of concrete utopia.