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. For poetics as value thinking, 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. This is not, however, only aesthetic valuation—what counts as a durable and estimable work—but involves key aspects of value in the world that results in poetry, as an “end” without formal finality but as indissociably historical and produced. Key forebears of the turn to a materialist poetics in modernism—Louis Zukofsky and William Carlos Williams above all—provide examples of poetry as value making in the widest sense. Zukofsky theorized a poetics of value in the making of his keystone work and parallel text, The First Half of “A.” Williams, early and late, shows how the making of the world is what counts as value, nowhere more readable than in the discontinuous unfolding, the uneven development of Paterson. Value is the “so much depends / upon” that originates in the “red wheel / barrow”—an open horizon of implication that coincides with the open horizon of value in Marx, not limited to the wheel barrow’s utility or its exchangeability. Using the examples of Zukofsky and Williams, I chart the determination of value in modernism, read alongside a contemporary rethinking of value in Marx as a parallel, material and historical, co-production. In the final two sections, I propose how the poetics of Language writing (and other forms of the avant-garde such as conceptual writing and Flarf) can be transvalued, from a static compiling of the data of language toward a transvaluation of the labor congealed in past production—language, poetry, and world. Just as Language writing was a transvaluation of prior modes of poetry, leading to new values for writing, so the transvaluation of Language writing returns it to the world in its form of knowledge base, redefining the task of poetry and poetics as forms of value thinking. [. . .]

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