Entries tagged with cultural poetics

from “The Trouble with Occupy:
Materialism, Transvaluation, and the Symbolic”

Occupy was, and continues to be, an event; we speak of “the event of Occupy” much as we refer to the “event of 9/11.” Occupy poets both participated in the event of Occupy but also continued it as an event through their work, which to a degree anticipated the event in providing terms drawn from poetry. At the center of the Occupy movement was a poetics, one that is not merely represented by its poets or reflected in their work. The spontaneity of decision making, the refusal of hierarchical structures, the advocacy of a “transvaluation of all values” without concrete political goals, the temporal and spatial forms of the movement, its self-understanding as exemplary as much as practical—all point toward a constructivist poetics in which there are no prior givens or certain grounds. My writing on Occupy poetry, too, has had an evental character; what follows develops a sequence of paradigms over several conference presentations and publications as political events continued to unfold. It has not been sufficiently noted that a shift in the register of politics as “event” from Occupy in 2011 to the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama effectively ended the active phase of the movement; since that time, it has persisted as a political imaginary that has been both absorbed into political developments like the Sanders campaign and preserved in an ongoing articulation of poetics and political theory. … More

Document 31: Zero Hour

Just published
in an interdisciplinary,
transnational essay collection

Barrett Watten, “Zero Hour/Stunde Null:
Destruction and Universals at Mid Century”

in Die Amerikanische Reeducation-Politik
Nach 1945: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven
auf “America’s Germany,” Katharina Gerund
and Heike Paul, eds. (Bielefeld: transcript
Verlag, 2015); for more information click here

With Herbert Sirois, Michael Hochgeschwender,
Frank Mehring, Jeanpaul Goergen, Philipp Baur,
Reinhild Kreis, Dorottya Ruisz, Dieter Meindl,
Phillip Beard, Werner Sollors, Winfried Fluck

from the introduction:

Barrett Watten problematisiert die Vorstellung einer Stunde Null als politisches und als ästhetisches Konzept aus der Perspektive eines “radical historicism,” der konsistente und wohlgeformte Erklärungen und Narrative zugunsten von Brüchen, Krisen und Kontingenzen in Frage stellt. Die Stunde Null wird als metahistorisches Ereignis verstanden, das vor allem hinsichtlich seiner verschiedenen Repräsentationen und deren kultureller Arbeit untersucht wird. Watten identifiziert retrospektive, antizipatorische und punktuelle Konstruktionen des historischen Moments in literarischen und visuellen Darstellungen und setzt diese in Beziehung zu dem historischen ‘Ereignis.’ Er untersucht exemplarisch die antizipierte Zerstörung als poetisches Prinzip in den Werken von William Carlos Williams sowie die retrospektive Konstruktion der Stunde Null in dem Film Judgement at Nuremberg (1961, Regie: Stanley Kramer) und in den Fotografien von Lee Miller. Er illustriert anhand dieser Beispiele seine zentrale These, dass Zerstörung die notwendige Vorbedingung des Universellen ist” (introduction, p. 15). [Translation t/k]

Document 05: Haiti and Ideal

To Toussaint L’Ouverture

 Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men
   Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
   Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;
O Miserable Chieftain! Where and when
   Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou
   Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
   Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
   That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
   And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.

—William Wordsworth

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Sylvia Plath, collage, 1960.

Like many who identified with the epochal chasm between The New American Poetry and mainstream verse of the 50s and 60s (whose benchmark anthology was Hall, Pack, and Simpson’s New Poets of England and America), I have been skeptical about Sylvia Plath; the cult of her suicide; the Plath, Sexton, Lowell, Berryman quadriviate; and any kind of confessionalism. As mainstays of workshop writing, these figures set in place terms for the personal lyric that is as close to a norm for verse culture as we have had—to the point that it becomes a cultural norm. But in the period since Plath’s mainstream and feminist reception in the 60s and 70s, much has changed. Lyric poetry has come under pressure from Language writing, and revisionist contextual and  gendered readings have opened up Plath’s poetics, allowing one to see her negativity as critical and cultural, not simply formal and expressive.

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