Monday, July 27, 2009

Whose Objectivism?

Stephen Burt's eccentric genealogical construction of contemporary potery after Objectivism, "The New Thing," seems yet more evidence that the Objectivist nexus is not one, but many. And all the more reason poets themselves should take responsibility for making the work of their peers legible to each other, and help to reveal its place within larger historical continuums and trends (a work too often reserved for professional critics).

Having grown up among intense communities of poets and artists (as well as critics!), and having studied Objectivism as a graduate student, I am struck by how distant Burt seems from my own senses of an Objectivist continuum in present-day poetries (however much I enjoy reading many of the poets whom Burt mentions).

Citing Burt's statement, "For [C.D.] Wright, as for [Juliana] Spahr and [Mark] Nowak, poetic attention to facts and things—emulated, reclaimed, quoted, re-framed—speaks to the material conditions a left-wing politics works to change. For other makers of the New Thing though, the solidity they seek is not so much economic as phenomenological: the poem finds, and emulates, some permanence—it is, and describes, something with weight and “measure,” small enough to hold in the hand" I wonder: must the political-economic and the phenomenological be partitioned? Many of the most rigorous poets I know today work through political definitions of the phenomenological and vice versa.

The emergence of political subjects through the incommensurably singular presents a contemporary definition of Objectivism to which I am beholden. Looking back at Oppen and Zukofsky in particular, I believe much of their work allegorizes the emergence of the subject as it struggles to act as a political being via a phenomenology which foregrounds textuality as an extension of various forms of social mediation (the fact that writing has an objective existence and this existence mediates a reader's reality). Oppen's engagements with Heidegger's "arduous path of appearance" comes to mind most readily here; but so do the uncanny convergences of his poetics with Hannah Arendt's thought, for whom the political was also fraught with ambivalence and difficulty. "Left-wing" content, or any content for that matter considered properly subaltern, does not separate itself from matters of form (because it simply can't). Rather, through the subaltern--or that which is made illegible, invisible, or impossible by its situation within the social--form and content constitute an inseparable unity because they coappear within a single event.

For another, more vitriolic take on Burtian objectivism see Stan Apps' Free Will Applicator here.