Sunday, September 11, 2005

On Sincerity

E mentioned the other day that she initiated a discussion with her graduate writing students about the issue of sincerity and what role, if any, they saw it playing in their own work as well as the way they experience other literature. The question apparently hit such a nerve that one student objected to the question and sabotaged the dialogue from there. I asked her if she made that student write The New Sincerity manifesto 100 times as punishment. But I can appreciate how icky the question can be. Living outside the Midwest and then returning to the Midwest made me aware how valued sincerity, the genuine and authenticity are here. In word and deed. L noted it too during her semester layover in Chicago. There's a certain regional disdain for pretention that I think is a result of being surrounded by hundreds of miles of corn that makes me a little sheepish about my penchants for goat cheese and sparkling water. A major part of my own Midwestern-ness is, I think, an inherent appreciation for the what-you-see-is-what-you-get-ness, but the truly dark side of authenticity is what I've seen it do to the arts-- that in spite of an interest in prose forms, I knew not to take a fiction class at my alma mater because urban realism was the only acceptable style and all critique subordinated formal concerns to the overwhelming primary concern for the "realism" of the content. The m.o. of much art being taught and made throughout the city, and this is apparent in dance, performance art, theater, etc., is that it must come from the darkest, most vulnerable place of the author's "soul" and that this, I don't want to say human but, ego-origin must be easily identifiable so that the audience can "relate" to it. While I've felt a rash coming on when in the midst of either extreme (ironic/genuine), every idea must originate in a state of something genuine if the desire to express, understand, even manipulate are, fundamentally, an authentic part of the human ego. Even if dressed in many petticoats of smarts, humor, obfuscation, nothing can be a total joke. All gesture- even the gesture to de-subjectize the presence of the author- is rooted in some desire to express something, and the desire to veil that gesture in some form of abstraction or irony offers a richer, more textured experience of what it means to be human: contradictory, absurd, defensive, uncertain. I haven't spent much time trying to figure out what the New Sincerity movement, if there is such a thing, in poetry is all about... it strikes me, ironically enough, to be an ironic battle cry against the overabundance of irony that 4th, 5th generation NY School wed to a post-Language imperative can sometimes engender. And yet, I see a lot of the writers associated with TNC writing out of a patently Objectivist lineage, so could they more accurately be termed New Objectivists? (I use all of these school names with a huge degree of ambivalence, fully aware of how reductive and problematic it is to class a range of creative work so generally.) What does Oppen have to say on the issue of the genuine? Is there a readymade irony when animals are your subject matter?


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