Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sincerity continued



Perhaps my use of "irony" and "sincerity" could be defined further, especially as they relate to the arts. Irony seems predicated upon embracing a conceit of superficiality, that is, that there is a degree of artifice present and acknowledged by the work. The most extremely awful and sincere art I've ever beheld has lacked all dimension but the plug 'n play "real," not a whisper of even potentially acknowledging that it is made within a medium that is already one potential layer of artifice having an influence on the work. Which leads me to this question: does irony need to be intended for it to be truly ironic? A lot of rock bands who believe in what they're doing and do it well and with charisma also seem able to do so with an open sense of irony or enactment of the artifice: David Bowie, Ween, The Smiths, Kraftwerk... The Darkness I originally thought was the most ironic band EVER until I realized that they seemed to be taking themselves quite seriously. So does that make them any less ironic? (A sidethought a few days ago at seeing the Rolling Stones perform on some late night show: sincerity+rock and roll+middle age=absurd. Another case in point: the Metallica documentary.)

So WWOD (what would Oppen do? or in this case, say)? While his poetry employed some abstraction he eschewed all other forms of ornament (persona, metaphor, etc.) in his belief that
..,the function of poetry was a test of truth; he may have been the last writer in the West to use the word 'truth' without irony. For him, 'so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow' was a moral statement, with 'wheelbarrow' both a thing and word. The poet's task was to restore meaning to words- particularly in a time of official lies--and this was only possible through direct experience with the words themselves...He insisted on writing only about what he himself had seen, and the act of seeing them...
(from Eliot Weinberger's preface to the New Directions Oppen Collected.) But then came postmodernism that peed in everyone's soup. Is a poetics like this even possible today as anything except a reaction against the gorilla in the room that is the slippery, untrustable signifier/signified relationship? As an undergrad, a certain instructor kept putting LANGPO texts in my way and I vehemently rejected them for their cool superficiality. Then I wrote a parody, or really more like a poem in response, to one by Charly B. and like a conversion I at once understood the LP's poetics in a new light, their own light. And I remember thinking at the time that LP was actually THE MOST SINCERE/authentic/genuine/honest aesthetic for first and foremost acknowledging its own artifice. From there one could appreciate the humanity its effort without trusting some fetishized notion of the author only to be hoodwinked and let down at some point (case in point, first poetry reading I ever went to- Gary Soto- read his work in a flip, hammy way that left me feeling betrayed for having invested so much appreciation in its touching, personal tone.).

My sense of Oppen (and Neidecker for that matter) is that they only use what's necessary. Like a Midwesterner who sees someone at a casual house party in body glitter and a feather boa and thinks, "that's not necessary."

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Blogger Frank Nygard said...

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