Thursday, August 14, 2003

The point being, though, that Language writing seems to a lot of younger writers like something you can't just go around, but something you have to go through to get wherever you're going, the narrow and constricting tunnel to freedom. I keep running into this sense but have trouble understanding it. Maybe the issue is partially generational (to people who are in slightly less advanced into their late twenties than I am?) but maybe more local and institutional: that the work of Silliman, Bernstein, Hejinian, Howe et al is something that a lot of younger writers report being taught in class, as the kind of "way poetry is," is still weird to me, since that was patently not the case when I was in school. Being at Stanford has turned the tables a bit on that, but I have the ever-present Stegner program here to remind me.

But I realize I do feel a bit the same way about the example Language writing set--that there really is no "going back" from it, that once you've accepted some of the fundamental questions these very different writers raise about narrative, subjectivity, ideology, and the transparency of lyric you can't just say "well, I'm going to write unproblematic first-person narratives of personal experience anyway." You acknowledge that the field has changed and you see what you can do from there. But I guess I see Language writing as having opened the linguistic field up in ways I couldn't have imagined before, rather than being a fall from innocence that showed us how suspect our feelings really were.

If there's a nostalgia for the texture of feeling then I think Kasey had the right idea:

what, for instance, is the dividing line between emotion, on the one hand, and sentimentality, which he dismisses at one point? I read a lot of New Brutalist writing as being very sentimental, but in a way I find fascinating and exciting.

Sentimentality--as an aesthetic that knows it is tawdry and ought to be rejected by any cool-headed skeptic and revels in it--strikes me as a more honest response to the moment than a demand for a return to earnest or neo-romantic emotionality. Jennifer Moxley is somebody I think of who seems to negotiate between these poles. And isn't that what was so winning about the idea of "flarf"--a gleeful embrace of the "bad," the tasteless, the guilty pleasure.

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