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Nobody’s Business

Nobody’s Business: Twenty-First Century Avant-Garde Poetics

Brian M. Reed
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Nobody’s Business
    Book Description:

    Since the turn of the new millennium English-language verse has entered a new historical phase, but explanations vary as to what has actually happened and why. What might constitute a viable avant-garde poetics in the aftermath of such momentous developments as 9/11, globalization, and the financial crisis? Much of this discussion has taken place in ephemeral venues such as blogs, e-zines, public lectures, and conferences. Nobody's Business is the first book to treat the emergence of Flarf and Conceptual Poetry in a serious way. In his engaging account, Brian M. Reed argues that these movements must be understood in relation to the proliferation of digital communications technologies and their integration into the corporate workplace.

    Writers such as Andrea Brady, Craig Dworkin, Kenneth Goldsmith, Danny Snelson, and Rachel Zolf specifically target for criticism the institutions, skill sets, and values that make possible the smooth functioning of a postindustrial, globalized economy. Authorship comes in for particular scrutiny: how does writing a poem differ in any meaningful way from other forms of "content providing"? While often adept at using new technologies, these writers nonetheless choose to explore anachronism, ineptitude, and error as aesthetic and political strategies. The results can appear derivative, tedious, or vulgar; they can also be stirring, compelling, and even sublime. As Reed sees it, this new generation of writers is carrying on the Duchampian practice of generating antiart that both challenges prevalent definitions or art and calls into question the legitimacy of the institutions that define it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6958-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: What Now?
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In Lyric Powers (2008) Robert von Hallberg asserts without apology or qualification that poetry remains a vital art form in the twenty-first century: “Poetry is quoted in public, even from memory, and read aloud among friends, as often by working people as by intellectuals. And of course it is taught everywhere in schools.”¹ True, a “half century” of “intellectual critiques” has fostered among many academics a “strenuous suspicion” concerning verse.² “Inevitably, the prestige of lyric poetry has been eroded,” but, von Hallberg predicts, “this too shall pass,” just as “throughout literary history … skeptical, agnostic periods have been followed by...

    (pp. 27-48)

    In a May 2007 review of three volumes published by Atelos Press, Eric Keenaghan suggests that the American poetic avant-garde is kaput. The issue is not quality. The books in question—Laura Moriarty’s Ultravioleta (2006), Jocelyn Saidenberg’s Negativity (2006), and Juliana Spahr’s The Transformation (2007)—are all well worth reading insofar as they “critique the imperatives of identification and categorization constituting our social, cultural, and political lives.” The problem is their packaging. Despite being held up as the latest offerings from the avant-garde, they show no signs of allegiance to a “coherent political and intellectual program,” nor do they engage...

    (pp. 49-87)

    In the last chapter I sought to clarify how some twenty-first-century avant-garde writers position themselves in relation both to the immediately preceding generation of experimentalists and to an influential contemporary variety of verse, “hybrid” or “new consensus” poetry. One could call hybrid poetry the new mainstream, but such a label would be misleading since it is neither ubiquitous nor universally esteemed. A better way of thinking about it would be to invoke the concept of the valentior pars (weightier part), as Marsilius of Padua defines it in his Defensor pacis (1324). The weightier part of a community, he explains, is...

    (pp. 88-120)

    In The Transformation (2007), Juliana Spahr recounts the pervasive unease in New York City’s poetry circles following the events of September 11, 2001. What manner or mode of writing could respond meaningfully to such destruction, or to the United States’ consequent plunge into bellicosity and jingoism? Experimentalists were especially hard put to defend the common late-twentieth-century argument that disjunctive syntax and fractured narrative abet progressive political ends. In the past, their favorite disruptive devices—asyndeton, anacoluthon, catachresis, and non sequitur—could plausibly be defended as rhetorical tools for combating Max Weber’s “iron cage of rationality” or Theodor Adorno’s “totally administered...

    (pp. 121-160)

    The July–August 2009 issue of the Chicago-based journal Poetry featured two avant-garde movements, Flarf and Conceptualism. Almost a century after Harriet Monroe had used the same little magazine to launch Imagism, it was again trying to announce the arrival of an adventurous new poetry for a new century. In his introduction to a selection of poems by Flarfists such as Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Sharon Mesmer, and K. Silem Mohammad and by Conceptualists such as Caroline Bergvall, Craig Dworkin, Rob Fitterman, and Vanessa Place, Kenneth Goldsmith explains what he believes makes their work newsworthy as well as what distinguishes...

    (pp. 161-194)

    The previous chapter examined in a sustained manner two particular features of much twenty-first-century avant-garde poetry: first, its movement away from a logic of montage to one of flow, and second, the ongoing value of print as a means of critiquing network culture as it has taken shape with corporate funding and guidance in the new millennium. Nobody’s Business now concludes with an extended analysis of another young avant-garde poet, Danny Snelson, who composes primarily in and for digital environments. The question of medium obsolescence, though, also preoccupies him greatly. After all, print versus cyberspace is far from the only...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 195-196)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 197-214)
  12. Index
    (pp. 215-222)