Click below for full descriptions of courses recently offered by Poetics faculty.
English 583: Language Poetry and Its Critical Issues
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
More than three decades after Language poetry emerged onto the American poetry scene, the reception of its radical poetics and innovative practices is now increasingly dominated, in general, by a hermeneutics grounded in existing paradigms of various theories and philosophies. As a result, the critical concerns of the poets themselves, whatever the kinds, are either largely overlooked, if not evaded, or often relegated to the status of raw material to be processed selectively into different systems of thinking.
Against this historical and conceptual backdrop, this seminar seeks to (re)ask the following questions: What is Language poetry? What are the critical issues that initially prompted its fundamental rethinking of poetry and poetics? How do Language poets explore, envision, and experiment on avant-garde alternatives through their own textual practices? And, more importantly, what are the implications as well as ramifications of textual-formal innovations as such?
This seminar will focus on 1) intensive reading of the poetics authored by selected Language poets, with an emphasis on the earlier statements; 2) intensive reading of their corresponding poems and detailed analysis of their textual practices as ways of exploratory rethinking; and 3) serious discussions and speculations of both the implications and the ramifications of Language writing as conceptual indexes to the continuing innovations in poetry and poetics.
1). Poetics Texts:
B. Andrews and C. Bernstein: The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book
Rae Armantrout Collected Prose
Bruce Andrews: Paradise and Method
Charles Bernstein: Content’s Dream
Charles Bernstein ed.: The Politics of Poetic Form
Rachel Blau DePlessis: The Pink Guitar
Lyn Hejinian: The Language of Inquiry
Bob Perelman: The Marginalization of Poetry
Bob Perelman ed.: Writing/Talks
Joan Retallack: The Poethical Wager
Leslie Scalapino: How Phenomena Appear to Unfold
Objects in the Terrifying Tense Longing from Taking Place
Ron Silliman: The New Sentence
Barrett Watten: Total Syntax
2). Poetry Texts:
Bruce Andrews: Getting Ready to Have Been Frightened
Rae Armantrout: Precedence, Made to Seem, Necromance
Charles Bernstein: Controlling Interests, Islets/Irritations
Rachel Blau DePlessis: Drafts 1-38, Toll
Lyn Hejinian: My Life, Writing Is an Aid to Memory
Bob Perelman: Ten to One: Selected Poems
Joan Retallack: Afterrimages, How to Do Things with Words
Leslie Scalapino: Crowd and Not Evening or Light, New Time
Ron Silliman: The Age of Hut, Tjanting
Barrett Watten: Frame 1971-1990, Conduit
Poetic Form and Formal Innovations: A Theory of Form as Operation
Spring Semester, 2009
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
Designed and intended as a critical rethinking of the concept of form (including the serial and the procedural) underlying diverse textual practices of the innovative poetry movement more commonly known as Language poetry, this seminar will concentrate on the following interrelated questions:
What does it mean by form in a poetry whose critical objective is to question and critique the hitherto conventionally established forms of “official verse culture” as closed? If, as Lyn Hejinian has claimed, “the central activity of poetic language is formal,” which foregrounds the failure to match the word with the world, and if, by Ron Silliman’s account, poetry is “the philosophy of practice in language,” what, then, is form conceived of in terms as such, and how does it innovate? Moreover, certain innovative texts still lend themselves to hermeneutical re-appropriations and re-constructive readings, whereas others blatantly resist any interpretative attempts by their sheer opacity and unintelligibility? If these two types of textual phenomena could be understood as the different effects or consequences of form and formal innovations, which share with philosophy “the project of investigating the possibilities (nature) and structures and phenomena,” as Charles Bernstein has argued, what, again, is form, and how does it work?
Apart from the representative poetry texts by major figures of Language poetry, selected readings for the seminar will also include, tentatively, the following texts of theory:
Dirk Baecker ed., Problems of Form
Johannes Fehr and Petr Kouba ed., Dynamic Structure: Language as an Open System
Niklas Luhmann, Theories of Distinction
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge
William Rasch and Cary Wolfe ed., Observing Complexity
George Spence-Brown, Laws of Form
Cary Wolfe, Critical Environment
English 679: An (A)Poetics of the Literal
Spring Semester, 2011
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
This seminar re-examines the avant-garde poetics of what Daniel Herwitz describes, in his reading of John Cage, as “Let it be.” Characterized, in either form or content, by a rigorously mechanical appropriation of the mundane materials from life, this poetics of “let it be” finds its performative and compositional variations in the works of many contemporary poets, ranging from the “talk poems” of David Antin to the plagiarized writings of Kenneth Goldsmith; and it has been either received as the continuation of the Romantic tradition that privileges the (super)natural, theorized in terms of the cultural poetics of the everyday that advocates a constructivist politics of polysemy, or subsumed under the label of Conceptualisms that foreground the creative mediation between “the written object” and “the meaning of the object” by way of figural/figurative approaches of various kinds (Place/Fitterman).
Against the critical grain as such, this seminar explores, philosophically, the a-poetic dimension of the literal. It focuses on a radical literality, a “just-that,” which “has to be taken literally,” as Jean-Jacques Lecercle asserts in his reading Delezue and language. Among the questions the seminar seeks to ask are: What are the implications of a textual-linguistic literality? What does it entail when a text/language is taken literally? If the figural-figurative is predicated on the structure of representation “that [a] concept carries with it” (Lecercle), what is this structure of representation and how does it work? What happens to thinking in the realm of the literal? And how does one think without concepts? ….
Theory texts for the seminar will include, tentatively among others, those by Heidegger, Bataille, Derrida, Deleuze, Serres, Lecercle, etc.; and poetry texts, those by Cage, Antin, Hejinian, Goldsmith, Bergvall, etc.
English 682: Language Poetry: History, Theory, and Praxis
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
As a historical overview / rethinking of one of the most remarkable poetic phenomena in the Twentieth Century, this seminar will focus on a two-fold objective:
First, it will attempt to answer the question “what is Language poetry?” By closely and systematically examining poets’ poetics statements, manifesto writings, and theoretical exchanges in relation to their concomitant textual praxes, the seminar will concentrate, chronologically, on the critical / methodological issues central to avant-garde innovations. Situated within the larger context of post-structuralism, it will sort out the specifics, both in theory and in praxes, which have defined Language poetry, since the 1970s, as a radical critique of language, society, and culture at what Jerome McGann calls the “fundamental levels of the consciousness industries.”
Secondly, it will attempt to critique Language poetry as an avant-garde movement, focusing, diachronically, on its complex relationship with literary establishments, institutions, and academics. Within the larger context of historical avant-garde, this seminar will thus examine the extent to which Language poetry has succeeded in revising, or failed to revise, the thitherto theory and definition of avant-garde.
The tentative reading list for the seminar will include, but not limited to, the following:
Theory of Avant-Garde:
Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde
Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde
Berete E. Strong, The Poetic Avant-Garde
Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment
Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book
Bruce Andrews, Paradise and Method
Charles Bernstein, Content’s Dream, A Poetics, My Way
Ron Silliman, The New Sentence
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar
Lyn Hijinian, The Language of Inquiry
Bob Perelman, The Marginalization of Poetry
Steve McCaffery, Prior to Meaning
Chronological selections of poetry by representative Language poets
English 682: Michel Serres and the Radical Poetics
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
This seminar addresses a contemporary irony: Whereas our critical approach to radical poetry and poetics resorts, almost exclusively, to the theories of canonized system-builders, past and present, in the philosophical tradition, it ignores, almost completely, the works of maverick philosophers whose work challenges the entire convention of philosophical thinking.
Situated within such a context, this seminar focuses on Michel Serres, a contemporary French philosopher of science, and his selected major works, which have departed from what he himself has dubbed the “superhighway” of the philosophical tradition, and which have been characterized by Bruno Latour as the philosophy of “the Enlightenment without the Critique.”
Among the questions this seminar will ask are: What is the “Critique” in the “Enlightenment” tradition? What kind of philosophy is it without such a “Critique,” and what are the implications? What is the nature and function of method and methodology in the standard operations of science and philosophy? What is style of writing, and what is its significance in relation to thinking? How is meta-language created and used? How does one write without using meta-language, and what kind of writing would it become as the result? If, as Serres himself has claimed, one needs to understand “without concepts,” what kind of understanding would it be? Are there any connections, whatever the kind, between Serres’s philosophy and the philosophy of radical poetry and poetics? How should radical poetry be approached in light of Serres’s philosophy? ….
Seminar readings include:
1). Selected works by Michel Serres:
-----Literature, Science, Philosophy
-----Rome: The Book of Foundations
-----The Natural Contract
-----The Five Senses
-----The Troubadour of Knowledge
-----Michel Serres and Bruno Latour: Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time
-----Malfeasance: Appropriation through Pollution?
2). Available criticisms on Michel Serres and his work:
-----Reading with Michel Serres: An Encounter with Time
-----Mapping Michel Serres
-----“The Enlightenment without the Critique: A Word on Michel Serres’s Philosophy”
3). Selected radical poetry and poetics
Both the choice and the number of texts selected will depend on the background in radical poetry and poetics on the part of the seminar participants. These texts will be distributed periodically throughout the semester in the form of handouts.
English 689: Contemporary Avant-Garde Visual Prosody: Aesthetics, Politics, and Philosophy
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
This seminar will concentrate on the visual experiments in Language poetry since the 1970s.
Its theoretical premise is that, in direct contrast to the tradition of visual poetry foregrounding representation, as is evidenced, among many other examples, in the works of George Herbert, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, experimental praxes in contemporary visual poetry articulate the tension between form and its dis-content, interrogating language itself as an epistemic field constructed as much linguistically as visually, with the power to represent its representation.
Experimental visual poetry will then be studied as a radical rethinking of the ocularcentric paradigm in Western culture, a paradigm that privileges, since antiquity, what David Michael Levin describes as a “vision-generated, vision-centered interpretation of knowledge, truth, and reality” as language construct.
The critical approach of the seminar is interdisciplinary, closely engaging diverse forms of typographical lay-out and design from different perspectives in terms of a negative-epistemology whereby to bring into visibility not the external world but the normative parameters---whatever the kinds---within which meaning is traditionally constructed.
Rather than constructing meaning out of texts by recycling the conventional strategies of hermeneutics, the ultimate goal of the seminar is to isolate and identify the mechanisms constitutive of the myth of sense-making, with an effort to explore and theorize the significance and ramifications of this visual prosody as a critique of what might be called “the grammar of the eye.”
The readings will include, but not limited to, George Herbert’s concrete poems, Ezra Pound’s Selected Cantos, Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, Susan Howe’s Singularities, Jackson Mac Low’s Representative Works: 1938-1985, Bruce Andrews’s Getting Ready to Have Been Frightened, Joan Retallack’s Afterrimages, Johanna Drucker’s History of the/my wor(l)d, Lyn hejinian’s My Life, Christian Bok’s Crystallography, and others.
English 689: Poetic Media and Their Implications
Spring Semester, 2013
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
In separating the post-1950s “new modernists” from the earlier ones, David Antin posits, as a distinguishing feature of artists/poets ranging from John Cage to Jackson Mac Low, a “fundamental axiom” on a radical necessity/act to “define the medium of action,” which carries corresponding “implications.” Although contemporary avant-garde poetry has enthusiastically engaged in a plethora of media in its practices, the implications of these media have nevertheless remained insufficiently explored, and our critical approaches to the media-implications interface still stay largely at a level characterized by Marshall McLuhan as “trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools --- with yesterday’s concepts.”
Built on but expanding McLuhan’s thesis that “The medium is the message,” this seminar will look into the contemporary innovative writing practices and their engagements with diverse poetic media in the forms of languages, methods, procedures/processes, digital programs, found objects, ready-mades, daily rituals, cultural norms, bio-genetic engineering, DNA, among others. Its critical objective is to imagine, explore, and map what McLuhan describes as “a totally new environment” opened up by these media, and to speculate on and theorize the concomitant implications regarding the new, the different, and the emerging configurations into which the existing concepts governing our current forms of understanding, cognition, and communication are reshaped and changed.
English 689: Poetics of Scale
Spring Semester, 2014
Instructor: Prof. Ming-Qian Ma
What is an anagram and where does it occur in the architectonics of language? How do we approach a printed poem once it gets installed in a museum, as is the case with Poetry Plastique, or in a specific site, as is exemplified by Fiona Templeton’s Cells of Release? What happens when we move from Robert Smithson’s “non-site” to “site,” and from his earth sculpture “The Spiral Jetty” to Eduardo Kac’s DNA molecular art of Genesis? What do we have to do when reading Kenneth Goldsmith’s 800-page-plus Day along side of Rae Armantrout’s minimalist poems? What is required of us when language’s speed of delivery becomes slowed down? What does it mean when a poem is considered as “unreadable” or “unintelligible”? How do we perceive an artist’s autonomy and individual uniqueness in the all-encompassing networks of technological production and dissemination?
This seminar will explore the above poetic phenomena and theorize their implications as well as ramifications through the issue of scale. Underlying, either explicitly or implicitly, the contemporary exploratory poetry and its experimental practices, the concept of scale has lately become one of the focal points of speculative rethinking, not only brought to the forefront of current critical inquiries in diverse disciplines but also radically broadened by the recent advents of new technologies and extended by various branches of the newly emerged philosophy of the non-human. The questions this seminar will engage include, among many others, what is scale and what is its function? Why does size matter (Bonner)? What are the “scale effects” (Clark)? How is scale reconfigured by new technologies and new philosophical speculations, and what are the concomitant consequences? What does it entail when scale is changed? What is the significance of scalar metamorphoses in terms of our perceptual, conceptual, epistemological, and “enactive capacities” (Bak and Reynolds)?
Prof. Judith Goldman
ENG 583: Poetics Seminar: Ecopoetics and Biopolitics
This exploratory seminar will take up ecopoetics and biopolitical poetics within a broad, interdisciplinary framework, on grounds that ecological concerns overlap considerably with biopolitical ones and that poetry endures as a set of practices for thinking through, representing, and consciously acting within and upon these concerns understood as constitutive, limiting, and enabling. Many of the works we will examine couple a decentering of language with a decentering of the human, enacting posthuman aesthetics and ethics as critique of regimes of environmental degradation and dehumanization and/or as a means of encountering at various scales a world (humans included) otherwise reduced to an instrumentalizable alterity. All of these works, of course, are proposed and composed in relation to phenomena and events, and within layered cultural contexts; our study of poetry and other art will be framed by exempla of the primary and critical discourses with which they are in or can be put in productive conversation.
Topics for exploration may include: 18th- and 19th- century constructions of earth as “system,” geological time, and evolution; Western and non-Western cartographic technologies; early modern British pastoral and anti-pastoral poetry; the classification of species; commons and enclosure (e.g. contemporary biopiracy); the production of urban space; industrial and postindustrial landscapes; Bataille’s unconditional heliocentric economy v. ecological debt (capitalism as a system of unpaid costs); gardens; parks and wilderness areas; ruins and ruination; junk space; “planet of slums” and the shantytown as zone of creation; earth works and land art; environmental sound and soundworks; green design; waste and “garbology” (e.g. the Pacific Trash Vortex); ecological degradation and catastrophe (e.g. mining, petroleum industry, agribusiness, war, “natural” disaster); ethnopoetics as ethnoecology; GMOs and heirloom cultivars; the Olympics; the plastics industry; animal studies; object-oriented ontology; theory of biopolitics (Foucault’s biopolitical governmentality and Agamben’s “bare life”); the Human Genome Project; eugenics; organ donation/sales and prosthetics; artificially extended life; refugee and INS camps; national border phenomena; thanato- or necropolitics.
--Each student will give a carefully prepared and timed 15-20 min. critical presentation on one of the assigned materials for the week. (Collaborative presentations can be 30 min.) The presentation may include discussion of related outside materials that students will post well in advance of class.
--Students will post a 1-2 pp. response every other week on one of the remaining assigned texts.
--Students will write an 18-25 pp. seminar paper or produce a comparable, substantial project w/critical introduction. Topics / thesis statements (i.e. a paragraph or so) for papers will be due 2 wks before end of term. Arrangements will be made for presentations of creative work.
Course texts may include: 20-21C critical theory and philosophy such as Bataille, Agamben, Lefebvre, Haraway, Serres, Butler, etc.; 20-21C poets such as Vicuña, Ponge, Durand, Berssenbrugge, Bok, Niedecker, Roberson, Scalapino, etc.; artists and composers such as Smithson, Goldsworthy, Burtynsky, Oliveros, etc.; 16-19C Brit. and Amer. thinkers and creative writers such as Barbauld, Marvell, Darwin, Shelley, C. Smith, Thoreau, etc.; and ancients such as Aristotle, Virgil, and Lucretius.
Philosophy, Poetics, and the Concept of Voice
This course examines the 20th century interrelation of a western philosophic tradition with that of a parallel tradition in poetics that focuses upon the mutating functions and constructions of “voice” as a key concept, metaphor, and mythologeme in both traditions. What establishes the truth of voice? Why is voice, for some philosophers and poets, the quintessential marker of authentic presence while for others it designates the fundamental site of negativity? These and related questions are examined in a range of philosophic readings from Plato through to David Applebaum and Adriana Cavarero. Although the course has a contemporary focus, it investigates relevant key thinkers from previous centuries including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Condillac, Kant, and Hegel. Contemporary philosophers include Derrida, Nancy, Husserl, Heidegger, and Grivel. An anchor text in this course’s reading is Giorgio Agamben’s Language and Death. The Place of Negativity. These voices of philosophy within Philosophy are assessed and read against a parallel series of poetic texts and theories that similarly invest poetic voice in variant destinies and purposes. Possible topics for discussion include Charles Olson’s and Hélène Cixous’s radical fusion of the body and language; the conceptual and material liberation of voice from speech by the zaum (i.e. trans-rational) poetry of the Russian Avant-Garde; the Italian Futurist “words in freedom”; the Dada sound-poem; the anti-voice poetry of the Language Poets; and the irreducibly graphic texts of Concrete and Visual poetry. The course concludes by examining the phenomenon of disembodied and mechanical voice and concludes with a study of Becket’s Not-I and Krapp’s Last Tape with which to measure the cumulative theories studied over the seminar.
The Transatlantic Turbine: Contemporary Anglo-American Poetic Negotiations
This course explores formal and politico-cultural negotiations between British and American poetry from the 1970s to current. From the creative aftershock of the New American Poetry (first formulated and anthologized in 1960) the course traces similarities, divergences and anfractuosities that will sometimes strengthen, yet often critique, the feasibility of national cultural constructions and period groupings. We will engage a number of questions: why did British poetry fall so radically out of favor in the 1970s? What influences helped formulate the “new” (i.e. post-Larkin) British poetries? Why did sound and concrete poetry find a salient base in England and not America? How did British presses and small press magazines help formulate the New American canon and vice versa? Why did a British Language Poetry take root and manifest as a radical disjunctive poetics but was never theorized by its practitioners? What comparative “schools” can be traced? The course will engage numerous theoretical texts and some critical books but will not sacrifice integral study of the poems themselves. In addition to seminar discussion, the dynamic of the course will be enhanced by a number of visitors—both poets and scholars of the area. The course is also designed to encourage students to explore the fecund resources of the Poetry Collection and textual research within the archives will be strongly encouraged.
The Philosophy and Poetics of “Poetry.”
This course examines the 20th century interrelation of a western philosophic tradition with that of a parallel tradition in poetics, traditions that focus upon the mutating function and construction of “poetry” as a key concept, metaphor, and mythologeme in both discourses. How does Heidegger’s notion of “poetry” differ from Charles Bernstein’s? Why is “poetry” variously considered the supreme communicating vessel and a sovereign non-communication? What links both philosophic and poetic desire to the notion of the sacrificial? These and related questions are examined in a range of philosophic readings including Heidegger, Kristeva, Levinas, Bataille and Baudrillard. Such philosophic positions are analyzed and read against a parallel series of poetic theories that similarly invest the notion of “poetry” in a variety of destinies and purposes. Included, among others, are Robert Duncan, Charles Olson’s radical fusion of the body and language, Paul Celan and the fate of poetry after Auschwitz, Denise Levertov on organic form and theories by two contemporary poets: Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein.
Theory and Practice of the Avant-Garde
This course examines the historical continuum of a formally radical poetics from 1870 to the present day. After mapping out some broad theorizations of the Avant-Garde, we will examine in depth several texts and movements: including Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Des”; Italian parole in liberta, Russian zaum or transrational language; collage; Dada and Surrealism, Pound and Vorticism, Gertrude Stein’s early cubist poetics; the poetics of Fluxus; the formally inventive poetries of the 1970 and 80s, and the conceptual poetics of Vito Acconci and Kenneth Goldsmith. The material will be studied against certain persistent interrogations: should the Avant-Garde be considered as historical circumscribed and if so is it feasible to speak of a contemporary avant-garde? What are the relations of formal innovation to such socio-political and cultural issues as postmodernity, globalization, gender and race?
ENG 698 / COL 685 / APY 515 / FALL 2014 / offered by Dennis Tedlock
W 3:30 in Clemens 538 / Office hours T W 9:30-noon / 645-3422 / firstname.lastname@example.org
All things vivid in history, all the different cultures, are no longer obstacles that separate us from the essential and the Intelligible; rather, they are the paths by which we can reach it. Furthermore, they are unique pathways, the only possible paths, irreplaceable, and consequently implicated in the Intelligible itself!
The cross-cultural world is a decolonizing world, horizontal more than hierarchical, simultaneous or anachronistic rather than divided into stages of development. Cultures (and languages) are themselves heterogeneous more than homogeneous. And so with poetry and poetics, by which we mean the verbal arts in general.
Our tracing of poetic paths through this cross-cultural world will be guided, in part, by strategic reversals. We will listen to oral performances that are or once were guided by texts, and we will read texts that are or once were guided by oral performances (a problem not laid to rest by the literature on the Homeric texts). Our questioning of the notion of a “definitive text” in the literate world will bring us up against performances that aim at verbatim reproduction in the oral world. Along the way, we might want to reconsider Plato’s critique of writing in the Phaedrus.
Following a poetics widely practiced in the contemporary West, the poet, even when freed from rhyme and meter, aims at finding exactly the right words and avoids paraphrase. At the opposite extreme is a poetics widely practiced in most of the rest of the world, whereby paraphrase (or intralingual translation) is the main method by which a poem is constructed in the first place. The former poetics belongs to the same tradition as the notion of an original language in which words and their objects had an essential connection, while the latter poetics continuously celebrates the fact that anything and everything can be said in more than one way. But lest we go too far in the anti-essentialist direction, the notion of the arbitrariness of signs runs up against the fact that every language abounds in ideophonic words. Especially bird names.
Readings will include translations of verbal arts in various African, Asian, and Amerindian languages, along with an avant-garde American poet’s epic. There will also be listenings that bring in a wide range of recorded performances, some of them matched (or mismatched) to transcripts. Some of our meetings will involve experiments in the re-oralizing of texts, or experiments in the transcription of oral performances. Weekly one-page response papers will be required, along with a project that may take the form of a term paper—or, alternatively, a transcription and/or translation and/or performance.
Reading and listening: David Antin, selected talks and essays from Radical Coherency; Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Interior, translated by Sam Hamhill; Ed Dorn, Gunslinger; Steve Feld, Voices of the Rainforest: A Day in the Life of the Kaluli People (Papua New Guinea, audio CD); Isidore Okpewho, Once upon a Kingdom: Myth, Hegemony, and Identity (Igbo epic); Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred; Dennis Tedlock, selected essays and Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller.
Recommended reference works: Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainments, edited by Richard Bauman; Key Terms in Language and Culture, edited by Alessandro Duranti.
Prof. Judith Goldman
ENG 583: Poetics: The Political Economy of Affect
On the debt my mother owed to sears roebuck
we brooded, she in the house, a little heavy
from too much corn meal, she
a little melancholy from the dust of the fields
in her eye, the only title she ever had to lands --
and man's ways winged their way to her through the mail
saying so much per month
so many months, this is yours, take it
take it, take it, take it – Ed Dorn, “On the Debt My Mother Owed to Sears Roebuck”
They took enjoyment in those who owed them something. We love you to stay this way, poor, working for us, they said, we want to be your Patrons. – Lorine Niedecker, “Uncle”
This course aims to traverse a vast and complex body of portrayals and theorizations of affect, feeling, emotion with special focus on our contemporary social-political-cultural dispensation: the current disjunctive convergence of accelerated neoliberalism, biopolitics, environmental extremity, and new media. As we engage with the poetics of feeling, the grounding conditions, formal qualities, and potentially non-linear processes bound up with affective ontology and phenomenology, we will be concerned with its politics, how feelings shape and are shaped by material economies of relations among asymmetrical social positions. To think this political economy of affect, we will especially hone in on and question protocols of affective assignation and propriety, towards understanding feeling as always historically contextual, transpersonal, and differential.
To some extent, this course is thus also addressed to the affects of political economy—from new forms of affective labor, to the potent affective fabric generated through precarity, massive inequality, and debt, to the production of “bare life” as “human waste” (people rendered permanently “extraneous” to capitalist economic relations), to the traumatic fallout of resource-motivated, postcolonial necropolitics in Africa and elsewhere, to the perma-fear basis of the unfathomably expensive US security state. Other topics may include the circulation of affect through new media and ubiquitous computing; disability, affect, sexuality, and caretaking; race and performance; affect under and “after” slavery; the gendering and queering of affect; relational art and its critiques; the affect of environmental disaster; music and affect (especially contemporary forms of personalized consumption and modes of mimicry and fandom); sub-personal affect and the body; vulnerability studies and the affect of the state of exception; Occupy-; military affect; practices of national memorialization and reconciliation; affect in sports. Theorists of affect we’ll cover potentially include Plato, Aristotle, Smith, Hume, Freud, Lacan, Klein, Riviere, Kristeva, Abraham and Torok, Tomkins, Sedgwick, Butler, Deleuze, Massumi, Ngai, Berlant, Sedgwick, Ahmed, Hardt and Negri, among others. There will be two special topics in feeling, one in melancholia and one in grudge-holding and vengeance.
While we will work with music, visual art, novels (for instance, Shelley’s Frankenstein; Kincaid’s Annie John), and film and video (for instance, Ryan Trecartin; Denis’ White Material; Black’s Life and Debt; Muniz’ Waste Land; Chang-dong’s Poetry; Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing; selected Youtube videos), we will be especially attentive to poetry. As we read theories of how poetic language carries emotion (Kristeva; Blasing; Riley), translation theory, and theory of the lyric, of particular interest and focus will be North American and British poetries from the 1990s forward: for instance, Lauren Shufran’s Inter Arma, which forcefully entwines metrical, military, and sexual disciplinarities in its wild and brilliant prosodic imagination; CA Conrad’s somatic poetry and Robert Kocik and Daria Bain’s Phoneme Choir, which politicize towards reworking the reciprocally informing connections of body, language, and affect; Laura Elrick’s video poem Stalk, which live-captures and comments on the (non)relations of NYC as (non)polity to the ghostly figure of a Guantanamo prisoner wandering midtown at lunchtime; Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, interlinked multi-media prose poems that work the nexus of race, mass media, nihilism, and affective management through psycho-pharmaceuticals; Rob Halpern’s Music for Porn, with its self-conscious eroticization of wounded soldier’s body and inquiry into patriotic affect; Rob Fitterman’s Holocaust Museum, a list of captions that in suppressing visual content intensifies trauma, interrogates cultural memory, and foregrounds museological conduction of sentiment.
Poetics of the Americas
Spring 2014 / ENG 647, AMS 620, APY 515 / W 3:30-6:10, Clemens 538 / Dennis Tedlock
Sun Woman, Moon Woman: she writes the sky.
Lady Jaguar: she’s the one who wrote this.
MAYAN HIEROGLYPHIC WRITING has been deciphered, revealing the full history of a literature that begins around 400 bce, shifts to alphabetic writing around 1550, and continues in the present day. Decipherment was delayed by attempts to understand the writing of the Other as the opposite of the writing of the Self. Charles Olson was an early exception, as revealed in his Mayan Letters and in his unrealized research project titled “The Art of the Language of Mayan Glyphs.”
PICTORIAL WRITING SYSTEMS prevailed to the north of the Maya. Scripts consisting of images and diagrams fill the books of the Aztecs and Mixtecs, the birch-bark scrolls of the Ojibwa, the winter counts of the Plains Indians, and the sand paintings of the Navajo.
FIRST CONTACT with invaders from the other side of the Atlantic is the subject of pictorial documents and early alphabetic works by indigenous authors. Differences between civilizations are in high relief.
PSYLOCIBIN MUSHROOMS and other psychotropic plants celebrated in the songs and rituals of Mesoamerican shamans played a role in the literary history of the North American counterculture, beginning in the 1950s and continuing with the widespread use of synthetic mind-altering drugs that followed. The key figure on the Mexican side of the border is María Sabina, a Mazatec healer from Oaxaca. Those who crossed the border include R. Gordon Wasson, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, and Anne Waldman, along with musicians Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Sting.
One-page response papers will be due at each meeting, with a longer piece of work due at the end. Alternatives to term papers may be negotiated, including translations, creative works, and performance pieces.
Readings will include Zelia Nuttall, The Nuttall Codex; Miguel León Portilla, Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World; Charles Olson, Mayan Letters; Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and 2000 Years of Mayan Literature; Anne Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman; Ed Dorn, Gunslinger.
Textual Bodies: The Architectonics of the Book
This course explores the complex materiality of books and the manner in which their production, formats, alteration and dissemination involve not only the contingent socialization of texts but also variant material features that expose a prevailing indeterminacy as to which text is authoritative. Above all the course seeks to demonstrate the fallacy of the perfect text. After a preliminary initial class seminars will be conducted in the Rare Books Seminar Room and involve students in “text-scene investigations.” Books will be approached as incarnations rather than transmissions and will be examined to reveal and discuss the bibliographic peculiarities of their formats. Beginning with the book before moveable type we will examine the materials and manufacture of monastic texts and medieval Books of Hours to explore the peculiarities of reading habits. Subsequent seminars will address issues of production, material supplies, paratexts, and formats through the fifteenth to the twentieth-first century and will include examination of Shakespeare’s 1623 folio, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, several incunabula, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Gertrude Stein’s self-produced Plain Edition, William Morris’s Kelmscott Press atavistic extravaganzas, the Paris printings of Ezra Pound’s early Cantos, the Objectivist Press and the era of mimeographic printing, as well as discussions of the significance of such elements as: bindings, title pages, endpapers, footnotes, endnotes, custom confection, and dust jackets. The course is NOT designed as an Introduction to Bibliography nor a primer in textual criticism but will naturally and inevitably involve aspects of both. The course will be enhanced by guest visits by out-of-town experts.