Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Couldn't Leave Her If I Tried

“A style, when it is no longer the natural mode of expression, gains a new life—a shadowy life-in-death—as a prolongation of the past. We imagine ourselves able to revive the past through its art, to perpetuate it by continuing to work within its conventions. For this illusion of reliving history, the style must be prevented from becoming truly alive once again. The conventions must remain conventional, the forms lose their original significance in order to take on their new responsibility of evoking the past. This process of ossification is a guarantee of respectability.”

—Charles Rosen, The Classical Style

This gets me thinking not only about my own relationship to the cartoon-Beatles version of the ‘60s I grew up with, but the “shadowy life-in-death” the 1910-1939 generation still lives through our best poetry. That one floated on a bubble, the other on a bust, makes me wonder what the Dow has in store for 21st-century poetics. While we wait, maybe we can re-jigger our attitudes toward “The conventions.” Irony is the first step toward the realization that a “natural mode of expression” is most natural when it recognizes it’s also conventional. Is it the last? At what point is the difference between the Beatles and the Monkees no longer worth a snicker? When does the set become simply the world, by dint of us living in it?


Nada said...

I'm not going to try to answer your question, which I guess is rhetorical, but I do want to share an anecdote from my childhood, in part because you keep encouraging me to write a memoir.

In eighth grade I was attending a small hippie alternative school in west Marin County. Well, it turned out that in post-Monkees life Peter Tork had founded a similar school in LA, and we all piled into the school van and drove down there on a field trip. I slept on his living room floor, and he gave me a big packet of his fan mail as a souvenir. Sadly, I no longer have it, which is tragic because wouldn't it make the greatest flarf poem ever?

Apologies if I have told you this story before.

From one daydream believer to another...

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

You know how I eat these up! My field trips never got more exotic than a pueblo.

I hope the Monkees/Beatles question doesn't seem TOO rhetorical. I really do wonder how meaningful that distinction between the authentic and the "Prefab" Four really is--how much work it does in explaining what I still enjoy about the music. I listen to the Beatles and the Monkees now and I hear mostly just equipment: the amps, guitars, ways of recording drums, & pet harmonies characteristic of the the 1960s, instead of "great songwriting." The pleasure for me now is more in the period style than in the depth (or lack thereof) of personal expression. It's no swank postmodern insight about "authenticity" or ironic appreciation of the imitative--it's just how it sounds to me now. All style, with diminishing interest in the substance. Poetic styles, like, say, Language poetry, read more and more like this to me now, too. What's up with that?

Nada said...

I dunno, but I've been arguing for years that it's all style. Still, even as I utter that, I think I'm keen on the personal expression part, too. I like the uptake of breath on "Girl" [and its concomitant "tit tit tit tit tit tit tit tit tit") both as formal device and as expression of longing.

Maybe there's not much of a dichotomy there, as the proof that it "works" as expression is proof that it's a useful device: "the substance of style." Even if you don't care about the expression part it still transmits, as for example the mood of austerity or randomness of some hardcore language poetry, and I guess that would be the sort of "pleasure in style" that you describe? Am I talking in loop-de-loops here?

phaneronoemikon said...

I went to a mariachi bar in mexico
when i was 8 with a member
of the mexican mafia..

i know he was member
because he told me he was
and his brother in law
said it, and my dad said it
and he looked badass!

he fed me a shrimp cocktail
while i 'read' Ka-zar
comics in mexican...

he was my dad's best friend's
brother in law..

at any rate

style is an illusion

is the manifold
from which all echoes
and characters

the physical organum
has a range
and the range remains
for those who
refuse to see
the manifold unity
of the sign
in its pavonine
self entry [9]

number nein
number nein

wv: gramo

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

Loop-de-loops? Not at all. I agree that it’s not substance OR style, Beatles or Monkees, but the relationship between them—yin/yang, shadow double, return of the repressed, or peanut butter and jelly— that does the heavy lifting. I like “substance of style”—it recalls for me Olson’s “form is never more than an extension, etc.” Though the relationship I most respond to these days isn’t one where style fits substance like a good pair of pants, or like that significant white space that halos an Objectivist poem, but where style bleeds over the line and does more than the substance strictly requires. Bollywood films (some, anyway), bubblegum pop, operas with crappy librettos, great TV theme songs—art where the surprise (and expression) is in exactly the places where the style has to exceed the substance it’s forced to work with. Where the clichés, for an instant, take on enough intensity to make tears. But the effect only works if you're aware from the start you're working with the clichéd.

This is all pretty far afield I guess from Rosen, whose quote I liked for the suggestion that a style is the most sensual way into a vanished past. (Though he wants to rain on the “retro” parade.) From that angle, Marjorie Perloff’s recent pronouncements about Language poetry now looking like a “period style,” which I think is meant to be a little cheeky and disparaging, becomes a useful way of explaining its continuing work in the present. I can’t read much of that writing, and its “mood of austerity and randomness,” without thinking of the ‘70s and '80s: Rosen’s “illusion of reliving history” through its discarded forms. What if we could still pull off randomness and austerity and have it be a mood instead of an imitative gesture? What if you could play a 12-string Rickenbacker through a Vox for the first time, no Beatles or Byrds in sight?

This comment’s too long, but I was glad for your response and couldn’t stop.

rodney k said...

Hi Lanny,

You're hot wax to any stylus!