Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Steve Evans On Coteries, Infrastructure, and Gossip

On the sonic tick, just got around to Steve Evans’s talk about phonotextuality—what happens to poems when they get recorded—at Naropa this summer. In a sleek 12'14", he points out that the ability to record readings goes back to just 1860, which hasn’t given poets (or their assassin-critics) much time to figure out what taping will mean for the art. So anecdote, gossip, and group indiscretions leak into these supposedly ephemeral recordings in a way that’s not usually permitted within the statelier confines of the page. Taped poetry also shifts attention to the room and the group at the expense of the solo poet, who’s often relieved at the chance to slough off the responsibilities of the author function. As Evans puts it in my hands-down favorite line from the talk, “Gossip is history that nobody wants exactly to be traceable back to them.”

Friedrich Kittler and Lytle Shaw both came to mind while I was listening, but for this talk anyway, Evans helpfully zeroes in on the relief from footnotes and careful theory that recording provides, at least for the poets doing the talking. In the Bay Area, he argues, there’s been something almost like guilt at the split between the heavy poetics and “ragingly great after-parties” which recordings like the ones Andrew Kenower’s done for A Voice Box help to preserve for those of us listening in from the world’s Portlands and Oronos.

The talk got me thinking about the recent wave of anecdotal histories coming out of the Language generation in the past few years, one of which, Michael Gottlieb’s new Memoir and Essay, gets a killer review from Jordan Davis here. Blogs too, which may turn out to be more permanent and accessible than any of us who’ve been writing them since 2002 ever think when we hit “Publish,” bob a little differently in the wake of Steve’s talk. No one can predict what the future—which now I picture as sort of a giant eavesdropping Orono—will care to extract from our noise, but as the codex becomes just another handheld information delivery system, smart money might be on the gossip. Only who’s going to be our Steve Evans?


Alli Warren said...

Hi Rodney!

I'm curious about this necessary split between "heavy poetics" and "ragingly great after-parties". For me, there is no split. For me, there is no guilt.

I wonder who all Steve is thinking of?

rodney k said...

Hi Alli,

Not sure about the specific poets, poems, or A Voice Box recordings Steve’s thinking of, but he mentions “five or six or seven or ten” sound files where he sensed that “this gossip started to freak everybody out” because “maybe it's displacing the rigorous poetics that we should be talking about.” It's about 3/4 through the talk.

In all fairness to Steve, "heavy poetics," "guilt" and "split" are my words, not his, and they may distort what he's saying. The distinction he's interested in, I think, isn't so much between the poetics and the parties as it is between how a community expresses itself in a recording vs. how it does on the printed page. His own "moment of embarrassment" as a listener-in is more to the fore in his talk than the feelings of any of the recording's participants, and he describes the recordings in very positive terms ("fabulous," "tremendous," "sweet," "interesting," etc.)

Hope I didn't mis-characterize his talk too badly in the recounting. Let me know!

Trane DeVore said...

“Gossip is history that nobody wants exactly to be traceable back to them.” Brilliant! I'm really liking these longer communiques of yours, Rodney. Keep it up! (Though perhaps the appearance of so many recently has something to do with summer vacation? Am I to expect a fall off in fall when the students start turning in their leaves?)

rodney k said...

Thanks, Trane. Odds on a fall fall-off are probably good. But I'll try.