Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Suburban Ecstasies (Seth Abramson)

Debate continues, here

I'm posting my latest response below, as well as in the comment box linked above.

After much contemplation, I have come of a few conclusions as regards our discussion on flarf. It’s not that I don’t agree with your reasons for critiquing flarf (as any “school” or “tendency” should be open to criticism…though, when was the last time we critiqued McSweeney’s?) but rather I object/disagree with the material of the reasons you claim are what make flarf dangerous.
I elaborate: you say that flarfists, in co-opting the voices of lesser privileged or “underclasses” (That they don’t know/understand whose voice they co-opt is a heavier problem), relative to their supposed positions as professors, editors and poets – in American class structure – somehow oppresses, or at least shows a disrespect and lack of consideration of their subject, both in somehow objectifying this subject and in perhaps refusing dialog with said subject.
But any subject, made/created into a work of art by an “artist” (here being used more demonstratively than as a professional tag) is objectified. Art is a graven image. The result, whether a “good” poem or “bad” poem, is moot: the objectification takes place on a linguistic scale upon this “naming” and corralling.
Furthermore, this critique claims that to use another’s voice does two things:
One, it renders powerless their ability to speak/be heard, and
Two, (here, in a poem/artwork) to use a voice not native to the writer is a form of oppression, that naming has a responsibility/privilege paradigm that breaks when abused.
I disagree with both. The first because it assumes that two like voices cannot coexist, that taking another’s voice is tantamount to theft. “Tantamount,” perhaps. But theft? The second implies there is no difference between writer and subject, or narrator/speaker, of the poem. It implies that voice is not context based, that a black person saying “nigger” carries the same social charge as when a white person says it: whatever I say and however I say it are conditions that remain the same? I find spurious the idea that “wresting” words from the internet and using them in a different context/order somehow falls into the realm of identity theft and/or plagiarism.
Voice is not an action, though speaking is: in copying or imitating the action, we limit liberties of the speaker to have a voice. But flarf co-opts the timbre of certain statements of internet users rather than obstructing their ability to speak. To equate this to a person needed legal representation seems to be giving too much to the idea that it is a responsibility of speech rather than a freedom.
As a public defender, I’m sure you’re quite aware that providing legal representation doesn’t imply the accused is free or that they’re innocent, but rather merely enables the trial to continue. Giving a true voice to the underprivileged – rather than free internet or courtroom representation requires a lot more work on society’s part – means fighting for a system where truth, justice and equality prevail – whatever that would be like…
I agree with the idea that flarfists seem sometimes reluctant to refute criticisms of their “school,” though I maintain that their freedom to use the language rivals mine to take offense at (not its content, mind you) but where they get it. I can only assume complicit the original speakers of “Hey stupid ketchup squirt, your mother dumbfuck squid bitch vomit in a household President First Lady herpes tester wipes.” Seriously, is the speaker who used those words before they were flarfed going to find her lot in life
-stays the same
because her words were taken and published in a book whose print run maxes out at a monstrous 500 copies?
I don’t mean to suggest that anyone seeking vomit anecdotes is shit out of luck unless they know the web addy to Small Press Distribution. Hasn’t it all been done? Which is it? Does on-line contemporary parlance reflect a corporate superstructure of oppression, or does it represent the very “downtrodden” that the corporations seek to keep down?
So, are these people that have time to use the internet, post and record their voices, are they the underprivileged? Are they really voiceless, or do they represent corporate triumph over individual expression?
Getting back (somewhat) to the more concrete: are words that I take from a certain timbre a “no man’s land” and no writer may cross? Can these statements and exclamations –once they are used by a certain class — no longer be used by a higher class? This linguistic tyranny of the majority, “Don’t use my language because I’m oppressed,” has horrific implications. But that’s okay: we can still carry a gun.

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