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Snobs

Great art and a true, living (not institutionalized) culture arise not from a series of snobs and gatekeepers, but from the inner necessity and desire of people to express the 7 kinds of affectual brain: play, courtship, grief, seeking, anger (outrage, scandal, impiety), caring (tenderness, friendship, affection, affinity), and fear. In terms of fear, grief, anger, and courtship, the mode of expression is often highly ceremonial as in the cults of sacrifice or festivity, and may be said to act as a form of catharsis (Aristotle/ Dionysian). This might be likened to a controlled burn. In terms of seeking, care, and play Plato’s concept of being ever nearer to the perfect or archetypal form prevails. In such a case, wit, self-consciousness, parody, pastiche, and intelligence are the order of the day, and this may be seen as Apollonian, but the two forms of affective expression overlap, especially where courtship admits an element of play, and where grief admits an element of stoic acceptance. Language seeks to both hide and express the affective mechanisms, but, in terms of play and seeking, the comedy of manners and rules of engagement are far more toward the hiding end of the spectrum.

Redux sees these expressions of affective brain as the true basis for art beyond the logocentric and power-based dynamics of critics, gatekeepers, and academic institutions. Furthermore, we believe gatekeepers, academics, and critics are incapable of doing anything except impeding the flow of affective brain expression. At one point, such impedance channeled the expressions in more refined and artistic ways, but Redux believes this is no longer the case. With the break down between pop and so called high culture, academia often resembles an opera singer singing “play that funky music white boy.” Entire semesters devoted to applying Agamben to songs by Nirvana seem as absurd and pretentious as those long drawn out rock reviews one used to see during the heyday of gonzo journalism. Of course, this impedance is what passes for taste and “standards.”

Redux believes tastes and standards arise organically from the desires of those to whom expression is necessary (virtually everyone) and, if left the fuck alone, greater and more truthful art would emerge, but the institutions that now control presses, readings, publications, and awards have created a self-perpetuating cycle of corruption. No one may receive money or attention or respect without the mechanisms of the gatekeeper. In retrospect, and in the long run, history often provides a corrective to these assholes, but not often enough. John Clare was moldering in his grave for over 50 years before gatekeepers seeking to find their own scholastic niche decided to dig him up. So, core values:

1. Art is a free for all and should be practiced as such with presence and participation first. Standards and a knowledge of good and bad art will rise organically–without the prompting of enlightened beings. If not, well, a better time will be had by giving up the snob fests.

2. Rather than accepting money from institutions who control the arts, artists should be funding their own work by using the refuse materials of this throw away culture: instead of canvas, discarded wood, pizza boxes, etc.; instead of university lit mags, small, cheap broadsides and chaps that can be sold at readings. Instead of awards, consensus of peers. Instead of agreed upon standards, a continued and ongoing testing of and resistance to all standards. A hatred of the little glossy fucking boxes we call literary magazines. More imagination more oddness, more invention–less “Quality” in the sense of a standard mold set.

3. Writers should buy local–books by local poets, CDs by local musicians–creating art monads–pockets of living culture done in small rather than large frame works. Artists should start their own collective book stores, lending libraries. Painters and musicians ought to be doing quick, easy exhibitions and concerts. I blame artists seeking to be validated. By who? Fuck ‘em.

4. Creative writing teachers ought to be free to teach in a more creative, less institutionalized manner.

5. Self publishing should not be discouraged but accepted as viable. Let’s stop the con. Most presses for poetry are now cooperatives. I would rather create a new chap for every reading rather than have some press say whether I was any good or not. I don’t believe them. Books are published for many reasons other than quality, and some writers are denied publication because they don’t fit a niche. I will never sell one of my official books again.

6. More generosity among artists, more true attempts to support each other locally. I no longer will give my support to institutions that reject me as an artist, but want my money. Fuck them.

Can a good poem be so intellectual that most readers don’t get it, and is not “getting it” an impediment to enjoying the poem? Hell, I sure hope not.One of my favorite poets is Wallace Stevens. I will admit I do not get Wally. As a young man, I fell in love with his verbal confidence. He “conjured” me (alluding here to a slightly better poet than Wally). I hate snobbery, but not if it can earn its lofty perch, and sneer at the masses because it is truly beautiful. The snobbery of gate keepers and young poets trying to make a name for themselves makes me ill. It is sad because it is fearful snobbery (I must own the gates) or premature snobbery (I have been published in the Paris Review; I am destined to be a professor who is tenured and on anti-depressants).

In terms of Stevens, I was smitten and terrified by the same thing the people seemed smitten and terrified by in regard to Jesus: “He speaks with authority.” That vatic voice, that voice which flows from a mind and aesthetic impersonality so vast that I can no longer care about sincerity, or insincerity—that is what thrilled me, and I no longer cared what he meant. I was enraptured by what the Irish critic, Dennis Donaghue called “the gibberish of the vulgate.”

Years later, I was able to see some of the mechanisms of thought and feeling in Stevens and I said to myself: “Joe, you can now sound out the idol, and make a more judicious appraisal on your hero. You can sit back and see his faults, and still admire him, albeit, without fear and trembling.” I was wrong.

Being wrong, I turned to Lacan. Why not? If you are wrong, it is best to turn to the French. They have been making correctives almost as long as they have been making wine. So I looked at Stevens in an extra poetic way.

Snob A: The one who, through his supreme talent, must find a rage to order, must ignore the rabble, must be an asshole in the service of heaven.

Snob B: The one who called Gwendolyn Brooks a “nigger,” who enjoyed every drab pleasure of old shoe Harvard; the one who could behave like a lesser Tom Buchanan out of The Great Gatsby: a man so larded with his self-regard, with his cigars, with his trips to Florida, with his success, that he made Hemingway a hero (supposedly Hemingway punched him out); the one who had no trouble living in an icy marriage, and resembled a sort of well done beef Wellington: a cliché snob, a snob fit only for graduate students who have pulled a Kafka and transformed the Beef Wellington of the first half of the 20th century into the couscous of this more “enlightened” age.

Snob C: The one who, like all of us, wants to be a rabbit as king of the ghosts, who wants the cat of death to be a mere bug in the grass; the one who is lofty because he knows at the end of the day, that he, too, must end—and never well. No one ends well. We lie. We die. Lord, have mercy on us!

I took all three of these snobs into consideration, tossed them into the blender, and realized that my aesthetic test for music when I was 13 still applied: if I play a song one hundred times in a row, and, on the last playing, it still has an effect, then it is part of my synaptic hit parade and can never be vanquished. It is the love Shakespeare speaks of when he says “No! It is an ever fixed mark!” This “fixed mark” only exists within instability. It is what the eye or ear or heart seeks and finds while everything else is wobbling. It is a lie, but such a beautiful lie that God (like the gods with Theseus) understands that our lie is wanton in the best sense, and “hath a spirit precluding law.” Such a lie allows us to retrieve what has been lost to the underworld. It is the necessary lie of rising from the dead:

just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self same sounds
On my spirit make a music, too.

Music is feeling, then, not sound:
And thus it is that what I feel,
here in this room, desiring you.

Thinking of your blue -shadowed silk,
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna.

Helen Vendler made a whole book showing Wallace Stevens was not heatless. Of course he was heartless—all the better, because that meant his liver, and kidneys, and wonderful eyes, and faithfulness (almost) to the tropes of 19th century poetry (the best 19th century American poetry) brought him to a place where only snobbery A and snobbery C mattered. I hope after all these years, I still love Wallace Stevens.

Picture Credit.