Friday, February 01, 2008

Dianoia: Big Destroyer?

Badiou’s essay “Language, Thought, Poetry” is interesting to think about in relation to Paterson, since Badiou dwells on Plato’s decision to banish poets from the ideal city. Why is poetry such a challenge to the healthy politics of the city? And why does philosophy instead become the municipal art? Additionally, does poetry’s quiddity–unsettling to Plato—give us some idea why Williams’ project of poeticizing the city is so fraught? Or is the problem merely a limitation to poetry not inherent but imposed?
Badiou is a proponent of clear disciplinary borders: he’s critical of when philosophy tries to be (bad) poetry (but not when it approximates mathematics) or when poetry moves towards philosophy (and becomes didactic). So, while he’s a fan of poetry, he maintains it in its difficulty and distinction: “The poem is an intransigent exercise. It is devoid of mediation and hostile to the media. . . The poem is first of all this unique fragment of speech subtracted from universal reporting. The poem is a halting point. It makes language halt within itself.”
Is the multimedia poem oxymoronic? Is poetry via the media a deleterious invasion of public discourse? Clearly, we cannot attribute fear-mongering and political hysteria in the public sphere to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It may be that media-poetry, instead of stepping up to the electronic plate on its own terms, is a poetry that is conciliatory, and no longer has the power to rival the need for clear communication and connection (Plato’s notion of “discourse”). But while I am all for maintaining the importance of the things that do not enter easily into the Punch-and-Judy show of common sense and public discussion, I am blogging Paterson, and thus must have some notion of the ways in which a pure notion of poetry is untenable. Even Pound-- remarkably ambivalent, I think, about his relation to this public patter--did at least assert that the poem, while not mediated per se, could compete with the media on its own terms when he claimed that “literature is news that stays news.”
Sometimes, it just seems that the need to make such borders is generally more about power and coterie, rather than some ideal about the “mighty quarrel” that should remain to keep us sharp. I was reading Ron Silliman’s “The Chinese Notebook” recently, where he investigates the various limits of what could be called poetry, in a list of 223 entries, perhaps written in the pages of a cramped or unconventional notebook, forcing a reflection on the material event of a poem:
7. This is not philosophy, it’s poetry. And if I say so, then it becomes painting, music or sculpture, judged as such. If there are variables to consider, they are at least partly economic—the question of distribution, etc. Also differing critical traditions. Could this be good poetry, yet bad music? But yet I do not believe I would, except in jest, posit this as dance or urban planning.
As in Badiou and Plato, philosophy and the city keep their distance from each other, even though we are not asked to take this statement about urban planning quite seriously. Its very status as a “statement” is under question . . . if indeed it is “poetry.” And I do get the sense that Silliman still holds to a pure notion of poetry or of the poet, in the same way that Badiou does. Silliman, however, gets to have his cake and blog it too . . . since the blog he keeps is a discourse machine (for Plato and Badiou, what philosophy maintains and poetry forbids is discourse or dianoia), piping the mediated jabber around poetry to your home.

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