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These models… are so concerned with the work being done in the workspace that there is no time for ‘play’— no sign of the sort of delectation of phenomenology that seems such an important feature of human consciousness. —Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained
The rate of change in a given set of cultural behaviors reflects the rate of change in the environmental features to which the behaviors are keyed. —E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
In “Against Conceptualism: Defending the Poetry of Affect,” Calvin Bedient argues that poets are increasingly suspicious of conventionally lyrical expression and that more and more poets are devoting themselves to methods that involve emotional distancing. For him, the conventional use of affect in poetry is threatened by the existence of conceptual poetry and flarf, and poets should maintain a conventional way of thinking about and using affect in their work. His essay proposes a binary in poetry between thinking and feeling where poetry should operate on the side of feeling. I find several of the basic premises in the essay to be problematic, so I am going to start by backing up several steps, and several million years.
Psychologically speaking, affect is the observable manifestation of a subjectively experienced emotion in a person. But traditional lyric poetry isn't an observable manifestation of emotion in this sense. It is a self-consciously crafted dramatization using subjective emotion as source material. The poet is a character in the drama of the poem, the character of the speaker.
It is taken for granted that all poetry, and especially lyric poetry, uses the sound of the language to have an emotional effect on the listener the way music would. A question that is rarely asked is whether or not it is even possible to not have a musical dimension to poetry. Any sequence of words, not just in lyric poetry, creates a sound form in time, and all words and phrases have emotional registers. In this sense music can't be avoided when sequencing together strings of words, and neither can affect. If you're writing poetry you're also writing music. Lyric poetry is by definition meant to self-consciously manipulate this fact to heighten and emphasize certain kinds of musical effects. There is more to affect in poetry than this though. A dramatization of the subjective aspects of the poet's emotions is only one element of how affect works in poetry. Poems are not simply a sequence of words expressing emotional information about the poet. Poems function in a system when they are activated, when they are read or listened to by someone else. There is an affectual circuit in poetry. There are three elements of poetic affect that need to be considered: the poet's affect, the poem's affect and the reader's affect. Affect in the activated poem exists in the relation between these things. It is possible to frame the drama of a poem as though the poet's affect is the only one that matters, but that that doesn't remove the other elements of the system, but represents a kind of theatrical agreement between reader and writer. It is important to take all three elements of affect into consideration to understand how it works in poetry.
The word lyric means pertaining to the lyre or harp, and ancient lyric poetry meant poetry, sung or recited, accompanied by a single string instrument. Lyric poetry is usually understood to be to a kind of compressed, emotional, musical poetry, often contrasted with longer forms where narrative is more central. The tradition of lyric poetry probably goes back to something that looks like the West African Griot tradition—poet-musicians who performed, sung or recited poem-songs accompanied by a kora, a long necked harp-lute. The widely used ancient Greek lyric poet instrument of choice was a tortoise shell lyre known as chelys, which was played by dampening and strumming across all the strings using a pick as well as finger picking. If this sounds familiar, it is because the widely used equivalent today is an acoustic guitar. The more elaborate and professional version was a kithara, a box lyre that was the Gibson Les Paul Deluxe of its day. Lyric poetry really translates to "guitar poetry," and the deep origins of lyric poetry were probably closer to Lightnin' Hopkins than to Keats.
Poetry and music are both human behaviors. All living things, plant and animal, are related, and in this sense all behaviors, including poetry and music, are ultimately related. All this works within an ecosystem. Sunlight is the power source for this ecosystem. A rain of photons falls to earth and some of them hit green leaves, which use photosynthesis to manufacture organic fuels—sugars. Photosynthesis is a technology innovated by bacteria that was then appropriated by plants for this fuel manufacturing. Evolution is full of this type of appropriation. These plants are eaten by animals and the sugars are used as fuel. Mitochondria in our own cells uses this energy and mitochondria also used to be bacteria. It was also appropriated. The history of how we got where we are as humans is full of appropriation It is a key process in the larger system of evolution, and in the fast moving evolution of memes we know as culture.[ii] Animals employ appropriated technology using transcribed sunlight to power things like muscular contractions and the running of a nervous system. Sunlight makes animals possible. Through evolution and with the eventual development of culture, sunlight stored by plants made behaviors like poetry possible. What starts as photons emanating from a star ends up as a poem. All poetry comes from the sun.
Human behaviors like writing poetry change over time as the environment changes and culture changes. When these kinds of behaviors survive they are considered adaptive because they provide some type of benefit. Culture replicates and mutates in a manner related to the way genes replicate and mutate. The difference is that humans have some degree of consciousness about this process of cultural replication and evolution doesn't have any idea what it is doing, it simply follows the rules of natural selection. We are the product of those rules. Culture is a kind of database of shifting, constantly transforming information that is built on the database of the gene pool. If a characteristic behavior confers an advantage for survival and replication of an organism, it is going to continue into the future. And the same is true for cultural forms that are stored and transmitted not by genes but which are non-genetically transmitted orally, through books, and, more recently, by the internet.
What starts as photons emanating from a star ends up as a poem. All poetry comes from the sun.
So what is the advantage of the behavior of creating sounds, or sequences of words as sounds, that have emotional effects? Emotional responses to sound are a kind of environmental tracking.[iv] Our palate of basic emotions, joy, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, surprise, are things we share with our cousins in the animal world, even if other animals don't share the same kind of consciousness of them we have. We need to perform accurate computations to track our environment to survive and thrive, and sound is an important part of the environment. If you hear thunder, you need to find shelter. If you hear a predator, you need to evade it. If you are a predator, you need to hear your prey and find it or you'll starve. If you hear a car driven by a myopic octogenarian jumping the curb and coming up quickly behind you, you need to get out of the way quickly.
Important environmental sounds produce immediate emotional responses. These responses are quick computations or analytical shortcuts assessing the values and threats in the environment. Theorizing is also a kind of computation, but it is far too slow for this purpose.
Humans are social animals, so it is not only important to track the world around us, it is also important to track the other people around us. They are part of our environment, and are central to our survival and to flourishing in our particular way of living in groups. We work and live and survive and feel and question and think in groups.
Living in groups confers all kinds of advantages, but it also entails a lot of tracking-related computation and, potentially, a lot of stresses. Emotions are a central part of how we build relationships and bind communities. We need to know how the people around us feel and think in order to work and live with them in constantly changing contexts. One of the ways this is done is by reading the information encoded in a person's tone of voice. There is a great deal of mental computation involved in making an accurate measurement of the emotions in the sound of a person's voice, while also factoring in the visual aspects of facial expression and body language. Any sounds that resemble inflected human speech would likely produce a related emotional effect, probably a more subtle effect than our out-of-control car. It is easy to imagine a pattern of play developing where human vocalization-type sounds are invented and traded back and forth, and a tradition of music invention could easily arise from this. Developing a tradition of play that uses emotionally charged sounds related to the environment and to other people would have increased the learning curve for analyzing and understanding these sounds, and this would have provided an advantage and stabilized musical play as a behavior. This would eventually become forms of tradition, and would evolve and shift over time.
Human traditions differ from animal traditions only in degree, though the scale of degree is considerable. Humans are generally thought to be unique in having developed use of language with a rational system that makes it possible to imagine past and future selves, past and future environments, alternate possibilities in more sophisticated ways than other animals can manage. We have evolved a brain that allows us to imaginatively project ourselves into other people's minds to guess what they might be thinking, feeling and experiencing and knowing because this is information we need to be able to predict. It is a kind of simulation. The tradition of lyric poetry involves performing this act of imaginative projection, this simulation, not on someone else, but on ourselves, and eventually we memorized this, performed it, or wrote it down for an imaginary, future listener, and we did it musically. Listening to and, later, reading this kind of poetry would entail an exercise of this faculty of inwardly directed imaginatively projected social computation. So would reading a novel where multiple virtual subjectivities need to be tracked.
Poetry, like all culture, has the capacity to evolve, to change over time in a way that matches the changes in the environment. In his essay, Bedient argues against change. He says that conceptual poetry and flarf represent a threat to conventional lyric poetry and his approach is to claim that these are poetries where affect has been disabled and that this is a harmful phenomenon. In this way of thinking, flarf and conceptual poetry represent an invading army threatening the poetry status quo. He also suggests that these new poetries have a destructive power that could transform the poetry world into a wasteland.
This is a misguided way of thinking. Flarf and conceptual poetry are not an invading army, a destructive weapon or invasive species; they are poetries that represent changes within the currently diverse but ultimately interrelated forms of poetry. The adaptations seen in flarf and conceptual poetry reflect changes in the environment, namely modern communications and networked computing.
The way Bedient universally valorizes emotional affect is also problematic. He says that the use of emotional distancing devices carries the "assumption of the supremacy of culture over biology." Yet culture has been exploiting the dark side of artistic affect as one of the central weapons in its war for supremacy over nature since the beginnings of human civilization. Watch anyone on Fox News discuss global warming if you need to be reminded of this fact. The ability of writers to use strong emotion as a way to switch off critical thinking can be a devastating weapon of mass psychology, and it has been used for ages to create and maintain major power imbalances through propaganda. Lyric poetry is a dramatization of emotions, but it is also a manipulation of the reader's emotions, and that process can have a dark side. Affect isn't inherently good. It is good, neutral, or bad the way that culture in general can be good, neutral, or bad. Affect can serve many different kinds of things.
Conceptual poetry is an umbrella term for a spectrum of writing practices, and the name is sometimes so vaguely applied that it could include virtually all of literary modernism and its descendants. A useful starting definition of conceptual poetry comes from the name: the idea is up front and its manifestation is perfunctory. The clearest example of this might be the La Monte Young verbal sound score that instructs musicians to feed a bail of hay to a piano. Unless creatively interpreted, the manifestation is impossible. Conceptual writing appropriates this idea from the art world. A good example of this kind of writing is Darren Wershler-Henry's The Tapeworm Foundry, where the text is a series of proposals or formulas for poems that are often whimsical or impossible. It works as an accruing mass of ideas that creates an unspooling rhythm in their gradual articulation. It works best when read at length, because the ideas and the cadences have a cumulative, building effect and larger sense of musically crafted duration.
What conceptual poetry does is displace affect, not destroy it.
Another predominant model for conceptual poetry appropriates ideas from the art world, in this case from Andy Warhol and the 1970s re-photography of Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. For example, in Day, Kenneth Goldsmith cuts and pastes an edition of the Sunday New York Times unchanged into a book. This is the equivalent of Jeff Koons presenting a vacuum cleaner in an acrylic box as art. The defining characteristic of Day is not the local gesture of reframing of the New York Times as poetry, but the appropriation of this reframing method. This tradition of single-step reframing goes back to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain and repetitions of it are thought of as a kind of neoclassical gesture at this point in the art world, where conceptual art is often considered to be dominant to the point of stagnation.
The third kind of conceptual poetry falls loosely under the category of systematical generation. It is not focused on the concept and is not a simple gesture of reframing, it is about the generation of text that is usually done in a way meant to displace the sense of the author from the produced text as much as possible. The produced text is what is meant to be up front. Think of Craig Dworkin's Parse. Much of this kind of work is inherently and proudly esoteric. It is not designed to be popular and could not possibly displace the currently predominant modes of poetry in the way that Bedient seems to fear. The larger category of Oulipo, a broader family of rule-based systematically generated text, with an extensive palate of set forms and approaches, can be more broadly engaging, entertaining and even popular. Christian Bök's Eunoia is a example of this: it is one of the best-selling poetry books in Canada.
One thing all these different varieties of conceptual poetry have in common is that they do not use affect the way conventional lyric poetry does. But can it be claimed that affect has been functionally removed from them? Certainly none of these writers dramatizes the poet's subjective emotions in the way Sylvia Plath does in Bedient's suggested “textbook,” Ariel. But the poet's affect is only one part of the system of affect in any poem. Clearly the poem-affects in conceptual poetry range quite far from the types of poem-affect one finds in a Plath poem.
So it is understandable that, if you attempt to read conceptual poetry with the expectations of Plath-style poetry in mind (as Bedient does), you will be sorely disappointed and probably annoyed or disturbed. Conventional lyric poetry is expected to be a kind of machine for delivering the poet's affect. But the methodologies of lyric poetry tend to float invisibly in the background, taken for granted. The point is not to mutate or adapt the creative approach to reflect current realities, but to reproduce the expected machine parts of the poem and manufacture the related sentimental or bathetic effect in a recognizable and systematic way.
By contrast, the methodologies of conceptual poetry are spelled out in detail. The affect of conceptual poems usually tends toward flat, repressed, impersonal, and sometimes torturously dull, because they are designed with those kinds of dynamics in mind. Conceptual poetry such as Vanessa Place's is clearly designed not to eliminate affect but to shift the burden of affect from the writer to the reader. Her work involves copying legal prosecution texts, and defense documents, and this is going to cause an affectual response in the reader as part of what it does, though it is not meant to dramatize Place's own subjective emotions as such. Her affect is still very much in the overall picture, though. And the drama of her affects is important. Reading this writing is likely to cause a series of questions for the reader about her, her relation to this material, her attitude about it, why it was chosen, what she thinks about it, in the process of understanding why it is there. None of that material would be present in the poem if she didn't have a very specific affectual relation to it. This writing does not, as Bedient has it, imply "the conceiving head is superior to the intuitive heart."
It is not clear that this kind of binary is even possible. A more thorough look over the field of conceptual poets will also turn up a number of younger writers like Cecilia Corrigan, Diana Hamilton, Lanny Jordan Jackson, Josef Kaplan, and Trisha Low, who write systematic poetry that includes an intentionally charged affect that is up front in the poem.
There is a larger picture here. The brain doesn't have strict, separate regions for thinking and feeling. When you're thinking, you're doing something physiological. We know from cognitive psychology that affect and thinking are functionally intertwined. These processes are widely distributed through different brain regions. The amygdala, one of the main areas in charge of the primary emotions, is an important part of the brain geography of thinking.[v] Every decision that is made to produce a poem involves affect, even if that decision is a single gesture of reframing, because judgment would impossible without affect. Affect functions as a kind of computation of value for objects, people, environments, and processes. What conceptual poetry does do is displace affect, not destroy it.
Lyric poetry is a big part of our inheritance, but it has some drawbacks. Part of the way we understand the tradition of lyric poetry reflects the history of valorizing the transcendent individual and of romanticizing the artistry of individual actors. Attributing an overabundance of agency to individuals is particularly problematic when social structures feature dominance hierarchies. As poets, one of our several ancestor roles was that of the court poet, a servant to the king, rhythmically listing glories of the king's conquests and reciting how many heads of cattle he owned. In this role poets have traditionally assisted in maintaining power imbalances. Vestiges of this role are still present in modern poetry, especially in the idea of a poem as an act of special pleading for the recognition of the unique sensitivity of the individual poet leading to elevated social status, a kind of royalty. Avant-garde poets also retain something of this history, indulging in heavily class-marked vocabulary and references to indicate education level and demonstrate status. These are elements of the tradition of poetry that we might do well to adapt out of and change sooner rather than later.
As Bedient and many others view it, affect is owned by the poet and rented by the reader. I'm not sure this rent-seeking model is the best one for writing and understanding poetry. One major flaw in Bedient's thinking is in his conceiving of poetry as an arena where one approach must win out and destroy all the others. Poetry is more of a massive tree of life with many branches where everything is related.
Flarf and conceptual poetry have several important things in common. They both push poetry’s evolution forward in obstreperous ways, away from where conservative critics like Bedient would like to keep it. They both dispense with the traditional theatrical presentation of a cohesive speaking subject that is mistakable for the author as the primary source of an affective authority, and the very idea that there needs to be a singular affective source of authority at all.
Flarf came about as networked computing was starting to explode, and it is well known as a kind of poetry that uses search engine results and appropriated text from the internet as source materials for poems. The early period of flarf had a kind of research and development phase where loose collaboration between poets was central to the practice. Flarf poets used a listserv to interact, trade ideas, and compete across distances, employing networked computing as a central enabling technology. Flarf's influence has been felt across widely dispersed areas of poetry. It is an information age poetry. It wouldn't have existed without the Internet. Networked computing represents a major shift in our environment— like the end or beginning of an ice age— and flarf is a poetic adaptation to this shift.
Flarf poetry started at the same time conceptual poetry did, and the two overlap in several important ways. They both use appropriation and they both employ limiting techniques. There are crucial differences though.
Conceptual poetry uses strict constraint-based rule structures and pushes forward the importance of these rules, sometimes to the point where the rules themselves become more important than the results. It intentionally moves as far away from spontaneity as possible. In flarf, the conventional set of assumptions of what is "acceptable" or "unacceptable" use of poetic language is brought back to the drawing board. Flarf allows itself to do things you're not supposed to do in a poem.
Flarf's attitude toward rules is different. It tends to use constraint-type strategies in a more open, spontaneous, and improvisational manner. The strategies used in flarf are more like extended techniques than constraints. The rules of poetry are expanded rather than contracted. It appropriates language as a starting point, then transforms, manipulates and combines it with spontaneous writing. It is a labor-intensive process, but work and play are blurred. It is in some way also the opposite of conceptual poetry, because what matters is not the techniques or concepts (though they are visible) but the poem they result in. Flarf methods may shift even within a single poem. The rules used to help create a poem can be broken, and even inverted within the poem. For instance, a poet might collect the Google search results from "I want to kill my boss" "I love baby walruses" and "what are we doing to the planet?" then mix the results together, search and replace the word "kill" with "make love to" and add original phrasing and mould and shape the results. There is a metabolism to flarf. Flarf poets do not propose that they have removed themselves from the process and also doesn't propose that the poem represents a transcendent expression of their individual feelings and thoughts. They have rejected this binary framework.
Flarf doesn't just challenge ideas about what art is, it challenges ideas about what people are.
Part of the tradition of a lot of confessional and avant-garde poetry has been to dramatize the poet's inward thought and feeling in a way that presents it as exemplary, and sometimes as a kind of ideal. In avant-garde poetry, especially of the 1990s, there is a type of work that uses subtractive processes where anything that may be objectionable, anything connected with problematic social dynamics, is removed from the poem, thereby rendering the poem and poet seemingly exempt from the ethical enmeshment that comes along with existing within a social system, and so from the judgments that might go along with them. In these cases, poetry is sometimes used as a status marker, presenting the poet as being outside the problems of social organization and behavior, therefore, exemplary.
Flarf, on the other hand, channels socially problematic material as way of addressing the problems. The biggest difference between flarf and conceptual poetry may be in the attitude toward affect.[vi] The affective value of a poem is the product of a dynamic circuit running between reader, poem, and poet. Flarf is teeming with affect within this circuit. It is charged. Conceptual poetry is often quite method-bound and detached, though it is not devoid of affect because that would hardly be possible. Flarf doesn't propose to reject or minimize the poet's affect. It blurs the difference between the poet's affect and the affects of the texts it is appropriating, and it intentionally recognizes and engages with the whole poetic circuit in complex ways. The poet is many people in flarf, many affects. The flarf poet steers though other people, other feelings, other thoughts, and other words and the poem is the process of this steering. In a way, so is the poet. It is a cybernetic poetry.
Because flarf appropriates, affects in flarf are interlaced with their sources, collaged, spoofed, or adapted directly. Receptivity to sometimes contradictory mixtures of subjectivities becomes an important part of the flarf. This can cause confusion when readers expect a model of poetry where the poet provides a carefully crafted ideal that is meant to bring the reader into a poetic space, and a poetic feeling of pseudo self-effacing ethical exemption mixed with personal self-glamorization. Confessional poetry may include unseemly passions, infidelity, or suicidal impulses, but those elements are carefully delimited and put forth in the interest of glamorizing and spotlighting an encapsulated self-enchanted subject. Flarf intentionally includes potentially objectionable affects and subject positions as way to deal with and address social problems. It includes ugliness as well as glory. The self and the social system are thought to be parts of the same intertwined ecosystem. Flarf tracks its environment.
Flarf differs from conceptual poetry in that it doesn't present itself as a document that has been pointed to and stepped away from. In a certain way, Conceptual poets like Place and Goldsmith use the same structure of thought that Bedient uses, where writing falls somewhere on a binary axis of feeling and thinking. Bedient and Goldsmith, though working with much different materials and toward different ends, actually share this way of thinking. They simply exist on different ends of its spectrum. Flarf rejects the binary. It doesn't just challenge ideas about what art is, it challenges ideas about what people are.
Flarf is based on expanding allowances rather than intensifying restrictions, and one of the things it allows is humor, fun and outrageousness, which tend to be minimized in both conventional and experimental poetry except when presented in smaller doses. Flarf also uses irony, absurdity, and sarcasm in larger then conventionally recommended doses. One of Bedient's claims is that ambiguity and irony exist in some kind of fundamental opposition to the use of affect. He pronounces that "Vehemence of feeling nonplusses the modern personality, a hostage to ambiguity and irony." A brief look over the works of Randy Newman will demonstrate that mixing irony, ambiguity and lyricism is far from impossible. Clearly poets can also do this as well, and flarf poets do.
Flarf takes the "sociopolitical usefulness of the rougher emotions" and explosively places it in the center of a poetry that not only makes heavy use of affect but also very much includes a lyric modality. Flarf poets like Jordan Davis, Katie Degentesh, Ben Friedlander, Nada Gordon, Rodney Koeneke, Mel Nichols, Edwin Torres, and Rod Smith all write poetry that can include strong lyrical tendencies, though the lyricism is not handled in the traditional way and is often mixed with things that conventional poets wouldn't dream of mixing it with. Flarf includes the often unlikely lyricism of its appropriated sources and fuses it with the poet's own lyricism. Rodney Koeneke has written a masterpiece of flarf lyricism, Etruria,which is forthcoming from Wave Books in April 2014.
Part of the problem of affect and emotional expression representing a self is the question of what you're talking about when you say self. The idea that we have a unified self that can expresses itself directly though poetry, though commonplace in mainstream poetry, has been an outmoded idea in the humanities for a long time. Increasingly it is also outmoded in the sciences. It is not at all clear we have a single unified self. We seem to assemble a self through our shared biology and a kind of bricolage of language, information, and cultural materials around us. Our selves self-assemble as a shifting kaleidoscope of story fragments. We have several self-layers that are in charge of different things, and a lot of what we think of as self operates backstage from what we think of as consciousness.[vii] The bio-cultural constructedness of the self does not mean, as some people frame it, that there is no self. If there was no self you would eat your own hands when you got hungry. The self is aprotective cultural and biological product, exuded like a shell (a tortoise shell perhaps), as collective as it is individual. In this sense flarf is constructed in a way related to how our selves are constructed. It is collaged and re-written and improvised. The use of collage does not disable subjective affect, quite the opposite. Flarf proliferates subjectivities, affects, and connections.
All culture is capable of sharing its genetic information laterally—that is, adult forms can borrow information from other adult forms. For the most part biological genetic information can only be traded vertically, from parent to child. The exception to this is bacteria, our ancient ancestors who are capable of exchanging genetic information directly with each other, of cutting and pasting parts of genes back and forth between each other the way flarf does with sequences of text. The more conventional and conservative poetry is, the more vertical it is, it can only re-shuffle old information gained from ancestors and very slowly work out novelty from new mutations. Flarf ups the ante on appropriation. It borrows ideas from nature, appropriating information in a much more horizontal way. Flarf functions in a way related to the way symbiotic life forms do. It horizontally searches for language beyond what has normally been thought of as poetry as well as vertically using information from the traditions of poetry. Flarf entails a broader imagination than the lyric of a dramatized single subjective unit. As Lynn Margulis says about the origins of novelty in evolution in her symbiotic theory, flarf "recombines, merges, and integrates." Flarf poets include themselves among the things they are appropriating. They don't position themselves as removing the self. Humans have evolved to construct a self out of appropriated material, from multiple narratives and histories from all the language and information replicating itself through us in various ways. The self is constructed thing, but it is also inescapable, and it is part of nature.
We are like bowerbirds, driven to assemble selves out of multiple narratives rather than blue bottle caps, stones, and leaves. This is why the ownership and rent-seeking model of affect doesn't work as a model of how to think about poetry. We are all constantly appropriating things from all around us, editing, rearranging, and transforming them in new ways. Who knows where flarf will go from here. It might be just getting started.
Image: Wolfgang Stief
[i] Lynn Margulis Symbiosis in Cell Evolution (W. H. Freeman, 1981)
[ii] Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press 1976)
[iii] Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth (Free Press, 2009)
[iv] E. O. Wilson Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (Harvard University Press, 2000)
[v] Damasio, Antonio Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Penguin Books 2005)
[vi] 6 The inclusion of flarf in Bedient's category of "cerebral poetry," certainly seems odd when flarf is commonly known to be one of the more affectively charged poetries in current landscape of writing. Indeed it is sometimes considered too affectively charged for some readers. Bedient is not the only poet-critic capable of allowing himself to remain unfamiliar with the subject matter he himself had chosen when addressing new poetry though. Some younger establishment poet-critics, like Ange Mlinko and Michael Robbins, who no doubt see their own poetries as being in competition with flarf, have dropped the pretence of writing criticism of flarf and instead engage in what is more like an active attempt to suppress it. In general though, the threatened and sometimes panicky reactions of the representatives of establishment poetry indicate the heath and vitality of flarf as a new writing. See Ange Mlinko, Shelf Life Paul Hoover’s second edition of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (The Nation magazine) Michael Robbins Ripostes (Poetry Foundation website) http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/246092
[vii] Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Back Bay Books, 1991)
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