Congratulations to the folks over at New American Press for Friday’s launch of Mayday Magazine, which includes two little "prosies" from me [#1 & #2], a wonderful piece of critifiction from Jared Schickling and an interesting letter on the state of poetry criticism by the ever-pugnacious, admirably pissed poet Kent Johnson.
Here are some comments I made to Schickling regarding an earlier draft of what appears on Mayday:
Jared: This is truly an outstanding piece. I have nothing but praise and a desire to see you finish this. It needs to be about 30 percent longer. Part IV needs to be fleshed out a bit, and I see a possibility for a V that would invariably rock the boat. But a little more on that at the bottom.
You’re an amazing fiction writer.
The Avoidance Canon meets the criteria for critifiction:
The term critifiction is used because the discourse that follows is critical as well as fictitious; imagination is used in the sense that it is essential in the formulation of a discourse; plagiarism [read play-giarism] because the writing of a discourse always implies bringing together pieces of other discourses; an unfinished endless discourse because what is presented here is open at both ends, and as such more could be added endlessly. (Federman, Critifiction, p. 49)
On the one hand, you begin with a great quote by Joseph Warton [an enthusiast of Pope and the mock epic, nice touch] outlining the ideal poetic fiction, which also explains what you’re going to do. This will only be read this way by those whose minds have been similarly exercised, who you set up to enjoy a treatise on the aesthetics of literary language only to hit us with the legalese of torture, an avoidance canon that seems to pressure the neophyte reader into praising the emperor’s new clothes via some form of constructed peer pressure. For others, who joyfully participate in the same elitist administrative structure as torturers [I’m thinking of Kafka’s apparatus from The Penal Colony], will take offense at what they’re being equated to [imagining -------- as a target here], whether implied or not. As for me and other sick shits, I love the juxtapositions of alleged authorship and audience, and the tension it raises between cruelty and aesthetics…how the author-ities need to avoid cruelty in their language for aesthetic reasons, not ethical ones. It occurs to me that the redacted words, which equate to torture, might also equate to teaching or pedagogy. A lesson plan becomes a method of torture sanctioned by the department. I’m getting ahead of myself…
And of course, the intro is dated April Fool’s Day, implying the joke is on the reader and re-enforcing the presence of Warton, deploying the paradox that all writers are liars and this was composed by a writer, a liar as opposed to the systemically desired “truth teller.” The narrator is now unreliable, a reaction perhaps to the authoritarianism of the fascist structures he’s attempting to navigate and negotiate to graduate and gain admittance to the author-itarian system. A means of survival akin to Ziggy Fumar’s letter to the author-ities in Smoke, but more abstract and critifictional [as opposed to the more metafictional method of Smoke’s chapter].
This is a very abstract piece yet deeply rooted if the reader’s as twisted as the narrator and able to “get” the nature of the lie being so subtly revealed [via avoidance/lying/figurative language, ironically enough].
I love it that you seem to be equating sanctioned torture with graduate writing programs, the AWP, the whole industrial process…that diplomacy equals how to navigate the inhumane industry of the humanities. Part I seems a parable relating student-teacher relations to power mechanisms and behavioral psychology:
“Pursuant to conduct of operations during any construction of laws that regulate the authority to determine the treatment of serious questions. Moreover we do not believe any general provisions, such as prohibitions against assault, maiming, or interstate stalking, pursuant to any express authority, would allow it to infringe on control over the operation.”
This is what happens to those students who question the authority of their Writer’s Workshop, modeled, of course, on Iowa [the lily white host state of which shocking sprung Obama forward as a frontrunner]. Naturally, these behaviors are to be literally avoided while figuratively deployed.
In II, I see you equating the author/narrator with unlawful combatant. The system breeds paranoia on both sides, especially students with anarchic impulses who recognize chaos as a fact that can’t be avoided, putting them in direct opposition to those professors whose self-esteem relies on keeping them in their place, who are allowed under statute to defend themselves against literary attack by any means necessary, as the rights of the sovereign to exist adhere to them in any given situation:
“As one commentator has explained, they [student writers] are more often than not treated as they are liable to be treated, and there are almost no regulatory safeguards with respect to them, and thus no obligation is owed towards them or any who do not enjoy the privileges according to a customary rule of law [tenure]. The right to treat such individuals under traditional practice, as expressed in the customary laws, is left to the sovereign’s [professor's] discretion. As one commentator has stated, the treatment is left to the discretion of the threatened [bona fide member of the status quo], and while law enforcement efforts frequently require the literal violation of facially applicable statutes, as we explain below, to persons acting under the color of law, the legislative history indicates no intent to apply this to the conduct of personnel.”
III justifies violence in a way that seems antithetical to Hannah Arendt’s ethical reasoning with regards to the use of violence: that it could only be justified if its aims were defensive and immediate, any offensive or long-term aim of violence was evil. Here the “graduate writing program” actually sanctions certain forms of torture in the guise of pedagogy, bifurcating mind from body as if psychological torture isn’t as horrific as physical torture [ironic considering this comes from those who profess to live lives of the mind], though proportionate responses of this kind are allowed should a like threat be perceived [whether actual or not, preemptive war is one of their options]. In fact, the program’s intent is to inflict long-term mental damage and derangement on future writers to preserve its authoritative status [similar to the ways cults inculcate their adherents]:
“In addition these acts must cause long term mental harm. Indeed this view of the act is consistent with the term’s common meaning, generally understood to involve intense or excruciating pain, or put another way, extreme anguish, Webster’s New International Dictionary. In short, reading the definition as a whole, it is plain that the term encompasses only extreme acts, because the purpose of our analysis here is to ascertain acts that would cross the threshold of producing the list of illustrative purposes for which it is inflicted. Therefore, it would not affect this analysis.”
It seems in IV a more precise description of the terrorist “student” [outsider, illegal alien, interloper, savage] writer with anarchic tendencies—these enemies of the “Writing State”—might be played out.
And a V could be added, where you might propose a final solution to this threat from literary terrorists…the imperialist designs of writing programs.
And then you might present it placed as an exhibit by a professor who's warning other professors what they need to watch for today, footnoted by an editor with an axe to grind against academia and writers smarter than she...
When you get this published I'll write a lunatic review of it. I really think this is something...you're using your antipathy with playful purpose and chagrined resolve. Keep it up.
I want more more more more!