Monday, June 16, 2008

boredom as concept

Coming of age in the warhol-inspired, electric-kool-aid-acid-test, krapp's last tape, happenings, conceptual/ performance/installation art, open/visual/concrete poetry era, the discussion of "conceptual poetry" taking place on the poetry foundation blog in Kenneth Goldsmith's entries, seems very familiar, even retro, to me, but I know I must be careful not to conflate what happened then with what's happening now, however similar they may seem (how aggravating it is to hear "oh, that's nothing new"!). And besides, so what if the concept of "conceptual poetry" is not new? Maybe it's time to revisit it and enjoy it again. It's got some new elements, has expanded to include more "art-y" and "performance-y" bits (open poetry meets conceptual art) and has overall new energies and confident practitioneers which give it a nice new shiny look and feel. The problem for me is not that it's been done but that I didn't enjoy it the first time around. For one thing, the people who were "into it" were pretentious and full of inflated rhetoric and insubstantial ideas all wrapped up and presented as intellectual daring. I admit I sat through the whole of Warhol's film of a man sleeping* trying to be as avant-garde as my hippie friends, but even then, I had nagging doubts. Why wasn't I seeing a Bergman film, or some other cutting edge film like "Jules and Jim," or "8 1/2" -- something that had substance and meaning or joy and daring, something that I could enjoy and savor or at least not be bored by? Why deliberately subject myself to something boring, especially after the enforced boredom of a classroom? Raising these questions only got the response: "Ah-ha! That's how you're supposed to react. You're supposed to get bored and ask why you're bored. The boredom itself is the experience!." Well. I was already plenty bored, why ask for more? The only way to watch it, really, was to be stoned, the way we all read Ashbery then. Maybe that's the answer re: "conceptual poetry"—-Caution: Do Not Enter Without Drugs.

* Sleep is described thus: "Andy Warhol used a fixed camera position in his 1963 film titled Sleep. The film shows a complete night’s rest over eight hours. Much like the man in the movie, the viewer is tempted to drift off indecisively into unconsciousness. Like in a dream, you don’t have the forethought to know how long you will be in this altered state, and what awaits you after it ends."


Anonymous said...

As I recall, Goldsmith admits In one of his posts that "the concept is often more interesting than the result." Or, as the scientific community would put it, "Another brilliant idea that won't work." The last thing we need in the modern world is more boring, useless products. It may be that Conceptual Poetics is simply the logical endpoint of commodity capitalism—like industrial farmed foodstuffs with no nutritional value: We may be forgiven for not saying "Yum!"

Jo Sarzotti said...

Hi Joan,

I found your blog! -- the conceptual art theme here leads me to share my recent foray into that precinct: Maguy Marin's Umwelt (
a Beckett-esque drone of several real-people-looking dancers moving on & off stage through large plastic panels in a manufactured wind storm -- they enter in various combinations, doing something mundane, putting on a coat, dandling a baby (doll), eating an apple, pointing a rifle at the audience,mooning, etc -- the sound is like the back end of a jet plane -- I rather liked it, but people booed & left, & then, near the end, I kind of fell asleep -- but my half-sleep was filled with interesting images, which I appreciated -- Anyway, the experience made me alert to your saying you were "bored the first time around" for experimental business like this; I remember those days also (ever watch a Hollis Frampton film? thirty endless minutes of a lemon?)but have become more tolerant & simply curious sometimes to see what's going on in extreme artistic imaginations struggling to make sense of "now," as I guess I am in both my teaching & writing -- whenever I'm on the verge of boredom, Berryman's mother comes to mind & I try to summon my inner resources -- find something in the experience (like a richly-sensationed nap?)to enlarge my available reality, having mentioned Berryman -- but then, am a hopeless positive-type --

Re-reading & catching up on your Boston Comment essays recently (am in practically total agreement) made me take another look at the latest Fence issue, which actually has a couple of interesting (not boring?) pieces, poems I admire actually for their acute & surprising rendering of emotional experience, which is I guess what I look for -- am wondering what you think of the essay in this issue explaining the history of "Language" poetry, to me quite cogent & useful in the historical context it establishes -- maybe someday I will find the inner resources to enable me to enjoy more "experimental" work, maybe I (we all?) will just get worn down & settle for the considerable virtues of a rich nap --

Anonymous said...