Friday, May 23, 2008

Otro de Ashbery

La historia de amor
por John Ashbery

Lo vimos venir desde siempre,
luego ya estaba aquí, en línea
con el paseo de aquel día. Para entonces, éramos nosotros
los que habíamos desaparecido, en el túnel de un libro.

Despertando en la madrugada, nos unimos al flujo
de las noticias de mañana. ¿Por qué no? A diferencia
de algunos otros, no tenemos nada que pedir
o que tomar prestado. No somos sino piezas de sólida geometría:

cilindros o romboides. Cierta satisfacción
nos ha sido otorgada. Sí, claro, siempre volvemos
a por más... Es parte del aspecto "humano"
del desfile. Y existen regiones más oscuras

perfiladas, que habría que explorar alguna vez.
Por ahora nos basta con que el día se haya acabado.
Trajo su carga de frescura, la dejó caer
y se marchó. En cuanto a nosotros, seguimos aquí, ¿no es cierto? ~

— Versión de Jordi Doce



John Ashbery's Girls on the Run is a fifty—page poem 'inspired by the work of 'outsider' artist Henry Darger (1892—1972), a Chicago—based recluse with a history of mental illness, noted for his obsession with little girls.' So says the publisher's promo.

"I don't know about that 'obsession with little girls,'" says professor Garret "but I like the cover, Henry Darger's 'Storm Brewing.' The art work suggests Girls is going to be a children's story. Let's hear a sample," he says.

Cometa open Girls on the Run to section three, and recites (in their entirety) the opening lines of the first stanza: "Out in Michigan, or was it Minnesota, though, time had stopped/ to see what it could see, which wasn't much. A recent hooligan scare had/blighted the landscape,/lowering the temperature by several degrees. 'Having/to pee ruins my crinoline relentlessly,/because it comes only ecstatically.' /But the wounded cow knew otherwise."

Diana screams and Jis silence her.

"Harold Bloom likes it," Mr Woo says. "According to Bloom, Girls on the Run 'will make readers happier and wiser.' He calls John Ashbery 'our universal poet, as Walt Whitman was before him.' Funny, isn't it?"

"What do you mean?" Garret asks.

"Here's Harold Bloom, the critic most given to making lofty pronouncements, approving of Ashbery, the American poet most given to fence-sitting."

"What do you mean by 'fence-sitting'?" Laura asks.

"The poems in Girls on the Run and Wakefulness are perpetually poised on the edge of meaning. Both books offer many delights, one tantalizing glimmer of sense after another, but hold back, line by line, teasing the reader, fence-sitting, never quite managing to communicate what the poet is thinking about anything."

"Don't you know anything about the pleasures of foreplay?" Mr Ortiz wisely says.

"Maybe not -Diane abruptly (very abruptly indeed!) continues- but I do know what it's supposed to lead to. Tell me, what do you make of someone for whom foreplay is the whole game? There are all these superlative lines, each one of which can be read as a prelude to a poem that never quite happens. Ultimately, this is poetry as a form of coitus interruptus."

"It's called deconstructionism," Charlie Bermudas says.

"You know what deconstructionism is?"

"It's having a thought and sticking your finger in the wall socket—or setting off a smoke alarm."

Diane punches Sergio in the chest.

"Okay, it's Roland Barthes in 'The Death of the Author' writing, 'Succeeding the Author, the scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt...' I think that's a fair description of John Ashbery's work."

"Cut to the chase!" orders Mr. Garret.

"For all its agility and sharpness ('Our stalwart little band of angels got on it, and were taken for a ride/into the next chapter...'), the whole of Girls on the Run is less than the sum of its luminous parts. How can one sustain a book—length poem on preciosity, on atmospherics alone?"

"That is the point" Salvador says.

"Look, I'd be hard put to describe the drama or story line in Girls, and the participants in this 'surrealist adventure,' Jenny Wren and Tidbit, Dimples and Mr. McPlaster, et al, are scarcely able to hold one's attention for more than a page or two. And what is one to make of a narrative so arbitrary in its construction, so lacking in some underlying human feeling, that one line, image or character could be substituted for another?"

"Then there are the Ashbery—ian echoes of Gertrude Stein: Now she was the daughter or granddaughter of somebody famous,/folks for miles around knew that. But no one could say what she was up to, she was far too clever for that. "Forgive me, but what's the point?" I ask. Elsewhere Ashbery writes: A horse wanders away/and is abruptly inducted into the carousel,/eyes flying, mane askew. There is no end to the dance.

"Enough," Comet says. "Enough cleverness, enough urbanity. Enough post— modernism. Indeed, that's the problem with both Girls on the Run and Wakefulness: an overabundance of ironic, masturbatory, carousel giddiness; too much forced cheeriness and, sadly, no end to the dance."

"Comet: you just don't get it, do you?" Ortiz asks.

"Maybe not, but I've been visiting and re—visiting Girls on the Run and Wakefulness for several months. Today, re—reading Wakefulness, I recalled Frost's words. Poetry, he said, is 'a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget.' For all that there is to admire in Ashbery, what if a reader asks: What in Girls on the Run and Wakefulness would it impoverish us to forget? Listen to these opening lines to "Moderately," a poem that appears early on in Wakefulness: The fox brooding and the old people smelling/ and the tiebreaker—why did I not think of that?/ Why have doubts upon me come? Why/ this worldliness?/ And I remember no longer at the age of sixteen,/ and at the age of seventeen great rollers/ eating into night, I uncared for...

"Just look at the epigraph to the poem," Garret says. "See what Stepan Wolpe says, '...and as the last will come a sort of moderato part, (which some is of multiple motions, quick, slow, hampered, expressive, popular and peopled speech...'). Isn't that a clue to what the poet's up to? Ashbery's an acquired taste. You're one of those academics who goes looking for content where there is none."

"There is much that is gorgeous in Wakefulness, but how are aficionados to keep up their spirits in the face of all this self-imitation, the Ashbery-ian stylistic tic: the brilliant-but-brittle, momentarily engaging, fragmentary phrase; the arbitrarily unfinished line; the refusal to communicate feeling or emotion; the verbal collage; the allusions to Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound; the entertaining 'high-end' gibberish delivered with a wink; the persnickety squirreliness masquerading as ingenuity?"

szalvador said...

Hats off!

nanuka said...

...Sergio...jajaja...que maravilla!!! I hope I undestood it, but even if I didn`t I loved it, does it count?

nanuka said...

...Garrett, please your give us your opinion on "this class"...


Diane...I really think you understood...

nanuka said...

...y nuestro maestro, no va a opinar nada?? Garrett, where are you??

garrett said...

That was very funny, I really enjoyed it.

This is, incidentally, an appropriation of a piece by Robert Sward (

Yes, Henry Darger is an "outsider artist," a term I have a lot of trouble with. He suddenly became very popular in the US about 10 years ago (?); at times there seemed to be a genuine interest in him as an "artist," at times a genuine interest in him as a person working outside the art establishment, at times he was used by intellectuals to represent one side or another of several different arguments. His work is bizarre, obsessive, at times "visionary"....

I do not know the Ashbery piece, and not sure that I'm too interested in it, largely because the whole thing comes with so much baggage - as above, issues of the institutionality of art, of context, of sanity and insanity, of what art is, and so on. Added to which it pains me to know about someone who's suffered so much and has become a tool in a debate, and a product for people to profit off of. Daniel Johnson would be another ready example.

As for "fence sitting": if poetry was made of propositions and held to logical tests, then Ashbery could be accused, so to speak, of fence sitting. But since "poetry is not involved in the language game of giving information," as Wittgenstein wrote, or does not "communicate what the poet is thinking," then to look for a stand, a position, at least in terms of a logical position, is to miss what is going on in the poetry. Maybe we need a little less in the opinion department, and a little more openness to what art does, and talk more about whether it does it or not for us, as readers.

While it is true I have mentioned Harold Bloom and Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author" among other things, I hesitate to become involved in commentary on something that someone else - Robert Sward - has set up as the argument. I think he largely misses the point. That being said....

Sward writes, "Ashbery's an acquired taste." Yes, brilliant insight. Everything is an acquired taste. It only matters when you acquired it. ((c) c. 1994, Garrett Kalleberg.)

"You're one of those academics who goes looking for content where there is none." - Here we have an advantage over Sward, because, my dear students, we have learned to distinguish between "content" and "subject matter." And we have seen that this is not an "academic" problem, but a problem in our experience of all art. Furthermore, sometimes people seem to confuse "academic" with thoughtful, critical, insightful, and other words that pertain to when you think a little bit outside of received ideas, opinions, and tastes.

nanuka said..., who is I???

szalvador said...

Para el Sr. Burruchaga:

Este es el tipo de textos que podemos subir al Blog de TV, tal cual, sin traducción, ¿no crees?.

Ojalá se pudiera.

Burruchaga said...

Salvador, I can't make those hills. My mind so rustic. But, zseboruco's is not, that's for sure... About Tedium, tell me how, and be my guest.