Something of an article like that is making the rounds, and a Facebook friend duly linked to it. His friend commented on the process:
Step one: use a quantitative metric to categorize qualitative things.
Step two: play on the insecurities of a tiny number of people.
Step three: cause a kerfuffle over nothing.
Another link was posted, about which the linker said this: “[I am a]lso thinking about this: ‘poetry critics and their favorite poets are 50 years behind in reading, selective in their memory, fixated and beholden to whiteness as property, whiteness as elevation, whiteness as transcendence.’”
I’m not requesting you (dear reader) to look at the link itself. Actually the link was the second of two pseudonymous blog posts responding to something up at another site. By itself, the post from which the quote was extracted is hard to follow; so I traced the links and read the original pieces. The first is a piece called “What is the Relationship Between Conceptual Art and Conceptual Writing?"
Herewith let me confess my ignorance. I am not familiar with either “conceptual art” or “conceptual writing”. Right off that puts me at a disadvantage in understanding what is possibly being disputed or what its importance may be. Looking at the site (“Montevidayo”) at which the pseudonymous postings occurred, it took me a while to figure out that the site belonged to a consortium of individuals, and that the postings in question went up at the hands of one individual contributor to that site. They are linked here (“The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo Responds to the Links Between Conceptual Art and Conceptual Poetry” and “The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo Offers Extended Thoughts on the Tattered Flag of White Conceptualism”) and, as the titles suggest, polemical in nature. The site also concerns itself with something called “kitsch,” which, though obviously a word I have heard, is something I’ve never heard defined or studied to a point where I might identify it.
The friend of my linker commented—about the “Tattered Flag” link—with insight, “That's a much more interesting article/letter. I don't know enough about the particular argument that's going on there to weigh in, but it's good grist for the mill.”
This is a lot of preliminary matter, possibly leading up to nothing of much significance. For polemics the two posts do a remarkably poor job of characterizing what it is they are opposing; bringing an ambivalent and external-to-the-loop reader little to cohere to. My knee-jerk reaction is to make a fast dismissal. Yet, having recently written about Claude McKay, it is inevitable I should find correspondences, especially regarding the impact of colonialism on English literature. The first post offers a manifesto, almost Marxist in its tone: “We are reminded that white empire is united. Their front is united by colonial dominance, cultural arrogance, their devotion to financial capitalism and global disasters” (all caps in the original). And: “Gringpo’s adoration and devotion to mimicking hierarchies of financial capitalism does not cease to amaze.”
Here—though I am forced to fall back on speculation because the term is not defined—I take “Gringpo” to mean gringo (white) + poetry, or poetry written by whites (“conceptual” or no). This is my best guess. The second post says:
Peddling the notion that white male poets make art about ideas…vs what? Black poets write about the body? From their body (because this is so horrific!!!!)? Female identified writings are produced by their feelings? The consistently old Cartesian dichotomy that “some” writers are engaged with the process of ideas (and therefore abstraction and therefore elevated) while “others” are fixated to the realm of the earthly crass and contingently precise: these are clearly marked racialized and gendered divisions. So to get this right: white male writers and their companion poets make work for the mind, of the mind. Let’s not even mention their obliteration of the soul: everyone else is stuck with the body. Gringpo has gotten so sloppy it can’t even dress up its racism.
Still—entirely in line with my thoughts on McKay—I would like to better understand the thrust of the argument. The proposition of a “united front” (or even a unified one) is probably incorrect, which would sap the argument prima facie. My independent observations want to confirm “that poetry critics and their favorite poets are 50 years behind in reading, selective in their memory” and so forth; but the tortuous phrasing of the posts finally makes any endorsement impossible.
Perhaps I am lending too much credence to ideas that were penned and posted pseudonymously. Jaron Lanier concluded that anonymous postings were the bane of the internet. Some years ago my first blog was done pseudonymously—and thankfully so, for I repent some of my rash pronouncements—but in the end I came to agree with him. In my introduction to Small Poems I relate the experience of being called onto the carpet for “drive-by” postings. Anonymity becomes a convenient shield. Responsibility for defamations may be ducked, or, as in this case, for the inarticulateness of one’s assertions.
Certainly in some circumstances, pseudonymity is called for. Consciousness that I am posting under my own name does not necessarily make me a more careful blogger—momentary fits of passion may drive me to post without check. Yet possibly I am inclined to “think twice” before I go live with a post, knowing that I may have to stand by my words.
To anonymous posters such as “Mongrel Coalition,” my inclination always is to ask, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”