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Some of the recordings from last year’s Poetry with a Pulse series of readings, held in Dunedin, New Zealand, are now online and available for download below and on the University of Otago’s Humanities podcasts page. These include recordings of readings by Lisa Samuels, David Howard, Jaap Blonk, Rhian Gallagher, and Bernadette Hall, with recordings of readings by Sue Wootton, Selina Marsh, Rogelio Guedea, Fiona Farrell, Michele Leggott, David Eggleton, and Vincent O’Sullivan still to come. The two Poetry with a Pulse series were brilliantly curated by Lynley Edmeades, Orchid Tierney and Loveday Why, and supported by the University of Otago Division of Humanities Performing Arts Fund.
In addition, I’m delighted that Brian Reed’s wonderful lecture on deletion poetics, delivered at the University of Otago in August 2012 is now online.
Poetry with a Pulse, Series II (curated by Lynley Edmeades and Loveday Why)
Poetry with a Pulse (curated by Lynley Edmeades and Orchid Tierney)
Brian Reed – Less is More: Contemporary Poems Composed Through Deletion (MP3: 61.49 MB)
Open lecture by Professor Brian Reed, Department of English, University of Washington. Since the turn of the millennium, a number of poets have begun composing verse by taking pre-existing texts and selectively deleting words, phrases, sentences, and even whole sections. Does it make sense to call such poets “writers” in anything but a very loose sense, since, instead of generating text, they remove it? Moreover, since they give us nothing but passages of borrowed language with the original word order preserved intact, can we say that they are sharing their unique thoughts, experiences, and emotions? This talk will argue that today’s poetry-by-subtraction is best understood as an inventive response to information overload. (Recorded 2 August 2012.)
“A Common Strangeness is a highly recommended book for all scholars interested
in comparative approaches to literature.”—María Colom Jiménez in Miscelánea (read the full review here)
I’ve fallen behind on my archiving of reviews of A Common Strangeness and so I am taking a moment here to add four new reviews to the list. I’m grateful to the reviewers for their positive comments given below but even more so for their queries and objections—of such stuff are interesting and useful (for both reader and author) book reviews made, as Haun Saussy recently emphasized over on Print Culture.
“This book is a remarkable accomplishment. It resists the fashionable solution to the problem it sets itself—it does not seek to dismantle the genre of the poem in deference to the authority of contexts.”—Brian Glaser in symplokē (read the full review here)
“This book examines the changes in poetic discourses that have followed from the end of the Cold War and the rise of a global literature, and it engages with impressive competence in the fields of Chinese, American, and post-Soviet literary cultures. . . . An understated, versatile, and clear exponent of poetic analysis and cultural commentary”—Andrew Kahn in the Slavic Review (read the full review here)
“Edmond’s book offers a rich and thought-provoking study and stimulates comparatist research. . . . the book offers an interesting juxtaposition of ‘estranged’ poets of various backgrounds and calls the reader’s attention to important politically and culturally controversial trends in societies such as China, Russia, and the U.S. It opens up new research vistas by drawing scholarly attention to issues that have become increasingly important in the contemporary world where old oppositions are no longer operative”—Marina Grishakova and Märt Läänemets in Recherche littéraire / Literary Research (read the full review here)
“The strength of Edmond’s study is the close readings of each poet, which are subtle and insightful across the broad range of national traditions he examines.”—Joseph Acquisto in The Modern Language Review (read the full review here)
I’m very excited to be travelling to Sydney this Friday for a symposium on “The Theory and Practice of Poetry” at the University of Western Sydney. Convener Gavin Smith has put together an exciting lineup of speakers, including Tom Lee, Fiona Burrows, Kate Middleton, Peter Kirkpatrick, Hazel Smith, Chris Andrews, and Richard James Allan.
My own talk is entitled “Poetry and Philosophy in the Chinese Room” and begins by responding to the online paper by Gavin Smith that serves as a starting point for the symposium, “What Is the Poetic Experience? An Argument in the Philosophy of Poetry.” I plan to open by quoting the following passage from Joan Retallack’s “The Woman in the Chinese Room”:imagine that you are locked in a room and in this room are several baskets full of Chinese characters she is glad they are Chinese of course glad to continue Pound’s Orientalism there will be no punctuated vanishing points she is given only rules of syntax not semantic rules she is relieved of the burden of making meaning she need only make sense for the food to be pushed through the slot in the door it is thought that these are situations more familiar than we would like to think them to be in the new technologies and to men more than to women but it oddly feels quite normal
Philosopher John Searle’s famous thought experiment describes a “Chinese room” in which an English speaker would follow a series of rules to respond correctly to questions in Chinese without ever understanding either the questions or the answers. Searle’s 1980 article purports to address the universal difference between computation and human consciousness. However, as Retallack’s poem suggests, Searle’s argument is historically, culturally, and linguistically locatable. It depends on an orientalist vision of Chinese––and arguably on a renewed interest in China traceable to China’s reentry into the global economic system circa 1980––and on late-twentieth-century anxieties about the entrapping qualities of new technology and of language.
Since Searle wrote his article, a significant number of contemporary poets have taken what I call an iterative turn: a turn towards repetition, rewriting, versioning, performance, and other uses of pre-existing material in poetry. The iterative turn in poetry can be understood not just as a shift in rhetorical form but also as an ethical and political response to the crisis in authority to which Searle, likewise, implicitly responds: the crisis engendered by the rise of computing and new digital technologies and the increasing pace of globalization––the sense that we are all imprisoned by our technologies and by our language.
Like Searle, writers Caroline Bergvall, Kamau Brathwaite, Hsia Yü 夏宇, and Jonathan Stalling use acts of repetition and translation to address what it means to experience words and knowledge. But they also in different ways question Searle’s Orientalism and his accounts of knowledge, language, experience, the body, and the machine. They offer an alternative way of thinking about agency and the mind as embodied in and through language, translation, and the mediation of technology. Or so I’ll be arguing in Sydney on Friday . . .
Yang Lian and Yo Yo’s essay “Stepping outside Post-Cultural Revolution: Contemporary Chinese Painting” has recently appeared in the online literary journal Body. Chen Jung-hsuan and I translated the essay at Yang Lian’s request, and it has been subsequently edited by Janet McKenzie. The essay was written to preface the catalogue for the exhibition Moving Beyond: Chinese Modern Abstract Art at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. The exhibition, held between 2 August and 27 September 2013, included the work of Liu Guofo, Guan Jing Jing, Yang Liming, Liang Qian, He Gong and Wu Jian. The essay begins:
The Cultural Revolution officially ended in 1976. Yet over thirty years later the shadow of this so-called Cultural Revolution has not disappeared. Among Chinese artists, at least, it has become ever deeper. The difference is that this shadow was once clearly identified as a catastrophe, a disaster, whereas now it has become a seduction that alluringly fills the air. Beginning with the “Mao Goes Pop” exhibition held by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, in 1988 [actually 1993––J.E.], “Cultural Revolution Pop” has achieved success as a brand in the market during China’s period of transformation from Cold War poverty to . . . extreme commercialism . . .
Since I’m writing a book on copying and repetition in contemporary poetry at the moment, in translating the essay, I was particularly struck by the way it combines familiar anxieties about copying Western examples with a particular hostility to the use of appropriation in conceptual and post-conceptual art:
“Post-Cultural Revolution” thought negates the logic of evolution because it contains not a single new idea outside of the Cultural Revolution. The power game of the Cultural Revolution is increasingly replaced by an equally insidious money game. If one gives up self-questioning, art becomes the same as plagiarism; by adopting the language of American or European art movements, Chinese art plays in to the hand of Western hegemony.
And yet at the same time, Yang Lian and Yo Yo cite artists who are themselves committed to forms of repetition with a difference, as for example in Xu Longsen’s giant inkwash paintings.
A Common Strangeness has been selected as runner-up for the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present 2013 Book Prize. The honor recognizes A Common Strangeness as “as one of the finest works in every field of contemporary arts criticism that was published last year.” The A.S.A.P 2013 Book Prize was won by Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (Verso). My congratulations to the book’s author, Claire Bishop, on this richly deserved award.
A.S.A.P’s citation for A Common Strangeness reads:
In this remarkable book, comparative literature outdoes itself, becoming fully contemporary and transnational: Edmond innovates a genuinely global poetics that discovers the fullest cultural crossings among Chinese, Russian, and U.S. poets. Reading correspondences among Yang Lian, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, and Lyn Hejinian, Bei Dao, Dmitri Prigov, and Charles Bernstein, among others, Edmond aims to give a field “still shaped by the history and conceptual and political structures of the Cold War” the resources to read the “appositional, transnational, and multicultural poetics of our current era”; its focus is contemporary poetry’s “common commitment to forms of strangeness,” which disallow old assertions of what unites or foreignizes the world’s populations. And its great advantage is a sense of literary culture equally powerful in its three languages, which translates to interpretive insight uniquely adequate to the world today.