Thursday, February 21, 2008

being real

The Poetry Foundation web site hosts a blog called "Harriet" (named of course after Poetry founder Harriet Monroe). Currently Christian Bök, Stephen Burt, Rigoberto González, Major Jackson, Ange Mlinko, and A.E. Stallings are the poets writing entries. The cast of bloggy characters rotates. Last summer Kenneth Goldsmith was among them. On July 26, 2007, Kenny's entry incited a number of responses, many of them negative. Here is link to the full entry and the responses, and here is the first paragraph of Kenny's comment:

I recently gave a lecture recently to a group of poetry MFAs on uncreative writing, appropriation, information management and unoriginality. During the Q&A, a student declaimed, "C'mon, man, be real. Drop all that stuff and be real, you know, artist to artist." To which I responded, "If you can give me a definition of what real is then I can be real with you." I thought to myself, wow, writing is so far behind other art forms in this regard. Could you imagine after a lecture someone say to Jeff Koons, "Hey, Jeff, drop all that stuff and be real." Never. No one expects Jeff Koons to "be real." Jeff Koons has made a career out of being "unreal." Likewise, during a pop concert -- say, a Madonna concert -- it's hard to imagine someone shouting out to Madonna to be real. No one expects Madonna to really sing, rather they revel in the image of her while listening to a pre-recorded vocal track. Would the "real" Madonna please stand up? For the past two decades, "realness" has ceased to be an issue in music, art and fashion. But in writing we're still expected to "be real." Twenty five years after Baudrillard, these poetry students were still prioritizing Romantic notions of authenticity -- "truth", "individuality" and "honesty" -- over any other form of expression. My god! Is it a case of naivety, amnesia or just plain ignorance?

Image above: Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and soap bubbles (1988).