06 November 2006

Some Fictions of Kent Johnson

Election Eve, 2006 --

Kent Johnson (on the left, pictured with BlazeVox editor Geoffrey Gatza) was in Buffalo recently. He gave a great reading at Medaille College (my employer, which earlier this semester hosted our own Lance Olsen as well) -- work political, lyric, alternating langauges and moods, beautiful and full of truth. Johnson denominates himself a poet, but only because in the current world of poets "fiction" seems to have become a fallen, dirty word. Somehow experiments involving prose and narrative investigations, if conducted by poets, are being called poems these days -- as if, to bend the old saw, the dancer were now more essential than the dance. (I even had a writer recently tell me that she had written a book of prose poems, though she supposed that if we were in France it would be called a novel.)

Living in Buffalo, a city of poets, I am used to such (mis)constructions of fiction. But whatever Kent Johnson calls himself, he is partaking in the strategies and tactics of fiction writing.

Let me talk about his recent book in the ongoing Araki Yasusada project, Also with My Throat, I Shall Swallow Ten Thousand Swords: Araki Yasusada's Letters in English (Combo Books, 2005).

This work is a sequel publication to the alternately lauded & decried collection, Doubled Flowering ("the most controversial poetry book since Allen Ginsberg's Howl" - Forrest Gander), on whose title page Johnson appeared as editor (alongside Javier Alvarez) when the book was first published in 1997. What happened subsequently is the stuff of literary provocateur legend: Johnson was ultimately accused and (perhaps) revealed to have been himself the author of the poems which had been claimed to be the work of Yasusada, a survivor of atomic-bombed Hiroshima; accounts of the hoax appeared in Lingua Franca, The Nation, and elsewhere. The "perhaps" above ensues because Johnson has never (to my knowledge) fessed up, and instead we read such labyrinthine narrative positionings as this, from the more recent (2005) letters volume's introduction:

"In the poetry world, it is by now generally known that Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada is a fiction created by its 'primary translator' Tosa Motokiyu, the pseudonym of a writer who requested, before his passing in 1966, that his legal identity never be revealed."

Any attempt to try to stabilize statements of the authorship of Yasusada eternally encounters new self-cancelling fronts and evasions. Yasusada's Letters are likewise a maze of metacritical delights on the order of Nabokov's Pale Fire, which, of course, Yasusada and Motokiyu both have occasions to reference. The letters date from a year in Yasusada's early student career in the US, 1926, almost two decades before he was to be present in Hiroshima, and are written to a never-further-identified "Pal-Pen" named Richard. They are annotated throughout by the at-best pseudonymous and more likely entirely invented Motokiyu, as well as the sur-editors Johnson and Alvarez, with commentaries that are notable for almost invariably and frequently comically missing the most obvious significations of the lines they meant to elucidate. And the letters themselves are written in a deliciously imagistic and variously attenuated pidgin language which begins as naively attempted English before morphing into a gorgeous, if sometimes precious, poetic prose, over a period of months. Despite all of the circuities of Johnson’s framing device, one has the uncanny experience, confronted by the core textual materials, of seeing a young artist blossom, an accelerated, fragmentary, international 20th century kunstlerroman:

January 5, 1926. "I am writing the letter from this class of American English. I hope you are feeling lovely. Do you have a wife? Inside your nation I know there is hotness in months of August and July. Particularly there is hotness in my nation when in August. Now there is coolness. And much snow. I enjoy to travel upwards in mountains (yet especially downward on long clauses!) [...]and also the study of your tongue, English."

July 24, 1926. "Boiled tortoises are made to cool. Giggling geishas left bones with tweezers. Red dace make eggs in mussel shells. Eels are sliding in baskets of bamboo. A carp goes eaten by the bride. Inside Fujiwara and Manabe there are bandits. This is one silly song sung while tops are spinning."

November 7, 1926. "Each time I read Dr. Anzai's poem, 'Spring,'
A herring is about to be brought to the table, coming through a subway tunnel
I feel renewed and excited, as if I had been slapped awake by an Imperial courtesan with the thighs of a wrestler! [sic] And your own 'Horse,'
There is a naval port inside its intestines
reveals, if there ever was any doubt, that within a single turnip pulled up by a squatting man there are mountains, rivers, and a whole formation of rubber-capped subjects swimming across the Hokaido Strait! My death is coming; I am patient."

Sweetly, Yasusada signs each letter "I am sincere." Of course, the liar always sez he's telling the truth.

The slim volume closes with an essay and a personal reflection by yet two more characters, critic Mikhail Epstein and Hosea Hirata, the latter of whom claims lineage to another survivor of the atomic blasts. These people may be real, as Javier Alvarez also might or might not be; yet Araki Yasusada has an entry on Wikipedia and Johnson was asked and answered a question about the attempt to secure a University home for Yasusada's papers when I saw him in Buffalo, engaging now in a fictive game of such momentum that it has acquired players in his audiences. Where Johnson has been criticized (and I avoid here investigating further the blog wars in which Johnson and detractors evidently both descended to nastiness), it has been for exploiting the victims of this historical crime by authoring poems which are said to have issued from that time, place, and subject-position. There are both hard and soft critiques to be made from this perspective: Is Johnson’s Yasusada a reactionary “reverse-discrimination” experiment suggesting the limitations of “witness” poetry, that writings that would not have received such an audience when seen as written by a white American more valued when they are seen as the products of a now-dead Japanese writer, who perished as an indirect result of historical violence? Or, crediting Johnson with his own version of “I am sincere,” to what extent is the Asian “other” subject position rightfully claimable by one who has not lived in the society or had the experiences, but mimics identity for the purposes of art.

Johnson full body of work turns these types of questions inside out and every which way. A notable text in this debate is his story/poem, "Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz (Or, Get the Hood Back On)," which first appeared in Gatza’s online magazine BlazeVox and has subsequently appeared both in Johnson's collection, Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War (Effing Press) and in the anthology, PP/FF, published by my own Starcherone Books. Of these, the essential experience remains the BlazeVox publication, where Johnson’s text is presented under a montage of Abu Ghraib photos, musically scored and designed by Gatza to reinforce the contrast of casual colonial brutality and naive gringo enthusiasm that is a hallmark of Johnson’s text:

"What’s up, Ramal, I’m an American boy, a father, two children, graduate of Whitman High, where I was a member of the Science Club and Student Council, then I got to be the youngest elected officer ever in the history of my town’s Rotary Chapter, I’m in charge of fund-raising, which hasn’t been easy the past few years, what with the economy and all, but we’re hanging in there. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, because I don’t want to assault your sensibilities, or anything like that, but I want to be up front with you because I believe that honesty is the best policy: So, I’m going to put a pointed plastic hood on your black and blue head, and then I’m going to stand your caped body on a milk box, with live wires taped to your outstretched hands, and then I’m going to count to ten, you witch-like Arab freak, and maybe I’ll flip the switch and maybe not, it all kind of depends."

“I think Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz is by far the most relevant poem for/in/about this War,” poet Ethan Paquin has about this text (about 15% of which is excerpted above). Paquin’s statement is one with which I am in wholehearted agreement, except perhaps for the part about “poem.” But whatever kind of text one wants to call this, the sense in which Johnson has made himself an actor in the service of national conscience should be emphasized. Always in Kent Johnson's work is the linger of American war violence -- whether it is the haunting flash-backward and forward to Hiroshima in the Yasusada letters, our devastation of Baghdad or the incomprehensible (and radically uncomprehended by its perps) tortures of Abu Ghraib. Johnson loves the interplay between the devastations wrought by US superpower and the naifs (young soldiers, young Yasusada) entangled in any deciphering of their meaning. Gander makes much the same point, in talking about Doubled Flowering:

"Using Modernist strategies, the author(s) [Johnson and Alvarez], steeped in translations of Japanese literature and feeling uneasy, even -- if they are Americans -- complicit with the U.S. foreign policy that generated such mass destruction, invented an imaginative, political and poetical act of empathy. To write poems concerning Hiroshima, they felt it necessary to imagine themselves as the other, 'the enemy.' They relinquished their own identities as authors and became invisible, as the Hiroshima victims themselves disappeared. It is an impossible gesture of solidarity, since one cannot truly imagine one's way into an actual culture considerably different from one's own."

I am interested in and sensitive to questions concerning the ethics of representation as similar questions as pertain to the Yasusada project may well be raised about my own novel, Malcolm & Jack, particularly where I fashion artificial constructions of the subject positions of such figures as Malcolm X and Billie Holiday. In answering these concerns myself, I would underline the sense that narratives are always constructions, and any verisimilitude created by fiction is an effect of the art form, in no way a speaking for the absent subject: verisimilitude is not verity. At the same time, what fiction writers DO is represent. That is the essential form of the art: it is an art of lying, invention, artificial construction, mimicry, semblance. I think it is a limitation on the practice of the art to say that there is some aspect of discourse, experience, or history that one should refrain from representing, as a hard and fast rule. Of course, one should not go into the minefields of representation unadvised or without respect for the significances of histories of racism, oppression, violence and the like. We should also expect the representations of others from assumed and masqueraded subject positions will be problematic -- that is the nature of experimental art. Fiction, by its very nature, is a practice which self-consciously presents itself as lies, thus leads us to reflect upon lying, both within deliberately designed aesthetic creations and upon the at-large practices of fictionalization at work in all walks of our lives. Fiction is that discourse that calls into question the truth-telling strategies of language even as it employs them. Airtight, airbrushed, sanitized lies are the ones we really have to worry about. I am a fiction writer, and so I lie, but my lies haven't been killing people. This distinguishes Kent Johnson and I and y’all (who’s out there?) from Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney, who lie and kill people, or who lie and make people killers. Fiction is lies that do not lie about lying. That distinguishes the art of lies that is fiction from the lies of power we are so much in the grip of in our national discourse today. We are distrusted and feared by the world and we have alienated our own youth so much that a majority have opted out of democratic agency even as we claim to be bringing this great gift to the rest of the world.

To summarize, then: Kent Johnson is (and is not) Araki Yasusada. Geoffrey Gatza is Superman. I am Jack Chapeau. George Bush is Bozo the Clown with 100 million vials of poison. And I guess tomorrow we'll start to find out if we can trust our voting booths.

"There was never a mistake in addition," Gertrude Stein once wrote. Or was that Antonin Scalia?


Ted Pelton said...

Note: photo taken at Founding Father's Pub in Buffalo, perhaps by Mike Kelleher. On the wall behind Johnson and Gatza are portraits of Washington, Adams, and, just above Kent's head, George and Laura Bush.

Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

Dan Hoy takes up a lot of these questions (and more) in the most recent issue (#5) of CUE: A Journal of Prose Poetry.

Anonymous said...

You just can't get enough of that bozo the clown bit, can you Ted?


kevin.thurston said...

kinda related to kent, but more general:

seems to me, that amongst the flash fiction/prose poem set that seeks to cross-pollinate/pollute genre distinctions, to insist that one has allegiances to any one genre is strictly a tactical career move*. which, of course, is valid--funding, publication, tenure and all.

mark wallace said...

Ted, I think what you say here about the possibilities and dangers and inherent necessity of representation in fiction is truly fascinating and necessary. Representation is so central to the art of fiction--and at the same time I feel it almost always as a crisis, given the huge danger involved in the fact that the creation of even a single character is so often extrapolated out in the work of critics to being the creation of a whole category of supposedly similar people. I really do suffer a kind of terror in relation to representation that can be at times paralyzing, though occasionally it proves very generative also. But some mornings I think to myself that I'll be damned if I'll ever create another character ever again. Other mornings, being too stupid to take my own good advice, I just dive back in.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ted,

A couple weeks ago in Grosse Pointe I told you I didn't want "in" on the conversation, but I just read your post on Kent Johnson & thought I'd toss in a couple cents.

First, let me insert a couple of parentheses into one your sentences and ask you to address it to the poetry/fiction issues you raise in paragraphs one and two:

"We should also expect the representations of others (here is a poem) from assumed and masqueraded subject positions (because I am a poet, not a fiction writer) will be problematic--this is the nature of experimental art."

I wouldn't put issues of artistic identity anywhere near racism, oppression, or violence, however there may be more innocuous issues of identity at play here.

Personally,I haven't seen fiction regarded as a dirty word by poets, any more than vice-versa. There are camps, schools - it happens. I have, however, had personal experience - and spoken with other writers - who struggle with "fiction" and "poetry" genre designations with regards to their own writing of "prose and narrative investigations."

Granted, this only happens when you want other people to read what you write (read: get published), but at that point a writer bleeding lines between poetry/fiction/non-fiction has to decide which "camp" they're going to fall in with - how to submit/publish their work.

So: Does how a work gets published serve as the ultimate statement on its genre? Can we safely leave it up to the writer to designate their own genre and/or label? Or does it take at least three entities - author, publisher, majority public opinion - to settle on a satisfying designation?

Finally, to what ends?

And so forth,

Lance Olsen said...

One of the real detriments of identity politics, it seems to me, is that its move toward something like cultural dominance has gotten some fiction writers skittish about doing precisely what they do best: traveling into identities that aren't theirs.

Perhaps it should be the other way around: that every act of writing always be a challenge to us fictioneers to slip into skins we wouldn't/couldn't otherwise have access to and inhabit, an undertaking at once thrilling, illuminating, impossible, and essential.

Ted Pelton said...

Like Mark, I get very nervous about representation and find those moments of abandon in writing harder and harder to get to as I get fatter & grayer, there's so much to worry about. And yet I find that the necessary condition of the art.

I just saw Borat last night and I was actually quite amazed at how well that film handles such issues. I think it is the same conversation. Sacha Baron Cohen wants to get at what's hot, funny, radical, dangerous; its dangerousness, its inappropriateness is why it's funny. But the film also subtly signals where its narrative position wants to be ultimately located. A tricky business -- and of course such claims of "ulimate" meaning, like any central interpretation/proposition, may be dismantled by a critic with mind toward doing so. (I would also be mighty pissed if I were the Presdient of Kazakhstan.) But when we hear real, unscripted people saying/doing things that are just as ludicrous as anything Borat says/does -- drunken white male teens wistfully looking back on slavery, a crowd cheering the suggestion that Bush drink the blood of all the dead of Iraq -- the offensiveness becomes strategy as well. I recommend this movie for both the laughs and the frequent moments of discomfort.

To Peter, you're right: "Personally, I haven't seen fiction regarded as a dirty word by poets, any more than vice-versa." But I have been struck by the number of people these days doing things that I would always have called fiction but they call poetry. I think that's because, at least from my view, the propositions of poetry seem more hegemonic in literary discourse these days. I am not saying (and this gets to what Kevin put in as well) that Johnson's work should be called fiction instead of poetry. I'm not looking to bring in the law. Rather that thinking of it as fiction shows how it engages questions central to fiction, how questions of fiction may clarify what these writers are doing. And yes, I do think there's a sense among poets often that fiction is a commercialized, less aesthetic discourse. The bias running the other way is not of this same sort. To address that would require lots more sentences -- I'll just leave it alone here.

Finally, regarding what Lance says, I think that while it might be unfortunate that fiction writers have been made skittish by the demands of citizenship struggles, I think that this is "the price of the ticket" as a writer today. It requires bravery. But this doesn't mean I'm preaching sanitized writing. One of my favorite authors is Michel Houellebecq (I've gone on about him before), and he offends everyone.

Houellebecq (and Cohen) speaks another strange aspect of our poet-Enlightenment era, where liberalism's knee jerk reaction (in the largest sense of liberalism) is to be tolerant of certain beliefs and discourses, which ironically are themselves intolerant. Coming out of the movie theatre after seeing Borat, I turned on BBC in my car and heard about riots in Israel against Gay Pride. Ian Buruma's book about the murder of Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic fundamentalist in Holland shows us another battlefield in this. (Islamic Fundamentalism in the Netherlands -- wow!) And of course the United States can be no stranger to these issues. Kids of my generation (kindergarten 1967) were all told how America began with people coming from foreign shores to have religious freedom. Actually, the Puritans came to establish a society based entirely in predestination and intolerance. But of course they brought servants & slaves with them, the sailors who took them there saw their own oppotunities, capitalists had already landed in the South a dozen years before, and in a hundred years the farmers would be passing around copies of John Locke. If modern fiction is the enactment of Bakhtin's formulation, plays of discourses, our rich history of competing claims, tolerance and intolerance, is great material -- but also calls for the fearlessness of deep-tunneling miners. You have to expect, in this terrain, cave-ins slides, collapses, explosions, etc.

I also still believe, silly Romantic as I am, in the perfectability of human beings through Enlightenment principles. Maybe one day we will have peace with our neighbors, sanity from our leaders, and avarice everywhere tempered by responsibility. As well as what formally interests me in his work, I see a similar dream in Kent Johnson, which prompted me to talk about him.

Lance Olsen said...

Nice reading of Borat, Ted. While I think I found it a little more sophomoric and mean-spirited than you, I couldn't help feeling some sort of mischievous delight in the face of it's impulse toward a mode of postmodern comedy that takes nothing, including its own premises, seriously. How refreshing.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your reply and some more insights. Now What is bringing up so many good issues to read & think about - always a thought-provoking read. I'd love to hear more about that statement "the propositions of poetry seem more hegemonic in literary discourse these days" at some point. Blogs like Now What serve as great windows into those issues - particularly for someone who isn't as in touch with the academic discourse. Plus, every time we talk about this stuff I'm really hungover the next day and it's hard to remember exactly what was said...

BTW, I finished Malcolm & Jack last night and really dug it. You weave together many of my favorite subterranean "criminals" from the era and maintain this deep, ominous cloud that hangs over it all like a state-issued gray flannel suit. I look forward to talking to you more about it in-person before too long (how about Syracuse, December 1, the YMCA?).


Joe Amato said...

Hmm. This thread is bugging me a bit, and here's why: I'm not averse to talking fiction and narrative and the like, but we've had far more of the latter around here than we have of poetry and poetics per se. And while I'd agree that the marketplace is a key imperative in decisions as to how to designate genre, as some of you have noted, I find it telling that when we finally get around to a work (Kent's) offered up as poetry, the first move is to recodify it as fiction/narrative.

Not that to do so won't yield abundant insights, you understand. And it's true too that Kent's work probably has enjoyed far more scrutiny to date from poets. Still.

Also: being wedded to a writer who describes herself as a prose writer, and whose more innovative prose can seem to find a home only on poetry presses or series or mags, I would observe that it's the fiction establishment, as it were, that's calling the shots here. It's hardly the case that fiction has fallen into disrepute among poets (Ted). Rather, so much language work that really torques the sentence-levels has perhaps never received due attention from so many fiction writers.

Anyway. I think we would do well not to try to gainsay one genre by giving primacy to another. I'm sure too, for that matter, that Kent appreciates the attention of fiction writers. But it means something, finally, that Kent addresses his work and his provocations to poets first, or at least, to readers predisposed toward poetry, and one ought not, I think, to underestimate that gradient in his work.



Ted Pelton said...

Generalizations are odious -- and yet I can't keep myself from them!

I have nothing against poets. The people I see & hang out with most often are poets. Most of the readings I go to are by poets. I have found a series of questions, movements, provocations by poets in recent years & decades fruitful for my own work & thinking. I am very likely envious of the vitality of poetic discourse; poets come up with these great new names for the schools & movements -- see Flarf. They have feuds and public battles which while sometimes nasty & short-sighted at least bespeak vitality -- see Foetry. Joe uses the term "fiction establishment." What fiction establishment? Now of course these are all amorphous terms and all we can speak to is our own subjective experiences, from which we then generalize, so that the generalizations are all by their very nature somewhat wrong, and may be entirely so. But what I see in fiction is a marketplace that is aesthetically conservative, with most more interesting individual artists excluded & working more or less in isolation (which, true, may be the nature of the art). I see younger (student, etc.) writers who don't want to write "fiction" but "prose" -- thus, among other reasons, my contention that fiction as a discourse has become less interesting to writers; that poetic discourse is more hegemonic in our current moment. Formally innovative fiction writers -- and don't take this as criticism, I am one of you, of us -- are still saddled with terms like "experimental" and "postmodern," which lost their usefulness at least 20 years ago, and are now employed in something of a "post-useful" way. This is the context from which I wanted to read Kent J through the lens of fiction. Yes he calls his work poetry & addresses himself to poets, but he also references Nabokov, etc.

Again, though, it's generalization from individual experience that creates problems -- and Joe, being a poet in this virtual room of fiction writers, I can see why you'd have a different take than I do as a fiction writer living in Buffalo, a city known for poetry and poetics (er, besides chicken wings, snow, and the Bills).

Joe Amato said...

Ted, to clarify: by "fiction establishment" I meant to denote what you refer to when you say "fiction is a marketplace that is aesthetically conservative." I think a better word might simply be "knuckleheads." But I was trying to be kind for a change.

Speaking broadly and with regard to the avant tribes esp., poets have had a theoretical/conceptual advantage over fiction writers for decades, it seems, and some would argue that this is b/c they've generally given up any thoughts about making money from their writing. Their appeal to the marketplace, that is, is necessarily (or ritualistically) muted, and this opens up (as it were) conceptual possibilities. Or so goes that line of, what, reasoning? (I set aside here the obvious relationship between publishing and academic "prosperity." And those scare quotes mean that I'm on the verge of getting really testy about things academic, but I'll save it for another day.)

I won't quibble over whether exp. fiction writers or exp. poets have it "worse," all said and done, and attempting to discriminate along these lines generally devolves to one or another species of rhetorical posturing. But I would argue that the discourse of poetry is hardly "hegemonic," Ted. To put it another way: if that's hegemony, where's mine? Exactly who am I presumed to be lording it over?

Here's something I'm sure many of you noted long ago: have a look at the Postmodern American Fiction and Postmodern American Poetry anthologies on Norton, at the critical apparatus at the back of each. With few exceptions (one? two?) the fiction anthology includes excerpts from critics/theorists. But the critical statements at the back of Hoover's poetry anthology are written by poets.

I like both of these anthologies, but I find this latter fact telling. And of course, we can imagine, all of us, an easy remedy, as so many postmodern fiction writers (whatever the hell we mean by "postmodern" these days) have written exceptionally in a critical vein.

As to the word "prose," well: in my experience, "prose" or "writing" is used instead of "narrative" or "fiction" in anticipation of a knucklehead (see above) reading/evaluating one's work. It's a survival strategy, as I see it, and perhaps a way to recast the terms given to us by (here again) the marketplace.

Anyway, no harshness here directed at you, Ted. Just trying to unpack some of what I'm seeing, or what I think I'm seeing.



Ted Pelton said...

Yeah, I guess I meant hegemonic in a pretty limited way. I don't see the Joint Chiefs making haiku.

I gotcha, baby. And as I saw in one of your other posts, yes, I too am exhausted by many stuffs right now, and squeezing these replies in as I can. Thanks for the close reading.

Anonymous said...

A belated commentary here.

There are some really interesting remarks in this discussion, and thanks to Ted for putting up the generous post.

Just to throw something into the mix, I thought I'd comment briefly on Joe Amato's thoughts on the "genre" location of the Yasusada writing. (By the way, please see, if you haven't, Joe's amazing new book, Industrial Poetics, just out from Iowa--what its genre should be called, I'm not quite sure! It's fabulous.)

Actually, I wouldn't necessarily see Doubled Flowering, etc. as closer to Poetry than to Fiction, nor would I make the vice versa claim. And I don't say this just because the two AY books have as much "prose" in them as "poetry": Generic identity, I think, is not so much a matter of textual form as it is of Authorial identity and identification (i.e., how does the Author frame the form and how does the Author frame herself or himself?). And of course, the Yasusada writings refuse, in important senses, to mark themselves in ways that provide for ready placement.

Clearly, though, Motokiyu's writing *is* fictional... But I'd say it's a fiction in a decidedly non-conventional sense, since it also--and this would be at the core of its controversy--gathers into its poetic-fictive space a number of "real" and relatively unquestioned paratextual categories: ones that are almost always kept distinct from the imaginative "essence," so to speak, of literary writing, traditional and experimental alike.

Most relevant here would be the Yasusada work's departure from the expected projections of Authorship and the standardizing rituals of taxonomy and axiology that flow from its function (as they do, no?). And it's the paratextual category of Authorship, in particular, innocuous and normal as it appears to be, that provides the character roles we all fill and which the Literature institution absolutely requires for its overall stage effects--including the ongoing tragicomic display of the "avant-garde's" auto-recuperation into the Culture industry (Ron Silliman's post on Barrett Watten the other day, by the way, seems blind to the fact that there could be nothing more *inside* High Museum culture than a tenured, academic [winner of the Rene Wellek Prize for Criticism, no less] writing in arcane theoretical language about the negative dialectics of poetic opposition!). Er, Ideology, meet Language Poetry...

Not that Yasusada totally succeeds in escaping those dynamics... Far from it, since one could argue it's a pretty provisional, even flawed gesture of resistance to what I mention above. And not that these kinds of "theoretical" considerations are the major impulse or meaning of its writing. In fact, what I've said in this comment seems more than a bit uptight and stilted, now that I read it over. Well, too late now, I guess. Maybe a briefer way of putting it is that I think Motokiyu's work wishes to unfold not only as a fiction on the page, but as a fiction within the world. A poetic fiction, I suppose, that hopes to enchant and confuse the scenery in some modest, but useful and unpredictable ways. In that, I think it's had, and is still having, some impact.


Ted Pelton said...

OK, who's the wise guy pretending to be Kent Johnson?