15 November 2006

Kent Johnson Speaks

Kent Johnson himself was drawn our way by the recent discussion of his work. But since his comment was the 15th reply to a post that is now over a week old and well down the page, I offered to post it here for him. The image of Yasusada was found in a past issue of the great Australian online poetry mag, Jacket.

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.