Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Gould vs. Silliman & the School of Quietude

Henry Gould has retired his blog HG Poetics (sorely to be missed by some), only to become (last Friday at least) a formidable squawkbox demon on Silliman's blog.

Ron Silliman had been holding forth again (as always these days, it seems) on his Post-Avant vs. School of Quietude thesis, a binary which like all dualisms becomes oppressively reductionist when adhered to at any lengthy length. Especially when he lumps people like Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell into presumably stuffy and "quiet" realm of the School of Quietude (SoQ).

Henry Gould's challenge to RS's assumptions couldn't be better put. So far RS hasn't even acknowleged it, let alone directly contested it. I transcribe the most incisive of his three April 15 riposts here (the others are hilariously ironic, one in mock-Shakespearean style... check them out)

The SoQ/post-avant theory is a mountain of polemic founded on pure special pleading. It's "us vs. them" paranoia as convenience. Why? Because literature, art and poetry are rooted in fundamental ethical and aesthetic criteria. Inner law. And every work of art is an imperfect attempt to express that law. The effort by polemicists and literary-historical revisionists such as Silliman, Gooding and others, to promote certain forms of art and poetry on a rhetorical-collective-political basis (by which certain literary groups and trends are inherently and historically "superior" to others) is bound to fail. Because art finds its sanction only through the art itself, and collective ideologies and networks are only forms of intellectual inside trading. They corrupt the essential "work" of art -- which is to express the ethical and aesthetic problem in its own original and irreducible terms.

To which I say, Amen.

Maybe this swipe is the only one Henry will make before flying back to his solitary roost.... need he say more?

One question I have which I may yet stick into Ron Silliman's squawkbox at an opportune moment: Silliman writes in his definition of the SoQ that it was Edgar Allen Poe who came up with the term, to describe (I'm paraphrasing here, & also drawing on his earlier definition of the so-called "School") a dominant group of conventional (viz. mediocre) writers and reviewers who accused him of not being "quiet" enough in his writing. To me a phenomenon that corresponds to Poe's notion of a School of Quietude does exist. You can see it in any of the array of mostly University based reviews that publish so much safe, quiet, peculiarly insipid material. See my review of last fall's ARC as an example. Yet if we look at Poe in comparison with Whitman (the real post-avant prototype), he definitely comes across as British-accented, narrow, conservative, even like -- curse the thought -- a Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes. I think by Silliman's definition, Poe would be a hard-core SoQ'er. He definitely doesn't seem very post-avant to me.