Carlo Parcelli


    FlashPoint Online has been existence now for about 3 years. The number of "hits" on the front page at this writing is 15,255. I am told that we are getting about 10 times as many hits on individual pieces for a total in the neighborhood of 150,000. During this time, I have received perhaps 60 responses to my incendiary articles on the state of poetry today. About two thirds are in favor of an overhaul of poetry in the vein I suggest and the other third sees my attacks as unreasonable, even irrational.

    Also appearing on FlashPoint are two long series of excerpts from my Deconstructing the Demiurge series as well as what I call my "doggerel," a mock epic very loosely based on Dante's Divine Comedy. I wrote these sections (and a few thousand more lines like them) during an extended period where personal responsibilities did not allow me to do, what I consider, serious work. But of all the poetry I have offered the 'doggerel' garnered the most response. And all of it was favorable and wildly so!

    One could say with some certainty, this is because the 'doggerel' sections of Deconstructing the Demiurge are crammed with satiric accounts of figures from American political history and popular scientific and philosophical taxonomies familiar to the reader. I have no data on whether readers were guffawed more by the lampooning of foreign policy or the caricature presented of science and technology. The scientific and technological sections were more difficult to write and demanded some ingenuity to render them entertaining, clear, and not utterly inaccurate as concerned the scientific phenomena that they attacked.

    The two Deconstructing the Demiurge sections which resemble in form the Cantos or Zukofsky's "A" have inspired perhaps a half dozen comments with only one dissenter and no critiques of substance. This dissenter was so troubled by my "Who Hired Bill Moyers to Destroy American Poetry" piece that he informed me that he would rather die than see my kind of poetry prevail. I guess he hadn't read the papers. Personally, I'm always being reminded that Modernism has "been here and gone." So don't do anything drastic yet, pal. Apparently I'm already working in a dead form and you might just run into me in the bolge of Hell reserved for those not faddishly reactionary enough to appear in The New Yorker or the APR. If not Hell exactly, it certainly has that interior leather feel of purgatory. And who knows what the seven cardinal sins are nowadays, though it's plain to see that their corporate incarnations are all doing quite well on the New York Stock Exchange .

    The paltry number of responses to the serious Deconstructing the Demiurge sections doesn't surprise me. The poems are difficult in a way that even the most ardent defenders of "difficulty" don't intend. One can read the pronouncements of these devotees of the difficult and then the poetry they write and/or publish and gauge their true capacities for "difficulty." Apparently, hundreds of people have called my "serious" work up but virtually no one has chosen to respond to it, not even to bloody my presumptuous nose. In contrast we have received many unsolicited submissions and none of them even approximated our stated criteria and only Peter Dale Scott's work adheres to some of our specific tenets.

    I have to assume the lack of response to the more serious Demiurge is because virtually no one can figure out what is going on in these poems. This amazes me. It amazes me because Deconstructing the Demiurge is constructed on the epistemological and philosophical foundations of science and its resulting technologies. In our culture this science and technology is all pervasive. In other words, Deconstructing the Demiurge is in a profoundly fundamental way about our everyday experience.

    I have heard some reasons given for dissing works like Deconstructing the Demiurge. The most prominent is that works such as Pound's Cantos and Olson's Maximus turned out to be little more than a set of incorrect and/or inoperable conceits. Why expend so much time and energy on "systems" that are proven non- performers? Sure, there are beautiful elements you can pull from the wreckage; Pound's introduction to the Troubadours, Chinese aesthetics, the poetic heights and depths of being on your own potential death watch; or Olson's larger than life "humanitas" and exuberant communication of Mayan and whaling culture. But why couldn't they just focus on these elements and spare us the Douglasonian economics, the American civics lesson, Gloucester bills of lading, the labyrinth that is Process and Reality, and Carl O. Sauer's detailed and dry historical geographies. Why should the reader be expected to devote his whole reading life to systems of thought that often seem to have no bearing on his or her everyday, shared experience?

    Of course, working for decades in the style of the Cantos and Maximus, I disagree with these criticisms. As Ed Dorn pointed out in an interview, "The beauties of Pound will come to you without doing a lot of work. I mean that is another way that he is tossed off too." But my intention here is not to refute protestations of obscurity or "difficulty" in Pound, Olson, Zukofsky et al but to explore the implications of such protests. Actually, I'd like to address just one implication. That implication is the tacit assumption among many poets, editors, and readers that everyday experience is best embodied in everyday language. (We can save the discussion of what constitutes everyday language or discourse for another time, though I will tacitly address this below.)

    When a reader early on in Deconstructing the Demiurge: Millennial Mathematics: the Centos encounters Schopenhauer's insistence from The World as Will and Idea that there exists a "'state of philosophical innocence' of one 'who has not mastered Kant'", he or she probably disregards it as a narrow historical and philosophical conceit. But Schopenhauer goes on to state that this dismissive reader therefore "remains in the grip of [a] natural and childish realism." What better description of the poetic engagement of the everyday with everyday language! There are the apolitical implications as he or she "records" (actually parrots) "the order, the violence" without investigating "the idealization of observation and definition," and allowing "the ambition of the 'mathesis universalis'" to rampage unchecked. Without the deep critique of Schopenhauer through Kant and the execution of this critique in Deconstructing the Demiurge, Robert Creeley's disengagement from 'politicized' discourse seems not only justified, but in the negative way intended, absolutely rebellious.

    But what if we take the attack right to the enemy? So much 20th century poetry is based on the assumptions that the fruits of technology are inherently dehumanizing. Even a book length reprise would be insufficient to canvass this sentiment among poets. Further, it is often implied (though rarely explicitly stated) that science and mathematics through their systems of quantification, experimental idealization, and reduction are responsible for much of the dehumanizing aspects of modern existence. This has actually reached cliche status among poets. And when you've reached cliche status, you're simply asking to be summarily dismissed.

    No poet as far as I can tell has attempted a frontal attack of the scientific/technological paradigm at the level that Schopenhauer is calling for in the study of Kant. I could be wrong and wouldn't mind seeing evidence to the contrary. Hint: Jorie Graham, Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry do not qualify. A Poundian, Ernesto Cardenal is an interesting case study but, like A. R. Ammons, is not a critic of science but a romantic sycophant. (See Deconstructing the Demiurge: Millenial Mathematics: the Centos for a critique of both poets.)

    If the kind of deep scrutiny of science, mathematics and technology that I am advocating is not to be found in contemporary poetry, does it reside anywhere in the arts? The answer is yes; there is one artist who has dedicated much of his output to the critical and practical dismantling of science and technology as we know it. His intention is no less than to completely overturn the epistemological order. His ambition is huge; his insight and genius are impressive. I'm speaking of the Concept artist, Henry Flynt.

    Henry Flynt has produced a prodigious body of writing. Much of it deals with interrogating (his approach is aggressive and thorough) the universal efficacy of mathematical constructs. Flynt's strategy in these papers is to introduce perceptual ( and historical) paradoxes that occur without, except in rare instances and individuals, arousing curiosity or discontent within the established culture of mathematics. He also has written amply in the more philosophically traditional vein, pointing out fundamental epistemological contradictions in the practice and presentation of mathematical and physical 'reality.' Much of this work can be read from his web site. Papers that deal with these topics include An Expose of Foundations of Mathematics, Superceding Scientific Apprehension of the Inanimate World: The "Phenomenological" Base of Physics, The Disintegration of Possibility?: On Commitments Which Frame Physics, Whether "That 1 =2 Is Compelling" and The Apprehension of Plurality (An instruction Manual for 1987 concept art). I won't try to paraphrase Henry Flynt's work further for fear of not doing it justice. What his writing does is lay out in precise and detailed fashion the complex epistemological assumptions and constructions that actually underlie Schopenhauer's accusation of naive realism; the naive realism that pervades the everydayness of contemporary poetry.

    So is everyday language sufficient to embody everyday experience? At first blush the answer would be yes. But on closer examination, this partnership would seem like a tautology. It would certainly not allow a breaking out of the circuitry; and the poetry's perpetuation would rely on this built-in redundancy, which is most apparent now in the limits of editorial expectation. In this sense, the poetry could not be "revolutionary" as it, like every thing else these days, occasionally claims for itself. I think that there is a vague understanding that much of mainstream contemporary poetry is, even when it is being critical, not nearly heuristically critical or sophisticated enough to discuss the dominant scientific paradigm. Thus, out of ignorance and defensiveness arises the perpetuation of a poetics of the simple, the everyday, in short what people who fancy themselves poets can manage.

    I further believe that this is why there has been such a violent critical backlash toward the poetry of the everyday. It would also explain why much of this backlash has been incoherent. And finally, it would explain why the alternative forms of poetry promoted by the backlash suffer from the same inadequacies of its mainstream foe.

    The lack of basic epistemological and philosophical tools is also behind the critical position that the work of contemporary poets, be it Derek Walcott, Jorie Graham, Philip Levine, Katha Pollitt, or whomever, is at heart ineffectually bourgeois no matter what their radical pedigree. It is informed by bourgeois ideas not because these poets do not 'mean' or intend their radical sentiments, but because they do not realize the nature of the critical depths and demands of the system they are attacking. Only a radical epistemological and philosophical understanding of science and technology, and a poetics based on this can now be truly revolutionary.

    When I first began my investigations in this vein some 33 years ago the only weapons at my disposal were epistemological. All my arguments sounded esoteric, utterly divorced from the everyday concerns. But now everyday discourse is awash with questions concerning the environment. And with this new consciousness seeping into everyone's everyday experience we have a new and less seemingly alien opportunity to investigate those same epistemological and philosophical questions that arise from Enlightenment science and its technological offspring. Thus all along, epistemological questions have been directly and profoundly connected to environmental questions borne of the technologies that could not have come into existence without the lattice work of mathematics and the scientific method.

    It's an opportunity for art and poetry in particular to reassert itself. An opportunity that up to this point has simply been squandered.

Current installments of "Deconstructing the Demiurge"

"Crimes of Passion"
"Work in Regress"
"Onionrings: Adding machines-Crisco"
"Collateral Damage, or The Death of Classics in America"
"How Dead Industrialists Dance, or Swing Time"
"Tale of the Tribe"
"Millennium Mathematics: The Centos"

Related:     "A=R=T M=E=A=N=S" by Joe Brennan