David Hess


"if you want to be dignified, there's no reason to be a poet"
                                                        -- Jack Spicer

"let me listen to me and not to them"
                                                        -- Gertrude Stein

    In 1915 Osip Brik published Mayakovsky's only Futurist manifesto, "A Drop of Tar: 'A speech to be delivered at the first occasion'" in the anthology Seized: The Drum of the Futurists. If Mayakovsky were alive today, I have no doubt that he would be dismissed in contemporary academic circles as a fascist preparing for a book burning or a pogrom, as a sorry example of male rage and Oedipal anxiety, and, most of all, as a nagging anti-intellectual guilty of this heinous exclamation from "Screaming My Head Off":

                "Books by Marx and Engels
                     were great
                But we didn't have to read them
                     because we knew
                           where we stood.
                Don't give me Hegel
                     and his dialectic!
                It smashed its heads
                And the sound
                     of the skulls cracking
                            was poetry!"
                -- in Poems for the Millennium

    My boy Vladimir strikes a similar note in "A Drop of Tar": "For one year now, the auditoriums present only the most boring logic, demonstrations of trivial truths, instead of the cheerful sound of glass pitchers against empty heads." Surely this uncouth soul is incapable of proper intellectual and poetic exchange. He then restates the "three vociferous statements from our manifesto ["A Slap in the Face of Public Taste"]," which he wrote with his pals Burliuk, Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh three years earlier:

    1. Destroy the all-canons freezer which turns inspiration into ice. (The past is too tight. The Academy and Pushkin are less intelligible than hieroglyphics).

    2. Destroy the old language, powerless to keep up with life's leaps and bounds. (We alone are the face of our Time. Through us the horn of time blows in the art of the word).

    3. Throw the old masters overboard from the ship of modernity. (Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard from the Ship of Modernity).

    The message couldn't be made any clearer: "We order that the poets' rights be revered." Blunt and roughshod, Vlady's little missile of spit gets the job done.

    The time has again come to defend poets' rights against literary empires and the categories of the critics. The right to use any language, any tools whatsoever -- syntax, asyntax, bsyntax, zsyntax -- any form of expression for psychological decompression; the right to reject any language that has ceased to be a tool to think with; the right to destroy and throw overboard from the paddleboat of Modernity those "gravestones for youth" Khlebnikov identified in "The Trumpet of the Martians" which now take the form of an old, fatherly, god-like entity: Discourse.

    David Buuck's essay "Against Masculinist Privilege" (Tripwire #3, summer 1999) sounds the trumpet call for all those ready and willing to lay down their lives for poststructuralist literary theory and "feminist" discourse. Any takers? I'm sure there are more than a few out there who just love this kind of shit. More than a few who think that by merely tweaking their vocabulary and grammar they are fighting -- excuse me, contesting -- patriarchy, oppression, dominance. It's not so much his belief that patriarchy is a discursive production or that a counter-discourse or "oppositional" poetics can and must dismantle masculine modes of privilege which drives me up the wall, but his illusion that the issues he raises in that essay have anything to do with poetry -- excuse me, aesthetic praxis -- at all. Buuck's essay is one of the many contemporary betrayals and disasters of our letters and would be a tiny Wasteland if it weren't so blatantly derivative in thought, language and spirit. Its shallow, utilitarian view of the role progressivism plays in art (and vice versa) is death for poetry and death for the imagination necessary in order to achieve any kind of social change. It is fashion disguised as justice.

    To expect exemplary moral behavior from artists -- above all poets -- is A CRIME, a sin and should not go unpunished! The St. Buucketheads of this world should be rounded up (yes, please quote me out of context) and forced at (water?) gun point to ingest the requisite five grams of psilocybin, washing the beloved fungi down with copious amounts of my sister's shroomshine tea. If by then they don't immediately recognize their moral posturing via discourse for what it is -- a straight up career move -- they must write out "let me listen to me and not to them" and "poetry does not come from the mouths of goody-goodies" on the blackboard at least 800 times each.


    "Against Masculine Privilege" begins by inviting us to enter into the leaden light of its ink, shamelessly parading its swollen mastery of the theory-speak and good intentions its author has inherited from too many a well-meaning, paternalistic elder's attic of decrepit ethics. It is a treasure trove of professionalized patriarchical dialect, an insult to all the members of the younger generation who, having sat through countless lectures of this sort, now take it upon themselves to wrest poetry from the suffocating handshake of those discourses which, in claiming to speak for resistance, "subversion" or, in that rare instance, revolution, cut deal after deal with ruling class ideology. Reminded of the daily threat women face in being women, as demonstrated most recently and visibly by the post-Puerto Rican Day Parade gang grope in NYC, I cannot help but see this gem of academic positioning as an insult to the thousands of women who have suffered physically and psychologically from the violence of men. To equate sexism and misogyny with "aesthetic practices" is a form of violence and repression much more on par with masculinist privilege than Buuck would have us believe.

    "Patriarchy cannot continue to function as such without the complicity of its practitioners. Masculinist discourses and modes of privilege may seem to be somehow 'beyond' the mere participation of 'the individual' -- as constructs, systems, traditions -- yet these broader theoretical terrains are occupied, lived, enacted and resisted by individuals, including those who benefit by them and those who do not. That 'women's writing' (or 'feminist practice') would necessarily act against such complicity should seem self-evident. That 'men's writing' (masculinist practice) might not, and indeed may very well benefit from the inherent privileges of patriarchy, constitutes a different aesthetic and political problematic. When viewed within the larger expanse of aesthetic practice -- which would include the ways in which writing circulates in a broader economy of production and reception -- sites of masculinist privilege present themselves as positions that must be continually interrogated and opposed, by all cultural practitioners"(24, his italics).

    That's the first paragraph, reprinted here in its entirety from a magazine supposedly devoted to poetry. At no point in his essay does Buuck offer a definition for "patriarchy ... as such" nor does he attempt to delineate what characterizes a masculinist discourse. From the criteria established here, we are led to believe that women write only for women and men for men, even though it is certainly possible, as Buuck indicates, for one to be complicit in one's marginalization. His attempt to politicize his discourse with terms like "cultural practitioners," the lovely "as such," "complicity," "problematic," "sites of ... privilege," etc., etc., (not to mention putting every other word in quotation marks) only goes to show how socially ignorant he is. He grandly reaffirms gender. Those with boobies and coochies must produce "feminist practice" (whatever that is) and those with nut sacs, by anatomico-cultural default, produce "masculinist practice" (whatever that is). Through hard work, however, and a few garduate seminars under one's belt, those with nads and ding-a-lings may begin to interrogate their privilege, problematize their practice and enter into dialogue with power, though never coming to any conclusions -- as Buuck hints at when he asks the haggard question of "what might be done?"(30). Closure can be totalitarian. It might lead to that messy thing -- action.

    Obviously Buuck is trying to say that all poets should support the creation of a society, or rather a writing economy, not based on the division of gender. It is a noble goal and one I concur with. But how come I feel that academicians like Buuck are ridiculously incapable of leading us in this cause, or even in understanding what the cause might entail? Patriarchy is wrong, ladies and gentleman. Now, thanks to Buuck Moses, we're in the know. While reading "Against Masculine Privilege," I was reminded of an inventor on Sesame Street who worked all day and night in his lab only to wind up with objects that already existed: a rabbit, a bowl, a handbag. If only I could greet this essay with the same laughter.

    Buuck then presents "a few recent 'exemplary moments', by which one might begin to investigate more fully the ways in which masculinist modes of privilege continue to underscore the ways in which 'women's writing' (or, more broadly, 'marginalized aesthetic practice') is often 'read'"(24). Attached to this second paragraph is a footnote in which Buuck immediately initiates his cautious backpedalling: "Surely one would wish to distance oneself from any essentialist notions of 'women's writing', or 'male writing', or 'X writing'"(24). It is the first of a slew of "one woulds" Buuck litters his piece with in an attempt to project the appearance of a universality and objectivity he otherwise deems to be a masculinist trick, all the while disavowing the critical interest, the political sensitivity his essay demands of the reader. The more he tries to shed his authority the more he consolidates it. Like the logic of inverse economy by which producers of culture in the 'restricted field', as Bourdieu incessantly points out in his books, eventually reap prestige in shunning it, Buuck already flaunts the authority that he will receive for divesting himself of it. In trying to offend no one, he is patronizing toward everyone.

    Unsurprisingly, Buuck declares that "no attempt will be made here to define any particular aesthetic or poetic as specifically 'masculinist' or 'feminist', nor should there be any simple binarism between what is here proposed as working, shifting, 'useful fictions'"(24). His "exemplary moments" of masculinist privilege at work include a review of The Hat Dale Smith posted to the Buffalo Poetics List in December of 1998; an essay written by Marjorie Perloff, portions of which she presented at both the "Page Mothers" conference held at UCSD in March 1999 and the "Where Lyric Tradition Meets Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women" conference held at Barnard College in April 1999; and, thirdly, an essay Ron Silliman published in the Socialist Review (v. 18, no. 3) in 1988, which then sparked a dialogue between him and Leslie Scalapino that was printed in Poetics Journal (#9, according to Buuck). I will deal with the latter two controversies first in order to save the best for last.

    "In Marjorie Perloff's "After Language Poetry: Innovation and its Theoretical Discontents" (from the Electronic Poetry Center's Perloff homepage), one finds a curiously masculinist project at work within an otherwise interesting investigation of the contemporary relationships between 'theory' and poetic 'innovation'. As this writer [Buuck means himself] was not present at the controversial reading of this (apparently then-excerpted) paper at the recent Page Mothers conference, one [he really means himself] can only speculate as to the (perhaps intentional) challenge such a tone surely introduced into such a context. After reminding her audience that the 'theory' produced within and around the 'language movement' has largely been written by men, she goes on to take women to task for a 'good bit of "soft" theorizing'. Noting that, in her opinion, 'this has especially been true of women poets', she goes on to admit that she is 'beginning to wish poets would once again take to composing poetry rather than producing so much 'theoretical prose'"(26).

    In Buuck's opinion this statement by Perloff contradicts "her otherwise celebratory history of (male) language poets pushing poetry into and against the realm of 'theory'"(26), a strange opinion indeed since I could have sworn they were doing the exact opposite -- pushing theory, or poetics, into and against the realm of poetry. Buuck argues that Perloff's criticism is masculinist because she picks solely on women: "Surely 'bad' theorization (just as 'bad' writing) is not gender-specific? Her unfortunate choice of the word 'soft' notwithstanding, one wonders on what basis critical or theoretical writing should be judged especially within the context of an 'innovative' aesthetics that, if it accomplished nothing else, certainly did much to problematize the boundaries between 'poetic' and 'critical' writing, and in many ways delegitimized the inherent privileging of the latter, which Perloff seems at pains to maintain as a separate (and privileged) discourse"(26).

    In no way has language poetry delegitimized theoretical discourse, or subverted the hierarchy of criticism over the poem. To the extent that poetry is reduced to such projects of delegitimization, and to the demonstration of academic allegiances, it loses to discourse. As both Buuck's essay and Tripwire magazine show, discourse, now more than ever, owns the keys to the vault of truth. It's nothing new. Williams was struggling against this fixity of language and thought in his own time, as exemplified by this paragraph from "A Novelette and Other Prose":

    "They [the artists] have allowed men to demean them by speaking of the 'philosophy of art'. It is to break through that, to establish the tremendous idea and human significance of understanding of which my life is a moment that I welcome you"(296, Imaginations, New York: New Directions, 1970).

    Perloff's point is, neverminding how sequestered in the prerogatives of discourse, long overdo. The acritical mixing of critical and poetical writing, initiated by the language poets and enthusiastically continued by their second and third-generation disciples, has mostly resulted in both watered-down poetry and watered-down thought. Perloff's use of the word 'soft' for this kind of mush (epitomized in my mind by The Greenish Ukulele), if not chosen to pour salt on the wound suddenly exposed in her paper, accurately refers to the gender dynamics already at work in the avant-garde. Saying that avant-garde formations are predominately masculine performances -- which they are, having been generally revolts against what they perceived to be the feminizing threat of an insatiable mass culture bent on gulping up high art -- is not the same as decreeing that they are, or should be, the exclusive domain of men. Women can write manifestoes, participate in phallic displays of avant-garde desire, as Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich did in the '70s. They can start movements, as the two poets did when they rebelled against what they saw as the compulsory heterosexuality and racism in the dominant feminist organizations of the time. And they can devise a libidinal politics to the detriment of both activism and getting your freak on. Perloff wants those with big booties to both engage those without ovaries on their own theoretical turf (as she does without the constant paranoia about phallogocentricity), to take a (firm) stand without relying on the role call of Big Names to prove one's relevance (though perhaps she fails on this point), as well as to focus on making poetry worthy of that art form's name. There's no debate that those without tender buttons produced the majority of the foundational theory of the language movement. As far as I know those bastards, all except for Hejinian, had schlongs.

    I am amazed that Buuck "wonder[s] why critical discourse written in a fairly conventional style (usually that of discursive, 'theoretical' prose) should be thought of as more important (or innovative) than that of 'actual' poetic practice"(27) when he himself is so eagerly exhibiting his cold, clumsy perfection of such prose. Does Buuck not realize he has bought into the same academic myth of discursive innovation when he writes: "As much as Perloff has done to champion poetries often marginalized within academic and canonical discourses, to continue to do so using those very discourses does not necessarily challenge the masculinist cliches of 'innovation' ('making it new', clean breaks and paradigm shifts, etc.) that she now wishes to watchguard against new claimants to the term (in this case, contemporary women poets)"(27). The existence of Marjorie Perloff is proof that the privilege afforded the "Critic-Theorist" in writing literary history is not limited to those with scrotums. To regard her as just another manifestation of masculinist privilege and to bypass her exercised right to speak freely for and against members of her own gender, is typical given Buuck's refusal to define the meaning of "masculinist practice."

    I have a lot of problems with Perloff's essay, which seeks once again to promote language poetics as the standard model for any kind of radical art, the pill to cure poetry's ills. She rightly points out that the theories put forth by writers such as McCaffrey and Andrews -- their dismissal of referentiality and transparency and their emphasis on the materiality of the sign -- "were by no means as extreme or as new as both the proponents of Language poetics would have us think." She then smugly states that in the '70s "the production of poetry had become a kind of bland cottage industry, designed for those whose intellect was not up to reading Barthes or Foucault or Kristeva." Given this cornucopia of mediocrity, there was no way language poetry could lose: "The lasting contribution of language poetics, I would posit, is that at a moment when workshop poetry all across the U.S. was wedded to a kind of neo-confessionalist, neo-realist poetic discourse, a discourse committed to drawing pretentitous metaphors about failed relationships from hollandaise recipes [a metaphor so bad it's great!], language theory reminded us that poetry is a making (poien), a construction using language" ... . It's the logic of the lesser of two evils.

    "Like any mode, the production of 'text without walls', as McCaffrey called it, can become a mere tick. And so can the theory that ostensibly animates it. One of the most problematic manifestations of what we might call post-language poetics is that, in the wake of the foundational theory that filled the pages of avant-garde little magazines of the eighties, poets, and this has been especially true of women poets, perhaps because they have felt, quite rightly, excluded from the earlier formulations of poetics (a situation that can be traced back to the homage paid to Charles Olson's 'Projective Verse'), a good bit of 'soft' theorizing is taking place. Indeed, exploring such venues as the 'Women / Writing / Theory' symposium for Raddle Moon (#11 and #13), the most recent issue of Poetics Journal (#10, June 1998), or the 'Poetics and Exposition' section of Moving Borders, I am beginning to wish poets would once again take to composing poetry rather than producing so much 'theoretical' prose."

    This is the passage from Perloff's essay that generated the big controversy. Kevin Killian, in his "on-scene action report" of the "Page Mothers" conference (posted to the Buffalo Poetics List), summarized the three vociferous statements she made followed by the reaction of the audience.

    "The hot points here were three, that much current work hailed as 'innovative' is not -- and she had this look in her eye as though she were hinting heavily that this was true of many of the writers in the room. The second point was that the so-called theory of criticism written by poets is horrible. She gave some examples, here naming names, such as Ann Lauterbach. The third hot point was her blanket pronouncement that "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" magazine had been a male-dominated oligarchy and that women had stayed out of the debate. Had stayed out of the 'originary moment'. As soon as it was over Carla Harryman stood up and said that although she had much respect for Perloff's accomplishments she (Perloff) had damaged herself irretrievably in her (Harryman's) eyes by erasing the theoretical work done by women in the early years of the 'Language' movement. One thing led to another and soon all were shouting, stabbing the air with hands, asking questions, firing off charges of 'revisionism' on all sides, totally animated free for all."

    The possibility that language poetics may not be as femmo-friendly as we all assumed and may in fact be a reconsolidation of patriarchal (though not necessarily masculine) impulses and attitudes seems too hard to swallow for those who have invested their entire career in sustaining the illusion that language poetics and feminist variants of poststructuralist discourse intended to destroy the fleshless, spiritually-dead phallocracy -- most especially for Harryman, the wife of Barrett "Bette Davis Eyes" Watten.

    Discourse is the mystifying game patriarchy, and every other imperialist social structure, uses to conceal its non-textual nature -- as if culture were just script and nature just matter; as if nature and culture, men and women, were total opposites (but constructs all the same!); as if the social disorder actually obeyed the rules of discourse. Otherwise, social relations could be transformed by disrupting signifying relations. The social sardine can of the academy nourishes the idea that discourses remain -- if they ever were -- the (privileged) site of power, not unlike the way patriarchy has us believe that the supremacy of the male gender is naturally located in the dick. Our political and economic systems want us to believe that our only agency, our only means of experience, empowerment and resistance is linguistic, while telling us that the single language our bodies can speak is the one of anatomical difference. It is no surprise that Buuck presumes that constructedness is co-extensive with the operations of language, which, since language (as a system of difference) is already "everywhere," justifies his analysis in a fait accompli. It is the routine, talismanic poststructuralist gesture.

    Women as well as men have adopted this theoretical discourse that is the language we now associate with supremacy of intellect, criticality, aesthetic awareness, truth and autonomy. And it is precisely what is robbing art of autonomy. Try to imagine Whitman, Lorca, Williams, Patchen, Dickinson, Guest, Sitwell or my girl Edna SVM speaking in this joyless, bureaucratic tongue devoid of both femininity and masculinity, if not humanity. Since Lorca didn't write any explicit "Anti-patriarchy" poems or essays, he must have contributed to the hegemony of masculinist privilege for, according to Buuck, "[t]hose who benefit from privilege, and who afford the luxury of not feeling the need to address it, are complicit in the perpetuation of anti-progressive forms of privilege"(35). Actually, my boy Freddie G did something more courageous; he celebrated the beauty of men and women and the creatures of this Earth, painted portraits of their sorrow in ways that are as foreign to us as an afternoon prayer sung by a weeping imam is to our insipid lit crit art. As Valentine de Saint-Point declared in her "Manifesto of the Futurist Woman," "it is absurd to divide humanity into women and men: it is composed entirely of femininity and masculinity." All great art, regardless of the culture that spawned it, comes from the merging and interplay of these two elements -- in the form of both harmonies and collisions. The rejection of either element is suicide for the artist.

    A sublime illustration of this phallocracy of discourse at work can be found in "Rhizomes, Newness, and the Condition of Our Postmodernity: An Editorial and a Dialogue," located in issue three of the on-line webzine Readme. Editors of the new on-line journal Rhizomes, Carol Siegel and Ellen E. Berry, produce a document that reads like a transcript of two colonial administrators measuring their land holdings and stores of gold while pondering future strategems for pacifying and assimilating the locals with simulacra of subversion.

    "We find ourselves alive after the end of history, philosophy, and metaphysics; the death of the subject, the author, and the book; the waning of the historical avant-gardes, the bankruptcy of the Enlightment promises of progress through rationality. We affirm our suspicion of metanarratives, foundational assumptions, totalizing theories, utopian ambitions, large-scale pronouncements of any kind. [...] We find it difficult to believe in the progressive possibilities arising from our 'new' world order and we lack a sense of agency; therefore the desire to pursue what might be genuinely new becomes more and more difficult to actualize. Within the condition of postmodernity, the future presents itself as foreclosed if it presents itself at all; to update Baudrillard, the year 2050 has already happened."
    So self-satisfied do they sound when they say they are living "after the end of history," or that they "lack a sense of agency" (I almost wrote 'urgency'), or that "the year 2050 has already happened." So hypocritical are they when, apparently presuming to speak for all, they say "we" affirm our distrust "of large-scale pronouncements." Like Buuck, they attempt to deconstruct the ideology of innovation and the new while kissing that ideology's ass through their avant-chic lingo. After announcing that "[n]ever has the knowledge industry functioned more vigorously or efficiently, and never has the academy operated more as a hierarchized class system," Berry utters this moan of a snoregasm:
    "I think in order for academic discussion to become a source of genuinely new thinking we would have to devise new 'wasteful' or deliberately nonproductive ways of interacting, modes that would introduce unexpectedness into the academic setting -- a kind of distance or estrangement from business as usual."

    This sentence never fails to take my breath away. That they do not see that their academic discussion is already swimming in its own Taylorist assembly line waste, makes me wonder why the keyboard in front of me is still visible and not immersed in vomit. The modernist project of autonomy has fully degenerated into the contemporary desire for identity. Siegel's response to Berry's "idea" is the icing on the cake of their cluelessness.

    "I like what you say at the end of your remarks about training ourselves actively to desire difference. Perhaps American professors, especially, need to cultivate an intellectual culture in which the value of ideas isn't so closely tied to the institutional status of the person voicing them. One way that I can see to do this would be treat the intellectual work of people outside academe with respect. So long as we say implicitly, through our practices, that the authority to speak can only come through being certified within our system then the parts of the system most of us cannot control will carefully control the amount of difference that's permissible. How can we insist on our right to speak outside discourses already academically legitimated, if we are also insisting that no one without, say, a doctorate has any right to speak on certain issues and be taken seriously?"

    Gee, I dunno, maybe down five grams and a pint of whiskey and hump the cover of The Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion. "[I]n order to theorize a productive [wait, why not 'non-productive'?] desire for difference on an individual level it would be necessary to rethink Lacan's notion of the imaginary as a space only of misrecognized selfhood that hides the alienation and absence at our core." Suck my chora, Judith Butler wannabees -- you wouldn't know the void if it kissed you on the lips, distracted as you are by the holy concept of the phallus that is as ineffable as what it supposedly refers to. (The concept of the phallus is the electric bug zapper for academicians). But yeah, by all means check out Rhizomes, especially their "Glam Manifesto" -- an instruction manual on how to be subversive, because being glam means following guidelines. Its certified board of directors speak for the modern experience.


    Now we move on to Buuck's third "'exemplary moment'" of masculinist privilege. Silliman's essay for the Socialist Review was an introduction to a selection of Bay Area Poets gathered under the rubric "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject." Buuck quotes a passage from Silliman's introduction that Scalapino correctly cites as an instance of the sly elitism by which Ron assumes that straight, white males like himself will more likely produce "innovative" art than, say, EVERYBODY ELSE is:

    "Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history -- many white male heterosexuals, for example -- are apt to challenge all that is supposedly 'natural' about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona, and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of this spectrum are poets who do not identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers -- women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the 'marginal' -- have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to whom is the subject of these conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience."

    The real kicker is the sentence by Silliman that comes right after his excerpted passage above: "It also illustrates why any prescription for a 'correct' aesthetic program (socialist realism comes to mind), not unlike the Great Books and 'cultural literacy' movements, can only homogenize and suppress real social difference." This coming from one of the main architects of the aesthetic program known as language writing.

    Here is the one time I agree with Buuck, though his strict agnostic upbringing prevents him from going in for the kill -- "We must not pick on Silliman too much here, for surely he has demonstrated, again and again, his clear commitment to both diverse aesthetic praxis as well as to a radical progressive politics"... (30). Phooey! Buuck seems perplexed as to "why Silliman would at the same time seem to champion certain aesthetics over others"(29) even as he (Silliman) makes pluralistic gestures of inclusiveness. Gee, I dunno, maybe because Ron's notion of innovation is, like patriarchy as such, an essentialization of his own straight, white male subjectivity, and completely overlooks the material, economic inequalities that exist between the elites who mostly produce avant-garde works and those historically subjugated members of society and outsiders whose art is an expression of another kind of struggle and community.

    Buuck does well to point out Silliman's revealing comment that Aaron Shurin has "'gradually evolved from the gay liberationist essentialism of his early book...'"(29). Getting to the gist of Scalapino's objection, Buuck writes that "[s]urely it is a continued characteristic of masculinist privilege to colonize any concept of non-'conventional' 'innovation', and then to imply that it is something that 'those other poetics' might 'evolve' towards"(30). Silliman's model for literary progress and contemporaneity -- like Bernstein's vision of dialectical verse evolving into ideolectical verse as articulated in his "Poetics of the Americas" essay -- has its basis in anthropological discourse. Johannes Fabian's Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1983) thoroughly exposes these (rather ancient) rhetorical devices which convert time into a discourse, creating a system of temporal distances that deny (living) cultures their coevalness, their shared experience of the present.

    "Anthropology contributed above all to the intellectual justification of the colonial enterprise. It gave to politics and economics -- both concerned with human Time -- a firm belief in 'natural', i.e. evolutionary Time. It promoted a scheme in terms of which not only past cultures, but all living societies were irrevocably placed on a temporal slope, a stream of Time -- some upstream, others downstream. Civilization, evolution, development, acculturation, modernization (and their cousins, industrialization, urbanization) are all terms whose conceptual content derives, in ways that can be specified, from evolutionary Time"(17).

    In short, the anthropologist and the colonialist "[assign] to the conquered populations a different time"(30, his italics). Their discourses exhibit "a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a Time other than the present of the producer of anthropological discourse"(31, his italics). In Silliman and Bernstein's scheme, avant-garde works are more contemporary, more evolved than the rest of the culture -- a supreme irony given the strong, early influence 'primitive' works played in the development of modern art (from the German and English Romantics' emulation of folk poetry to the Surrealists' attraction to non-Western forms to Pop Art's discovery of the sensuality and morbidity embedded in mass culture) not to mention the utopian promises language poetics has constantly made to unite writer and reader in the present moment, thereby ending alienation via the allegedly democratic co-creation of meaning.

    Taxonomic thinking or synopticism -- "the urge to visualize a great multitude of pieces of information as orderly arrangements, systems, and tableaux"(118, Fabian's italics) -- dominates the discursive machinations of Bernstein and Silliman. Buuck quotes Scalapino to this point: "'Those in social power and those without it might be equally capable of questioning their subjectivity. But those who are without social power are less inclined to see reality as orderly; for example, less inclined to see the social construction as unified'"(29). And less inclined, I might add, to see social power as a naturally discursive production and the world or history as a map or lineage of representations.

    Bernstein's "Poetics of Americas" (or "All Roads Lead to Language Poetics") is a stellar example of synopticism and allochronicism hard at work. His "What's Art Got to Do with It [my point exactly!]: The Status of the Subject of the Humanities in the Age of Cultural Studies," presented as the Keynote Address at the Annual Spring Convention of the Northeast MLA in April 1992, is another classic of alienated intellectual labor and, like the Rhizomes essay, reads like a prospectus or field report addressed to the local consulate (and I'm not talking stylistically). What the native and its culture is for the anthropologist, cultural studies and poetry is for Bernstein: objects that exist for no other purpose than to be exchanged in a spectacle of discourse. It is further proof that the debate about the canon has become canonized (not unlike this debate about phallocentrism and masculinist privilege, which has sealed itself off in phallic textualist armor, re-arranging subjects and objects alike in relation to its discursive centrality). Bernstein actually touches upon this when he criticizes Stanley Fish for doing precisely what he himself does:

    "My own misgivings about Fish's position take an entirely different direction since I find his professionalization of discourse undermines the possibility of any trenchant critique of canonical values or indeed of the institutionalized rationality that Fish enacts. Fish's system suffers from being a self-enclosed artifact, unable to confront its own, inevitable, positionality. It represents the professionalization of professionalization [!?] and precludes the aestheticizing of its own values."

    There's no disagreeing with Bernstein when he attacks the Norton and Heath anthologies or The New York Review of Books and The Nation as well as the right wing's war against the NEA. Again it's the logic of the lesser of two evils. And it doesn't take much insight to see that "[t]here's more innovation and more cultural acumen in any episode of Rem[sic] and Stimpy than in any of the books of our last trio of national poet laureates." Unfortunately, Bernstein's "nonstandard" poetry products are as vapid as the bland genteel art he pits himself and his movement against. Someone who sets himself up as the spokesperson and protector of all that is vital in poetry and art and scholarship, and writes...

    "In the great shell game of art in the university, the 'art' has too often disappeared, replaced by administered culture. And administered art may be no better than no art, since it's the administration that is doing most of the signifying."

    ....when he himself is the crowning glory of avant-garde administrativism, deserves more than the requisite five grams. Use your imaginations.

    "Within the academic environment, thought tends to be rationalized -- subject to examination, paraphrase, repetition, mechanization, reduction. It is treated: contained and stabilized. And what is lost in this treatment is the irregular, the nonquantifiable, the nonstandard or nonstandardizable, the erratic, the inchoate."

    Use your imaginations, mercilessly.

    "Our political and academic culture of imposed solutions at the expense of open-ended explorations, of fixed or schematic or uniform interpretive mechanisms and political platforms versus multiple, shifting, context-sensitive interventions, splits off the 'bad' poetic from 'good' rigor and critical distantiation. Such splitting eclipses reason in its uncontained denial. Out of fear of the Dark, we turn our back to the lights we have at hand, in hand."

    "My mind's the weapon, my heart's the extra clip," raps Thurston Howell III.

    "I am insisting that art not be reduced to secondary status, the 'object' of critical projection, but rather understood as an irreplaceable method of interpreting other art works -- 'poetry as discourse' in Antony Easthope's useful formulation."

    It's like reading from the diary of a drunken magistrate. Never has Bernstein been more unself-consciously candid about his own bankrupt poetics and ethics. There's no need for comment, except maybe with an "Oh my God"...

    "Typical professional criticism, like the dominant forms of verse and visual arts, reify more than resist. Against its most advanced theory, such writing retains the illusion of voice and its authority, in blissless compliance with received standards. Its authors are no[t] so much dead as operating on automatic pilot and it is as if cries to wake them are jammed by the control towers."

    If Bernstein and Buuck are free-thinking, progressive artists or intellectuals contesting and subverting normative professional criticism or academic culture or resisting the marginalization of poetry and masculinist practices, then I am John Madden in a prom dress giving head to the Pope on his holiness's private jet. Unsurprisingly, Bernstein's essay ends with a standard product list of genre-shattering books.

    I'm not done yet. Michael Palmer's interview, published in the Exact Change Yearbook No. 1 (Boston: Exact Change, 1995), surpasses Bernstein's speech in degrees of vanity if only because he is so aware of what he's doing. The only way I can describe it is utopian lips on a nihilistic grin. This is how the interview ends:

    ..."another generation will look at our practice, and with the same disgust I suppose look at the limits of our relationship to questions of gender, ideology and culture. We're probably being very imperialist in our own way, however much we work against that sort of thing. So I don't pretend to overcome even the bigotries of another time, or to be more astute, really. I don't think astuteness is what it is, but consciousness, or aiming for some kind of consciousness -- not some position of invulnerability and moral perfection"(179).

    Palmer sounds quite comfortable in his acknowledged imperialist literary role, and most at ease in being in the position of observing his detachment from it, as if it were, as it is for Bernstein, a spectacle. And yet he decries the distance between contemporary political poetry and world historical events, between writing and witnessing. He can say "possibly it's an interesting time to rearticulate an idea of authenticity. Not in a mystifying way, but in some urgent relationship to work, beyond the postmodern queries which drove so many people into endless ironization, endless play, endless 'screen' so to speak, which becomes a sort of protection against that deconstructive critique"(163). He can say "when theory becomes fetishized, a new preciosity emerges, a new kind of artifice, and that can be troublesome and very limited in the intent of its address"(164). He can diagnose the "scholasticism"(164) that dominates academic discourse. He can claim to be uncomfortable with Stevens's control of tone and his "fram[ing] things with great elegance"(176). He can calmly warn us that "poetry can so easily become cultural decor"(177). He can criticize all these things and pleasingly embody them in his own practice at the same time. Dr. Rigid's Prescription: bathe yourself in bong water and then wander around the Sonoran desert for a year or two, no books allowed.


    It is now time to turn our attention to Buuck's first "exemplary moment" of masculinist privilege, the one involving my boy Dale Smith and his review of the all-woman issue of The Hat. Buuck quotes a portion of Smith's piece and then presents his own reading of it:

    "'Two male editors publishing a first issue with only women is quite notable and the results are not what I expected. [...] I understand building an issue of women's writing is no easy task. To find a grouping of work that corresponds or echoes internally is difficult enough. Restricting that to a particular, traditionally under-represented gender, is moreso.'

    It is a curious argument. It seems that a poetry journal (or anthology) featuring only women writers is 'notable' only because the editors in this case are male. This would seem to imply that a women-edited selection of women's writing would not be notable, read instead perhaps as some kind of 'political' move (rather than aesthetic). Here male editorship is assumed to be somehow beyond or above this kind of politic, perhaps even 'objective', such that publishing 'only women' would in and of itself be notable (because one [Buuck really means himself] assumes that such 'objectiveness' would surely favor a masculinist poetics?) Again, Smith's assumption is that the selection under discussion here came about by 'restricting that to a particular ... gender'. Why? Because only due to such a restriction could one [Buuck really means himself] explain the absence of male writers in a male-edited journal?

    Implied in Smith's argument is that a journal or anthology of women's writing is somehow more validated by its having male editorship. Surely, it seems to be suggested, if female editors produced an all-women's journal or anthology, it would come about based on some process other than merely 'aesthetic'. Likewise, one [Buuck really means his own damn self] assumes, for other kinds of 'identity-based' editorial interventions"(25, Buuck's italics).

    It is Buuck, not Smith, who is making all the assumptions here, with his language of "This would seem to imply"s and "Surely, it seems to be suggested"s. Buuck assumes that Smith assumes that the decision on the part of editors Davis and Edgar was purely an aesthetic, apolitical or objective one and then lambasts Dale for describing the editing selection as "restricting that to a particular, traditionally-under-represented gender." First of all, it is undeniably notable and rare that two men, regardless of their intentions, published a magazine with all women and no men. I doubt that this has ever been done by any other semen-producing editors of any other magazine. Dale makes no statements, implicit or explicit, in regards to the meaning or relative significance of women-edited magazines that only publish women. To his credit, Smith does not take this opportunity to praise the editors' progressive intentions or sympathetic feminism, but to applaud them on putting together an issue that does not sacrifice the art to the politics when that could so easily have happened. Buuck replaces the comments alluding to Smith's reasoning with ellipses in his quoted passage from Dale's Dec. 4 post: "(Hoa [Dale's wife and co-editor with him of the magazine Skanky Possum] came into my room last night with a stack in one hand of poetry submissions from men and in the other ONLY one piece from a woman). So I understand building an issue of women's writing is no easy task. To find a grouping of work that corresponds or echoes internally is difficult enough." Perhaps career-track Buuck is more dismayed that editors Edgar and Davis didn't promote The Hat as "The Women's Writing Issue" subtitled with the words "Against Masculinist Privilege."

    As far as I can tell the real crime according to Buuck's poetry business mind is Dale's use of the word "restricting." My new job at a local magazine (coincidentally called Gentlemen's Club even though half of its writers are women) has sensitized me to the dangerous use of 'negative' words like "restricting." As a lead to an article about anti-vegetarian fortresses, I wrote: "Popeye liked spinach. He just didn't eat at these places." It was the use of the word "didn't" that motivated the change to: "If Popeye would have tried the food at these restaurants, he would have kicked that spinach habit." Buuck pounces on the possibility that Dale is implying that the editors are restricting the selection of work to writing by women at the expense of quality or the inclusion of men. He tries to further press Dale on this point.

    "In a later post on this topic, speaking to issues of representation, Smith claims that 'sheer numbers strengthen the political movements, but at the loss of qualitative production'. Besides the implied separation and privileging of 'qualitative production' (judged how? by whom?) over the 'political' (understood how? for whom?), the condescension in this attitude is troubling. The assumption that a feminist politics (to take but one contested site) is somehow to be furthered only at the (likely) expense of aesthetic practice is to reinvoke some unspoken privileging of what could be understood as a masculinist aesthetics. As the still-dominant aesthetic and interpretive regime, such an aesthetics has the virtue of inhabiting the 'center' that all 'others' (assumed to be 'other' aesthetically by virtue of coming from 'other' identity-positions) might aspire to. Thus being a woman writer in a male-edited journal is more 'notable' than to be in a woman-edited journal"(25).

    Buuck is writing for no one but himself here. He displays concern only for the sake of concern, taking advantage of this imaginary controversy to show off his discourse theory skills. His argument has absolutely nothing to do with poetry or the poems in The Hat about which Dale's review-posts comment in detail. In his Dec. 4 and 7 posts Smith gives brief but careful readings of poems by Lisa Jarnot, Janice Lowe, Kimberly Lyons and Juliana Spahr, praising them when they attempt to go beyond "theoretical concerns" and "the domina[nt] regimes of the social," the kinds of praise that would get anyone in trouble with those whose privilege rests on representing the dominant regimes of the social as theoretical concerns.

    The comment Buuck cites regarding 'the loss of qualitative production' is from Dale's Dec. 12 post in which he writes that "what prompted the reviews I wrote was the writing within, which is exciting, and provides a rich contrast to the recent Moving Borders Anthology, which to me is limited in its representation of women's writing." Dale's assertion that "sheer numbers strengthen political movements" but at the loss of artistic integrity applies not only to feminist groups but to any other political group which privileges agendas over the artistic-erotic impulse. As Dale says: "Poetry has much wider concerns and its reality is limited by discourse in social environments," and, in a post later that day, writes "I am dedicated to women's writing, but I don't make it my crusade; it's not my banner by which I wish to gain acceptance or approval from anyone." To reduce writing by women to an aesthetic or political program, or a means by which to gain academic respectability, as Buuck does, is to ignore the individual women who wrote the specific poems. And to see Dale's remarks as the same as patriarchy is, moreover, to elide the ways that patriachy operates by ignoring women.

    It is then not surprising at all that Buuck (apparently) did not ask the women published in The Hat how they felt about the "masculinist privilege" he sees them as victims of. If he did, he did not care to include their views in his essay-cum-résumé. Of the women from that issue I have been able to contact, and who responded to my inquiry, Ange Mlinko was the most vocal. This is what she wrote:

    "I remember Dales's comments but never saw Buuck's essay. I catch a whiff of opportunism in the latter.

    This _is_ a bunch of second rate something, but I wouldn't call it playground recess gossip. From the Buuck excerpt you send me, I deduce someone trying to make a mountain (career) out of a molehill, pitching his own ivy-league vocabulary against Dale's call-it-as-you-see-it style. There's a larger issue here: the conformist maoism of the experimental 'community' (male and female) vs. the individualist artist/critic whose role Dale enacts and defends. In which case, I definitely am on Dale's side. But (tell me if I'm wrong, not having seen the rest of the Buuck essay) ultimately, what's going on here is this: the poems themselves are completely _lost sight of_ in the melee of two 'critics' going at it on a level more theoretical than poetic or particular.

The emphasis depends on where you put it:

poets vs. critics
poetry vs. discourse
girls vs. boys

In this discussion, the critics/discourse/boys are winning."

    Ange (who wished to have her name included here) says it much better than I can and gives me pause to think since I do fear this essay of mine may be furthering the cause of "critics/discourse/boys" when my goal is to defend as best I can the priority of art, imagination and the dancing on the graves of the poetry referees from the domination of the intellect, the spread of Buucketheadism and the lack of cheap drugs -- to produce, above all, the arguments and evidence that will make such defensive efforts unnecessary in the future.

    Another poet included in the same issue as Mlinko wrote saying that she'd "rather fight to end the death penalty, etc." than get involved with "poetry politics on this level." She said that "the poetry spoke more than any political intention on the part of the editors" and concluded that "I'd rather hear about the poetry than the critic's fantasies about power and editorial interventions." Another, who said she couldn't comment for lack of information, stated that she does, however, "worry some about masculinist privilege, if that is the term, in poetry" as well as "a conservatism in poetry that is often male and white." Another writer said that "many people remarked about the fact that two male editors had edited an all womens' issue with surprise and delight. Dale is not alone in his initial response." While she couldn't gauge whether "the editors had initially planned an all women's issue," she, as an editor of a magazine, can "attest that in general women submit less work than men." After rereading Dale's original review, she concluded by saying, "I don't find it offensive."

    A poet who understood the editors as being "more keyed in to a sense of these writers as being 'lesser known' in some senses, as peripheral to a scene, more than as coming from an 'under-represented gender'," said she "just didn't perceive this as an example of male privileging (is that spelled right?) nor of being championed as a female." Though it is unclear whether this 'this' refers exclusively to either the magazine or Dale's review or both. Finally, another poet wrote: "As a writer I want to be respected for what I have to say, and not for the fact that I am a woman saying it." She asserted that "Smith is correct in noting that two male editors change how the magazine is read and interpreted. Two female editors would 'obviously' be making a point about gender and publishing, but two male editors complexify that reading. They are given the privilege of just presenting work that they liked. Women would not be granted that margin of non-accountability." One of the two editors I wrote to would not respond to any questions regarding their motivations, or lack thereof, in publishing an all-women's issue of poems.

    It should be remembered that Buuck does not distinguish between what is a masculinist aesthetics and a masculinist politics, except to say that the former is "the still-dominant aesthetic and interpretive regime." In confusing aesthetics and politics he assumes that Dale cannot judge the writing in The Hat on its own terms and also celebrate the unique fact that two men have published a magazine of writing whose authors are all women. The possibility that both the (male) editors and the (female) writers could and should receive equal recognition is inconceivable to Buuck. In his mind aesthetics cannot be privileged without doing injustice to (academic) politics. This is exactly what Dale finds exceptional about The Hat and what Buuck finds intolerable -- that the artistic and the political, and maybe even the feminine and the masculine, might, for a moment, trip up Oedipus and agree.

    Buuck cannot distinguish between the aesthetic and the political because, according to the logic he has inherited from his poststructuralist mentors, they are both discursive constructs. Buuck has no theory of patriarchy, because in order to formulate one he would have to reject the ahistoricism which is at the foundation of poststructuralist thought. Like patriarchy, poststructuralism wants us to believe that nature and culture, essence and artifice, femininity and masculinity, eroticism and thought are either naturally and eternally opposed, or are one and the same thing in the form of textual representations. This false divide and false collusion between nature and culture, on which patriarchy and most other bullshit power structures rest, is reproduced in culture as systems of sexual difference, kinship and, in some cases, the exchange of women. But the male womb of patriarchal culture is a fragile machine because the operation that produces sexual difference is mimesis -- in this case, the imitation of the first division by which man separated himself from the natural world -- and is therefore constantly in danger of revealing the inherent surplus of similarity between men and women. Likewise, poststructuralism's denial of the presentness of nature or the unconscious is the very proof of their presence, because such a denial betrays the long history of attempts on the part of culture(s) to make use of the mimetic possibilities in both nature and the human psyche. Anthropo- and andro-centric discourses, by imitating art, call attention to the truth of their embarrassing debt to nature, much more so than to logic or reason. They end up speaking, in a mutilated form, nature's universal language of mimesis with which they unnaturally turn against her.

    This all may seem hopelessly complex, but a passage from Gayle Rubin's "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex" should make it clear:

    "Gender is a socially imposed division of the sexes. It is a product of the social relations of sexuality. Kinship systems rest upon marriage. They therefore transform males and females into 'men' and 'women', each an incomplete half which can only find wholeness when united with the other. Men and women are, of course, different. But they are not as different as day and night, earth and sky, yin and yang, life and death. In fact, from the standpoint of nature, men and women are closer to each other than either is to anything else -- for instance, mountains, kangaroos, or coconut palms"(179, Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter, New York: Monthly Review, 1975).


    After enumerating his three "exemplary moments" of masculinist privilege, Buuck devotes the rest of his essay to pondering solutions. It really needs to be read in its entirety to see just how many times he spins on his own wheels, but I'll cite a few passages. It begins:

    "Given these examples, and given the continued problematic of 'gender' as concept, construct, identity, etc., what might be done? How might we reimagine a politics, an aesthetics, a praxis, of 'gender' that works against models of masculinist privilege? Certainly, increased participation by women writers (and writers of color, working-class writers, etc.) within the various literary 'traditions' and networks has, and will no doubt continue to, reshaped the otherwise masculinist 'center'"(30-31).

    And Buuck attaches this genius of a footnote to the previous sentence:

    "And here it should be noted that any notion of 'center' should be fluid and contextual; despite the continued figuration of a 'mainstream' center to which 'avant-garde' or 'experimental' literary practice is somehow marginal, there certainly exist several 'centers' within those 'margins' that in many ways reconstitute the discourses of masculinist privilege in the context of literary production, exchange, and community. Imagining oneself marginal to one site of privilege does not excuse replicating such modes of privilege within another site, however 'marginalized' such a site may appear"(31).

    By now it should be more than obvious what this is all about -- Buuck's own advancement. Buuck will "challenge masculinist modes of discourse and exchange"(31) and question "the exalted terrain of centrality itself"(31) so long as it benefits his own discourse and centrality. He will make gestures "towards a collective sphere beyond self-interest"(35, his italics) so long as it furthers his own professional interest. Between the words you can hear the blaring request for recognition for recognizing the importance of recognizing difference.

    "Presumably one [Buuck means himself again] wishes to 'open up' the center(s), thrash the boundaries, erase the margins, etc., but occasionally with such discourses of marginality there exists the presumption of the desirability of such a center. If such a center is that of the primarily 'mainstream' and/or dominant cultural economy [whatever the fuck that means!], and 'access' to that center (via redefinition or accomodation or assimilation) is 'achieved', what exactly has been gained"(31)?

    Well, nothing, you nitwit, if you keep on talking in this abstract double-speak about specific social problems. What will it take to wean you from the father-breast of your pious-yet-slick white-boy discourse? After citing bell hooks, who relates her experience of the colonialist ways she found thriving in the academy, Buuck writes, followed by another footnote:

    "Is it possible to occupy 'a' 'center' and not be complicit? Is this essay guilty of the charge? Is it not just as incumbent upon those in the so-called center(s) to participate in the work of redefining and blowing-up [but blowing up things is wrong] the very centers that in many ways provide one with certain privileges"(32)?

    "And here a necessary interruption to note that the language of this very argument would no doubt have to be considered as well within the parameters of 'masculinist discourse'. Are readers more inclined to be 'swayed' -- or 'put off' -- by these lines of argumentation, these tropes of 'criticism'? Does a certain style of critical and/or intellectualist discourse 'project' itself as 'persuasive' and/or self-validating merely by 'virtue' of its 'forceful' language, its (pseudo-) 'penetrating' analysis? Is this a woman writing, a man, a multi-gendered, multi-cultural 'collective'? Does it matter? Should it"(32)?

    If I had a dollar for every time Buuck tried to qualify his argument I could retire a rich man. Buuck laps Michael Palmer in leaps and bounds. The complacency is astounding -- "I'm doing what masculinist discourse does. Does it matter? Is my pseudo-penetrating analysis and otherizing language a problem?" The doubts don't stop Buuck from steamrolling on with his nonplussed questions as to how he can help (himself privilege his discourse) by finding "ways to actively participate against one's own (gender/class/race/"center-ed") privilege"(33). Gee, I dunno -- maybe join organizations that are actively protesting and fighting institutionalized racism and sexism and defending the rights of workers. In Buuck's discourse, the self-help human potential movement and lit crit academicism (both getting their big boost in '70s) meet their historical fate in a surreal wedlock. Of course, Buuck adds a disclaimer to his marriage proposal -- "Now, one [who?] is not suggesting holding up as an example the middle-class man who moves to the city to become a slacker poet writing about strong women and tough times. Nor is one [surprise, it's Buuck!] suggesting some kind of male-gender bending, or ethnopoetic drum circles, or reverse-deracination or symbolic declassé identification as the cure-all for masculinist (and racial, class) privilege"(33). But wait!

    "Certainly there are no easy answers, and I will not, from this position, be offering up any programmatic models for all to follow. However, it does seem clear that any progressive aesthetic practice must be aligned against all anti-progressive forms of privilege, and as such, one [I think that's no. 47] must continue to search for various strategies by which all progressive artists might participate (in different ways, from different positions, in different contexts [that covers it for sure!]), directly against patriarchal modes of power"(33).

    The burden again falls on art. Art that is not utopian enough to accomplish social change, or is not morally perfect enough to explicitly condemn all the bad stuff in society, is art that is bad, or is, as Buuck's final sentence says, "part of the problem" rather than "part of the solution"(35). Buuck is not the only academic who thinks this way. Romanticism was accused by certain intellectuals to be a cause of World War I at that time. More recently, David Savran, in his book Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998), argues that the Beats -- whom he calls "rebels without a cause"(59 and 101) -- were partly to blame for the failure of the '60s counterculture. What is so odd about Savran's thesis is that it buys into the same illusion that drove much of the Beat aesthetic, namely, that art can magically transform social relations and structures. Savran sees Beat culture as reinforcing the sado-masochistic structure of postwar white masculinity, but neglects the historical legacy of Romanticism of which the Beats are one instance and in which sado-masochism, the flipside to industrialism, is a core element (Rousseau ... Sade ... hello?).

    "For both Podhoretz and Fiedler [two intellectuals Savran uses to read the Beats], in other words, the Beats constitute a fraudulent rebellion that not only is incapable of producing any real social change but functions as a displacement of what could be an effective oppositional political movement. They render discontent harmless and benign. Like the 'white Negro', they are substitutes, imitations, phonies.

    In some respects, the critiques of Podhoretz and Fiedler, despite their elitism and homophobia, represent an accurate reading of the Beats as a force for social change. For the Beats were distinguished from earlier American rebels and bohemians, whether Wobblies, social activists of the Progressive Era, suffragists, or Old Leftists, by their lack of an avowedly political project and agenda (to some extent, Ginsberg, who began to get involved with radical politics in 1960 and went to his first demonstration three years later, is the one exception). There is no question but that the Beats' inability to foment anything other than a vague cultural revolution is itself historically determined. For with the Beats and their kin, the other rebel males, a radical movement took shape in the United States for the first time that was intent on producing not political or social change but cultural transformation"(57, Savran's italics).

    Yes, well, they happened to be artists first, social activists second. Savran's analysis, however, is not without its merits. He accurately criticizes the way women (and occasionally minorities) were treated within the Beat movement and portrayed in its literature. His reading of the Beats' "oscillation between feminized and masculinized positionalities, between victim and street tough, martyr and tyrant, aesthete and proletarian"(67) -- and I am reminded here of Whitman's self-transformation from a dandy into a 'rough' -- is fascinating. As is his conclusion that the Beats "had internalized the very systems of control against which they were fighting (in addition to social structures they were not explicitly contesting: racism, misogyny, and homophobia"(102), which reminds me of another cultural movement (hmmm, I wonder which one that could be). Furthermore, his dissection of the "wholesale reconfiguration of gender roles in the commodity culture that triumphed after World War II and that required a feminization of male subjectivity"(77) should be commended. But Savran's expectation that art exists or should exist in order to bring about the revolution is as much of a dead end as Buuck's envisioning of social justice as a matter of discourse and "oppositional constructs"(34).

    I will leave you with this last quotation, which appears towards the end of "Against Masculine Privilege":

    "The point here is that such constructs and discourses of group-identity are historical, and as such fluctuate through history, appear in different forms at different moments and locales, and one [#62] would hope that a conceptual mutability of such discourses could be seen as a more progressive and viable path for oppositionality, both in political struggle as well as aesthetic praxis"(34).

    I think it goes without saying that philosophers such as the author of the above passage, if they are deserving of the title, will continue to split their hairs of discourse in search of some kind of 'conceptual mutability' they can hawk on the academic market, while the leaders of this world will continue to split atoms and the Mayakovskys smash the Buucket's heads.