Wednesday, November 21, 2007

still another note on irony add to the ones from before (and to the recent avant-garde discussion as well), this time from rae armantrout's interview with tom beckett, in a wild salience (1999):

A Wild Salience: The Writing of Rae ArmantroutRight now I feel pretty pessimistic about social space. Contemporary American culture is such a degraded linguistic environment. Have you seen that Taco Bell ad where a chihuahua, dressed like Pancho Villa or Che Guevara, encourages a cheering peasant army to try the revolutionary new taco, the Gordita? So much for the avant-garde. What do we do?

Stop watching television someone might say. But this stuff is so telling. What do we do? Put it in poems (and interviews) and perpetuate it? Hope that this culture can get its tongue so far into its cheek that it will implode??


mark wallace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark wallace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark wallace said...

I'm not sure that the relationship between the cheering peasant and the taco has anything much to do with the avant garde, unless we really think that a work of challenging art and a Taco Bell taco have anything more than a shallow similarity defined by the fact that it's possible to like them, either one or both as the case may be.

In that sense, the comment referenced here is a deeply shallow linking of artistic extremism and consumer culture, and its winking gesture towards multiculturalism doesn't make that problem go away; if anything, it makes it stupider.

The fact that people can like different things does not mean that the things they like have the same meaning or significance.

tmorange said...

hmm... i took rae's comment to mean that nowadays, vanguard social and political movements are infinitely co-optable. guevara is now simply something left-thinking but complacent-acting teenagers sport on a t-shirt, villa mobilizes the masses to buy tacos.

in the face of which, significant action seems even beyond contemplation. ignoring the co-optation, she says, is not the answer, but neither does re-ironization seem to be either. you can only exponentially amplify irony so much before you blow a hole in your cheek.

also, in the same interview she goes on to say: "It's true, there's much more to be said about social space, so much that I flinched before the magnitude of the task. I'm not always as cynical or despondent as I sounded in my last answer."

mark wallace said...

I don't think there was ever a time when avant garde gestures were not co-optable for questionable political purposes, the classic example being the use of montage in Triumph of the Will.

And sincerity remains just as available for manipulation as irony. George Bush says, quite sincerely, that he speaks to God every day--and he never uses irony. Sincerity remains much more the ordinary coinage of American manipulative political speech.

So the unfortunate fact is that there's no way of speaking that can protect itself from misuse, and so it doesn't do much good to single out irony as somehow more capable of exploitation.

You have the advantage of having the whole Armantrout interview in front of you, of course, so I can't speak to the issue of how she contextualizes these remarks in the course of the piece.

tmorange said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tmorange said...

on the always-already co-optable: right. true. this may be the key thing that the prefix "post" denotes. might it be that the historical avant garde emerges out of the need to resist co-optation? (i do think, tho -- and of course i can only speculate -- but the means and degree of co-optation now are nearly instantaneous and complete.)

to me the question is not whether or not co-optation exists -- it clearly does and has -- or which discursive modes are more or less resistant to it -- since it potentially corrodes all. i think it's more about what is intended in the deployment of a given discursive mode, or what is its desired effect.

personally i always feel like irony presumes a certain kind or level of knowledge that belittles those who don't possess it; that is, it possesses a built-in level of "critique" that gives it the edge over sincerity that i don't think is automatically the case. so i feel like my starting point is not that sincerity is not co-opable but that irony is not automatially critically superior.

maybe that's splitting hairs, or too broadbrush a depiction. can we simply assume that sincerity intends to say what it means and irony intends to mean something other than what it says?

what about specifics: what happens when i say "george bush deserves to be impeached" as compared with when i say "george bush deserves to be awarded the nobel peace prize" ?

"the ordinary coinage of American manipulative political speech" tho is, to be precise, not sincerity at all but insincerity. (this is true of advertising as well.)

sure, bush is sincere when he says god speaks to him; the problem with the assertion is not its meaningful content but its theocratic-oligarchic implications that give the lie to any other statements he makes about american democracy.

but when bush says "we do not torture" we all know this is patently untrue. bush included. this is not sincerity but false sincerity. (does this make it irony? i dunno...)

mark wallace said...

I do think you''re right that irony implies a level of knowledge, while sincerity doesn't have to. But that may be a key danger of sincerity; "there's nothing I need to know in order to tell you sincerely how I feel." The danger of irony, when it's not used well, is the kind of smirking knowingness you're mentioning; the danger of sincerity is ignorance.

Ryan W. said...

co-optation is just a technique, similar to collage. that technique is used more frequently in ads these days because advertisers know there is a popular understanding of the technique, due in large part to its successful employment by a range of artists including poets, visual artists, recording artists, etc. artists (and scientists?) show the way toward thinking about things in more incongruent, recombinant ways, and that in part serves to prepare the masses to receive and enjoy messages from advertisers that employ those techniques.

this is, I think, a variation on some of what mark said, but regardless of the overall context of the interview, for someone to reach the "so much for the avant-garde" conclusion on the basis of the taco bell example strikes me as very ridiculous and sloppy. that train of thought itself reads like a satire of the avant-garde, but I guess in that moment the speech was sincere. I understand that people say casual, jokey things in conversation, tho, and may not mean it in quite the way it reads when you put it in print.

as for sincerity and irony... sincerity is not simple at all and is not easier for people to understand than irony is. sincere speech (putting aside the question of what it is) can contain so many shadings and complexities that the messages are as likely to be lost on those who lack patience or understanding of context as irony is. people are as wont to do things that exclude or belittle in the course of sincere speech as they are in the course of ironic speech.

I like the phrase "deeply shallow."

tmorange said...

as technique, indeed the line separating co-optation from collage, appropriation, rearticulation, sampling, etc may not be all that distinct.

i'm less interested in technique in-itself than what a technique intends. one might co-opt or appropriate out of respect and admiration, or as a means of denigration, or purely for aesthetic reasons. (perhaps there are others?)

the "so much for the avant-garde" comment does i agree sound flippant, but its implication of the infinite disposability of everything is far more prevalent in the consumer culture rae is critiquing than the avant garde and whatever power might or might not still have to challenge consumer culture.

if she simply left it at "so much for the avant-garde" i would agree that her whole point is silly, sarcastic and defeatist. but she immediately follows it with "What do we do?" her question is the same one mark raised weeks ago.

her implied answer is that irony cannot be raised exponentially, that there is a point at the returns yielded by irony diminish.

in agreeing with that point i am making neither a universal condemnation of irony in all its forms nor a universal assertion of sincerity's discursive superiority.

of course there are shades of meaning and no utterance has a perfectly translucent intention. and even if it did, the possibility of an utterance's failure to reach its intention always exists. and what is the speaker's obligation or course of action to be in duch cases?

i did not intend for that line in my poem to sell tacos: what do or can i do about it now, write a nasty letter to the taco company? sue the taco company? write poems about the injustice of the taco company's co-opting my line? write poems making fun of taco companies and their market share? start a grassroots taco company boycott? go on doctor phil or judge judy?

Ryan W. said...

I think one important option is to ignore the taco company. that is, to just not care about it and keep going on about your business as you wish, regardless of the taco company. life is short. I'm not just being a smart ass... I really wonder how much time a poet ought to spend thinking about a taco company. I realize there's a broader question about consumer culture, but isn't the broader question just the sum of all those individual decisions? I'm waxing a little libertarian I guess.

I don't buy tacos, myself. I used to like their tostadas, but they have been discontinued. it was good road food. if I'm really desperate I'll get one of their bean burritos, but it rarely comes to that.

Ryan W. said...

I must admit I do have something like revolutionary impulses. I mean some kind of low level feeling that I have a responsibility to shift things in my culture, etc, and that my behaviors as a composer of poetry might be a part of that. so I don't dismiss these questions... nor do I think the questions are too big or intractable to be worth considering. but it's hard to figure out what and where the problem is. I feel good and safe when I'm in a space that is free of commercial discourse, such as at a poetry reading or even at church, in those very rare instances when I find myself in a church. I often have the thought, "this is so much better than tv." but that's not something I can easily impose on other people.

when I'm at my mom's in arnold watching a football game and I mute the commercials, my sister's wonder why I do that. and it's not an act of rebellion for me to do that, it's just that the noise gets to me, but it's not just the sound noise but the cultural noise... but my point is that my sisters are not sensitized to that somehow... they'd be perfectly happy to leave the sound of the commercials on.

mark wallace said...

I really hate the sound of commercials. Every now and then I'll turn the sound of a commercial on, for whatever reason, and I'm reminded again how much I can't stand how they sound.

They are, by the way, something like 20% louder than the shows they interrupt. Note that some time, if you haven't already.