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From a Charles Bernstein appreciation of Barbara Guest, who died in February, in this month’s Bookforum. (The article’s not on-line, unfortunately):

In a period of American poetry in which the most visible, and indeed much of the very best, poetry has been written with hooks galore – whether outrageous or flamboyant or hip or morally uplifting, arrogant or agonized or transcendent – Guest used no hooks. This allowed her to create a textually saturated poetry that embodied the transient, the ephemeral, the flickering in translucent surfaces that we call painterly for lack of a better term to chart the refusal of pseudo-depth of field. It would be easy to dwell on the exquisite surface reflection in Guest’s work while eliding the significance of this insistently modulated diffusion and liminal warping and woofing.

Interesting passage. Two things stand out:

1) the list of “hooks,” which seems to come close to a full list (or at least a well stocked partial list, and one that could be expanded) of literary postures. To imagine a literature without outrage or flamboyance, without uplift, transcendence, arrogance or agony is provocatively difficult. (I guess will have to read some Guest…)

2) the sense that, here at least, our recourse to the visual arts, to painting, when we attempt to describe the literary aesthetic (we do it all the time – the literary aesthetic might be said only to borrow its vocabulary from other media) also carries with it a sense of flatness, a pleasurable lack of depth. The pleasure of the painting isn’t simply the pleasure of the surface, here; it’s the pleasure of the surface without depth, volume, content.

A Guest poem to get you (and me) started. Here are some more.

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 1:19 am

Posted in aesthetics

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