THE CONSTRUCTIVIST MOMENT: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics

Barrett Watten, Author . Wesleyan Univ. $70 (364p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6609-6 ISBN 978-0-8195-6610-2

Bridging the gap between a poetics that "foregrounds its formal construction"—i.e., sets language apart by fixing it in unintuitive, nonreferential ways —and a poetics that foregrounds a work's relationship to cultural contexts (such as factories, raves, magazines or listservs), Watten, a poet and English professor at Wayne State University, weaves an impressively wide array of perspectives into an argument for the continuing importance of avant-garde strategies in art today. Watten's Total Syntax (1985) helped outline the critico-theoretical underpinnings of the differing practices now known as language poetry. Following up, Watten offers eight extended, densely wrought meditations on making "new meaning," which can, in its inassimilability, form the basis of a politics. Taking in El Lissitzky's "Prouns," Zukofsky's poetry, Detroit-based techno and the art of David Wojnarowicz, chapters cover "Negative Examples: The Theory of Negativity in the Avant Garde"; "Post-Soviet Subjectivity in Arkadii Dragomoshchenko and Ilya Kabakov"; and "The Poetics of Space in Posturban Detroit." Reexamining the founding myths of language poetry itself, "The Secret History of the Equal Sign" questions the East Coast bias to the movement's reception and tracks some of its collaborative texts. "The Bride of the Assembly Line" relates Ford and Fordism to Gertrude Stein's textual production and to Watten's own practices as an editor of This magazine and press.. In another piece, "Nonnarrative Poetics" is compared with the fall of Saigon, where there was "neither a single overarching perspective nor a necessary conclusion." The sheer breadth of local reflections and digressions is impossible to summarize. and recalls Watten's magisterial long poem Bad History (1998). The cumulative effect of these eight pieces, along with a substantial introduction and individual chapter prefaces, is enlivening, opening the way to unusual syntheses of genres and perspectives, and deep engagement with the utopian intimations of radical art. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/16/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 364 pages - 978-0-8195-6609-6
Open Ebook - 364 pages - 978-0-8195-6978-3
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