A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon, possibly via Google Alert, an essay by Jennifer Moore in The Offending Adam called "No discernible emotion and no discernible lack of emotion." It caught my interest because, yes, it quotes me (specifically this post on the old Pshares blog, in which, to be fair, I'm mostly quoting Ana Bozicevic on "The New Childishness") as well as Absent founding-editor-at-large Simon DeDeo on Tao Lin.
It's good to see someone looking at Tao Lin's work from a serious critical perspective, as opposed to the usual knee-jerky reviews and responses he tends to garner (both the "I hate Tao Lin" and "Tao Lin is my messiah" varietals). I liked the piece a lot so I wrote to Jennifer, and she sent me the longer paper it's from, which expounds on the "aesthetics of failure" in contemporary poetry, focusing on Lin as well as Matt Hart. It's really good (I had a chance to read the whole thing this morning, thanks to jury duty) and I hope she publishes it in an anthology or something so it's available for teaching. Some half-formed thoughts it sparked:
* This is an academic paper (she's currently getting her PhD at Chicago) and part of what makes it so enjoyable is its complete avoidance of value judgments. I can't tell by reading it if Jennifer Moore likes or dislikes the poetry of Matt Hart and Tao Lin, and I don't really care. There's a lot of hating on "theory" and the "academic" out there, which seems to rise from the pretense that academic language is always obfuscating (and that interesting ideas can always be communicated in simple, accessible language). I don't really agree with either premise, and I think a resistance to "theory" often amounts to laziness or at least insecurity. Without "theory" (which is just formalized thinking) and reference, criticism usually devolves into a value judgment, and this is what makes so many reviews boring and forgettable. An aversion to theory seems like an unwillingness to give up the thing you can be sure of, which can't be refuted: your subjective opinion. "I just like it" or "I just don't" isn't a theory, so it can't even be wrong.
* JM positions the work of Hart and Lin, representing The New Sincerity and The New Childishness respectively (insofar as either "movement" exists), as a reaction to language and post-language or "post-avant" poetry: Hart rejects "a poetry which is either too committed to experimentation [...] or whose difficulties end up alienating its readers," while Lin claims "I don't want to make people feel stupid when they read my writing," implying that language and/or post-language poetry are inaccessible and elitist. Fascinatingly, the language poets had very similar goals; they felt that the American tradition of the lyrical first-person poem, giving voice to a single poetic self, was elitist and hierarchical, tending to produce authoritarian "closed texts." So what emerges is an absurd cycle of movements reacting against each other despite sharing the same humanist, populist, even utopian aims. In other words (you could say), both aesthetics grandly fail. They are not merely "culturally ineffectual," but fail even to embody or convey their own principles on a superficial level. (You could say.)
So. Aside from serving my civic duty, I'm doing another cool thing: judging a book award, which means I'm reading some really great books that I might never have gotten around to otherwise. Ah, the pleasures of leaving one's filter bubble. I'll say more about these books when the judging period ends. Also in the works: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by the disarmingly, nay, irritatingly pretty Marisha Pessl (although she seems to only look like a model from certain angles), and I've got a bag of 17 kinds of deodorant sitting by my right foot.
P.S. A P.G. Wodehouse story is a guaranteed good time.