Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, August 6, 2010

Joshua Clover, _The Totality for Kids_

IN A BLURB on the back cover of Clover's second collection of poetry (2006), Charles Altieri describes the poems as "crossing the cool, allusive intricacy of Quentin Tarantino with the abstract, intense social passion of Walter Benjamin." I would put it slightly differently, as for me the poems cross the cool, allusive intricacy of Walter Benjamin with the abstract, intense social passion of Quentin Tarantino.

Now why am I being so snarky? What Clover's poems actually are for me is an occasion of sin, to wit, the sin of envy. He has obviously received an excellent education and fully profited from it; he possesses a wickedly witty po-mo ingenuity (this is the first volume of poetry I've encountered that has a subject index); he has impeccable radar for what is most interesting in popular culture (in the index, Ashbery and Adorno rub shoulders with Astaire and the Auteurs); his politics are well-honed, smart but slogan-less; on the evidence of this volume, he spends a lot of time in Paris. It's hard to read Clover without the continually nagging sense that one wants to be Clover.

One cheap and obvious cure for envy is to dislike and disparage the object of envy -- not so easy in this case, unfortunately, since Clover's poetry is excellent: witty, musical ("jotting in our daybooks, how beautiful, the armies of autumn"), self-aware. Can one even mock his relentless post-everything-ism --

The most awful thing
About the phrase "Every Germinal must have its Thermidor"
Is that one never gets to say so anymore
And really mean it.

-- when he has done a better job of mocking it than you ever will in the three re-shuffled versions of almost the same poem, "Auteur Theory," "Kantine," and "A Boy's Own Story"?

About that index, though. On what principles was it compiled? Stephen Rodefer is mentioned on p. 64, and the index dutifully records, "Rodefer, Stephen, 64." Then I notice the index entry "Phair, Liz, 28, 59." Flipping to p. 28, I find no mention of Liz Phair, but the poem is titled "Letters and Sodas" -- a phrase from "Fuck and Run," a standout song from Phair's masterpiece, Exile in Guyville. So, the index tracks allusions as well as plain references...cool! Sure enough, "Guided by Voices, 50" sends one to a poem using the phrase "glad girls," the title of a great cut on Isolation Drills.

What a gift to the source-seeking dissertation writers, if only, as in the 1940s and 1950s, dissertation writers still sought sources.

But wait. On p. 32, we read "The danger of philosophy is that the the mayor is weeping over Love Will Tear Us Apart (The last chapter where Aglaya gets it [...]," which ought to generate entries for Joy Division and Dostoyevsky and does, but then the reference to "Rue No Fun" on the same page (and on p. 16) generates no entry for the Stooges. WTF?! All right, perhaps this was just some trans-lingual pun. But then the phrase "doing the Strand" on p. 50, which has to be an allusion to Roxy Music, generates no entry for Roxy Music.

Worse is to come -- on p. 62, we read "Je me promène. Principalement, je me promène," yet neither the entry for Guy DeBord nor the entry for Michelle Bernstein lists p. 62!

Ah, well, back to square one for our non-existent source-seeking dissertation writers. Makes for a better joke, though, no? If giving a volume of poetry an index is an ingenious po-mo gesture, it's obviously even more ingeniously po-mo to make the index inconsistent, fragmentary, fissured, and misdirective.

Down, green-eyed monster, down...

6 comments:

彤彤 said...
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