The pdf Saturn, here on Docshare, includes my first run of books, up to and including Cheltenham. It is sturdily put together, and was uploaded by the folks at Docshare, not me. Moreover, it looks as sturdy as any other e-book, and as likely to last. So...can I include it in my bio? Can I say Saturn (Docshare, 2017)? What is Docshare? This whole congeries of circumstances brings up a salient point about publishing and the Internet in 2017. Until relatively recently, high-level, high-stakes publishing was considered a pretty totalized prestige world. As in, those who were able to publish on high levels were granted the appearance of prestige in the (literary, artistic, academic, humanities) world. Now that the Net has broadened the horizons of publishing, and a publication like Saturn on Docshare can rival prestige online publishers in solidity and the impression of seriousness, what counts in the publishing world, what grants the appearance of prestige, may have to change. Prestige may become more of an eye-of-the-beholder phenomenon than it has been in the past; and I may go with Saturn (Docshare, 2017) in a bio somewhere just to test the whole she-bang.
The line in the title poem of Posit (I posit/no boundary/between us) is one I'd like to parse, in reference to what Neo-Romanticism is meant to be in the humanities world in 2017. If looked at objectively, an argument could be made that Modern art, post-modern art, and Deconstructionist literary theory are all largely constituted by a succession of boundaries, and a succession of boundaries effect. In other words, the works of art, and the texts, are a game and a gambit against both intimacy, and the possibility of intimacy, between reader/viewer and creator. Deconstructionism configures intimacy as naive, as both an intention and a possibility, largely through the perceived obtrusion of the arbitrary into language and linguistic significations. Modernity and post-modernity lean heavily on alienation tactics and irony motifs. To get a little Wilde, the importance of being earnest is lost. Yet Deconstructionism must withstand its own contradictions; as Roland Barthes enumerates how we might be seduced by texts, it must be understood that what is seductive in textuality is, in itself, the possibility of writer/reader intimacy; and that intimacy can only be a viable possibility if what is arbitrary in language and balanced and offset by what in language and linguistic symbolization is purposeful (as Wordsworth would have it), and penetrant into the psyche of those who read and experience the text. In other words, scruples aside, language works.
Art works, too. Neo-Romanticism is, in fact, predicated on a belief in the efficacy of aesthetic symbolization, and (specifically), the positing of no boundary between creator and viewer/reader. Neo-Romanticism, on a primordial level (sprung, perhaps, from a ricochet to Philadelphia's buildings), believes in itself, and believes in its audience. Why the Dusie chap Posit, which ten years ago was ricocheting across the country for the first time, was more a statement of intention than I at first perhaps perceived, is because I failed to grasp the underpinnings of the work itself (and of The Posit Trilogy which came later) in regards to the primordial compact I unconsciously projected onto it, as I created it; a self-regulated, self-sustaining world of good faith, good intentions, and genial good will towards whoever might choose to read the text. The Neo-Romanticism which was born out of Aughts Philadelphia does, in fact, attempt to take the first person singular and make it genial again. There cannot be a "you," a second person singular, without an "I"; and the significance of poetry's primordial perspective, an "I" addressing a "you," is that it becomes a Heideggerian sheltering device against what might corrupt it from without. The succession of boundaries effect embedded in Modern and post-modern art, the creation of more and more vast distances between reader/viewer and creator, is not an effect Neo-Romanticism finds interesting. Formality is another issue, and off the table here; but, suffice it to say, formality creates the inherent genial good will of a rich relationship to history and histories, continuity of consciousness over long stretches of time. Formality adds levels of richness, rather than impoverishment.
When formality is shifted into place as a prominent element of a literary text, as in The Ballad of Robert Johnson, the genial good will of the artist is to, among other things, fulfill an imperative function that both Deconstruction and post-modernity largely lost: to entertain, edify, and enlighten the reader on the highest possible cognitive level. Readers read the poem because they enjoy it. This seems simple; it is not, in practice. Literature in the American Academy is so painfully onerous, as a Babel-level enterprise or (often) anti-enterprise, that literary types stick to books as a mode of self-abnegation and self-abasement. As a graduate student, I worked under a professor once, and I bothered to bring this complex to the surface. We stick to these texts, I said, because we enjoy them; we study literature because we like it; right? You'd be amazed that he was nonplussed enough so that producing an answer seemed, to him, inadvisable. I never forgot the sense I had that here, folks, was an impostor; someone doing something for the wrong reason, whatever that reason might have been. Posit, The Posit Trilogy, Robert Johnson, and the rest are all aiming to cut out the proverbial middle man, academic or not. And the formality that pleases, that makes reading the poem an intimate, enjoyable, and memorable experience, is a tool the universe has built into human life that those with active brains may be fed the right way: with philosophy-tinged music.
Anyone who's lived in Philadelphia for more than a few years knows the Smitten European Syndrome. On one's travels in Philly, periodically one will run into European folk, who passionately vow for Philadelphia against all the other American cities: for class, style, distinction, and dignity. It's just something that happens. Much of the European hoopla around Philadelphia has to do with architecture: after all, what a city essentially amounts to is a collection of buildings. As a collection of buildings in the continental United States, Philadelphia is peerless. What the Philly Free School amounts to, is an extended attempt to transmute the grandiosity, stateliness, and gravitas of Philadelphia's architecture into a body of higher artistic work; why I called one of our key pdfs Our Architecture Did This To Us. All these facets of Philly, as a construct, point to one essential reality: Philadelphia is an adult city; a city about solidity, on and beneath the surface. For the continental United States to grow into an appropriate awareness of PFS, all the sectors of America which remain Babyland sectors (the press corps are the worst, and NYC, with its bold-facade-with-nothing-behind-it emptiness, runs a close second) will have to grow up. What I'm doing here now amounts to planting seeds, because wheels this extensive and ponderous can only turn slowly.
As per other Happenings Ten Years Time Ago: on July 6, 2007, I read with a bunch of Chicago poets at Kate the Great's bookstore in Andersonville, Chi-Town. We wound up doing three Philly Free School readings at Kate the Great's; the final one, in the summer of '08, capped off a trip on which I lectured at Loyola behind Opera Bufa. Illustrated here is a Loyola (Prof. Laura Goldstein) syllabus featuring the book:
this, also, is a term paper written on the book for the class by Stacy Blair:
But, back to the main: I forgot to mention: Philadelphia and Chicago do share many key issues. Chicago's image problem is a hinge to Philadelphia's: that to make Chi-Town simple is a fool's game. Down to rich Chicago suburbs appearing in 80s movies with which we learned our moves as kids (Bueller? Bueller?).
Philadelphia is a city with an image problem. To make a long story short: Philly is impossible to nutshell. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if Philly has a sun sign, it is certainly Gemini. Geminis do, often, have image problems: they tend to be too complex, too all over the place, to make easy summary possible. The press are wankers and adolescents and need their soundbites, and other cities come through just fine (at least on the surface): DC is the government, LA is Hollywood, Vegas is casinos, Frisco is queers and queerness, Nawlins is alcohol, the Florida cities are the Florida Lifestyle, the Texas cities are the Texas Lifestyle, Seattle went from Nothing to Grunge to Nothing Again, Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Detroit are junk/trash, and the funniest, for those who observe the tactile realities of the United States beneath the surface, is NYC as the power center of everything. Philadelphia is just too complicated, too ornate, as its architecture is, to do the sound bite routine. So you will encounter anomalies: Garrison Keillor, avant-garde hipster extraordinaire, on the Prairie Home Companion, confidently summarizes Philadelphia as a "working class city." On the other hand, a movie like 2009's Dare, which amounts to a staging of Less Than Zero in the rich Philadelphia 'burbs, emphasizes all the Easton-Ellis paradigm insignias of too much too soon, from queerness to sex/drugs/alcohol/money.
Indeed, what Dare actually is, is a meta-movie, staging something daring: accurate reportage of what the Philly 'burbs really add up to, beneath the surface. And, as the movie unfolds, the sturm und drang around putting the pedal to the proverbial metal towards an apotheosis of affluent, wasted youth, brings to the surface yet another Philly complexity; the kinds of kids and families who might hire Rocky Balboa as a plumber or maintenance man. They were there in 1976, too. You just didn't see them then.
Ten years ago today, on June 9, 2007, I stepped into the post office, on Chestnut Street between 20th and 21st Streets in Center City Philadelphia, to mail out the first copies of my Dusie chap Posit. A decade and many books and e-books later, it is interesting to reflect, on June 9, 2017, what it means to spend ten years publishing at or on high levels. What it brings to the surface, for me, is an awareness and an acknowledgment that we are living through a transitional time, where publishing is concerned. The splintered or splintering effect in publishing, created by the competing, not always commensurate demands of online life against print life, has created a sense of the whole enterprise as a whirling dervish highwire act. Posit, in 2007, was released as a print chapbook and an e-book simultaneously; Mark Young's journal Otoliths had that double-pronged effect going then, and still does. Beams came out as an e-book later in '07, and pirated print editions soon appeared on the market; while later books like Apparition Poems and Cheltenham were released in print without precise online counterparts. To make up that difference, I placed the pdfs on sites like Scribd and Internet Archive, where they have enjoyed some success. But the point, that the publishing imperative should, of necessity, become a double imperative by '17, is one which adds gravitas to a semi-Sisyphean conception or paradigm model of publishing, in which only the super-diligent and highly motivated might survive, and the idea of standing, confidently and suavely, behind print alone, is an antiquated one.
In fact, from '17 on out, it looks like in many ways online is winning, which I did not expect. The reason is simple: online offers a more pure, less riddled-with-corruption reading experience than print does. The paradigm which held sway in my mind for many years, of print and online holding commensurate weight and finding ways and means of balancing each other out, now in and of itself seems antiquated. Online, of course, cannot be completely utopic; the human race en masse are not capable of producing utopic contexts; but many of us at least do not feel, by '17, that we've stepped into a Rosemary's Baby-level Satanic orgy when we read online. Amazon is just that, an obvious, obviously corrupt jungle; as is the University library system in the United States. It is the province of rackets and racketeers; if you didn't think print books could kill, think again. The problem, for myself as a literary individual, is that I love print books. I adore them. Yet, if the integrity and the purity is online, that's where I'll be. When I stepped into the post office on Chestnut Street ten years ago today, many poetry voices were still dismissive of online as a viable context for poetry; I had no idea then, that so many of these were racketeer voices. So, unbelievably, if you want to ride the publishing cutting edge in '17, you may have to admit that print can be expendable now. Preservation techniques have made online a suitable venue for Eternity, and the Eternity Sweepstakes; and print has become a fool's paradise's, at least part of the time, for clods and literary clod-ism.
High or serious art is usually considered the province of the big cities, here in the States. That's generally where the schools, the money, and the prestige are. Yet, as I get older, I can't not be curious as to how the Philly Free School will fare in other parts of the country, like the Bread Basket, or Dust Bowl, or Great Plains, or what have you. One of the most salient mysteries built into America, as a construct, is this large chunk of the country, comprised of small and mid-level towns and cities. What would a rural community see or not see in PFS? The way I imagine it, a small town hidden in the Bread Basket somewhere might have an intrigued response. In small towns and rural communities in general, the populace lead slower lives, and live to more advanced ages. Philly Free School art is meant to encourage contemplative duration; that is, is meant to be consumed, assimilated, and interpreted over long expanses of time. And slowly, piece by piece- not like the McDonald's, disposable version of haute culture espoused by New York. The idea is that if this particular population were to be drawn to, and drawn in by, the Philly Free School, it would be because our oeuvre radiates a certain kind of depth, of dimensions and mysteries which in and of themselves require slow, patient study, to yield the greatest receptive reward. I am attracted to the Bread Basket as an idea and an ideal in relation to us; the kind of audience who would be willing to dig beneath the surface of the paintings and books and stay there. Yet, I am no expert where Heartland mores and tastes are concerned. Who knows?