Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mark Wallace Never Commits Himself? You Be The Judge

This post is going to be the first in a series between Joe Safdie and me, each one of us trading off responses, with Joe going first. Please join us by commenting if you're so inclined.


Joe writes:

"Last night, while on an occasional and sporadic journey through several blogs I've bookmarked, I came across a post of Kenny Goldsmith's on *Harriet* -- not really a "post," it showed the picture of a dollar bill crumpled up so that the words "United States of America" read "Tits of America" -- the caption underneath it was "Flarf"; underneath that, the same dollar bill was elongated to its normal length -- the caption underneath that was "Conceptual Poetry".

My immediate reaction, after laughing, was to commend its brilliance. But before posting that to Harriet, I saw a comment that had already been posted from Mark Wallace, who's become a friend since we both moved to San Diego four years ago. Mark wrote: "Very relevant, in a way that sits right at the relevant/irrelevant nexus in an irrelevant way that's somehow relevant. And the other way too, of course, and not quite. Show me the money."

I interpreted this post of Mark's as similar to some recent posts he's made on his own blog, as well as comments to others' -- as an indication that he was somehow avoiding taking a stand, one way or the other -- and that this was irritating. So instead of posting to Harriet, I wrote him an e-mail:

Mark . . .

Hi. Too long a time for neighbors.

But listen . . . I now monitor the blogs, including yours, and I can't help but notice that you NEVER seem to take a stand about anything . . . I mean, really! You're obviously a very talented writer, certainly enough to present an engaging paragraph or three, but you never state any *poetic* opinions -- I mean, I take it back, you did urge your readers to vote for Obama, but you never seem to go out on a limb and COMMIT yourself to anything, in any of your blog posts, in any of your comments on other people's blogs -- and for this reader, it gets irritating after awhile. You categorize and classify quite well, but even when presented with an engaging choice like this latest one from Kenny, you just seem to weasel out.

Since I never want to be like Pierre Menard, I'll say that I thought Kenny's post was pretty brilliant, and that I'll take the elongated dollar bill every time . . . "realism" . . . for all the post-structuralist-modernist critiques that can ever be marshaled against it. But for what it's worth (probably not much), I really did want to register this deeply-felt critique -- for me, the second half of your latest book was forgettable -- while the first had real possibilities.

I'm never gonna be part of the echelon, partner, but I did want to register this personal critique -- which, of course, you should feel free to ignore.



P.S. I just got tenure -- you too, right?"


K. Silem Mohammad said...

I'll pass over what seems to me to be the questionable move of demanding that someone "take a stand" on the topic of poetics. And leaving aside for the moment any competition between Flarf and Conceptual Writing, I don't know how intelligibly this discussion can proceed as long as Conceptual Writing is understood as in any way related to representational "realism" in the sense in which Joe invokes it here (especially in the sense of a foil to postmodern critiques). This suggests to me that Joe misses Kenny's point(s) entirely. I trust that Kenny would agree.

Joe Safdie said...

Kasey, you may be right about that -- I'm ignorant about Kenny's work and was just reacting to this one post of his. What Mark and I propose here, though -- for better and for worse -- is exactly what you call "questionable": a dialogue about "taking a stand," in general, regarding questions that arise in contemporary poetics. I'm sorry if that doesn't seem to be a valuable use of Mark's blog space.

Knowing nothing, then, about Conceptual Poetry or Kenny's work, I saw the unaltered dollar bill as, yes, an example of representational "realism" -- evocative, especially in these times, and endlessly generative on its own. My possible misinterpretation of Kenny's "point," though, has little or no relevance to the discussion that Mark proposes here.

Dave King said...


Anonymous said...


What business of it is yours how someone else runs his blog? I mean, that's maybe the most Leftist thing I've ever heard of. You dictating to someone else what he or she must do ("COMMIT") as if fomenting a dialogue is a bad thing. The world is full of stances, my friend, the blogosphere, talk radio, television, and 99.9 percent of them suck. What Mark is doing is encouraging a discussion -- and anyway, it's his blog, not yours. Why don't you create a blog -- No, a literary magazine, and call it STANCE. In fact, why don't you consult Sen. Larry Craig and call the magazine WIDE STANCE. I mean, to take the widest stance as human anatomy will allow. ----------Bl. An.

Joe Safdie said...

Thanks, Anonymous ("Anonymous"?) ("Bl. An."?) I've been called a Leftist before in print, which I guess is slightly better than a Rightist, but not much. Just for the record, I was *commenting* about Mark's blog -- not dictating -- although most comment streams seem more like show trials than dialogue. Hope that doesn't happen here.

And thanks, as well, for your comment, that 99.9% of all stances suck -- that's what I gather this little zeitgeist monitor is about, to find that out. Like everything else, it'll blow over in a few days.

Anonymous said...


You had me at "tenure"!

brian a j salchert said...

I got 5.5ure.
Maybe the reason Mark seems to be
someone who avoids taking stances
is because he is always thinking,
but I can assure you:
He does take stances.

w v: extedeki

Anonymous said...

I'll keep this simple. WHO CARES what Safdie thinks someone ELSE should do? What an ass.