Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hybrid Likes and Dislikes

I like the concept of the literary hybrid as a work that uses and refigures influences from a number of literary schools or genres or traditions, thus questioning the idea that literature is best when influenced by a single tradition only.

I like the concept of the literary hybrid when it takes up artistic elements from beyond the world of literature, whether music or visual art or others.

I like the concept of the literary hybrid when it exposes rifts and differences both within literary traditions and across them, and when it deforms its influences in such a way as to question the commonly assumed limits of those influences.

I don’t like the concept of the literary hybrid as something that synthesizes the differences of its influences and therefore “smooths the rifts” or “heals the wound” or “takes the best of both worlds and ignores the excess.” This concept tends to suggest that the hybrid is a centralizing work that has achieved a common ground superior to the traditions which it refigures. I use the word “synthesizes” to note the Hegelian aspects of this concept: one that takes earlier concepts and synthesizes them on a higher, more integrated plain. Of course, as Hegel would suggest, even a successful attempt to do so would lead to a reaction against this new synthesis.

I like the concept of the literary hybrid as one that juxtaposes languages, cultures, and histories in surprising ways and plays with the interconnections and differences between them.

I even like the concept of the literary hybrid as one that ignores or blurs the specifics of the interconnections and differences between language, cultures, and histories as long as in doing so, it does not claim to be a healing, seamless whole.

A blurry hybrid can be fascinating but an amorphous one is always boring.

I like the concept of the literary hybrid when it enlightens by confusing and confuses by enlightening.

I like the concept of the literary hybrid when it displaces, disrupts, exposes, makes strange, highlights alienation, or undermines assumptions, whether in reference to other literary and artistic practices or to the world itself.

I even like the concept of the hybrid when it becomes a new specific tradition of writing or highlights a new way of living in the world.

I like the concept of the hybrid as gender-bending but not as “man and woman are one” or “‘til death do us part.”

I don’t like the concept of the hybrid as the overcoming of differences but there’s a place for it as the mediating of them, as long as the mediation does not assume for itself a position of centralized authority. I like the concept of the hybrid as multiple or diffused mediation.

I like the concept of the hybrid when it wastes your time or makes you a better person or even when it gets you a job or makes you famous. I don’t like the concept of the hybrid as The Board of Directors.

I don’t like the concept of the hybrid when it is discussed as the only, the best, the right, the balanced, the middle, the cautious or the most inclusive.

I don’t like the concept of the hybrid as a big tent under which to gather the big names.

I like the concept of the hybrid as a way of combining things without including them.

I like the concept of the hybrid when it does what has not been done in a way that shows the value of its being done.

I don’t like the concept of the hybrid if it suggests that there’s nothing to do but re-mix what has already been done.

I like the concept of the hybrid as generous but I don’t like it as benevolent.

I like the concept of the hybrid as alongside, with, in contrast to, and as exception to the rule.

I like the concept of the hybrid as new potential guidelines but I don’t like the concept of the hybrid as the new rule.

I like the hybrid when it steals the show but not when it demands center stage.

I like the hybrid when it’s sleight of hand and I even like it when it picks my pocket. I don’t like it when it calls the shots.

I like a concept of the hybrid that scrambles the sides or says that none of the sides are worthwhile sides but I don’t like a hybrid that’s afraid to take sides.


Michael Theune said...

I like this post.

Jordan said...

I like you!

wv: bacan

dj signifier said...

Could you sit on 'tradition' a little while? Through this is the threat that 'tradition' (it's hard to take anything else as antonymous to 'hybrid' in this frame) is synonymous with 'definition' - tho such place would make 'creative' inherently hybrid (and 'destruction' inherently traditional - but that's a different avenue..)

Anonymous said...

Bravo! What—have you been monitoring my thoughts? Where's my aluminum hat? But seriously, this is a terrific post. Only one item stumped me: "I like the concept of the hybrid when it wastes your time." Am I missing something, or is this missing the word "don't"?

Anonymous said...

Doh! I mean "missing the words 'doesn't waste'".... It's horrible being a writer....

rodney k said...

I like the concept of the hybrid just fine so long as it calls itself something other than "hybrid." Does the chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost after 20 years of syllabi?

Anonymous said...

I was mulling over this "hybrid" phenomenon, thinking about evolution and adaptation, wondering if there might be some useful analogy one could fool around with. So I went (of course) to Wikipedia, and came across "Exaptation." The new Hybrid/Middle Space Poetry is a kind of *exaptation* within the Field of Literary Production! Check it out below.


>However, many traits that appear to be simple adaptations are in fact exaptations: structures originally adapted for one function, but which coincidentally became somewhat useful for some other function in the process.[113] One example is the African lizard Holaspis guentheri, which developed an extremely flat head for hiding in crevices, as can be seen by looking at its near relatives. However, in this species, the head has become so flattened that it assists in gliding from tree to tree—an exaptation.

Michael Theune said...

I like the idea of American Exaptation, Kent!

Over at her blog, Danielle Pafunda has some nice, new alternative "hybrid" titles she'd like to see, such as American Frankensteins. GENERALLY the same idea as the hybrid, but the devil is in the details, and words matter, as Joseph teaches us, and demonstrates, above.

Anonymous said...

It's a great idea to borrow from evolutionary biology, Kent, since we're biological entities and poems are memes. Maybe that's an answer to David Orr's awful essay on Greatness. Great poets are those who produce poetic memes that undergo exaptation over time....

Henry Gould said...

I like "hybrid" if it saves on gas.

Poetry World seems to be getting plenty of mileage out of it... but going where?

mark wallace said...

Thanks, everybody, for these comments.

Joseph, I really did mean "wastes my time." But I didn't mean it in the colloquial sense that "what a waste of time" means something that's no good. Instead, I meant it in the sense that I like something when it takes me out of my usual annoying "produce produce produce" mindset that wants to colonize time and turn every instant into something I need to make use of. I like the idea that I can follow something in such a way that it takes me out of myself like that. In the Bataille sense of waste perhaps: as something that can't be put back into our usual economies of meaning (or whatever else) because something about it takes us out of those economies (which in this case might be that of the singular tradition?).

Rodney, it's sure true that I'm writing this piece at a big institutional moment for the hybrid, which prompted this post in many ways, obviously. A colonization of the term is indeed at hand. On the other side of the coin, though, if we had to change the name of everything that had been on university lit syllabi for at least twenty years, we'd be either very confused or have a lot less left to consider.

Exaptation is indeed a cool concept to apply here, Kent. I've been wondering though since you commented whether with hybrid we're talking about a change in relationship to natural environment or primarily just a change in social relationships. Of course, animals change in response to animal sociality as well as to environment, just like humans. But humans have (to some degree? what?) a more "developed" capacity for social changes that actually work against their environments and even against themselves in those environments.

In other words, my guess is with that frog, the gliding enables it to function differently in its natural environment: what? cover larger distances, have more opportunities for food or greater chances to flee, maybe discover more opportunities for mating (which actually would be partly social)?

But the concept of hybrid literature doesn't automatically do more than enable humans to maneuver against each other, although at best the concept might help us understand each other or the world or around us better. Hybrid humans, that is, are just as likely to use their flat frog heads to sail through the air so they can look down on other flat-headed frogs and say "You old-fashioned chump, I'm flying" as they are to do something more helpful. Of course, that they may be flying right into the open mouth of something else usually escapes them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Mark. I get it – and I agree....

Lemon Hound said...

I'm with the hybrid too. Very nice.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Mark, I was thinking the exaptation thing could be understood in relation to the U.S. poetic "avant-garde" It used to be that avant frogs (sorry, just following the Wikipedia example) kind of hunkered down in the cultural crevices, chirping idiosyncratically away, content and proud to emulate the Adornean imperative: shelter the cultural genes against the mongrel mass and its institutionalized dross, all that. But now so much hunkering has caused a "flattening" in the form of the species, and this flattening (which a few cantankerous, "purist" zoologists have been known to consider an unfortunate though likely finch-beak-brief evolutionary development) allows it to do new things altogether, even change its habitat (thus radically transforming, of course, its "habitus," though the frogs themselves would seem oblivious to this!), from muddy down-and-out crevices, to leafy, sylvan campus arboretums. These post-frogs now soar easily, from MLA tree to AWP tree, and no one has ever seen anything like it. It's flat-out weird.

Most lately, these post-frogs have begun to mate with mainstream flying squirrels... The offspring are horrifying creatures: flat, elliptical heads, furry bodies with webbed feet, etc.



Maurice Burford said...

Really great post. My class just started discussing this.

I saw a panel/reading on the new Hybrid anthology that came out, and it was pretty damn depressing. Everything sounded so bland and boring even from poets I really admire like Armantrout and Gizzi. This category really has a homogenizing effect on the work. I'm not sure why exactly. But it feels like the enemy to poetic growth and fun.

Maurice Burford said...

Here is my (rambling) reply:

brian (baj) salchert said...

I was here too late last night.

Hybrid? Not yet comfortable with this, even though I know that is what is happening, and is doing so mostly without manifestoes.

Exaptation (preadaptation)? Possibly. I've grown tired of placing some form of PM after a time. Am now considering going digital: .12:34, or something similar. Exap? Over at my control blog (bajsalchert.blogspot.com) under Literary and related is a link to a post by Aaron Apps: Poet as Platypus. It is quite good.

There's more, but---.

w v: accirc

Brian (so i've been told)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and well written.Now I am beginning to like hybrid too.

Jeff said...

Is visual poetry considered hybrid? It certainly is not paid any attention in the academy. For examples see http://www.madhattersreview.com/issue10/vispo.shtml

(Full disclosure: A couple of my pieces appear there.) Question: to what extent is visual poetry hybrid? is it what Mark refers to as smoothing the edges of difference?

Jeff Hansen

mark wallace said...

Jeff, your question about visual poetry raises some of the strengths and weaknesses of the term "hybrid." Is it really just a more recent term for something that's been around under various names for a long long time--cross genre, multi-media, etc--but just adding a few more wrinkles? In that way hybrid quickly becomes an (increasingly meaningless) catch-all term.

That said, yeah, a lot of visual poetry probably could be thought of as hybrid in the more disruptive and interesting sense. A lot of poets still don't consider it poetry (witness the tongue-lashing the concept got on the Harriet blog about a month or so back) and its status as visual art is always in doubt too.

So for a lot of people, visual poetry isn't either poetry or art, or nothing more than bad poetry or bad art, at best. So yeah, it's hybrid in the sense that it crosses media in a way that some people would prefer it didn't or don't even think it can.

Michael Theune said...

"That said, yeah, a lot of visual poetry probably could be thought of as hybrid in the more disruptive and interesting sense."

Absolutely, Mark. And so the fact that vispo is not significantly represented (or not represented at all--it certainly is not represented in Shepherd's anthologies) in any of the hybrid anthologies (Shepherd's Iowa Anthology, his Lyric Postmodernisms, or Swensen's American Hybrid) points to the general conservatism of most middle space/third way/hybrid thinking and editing.


Dave King said...

I'm with you all the way - I think. Some examples might have been helpful, but, yes, with the proviso that there are no absolutes in the arts.

mark wallace said...

Thanks for your comment, Dave.

Absolutely, looking at particular examples of literature that might be called "hybrid" is necessary and important.

Lately, of course, the debate has circled around the idea of hybrid as a framing device--for organizing anthologies or understanding some new directions (or perhaps really not so new) in contemporary writing. In a context like that, the frame itself often determines the examples, and not always in the best possible way.

Matt Walker said...

I had no idea doctors left their giant rings and watches on under their latex gloves. I would think that would be uncomfortable.

JC-Auto Sales said...

Hybrid sounds great and very interesting to me.I'm liking it.