THE MYTH OF QUIETISM

The School of Quietism, a coinage Professor Silliman partially ripped from Poe, supposedly represents the smug, reactionary mainstream, what Professor Bernstein, fresh out of Harvard (philosophy) used to call “Official Verse Culture.” 

The SoQ, to these professors and their followers, is the great nemesis to all progressive “movements,” avant-garde experimentation, modernist, post-modernist, post-post-modernist, flights, spiraling, downward into the lower regions of Creative Writing Workshop hell, where such texts as American Hybrid (Iowa, say “hello” to Brown!) greet the sad victim.

The binary of Quietism v. Avant-garde is an outrageous falsehood that would matter if there were still a pulse on the American poetry scene—last time we checked, there was none—so Scarriet will have to step in and pretend to care, for we do take a malevolent delight in stirring things up. 

The educated person seriously interested in pedagogy and history who studies the ethical, sociological, aesthetic, philosophical issues of American poetry cannot help but laugh at the notion that the American avant garde is “progressive.”  How is the American poetry avant-garde, in any of its forms, “progressive?”   One must be a complete ass to believe this.

The history of modernist poetry: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, is not even faintly “progressive.”  To point fingers at some of these writers as “Quietists” misses the whole point; the label is without merit; it doesn’t matter which side of the radical line one is on.  The Quietist label of Silliman’s is pure mystification. 

A literature which is incoherent, incomprehensible, and not in the least amusing or interesting to anyone, except a few professors, is not “progressive.”   One cannot be “progressive” while befuddling and confusing the downtrodden, the middle class, and 99.9 % of the highly educated.

Even admirers of  The Red Wheel Barrow, The Cantos, Finnegan’s Wake, the Maximus Poems, and LangPo admit these works are not improvements on the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they reflect a change of taste over time.

Progress requires improvement.

Yet “progressive” is automatically linked to every inanity which flies under the banner of  “manifesto” or “movement,”  save those asserted as “new,” such as the New Formalism, a milk-and-water attempt that is retrograde on account of its weak and pedantic nature. 

But so are avant-garde movements in American poetry retrograde,  and for precisely the same reason. 

The “progressive” nomenclature is a con, for no measurable “improvement” exists.  Decreasing accessibility, coherence, beauty, popularity, excitement, and literacy in Letters cannot, in any shape, excuse, or form, be termed “progressive.” 

What sort of “progress” can be asserted?  Material?  Scientific?  Social? 

No, no, and no.

So the next time you hear some avant clown referring to themselves as “progressive,” wag your finger at them and say, “No, no, no…”

Asinus asinum fricat.

10 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    January 25, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Ron Silliman (from his blog today) tries his hand at English:

    “Actualism’s premise was that there was nothing inherently New York about the New York School & that it could be transplanted straight to the West Coast without much in the way of rethinking the project. The one person who really had that vision, and the charisma & intelligence to pull it off, was Gray, but he arrived in San Francisco fairly early in the 1970s already thoroughly addicted to alcohol, and his time in the Bay Area makes Leaving Las Vegas look like Alvin & the Chipmunks. One or two attempts at collaborating with Darrell & realizing that the gallon of red wine next to the typewriter was as important as the typewriter were enough to scare me off.

    The hidden assumption behind that premise, of course, is that the map of the territory as outlined by the Allen anthology, The New American Poetry, was more or less a fixed landscape. I have no doubt that it was traumatic for anybody who bought into any variant of that vision that way to discover a new group of poets who were both off that map & yet engaged with it had shown up like a volcano in downtown LA.”

    That second paragraph, especially, makes one wonder if Silliman isn’t drinking red wine…what is he drinking?

  2. Anonymous said,

    January 26, 2010 at 4:17 am

    he drinking a big chief knucklehead trip

  3. thomasbrady said,

    January 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Silliman probably drinks tea, but can anybody tell me what the hell this is:

    “I have no doubt that it was traumatic for anybody who bought into any variant of that vision that way to discover a new group of poets who were both off that map & yet engaged with it had shown up like a volcano in downtown LA.”

    And ‘bringing the NY Skool to SF’ crapola, pleeze spare me; these posers with their little geographical ‘scenes,’ placing importance on their place, as if ‘The New York School’ signifies anything but self-aggrandizing loser-dom. Every last one of them was just beating off on William James. This ‘place’ obsession just makes it easy for people who can’t write a meaningful sentence to rant in what they think is a literary manner. “New York!” “San Francisco!” What a “scene” we had! Yea, making your little ‘zine in the community college cafeteria while living in your mom’s basement… I was part of an important San Francisco scene, man…

    Yea, right. Have some more red wine…

  4. Mark said,

    February 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Hard to take seriously a polemic that calls Ford Madox Ford a poet.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    February 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Hard to take seriously someone who doesn’t realize Ford Madox Ford was (among other things) a poet, was on the ground floor of the so-called Imagist movement with Hulme, Pound, H.D., Aldington…

  6. Mark said,

    February 9, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Yeah, and Michael Jordan played baseball.

  7. thomasbrady said,

    February 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    A shallow take, my friend. If you want to know a literary era, you look at what everybody was doing; you don’t simply count homeruns/fieldgoals.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    February 9, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    As for Silliman’s comment on his bog:

    Is Quietism denial
    like AIDS or Holocaust denial
    or the first step toward acknowledging
    one’s helplessness,
    & thus to getting help?

    Poe’s School of Quietude featured a subtle aesthetic distinction.

    “Holocaust denial” is desperate rhetoric and reflects the noise of a hollow barrel. A good deal of productive mischief is cooked up where it’s quiet, but in any case, it’s important we stick to real people and real facts. F.M. Ford: World War I hawk, job at the British War Propaganda Office, key link between Pound & Eliot’s euro-reactionary avant-garde and the “I’ll Take My Stand” reactionary Fugitives in the United States—who supported avant-garde writers Williams and Pound. To gum up crucial historical facts with simplistic ‘Avant v. SoQ’ rhetoric is to muzzle facts with quack-ism. Why can’t the avant-garde be narrow-minded and stupid and war-like? Why can’t quietude be forward-thinking and promethean and progressive? It can, it can. The SoQ trope is a wide swath of dumb.

  9. thomasbrady said,

    February 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World, edited by Richard Aldington, 1941

    Ford Madox Ford has more pages of poetry in this volume than Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Tate, Crane, Benet, Davison, Blunden, Graves, Cummings, Van Doren, Owen, Millay, Aiken, Ransom, Moore, Brooke, Sitwell, Wylie, Jeffers, Sassoon, Pound, Williams, Hulme, or Sandburg though not nearly as many as Browning, Swinburne and Whitman.

    Indeed, he was something of a hack, but this has some interest nonetheless:

    A Solis Ortus Cardine…

    Oh, quiet peoples sleeping bed by bed
    Beneath grey roof-trees in the glimmering West,
    We who can see the silver grey and red
    Rise over No Man’s Land—salute your rest.

    Oh, quiet comrades, sleeping in the clay
    Beneath a turmoil you need no more mark,
    We who have lived through yet another day
    Salute your graves at setting in of dark.

    And rising from your beds or from the clay
    You, dead, or far from lines of slain and slayers,
    Thro’ your eternal or your finite day
    Give us your prayers!

  10. thomasbrady said,

    February 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Who was that, Mark? One of Silliman’s foot soldiers? He was cut down pretty quick…

    Is that all you got, Ron?

    Ford Madox Ford wasn’t a poet?