“I Want To Hold Your Land…”

The world’s intellectuals have little trouble discerning the signs of political oppression: a great gulf between rich and poor, military extremism, leaders who feed—vampire-like—upon the people, buying-and-selling for short-term gain, a high degree of domestic abuse, social intolerance, poor buildings, poor roads, poor nutrition, poor health, and science crushed by superstition.

Unfortunately, these same intellectuals are often eager to applaud and cultivate cultural fascism.  They support art which is ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.

Why do they support such art?

The answer is simple.

Because it is art.

The intellectuals support this art, not because they are in favor of ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity, obviously, but because they feel they would not be true intellectuals if they did not allow art to be this way if it so chooses.

On issues of politics, the intellectuals, almost to the last, oppose, with all their might, these negative qualities; they oppose them in life, and yet, the sad fact is, political states everywhere are in thrall to these negatives: ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity.

Why, then, should we be surprised, that these qualites dominate in art?

Contemporary poetry is ignored by the masses, and for the rest of us, the highly educated who read it, poetry produces knowing smirks more than anything else.

The intellectual understands this political/art issue to be absolute: no protest can be made upon this count, for art must be free.   After all, art is not life, art is not politics, and bad politics would tell art what to do.   Therefore good politics does not tell art what to do.

Socrates, the wisest philosopher, is shown the door, is led away, down the hill, to that near meadow, to stand speechless, neglected among the buzzing of the flies, lost in thought, perhaps never to speak again.  Plato’s offerings must be opposed completely—no compromise is possible in opposing Plato’s philosophy of art, even if art itself comes to resemble the very totalitarian regimes the intellectuals oppose: ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.

The intellectuals never think that maybe this is a trick the oppressive and totalitarian forces have played on us, to enforce their will not only on political regimes, but upon poetry, as well, so we never think about what poetry should be; we only use it to reflect what is.   Big fish will eat the little fish; the leisure of the college creative writing instructor will eat, with its stream-of-consciousness intelligence, all other fish in the blindness of the infinite, William James/nitrous-oxide, sea.

Most of the blame lies with other arts, those more emeshed in the machinery of crass, pornographic, violent sensationalism, but all are guilty, for instance, in the way the film Bright Star was ignorantly reviewed and received in all quarters, and in countless gestures among intellectuals, poets and artists everywhere who whore out the ideal in small ways every day.

After all, there are only, finally, two things: nature and the moral; nature provides the building materials; we build.  How we build is moral and ideal.  Confusing the two—nature (reality) and the moral (the ideal)—tends to be where all the trouble  starts.

Building a house keeps the two distinct.

Making art does not; this is why Plato famously questioned the latter activity.

Nothing shall oppose the onslaught of the ignorant, the oppressive, the violent, the backward, the pedantic, the cynical, the horrific, and the stupid.

And why should anything oppose this onslaught if our art will not?

The license to describe the thoughts inside our thoughts inside our thoughts is the one ruling principle today, and we have become a slave to it.  We have surely caught the self-justifying, William James/John Ashbery disease.  The vanity of  infinitely self-reflexive thought  is the only trump in our deck.   Stream of consciousness has drowned common sense.  “Enough of this nonsense!” we want to cry, but we dare not, because we really believe that educated nonsense is our last freedom, the last thing between our intellectual legitimacy and the absolutist wolf at the door.  We don’t mean good satire. We mean nonsense, the obscurantist crap which passes for poetry these days. We’ve confused freedom with crap.

This treatise is not a cry for any kind of censorship, but rather a discussion of how opposing censorship at all costs affects aesthetic philosophy.

And so we shall have paintings that are not paintings, poems that are not poems, music that is not music, criticism that is not criticism, and prose that is self-indulgent in its trivialities to an extreme degree; we shall have the daintily lurid, the sweetly sensational, and the brazenly corrupt.  The criminals shall have their way because to poets today criminality cannot exist in theory; wrong exists only in reality where cops and robbers are even now having a gun-fight, far from modern art’s purities.

But now the lords of cultural fascism cry, “Poems that are not poems!”  You are the fascist, trying to tell us what a poem is!   But we cannot write a poem if we don’t know what a poem is first,  just as Michelangelo doesn’t just start randomly hacking away at the block of stone.  The lords of cultural fascism will always steer the discussion back to simple-minded issues of censorship, but in reality the issue here is about pedagogy.

True, poetry has made itself so obscure that its effect on society hardly exists when we exclude the thousands of Creative Writing aspirants.

Not making good art, thanks to the license in which every kind of bad art is permissable—and thus, forever, actual—hurts millions in ways we cannot imagine.

Will the obscurantists wake up?    Will the wild and wilder drums wake them?  Or thrum them into a deeper sleep?

Roll over, Black Mountain.

Tell Ashbery the news.


  1. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 28, 2010 at 2:29 am

    For more on this, Scarrieteers will be interested in what’s going on at Mother Jones

    The comments are what’s worth reading right through, and are heartening for us.

    Nobody ever said that we were alone, but also nobody ever said that the leader of the mermaids wouldn’t sing like Ted Genoways and, of course, each to each!

    Indeed, the issue gets harder and harder as even the mainstream begins to talk the talk about it. And that’s a real problem too, people begin to dance to the with-it beat so enthusiastically they no longer hear the message, just as those Chinese who are benefitting from the opening up of the economy no longer care what lies behind it. The discos are filling up in Shanghai, and that makes it even more difficult to challenge the closed society that stifles those who can’t afford to join the fun, like well over a billion!

    So too, Ted Genoways makes all the right noises while in reality he’s very much part of the problem. Just see how he licks that guitar in his ‘Mistreatles’ gig and sings about how he’ll hold your hand!

    “Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood,” he says –on $134,000.00 a year for saying it!

  2. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 29, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Look what’s getting said on Alan Cordle’s blog about Ted Genoway’s modus operandi. Indeed, most of the 100+ comments seem to have serious reservations, though not all are as fun to read as these:

    Arturo Ygatti
    January 28th, 2010 at 4:03 am

    I am willing to accept a little corruption to keep producing great Art. Consider Florence under the House of Medici. Corruption is not an impediment to Art but rather the night soil in which Art thrives. Ted Genoways happens to be a spectacular generator of night soil.

    And just because Literature goes unread does not mean it is not a work of genius. My manuscripts are a case in point. I will keep sending them in to juried competitions, along with my checks, to ensure corruption continues. You see, although my manuscripts have been called “self-indulgent” and “nearly unreadable” they serve a purpose. The fleecing I endure, either in competitions or as a taxpayer supporting a patronage job at a University Journal, is indeed the objective correlative to Art today.

    Corruption is the new creative process! Come on everyone, follow Ted’s lead and make something!

    Art Ygatti

    And Diana Manister is on his case too on Mother Jones:

    Death of Fiction
    Submitted by Diana Manister (not verified) on Thu Jan. 28, 2010 8:04 AM PST.

    Ted wrote: “off-target jabs of an aging, punchdrunk fighter before he topples to the mat.”

    Norman Mailer thought he was Jose Torres, and Ted thinks he’s Norman Mailer. Ted, he’s dead, and so is modernism.


    Ted Genoways begins his article, “At a dinner party or on the sidelines of my son’s soccer game, someone well-meaning will ask what I do.”

    To be quite sure that after all the nice things he says in the article about the good things he does for writing in between the dinner parties and his son’s soccer games, Ted concludes: “I’m not calling for more pundits—God knows we’ve got plenty. I’m saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ’s sake, write something we might want to read.”

    So come on, everyone, follow Ted’s lead and make some night soil too. Get down and hunker on the campus!

  3. thomasbrady said,

    January 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Comparing Renaissance Florence to America’s academic modernism is dubious, at best. That comparison is so weak, I don’t even know where to begin…

  4. thomasbrady said,

    January 31, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    How do we know when we are confronted with fascist culture?

    The music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are examples of art that is not fascist, for here is art which sensually reflects human society in a mildly satiric or beautiful or heroic manner. Such art presents challenges to student learning not because of any willed obscurity or arcane pedantry on the part of the artist, but from the god-like dimensions of the art itself.

    Cervantes, Shakespeare, Schiller, Keats, Poe are anti-fascist artists as well.

    Add Leonardo, Raphael,Titian, Socrates, and Erasmus, and we have a pretty good list of anti-fascists. We can throw in Woody Guthrie, if you like, and many more, of course.

    Why “mildly” satiric? Mankind requires a certain amount of open-eyed dignity without which it tends to devolve into a Lord-of-the-Flies existence. Cynicism without hope eats away at the soul; cultural fascism, in the name of worldliness, embraces open-eyed cynicism.

    ‘Sensual yet heroic’ sums up anti-fascist art.

    Compare John Cage’s four minute piano piece of silence with a Bach fugue. The Cage piece equals life after a bomb blast. The wit of Cage’s idea does not change this sensual fact.

    The art of cultural fascism chiefly features denuded or depleted sensuality in the name of some clever idea. Or, its sensuality is a mass of chaos or obscurity.

    Cultural fascism is violent, it afflicts sensual and beautiful life; it tends to be hostile to beautiful and moral constructs; it writhes with anxiety, and even boasts this aspect of itself, instilling fear because it claims to reflect life as it “really” is. Often terrible anxiety unfortunately is life as it “really is,” and this ‘unfortunate’ part is precisely where cultural fascism is most indulgent.

    Pedantic art, the hideous works of Sade, the morbid Samuel Beckett, Voltaire’s “Candide,” modern painting, vacuous, obscurantist, music and poetry are examples of cultural fascism.

    The child who obsessively uses bad words to get attention is like the cultural fascist artist obsessed with playing with surfaces: Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol.

    Mankind will always indulge in tragedy for tragedy’s sake: after all, the word denotes one of art’s highest forms: Tragedy. Culturally Shakespeare isn’t tragic, however. Beckett is.

    Morbidity feeds on art that cannot transcend its own hell. Stephen King’s stupidity makes him tragic. King puts banal, recognizable characters on a bus or a plane or a village or a city or a planet headed for doom, and since doom seems to be our fate, King wins converts, but culturally Poe, (although Poe and King may share some readers) inventor of detective fiction and science fiction, towers over the adolescent King.

    Of course we object to the idea that mere grisly entertainment is culturally fascist, but if vacuous art were the only art there was, the fascist v. anti-fascist distinction would not even exist, so deplorable would be Man’s existence.

  5. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 3, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Such a provocative comment, Tom — should have been an article.

    And noble!

    My argument has always been that we at Scarriet move on too fast, and particularly as so much of the material we put up is so provocative. Like the most recent post, THE STANZA, which takes us way out on a wet black bough.

    And will we give Bill Kammann time to saw it off, or will we just keep running?

    TRAGEDY — tragodia — tragos — oide

    SATIRE — satyr — satyric — sadomasochistic

    THEATRE — theo — atrium

    DRAMA — drumbeats

  6. thomasbrady said,

    February 3, 2010 at 6:39 pm


    We do move fast, and this is not Poetry 101 or Vanity 202. We are not some networking club for professionals and semi-professionals. We are not the road to something; we are it. I’m sure beginners are scared to death and many pedants and teachers and po-biz hacks can’t look at us, either; it would be like looking into the sun. So, how do we get conversations going? It’s like if Nietzsche ran a blog site, people would run screaming. I know we’re good, and if people are afraid to comment, well, that’s expected, in a way.


  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 4, 2010 at 4:51 am

    But just “in a way,” Tom. It’s hard to accept it in the end, just as it’s hard even to imagine such small-minded cowardice what’s more to expect it!

    It disappointed me so much that our ways of engaging poets and critics on Blog:Harriet last summer, so vastly different from each other, should get exactly the same treatment — childish, spiteful, anti-social. Even the Poetry Foundation Blog Editor, Travis Nichols, got in on the act, belittling and heckling us, and in the end cobbled together his tinker-toy engine to beat us and then bury us. Those awful red thumbs-down — what a pathetic way to put out so much light.

    And we’re so different indeed, me with my stories and metaphors from the Golden Triangle, you, Tom, with your literary red-rags at the barricades in Harvard Square — Desmond Swords wrapped in the ancient creative flames of Ireland, Alan Cordle, patient, well-informed, and constructive whispering the final words of the new dispensation from his far-away stacks in Oregon.

    So what’s to be so afraid of such diversity and riches? Is it being that way out on a limb? Is it that degree of remote smallness, paranoia, and self-glorification?

    Ever heard of fascism?