Grand Piano Reading at Small Press Traffic

Last Sunday, November 20, 2011, Timken Hall at the California College of Arts was plenty full as eight of the ten Grand Piano authors, including Barrett Watten, Ted Pearson, Tom Mandel, Lyn Hejinian, Kit Robinson, Rae Armantrout, Steve Benson, and Carla Harryman, participated in a group discussion moderated by David Buuck.  Sadly, Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman were not in attendance.

photo: Camille Roy

I walked in a bit late and so missed the framing for the discussion that David provided, but the audience was very much interested in talking about the Occupy movements and asked a number of related questions. Joshua Clover started off with a question that set up a reflection on the social movements of 1968 and the Occupy movements, asking if the current moment was less theoretico-critical. He also pondered the relation between political projects and representation. Barrett responded that the Grand Piano moment was all about non-representational strategies and Kit discussed the very different economic conditions that prevailed in '68 and into the 70s, noting that it was somewhat easier to live with less then than it is now. Carla challenged Kit's premise, saying that some people were indeed worried about money and health care, etc. 

Various people in the audience noted the Occupy movements' absence of celebrity, of someone acting as a representative of the movement, and how this very lack, along with the absence of unifying or singular narratives (as pointed out by Camille Roy) is serving the movement well while confounding the media and others. They don't know how to "read" or respond to the rhizomatic nature of the Occupy movements.

Somewhere along the line, Carla cited Adorno's "Let no one represent you!"

Carla also mentioned Steve McCaffery's 1985 Poetics Journal article (for the special Non-Narrative issue) entitled "And Who Remembers Bobby Sands?" and his exploration of the resulting problematics when resistance is located in one person, one body.

Tom Mandel pointed out the power of "not making demands" as a tactic when the making of demands has continually failed.

The conversation also focused on other differences between "then" and "now," including how in the 70s people were rethinking Marxist constructions of class and the tremendous importance of theoretical literature from Europe and elsewhere finding its way to the US in the form of translations and publications of the work of Barthes, Derrida, Benjamin. Carla noted that on the train to San Francisco State, you would see everyone reading Barthes' S/Z and how incredible it was that so many people were reading the same thing simultaneously. Something was in the air. Barrett said that Badiou and  Rancière were not having as momentous an impact now.

There were questions and discussion about community, collectivity, collaboration.

I asked about the question of form re the Grand Piano, as compared to an earlier multi-authored article ( the 1988 "Aesthetic Tendency and the Politics of Poetry: A Manifesto” from the journal Social Text, co-authored by Silliman, Harryman, Hejinian, Benson, Perelman, and Watten) and the way the Social Text article refrained from demarcating individual "authors," whereas the Grand Piano preserves the individual and includes a larger set of them (and could have included others). I am interested in the practical, formal, and political implications of these choices.

Carla noted that the earlier article was written collectively by people who were in the same physical location and so the process of writing enabled a collectivity; with the Grand Piano project this was physically impractical since now everyone is dispersed, many living in different parts of the country.

Lyn noted the Grand Piano's attempt to be "anti-monolithic (emphasizing parts rather than any totality or whole)," articulating that "the modular character of it (so that order of appearance changed with each volume) should suggest the possibility of other orders and other ways of ordering," enabling remixes. Such a structure, someone said, shows that not everyone was "singing the same song," In this way, no ONE person or volume represented "Language Writing."

Another audience member--Kate ?-- talked about the poetics of the human mic and its usage in the Occupy movements. David Buuck noted the human mic's association with collective speech, with Quakerism, and consensus building. He noted the "poetics of enjambment on the spot" it engenders, and he and Kate highlighted the somatics of taking the words of another into one's body, words that one might not agree with, but that one nevertheless takes into one's body and, rather than merely repeating, projects them onward. Joshua reminded people, though, that Zizek had shown up at Zuccotti Park and projected his "speech" or talk via the human mic and thus corrupted its rhizomatic quality.

Barrett wondered if the human mic was "post-memic"?

Eirik Steinhoff talked about the human mic being like Gertrude Stein's becoming genius, her "at the same time talking and listening." Someone else in the audience described the human mic as "non-mechanical reproduction."

The conversation was lively and engaged and everyone participated though I have not quite captured that here. Memory is a faulty thing and note-taking in the dark a challenge! Any misquotes are my own.

The panel then transitioned to a scripted performance in which each person read various selections from writing that appeared in the ten volumes of The Grand Piano. The performance was orchestrated. There was polyphony, overlap, chorus and solos, and perhaps even improvisation, a reading that formally and performatively marked the individual and collective porosity of the conversation that is the text and the lives of all involved.

You can read my take on the first volume of The Grand Piano entitled "Hive and/or the Dark Body of Friendship: A Response to The Grand Piano Volume 1," at HOW2

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