This is an interesting discussion, and I actually have two reactions here: the first, a response directly to Michael’s reading of “their guys,” and the second, a response to the popular narrative that MN repeats – that the Flarf “ends up mocking some really easy targets—most frequently, it seems, a kind of stereotypically lower class racist redneck-type who’s had little access to education.”
On the issue of “Their Guys,” I, of course have the privilege of reading the poem (rather than simply hearing it) and further, being able to read it right up next to the Yeats poem about glittering little “Chinamen” and “Hysterical Women” it critiques. I think Mike’s poem is relentlessly and complexly anti-racist, and further, I think it has a fascinating textual surface & a jittery subject position: ie, it is not “bad” in the sense of funny-naïve or uncrafted (not, say, like the Polar Bear Poem that follows it on the Mainstream site w/ the barfing poop.)
However, I know enough about Flarf out-loud to know it can create the effect of monody. This is one way I find Flarf to be cunning. It is understandable, then, that MZ would hear this poem and think it is a poem with a fixed subject position about a stereotypical Asian “chick” – it sounds that way, sometimes, read aloud by a single speaker at a literary event.
Of course, with time to read the poem I think the work becomes entirely something else. Pardon my super-long metaphor, but I read it as on a map drawn by Yeats (of a city, Orientalism) (and outside of this map, a country of the “Great” Western Poetry). Somehow all over the map are the lines and drawings of noisy racist perceptions about Asian folks – that there is a “predominately female culture,” that Asian people are hipper or smarter than white folks, that “they” will take over everything, that “they” exist merely as pornographic objects or cultural threats.
Then it is as if – upon this document, drawn first by Western literature, second by popular Western perception – Mike poured some crazy flarf-solvent, and everything got blurry and terribly wack, so Yeats pops up again and again, and dumb racism, and poetic language, and not so poetic language, and it is all distorted: the haziness what makes the critique obvious. And nothing is in THE PROPER ORDER nor is there a PROPER assigning of “unacceptable” notions to THEM, some evil ignorant other, nothing absolving liberal white folks of these notions, or even absolving the poet, who stands up and reads this work knowing full well the perception of monody that occurs when Flarf is read aloud.
It is hard to imagine, for example, that when reading the last bit, one can read this as anything other than an anti-racist poem:
“The others turned to see one of their men had fallen. Indeed, despite his glittering
blues, greens, and silvers (“As we retreated two white guys on bikes appeared...”) they had him tied up in their old Frontier”
So yeah, tied to their old Frontier, I think it brilliant, and tragic, and well-crafted, and right on taking Yeats to task, and also INAPPROPRIATE in the best way, which is the way it is considered entirely INAPPROPRIATE for white people to do anything other than pretend that racism is a concern for people of color. Say, look at a literary journal & you will find very few works by white poets about race: Flarf, at the very least, does not pretend to live in a culture of normative whiteness.
And (2) of course, the “redneck” story – which I’ll admit drives me batty, because I can’t find the textual evidence for it. So Michael, if you read this, please tell me what poems you had in mind: it could well be they exist, I just don’t know them, so I spent a great deal of time googling Flarf and redneck to see if I could figure out why this perception exists.
My first theory is that it has something to do with Deer Head Nation, which as you probably know, basically involves a half-Yemeni guy with an Arab name googling up a meditation on a “symbol” of white American culture in the wake of 9/11. If folks associate Deer Heads with rednecks, they might think that the book is full of “redneck” speak, but mostly I find in it teenage chat-room speak and the fragmentary language of porn and news and internet commerce.
But when I google up “Flarf” and “Rednecks,” I do find this complaint from Lucipo:
“The sentiment Kent seems to read from Flarf is "those dumb rednecks" rather than "we dumb rednecks." I agree that I get the same feeling Kent does.”
If the redneck narrative around Flarf really does refer specifically to KSM’s work, how can these people who complain that it doesn’t sound like “we dumb rednecks” ignore the fact that an Arab guy culturally isn’t ALLOWED to be a redneck? Check out (if you have the stomach)
http://www.jackshiles.com/Muslim_Humor/Redneck_Page1.html>You Might Be A Redneck Muslim . I was talking to KSM about this & he generously thinks people just forget that he is Arab, that explains it, but I don’t think white people complaining about the oppression of white people in poetry easily “forget” that an Arab man is the one writing the work, esp, when, at least in some popular opinion, (though not necessarily in textual reality) he is “stealing” the words of white people and doing funny fucked-up shit with them. It goes on, right, with the critical meditations upon KSM’s “dick wagging,” which seem to be a projection of fantasies of Arab male hypermasculinity into the critical material surrounding Flarf. There are the weird threats of violence that seem to show up in the anti-Flarf rhetoric, too, guys talking about aiming guns and ass-kicking, and that seems to indicate the rage about Flarf might have a kind of racial undertone (not to mention the all out racist stuff about "anyone named Mohammad" etc.)
But maybe I’m over-reacting. Probably, maybe. I’ll probably later be really ashamed of that first theory. The second theory of the “redneck myth” around Flarf is the idea that people associate racist language with poor people. Or they associate stupid internet speak with poor people. Of course, I think stupid internet speak is the province of people who have the luxury of spending all day or night fucking around on the internet – not the working class – and that racist and sexist language is in no way the sole possession of poor white folks, but some of the Flarf critiques I've read (Daniels, Johnson) seem heavily invested in the idea of equating stupid with poor. Also, there is the weird critical trick going on where these people (Daniels, Johnson) pretend that Flarf is only written by affluent white men, thus continually writing the rest of us out of it’s narrative, and charging critiques of the Flarf with a feeling of “unfairness” & makes it more cunning.
But Michael – I am not saying YOU are doing this – only that you have triggered my speculation on all this by repeating the narrative of the redneck-Flarf that has always confused me. I do think Flarf is one of the few poetries actively engaging with issues of race and with various constructs of whiteness, so it is bound to make us, esp. white folks, feel shaky and weird. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry or throw up. I find writing Flarf causes me to feel pathologically vulnerable: as if all the cultural scabs are being peeled up, as if the WESTERN CANON I sometimes love or hate is flaking off and looks just awful, and to make it worse the Flarf doesn’t come accompanied with any kind of theoretical windbreaker to protect us from the shit storm of language and culture. Just all that.
Oh this is very long. I hope it added something other than word count to the conversation.
Oh, I messed up the links --
racist muslim redneck jokes that will make you probably throw up:
Yeats poem that at least might make you queasy: