Okay, re: Flarf questions. I don't want to rehash stuff that's already been said and debated in places like Chris Daniels' blog, but from where I stand I run into similar problems when it comes to how to make sense of Flarfy work like the poem you're talking about. First, I'll be frank, here: I'm not crazy about this poem (though that shouldn't be read as my take on MM's work in general in My Angie Dickinson and elsewhere, because I think he’s produced a lot of excellent stuff), so I’m not really in an ambivalent situation of feeling interested in some parts of it and put off by others. To me, the particular way in which “Their Guys...” uses “bad” writing makes the poem not very interesting on the level of its linguistic surface, and the very disjunctive nature of the writing means that the fucked-up Orientalist element isn’t going to proceed very easily to some “deeper” idea in the way that the prototypical prose-fiction satire might. So what are we left with, exactly? In the context in which Flarf, as I understand it, was initially used—sending purposefully “wrong” poems into those scam poetry anthology contests to see if they’d win, which they did—then I can make sense of it more, because it becomes something akin to a conceptual art project in which the content of a particular poem becomes less important than its general “wrongness.” And moving from that initial context I can understand the ways in which people on the Flarflist found it interesting to explore/write with/discuss this kind of language in the semi-private space that listserv was/is. In both of these arenas, I can get on board with “Their Guys...” a lot more, but once it gets divorced from those spaces and goes beyond the in-group and into the broader (poetry) world and has to stand solo as a poem, it starts to just feel like a rather thin piece of writing that’s trying to get by on irony and so-bad-it’s-good cleverness and, yeah, approaches a kind of minstrelsy, albeit one in which the object of that minstrelsy is unclear.
That paragraph reads really harsh to me, which isn’t what I was going for (sorry), but I’ll keep going I guess. Okay—when Flarf work gets really interesting to me is when it enters into that “post-Flarf” space that KSM mentioned a while ago, when it takes the techniques and general modus operandi of Flarf and moves them to the proverbial next level, which to me includes a next level of thinking about authorial responsibility. Don’t get me wrong: I like fucked-up, I like disjunctive, Bruce Andrews is a huge touchstone for me, but to me there are kinds of fucked-up that I personally don’t particularly want to go near, both because they’re, you know, fucked-up and because they’re not fucked-up in an interesting way, a way that simultaneously disturbs and engages and provokes new thought and not just sheer horror at the state of the world. What Andrews, to me and I think to Maggie too, is doing is hopping so quickly from one subject position to the next that it becomes an kind of unending barrage of often contradictory language, language that is much less straight-appropriation and more activated, and therefore, between that and the quick hops, doesn’t fall into a kind of ironic aping of an often disenfranchised subject in the way that Flarf frequently is said to. And also—and this goes back to that essay of Dodie Bellamy’s in Fascicle that I’m obsessed with—Bruce often shoots straight past irony into full-on sarcastic assaults, and his attacks almost always seem to be on the powerful or at least the ominous “they” (I’m not saying he doesn’t cross the line, sometimes, though—gender stuff is what I’m thinking here, specifically). So I don’t want to try to de-fang Flarf of its inappropriateness here, but I do need to take issue with the potentially careless appropriation such work might perform. There’s a kind of Flarf that seems to be about engaging with the subject and all the interesting/disturbing/contradictory language our I’s produce, but too often the appropriation of idiosyncratic language and the subjects they drag along with them ends up making for a kind of quasi-persona poem that, when coupled with the patented Flarf irony and snark, 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—that lack of education being the particularly highlighted point. Or simply being transgressive for transgression’s sake by appropriating some of the racist bile floating around on the interwebs for ends that are unclear. (I want to be clear—I’m talking about a kind of Flarf that I’ve read, certainly not all of it.) So to me the question ends up being not so much whether or not one appropriates language, but what kinds to appropriate and when/where to use it so as to make the irony really sting those who deserve it. I think that “Chicks Dig War” is a really well-executed example of this, and a lot of that has to do with what flows out of that title itself—for most folks there’s no getting around the fact that that shit is deeply ironic (though I think Drew has run into some people who missed that) and on the attack against a particular brand of powerful macho that’s running the country at the moment.
Anyway, there are gaps here for sure. Please tell me where they might be.