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Notes Toward a Gone World: Reading Radicalism in Ancient World Literature

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March 1, 2017

How do we read? Is it enough in The Scene to talk about radical poetics from the perspective of what writers intended to say as they wrote and published. They wrote for whatever purpose they intended, but does that mean we should feel bound to read as they wrote? Big Question. But think of Great Literature itself–ok, canonical literature–from a radical perspective. (You define “radical”). And, of course, I’m concerned, really, with literature of the Western world.

What if we all read the Great Literature of the past the way the radical critic and scholar Jan Kott read Shakespeare? As Peter Brook said, Jan Kott “is undoubtedly the only writer on Elizabethan matters who assumes without question that every one of his readers will at some point or other have been woken by the police in the middle of the night.”

So here we have Homer screaming through the centuries to us about Achilles vs. Agamemnon vs. Hector and the horrors of ARETE–the essence of Homeric manhood.Really? That’s the story? Should Achilles have stayed in his tent? Look at those long Homeric similes. How do you read those things? Like everybody else? Or not?

Or Sophocles dramatizing Destiny/Fate, Creon and the machinery of the political state ready to crush Antigone, ready to crush us. If you really want to get down to something that hits home, read Aeschylus and Euripides the way some supercharged zig zag director today would stage their plays.

Or the dialogues of Plato and especially those in and about the trial of Socrates. They crawl under our shirts, under our pants and up, up, up terrifying us as 21st century readers because  we see The Terror as the STATE executing its citizens for crimes of the mind.Be careful what you THINK!

How can we read Aurelius and Augustine today?—How to live in a police state? Be not perturbed.

Even Dante and the descent into the Inferno. Can you imagine real Horror, true Horror that makes Stephen King stories into baby board books?

Chaucer? ah, the human comedy. But why do we laugh? Or any old comedy, really. The Comedy of Errors? That’s life, folks. Have you ever seen a Feydeau farce?

Or Machiavelli—look around you, folks. Go downtown.

Castiglioni?—true Renaissance life; studied nonchalance? Ha ha! take me to the funny farm!

Where am I going with this way of reading? I don’t want to think about it. (Ok, let’s think about it. Follow The Scene.)

How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?

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Jack Kerouac ready for a Reading

How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry? Who knows? I know the difference when I see it, ok? But I do see a clear distinction between radical, innovative, avant garde, experimental (or whatever label you want to use) poetry and what I usually call genteel poetry. I mean, most of the radical poets of the past are in the big canon taught in schools. I’ve taught courses on the Beat Movements a number of times.

Clearly I have great respect for genteel poetry and, again, have written about genteel poets plenty of times. And I encourage to you follow my Literary Life blog where I separate out the genteel from the radical somewhat. And I reserve the right to read some genteel poets radically.

Generally, the distinction is most often made on the basis of the poetic tradition itself. In American literature we usually distinguish the formal tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and his successors with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and their successors. Obviously lines are blurred all the time and even the common dichotomy of the two traditions is often disputed.

But I am going to maintain a bold claim for poetry right now in our own time. Modern and contemporary fiction has virtually caved in to becoming capitalist cheerleaders. Even our best contemporary novelists just as our best filmmakers see their work as market driven. The true literary art forms today are almost exclusively poets and poetry and some non-market driven plays and playwrights.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

Are You Developing a How to Write Poetry blog?

No no no! I just read the stuff. I don’t write it. So I can’t tell you how to write it. Well, maybe one bit of advice. Don’t rhyme.

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How Do You Differentiate Radical Poetry from Mainstream or Establishment Poetry?

Who knows? I know the difference when I see it, ok? But I do see a clear distinction between radical, innovative, avant garde, experimental (or whatever label you want to use) poetry and what I usually call genteel poetry. I mean, most of the radical poets of the past are in the big canon taught in schools. I’ve taught courses on the Beat Movements a number of times.

Clearly I have great respect for genteel poetry and, again, have written about genteel poets plenty of times. And I encourage you to follow my Literary Life blog where I separate out the genteel from the radical somewhat. And I reserve the right to read some genteel poets radically.

Generally, the distinction is  made on the basis of the poetic tradition itself. In American literature we usually distinguish the formal tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and his successors with that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and their successors. Obviously lines are blurred all the time and even the common dichotomy of the two traditions is often disputed.

But I am going to maintain a bold claim for poetry right now in our own time. Modern and contemporary fiction has virtually caved in to becoming capitalist cheerleaders. Even our best contemporary novelists just as our best filmmakers see their work as market driven. The true literary art forms today are almost exclusively poets and poetry and some non-market driven plays and playwrights.

What is “The Scene?”

I want to work with many scenes. Early scenes like the Surrealists and Dadaist. The Beats, of course, are the dominant scene in U.S. history and are still around. But there were also the East Side Scene, the Immanentist poets, the Language poets, and then you’ve got all the scenes out there right now. But let’s talk about serious poets, not just people who write poetry. Let’s talk about poetry as LIFE and as ART! Let’s Go!

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

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What Kinds of Short Posts will You Have Besides Your Longer Major Posts and Commentary?

Re-Posts: I plan on posting lots and lots of material you need to know about from other places, especially current material. I may have to cut and paste and re-format because WordPress won’t allow bloggers to re-post directly from outside the WordPress network. But of course I will always be mindful of copyright restrictions.

And as much as I keep saying poetry and poetics, we all know that the world of radical art is much more. So I imagine some serious independent filmmakers and really radical fiction writers are fair game. Back with the Beats, I can’t imagine talking about the poets and not acknowledging fellow travellers like Burroughs and Kerouac.

I plan on posting acknowledgements on special dates such as birthdays, death dates, historical events, etc. If you read my other blogs you’ll see similar posts.

And profiles of radical poets.

Or short posts with readings radicalizing the official literary canon from familiar college courses. Hey, haven’t you ever thought about how really radical those Greek playwrights were? Or Homer? Or those Russians like Dostoyevsky. We’ve got radical poets? How about radical readers? You!

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

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You Know Me

Ok, you’ve written and published a lot about radical poets before, but who are you, Really?

Well, I’ve got pages posted at the top of The Scene with my semi-formal biography and with personal notes about why I ever got interested about The Beats.

But other than that, you know me. I’m just a writer like all of you know. I’m the guy you always see at coffee houses over in the corner writing furiously in my black Moleskine, dressed like a writer with funny glasses and wearing clunky boots. You’ve seen me everywhere. Don’t expect me ever to look up unless you come over and say hi. Then I’ll tell you what I’m writing about. Of course I may be writing about you. But anyway—you know me.

I’m going to use a similar voice to Ezra Pound in his ABC’s of Reading and Robert Peters in his Great Poetry Bake-off series. I will be personal, confident, not angry or anything, but not academic and not full of jargon theory. I’m not going to feel any need to back everything up everything I say and believe with hard evidence or whatever. Editors, critics, and peer reviewers like that sort of thing. But, you know, the Enlightenment was supposed to have gone out of style when the Romantics came on the scene. I also ramble a lot.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

Some Possible Goals for The Scene as I Begin

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I want to develop a unique place on the web for poets, scholars, critics, and readers to dig radical poetry at its essence.

So, I want this blog to be The Scene, the online scene for such.

I want to promote the power, the greatness, the importance of such poetry and kindred writings.

While I want The Scene to be about many scenes, at least the ones from the past, I especially want to promote the idea of the Beat Movement being central to the new postmodern movements. But more, perhaps, to help keep the Beat Movement alive and relevant because, you know, the Beat Movement is still going strong. It’s just evolved in many directions.

I’m a writer and I plan on blogging my books here and on my other literary blogs as I write them.

I want The Scene to be a collaborative project with my readers. Let’s work at this project together.

And, of course, I would like to sell a few books now and then.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner

Early Considerations for The Scene

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What Do I Mean by Zig Zag Poetics?

I am concerned with the structural, theoretical bases for radical poetry—for the underlying philosophy of the language, style, the organic and inorganic essences.

I am not really concerned with cultural matters such as politics, feminist/gender matters, historicist issues, etc. in own posts. I certainly have spent much of my career as a cultural critic and have written and published much in popular culture studies. But nearly everything we read about all the various radical poetry movements is based on cultural issues. For re-posted material that is a different matter.

More early considerations to follow.

So follow The Scene and let’s get going.

Paul Varner