Another Critique of Conceptualism and a Response from Vanessa Place

Since my last post on the many and varied critiques of conceptualism emerging in recent weeks, there have been more!

Principally, Cal Bedient's attack on conceptualism in favor of "affect" (aptly titled "Against Conceptualism") in the Boston Review. I couldn't read the whole thing in detail; it was so dry and dull (and he attacks Zong! for a small part of the book that is in gray font; Zong! is one of my favorite books ever, so it's hard to take him seriously). I found his argument to be about 1/4 as interesting as the comments by Bhanu Kapil and Anna Joy Springer or Eileen Myles's critique of conceptualism, also largely based on a certain idea of emotionality. Yet a completely different texture to Myles's sense of what emotion actually is or could be. Myles says:

One of the most important things I know about poetry is that the words don’t need to be heard. They aren’t ever. Not all of them. And I think of that as an emotional truth. Poems are not made out of words. They’re made out of emotional absences, rips and tears. That’s the incomplete true fabric of the text.

While Bedient says:

The under-examined bone of contention in today’s poetry is the value of affect in art. More and more poets are suspicious of lyrical expression and devote themselves to emotionally neutral methods. The representation of affects—feelings that are often either transports or afflictions—has been increasingly muted in American and European art since the 1960s. Vehemence of feeling nonplusses the modern personality, a hostage to ambiguity and irony.

The idea that conceptual or constraint-based or avant-garde writing avoids emotion is just so laughable. Much of Vanessa Place's and Kenneth Goldsmith's work dwells in spaces of uncomfortable emotionality, grief and horror. And that's not even to mention Myles or the authors she mentions:

[I]n fact CA Conrad, Ariana Reines, Daniel Borzutsky, Jenny Zhang, Dana Ward, Dottie Lasky, Simone White, and Karen Weiser just to name a few are all doing unabashedly postmodern work that is free wheeling and exacting in its deployment of emotion. 

Or as Bhanu Kapil says in her comment:

There is more to say about why withholding a lyric position might resemble -- might be the very thing -- that stands in: for the kind of organ speech: Bedient is writing about here.  How the heart, in a T-shirt, is throbbing next to the body in the snow.  How do you write into the history of bodies that don't remain intact? That don't get to: express?  Perhaps the lack of affect is, in fact, an involuntary reversal of an ululation: the call from the body that is not: cried?  A cry, that is, that is cut off before it exceeds the bodily position -- to be received by others?  

Exactly. Thanks for saying it so beautifully.

Anyway, today I got an email with Vanessa Place's response to Bedient in the form of a review of two books (Seven American Deaths and Disasters by Kenneth Goldsmith and Manchester: August 16th & 17th 1819 by John Seed) at the Constant Critic. I am glad her response to Bedient actually looks at recently published books, i.e. it contributes to an on-going dialogue on contemporary poetry, contemporary reading of small-press, anti-industrial books. And Place's prose is always so damn sharp. In the end, we have to read in order to opine:

No one could be happier than those who swallow the bait about not reading conceptual poetry, for they conveniently miss the corollary that one might at least think about it. It, again, referring to the text product.

So yes, back to reading...