Disjunction is not dead.

Disjunction is not dead. I disagree with Kenny and Anne on that point. “Things” have not suddenly cohered; language has not suddenly become a vast unitary sensical blob. It’s still all editing: of fragments. There is no whole: only continuity.

Regarding syntax, if I were to level a critique on my fellow flarfists, including, occasionally, myself, it would be that, syntactically, the poems are often made to flow rather too smoothly. I need bumps along the way to remind me that I’m interacting with stuff, material; I need to feel that tangible textuality. That is what makes the poems sublime, even when they are flarf poems, which are not supposed to be sublime although sometimes they are. Disjunction is somehow fluorescent: it represents for me, when I stumble on it in a poem, a little flashing message that things are in question, and that excites me. Too much disjunction is blinding, alienating, but without it there’s a kind of plodding from sense unit to sense unit. At the level of units though, rather than from word to word, many of the poems we write are still disjunct, in source, in gesture, and otherwise. Could that be what Anne means when she writes, “JUNCTION IS ALIVE.” Is junction just SEAMING? Is disjunction technically impossible? Isn’t collage always junctive, no matter how diverse its materials? Well, now I’m getting confused on terminology, as I always do, because even prose, this prose, insofar as it can be said to be prose, is textual, and the matter of language is puzzling me again.

To pronounce anything abstract dead, it strikes me, is to risk dogmatism. I don’t mean to be dogmatic about what I have always called disjunction, or torque, before (do I need a new term?); it could be that my affection for it is generational. I came of age as a poet at disjunction’s apex; it could be a kind of attachment like that one has for the fashions of one’s youth. But no, I think there’s something more. Judiciously employed, it releases unpredictabilities; it’s a powerful tool in our alchemical lab. I am not inclined to abandon it, and I don’t agree with these pronouncements of its demise.

Interesting to be thinking on these things on Hiroshima Day.

27 thoughts on “Disjunction is not dead.

  1. “Why atomize, shatter, and splay language into nonsensical shards when you can hoard, store, mold, squeeze, shovel, soil, scrub, package, and cram the stuff into towers of words and castles of language with a stroke of the keyboard?… With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more?”
    -Kenny G.

    One: Kenny seems to believe that we have more control over language then I believe we do.

    Two: Kenny believes that this pile of language is just sitting around and it has homeostatic shards that can be recycled, reused, and reformatted. I, on the other hand, believe that language (as Heidegger understood it) “is the house of Being,” and, as such, is a living non-static existential organism. And, moreover, language controls us more than we could ever control it. (I don't think I am alone here.)

    Three: Kenny presupposes that there is an, almost objective, framing of language that is coherent and a framing of language that is incoherent or disjunctive. Who decides where the demarcation line is between “nonsensical shards” and scrubbed “towers of words?”

    Four: Kenny's essay, in my eyes, is a fine example of disjunctive poetics and fragmented thinking because I simply do not accept the normative designations that he does and, as a result, his codification is built on quicksand which soon becomes submerged, fragmented, and scared.


  2. My thought is why in a world full of broken things, break more things, when so much more can come from putting the broken things we have been given together?

    Disjunction is now an advertisor's technique. It no longer defamiliarizes.

    I also think Johannes' critique of Iowa style disjunction is spot on. It's about being tasteful, moderate, and low stakes — sort of like how abstract expresionism's 80th incarnation is great for office lobbies and hallways, but no longer useful as thought-provoking art. It's value now comes from being “indeterminate” and therefore not offensive. I don't know how much of this style of poetry you read, but if you pick up one of the anthologies or university mags that specialize in it, you'd probably see the difference between that and the age of langpo disjunction.

    Flarf puts seams in things. When it does not do that, it draws lines between them. I like that. It's so much more generative! I also like ideas, stuff, high emotion, commitments, etc.

  3. Hmm well, but disjunction as “advertiser's technique” is just…cinema…modernity… right? I think it *does* still defamiliarize, and if it doesn't, it at the very least reframes or recontextualizes (which are forms of ostranenie, no?).

    Of course I agree with you and Johannes re: Iowa-style disjunction which, no, of course, I don't read. I can't bear it; it makes me want to run out of rooms screaming. (It's just not worth it to me to be “informed” about “the current state of poetry.”) But to me that's not true disjunction; it's just conformity.

    I guess, as a sewing person, it's hard for me to conceptualize the difference between joining and disjoining. I mean, you have to cut the fabric in order to sew it. It's always “parts brought willfully together.” Maybe what we are calling disjunction in poetry was never disjunction at all?

    As to “normative syntax”, though, you and I, Anne, have disagreed before. I was looking in the flarfarchives for our correspondence around that, but couldn't find it. Do you remember the exchange I'm talking about?

    I wonder how much of my love of distorted and wrong syntax comes not just from being an early langpo recruit but rather from being an ESL teacher. And feeling always like going into language is such a struggle, all these vines and insects all over the place. The writing needs to show signs of that struggle, arrgh.

  4. I think we all need to remember that Kenny is the king of the antagonistic polemical tirade, full of dogma and rhetorical flourish.

    I'm busy “processing” said essay at the moment, and having a lot of fun doing so.

    On the topic of disjunction, Anne and Johannes have good points, but I don't think this is a reason to abandon disjuntion, any more than advertising jingles make Rhyme out of bounds. We just need to think about what we're doing, and not get lazy and fall into the Iowa trap that Johannes is talking about.

  5. I think I like all of the above (the different kinds of poetry mentioned). (Well right now I don't like poetry at all, but normally…

  6. Disjunction is an experience, not an inherent property of this or that sequence of words. So what's dead for me is the purely formal understanding of this experience. When I think of all the pieces of my day, and how smoothly they fit together, most of the time, so that I almost never feel out of synch with myself, even when I'm running my finger along the hairline fractures…that's poetry to me.

  7. I don't really know. Just a week or two ago I lost interest in it. Maybe because I'm suddenly more interested in fiction. It goes back and forth. I don't have room for both worlds in my brain at the same time, apparently. I don't know…fiction is better for curing loneliness (for me). Not that it cures it, but it makes me feel better at least. (I'm also finding it a lot more fun to write at the moment…)

  8. Hi Ben,

    I like “disjunction is an experience” as a catchphrase, but I do think there's a formal aspect. I mean, if I write,

    “gravit a tack fer/ grimy kit unsnew”

    it without question is more disjunct than

    “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”

    You know? I think what would please me is to have both of these lines conjunct.

    Reagrding experience, I would like to think about this… is experience “smooth”? Or “disjunct?” You're right, that's a subjective impression, but it occurs to me that it's likely a lot smoother in Orono than it is in NYC. It also occurs to me that it's those “out of synch” moments that, Thurberesquely, so often make me write.

  9. I sew as well, and there is a difference between taking the scissors and tearing something up and taking two ripped things and sewing them together.

    So then imagine a world in which all things have already been torn or cut up. There are some choices: to tear up or cut up some more stuff, thus making the world more like the world as it is right now, or to make some sort of commitment to the future (or to future difference) by putting the pieces back together.

    My experience of the world is one in which culture is handing me maddening heaps of fragments. Experience is not smooth, as you say.

    I think poetry is at its most generative that is not purely mimetic but imaginative — we make culture! we make experience!

    Metaphor can be this yoking. Syntax (particularly hypotaxis) is also this yoking. Appropriation can also be this yoking (to make a non-literary text a poem is to enact a grand scale metaphor).

    Certain types of disjunctive poetry, particularly early on, were great. It's not like I'm going to stop reading Clark Coolidge (any more than I would stop looking at the art of any period because now people do weak imitations of that period style). And I'll admit there are places where “exposing construction” is still useful for affect or emphasis, but it is no longer a point in itself, except as it is a point that says “this is our period style.” (though I agree with Johannes that this is the period style of another generation).

    I would hate for anyone reading this to think this makes me devoted to naturalism, though. (“natural” speech is more experimental than poetry, anyways). I'm thinking about something else entirely. And certainly disjunction isn't dead in the sense that people are going to stop using it.

  10. Absolutely and amen to that. A poem should provide enough bumpiness to give the rider a reason to stay awake and yours certainly do.

    But enough of that…more clothes!

    I've just gone through this blog and your photos of outfits and descriptions of why you chose this or chose that…now that's the ticket.

    Poets and especially female poets ought to be taught how to DRESS like they know what they are doing.


    Best reading and watching on the internet in a long, long time.

  11. I think one of my ideas was that a formal or logical or syntactic fragmentation is not necessarily productive of an experience of disjunction. And also that we can't know in advance what aspect of our texts will provoke that experience.

    Personally, I feel more whole and part of the world in a city than nature, and more alienated by the cultural homogeneity of Maine than any so-called “disjunction” of cultures in a metropolis, but yeah, that was Walter Benjamin's point, by way of Baudelaire and Freud: that modern cosmopolitan life is inherently traumatic, because of all the noise and speed and dislocation.

    To me disjunction means that things don't fit together, and that there's a problem when they don't, or at least a need to come to terms. Without that problem, or that need, there's simply a new form of conjunction. Which is fine! We need all the new forms we can get.

  12. Matt – re fiction, how is disjunction excluded?

    First and foremost I think of Beckett: “I can't go on, I'll go on”, and numerous other examples in his work; Joyce, and Bloom's thought patterns, often emphasising sound and rhyme as the driving force of movement from one thought to the next … I recently read Joyelle McSweeney's Nylund the Sarcographer, and there are pleny of examples there too.

  13. “… there is a difference between taking the scissors and tearing something up and taking two ripped things and sewing them together.”

    I appreciate everything that Anne has said but one of the major problems I am having in this discourse is one of empiricism and tactility. A piece of cloth can be held in one’s hands and manipulated because that piece of cloth is tactile, purely material (no pun intended), and solid. Language does not take this form. I think language can be forced into a material form (I am thinking of Stein’s mission in Tender Buttons) but organically: words, language, syntax, etc., have an epistemological presence and, therefore, are more apt to transformation, transmogrification, and modulations that are beyond the control of one who attempts to reign in language.

    “My experience of the world is one in which culture is handing me maddening heaps of fragments. Experience is not smooth, as you say.”

    There is an impasse here because, for me, culture is handing over a codified metanarrative. The authoritarian metanarrative needs to be pulled apart and dissected so I can get through the nonsense and, at least try, to make sense of the culture at large. But, in this case, I can only come to an understanding by way of fragmentation & disjunction.

    “Certain types of disjunctive poetry, particularly early on, were great.”

    And this, to me, fuels the notion of a linear history (which shields the metanarrative). These poetic events are part of historicity and are integrated in the dialectic; these poetic events cannot and should not be placed like a bullet on a straight line.

    “I would hate for anyone reading this to think this makes me devoted to naturalism, though. (“natural” speech is more experimental than poetry, anyways). I'm thinking about something else entirely.”

    I would like to know, because the argument is so compelling, what you have in mind, if not naturalism?

  14. One thing I think I can add to this discussion is that the very notion of “Disjunction is dead” or “Disjunction is essential” etc–what Nada is calling dogmatism about abstractions–depends entirely on a universalist sense of poetry. That there is a certain thing that poetry needs, and needs it not just now, but everywhere. Of course this everywhere is usually couched in supposed conditions of culture–things are too fragmented, or we're oppressed by a concept of a whole. But still the idea remains that what one poem needs, another poem needs as well, because, apparently, the situation of poetry and poets doesn't differ from context to context and moment to moment. But it's more likely that different writers need different things from their poems, and are responding to different conditions.

    I'm not going so far as to say that hey, whatever your approach, that's fine–we all have values, I know, and we're all going to keep critiquing and misunderstanding each others' poems on the basis of the fact that it's very annoying that other people's poems don't look exactly our own, or promote our values, and have other peoples' names on them.

    Still, use of the phrase “What poetry need is (fill in blank)” or “so and so technique is dead or alive,” seems to me often tiresome and endless because of its insistence that what supposedly should be the same among all poets (but never is) is the main thing worth talking about.

  15. Hi, Anne! Now that your comment has turned up, let me say: “we make culture! we make experience!” is so obviously true, the only explanation for the fact that we forget it is that we really are disjunct from our experience. Which is why I'd rather say “we will have made culture! we will have made experience!” Because that future we're committed to is the present we're not yet able to live in.

  16. nada? firstly, i love the fashion posts- i told my gf to visit your blog.

    but to the point: you didn't mention that kenny substituted “displacement”-skimming the comments people are talking “whole” and atomist and all that and that isn't what displacement is about. i had a post a month ago looking closer at this. i may not know what i'm talking about but i think “displacement” has replaced disjunction (it's all bullshit truth be known… but still it's worth talking about)…

  17. I love the tenor of this conversation.

    Vanessa Place has a post right now over at Les Figues blog in which she debates the so-called materiality of language. Lucas, I think that's something like what you were getting at in your last comment. It's true that language is material in a different way from the way material (!) is material. Language is material and it is not, and that is what makes it such an infinitely puzzling and inexhaustible “medium” (also a problematic term to apply to language, yes?).

    It strikes me, though, that fondling its materiality, such as it is, is a poet's primary (well, I don't know about that, but certainly important) task and pleasure: we pick it up, feel its hand, its pile, its drape, its bias, its patterns, etc.

    I don't know how we can understand anything except by analogy, since all knowledge is relational (right? is that wrong?). And the analogy between poetry and textile is an ancient one: VERSE refers to the TURNING of the weaving tool (I forget what it's called) on a loom. Like all analogies, it is overly simple and inadequate,it's true, and I thank you, Lucas, for pointing that out. Still, we (Anne and I) are onto something here, something with a history, that bears examination.

  18. Mark, it doesn't depend on a universalist sense of poetry — it does depend on seeing poetry as something outside of oneself and the limitations of one's life, and also as something more vital than the expression of a liberal-capitalist individual's “consumer choice.” If the only stakes in poetry are the same one's we have in shopping, I'm going to go back to bed.

    Lucas — Nada and I sew so are analogies are almost inevitable! I agree though, that it is not a perfect analogy at all.

  19. All this talk of junction and sewing makes me think of Bernstein's Dysraphism … any connection?

    (much of this is just from Jed Rasula's essay, and his amazing reading of Emily Dickinson that is relegated to a footnote, and yet still one of my favourite parts of the whole piece)

  20. That piece of Bernstein's has always been important for me… less “formative” than “confirmative” of my intuitive sense of how to go about things.

  21. I can't agree, Anne, although I wish I could. The insistence that my poetry ought to look like you're poetry, or vice versa, and that the world would somehow be a better place if it did, doesn't seem to rest on more than wishful thinking, as far as I can tell.

    Nor do I believe that insistence on differences between writers (or the very nature of difference itself) is somehow the same as liberal-capitalist shopping. (And just as a side note, a disjunctive poem by Bruce Andrews say doesn't have anything like the same affect as a TV advertisement–can we please retire that old anti-experimental cliche?–not that I haven't used it myself on occasion).

    If you think that there's something that we should all be doing the same way, though, I'd be glad to join you at a rally for better U.S. health care, as one for instance of something I think we should all be working together to do.

    Of course I agree with you that poetry depends on our responses to things outside ourselves, but to leap from that conclusion to the idea that the things outside are the same for all of us–and that even if they were, they would demand the same response–doesn't really hold up.

    In the last few years, I've been writing poems responding to conditions in California. Some sections are more disjunctive than others–as is appropriate for the concerns of the pieces in question. I doubt that sloganeering like “Disjunction Good!” or “Down With Disjunction!” would be getting me very far in helping me work through that poem.

    A final thought: I think we probably all need to get past (and hopefully many of us already are) thinking that a group of writers writing the same way, with a name that links them, is somehow the opposite of capitalism. With all due respect for my friends associated with flarf or language poetry, etc, whose work I often love, in fact it turns out that the group name is even more useful for poets in terms of promoting their work than the names of individual writers. In a time when the number of writers vastly outstrips the degree of attention that anyone is paying to those writers, having an identifiable public profile (which always leads to more attention, for better or worse) isn't always easy to achieve. I don't say that such names are “purely capitalism”–which would be the same as saying that the only possible response is no profile whatsoever. But the dynamics of social group formation among poets work very well within the dynamics of capitalist product formation.

  22. I love what Ben said:

    “”we make culture! we make experience!” is so obviously true, the only explanation for the fact that we forget it is that we really are disjunct from our experience. Which is why I'd rather say “we will have made culture! we will have made experience!” Because that future we're committed to is the present we're not yet able to live in.”

    I love this enough to copy and paste in the same comment box!

    I try to write about all of this so much:

    “There will be a lot of sewing last year’s fragments with this year’s threads.”


    This is not because I want everyone to be like me or write like me (god forbid) but because I have a kind of compulsive dedication right now to natality, the future, and possibility. I guess what I want is for people to not be like me? to be better? to not have failure as our goal?

    So mark, once again you are in the business of misrepresenting my position. I don't know what to do about it! I could address your points one by one but they seem not addressed to me — though they are somehow still addressed to me? as if there is some Anne Boyer who said all these whack things like all the future possibilities of poetry are some how manifest in her own work & this anne boyer who is somehow a flarflist who says that flarf is anticapitalism or anne boyer who suggested we all have the same experience in the world!

    It's weird, what you suggest I am saying, this other-anne-boyer entirely (made of straw and ghosts maybe?) who says so many things this anne boyer does not agree with and has openly contradicted on many occasions. I don't know where you are getting it from! I have seen you do this before to me “angry woman” etc and it didn't make much sense then, either.

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