Sunday, December 05, 2004

Nonorganic Unity: A Response to Josh Corey

“Or maybe we should look to another general dichotomy, Bürger's notion of the organic" versus the "nonorganic" artwork. While avant-garde movements are characterized by wanting to reintegrate art into life, their works, according to Bürger, are formally recognizable by their use of fragmentation and montage. Organic or symbolist works are recognizable by the unity of the parts with the whole: each part is subordinated to that wholeness and is only comprehensible through/in it. The notion of art being a mirror to nature is one of the premises of organic art, which might also be the source of the "aura" Benjamin locates in artworks prior to our age of mechanical reproduction. By contrast, in the nonorganic artwork the parts do not form a unity: it is an assemblage of pieces between which cracks are visible, and the pieces have some degree of independence from the unity of the total work. The more minimal (or the less intrusive) the structure of the whole is, the more independence the parts have, and the "harder" the poem is likely to be.”

--from Josh Corey’s blog, which is very interesting and thought provoking (as you can see from the response below):

Organic Vs. Nonorganic

If I understand the organic vs. inorganic dichotomy correctly, a formalist poem say by Wilbur or Keats would be organic and a fragmented work would be inorganic. But doesn’t forcing language into a form with a set meter and rhyme create something that highlights the artifice of the work? Wasn’t, on a superficial level, the break from traditional forms an attempt to create something more “natural”, to break from the “artifice” rhyme and meter imposed on language? Is there really anything “organic” about a work by Shakespeare or Keats? Maybe my problem is that I don’t think organic necessarily implies “unity.” Organic to me implies something more akin to chaos, while nonorganic implies some something artificial, something trying for create order out of the organic. Are both the fragmented and the structured inorganic attempts to create something out of the chaos, something that is “artificial?” Maybe, I am just arguing about semantics and not substance, because their still is an aesthetic difference between say Wilbur and Silliman, but are the artistic impulses so entirely different. At this juncture in poetry’s evolution is “experimental” dead? Have all the avenues, dirt roads and highways the structure a poem can take been explored? Are we to the point, since, arguably, most experiments with structure have been tried, were the distinctions between schools has little meaning outside of personal preference? (That is whole other discussion, which I started briefly over at Cosmopoetica. I’ll try to explore more in another post.)

Unity Vs. Independence

Above Corey makes the claim that the less structured a poem is the more independently the pieces function. Is this necessarily the case?

Take these rather structured lines from Stevens:

The imperfect is our paradise.
Note, that in this bitterness, delight,
Since, the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

And this lines from the Koch poem in BAP 2004:

Boa constrictor easel pretzel nylon peaches ruffles
Dance elevators less and more dark

Both in their own way can survive independently. Though for my money the Stevens survives better independently, while the Koch poem depends more heavily on the previous line:

Spine The backache penny comes niche a lesson

How else can you make the leap, mentioned in a blog I can’t recall at the moment, from spine to the spine twisted like a “pretzel.”

This may be an unfair and rather simplistic comparison, but in a poem that is fragmented and not grounded in a structure and a context that is shared don’t the various parts depend more heavily on each other for resonance. For example if you take the cutout parrot from Joseph Cornell’s Grand Hotel Semiramis, the parrot would not stand on it’s own as a work of art, yet you place it with the other items in the collage and together they generate an aesthetic experience. I think many collage and fragmented poems work in a similar way—they depend heavily on the various pieces to create the entire experience. If the point is to be fragmented and independent, why bring the various pieces together? Could or should they simply be separate poems? By bringing them together in one poem aren’t you suggesting to the reader that they should be experienced as a whole, like Cornell’s boxes?

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