the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

ben lerner on the literature of despair for the believer

Posted by rigorousm on September 4, 2014

BL: Despair strikes me as eminently reasonable and boring. I have no patience for artists whose primary function is to articulate their art’s impossibility, who in a sense commodify melancholy—just as I have no interest in artists who are purely affirmative, who’ve made a commercialized fetish of the culture’s stupidity. Balloon dogs, etc. I think that sexual pleasure and the weird color of the sky after a storm or the stream of tail lights across the bridge or the way silence can thin or thicken before music starts—all these things have to be harnessed by the political. The libidinal has to be harnessed by the political.

BLVR: What would you view as literature that despairs?

BL: Well, I think the anti-intellectualism of a lot of contemporary fiction is a kind of despairing of literature’s ability to be anything more than perfectly bound blog posts or transcribed sitcoms. But that goes without saying. Anyway I read more contemporary poetry than contemporary fiction so my mind goes first to a kind of crass “conceptualism” that repeats vanguard gestures of the past minus the politics and historical context. That kind of art despairs both of the poem—the big claim for such writing is that you don’t even have to read the words—and it despairs even of the critical force of that despairing, since it’s only point seems to be that everything is exhausted. Why produce more examples of exhaustion? But I’m also talking about a tendency in my own work—I don’t want to write poems that are just really clear about how I’m aware of all the traps involved in writing poetry; I don’t want to write fiction that’s about the irresponsibility of writing fiction and I’ve thrown out a lot of writing that I think was ultimately tainted by that kind of self-awareness. Writing by Maggie Nelson and Dana Ward and Ariana Reines and Simone White has proved to be a strong countermeasure to that kind of despair for me lately.

From this online exclusive Believer interview


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