Question # 8) Chris Arigo on genre
designations: After Modernism literature fractured and pixilated
into so many units
that the urge to classify is often/usually frustrated. Historically,
the prose poem is very young much in the same way the novel is.
As a result, the most radical pressure put on the genre has occurred
fairly recently. These radical shifts require our scrutiny, not
necessarily our classifying them.
Modernism, Consumerism, and the Instability of Genre
Chris Arigo’s allusion to the
splintering effect of Modernism, a condition exhaustively scrutinized
over the past 150 years, places the problem of the
prose poem in its proper light. As countless cultural historians have observed,
perhaps most notably Clement Greenberg in "Avant-Garde and Kitsch",
the rise and subsequent dominance of the free market system have led not only
appropriation of high art by the consumer industry (kitsch), but to the commodification
of its forms within cultural institutions, subjecting them to the same forces
of unbounded innovation and consumption. Modernism has not only destabilized
and fractured traditional genres, but it has demanded the reconfiguration and
creation of genres whose purported value may or may not be readily apparent.
To say the prose poem is equivalent to Diet
Coke With Lime is not
to suggest that every manifestation of the form possesses equal
cultural value. Certain
instances of the genre’s consumption are devoid of substance or nutrition;
others are sublime, and that sublimity has less to do with the genre than it
does with the personality of the author engaging it.
Simultaneously the preservation and
reinvention of the concept of genre corresponds to a modernist
impulse to make it new--for one requires an old against
which to pit a new--and a post-modernist impulse to re-inhabit the old
and re-inscribe its significance. Its commodification notwithstanding, the
enduring category of genre insists upon the possibility of innovation and political
efficacy at a time when art, it would seem, no longer possesses the potential
to innovate and change the world.
Jeffrey Encke has recently published Most
Wanted: A Gamble in Verse, a deck of playing cards featuring excerpts of love letters
written to Saddam Hussein and other war criminals, available at
www.matlub.net. His work has appeared in Barrow
Street, Black Warrior
Review, Colorado Review, Octopus Magazine, Salt
Hill, 3rd Bed,
and Quarterly West, among others.