Saturday, February 22, 2014

No, Object #3: Zizek, Eagleton, and the AWP

If we take Zizek's notion of the "sublime object" built on Sohn-Rethel's thoughts about commodity exchange (in The Sublime Object of Ideology 1999 imprint of London: Verso, 1989) and combine it with Eagleton's thoughts about The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Blackwell, Oxford, 1990), AWP conventions become exposed in all their glorious merchandising of sublime objects--along with the whole world of poetry as we have it.

In the commodity exchange (mediated by money or not), an object takes on an actual abstract being that facilitates the judgments of equivalency (value or taste) beyond its practical being--a sublime status of sorts. As Sohn-Rethel puts it, "the exchange abstraction is not thought, but it has the form of thought" (qtd. in Zizek 19). This thoughtful abstraction has always already taken place before any thought of the equivalencies, any bargaining, begins. Zizek calls it a "material" form (and makes it the basis of his renewed "materialism"), though it is necessarily unconscious, and he refers to it as a stage or theater (19) that makes the exchange seriously possible. It is "immaterial to" the action, as any particular stage is to any set of actors, but it is the space in which their action plays.

Aesthetics, with its sense of self-reflexive autonomy, is a "prototype" of capitalist subjectivity at the same time as being a vision of radical energies (Eagleton 9). Eagleton shows us that the philosophy of aesthetics has its basis in the Greek word referring to sensations of the material body, and he tells us that its 18th-century manifestation seems to be "the first stirrings of a primitive materialism" (13). He emphasizes the valuation of aesthetic attention to lived experience and "the human and concrete" (2). Our recent turns toward the body seem to Eagleton to be a kind of extension of this 300-year-old effort, and his effort is to renew materialism by showing that and its material social effect.

My effort is to engage both of their efforts in service of a critique of the descent into aestheticisms in the practices of today's poetical avant-garde and of the writers and teachers in general who associate through the AWP, which is anything but avant. The AWP convention is a marketing convention full of little sales meetings; I saw many such massings of commodification when I was an electronics industry sales manager once upon a time. At the AWP, though, persons and concepts are marketed as much as objects or systems. The perpetration of creative writing as an advancement of consciousness is a sales pitch originating in the rise of aesthetics in the 18th century and carried forward on the basis of exchange values, with a sublime-ation at its heart.

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