12/22/06

Birth of the Cool

Art movements alternate between hot and cool, the emotive and the analytical. Abstract expressionism, hot, then pop art, cool; neo-expressionism, hot, then neo-geo, cool. To inherit or attain a hot bod is a no-brainer, of course, it motivates people, but one must keep a cool head. This dichotomy is natural, I ain’t complaining, but in the country that has given the world the assembly line, where men are converted into efficient, interchangeable chumps, into machines, in short, cool is not just a code but a prerequisite. Stay cool, keep cool, be cool, act cool, even as one is suffering or inflicting pain, since, in spite of all the jiggling evidences at every foodcourt, one's body is no longer supposed to be flesh, flab or cellulite, but steel-tough and glistening, a square-cornered, gas-guzzling 24/7 boner, a monster truck in loose-fitting jeans. It hasn’t always been this way. In 1957, the Everly Brothers could sing, “Bye bye love […] I think I'm gonna cry,” without being feathered as swishy Mummers. Imagine Ludicrus twanging such queer lines today. In American poetry, much of what Ron Silliman calls “school of quietude” is actually quite “hot,” but it’s a jive kind of heat, ludicrous, the melodrama of a little man in a house of mirrors, self-pitying and self-aggrandizing, procreating hisself since no fool would do the nasty with him. Call me ignorant, but who’s writing convincingly hot poems these days?

15 comments:

Murat said...

Linh,

The problem with "School of Quietitude" is that it is a putdown rather than a descriptive term. Its main effect is to be blind to -trying to erase- anything written outside the perimeters of The New Sentence.

The contemporary Turkish poetry anthology, "Eda," is 300 pages of hot poetry and sixty pages of hot essays. The poems or essays there have nothing to do with any school of quietitude and almost as little to do with what the new sentence is purported to have achieved.

It is a poetry and poetics of an integral outside (from the American point of view), spun, woven out of the consciousness of a "hot" place in the contemporary world. Having been born and spent formative years outside The United States, you understand that.

Ciao,

Murat

Patrick Herron said...

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "hot" without more examples. I think I understand. But I am not sure. Coolness is obviously a problem with my generation, especially with my generation's poets. I think there are numerous explanations for it.

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Patrick,

Rimbaud, Vallejo and Whitman were mostly hot, Stevens, Ashbery and Palmer mostly cool. They're all first rate poets, obviously, so I'm not equating hot as good, cool as bad; I'm just trying to isolate a phenomenon that seems to be quintessentially American.

Linh

Patrick Herron said...

Is Jeffers hot or cool? God like a bird of prey with a heart of stone? Sounds like it's hewn from boiling empassioned blood yet the content is literally cool.

Samuel Vriezen said...

Interesting.

The Hot/Cool distinction was a critical distinction in Paul Rodenko's ground-breaking early '50s anthology of Dutch writing Met Twee Maten (Using Two Measures), where he anthologized the 50 years or so before that in two different ways, choosing different poems for every poets - in the first half based on a "Good/Bad" distinction (choosing poems that were "good" poems according to some timeless idea of poetic quality) and in the second half, based on a "Hot/Cold" distinction (where he chose "hot" poems - poems that seemed to address what he called the "echec" of poetry, meaning the slight film separating the world of normal experience from a world of transcendent insights or something like that)

The whole concept itself of providing multiple visions on the same body of poetry in one 2-sided anthology still strikes me as incredibly audacious.

This, of course, is an aside. The biggest problem is that often I feel that a good cool poem gets me very hot and a good hot poem, agreeably, cools me down. Or something.

Patrick Herron said...

Hey Samuel is my poem "machinegun" translated to the Dutch ("machinegeweer," translation is Ton's) hot, cold, or lukewarm?

Linh Dinh said...

Dear Samuel,

Thanks for telling us about Paul Rodenko's anthology. It would be very instructive to find out about all the more unusual anthologies worldwide, their unconventional, even eccentric criteria for picking works. In English, the hot/cool wording comes from jazz, I think, as in Louis Armstrong's Hot five, Hot seven, Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool. "Cool" must be the most promicuous adjective in the English language. I can't imagine an equivalent situation in Dutch, am I wrong? What I mean is, do Dutch people spray "cool" all over their conversations? Vietnamese certainly don't.

Linh

Samuel Vriezen said...

Linh,

Dutch is full of English terms these days. Cool is certainly a popular word (and only ironically we'll use the dutch words Koel) though among teens this has been replaced in the past few years by "Chill" (used as an adjective) - particularly in hybrid multilingual phrases like "Dat is echt vet chill!" (Literally: That is really fat/greasy afkoelen!)

The Dutch generation of "De Vijftiger" - the fifties generation - was the first really strong, publicly present avantgarde group to connect with movements such as surrealism and dada, and it was this group that Rodenko came out of. Many of these poets lived in Paris for a while; many were very internationally aware - Simon Vinkenoog, who compiled the first important anthology in the early 50s at the age of 23 or so, was in touch with Ginsberg et al - and they were very much, surprise surprise, in touch with modern painting and they listened a lot, surprise surprise, to jazz.

Rodenko's terms were "warm" and "koud" (cold). I'm not sure if the jazz terms had already found their way into Dutch colloquialisms (I think the popular word to use at that time was "Mieters" which is considered totally ridiculous now, but I don't know what the poets talked like). Rodenko's approach in the end was very much from the intellectual literary criticism tradition, with important French influences (I believe he mentions Blanchot as an important source), his critical writing is very sharp and somewhat dry, and I don't think he meant his terms to have any kind of hip connotations.

BTW Linh, now that you're here - a confession: I enjoyed your writing, and I went and used a fragment from a story of yours in one of the performances of my 3-speakers-text-composition "Motet", which hardly does your text justice but which was great fun - I'd like to invite you to take a listen (plug alert) at http://www.xs4all.nl/~sqv under Works in mp3 - scroll down to Motet - and if you dislike it, I'll take it down!

Samuel Vriezen said...

Patrick, I won't measure the temperature, but it's a good read! In Rodenko terms, I think it would be a post-echec poetics here, because the glass film seperating the lyrical subject from the Whole of the Universe gets shattered - it's a poem that hasn't accepted the poetics of failure but pays a high price. (but here I extemporize)

Linh Dinh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linh Dinh said...

Dear Samuel,

Thanks for all your comments. They're very interesting, very instructive to me. And hey, I'm very flattered to hear that you used a text of mine. I'll give it several listens.

Cheers!

Linh

Samuel Vriezen said...

Linh, thanks! One typo I need to correct though - crucial in an interlingual forum (in any other one I would let it go) - it's "De Vijftigers", not "De Vijftiger" (which is the singular)

Chris said...

Art movements alternate between hot and cool, the emotive and the analytical. Abstract expressionism, hot, then pop art, cool

Surely you have those backwards. Warhol's car crashes and Lichtenstein's crying women are "analytical" and "cool" but Pollack's stochastic paint lines and Rothko's meditative color fields are "emotive" and "hot"?

Or, in other words, it's all in what you read as "hot" or "cool". So many of Byron's attempts at "hot" poetry now read as emotionally hollow studies in obsessive iambics. Poems which seem on the surface "cool" can end up quite emotive and hot once you're actually engaged with the poem (which is how many of my friends describe their relationship with, say, Palmer's work).

So, different strokes for different folks; you chose Whitman and Rimbaud as "hot" poets, both of whom spent a lot of time talking about how "hot" they were, about how they were attempting to connect emotionally. I'm wondering whether it's not so much that Stevens or Ashbery aren't writing "hot" poems, but that they're not announcing that they're writing hot poems. Is that what "cool"ness is?

Is "Tender Buttons" a "cool" or "hot" book?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Chris,

I don't think you can get much cooler than Warhol. "When I want to change my mood, I change the music," he said. For me, he epitomizes complete detachment, his alienation even more remarkable when you consider how engaged his generation was, including all the groupies around him. "Sex is nostalgia for sex," he also said. It meant something when he was still innocent, and didn't know any better.

I'm going to get spanked for this, since you can't say shit about Stein w/o pissing off somebody, but Tender Button was definitely frigid.

Linh

Janet said...

I'd nominate Alice Notley & her recent ALMA as fantastic, very HOT poetry. As is all her work.