Saturday, March 05, 2005

Of Message Boards, Blogs, and Listservs

Tim Yu ( has a juicy post about his departure from the UB Poetics Listserve. He claims the discussion of whether the use of the term "Jap" is racist as the immediate trigger for his departure, but I do not think that this claim does his departure justice. I do not think that the questioning of the use of the term "Jap" is racist per se, as racism must be contextualized, which Tim implicitly acknowledges as such through his citation and brief discussion of Ronald Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore -- a book I have read as well.

I think that Tim is more accurate when he situates the "racism," later in his entry, in some white, male avant-garde poets' romantic obsession with a carelessly fetishized Asia. I implied this "racism" as problematic earlier through my claim that Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" is outmoded and not worthy of the great attention that it receives in light of the fact that one can only read/discuss so many poems. I think that this "racism" is only problematic due to these poets' economic dominance over poetry publication and subsequent dominance over the poetics discourse and only if there is disrespect or close-mindedness.

Avant-garde, surrealist poetry and poetics has always had a streak of Orientalism and racism which still exists today. I am a little surprised that Tim has apparently been surprised by this racism, since he is an expert in the field. Despite my support of the close inquiry into language that is so much a part of avant-garde poetry and my enjoyment of some of the poetry itself, I have to say that avant-garde poetry, in general, has always suffered from a lack of representation from women, African-Americans, and Latinos. Anyhow, as far as Listservs and message boards go, you take what you get sometimes, and as long as you find transformative potential, you remain in the discussion.

It appears to me that Tim's sadness results from the fact that he found close-mindedness and felt an absence of transformative potential through the discussions on the Listserv. One can easily find this disappointment justified merely by noting the relative lack of Listserv reactions to Tim's long, intelligent, and heartfelt post on the Listserv. The Listserv has clearly intellectually and emotionally disengaged itself from him. It is not the vibrant community that Tim desired.

Such is often the case with almost all message boards and listservs. Look around the internet, and you will find that racism and sexism, largely divorced from intellectual content, are constants on the vast majority of message boards. I agree with Tim that blogs are better, though I am obviously biased here.

A larger question is whether a dedicated focus on "language" in poetry necessarily devalues different races, cultures, and women. I do not think so. I do not think that avant-garde poetry is racist per se. But I also think that avant-garde poetry, like all forms of poetry, sometimes contains (hidden) social/cultural biases, and a reluctance to acknowledge the existence of these biases can be problematic. A willingness to indulge in utter cluelessness is rarely a good thing.


Blogger barbara jane said...

hey roger, so i have been thinking a lot abt this. is it really cluelessness? i really do not think it is. i too have mixed feelings abt this so-called contemporary american poetry scene, and its orientalism. and i think my problem with it is this: not nec. cluelessness but either (1) denial, or (2) simply not giving a f*ck whether they are orientalist or not. i kind of feel like it's more of #2, which i think is backlash against this thing called "political correctness."

but yes, i too have written a bit on my blog abt orientalism in the contemporary poetry scene. and i do believe in transforming it somehow. i haven't figured out how to do this, with all these (frankly) jerks out there, on the list serve to which tim refers (i am a member, tho i tend to delete my daily digest emails pretty quickly), and elsewhere.

but i think the potential to transform, for me at least, lies in the work (teaching, publishing)i do while positioned on the margins of that scene. tho i contradict myself by saying i realize i do not exist on the margins on my sfsu mfa scene.

i think too, that simultaneously working with the asian am arts community here, as i am, can also contribute to transformation.

ok, peace. barbaramuch to think thru here.

1:57 PM  
Blogger pam said...

As someone who got mired in the latest racism discussion on the List that proved to be the last straw for Tim, I have to agree with Barbara that the main impetus behind the remarks on the List seemed to be "backlash against this thing called 'political correctness.'"

I attempted to draw some parallels between this backlash with the apparent "mainstreaming" of experimental or avant-garde poetics (esp. Language variety) later on the List:


3:11 PM  
Blogger pam said...

Incidentally, Ron Silliman has a post today on Roy Kiyooka:

5:06 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Barbara, I'd have to agree with you that it's more (2) than (1). I think it's cluelessness but willful cluelessness, which is pretty much what (2) is.

It's tough to find an answer, because, as I alluded to in an earlier post, it's tough to force someone to want to care about and better understand a question -- the question of whether poetry is orientalist or not -- in which they have no interest.

But if one thinks of what I termed "fetishizing Asia" from the perspective of what I will now call the language-loving descendants of the Coleridge school, there has always been a lot to gain in appropriating the exotic. The exotic may be easily conflated with the unique and the original. Exotification can often be equated to originality.

The discussion over orientalism means that Coleridge-esque poets now have something to lose. The loss is not merely being deemed racist but a loss of a claim to authentic originality. A reproduction of stereotype is mere mimeticism, and few poets want to be judged as mimetic.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Pam, thanks for the post (and thanks to Barbara as well).

I've just visited the poetics list, and I have to say that I am pleased there has been more discussion over Tim Yu's departure since my original post. So maybe my "relative lack of reactions" remark no longer stands.

I found your long e-mail quite interesting. More response later...

6:58 PM  
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6:33 PM  
Blogger Troy Camplin said...

For my money, the term "Jap" is racist, and it's something I would never use.

I would be curious as to your reaction to Frederick Turner's poem Chinese Complexity.

Does the fact that he wrote this in light of some translations he has been doing of Chinese poetry with the help of a Chinese writer affect your reaction?

Would the fact that Turner's married to a Chinese woman?

I'm also somewhat personally curious, because I fear that accusations of orientalism can also come up when someone has been influenced by works not of their culture. Also, my wife is Hispanic. Does my inclusions of her culture (which is also, partially, our daughter's culture) in my works involve something akin to "cultural imperialism"? I think as inter-racial and inter-ethnic marriages my Turner's and mine occur, such issues become highly problematized, don't you think?

12:27 PM  

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