I read the second half of Lerner’s book not just as a manifesto against political poetry, but as something stranger and more ideological. In his attacks on the avant-garde, Lerner paraphrases Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde. Bürger’s theory—which is mind-blowing if you’ve ever thought that avant-garde artists aspire to be as pretentious as possible—is that these experimental artists simply wanted to bring art closer to life. This means telling your readers to get drunk (as Baudelaire did), quoting ragtime and commercial jingles (T.S. Eliot), installing a urinal in an art show (Duchamp), or admitting the burbling noises of the street into the concert hall (John Cage). These may be assaults against art, but they’re also embraces of life.
But if you believe in poetry as a pure sanctuary beyond us mere mortals, what could be more repellant than iconoclasm, chance, and mass culture? Modernism sought to debunk metaphysical foundations for the truth, which so many philosophers cast as a pernicious illusion and distraction from human life. The charge Lerner levels against both futurist and cultural critics is the opposite: their seemingly improper desire to “enter history.” This is a strange criticism that grows more legible if you remember that Lerner thinks the point of poetry is to offer refuge from “the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference.” This passage gave me pause, as I am a poet who rents a too-expensive one-bedroom apartment located within the human world. While avant-garde poetry is usually framed as a nihilist assault against lyric poetry, we can now see that the opposite is true: What is most offensive about avant-gardism is its attempts to bring human messiness and excess into a medium that is against humans, lyric poetry. Read this way, The Hatred of Poetry is a betrayed valentine to poetry, one that doesn’t so much dismantle its divinity as expresses annoyance over the pesky humans that get in its way.
Fáránlega áhugaverð grein eftir Ken Chen í New Republic um nýjustu bók Bens Lerner.