12/2/08

Poetry and the Uncanny Valley

What we've been through as a country for the last eight years is little more than the rhetorical equivalent of smoke and mirrors. Language that has been both familiar and duplicitous is something we now find disgusting the point that someone who for the longest time was known as a real "Maverick" could not escape the projectile nature of our anger. Language has been used against us in order to further and ideological goal that had been created by opposition politicians while they were waiting for a leader of their own party to come to power.1

Language is and always has been the tool of power to control those that ought to follow. Americans have been blindly following the piper for the last eight years (at least) into the deserts and wars that only language has brought us into. You and I never saw the charts and maps and vials of yellow cake uranium. What we heard was George Bush on television pointing and telling us the problem was our (and his Dad's) old enemy, Saddam Hussein. Fortunately, most Americans were still in such post-9/11 shock and terror that they listened to Bush's tune. 4000+ have died as a result.

Judith Butler talks about the paradigmatic shift after 9/11, but what about the realization that we'd been lied to? What about the shift in national thought that has lead to the backlash the Republicans couldn't avoid? How blindly will we follow in the future? What does language do to us now?

In the latest shift of paradigm, Americans, now revolted by the language of hate and the politics of finger pointing, have turned to Barack Obama and the language of hope and opportunity. Things aren't sunshine and puppy dogs, no, but instead of telling us who to blame, Team Obama has chosen to figure out how to fix the problem. Whether he or any person in his position can fix the problems we're facing in America at this time, I can't say. However, for the first time in a long time, it just might be a fair fight.

But what can poetry do at this point? What is the goal of poetry at a period when we have reached the opposite slope of Masahiro Mori's Uncanny Valley?2 Now that we're coming out of the point where language has disgusted us as the tool by which we were tricked, what can poetry do to avoid the naive peak at the top?

Poetry ought to continue to explore the construction of language, especially as we've been victims of the rhetoric that's been built around us. The goal of poetry is the create the detachment by which we can understand the nature of our designs. In the past, poetry has been used to describe a sunset or a lover, simply because it was felt that there was no other format in which language could adequately express our emotions.

But poetry should not be about emotions. Poetry should be about the process of examination into the rules and constructs that we have created as a society. Poetry can function politically in this manner, like my paper on Mark Nowak's Shut Up Shut Down suggests.3 Poetry can and ought to be *the* tool by which we examine "his master's voice" - the language of those in power.

For this purpose, however, poetry ought remain the depths of the uncanny valley. Poetry ought to be the language and themes that disgusts us with it's familiarity. Poetry ought to be nauseating, to the extent that the ideas and abstractions within it should provoke a physical reaction. The realization ought to be that poetry is itself manufactured language that is a tool by which to understand manufactured language. Poetry should, and I believe already has, move beyond language for the sake of "beauty" or culturation and should refocus itself on the detachment that I feel only poetry can attain.

Eventually I'll write about detachment and poetry- once I figure out what I want to say.

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1 Like Donald Rumsfeld working for neo-conservative think tank Project for a New American Century and "realizing", while chair for the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States everyone he had hated for a while could suddenly send a missile over the oceans destroying blue jeans, Rock and Roll, and freedom.

2 Wikipedia article on the uncanny valley

3 A paper I will be presenting at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 in mid to late February.

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