Monday, March 16, 2009

Are we buying the gurlesque?

An interesting essay by Laura Glenum on a subject that in some ways relies on the suspicious or skeptical response by those it purports to be speaking about. The Gurlesque I mean, and the gurls. Here she uses Sianne Ngai's wonderful essay "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde":
The proper name for the domain of girly kitsch might be, in critic Sianne Ngai’s terms, the domain of the Cute. While this may seem the least harmless, least provocative of aesthetic categories, Ngai thinks otherwise. In "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde," Ngai suggests that violence lurks implicitly in the aesthetic of the Cute. Ngai notes, "The formal attributes associated with cuteness — smallness, compactness, softness, simplicity, and pliancy — call forth specific affects: helplessness, pitifulness, and even despondency" (Ngai 816). And further, "In its exaggerated passivity and vulnerability, the cute object is often intended to excite a consumer's sadistic desires for mastery and control as much as his or her desire to cuddle" (Ngai 816). Cuteness is, of course, the realm of pre-pubescent girls and their small, furry companions, and if cuteness speaks to an exaggerated difference in power — “names a relationship to a socially disempowered other” — the relationship of owner to captive pet is the relationship par excellence that illustrates this phenomenon (Ngai 828).
It does make me want to read more from the poet in question.

Dodie Bellamy pushes the envelope a little further in her piece, "Girl Body". For the record, the Hound is not buying the gurlesque. At least not as something that brings us forward in any way.


VanessaP said...

I too am not buying and am also in equal parts bored and offended; however, Ngai's slice did remind me of the only good chapter in Paglia's Sexual Personae -- the one about Dickenson as sadist. Another e.g. of the arguable violence latent in the cute. (The Gremlinesque.) But there's all that teen vagina dentata coupled with vampiric infantilism coupled with America's love of the immature (The HelloKittyeqsue) coupled with fear of the woman qua woman coupled with the attention reward always going to those whose critique is cosseted in a deeper acceptance. (The Blackfacesque.) Pussy's got teeth's still pussy. Though it might be interesting to note the girlesque insofar as it corresponds to the new masculinist lyric, sorely ignored as a stand-alone phenomenon.

Shameless Hussy said...

Dickinson as sadist? Really. Well, one can just about imagine anything really. What do you think the difference between the gurlesque and girlesque would be?

I don't think Lynn Crosbie would want herself folded into that heading.

Clearly hounds can not be gurls so I need not worry.

Perhaps we can start a houndesque movement?

VanessaP said...

Absolutely, in which desire will fell like cruel hounds. That would be a movement worthy of women.

The difference would be not kidding yourself.

Shameless Hussy said...

The difference would not kid itself, that's for certain.

VanessaP said...

Wait, have we now gone over into the caprine?

Laura Carter said...

Sina, I have my qualms about it, too. It's very hip, though! ;) My girlhood and adolescence were not at all like what is described in the writings; I think "gurlesque" makes the same mistake that Lacan critiques when he says, "there is no Woman." There are only individual girls, and individual women, etc. You can universalize your youth. And why would you want to go back there anyway? ;)


Laura Carter said...

Correction: You can't universalize your youth. Mea culpa.

Shameless Hussy said...

Yeah, well, the hair on the back of my neck raises when I sense the "making meaning" out of the cuteness, you's the justification that twigs.

Shameless Hussy said...

Caprine! Oh, how can I keep up with you Ms. Place.

the queefer said...

Awesome! I wish I had seen this a few days ago. Just finished a paper on the gurlesque . . . I'm not buying it.

Great blog! I'm linking to it from Queef ( under the poetry circle jerk sec.

Currently looking for submissions . . . just throwing that out there.

Chien Bâtard said...

Dear Queef,
Looking forward to your essay very much. Thanks for the link.

Chien Bâtard said...

Oh, just looking over that post again--the Girlesque--and the idea of Anne Sexton or Plath for that matter, serving a poster girl for this kind of poetry really, REALLY pissses me off.

Johannes said...

Lemon Hound,

I have a hard time taking seriously the claim that any poetry "moves us forward". But as someone who is finds the notion of "forward"-thinking problematic to say the least, I suppose I'm not in that "us." You guys continue moving "forward." I'm sure it will do your "us" a lot of good.

If the gurlesque has to do with the jouissance of the abject, then it's certainly not about moving forward. It's certainly not about being good citizens and all that.

I think one of the most insightful comments on the Gurlesque was made by my wife Joyelle Mcsweeney, who told Dodie Bellamy that the gurlesque was "the rejection of empowerment".

I'm curious as to why Chien Batard would be so offended by the Plath reference? Are you claiming that there is no element of camp/grotesque in these writers?

I'm also curious as to what he means by "this kind of poetry"? I think Arielle's idea was more of a vague notion involving camp and gender and the grotesque. It was never a movement, but a framework for reading some very varied poets. Lara G takes this even further afield by including someone who isn't even an American (Aase Berg). I think it's not even just women; I can think of several men who might fit into this general notion.

None of this commentry really deals with the poems in any specific way; thus it's hard for me to know what you really think that kind of poetry is.


Johannes said...

Actually I have to apologize if that came off as very snarky. I was in an irritable mood. But my basic issue remains: I simply can't understand why this should be so difficult to see that there's some connection between a wide variety of poets?


Chien Bâtard said...

Hi Johannes,
There are many connections between wide varieties of poets and yes, I have been very excited about the energy around many of these poets, and the critical writing that has risen up out of it. In general I'm behind the discussion of poetry of all forms and ways...particularly women's poetry, and yes, I was a bit snarky myself.

The spaces between movements is often more interesting to me than the movements themselves. For some reason seeing Sexton and "poster girl" in the same sentence just triggered some of the ongoing frustrations.

Joyelle, Lara Glenum, all of these women are doing interesting work, and I like what Joyelle said to dodie, that makes sense. I just don't buy the entire package that is the gurlesque. But I don't think they need me to either, do they?

Finally, I do think poetry moves us forward. And sometimes poetics does to.

D said...

Hi, Sina, and all,

I'm rather late to this discussion, but I'd love to hear more about why you're not buying the Gurlesque! Is it that you're not buying the theories Lara & Arielle are advancing, or that (and this is what I'm reading here) you don't buy it as a valuable form of feminist poetics? As someone who teaches fem theory, gender studies, etc., I'm very curious about feminist practices that we split on...and as someone clearly in the Gurlesque matrix, I'm curious to hear more about what it is in the aesthetic and execution of its tactics that bores and offends folks as it does VanessaP. Admittedly, I'm not sure I understand Vanessa's critique...not sure, for instance, what the various Gurlesque poets are meant to be kidding themselves about...?

I'd add to Laura (hi, Laura!), that there seems to be some general dissent among those who "buy" the Gurlesque about whether or not it really relies on the universalized tropes of a particular American 70s youth (some of its practitioners, hardly old enough to remember the 70s!). But then, it's an aesthetic, or a set of tactics, not an organized school/movement (as Johannes points out), so there's bound to be (what I find) interesting friction and deviation. I think it'd be hard to read the aesthetic as a coherent package--which may be clearer when the anthology comes out. Lara & Arielle were just here in Wyoming to present on the anthology; there's a lot to it, and not all in seamless unison. And the visual art component rather expands the discussion.

Snark aside, I agree with Johannes, this aesthetic isn't meant to be edifying. At least in the most conventional sense. I would be curious to hear more about which poets/poetics move "us" (feminists? women? humans?) "forward"...

And funny side note, Lara's first book is called Hounds of No, so maybe a coupla Gurlesque hounds out there :).

Thanks all,

Chien Bâtard said...

I like how you describe this as "an aesthetic, or a set of tactics, not an organized school/movement," but that isn't how it seems. From my reading it seems quite totalizing and corraling rather than offering a set of tactics, as you say...that would seem to be to be moving forward rather than describing and creating a pod of characteristics that becomes exclusionary by nature of the gesture.

I'm all for "friction and deviation," and I'm all for the collective energy of the poets themselves--Glenum's essay is very smart--but for me, what I've read on Delirious Hem and elsewhere, doesn't seem interested in moving forward.

It seems clear from the advancing discussion that I owe the topic a more lengthy response, and will do. For that I'm going to have to take some time.

Lara Glenum said...

Sorry I don't have time to post a lengthy response, but I just wanted to pipe in and say that the Gurlesque is an entirely descriptive project, not proscriptive. In other words, Arielle and I are describing a set of aesthetic strategies/tendencies being engaged by a fairly disparate set of poets. We are not spearheading a movement or branding a product. I think the actual publication of the anthology (Spring 2010) will greatly clarify this.

Chien Bâtard said...

Hi Lara,
That does help with some of my resistance in any case. But now that I've made this comment I feel I must formulate some thoughts on it, and will, though perhaps I should wait for the anthology itself?

et said...

Please pardon my late arrival.
My question here is how is it the men somehow manage to
cheer each other on even when infighting. How is that? Arielle & Lara are responding to work that interests them, why is that so boring and offensive, Vanessa? I am reminded of Stein's dictum that people who are easily shocked are not very interesting (interested). The flarfists blatantly engage in acts of self-canonization, are they dismissed in this way? They are much more of a coven as far as I can tell (And I love some of them and some of their work, esp Nada Gordon's -- she's also in the Gurlesque anthol.)
I mean, I don't want to be solely identified as a gurlesque poet, but I am totally interested in Lara and Arielle's thinking, really really happy to be in the anthol, honored to have my work engaged with critically wherever and whenever that happens, and excited about the work of all the poets included that I'm familiar with, and excited to read the ones I'm not. And there is something really creepy about how
easy it is to dismiss GIRLS. In every formulaic.

This is from Eileen Myles in another Saturnalia anthol, Letters to Poets:

Female history is always destabilized by whatever guy is now watching
the line of women parading by. It's maddening but those guys will
never change. We have to think differently. ....I think females need
to write new fictions to hold their truths..... We have to set each
other up better all the time and the terms of the world are always
inadequate to women's true accomplishments.....The feminine line means
that above all women mustn't be contemptuous of themselves. Just when
the last thing going on is one's purported femininity, it erupts like
a big bow. We're just so many things. I distrust my own jargon, my
abandoning of the feminine for the female. I guess I was preferring
sex over gender, but later thinking how arrogant to pretend not to be
feminine. For anyone really. Why is the feminine the thing to hate.
Something men, or mothers made to control girls. Surely it can free us
too, then in some homeopathic way. I often forget words, that's why I
like holes. All this quiet diving through the dictionary and a bird
comes up tweeting.
-- Eileen Myles, to Jennifer Firestone, in Letters to Poets

et said...

ps it's not the disagreement with the theory or whatever this is that I am objecting to, it's the wholesale dismissal of it before they've even had a chance to get their book out. Why assume they are doing this to hurt women, to somehow bring us backward or in some other unapproved direction? The presumption that other women's ideas are useless and worse without even giving them the time to think and speak (and publish their anthology) strikes me as deeply unfeminist among other things.

Laura Carter said...

I just bought the gurlesque. Sign me up.

Chien Bâtard said...

What do you mean you bought it? I thought the anthology wasn't out until next year? Or did you read something? Or come to terms?

Do tell, when you feel like it.