Friday, 2 April 2010

Legitimacy, impersonality, and role-detachment

Legitimacy, impersonality, and role-detachment

There are parallels between poetry and conversation, and the problems of British poetry, pointed at by all foreign observers, may be traced back to the ordinance of British conversations. Since conversation is not improvised, or only in a small segment of its spectrum, there are linguistic plans which we possess, as valid speakers, and which simultaneously qualify us as speakers. We aim to disengage, not the primary surplus of conversations, but their generative rules; not the scripts for particular conversations, but the scripts that write the scripts.

I will start with some knockabout stuff to get us in the mood. This magazine (holds up a copy of The Unopened Files) is essentially about UFOs, although it covers matters of related interest. It has an odd bias, which relates it to a specific interest group, of RAF personnel who are technophile, who believe in all kinds of strange things happening in the sky, and who are attracted to conspiracy theories, which corresponds to a low rank where management information is concealed from them. They are well aware that the high-level decisions are based on primary information supplied by lower ranks; classically by radar operators; the first UFO story, in 1947, came from a pilot, not radar operator, but many of the stories do come from them, because their life is one of boring shifts where only the unexpected is of interest. In one issue of The Unopened Files, we discover that UFOlogist Tim Good's father was an RAF radar operator; Good claims to have been interested in UFOs since 1955. Nicholas Redfern, one of the other two serious British writers on UFOs, is also the son of a radar operator. The struggle concerns the right to form higher patterns out of the primary instrument readings, which are at once excessive and partial; the script behind the endless flow; to understand the status value of this, we have to look at the class structure of the RAF: officers; aircrew; groundcrew. The higher command are drawn from those who have seen air combat; but only a tiny minority of RAF personnel are aircrew, and of those only the officers are going to reach higher ranks; so we have an elite structure in which the huge majority are consigned to a permanently inferior status, although this status is high compared to the rank and file of other services, as various privileges recognize. The more specialised training radar operators need, the higher the failure rate on the training courses, the less likely a successful one is to get moved out to another branch of the service.
The fault line is between instrument readings and sociocultural authentication, the process by which mere information acquires social value. This is the overheated context in which blips on a cathode ray screen are entrained to the belief that the government is lying to you.
Validating evidence rapidly converts into studying the witness as a person; since they do not acquire their contextual knowledge from direct observation alone, but mainly from information analysed and supplied by other people in a communicative network, it appears that what you know is inseparable from who you know. The readers of such magazines perhaps do not know that a book from Cambridge University Press has been tested in ways which a book about UFOs published by Shambhala has not. UFOlogy offers illegitimate forms of legitimation. Education from the age of sixteen on, that is the kind from which income groups C to E are excluded, is much concerned with testing and qualifying information; use of epistemology in poetry is a covert way of signalling high educational level. However, if you look at the space devoted to qualification of knowledge in this magazine, it appears that the readers do have a sharp idea of what it means to be middle class, they're trying out the practices of testing and of withholding emotional assent, preparing to make the jump into legitimacy.
The act of reading a poem involves an assessment of the data it presents and of the poet's character, two models used to amend and improve each other. The experiences described in a poem may form an unfamiliarity, to take a term from UFOlogist Nick Redfern. The probing of the linguistic texture is happening on many levels at once; at one level, it is simply the recognition of linguistic patterns associated with a socioeconomic group associated with credibility; it follows the circularity of authentication which we find in UFOlogy, namely that you construe one member of a communicative network as credible because the others are, and vice versa. Impersonality of presentation is associated by one group with insincerity, because it is refusing to testify, and by another group with credibility, because it separates objective data from subjective feelings, which are projective and which induce acceptance in merely interpersonal terms. Impersonality and austerity simultaneously induce acceptance because they signal membership of the socioeconomic elite, and grant access to that elite because they act to minimize error; and are read as coldness and rejection of the reader by readers with other linguistic values. The gap between impersonality and projective identification is the gap between high and low in poetry.
Elias and Scotson remark, of the middle-class area within the (unnamed) suburb of Leicester which they studied in the early sixties, that

"Many of the inhabitants of Zone 1 did not actively participate in the communal life of Winston Parva. They lived their own lives within the invisible walls which often enclose middle-class families in residential areas. Each family formed a fairly exclusive group in relation to others. It is likely that the circle of acquaintances whom they invited to their houses, and by whom they were invited, came mainly from outside Winston Parva and especially from the large midland town to whose suburban area Winston Parva belonged. The mobility achieved by means of cars (...) made it possible to form and to maintain fairly close relationships with people who lived outside one's own neighbourhood."

This in contrast to the working-class Zone 2:

"Convention did not give to people, and people did not expect to have, the same degree of privacy which middle-class people expected to have, and which their convention gave them in Zone 1. Doors were less formally closed against others; walls were thinner; almost everything that happened inside the home was within reach of neighbours' ears and eyes; little could be hidden away; private and communal, 'individual' and 'social' aspects of life were less divided. News of any interest quickly spread through the gossip channels from house to house, from street to street. Housewives appeared to be their main carriers."
In Zone 1, "The [basic features] may be less pronounced in the case of more highly insulated middle-class families, whose rituals, sentiments, manners and customs, at least within one and the same country, tend to be less coloured by local differences and who are more used to specific forms of relatively loose, but highly regulated, neighbourhood relations." (1965) p. 161
Middle class cultural practices, introverted and solitary, can be related to this insulation. They put a low valuation on local links, because they have a wider social network: the car, the mastery of a national accent, bring them wider contacts. They are sentimental about the neighbourhood because they do not need it. They withdraw into the domain of the private, their personal lives a secret to a neighbourhood where there are no secrets, their attitude towards the gossip detached, amused, and tolerant.
The influence of space on poetry could be fruitfully studied using maps which are accurate to within a few hundred yards and which record types of housing and types of daily verbal interaction. Perhaps the shape of the self depends on the boundaries set to it by society, and so on the kind of personal space allowed to the self while the person was a child. If speech patterns, and the verbal imagination, depend on housing stock, then poetry should have changed as the housing stock did. During the sixteenth century a new social domestic pattern of privacy developed in noble houses, lived in small but sumptuously furnished rooms and making daily contact with only a few people; a sign of it is the move away from minstrels, performing aloud for a large audience enjoying formal hospitality as a display and move in a game of visible prestige, to culture embodied in books or in amateur performances by well-born musicians, either for themselves or for small groups. The Elizabethan lyric is related to this new intimate music, and the emergence of a new literature is related to the new practice of reading, an offspring of privacy and solitude. The transition from social to solitary culture affects at every point the internal structure of the object of solitary culture; to disengage these oppositions we must write the history of reading. It was copied by middle-class households from the innovating households of landowners, but had been brought to a peak in monasteries. Children learning to read make an epochal transition which prefigures the distribution of salaried jobs as much as it recalls the painfully acquired techniques of a literate minority in an illiterate age. The influence of solitude, introspection, and the carrying-out of complex abstract tasks without the physical presence and encouragement of other people, is as important to the selection, later in life, of contemplative and self-conscious forms of art as it is to the choice of a learned profession rather than a manual labouring job. The poetic project of questioning everything is based on a physical situation, of being alone in a room, insulated from noise, insulated also from the neighbourhood. In this blankness one wonders how the world is made because it is not there to be found; it has receded and its outlines can only be recovered by effort.
The middle class house is organised around the need of the child for a quiet space in which to do homework; private study conditions domestic architecture just as much as the latter is the precondition for private study.
The melancholy and introversion of the romantic poet, a phase through which most modern poets pass, is only the overrating by the child or teenager of the imperatives-of renunciation, isolation, self-control, self-doubt- which family and school utter to the child as the preconditions of it becoming a lawyer, civil servant, or accountant.
Wider and more diverse experience puts all parts of experience onto a spectrum of comparisons, attracting adjectives and stylistic comment and connoisseurship. Experience is for them no longer immersing, but a way of producing fine discriminations, which they can relate to social and geographical causes, and, through feats of classification and memory, put into series, fixed by a technical vocabulary. The relation of grammar to instantiation, where the search is for the invariant, becomes a discriminant of high poetry, seeking to make rules visible and also to set them, a didactic project which also repeats the relationship of centre to periphery, and of the national middle class culture to the locally diverse lower-class cultures. A preference for classifying and archiving over immersion, passion, identification, idealisation, is related to the skills of shopping, and the discrimination of refined objects is the craft of the high-end merchant. As knowledge becomes generalised, raised above the merely local, we observe a closing gap between truths fixed by the search for the invariant, and the changeless eternal truths favoured by conservative poetry. There is legitimate changelessness and illegitimate. The book contains distance; the new spatial scale of the national network of information co-exists with the new micro-scale of fine distinctions, the slight movements of the eye muscles along the printed page, with its literally fine space, virtualising those who enter. There is a numerous set of positions along the axis of literacy, long enough to supply endless successive states as the skill of the reader, or the writer, increases, and reaching ever further into an unknown territory. Modern poetry is split according to how far it dares to go along that axis, between the two poles of solidarity and autonomy, and how much it clings to the archaic and short-range world of speech and intimacy.
Introspection arises from privacy; and the whole rich inner world of which psychological poetry is the vehicle relies on solitude and a multiplying inner discourse. The split between introspective and non-introspective realms follows class lines. The latter realm is peculiarly unsuited to the practice of private reading. A standard Left attitude towards poetry is that it is "selfish" and this represents a belief that reading is middle class: it not only represents the source of their superiority, through education, but also cuts them off from the broad flow of collective life, so that they use their economic power selfishly. Opening a book is, then, a re-enactment of the origin of class society and the birth of alienation.
Oasis released an album called Be Here Now, on which the song most played on the radio just after release had the lines:
Everybody right here, right now Do you know what I mean?

Basil Bernstein drew a contrast between implicit and elaborated codes of speech. He spoke of sympathetic circularity, of which do you know what I mean? is a typical example. None of the phrases in these lines has any meaning outside the situation we are momentarily in; "be here now" tells us nothing unless we already know, from our closeness to the record, where "here" and "now" are. Two different degrees of personal distance correlate to Bernstein's distinction between explicit code and implicit code speech; the latter was characterised by sympathetic circularity, which corresponds to our direct emotional identification. The relation of greater remoteness to the power scale of status and prestige is reflected in poetry by a tendency to admire poets who have eliminated emotion, while at the same time disliking what they do, and being made anxious by it. Conversely, poets who do write about their emotions, who provide objects to identify with, commitment, drama, are regarded as stupid at the same time as enjoyable. If I say that someone is not ironic, much of the audience will immediately hear me saying "he is stupid" "he is not chic".
Emphatic and repetitive rhythm is akin to sympathetic circularity. It has no informational content, but allows the listener to enter the music, abolishing psychological distance. It is demanding, collective, it either does away with detachment or arouses rage and resistance. The decline of repetitive rhythm in poetry may follow structurally from the move into silence and distance implied by print. Language does not only pass information, it also solicits and expresses solidarity, and much of our life consists of our shared emotional experiences as radiated out by other people. In isolation, we create intellectual objects to represent what is missing. Print typically omits the components of the utterance-rhythm, pitch variation, tone-which deal with solidarity and are not carriers of information about the world outside our bodies.
Impersonal distantiated diction simultaneously signals that middle-class speech rules are in force and suppresses the detailed signs of class presence. As direct references to the speaker are deleted, the apparent situation becomes distantiated and therefore middle-class and formal by default. There is another register of middle-class speech, domestic, intimate, and unreflexive. The impersonal style is suited to upwardly mobile speakers who have become "middle class" through education but are uneasy about, or consciously hostile to, those who acquired its speech patterns in childhood.
The literary avant garde aligns, in most discriminant tests, with the academic, the self-conscious, the middle class, the professional; the claim to be continuing the original, anarchic, avant garde cannot be taken seriously. In fact, the blueprint for "experimental" poetry as it has developed since Eliot must be the newly arriving mores of the middle class, because the resemblances are too strong for this to be merely a coincidence. The purging of romanticism really cuts modern poetry off from a popular audience and from the history of art. It is certainly not a phase of historical reaction, but a product of the withdrawal from close communal living into insulated space.
The printed word is impoverished in respect to natural language, almost a form of sensory deprivation. Part of the solution was to standardise context, so that the fate of the literary text is be fitted into a rigorous and normalised set of conventions, disambiguated by a thousand older texts. The experts treat someone who doesn't understand modern poetry with annoyance, reasoning that, once they have read a hundred books of poetry, the conventions will be quite natural to them. This is an error, since what is conventional is not natural, and a crux; can the insiders legitimately contend that their poetry is defined by originality and freedom from the assumptions of society when it is also true that it is only comprehensible to someone who has mastered the appropriate conventions, using books as a communicative network, and that these do indeed provide a procedural map of the work? A passing acquaintance with poetry from eastern and Western Europe shows many of the same processes at work in all countries, and even that the division between high and low poetry follows similar lines in all of them. The assets so bitterly fought for really exist, and cannot be had cheaply, and are exempt from arbitrariness, although the wish to possess them is arbitrary and only formed by a minority.
So the terminal condition of print is to have zero local context, and a writer will be assessed as high or low to the extent that they have pursued this imperative. Individuals acquire middle class status to the extent that they have mastered literacy, and the endless nuances of skill in manipulating abstract symbolic arrays provide numerous nuances of status within formal organisations, and the objects of intense competition in middle-class social life. The preconditions of success in dealing with these symbolic arrays may include a faith in authority, since the rewards to be collected for mastering them are obviously dependent on the justice of political authority; and a capacity for virtualisation of appetites. Virtualisation is in fact an index of middle-class status, and the insistence on it in art is a fulfilment of imperatives which constitute the middle class within socialisation, education, and work skills.

There is a definition missing of the sector of poetry which appears in magazines such as fragmente and Angel Exhaust, masked by phrases such as "small press", useless since 99% of small press poetry is conventional but too bad to be acceptable to High Street magazines, or "radical", vague and also questionable since the values of the sector in question have been stable for 20 or even 30 years. We detect in the array of poetry magazines a spectrum, composed of serial positions separated perhaps by a single transform repeated many times, so that point 7 relates to points eight and six just as point three does to points four and two. The notion of over-fulfilment explains why a cultural spectrum with twenty positions may correspond to a class spectrum with only five positions, but which supplies its users with a rule for generating distance and distinctiveness which can be applied iteratively. If we accept the model in which poet A seems hopelessly obscure to reader 1, but is simple compared to poet B, who is simple compared to poet C, who is simple compared to poet D, we accept too its concomitant, the linkage of difficulty to educational level, and of this to fluency in the full laws of the printed medium. Levels of poetry correspond in general to the discourse of levels within the educational system, where the child who persists inside the system acquires a progressively richer grasp of the written code, greater virtualisation, less need for the explicit, greater portion of time spent alone in study, greater autonomy in what to say and what to study, greater skill at criticising knowledge, greater detachment from the pressures of immediate experience. This is a central place where values, and the rules which generate valuations of new objects, are distributed and taught to everyone; but, a place of tapering population, as specialisation, and the departure of pupils, primarily those from poorer homes, into the outside world, mean that the announcements are missed by the majority, and the authorised codes are only available to those whom they authorise. The non-reader of poetry may have less trouble in taking its meaning than in recognising what excels in these values as legitimately high, failing to be turned on by qualities which he does not envy. Over-fulfilment is the specifically poetic and also makes poetry dependent on social distinctions, which it mirrors; although setting itself in a position in sociolinguistic space which does not in fact exist, it uses society's means of generating relative distance and superiority in order to get there.
An analogy for the poetry in question might be the Latin poetry of the seventeenth century, a genre which maximises international acceptability, exhibitionist access to elite codes, tanning in the reflections of past glory, virtualisation of everyday speech values in favour of self-conscious art, while blanking local sociological bonds, and minimising sympathetic circularity. Using Latin exposes the poet to exact comparison with Europe's greatest poets, invoking an expertise of the reader in sensing exact discriminations which was far greater than that brought to bear on works in modern languages; this enabled Latinists to look down on works in the latter, and in fact we find Samuel Johnson regularly giving higher marks for poems written in Latin, for just this reason.
In the 17th C, Latin was still a serious contender, with a sophisticated international audience, in a losing war with literature which acknowledged its regional and historical origins at the level of its phonetic vestment. As we know, Latin and dialects lost, while national standard form languages won, with side-fights between them and minority languages which have been heated even in the 20th C. The contest between two legitimacies, one based on closeness and one on distance, is fought out over the poet's personality, since after all closeness is also represented by personalisation, the coherence and boundness of the separate lines of the poem being guaranteed by an individual to whom they are all close, and who provides their centre.

Consuming someone else's personality is an act of consumption, and the selection of a poet's personality to consume depends on the attractiveness of their experience, a circular term which tests could probably break down into separate qualities and relate to other forms of consumer choice. The attractiveness of personal qualities depends on the training of the reader, who seeks out what they feel the lack of. The evaluation of what is desirable or scarce is arbitrary, so that the aura of provenance around the poetry decides its value. How does a verbal gesture acquire a valuation? how are such valuations distributed, agreed on, manipulated in elaborate games, changed to bring a new era? what are the sanctions for a false valuation? Effective poetry makes desirable what it offers and offers what it makes desirable. No doubt the evolution of the consumption of poetry mirrors the evolution of other kinds of shopping behaviour. Speaking too is an act of consumption.
The poet mediates a certain pattern of experience, and that pattern is simultaneously his personality and his commodity. The artist in a leisure society is less concerned with status or moral standing, more with successful and expertise-rich shopping. We can speak of the book of poetry as a Collection of experiences, where the poet assumes the value of a broker of knowledge of where these experiences are to be found, a kind of restaurant critic. The poet is then a super consumer at the level of whole experiences, not literally or merely someone who shops, even for obscure and imported American poetry books.
The leisure of the cultivated repeats the act of cultivation, in a series of exercises which satisfy but are not "compelled". They are learning life skills by rational didactic play, in which the uncompelled character of the skills is simultaneously the demonstration of affluence and superfluity, and the guarantee of their value in proving the distinction of the cultivated person. By acquiring fine discriminations, one becomes finely discriminated from others. The element of learning involved in high art is at once an allusion to the greater portion of life spent in education among the privileged classes, and a way of tapping the faculty of play, tied to novelty and associated with learning, which requires repetition, experimentation, and leisure.

The act of secession and revolt is emotionally attractive for this sector, continuing the successive splits which produced a spectrum. The logical result is also to spectralise the audience; poetry has 2% of the book market, but we can observe successive splits reaching 2% of the poetry market, and then 2% of that market, and then probably 2% again of that submarket. Autonomy operates versus solidarity. The legitimacy both of the individual and of the legitimating bodies are at stake. Only the need to share resources holds back the small press world from many more walkouts and subdivisions. The logic of the slight gaps is played to its fullest extent in the differentiation of taste where this also forms the self-image of the reader; the scent which they wish to leave on the air. The over-valuation of slight gaps matches with upper middle class pattern preferences in consumption, especially of luxury goods where price takes over from warmth or nutrition as the criterion, and the fine differentiation of products allows the competitive exhibition of sensitivity, prolonged experience, and access to social contacts who reveal the secrets of the good life. The spectral effect obeys the laws of commodity capitalism because the exact nature of the consumer's preference is held to say something about who they are. Its important negative effect is to prohibit the committed reader from enjoying anything outside the narrowest spectrum of authenticated texts, since that would be to make an incorrect utterance of "who I am", a rule mirroring the fine competitive differentiation of the self, as object offered in exchange to other people, and as sense of locality, in developed capitalism.

There is a counter-thesis, put forward by Harry Hopkins in The New Look, his social history of the 40s and 50s, that affluence and leisure dominate the new social order, so that the element of choice of lifestyle is paramount, and the old predictabilities of class have dissolved. It's always been difficult to explain how people could reproduce relations in the workplace in the period of their lives before they go out to work; the cultural patterns of children and teenagers, which were moving to centre stage in the 1950s, may reproduce relationships at school and within the family, but hardly those of labour to capital. The rise of leisure gave much more opportunity for acquiring and signalling cultural assets.
There are, underlying the poem, a number of stylistic spectra, series of discriminants in which homologies with economic, class, temperamental, and other cognitive arrays make themselves felt; no-one is unaware of this. The artistic success of a poet may-it is a hypothesis-have something to do with rippling unpredictably across these spectra, unlocking the maximum tonal range, and with manipulating the giveaways of these semi-conscious analogies so as to upset the reader's model-making skills and achieve the effect of surprise. The problem with adopting upper-middle-class verbal manners and symbolic rewards may not be the symbolic fealty to the dominant class, but the lack of narrative tension in simply falling on these values like a pig on a sack of potatoes.

The reproduction of cultural forms

How could a class become transportable enough to appear in, or under, a poem? Society is not composed of objects, but of behaviour routines, with more or less numerous entrained steps, memorized but subject to re-ordering or repetition within those permissive stable forms, keyed to context which provides specific stimuli. The concept "sonnet" is an example of one of these behaviour sequences; "reading-a-sonnet" is, presumably, another.
If we can construct a general set of rules of the middle class, it is not because middle-class jobs resemble each other, but because the socialisation offered to a child can only be cast in general terms, and the advice offered to a seven-year-old, for example, cannot specifically aim that child at the law or at management. The act of analysing and breaking down into re-linkable behaviour sequences, or principles, belongs to mothers, secondarily to fathers: class attitudes enter the head of the artist in childhood, and not from working in a lawyer's office or debating theology. The site of transmission is then the home, populated by a mother, by young children, and perhaps by a servant or two; the defining site of middle-class wealth and success is professional life, which none of these individuals (before the advent of middle-class career women) really understood.
How do we get from childhood emulation of adults to adult discriminations of artistic taste? This is a long pilgrimage, too disturbed by errors of memory or of initial understanding to allow exact matches and transmissions. The objects we apprehend as adult editors, critics, or dilettanti did not exist when we were children. We may have misunderstood the true tenor of our mother's dicta. If practices I learnt and observed when I was four surface today, I do not understand them: they are coded in a language I do not understand, because I am no longer four. But at four I failed to understand the structures of the adult world which were the models I tried, following anthropoid custom, to internalise. The study of social imprints in art is a kind of philology, in which a dead language mutates, troublingly, into a live one, through corruption, forgetting, analogy, and affabulation.

Assets and Invalidation

Surveys of the dedicated poetry audience reveal an almost total concentration in the occupations of teacher, academic, librarian, or student. In order to explain the basis of contemporary poetry in "real" social relations, networks of power, and cognitive practices, we need to study the higher education industry, and the larger sector of society to which higher education gives access, and whose values may signal to the relevant committees how syllabuses and organisational structures should be designed.
Assets are distributed, in the academic-literary field, principally according to rank on lists maintained by the panels, or individuals, so empowered. The key documents are the CV, the grant application, the written exam paper, the business plan and budget, and the flier, or the brochure which advertises a course. The contest is based on formal rules, and subject to audit and inspection, but the scope of the arbitrary, of collusion, and of conflict, lies outside these. In order to get into the right university at the outset, to get a research grant, a reviewing job, a book contract, an academic job, one has to excel others; and the people at the bottom of the lists get nothing. The value of me is conditional on the high or low value of others. The corollary of autonomy displacing solidarity is that competition becomes the basis of conversation. The content of literary discourse is largely the revaluation of various assets, that is, the disparagement of those possessed by others, the vaunting of those possessed by oneself or one's allies; a daily internecine struggle formalised in the academic world, where debate, echoing the conversational genre of the argument and the juristic one of litigation, commands the systematic destruction of the other side's contentions. The invalidation of others can cause one to rise from 137th in the ratings to 89th; it is hierarchical thinking in action. The discourses of feminism, of class struggle, and of decolonisation, with their rich iconography of declared criminality, lend themselves very well to this strategy of exclusion. Weber speaks of rationality and competition as basic to bureaucracy; where competition is held to increase rationality and reasoning is a kind of competitive game. The spectrum of fine distinctions realises itself in the acute and niggling ranking of people within a group, the central punitive acts of validation and invalidation decentralised to the level of the individual as if distributing wealth.
One of the dramatic features of the past ten years has been the rise of the corporation. This has had drastic effects on the Stock Exchange, where the private client has been marginalised, even in structural changes, in favour of the "major players" controlling huge masses of capital; on the art market, where the loudest voices are now corporate investors who will store their appreciating investment assets in bank vaults; and in the law profession, where partnerships are getting to look increasingly like corporations, and are leaving private clients behind to chase corporate clients (the firm I work for acquired a whole department from a larger firm which chose to get rid of its private clients department). The image of the wealthy man taking decisions for himself is tilting and declining, making way for the dominance of the hired servant with power. The ways in which this power is defined, specified, mediated, distributed, stripped away, and gauged, are mirrored in poetry, as reflexivity, the abdication of plenipotentiary and arbitrary rights of the author within the poem. Reflexivity inheres inside complex bureaucracies, where arbitrary power has been devolved onto office-holders whose functions are demarcated by rule-bound Rationality.

Bob Perelman, visiting London, asked me to do a paper for a seminar (in 1998?) on the society of the poem, so I wrote this. I expected the other contributors to write something about society and the poem, but they all preferred precious acts of self-devotion and self-promotion. This was the seminar where one of the goatee’d poets described himself as curating his own work all the time, and regarding every action as “curating” from the moment an idea flitted into his head. I think his parents kept an antique shop – he seemed to be keeping a little shop selling him. The idea that sociology applied to them induced mob hysteria among the avant-garde poets. This is the event where Khaled Hakim described the audience as stalking me at the end like the villagers hunting down Dr Frankenstein. This paper was the kernel of the sociology project, with Bourdieu providing the model.

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