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Composite Ideologies: Europe, America, Poetry, and the Internet  

 

 

by 

 

 

Adam Fieled

 

 

That there is a certain amount of distrust between Europe and America where the higher arts are concerned is a commonplace. The preponderance of cultural clichés institutes a dynamic that has in it a formulaic essence. On one hand, we have the stereotypical American: present-minded, intellectually shallow, lacking the proper self-consciousness to be a higher artist, invested in the naïve belief in the desirability of unbounded material gain. The American artist, to the European mind, may often seem like a caricature. On the other hand, a self-reflective American artist may seem, to him or herself, action oriented, daring, forceful (or, if gendered lexicons are employed, phallic), effectual. As the chiasmus spins itself out along formulaic lines, the European art-consciousness is thoughtful, mindful of a rich history, depth-consonant, scrupulous away from materiality and quantification, and self-conscious, in a positive sense, about motives and psychologies. That is, even if, to round the chiasmus off, the stereotypical American finds the stereotypical European impotent, “old,” and ineffectual.

 

The issue needs to be raised, as the Internet has created a kind of lubricant between the two continents, so that essences are being mixed. The manner in which the Internet is structured has in it elements that are fast, fluid, and without boundaries—the sense that geography (for the time being) is a problem solved, that a click can take us from Europe to America and back again, and that the possibility of Intercontinental Literature has been engendered. What would constitute Intercontinental Literature? On the most superficial levels, one could play semantic games between continental stereotypes to find the keys (and in this playfulness may be the sustaining, qualm-dissolving essence of social lubricity)—daring depth, effectual self-consciousness, action-oriented scrupulosity. Intercontinental Literature is the point at which literary America and literary Europe begin, for want of a more ornate turn of phrase, to seduce each other. It is necessary to iterate, if there has been a consistent “winner” in this prolonged Cold War, where literature has been concerned, it has been Europe. There is no venerable canon of American literature (or theory) on the world stage, no “deep space” in the American literary psyche for a rich, permanently “worked” and sustained history. But the Internet brings something to the table, as the saying goes (and the table is set up like a feast, rather than an academic conference), that represents and re-posits America in a compelling light. There are elements involved in Internet literacy that partake of what I call the “ideal American.” It is not merely that Internet navigation is potentially fast, fluid, and without boundaries; it is that literature on the Net is forced by the open-ended structure of the Net itself to present itself as egalitarian, uncompromised by coterie thoughts, steeped in social impulses. Sociable American impulses need to be preponderant over material ones.

 

To clarify “net structure,” and the uncanny way it imposes an American ethos on anyone who attempts to pursue literature within its confines (which includes, at least to some extent, most current literati): in most contexts, to place something, some literary item, on the Net, is to position it in a kind of social space that is dynamic, and carries the potentiality for what might be called “mob” reactions. In other words, a substantial majority of literary websites are free and open to the public. The implication is that the potential safety of the literary “clan” or coterie is disrupted, in such a way that “slow growth” models of literary dissemination are no longer completely adequate to deal with both the compensations and the deprivations of “Net-work.” The “mob” mentality may or may not demonstrate a kind of omnipresence (i.e. plenty of websites, including literary ones, are left unmolested, untouched by the vital barbarity of mobs), but even the potentiality of a mob’s presence carries with it a tension and tautness that forces literary creators to position themselves as on a raised dais, positioned as having been leveled into public prominence with everyone else. I consider this kind of American leveling process ideal because it adds an extra layer of self-consciousness that might be necessary in 2011 and beyond. The imperatives to make literature are especially urgent at a time in which the generalized Western economy is past the point of merely faltering and into free-fall. The political landscape, too, is fraught with entropy in such a way to suggest that if Western societies want to assert anything but complete stasis, something high and valuable must be pushed forward as evidence. The “ideal American” is ideal not only because the ethos it represents linguistically is productive (for once) on an Intercontinental level, but because the Zeitgeist does not seem to offer many alternatives. In an intellectual climate abraded by post-modernism, this is not an age of ideals. Whatever might be ideal must be built from the ground up.

 

It is important to note that the ideal American does not deal directly (necessarily) with literature: it deals with the structure, ethos, and praxis of the Internet. There is even a legitimate grievance with calling this structure, ethos, and praxis American, because America did not alone create this structure to be American. It is something set in place as a technological quirk of a place and a time. It is also important to differentiate Americanization from post-modernization. Post-modern “leveling” indicates the positing of a system of literary values; these values constitute an imposition on the substance of literature. Conversely, the Americanization imposed on continental literature by the Internet is an imposition on the style and substance of literature’s dissemination, rather than its inherent substance. Literature and the dissemination of literature are political on different levels and for different reasons. Either is capable of making and reinforcing political statements. What the Internet may do to the substance of literature is not my concern here. But to create a context of “unlimited visibility,” and to embrace the secondarily engendered concern of potentially unlimited conflict, to want to be “mob-prone,” and instantaneously at that, is the desire-schema of literary creators who embrace the ideal American as a means of establishing political engagement. Again, this is American spirituality rather than American materialism. It is what has been buried under bad leadership and national corporate condescension. Consequently, large portions of the world population believe it to be buried.

 

Past this run of salvos, it remains to be seen how mixed essences may or may not be able to create a composite American/European ideology “around” literature on the Net. It is difficult to even work up a definition for something this amorphous, which does not even necessarily exist yet. It might even help to digress into a discussion of the ultimate supremacy of substance over modes of dissemination. Because if the composite ideology around Net structures involves dissemination against substance or essence, and if none of the egalitarianism of Net contexts does bleed into the literature itself, then the composite ideology, only enacted in dissemination, is one that has all the hallmarks of a minor, perhaps marginalized feature. However, contexts have the potentiality to alter substances, including literary ones, and they always have. A composite American/European ideology may be able to take certain modes of conservative and classicist thought and put something so dynamic, so “now” into them, that they take wing into a realm of refreshment. What remains inescapable is that, if the idea that Net modes of literary dissemination are a manifestation (however arbitrarily) of American ethos, and if this ethos is being imposed whenever European literati use the Internet, and it is one of the few American impositions that may not be seen as an unwarranted and immature intrusion. As such, it represents not only a new “ideal” but something workable, something that might bear fruit. It represents a new engagement on a new level, and a new kind of opportunity for America.

   

 

 

 

 copyright © Adam Fieled

 

 

 

Adam Fieled is a poet, critic, and musician currently based in Philadelphia. He has released three print books: Opera Bufa (Otoliths, 2007), When You Bit... (Otoliths, 2008), and Chimes (Blazevox, 2009), as well as numerous e-books, chaps, and e-chaps. His work has appeared in journals like Tears in the Fence, Great Works, Upstairs at Duroc, Cake Train, and in the &Now Anthology from Lake Forest College Press. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he also holds an MFA from New England College and an MA from Temple University, where he is finishing his PhD.