Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's Part 7 (Barrett Watten)

Bad History
Watten, Barrett
Bad History

Purchased online. I think I bought this thinking it might make it onto my orals list in graduate school. One of my three lists focused on the poetry of history. These were the book I put on it:


1. & 2. Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
3. Virgil – Aeneid
4. Simone Weill -- The Iliad, or the Poem of Force
5. Alice Notley – The Descent of Allette, Homer's Art and White Phosphorus
6. Herman Melville – Battle Pieces
7. Walt Whitman – Speciman Days and Drum Taps
8. Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems from 1860-64
10 & 11. Charles Olson – The Maximus Poems & Call Me Ishamael
12. T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets
13. Marianne Moore – Complete Poems, Essay on Lincoln
14. H.D. – Trilogy
15. William Carlos Williams – Patterson
16. & 17. Wallace Stevens – Transport to Summer, Auroras of Autumn
18,19. & 20. Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Rights of Passage, Masks, Islands

I don't recall why this book didn't make the list, as it fit right in with the concept of the list. It even fit Susan Howe's nickname for the list, which was "the poetry of war."

This morning, after I cracked open "Bad History," I found myself reading through it again. Part of it felt as if I were reading a newspaper I'd found in attic describing the major catastrophes of my college years: the Gulf War and the Los Angeles Riots. I also found myself taken in  by Wattens insistent abstraction.

There have been times when I have been turned off by this aspect of his work, but not here. I am not sure why that is. It feels like a very personal book, both at the level of narrative and at the level of political engagement. Beneath the abstraction there's actually a personal narrative here. At least, that's one way of reading it.

I found myself making lots of mental notes as I read it. It conjured memories and sent my mind moving in all different directions. It made me want to write. That's about the highest compliment I ever pay to a book. The only higher compliment I can give is when a book actually gets me to sit down and write. Which is what I am doing now.

Surprisingly, I don't think I have ever actually met Barrett Watten. I have been in the same room with him on several occasions. I have seen him give a couple of papers. He came to Buffalo three or four times during my years there, and I have read in Detroit a few times, but somehow we have never actually met.

from Bad History

It is a beautiful gray ironic day, with forecasted clouds in the depthless background to complement the bold relief of our vacant enterprise. These vertical lines simply partition the competing claims of our orchestrated interests, held in on all sides by work cycles of habit and stability. Then our private spheres burgeon out until even we are redeemed! Each sphere comes complete with a view, but that view will never get around this corner. Under the oversized roof of the world, trade in materials has fashioned a culture for all–

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