Now that the conference is over, I'm thinking about several things: my talk, my role as an organizer, my thoughts about the particular conference papers (and the high standard of work), the group dynamics and the overwhelming sense of myself as it ended. A week has passed. I've been able to feel less fragmented by my experience, able to see certain ways we succeeded as a group and the inherent failures of an academic conference (esp. if one is seeking a self-study of community or affective connectivity). Simultaneously, I feel less pressure to form an overall narrative of the conference and instead to allow myself to puncture through a more generalized impression, or the illusion of our being a good group, producing good work. I have a growing sense that we may have failed to activate our own aggression (with its destructive/creative potentiality) or at least to acknowledge the ways it was there; we may have failed to do what Camille Roy suggested we do, to look at ourselves as a group, the here-and-now of our group moment/formation. I think we may have failed to be self-critical enough, being able to let go of the "looking outside ourselves" at problems (example: that we were revisiting the intense critique and debate surrounding Mike Magee—why?).
I also surrendered to the impossibility of giving enough attention to everyone's papers, the ideas, and also to one another. To what extent can a group be a good working group and also process the affects, anxieties of being in a group? I hypothesized that Chris, Stephanie, and I may have followed a recognizable conference model, despite discussing alternative frameworks, because it may have been easier to put ourselves in the roles we are accustomed to. Maybe it's just easier to produce a certain kind of work, a certain kind of discourse, we're mostly all familiar with? However, at the end of the day I felt disappointed, agitated, disconnected, anxious, alone, despite those friendly faces and engaging ideas that surrounded me. It's also been on my mind that someone had gotten spontaneously sick during the last panel, and many felt saturated, overwhelmed, too full to talk, too tired, myself included. The after party, thus, has a psychic quality of the post-Thanksgiving meal, some missing (napping it off), some feeling excluded, some loosening up their pants, some wanting to get rid of bloatedness and uncomfortable feelings, some wanting to give ourselves a pat on the back for making such a great meal, and some playing with a pickaxe found in David Buuck's backyard. I found I wanted to retreat to the waters!
I was immediately grateful for Laura's post on Sunday, for someone able to make some sense of it all, to provide a barometer for if things had gone well. Similarly, in checking in with those on the panel I worked closest to, I nested in the idea that no one was mad at me (yes, a very simplistic ideal, sadly) and that something useful has happened. But when Lyn Hejinian sent a supportive note, about self-reflexivity, our ability to be self-critical—I wondered if that were true. I had so many impressions, questions, curiosities about what had transpired. What kind of group were we? How did we negotiate our own needs with those of the group? There was so much left unsaid.
And there was the predictable, fraught, provocative quality of envy in the group, the admiration and the more aggressive responses to certain papers in particular. I'll admit, I was proud that even if we doubted our own intelligence, we could look around and marvel at how smart our friends are. And, yet, I missed so many voices, so many ideas, hidden and not articulated, and sometimes shared in private and sometimes not.
I also heard from a lot of people, some desire that my talk might have taken a different direction; there was desire for a more overt, interpretive stance of "the group." And so I've been thinking about what "the group" is, who constitutes it. Was I being asked to interpret or theorize about the kind of group "we" are? And, yet, I found myself needing to be very concrete—since it was an SPT conference, is the group, this potential self-study, limited by SPT group membership, i.e., "the official group" (in a psychological systems analysis, the group would be clearly defined as an organization with roles, dynamics, membership, and leaders. This kind of analysis seems valuable in and of itself, esp. in times of recent SPT leadership change, the question of community involvement, and ambivalent feelings about SPT as an organization—"what kind of organization is it?"). Or was I being asked to postulate on the notion of "community," assuming "the community" could be analyzed as some amorphous external group with numerous internal subgroupings, somewhat loosely defined by aesthetic and market driven adjectives, such as "the experimental poetry" community?
And so my talk left people with desire for something else; it may have failed to do what it could have done or what might have been unconsciously expected of me: I may have left too much open, failed to "do the work," introduced a lot of ideas and failed to draw more connections or conclusions. So I've been thinking about desire, lack, and the invitation for an interpretation: if I would have interpreted our group, would I have engendered a defensive response (the resistance to knowing, understanding, of being known. And my being positioned suddenly as a critical other, arrogant, perversely pleased with some newly acquired skill). And I wonder how I would have interpreted a group which hasn't yet formed. Or specifically the conference group, one which hadn't yet happened.
Those questions: Who are we? Are we a community? What does that mean? How do we position ourselves in context to another group, the Other? were largely left unanswered, and perhaps seem too loose, unless specific contexts and group ideals are defined. Above I comment on a sense of the group ideal as being a good group; I think I mean the way we take pride in our sense of cooperation, inclusion and collaboration. We prophesize a logic that is anti-competitive because we have no real currency to compete over, and yet there are demonstrations of mastery over discourse, aesthetic and political, there are a few decent jobs in the area some special people get, and there is the management of anxieties caused by our various social hierarchies. I won't go into it here, but this might be a good place to think about forms of healthy opposition.
I'm particularly thinking about Tyrone and Bhanu's presentations (the two outsiders to this poetry community) and how untouchable their presentations seemed if gauging by the response. I have been dreaming about their various content/images throughout the week, the experience as Bhanu noted of putting the shit back in the mother's body, experiences which were mainly left unprocessed. I thought of Bion's notion of "beta elements," and how these talks had the impression of raw sense-data and of "inchoate elements." (Bion first uses the term beta-elements in Learning from Experience: "If alpha-function is disturbed and therefore inoperative the sense impressions of which the patient is aware and the emotions which he is experiencing remain unchanged. I shall call them beta-elements. In contrast with the alpha-elements the beta-elements are not felt to be phenomena, but things in themselves"). As a group we problematized the panel, turning to Chris to explain the frame, his distinctions about race and ethnicity; there was a sense of intellectualization, of wanting someone to know. Many felt the responders were not talking to one another. Some explained to me that it was because we were tired. My experience was altered: in/by Bhanu's sense of a schizophrenic narrative, a process is, an integration of different coordinate strands, the relationship between illness, ethnicity, digestion, the body, BDSM behaviors, locality. In Tyrone's work, we again return to the body in a very different way (one I'd love to hear people's thoughts about), in slavery, in the sensuality of part objects, the tongue, as speaking tool, as likened to an erotic. They both provide us with a calculus, something to grapple with, the other's voice, streaming in, experiential/experimental, attempting to deconstruct what it posits, a point of anxiety.
So much anxiety gets generated in showing up and speaking or not speaking, of wanting to be seen but not humiliated. Robin described the feeling of being at a hearing; I think in part a response to our long wooden table, the microphone, a crowd looking on. This association has stuck with me: we might all be implicated. Our own affinity and otherness. When people mentioned later, at the party, the next conference can be called 'shame and poop' or the other exposing affects, the creative destructive potentials that were discussed as historically generative examples and thoughtfully contested are brought to bear. Those other social spaces, relations which we might learn to critique: the psychic, the social apocalypse, and utopic ideals resonant in Jasper's paper around capitalism and our own demise. Again, we face the perverse, the hysterical modes our social defenses, and those suddenly old, familiar anxieties which permeated the atmosphere, made us conscious of our participation, shy to speak up, to be uncontained. But what might be the negotiation for us to have more connection, to raise more issues with one another, and to try to speak the unspeakable? This is a conference, a work group, yet on aggression. So how can be harness our aggression and simultaneously decenter ourselves so that we might open up those caverns and crevasses which remain underground?