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The Process of Avant-Garde Practice (end)

The Practice of Everyday, Everybody, Everything

At one point Lefebvre declares, “the true critique of everyday life will have as its prime objective the separation between the human (real and possible) and bourgeois decadence, and will imply a rehabilitation of everyday life” (Lefebvre, Critique 127). The right of each individual to a rehabilitated everyday life, that is one divested of bourgeois categorisation, returns us back to the predicament of David Antin’s mother. Denied access to the everyday, her world becomes increasingly confusing and hostile to her, her own world hostile to her, in a manner Lefebvre calls alienation.

Undoubtedly, he does not see the rehabilitation of the everyday coming from the avant-garde, quite the opposite in fact, but his comment does raise a radical issue in relation to the perceived gap between art and life which is, that removal of this gap as much requires a radicalisation of the everyday as it does the processes of artistic creation. If this is to be achieved one must avoid totalising slogans such as figure to a degree in Lefebvre’s now somewhat dated piece. Instead, one ought to proceed in accordance with the faculty of Jewish judgement as Lyotard phrases it: “‘Be just’; case by case, every time it will be necessary to decide, to commit oneself, to judge, and then meditate if that was just” (Lyotard, Just Gaming 53).

To live through the everyday is exactly this process, an endless series of judgements, often without criteria, all therefore similarly irreducible, similar to each other only by virtue of their radical heterogeneity. To lose a sense of this, which means effectively to lose or be denied one’s faculty of judgement, is to lose your life, and is not only the predicament of Antin’s mother but of an art that is not able to judge. To rehabilitate the everyday aspect of art one must then return to the artist the faculty of judging from phrase to poetic phrase, perhaps without criteria. The artist must judge beyond the realm of rationality.

Such a reconfiguring of the relationship between poetic creation and the everyday realm of judgement, case by case, is the process that links the avant-garde with the New York School aesthetic. In other words, the New York School is avant-garde in the manner in which it rehabilitates the everyday through its poetic process, by addressing the event of the judgement of everyday, within their own day to day existence as poets. It is not an attempt to “remove” this distance as Burger would, to retain it for the good of the negative dialectic as Adorno prefers, or to enforce a selective distance between certain art and a certain sense of an ideal everyday as Lefebvre demands. Rather, it is an attempt to use poetry to mediate, case by case, between two overtly metaphysical categories.

In Kenneth Koch’s insistence on the surface, Schuyler’s use of objectivism, O'Hara’s pursuit of Personism, and Ashbery’s search for a process of poetic cognition that, like music, just goes on, we have four means by which such a mediation might occur. The removal of depth from poetry forces the poem to have the same status as the everyday, is effectively something you must get up and do again everyday, as it has no lasting value otherwise. Schuyler’s construction of his subjectivity around the objects that come into his sphere day by day, produces a poetry that literally judges every thing, everyday, as a new case of itself.

Personism attempts to make the poem part of the everyday systems of intersubjective communication, such as the telephone, while also making it a permanent ongoing record of his friends and their day to day existence. And Ashbery’s work in its expansiveness and self-conscious processual aesthetic, is the most sustained analysis of the possible aporia inherent in all of this: if everything is so different does not that mean it is all the same, and if so how or why do we keep on judging? In the following chapters I will take the New York School case by case to see how they attempt to rehabilitate the everyday by returning it back into an ongoing practice of poetic judgement, without falling into the classic blind-alley of the valorisation of the now and the moment for its own sake, seeing it rather as a moment within which judgement must always be taking place.


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