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Never Neverland and cultural labor

September 12, 2011

Wendy helps Peter out with reattaching his shadow.

Did you know that a synonym for ‘rare’ is ‘like gold dust’? That’s how  Michael Kelleher’s ‘Babes in Poetryland‘ read to me, except the metaphorical, finely ground stuff that hovers around unbelievably honest declamations, not the fictive Tinkerbellian pie-in-the-sky pixie stuff or even the I Can Distinguish Between Fictional and Non-Fictional Accounts of Labor and Value and Artistic Production Just Fine, Thank You variety. This is very fine, because the psychological strain of a barren economy, like the ‘mass’ attention span for poetry (and other forms, but especially) is worsening to near-asphyxiation levels. Markets, value judgment, and art entered into battle before Plato’s granddaddy’s diaper was pinned on, so to speak, but the failure to engage in a cultural worker-centered, multi-focal critique of production has built up dangerously high sieverts of atomic silence and disappointment. (This includes the political economy of digital newness/nowness, which Kelleher doesn’t address specifically but which still applies, oh does it ever.)

Kelleher’s post is a must-read, must-think for self-identifying cultural workers in the arts and the academy (or the bi-curious). Here are some choice quotes under each heading:

The Market. ‘But none of us, and by none, I mean none, gets paid for the poetry itself. It is a simple fact.’ And later: ‘David Foster Wallace once said that literary celebrity in America is comparable to that of a mid-market TV weatherman. Poetry celebrity, then, must be comparable to the key grip on the mid-market weatherman’s set.’

Status. Totem poles! Enchanted places! ‘… each with their attendant level of Poetryland status points.’

And my personal favorite, Alternative Lifestyles in Poetryland.

The Culture Worker model further threatens the image of the heroic author, in which the artist functions as a kind of celebrity or star giving off rays of light that illumine the lives of all they touch. Because of this great power of illumination, the artist should never be subject to thoughts about money, economics, administration or anything else tainted by brute necessity, lest it dull their light.

From where I sit in Puritania, MA, whereat inchoate forms of value-making (i.e. a Who’s Who of judgment versus production, and you can guess which one is more cherished and self-generating) take precedence over measly matters the social economy wrapped around art, this comes as no hair-raising shock. Yet Kelleher’s opening to a potentially important debate about actual value in artistic creation and judgment versus perceived value and how this all jives within and outside of institutional forms of value-judgment struck a chord. I wrote a post about what long irked me about a paradox between academic/non-academic labor (and foreignness of that inside/outside encounter), but Kelleher channeled the issue of over/availability and the value economy that lay buried somewhere beneath my thoughts without being adequately addressed.

(Creative Commons image via M&C.)

3 Comments leave one →
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