This past weekend I participated in a symposium, "Writing the Future," at Los Angeles's MoCa: Museum of Contemporary Art, organized by writer and professor Christine Wertheim and sponsored by the MFA Writing Program and the MA in Aesthetics and Politics at the California Institute of the Arts.
I was on the first of two afternoon panels, with Juliana Spahr, a poet, critic and activist who's published many works and a professor at Mills College, and Mark McGurl, a UCLA-based scholar who's most recent acclaim has attended his study The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Harvard, 2009), perhaps the most authoritative study of American MFA programs you can find. The second panel comprised political scientist and media scholar Jodi Dean, and Christine Wertheim herself, spelling for Heriberto Yépez, who could not secure a visa to travel north from Tijuana. Matias Viegener moderated both sets of discussions.
Juliana spoke compellingly from a paper she'd written about her ongoing struggles with issue and experience of privatization, which was increasingly spreading like (a) Cthulhu (the indescribed-yet-described creature from horror pioneer H. P. Lovecraft's work), a figured she'd drawn from an earlier version of Mark's talk; in the symposium draft, he linked the fiction of David Foster Wallace and Lovecraft, questions of scale, the use of genre fiction, and the development of community. My talk, an improvisation from a long paper I wrote (and am still reformulating, especially after hearing what they had to say), broached the relation between neoliberalism and experimental/innovative practice, across genres and forms, asking "W(h)ither the Avant-gardes?" In it I cited Damien Hirst, the Black Eyed Peas, and the "Rethinking Poetics" conference as examples of the willing or at least creeping coexistence between avant-garde practice(s) and the sort of market-oriented, privatizing ideologies and structures that Juliana also explored. These offered a prelude to Jodi Dean's superb talk about "communicative capitalism" (I have just withdrawn from the library her book Publicity's Secret How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy (Cornell, 2002), which presents an excellent walkthrough of this and related ideas) and how Net culture might be "bad" for writing. "The future is grim," she pronounced, visibly moved, at the end of her talk. The second panel concluded with Christine's exploration of the relationship between gender, language, culture, and colonialism, and included invocations of M. Nourbese Philip (yay!) and James Joyce.
Below are some images from the event and from the rest of my short trip to Los Angeles. As I mentioned to C, we shall have to return there as soon as we can; I hadn't been in many years.
Christine Wertheim delivering her talk, with Matias Viegener and Jodi Dean at right
Mark McGurl, delivering his talk
Juliana Spahr, at right, before her talk
The Symposium audience
The Disney Concert Hall, just down the street from MoCa
LA sky, through one of the brise-soleils at MoCa
A view from my hotel room (at the Kyoto Grand)
E. 2nd Street and Central Avenue (which I mentioned in a poem many years ago, though I hadn't been on it in at least 40 years)
One of the beautiful temples in Little Tokyo, near where I was staying
Downtown LA at dawn