Thursday, 28 July 2016

Letter to/from a young poet (4/4)

NB: Ryan's last email was sent in July 2013, but never arrived! I only read it this week, when I got in touch to finalise the series for G&P. (I guess I win that game of who can reply slowest.)


Dear George,

My sincerest apologies for taking so inappropriately long to respond. Nominally, it's due to the end-of-school-year snowballing followed by graduation obligations followed by the veritable road-show my mother has been taking me on to see every single one of my relatives before I go to work in Korea for a few years.

From a more honest perspective though, it's about not being able to respond to your last question with something I feel is of a quality worth your time. I don't know if it has more to do with my natural inclination to start lots of pieces and never really know how to finish them, or my tendency to overly indulge in the "you deserve a break" mentality after completing something as big as graduating from undergrad (and being still up in the air about going to grad school later on, possibly the end of my formal academic career).

However, I am aware of these personal defects and am attempting to correct them as I hope is manifested (for myself, at least) by this reply in addition to the attached works (which, by the way, don't feel overly obligated to say too much about; I cringe every time I read the ending, but am unsure how to wrap it up).

I will say, though, I feel the sporadic nature of the time I've spent writing since our last correspondence has stilted my literary agility to some degree, and at times I've sat down and felt like I have to learn how to write all over again (although, I suppose if I was a source worth quoting, I'd make some quip about how every new project should make you learn how to write all over again), and to that end I've been trying my hand at a bit more poetry (again, included, mostly for my own good as well).  Anyway, here's to the literary equivalent of a new pair of sneakers and 5k every morning.  

Back to our intellectual property discussion: The firearms printing is wild. As an American, and after the very idea of quality background checks was shot down in Congress (pun possibly intended), I can confidently say you'd be surprised at what the pro-gun community can squeeze into their arsenal (both rhetorically, politically, and literally). Fun fact: the .50 caliber rifle, which is used to immobilize helicopters and lightly armored military vehicles on the battlefield, is legal in forty-nine states. It's the perfect gift for that special someone.

Back to the question of intellectual property, though. What are your thoughts? I've flipped through Common as Air, and I'm relatively torn. Well, not so much torn as feeling both sides are missing the obvious balance needed. The arguments against property rights in the sciences are made very convincingly by Hyde, and there are numerous articles demonstrating the importance of borrowing in the arts from Hip Hop and the Mash-up community to Eliot's literary collages and even back to the theologians of the Renaissance copy-and-pasting from antiquity.

The economics side, of course speaks differently, and says without proper monetary incentives given by the sole proprietorship of an idea, a lot of great minds won't have the time or resources to contribute to those advances, given the opportunity costs. Companies won't fund R&D as heavily if they can't turn that idea for a profit (monopoly profit vs. competitive pricing), and since R&D has a "second-mover advantage" (why make a new device when you can wait for someone else to make one and just do it better) production of these ideas would decrease.

Of course, as an optimist, I have my qualms with the latter view as well; my dynamic human spirit which refuses to submit says that people will be driven to invent and solve despite monetary rewards, but it's hard to say a lot of efficiencies won't be lost in that striving. If I was phoned by the President tomorrow and asked for a solution, I would say the most conservative fix would be to cement rights to the original creators. No bequeathing it to relatives forever, nor to the immortal and eternal corporations, and no allowing people to buy and horde them. Keeps the incentives for production high while minimizing the stifling that occurs without open access. Of course, that plan also probably has a number of pitfalls I'm overlooking.
I also have to thank you so much for your help on the Pearlymussel assignment. There were one or two questions I had overlooked, and looking them up definitely helped during my (light, relatively painless) defense of the report. I would send you a copy, but, uhm, well, between now and my last email, the flash drive it was on became the victim of vehicular dataslaughter and is now embedded in the pavement of Interstate 77 (or wherever the souls of word documents go when they die, if you're of the Phillip K. persuasion).

In addition, that Moore interview is definitely a thrill to read. While yes, a bit wordy, it's some of the best descriptions I've heard of this (crucial) field of study. I'll probably recommend it to those looking for a better explanation of and motivation for the field than my own explanation could have.

I feel the need to clarify my attitude towards the academic study of literature, and apologize for how flippant it came off in my previous email. I was more-so trying to state my own, twenty-something, English minor, musings to be relatively frivolous in relation to the grand scheme of things, particularly the opinion of classifying literature by its nature, content, and style first, and its historical period second as opposed to having these broad and varied understandings of things like "modernism" and "realism."

But again, there's little I can say, or any academic really could do (hence the Salon parody) to change it at this point (assuming, of course, it needs changing, which is admittedly not an entirely justified assumption). And I do suppose in today's society, with its stress on tangible profits and objectively efficient ways of doing things makes it almost too easy to poke fun at the apparent fruitlessness of those sorts of discussions.  But I would agree, it bears a different kind of fruit. A fruit necessary in a writer's complete and nutritious breakfast.

At heart I (would like to think I) am an optimist in cynic's clothing, and I agree far too much that we humans are at the point in development where optimism is the backbone with which positive change can go from limping to sprinting. A brief and last clarification though: writing as a Utopian endeavor, do you mean say it achieves this by deconstructing the rules and formalities we take for granted and shows us how a better society may be constructed from this new form, or that writing portrays reality in such a way as to hone in on the underlying problems which, for whatever reason, we don't see in our day to day lives? Essentially: should writing show us how to make a utopian civilization, or just why we do not live in one?

Again, no rush in replying. Being raised Catholic, my own guilt for not replying sooner is somewhere around thirty to thirty-five Hail Mary's, and if responding to this adds even a bit of stress to your day it would probably reach the appropriate levels for self-flogging. I also heard the summer school went another year. I hope it was as successful! Any more quotables from Peter? (And of course I realize that this email is basically another portfolio on top of the ones you have to grade.) Have you finished your doctoral work? Am I asking too many questions?

Graciously and Apologetically Yours,

Ryan Celley              



Dear Ryan,

Well, it's taken forever to shape this for the blog. And we didn't even get around to finishing up that mini-conversation about Accelerationism we had. (Short answer: they're full of crap.) And then you spring this last email on me! I honestly don't know what happened. I think I was drunk most of July 2013, but that didn't stop me replying earlier that year.

Between then and now, some things have changed in the landscape. We've had an escalation of the plagiarism problem in poetry, coupled with a strange wave of cover versions of songs produced exclusively for the coffee house chain market. And the Black Lives Matter stage in the Civil Rights Movement.

The latest shooting (to go viral) of Charles Kinsey, I feel, calls for the founding of a political lobbying group, the National ToyTruck Association (NTA). Through a combination of political bribes, lobbying, installing candidates in Congress and some good old back-room handshaking I'm fairly sure they could ensure that all citizens worldwide (why stop with 'Murika?) could be granted the right to bear a toy truck at all times.

But seriously, the intellectual property problem. For the past few years I've been immersed in materialism and eco-related stuff and I've come at an anti-capitalist stance from that perspective. Scientists need capitalism; therefore human survival needs capitalism; but capitalism is killing humans and pretty much all life. Go figure.

I don't think I need to explain the contradictions in capitalism to an economics major. Probably you've heard of, read, David Harvey, Thomas Piketty, David Graeber and that other bloke, Karl what's his name. Anyway, I haven't read all their work, no, but I'm aware of the arguments and Naomi Klein has synthesised some of the ideas well enough to make the case for how not just neoliberalism, but capitalism as a whole is a crisis-generating psychopathology.

If you deregulate big pharma, will it have a knock on effect in driving prices down? Or just allow venture capitalist scum to milk as much profit as possible out of it? Or both? And how many lives will be lost in the interim, as the market takes time to self-regulate? I don't think free intellectual property can be addressed by blanket positions, while capitalism is the one-ring-to-rule-modernity.

Academics don't need copyright; academics are salaried and support well enough (I'm going in relative terms by cost of living and national wealth scales - the adjunct market/casualisation, which is essentially a black market in academia, is one of capitalism's essential mechanisms). Academic publishers are also closed-market and should be supported through academia.

The moment you get overlap, however, such as with creative writing departments, academies pressurise literary publishers to give their work away for free. That doesn't work under capitalism. What you have are a series of contradictory markets, attempting to be closed systems and failing. Ultimately, however, both academic and literary industries are operating in a self-hating, self-destructive fashion.

The problem isn't intellectual property, then, from my perspective. The problem is capitalism's regulation of intellectual property. The challenge isn't, 'How do we make intellectual property work under capitalism?' It's, How can we imagine intellectual property without capitalism?'

I want to add that I don't see literary fiction as situated in binary opposition to 'Literature'. Drawing on something M John Harrison once said in conversation, I see 'Literature' as defining the (highly subjective) quality of a text. Any genre of writing can thereby be measured in terms of its quality in relation to other texts. You can have SF 'Literature' and lyrical Realism Literature, and literary fiction Literature. Good writing can exist in any genre; hence no need to chuck out Orwell/Huxley/Atwood/Lessing, etc. 'Literature' with its capital 'L' is a value judgement about what is worth reading.

That 'highly subjective' is key to this discussion. It's a political battle, right for the times. Yes, we need Junot Diaz to provide alternatives. We need feminist presses to address the balance. And then we need (poets) to imagine a way forward that doesn't just create divisions. As Cecilia Vicuña sort of put it, we need a poetics of melting, a poetics that dissolves boundaries. It's a structural problem.

To answer, then, your questions about writing and utopia, well, it's both, and more. Writing delights (escapism), returns us to the world, criticises, satirises, celebrates, curses. The horror and the euphoria. Euphorroria. I don't like binaries, though it takes time to adjust your thinking and the whole idea of good/bad writing (Literature) potentially reinforces that binary of quality (at least under capitalist modernity, or patriarchy, which predates capitalism).

Anyway, this has taken so long, I've changed my stance several times in the past few years and I know this is just a snapshot of an ongoing process. Thinking. Pathways. Tao. In the meantime, I'm working on my wellbeing, which means writing. What I'm striving for most of all, is a routine, space, lifestyle in which I can also write. I don't want to work for money, edit other people's writing, read books, paint the fence or clean the dishes instead of writing. There's always the option to do things as well as writing. Saying doesn't mean doing and I'm off balance at the moment, but working on it.

Bleggers, meanwhile, moved to the Royal College of Art and then retired. He's had a few wacky radio plays out with the BBC (The Impossible Book is still on iPlayer, but you may need a proxy) and a book with Uniform, Kew.Rhone, based on the album. I've not seen him in ages. I should rectify that.

Well done on the Asymptote job, by the way. Totally deserved! Keep writing! Now, I'm off to read the Pierre Joris interview.

Very best,

Incidentally, I met Ryan on a summer camp thing, where I was teaching creative writing. I seem to remember he wrote a story about people working in a canning factory. I can't remember what they were canning, but that's not really the point. The point is that I can't find any trace of this canning factory story in the work he sent me. I might have imagined it. That happens.

Ryan Celley recently became Outreach Officer for Asymptote. He lives and works in S. Korea. He should write more. He's good at it.

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