Annantalo Arts Centre, Annankatu 30, Helsinki, Finland
1:30 p.m. Sunday Sessions: “The Poetics of the Monstrous in Theory and Practice”
(chair Teemu Manninen)
“Frankenstein’s Techno-Dada: The Hilarious Monstrosities of Flarfism”
In the aftermath of 9/11 even the New York poets waxed lyrical and narrative, two of the most forbidden concepts of the 20th century avant-garde. Most poets, but not all, and not just in the USA but also Latin America and Europe, too. Enter Flarfism, a technophile composition method spread by the Flarflist Collective that is the “first recognizable [literary] movement of the 21st century,” whose practitioners challenged acceptable notions of The Author in ways that Dr. Frankenstein challenged acceptable notions of The Creator. “That body … has never lived. I made it with my own hands from the bodies I took from … anywhere” (James Whale, 1931) is Dr. Frankenstein describing the Flarf Method: “…entering outrageous and/or inappropriate word combinations into the Google search engine and making poems out of the results, then emailing them around to each other. Lines from the emailed poems could then be reworked in equally outrageous and/or inappropriate ways and sent around again for further recombining” (Sharon Mesmer). Like Dr. Frankenstein, these poets were “doing what one is ‘not supposed to do’ [and their] poems … were … hilarious monstrosities” (Gary Sullivan). To paraphrase Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith on language appropriation, why should Dr. Frankenstein conceive new bodies when there are so many bodies already lying around to be reanimated? Dr. Frankenstein could be talking here about dead language in the graveyards of cyberspace: “[It’s] just resting. Waiting for new life to come.” Both Flarf poets and Dr. Frankenstein use “all the electrical secrets of heaven” to create; Flarfism’s so-called “Google-sculpting” is Dr. Frankenstein’s “chemical galvanism” and “electro-biology.” How does the mob respond? Flarfism “must be found. Light your torches and go,” declared the Burgomaster (of Literature). “You have created a monster and it will destroy you,” warned Dr. Waldman. Like Dr. Frankenstein “know[ing] what it feels like to be God,” hence killing God, Flarf’s recombinant poetry also killed The Creator/Author by murdering the Myth of Creativity/Authorship. “There [it] is. The murderer.” Poetry made from the discarded language of society shows us of what we are really made. “Shoot it. It’s a monster.” This mob, yearning for the pastoral, is the voice of Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, the men with torches who burn the Monster Flarf in the old mill. But if they read Flarf through the eyes of Little Maria, would they not see that Farf, too, is daisies tossed into a pond? If they listened to its music, would they not hear, too, that Flarf is the Blind Man’s violin? “When the voice of the Internet spoke to me,” wrote Gary Sullivan, “it was vulgar (naturally), surprisingly ‘poetic,’ and in almost every poem it told a kind of story.” Though Flarfism pulls the lever of self-destruction (James Whale, 1935), the spirit of the artist survives rejuvenated: “Flarf Is Dead; Long Live Post-Flarf” (Sharon Mesmer).
1. Nicholas Karavatos, M.F.A.
Department of English, American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates