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The New Millennium

by Paul Hoover

from Chicago Review 43.4, Fall 1997; Fables of Representation: Essays (University of Michigan Press, 2004)

Fifty Statements on Literature and Culture (Agree or Disagree)

1. The word “consumer” has replaced the word “citizen” in most forms of discourse.

2. Traditional culture is the enemy of consumerism.

3. Media culture collaborates with consumerism to destroy traditional beliefs.

4. Postmodern theory was created to confuse and intimidate the average literate citizen.

5. Avant-gardes are a necessary aspect of late capitalism.

6. Poetry has the same connection to social class that it had under aristocratic social orders.

7. The erotic allure of narrative lies in the courtship of author and reader, usually involving the courtly deference of the former to the latter. The eroticism of non-narrative lies in the shared refusal of normal relations.

8. The mind can only conceive of uncertainty as a certainty--in other words, as an image. But images are of interest only when they communicate an uncertainty.

9. Poems are entirely factual.

10. The list, or series, is the major organizing principle of writing.

11. The out-of-sequence series is the organizing principle of most avant-garde writing.

12. The “new” in art is always imported from another culture.

13. Annihilation is the sincerest form of flattery.

14. There is more difference between one and zero than one and one million.

15. Poetry is a rumor told by the truth.

16. Even at their most fantastic, our thoughts are based on the world with which we are already familiar. All metaphor, therefore, is homely at base.

17. In photographs, the pose confronts the camera like a camera.

18. Photographs are by nature momentary (they are slices of time), dramatic (they are staged), and elegiac (they fade); in this, they resemble poetry.

19. Creativity is a sentimental concept.

20. The film script is the primary literary genre.

21. Choose one:

(1) The names of things have more power than the things themselves
(2) The actuality of things is more expressive than language
(3) Things like oranges have tremendous presence, but are invisible without their names.

22. Writers, like actors, require personae.

23. The “new” is always strangely familiar.

24. The politics of language appears first in the preposition.

25. Relativism and pluralism are forms of absolutism.

26. Irony is closer to the truth than direct statements of fact.

27. Simple things, like armies, can be understood by pointing.

28. Postmodern dispersion is a form of irony, using multiplicity to arrive at a "new realism." But it is a form of irony that lacks irony.

29. Language poetry is a sign sung by a seme.

30. Do writers feel pain, or are they too dishonest?

31. Fame is the truest form of transcendence.

32. Thought is sexless, but its subject matter is gendered.

33. Art is a form of social control.

34. Theory is fiction with only one character.

35. Erasure is its own reward.

36. To know the future of an art, examine the most ridiculed and marginalized form of its current practice.

37. A good sentence is always innocent.

38. Only actors have souls.

39. Transgression is a form of postmodern worship.

40. The past is still under construction.

41. All literature is ultimately narrative.

42. All narrative aspires to the chase scene.

43. Only poetry approaches the speed of truth.

44. The speed of reality is faster than the speed of attention.

45. Nature fills the gaps that authors leave.

46. Dignity requires a history of suffering.

47. Avant-garde poetry is nostalgic for tradition.

48. Modernism has yet to complete its mission.

49. Postmodernism is sentimental about the future.

50. Because there is no belief, there is no millennial fervor.


Paul Hoover, professor of Poetry at San Francisco State University, is the author of thirteen poetry collections, including desolation : souvenir (Omnidawn, 2012), In Idiom and Earth (En el idioma y en la tierra, 2012), translated by María Baranda (Mexico:  Conaculta, 2012), Sonnet 56 (Les Figues, 2009), Edge and Fold (Apogee Press, 2006), Poems in Spanish (Omnidawn, 2005), Winter (Mirror) (Flood Editions, 2002), Rehearsal in Black (Salt Publications, 2001), Totem and Shadow: New & Selected Poems (Talisman House, 1999), Viridian (University of Georgia Press, 1997), and The Novel:  A Poem (New Directions, 1991).  He has also published Fables of Representation: Essays (University of Michigan Press, 2004) and the novel Saigon, Illinois (Vintage Contemporaries, 1988), a chapter of which appeared in The New Yorker. Translations include Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (with Maxine Chernoff, Omnidawn, 2008) and, with Nguyen Do, Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008) and Beyond the Court Gate:  Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai (Counterpath Press, 2010).  He is editor of the anthology Postmodern American Poetry (W. W. Norton, 1994; 2nd Edition, 2013) and co-editor of the annual literary magazine New American Writing.  Frederick Bock Award for best poetry published in Poetry, 2010; PEN-USA Translation Award for Hölderlin volume, 2009; Jerome J. Shestack Prize for best poetry published in American Poetry Review, 2002; Carl Sandberg Award for poetry, 1987; General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers, 1984; NEA Fellowship in Poetry, 1980. Previously employed at Columbia College Chicago, where he founded a number of programs and Columbia Poetry Review, he has taught at SFSU since 2003.

Read Paul Hoover's poetry in Fourteen Hills 20.2
Other Essays

Wet and Dry

by Daniel Langton

For the Girl from Manitoba

by Camille Dungy

Hacking and Packing

by Carissa Halston


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