Al responds to the ballet analogy

To: (Alberto Fernandez)
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 1999 00:30:42 -0500 (EST)
Precedence: bulk

Alberto wrote:

| Please allow me to go off on a brief tangent.  One of the basics of
| ballet esthetics is the importance of giving the *impression* that
| is totally spontaneous, by relying on rock-solid technique to maintain
| control.  It's extremely difficult to dance ballet, even for top dancers
| their athletic, conditioned prime.  But it has to seem effortless and
| spontaneous.

I like the spirit of the analogy but don't agree with its sense, I'm
afraid. Ballet is meant to seem effortless, yes.  But I don't think it
ever really seems or feels spontaneous!--certainly, to me, not in the
sense of the Ginsbergian expressive howl. The context of the ballet
performance cries out for a sense of control, decorum, form, tradition,
planned perfection, etc. Ginsberg's aesthetic is raw, uncooked, rough,
out of control.

| But poetry is not usually performance art.  Poems (including Ginsberg's)
| were conceived, produced, and delivered to an audience.  I don't think
| were performance art.  The kind of spontaneity we are talking about is
| the same as in performance art.  Here, spontaneity means something
| like...the first surfaced, virginally-intact vision, uncensored,
| quick-don't-think, non-selected.

This, I think, is dead-on right. The truly spontaneous poem would be
performed and never quite repeated just that way. Yet Ginsberg wrote
"Howl" and then performed it dozens of times in the months after he wrote
it--each time simulating, with his voice and his attitude, the sense of an
improvisation. Audiences were so taken by Ginsberg's spontaneous-seeming
performance while knowing that of course the poem was already etched in
stone, as it were. They were seeing a performance that tried to imitate
the original first creation of the poem. The sense of immediacy, the
excitment of seeming to see the work of art being created spontaneously in
performance, was of course all constructed.

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