•Breaking the Rules @ British Library•

A few days ago, I met with Prof. Esther Leslie and wrote down some questions/issues that we agreed were essential to cover in our upcoming British Library panel debate on the Avant-Garde manifesto. But somehow, between then and yesterday afternoon, I managed to misplace these notes. So appropriate, I think, for a discussion of the Avant-Gardes: No pre-planned plan, no a priori dogmatisms allowed. We would just have to make it up as we went along.

To add to my anxiety and my un-preparedness, I knew I would have to leave immediately after the event to teach my class ‘The Aphoristic’ at Birkbeck.

About fifteen minutes before we hit the stage, I was led to the British Library’s green room area where Dr. Leslie and Gustav Metzger were waiting for me. Dr. Leslie introduced me to Mr. Metzger, and we tried vainly in a room oddly devoid of energy to say a few words about what would be our main points.

It was then that we heard the news that, alas, Arthur Smith had dropped out at the last minute with a strange tale of having lost a filling in his tooth, which caused him to cut his tongue wide open. This was info was announced, first by word of mouth by Mr. Bury, then on a placard, and then several times on a loudspeaker. I thought they might as well send a blimp out over London, explaining to the masses the unfortunate dental history of Mr. Smith.

We shuffled though a curtainy area toward the cavernous British Library Conference Centre stage. I feel like we entered the stage area a bit clumsily, not knowing, perhaps, the precise moment to do so. Did one of us get caught up in the curtain? I think I remember some such faux pas.

The convo got off to a slow start, actually. In the back of my mind I thought: This could easily be a disaster…A last minute dropout; an unprepared panel, unfamiliar with each other’s work.

But when it was my turn to speak I got up out of my seat and, as if teaching a class, showed the audience a few AV projections, illustrating some aspects of Futurism/Vorticism that intrigued me. My points were naturally taken up by Leslie, Metzger, and Bury, and they elaborated on them quite nicely. I knew then that we’d get through the panel discussion in a vein of competence.

One of the key drawbacks with the format, however, was this: Though I had some views that contradicted Metzger positions, I was forced to treat him with kid gloves. Not only is he a bit of a countercultural icon and espouses all the correct opinions from his training in the schools of beret-wearing bedwetting Bauhaus commies (wink wink), but also the guy is, like, almost an octogenarian, and I naturally treat the elderly with courtesy and deference. I think it is polite and gentlemanly to do so, and it is hard for me to do otherwise, even at an event billed as a debate entitled “A Slap in The Face.”

But we did mildly butt heads once or twice, which I think was apparent to the audience, thank Zeus. On the one hand, he seemed to like to think in terms of how everything could be a manifesto—how a manifesto could be sent in mobile text messages and the like. Maybe he just wanted to embrace the old nouveaux new hipness of techno-centrism.

I, on the contrary, emphasized the difficulties and tensions bound up in the whole dynamics between new technologies and the idea of manifesto making.

I questioned the idea of the democratization of communication via “the internets.” I insisted people lose as much as they gain in this age of Myspace and Facebook and personal blogs (sorry mr. blog), and how new avant-garde writers might need to enact their manifestos in real time and in real life to assure they don’t get sucked up into the slough of despond, a morass of cyber-irrelevance.

Much of my point related to some of my recent insomniac writings on the role of the human faculty of attention in the information age. (I will post some appropriate sections below.)

I was asked to elaborate in this mode by some inquisitive audience members. But at some point I felt like I was running out of time. And soon I was literally running west on Euston road and then south toward Birkbeck, past the squares, finally arriving in school, winded and sweaty. Taught my class for an hour or so…Thankfully, I was still able to riff fairly effortlessly about Blake’s “There is no Natural Relighion.” Easy Breezy.

Then homeward, filled with relief. Chatted with Kim for the rest of the night and so forth and so on…


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