It has come to the attention of Dispatches that “anger and mockery” have been declared Thoroughly Inappropriate in the Land of Really Happy Bards. This is particularly true when anger and mockery are deployed as a response to something called “critique,” especially “feminist and postcolonial critique.” Then Thoroughly Inappropriate is not strong enough to express how wrong anger and mockery are, and other words are called for – nasty, or even mean. This is because anger and mockery introduce unsettling, non-rational emotions into the proper intellectual discourse of critiquing. They are mean and aggressive, and there is no place for them.
This would not have been the case in the Age of Auden which celebrated a certain writerly sophistication. It may not have been the case in the Age of Lowell, but that Age fizzled out so we will never know. In fact, anger and mockery have been tools of writers for a vey long time, even determining venerable genres such as satire, parody, and jeremiad. Try to imagine Jonathan Edwards without anger and mockery. Or Mark Twain, for heaven’s sake. Anger and mockery, in fact, bring a lot names to mind – Aristophanes, Juvenal, As-Salami, Abu Dulaf, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Moliere, Ambrose Bierce, Dorothy Parker, H.L. Menken, Flannery O’Connor, Lenny Bruce (but NOT Henny Youngman), Paul Krassner, Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman, Ed Dorn, Amy Schumer, Amiri Baraka . . . wow, that’s a lot, and it barely scratches the surface. Not that Dispatches claims to be anywhere near as angry and mocking as those people, but anger and mockery, it seems, far from being the outliers of reasonable discourse, actually have an honoured place at the table, especially in a world such as ours where the staples of anger and mockery – complacency, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness – hold sway with such unchallenged glamour in the halls of academe.
A big problem with anger and mockery in the Age of Collins is that they are not nice. They make some people feel bad. And they are not marketable poetic voices. Poetry in the Age of Collins is dedicated to literary excellence (or its rejection in the form of avant-garde word dumps) and to winning the Pulitzer and getting gigs in Iowa where you can teach literary excellence to aspiring Creative Writers. Most significantly, poetry in the Age of Collins is for sale, if not directly in the mode Collins pioneered, then indirectly in exchange for various authorities and rewards within a culture of general equivalence.
But perhaps the biggest problem with anger and mockery is that they are not dispassionate. They arise out of and enact the physicality of thinking, its embodiment in the passions of finitude and flesh, the whole entangled-cellular-mnemonic-wet-wounded-unfolding of words whose thinking is a modulation of tonality, of music, as much as the beauty of reason, – and a visceral attention to and care for the remainder left by any critique. Anger and mockery locate mind in a body – in fact, do away with that distinction – and that will never do in the Age of Collins.