Recently there’s been something of a kerfuffle over a poem, Last Words for Elliot Rodger by Seth Abramson, which the writer published at The Huffington Post. Predictably, the Twitter-sphere has taken Abramson to task for his decision to publish such a thing just days after Rodger killed six people and himself in California. Here is the statement by Abramson that precedes the piece:
The aim of this metamodern poem is to turn on their heads those words of hatred Elliot Rodger left behind him as he exited this world. A remix of the words Rodger used in his final YouTube video, the poem uses each and every word Rodger spoke in that hateful oration–and no more. The author condemns in the strongest terms both the words and the actions of Elliot Rodger; the aim here is to rescue language from a perversion of language, not to glorify an individual whose actions were incontrovertibly evil. Please note that this poem is an address to, not an address from, Elliot Rodger.
Not knowing Abramson personally, I can only take him at his word. Still, he had to have known that publishing such a thing on the heels of a tragedy would win him few, if any, accolades. This leads me to agree that it is — at the very least — in questionable taste and to wonder if Abramson isn’t a bit of a narcissist.
But my chief objection has less to do with ethics than aesthetics. As I’ve said in a previous post, such conceptualist approaches to writing are occasionally interesting or clever, but the effect quickly wears off. As the conceptualist darling Kenneth Goldsmith has himself noted, the concept is often more interesting than the resultant work, and we need look no further than Last Words for Elliot Roger for proof.
Recently, while following poetry links into the depths of the literary internet, I came across this title by CA Conrad:
“Adaptation” in this case means that Conrad inserted, after every bit of Capote’s dialog, the parenthetical “(were you high when you said this?).” Nine dollars. Really.
Whatever -ism applies to these works doesn’t matter to me. The trait they share is the devaluing of the individual imagination in favor of process. Such works are the textual equivalent of YouTube “documentaries” that are nothing more than mash-ups of photos, clips, music, and quotes, none of which their creators actually created.
In a word, yawn.