I have dipped my toes in to the book, An Eschatological Bestiary, yet again. I am perplexed. How, I wondered, could anybody else take – what seems like – such empty antics seriously? Oz Hardwick is one of the most accomplished writers I have had the good fortune to know, but, where I was expecting to find “language heightened, to any degree heightened” (Gerard Manley Hopkins) or “the best words in the best order” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) I found a text I more associate with my Spam Inbox.
I admit, during my half-arsed stint in academia I would not have got these un-poems. Oz was the first rebel to affront me with 21st Century Avant-Garde Writing & now I am hooked on the entire ouvre. Oz’s book is profoundly political in gesture and in it’s inspiration. An Eschatological Bestiary is a calculated attack on institutional norms and practices that not only shape literary careers but also preside over the formation of obedient, well-disciplined neo-liberal citizen subjects.
When most people protest, they first warn the police. They do not smash windows. Here – in An Eschatological Bestiary – Oz’s outrage against decorum was extreme enough to give voice to his furious bulked desires. In other words, could Oz be protesting against his previous works?
Since the 1960’s, avant-gardism has had a mixed, complex history as a critical concept. Can an authentic avant-garde still exist? Or, can there only be shallow effete echoes of past movements and achievements? Can an avant-garde ever actually succeed in bringing about revolutionary social transformation? Is it solely an American thing? I call this book ‘avant-garde’ throughout – I have heard of the term ‘neo-avant-garde’ as a way of differentiating between now and the original 1910s and 1920s era of breakthrough associated with movements such as Dada, Surrealism, and Constructivism from the many post-WW-II efforts to revive, extend and adapt aspects of that earlier time. Too easily the term suggests that the later work is inferior or derivative – however – I do not buy in to the linear narrative of rise, triumph, decline and fall. The avant-garde is a zig-zag branching story-line pocked with discontinuity and new departures. Oz deserves a chance to pursue his own programme, political and aesthetic, that he has mapped out for himself without me pre-judging his next book or his destination. Although, I have immense respect for An Eschatological Bestiary.
One does not have to delve in to the footnotes of Wikipedia to quickly discover that shock and resistance characterise the literary establishment’s response to avant-garde’s emergence. Just look at Ezra Pound, Tom Raworth and Gertrude Stein – as well as ‘edgy’ visual artists Félix González-Torres, Jasper Johns, Kimsooja and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. When Oz handed over An Eschatological Bestiary, my knee-jerk reaction was to side with conservatism against, what I perceived, as a joyfully destructive book. But this is not Oz pressing ‘self-destruct’ – In my eyes, this is Oz’s Phoenix.
This is an exciting book, I have yet to put it down – I read it from cover to cover and then back to the beginning to start afresh. Is this poetry? Why is this poetry? Can someone sustain this mode for more than a few months? How can you draw on thousands of years of verse to arrive at An Eschatological Bestiary? These questions pose more questions. Do you see the similarity between the laptop compositions of Radiohead with the compositions of Boards Of Canada? How does the aesthetic of incapacity and self-impoverishment compare to punk, arte povera and performance art by Beth Anderson and Paul McCarthy? What strata of the global population does An Eschatological Bestiary target? My Mum? Hell no!
An Eschatological Bestiary shows an imaginative virtuosity but also passages of break down and incapacity. In Oz’s haste to recycle words has he lost his voice? No! There is a subtle wit and humour that runs throughout the book that makes me call the man a Friend.
By way of Pound’s Cantos and Sergei Eisenstein’s film theory. I argue that, if collage and montage were central to twentieth century art, literature and music, twenty-first-century artists, authors and composers wrestle with a new aesthetic dilemma, the uninterrupted, omnivorous 24/7 informational flood that today’s global citizen must navigate. Oz draws on all of this in his book, An Eschatological Bestiary, and keeps his head above water – gracefully. Which brings me to my next point – at first, when I first read the book, I called the writing in this book simply ‘text’ – they are poems; this is crucial. With the word ‘poem’ comes railing a set of expectations and situations that imply ‘Institution’ – and Oz is out to smash it. But what institution is Oz trying to smash? The Cultural Institution of Oz Hardwick? Modern Academia, maybe? Only the man himself can say. I refer to the text in this book for the above reasons but also because Oz is a widely respected Poet having had work discussed and printed in many an illustrious institution.
One thing does bug me though. How does Oz’s implicit attack on the old academic order differ from the attempted attack launched by The Beats half a century ago? Nothing. In my humble opinion, Oz chose the wrong medium for the output of An Eschatological Bestiary. Yes, there are aesthetic merits in the written Book (Oz provides some excellent collages within the tome). But this level of subversion needed to be capitalised on to keep the make it a true thing of beauty – (Here is a bold Blog) If I wrote this book I would have published it as a web site, like the Flarf Collective. Yes, there is merit to the written word being in your hand – but, in reaction to a never ending war in the information age; it may have been prudent to present his work as historical specific response to GCHQ cracking down on ‘subversive sites’. By spotlighting the viciousness, hate and intolerance that thrive online, Oz would prod the urban, leftist, educated audience (like myself) out of our melancholy and apathy – that are so commonplace at ‘nice’ poetry nights – and get us back on the streets protesting at Globalisation.
If there is an outcome to me reading this book – An Eschatological Bestiary has inspired me; I have not read anything like it before. The link to get the book for yourself is HERE.