Barrett Watten "Can We Still Teach the Beats? :Holism, Antagonism, Poetics and Pedagogy"

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Date: April 26, 2023
Time: 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Category: Lecture

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The WSU Humanities Center invites faculty, students, staff, and the community to a Brown Bag talk given by Barrett Watten (Professor, English) 

Abstract: The Beats, like the larger movement of the “New American poets” of the 50s and 60s, and the counterculture they partly initiated, were committed to “Open Form” as a poetics and in their lives. This talk will attempt to address how the Beat poetics of “Open Form,” and its ethical, aesthetic, and political entailments, mounts a direct challenge to teaching in the university in the era of flat-panel classrooms, assessment-based skill-set pedagogy, content advisories and trigger warnings, and the curtailment of academic speech. For decades, the Beats were taught “in themselves”; the work of the Beats provided an “example” built into the goals of the teaching situation, embedding specific instructions on how to accomplish them—not only their “own” purposes but larger cultural politics. It was often the case that simply bringing the transgressive writing of the Beats into the classroom made its point. Such a person-centered teaching platform is not possible in the contemporary academy, after decades of downsizing and rationalization. In this talk, I will look at how the poetics of “open form” in the Beats can be accessed through several key terms: holism (extending from a poetics of the body to ecopoetics); antagonism (from romantic aesthetics to political agency); transgression (from countercultural publishing of work that challenges “community standards” to lived experiences of sexuality and gender); and finally the ways in which Beat writing communicates what I term a “protopoetics,” in which the form of the poem encodes instructions to be unpacked in experienced. How does one teach the Beats, if not as direct exemplars of “open” experience, in the contemporary classroom? Using examples such as Charles Olson, Michael McClure, Lenore Kandel, and William S. Burroughs, I will use my experience of teaching the Beats to pose the necessary question: how can we combine pedagogy and “Open Form” today?

Please RSVP to this event for the zoom link.

April 2023