Unit B: How do we discern the good from the bad?

When poets and artists today take up questions of value (the good and the bad), they sometimes focus their attention on art itself. This unit looks at some challenging and potentially “Bad” art, uncreative poetry, and other texts that question the boundaries between good and bad, high art and the popular, class and kitsch. Many significant cultural movements in the 20th century, especially those labelled experimental or avant-garde, can be seen as raising questions about what was thought to be good (“classic,” established, fine art, literature) and critiquing, parodying, or pushing against its limits in some way. In this unit, we'll look at some challenges from outside the realm of literature (the painter, Duchamp; the composer, Cage), consider literary theoretical questions about value and culture, and then move to readings from 21st century writers associated with electronic literature, Flarf and Conceptual Writing. In these works, writers not only raise questions about literariness and originality but attempt to absorb the information overload of net culture, chatter-bots, and artificial intelligence by inventing procedures, adopting constraints, and even employing computer programs to compose literature in ways that may indeed be transforming writing and reading. In the course of this unit, we may also write some of our own deliberately bad poetry in order to explore this limit.