Flarf at Its Best Is Folly/Folly Is Flarf at Its Best

Today’s Reading: Nada Gordon, Folly.

Flarf at its best could be a definition of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque, right down to the way it “mobilises one form of discourse against another, especially popular against elite forms.”

Neither mere comedy nor mere poetry, Flarf at its best mines pathos from absurdity and humanity from alienation, doing for the internet what Rimbaud did for the city.

It takes a certain kind of sensibility to appreciate this.

For those with differing sensibilities, Flarf may look like an example of the things it actually makes fun of; alternately, it may look like mean-spirited mockery of the things it actually celebrates.

Both these mistakes are easy to make because both are basically right.

Nada Gordon’s Folly is, most certainly, an example of Flarf at its best. That’s not to say, though, that it’s a typical example of Flarf. Though Flarf is concerned with excess more or less by definition, Gordon may be the only Flarfist focused on excess in the sense of opulence, richness, splendor. She can swing a google-sculpted dick joke with the best of them (see the classic “I Love Men,” a poem so hilariously inappropriate that Kenneth Goldsmith had to sing about it), but her language is also bejeweled with Latinate diction that she surely didn’t pick up in any web search. It’s not every Flarf poet who wouldn’t hesitate to attach the verb “dissimulates” to the noun “opalesence,” but Gordon eagerly gives each word a line to itself—the better to savor them—and even throws in “amorous succulents” a few lines earlier (“Succumb”).

Gordon is at her best, both in her poems and at her excellent blog, when connecting this aesthetic of the gloriously overdone to the anxieties occasioned by a gendered existence. Like Groucho Marx (the comparison is so apt yet so cliched that Charles Bernstein is forced to sub in Zeppo in his back-cover blurb), she can turn the prudish to the prurient with the cock of an eyebrow. But since this is Flarf, this time you actually get to see the cock.

Or not. Alongside its sister animal, the pussy, that angry rooster is often metaphorized or euphemized in a downright Lacanian chain of fetishistic deferals—like the book’s elaborate system of illustrations, intermissions, and interruptions, a dance of the seven veils that obscures everything while concealing nothing:

     My Victory makes a noise that goes thud thud thud thud.

     Is My Victory Normal?
     What’s Up With My Victory?

     What’s the tiny red bump on my victory?


     What the hell, a chipmunk just bit my victory.

     The hair on my Victory.


     My dog recently passed away.

     I had a dog, now all I have is my victory. 
                           –“The Victory of Folly (as Pluto)”

This is poetry as pratfall, sure, but also whoopee cushion as serious social commentary. Gordon is a connoisseur of our most petty and pervasive insecurities (as the above passage indicates, STD help boards seem to be a favorite source), turning them inside out to reveal their ruffled petticoats, uncovering equal parts ebullience and pathos. When God himself is a pushover for the oracular pronouncements of Google—so long as they promise to transform his feeling of impotence into feelings of importance (“Viagric Importunings”)—well, something is seriously wrong with this picture, seriously wrong and giddily human.

And THAT is what Flarf at its best does, and why it goes beyond irony or imitation, even beyond satire and pastiche. Like the best Stephen Colbert bit you ever saw, Flarf at once eviscerates our miserable failings and revels in them as the signs of our irremediable humanness. Or as Nada Gordon very succinctly, very precisely puts it (and in this sense, she could be a representative example of Flarf after all): folly.