Category Archives: Poetry

Working at Librairie Gallimard

I wish I could remember the name of the main manager of the bookstore, he was old and expansive and would sit in the office smoking cigars and doing paperwork, perhaps even reading manuscripts now that I think of it. Then there was the under-manager, M. Paul, a neoliberal type. Every morning after Giscard was on tv he would be there early saying allez les gars … meaning that employee Gilles, the only man without some management position, should go up the ladder into the attic and bring down extra copies of the book in question. Fuentes’ Terra Nostra came out in French that summer and we had piles of it. I hadn’t read it but developed a spiel about it that impressed people, so I was stood by it to sell more of it.

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Good prose

I discovered a blog with really good writing and then realized it is, in addition, from New Orleans. I am serious that this person can write and is more interesting than many writers who are packaged and famous.

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Bad poetry

Here is a bad poem or at least, one I dislike. I read it while reading an interesting book review that shows precisely why everyone is fatigued with the Democratic Party, in the same magazine with a yet more interesting book review on Hitler, characterized as a warning from history. This was the title of an important BBC series on the second world war made in the late 90s, that is apparently being rebroadcast now.

I am of course fascinated with the Shoah since I find my Polish and Lithuanian cousins in its databases. I have seen Night will fall, a documentary about a documentary that has been finished at last. This second film is very beautifully photographed, strange though that may seem to say. But the cameramen were artists and I think they had good film and equipment.

Meanwhile, it seems that the FBI sat on the Trump-Russia file for months. But at least there is such a thing as Radio Cómeme — which offers better poetry than does (necessarily) Sharon Olds.

Axé.

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The muse of history

I. CLIO
“let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”

The past’s fantasia cannot hold or let
us go. Flycatcher catching itself in
the pool’s glint gaze, Samarkand where Tamerlane
hewed his bloody thread, unspooling across
the hacked-to-pieces field, a triple axle
splitting Clio’s cataract, muddy then
clear, the opal of a rain-sheened open
eye that looks at nothing but yet holds
our look.
Euterpe, my head is in my hands.
Flies speckle the field. The sizer, hissing,
straps dynamite to a waist no bigger
than a fly’s wing span, but the daughters
of Babylon do not tarry—the road flares
burn blue, bog irises, erect, quivering.

The poem has five parts, and that was the first. I liked it and wanted to study it, but wrote on my copy of it that I must see about deadlines for the ERIP conference in Morelia, and remember to find the book Lower Education. So I am studying the poem here.

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On intersubjectivity and prosody

Via SMT and well worth reading.

Sometimes “here” has no walls. There are some pieces of corrugated cardboard, a square of tarp and a sleeping bag, a deck of cards for solitaire. Or, following the movement of thinking, a woman escapes the confinement of identity, moving into the open of language as it discovers her. The most temporary membranes serve as shelter, and the city is a density of desire. Amidst this flux speaking begins, makes its tenuous continuities near and in spite of the accreted institutions that compel anyone to obey, violate and buy, to be placed on identity’s grid. But speech is never simply single. Value moves between us or is foreclosed. The exchanges are conditioned by profoundly ancient and constantly reinventing protocols, protocols we enliven, figure, and transform with our bodies and their words, by beginning. This beginning is what anyone belongs to.

The zone of collective discourse wanders, improvises, unmoored to any stable geographic or architectural foundation. We citizens constitute ourselves according to the movement of subjectivity in language, as well as being administratively identified by shared, conventional borders, and a historical concept of collective and individual rights (or their lack).  This tracing of subjects fleetingly coheres in vernacular speech as that speech configures itself at any living juncture with another speaker. Language, the historical mode of collective relationship, is also the aptitude by which humans innovate one another as subjects: the ego is the one who linguistically addresses another, and it is only through this address that each, in a reciprocal entwining, may fashion herself as “I”. In this co-movement of significance there can be no opposition between individual and society—each person comes into an awareness of herself as a speaking being within the society of language. Neither individual nor instrumental, the linguistic aptitude accompanies the beginning of humans as a nature through which each subject, uttering “I”, “you”, “we”, emerges and survives or perishes. Any subject is supported, spoken, and carried or disallowed and foreclosed by others, in a matrix of reciprocity and power that conditions the very possibility of embodiment. As soon as she speaks and names, the political subject emerges. Her agency is a verbal one; architecture and governance can only interpret or abstract the fluency of the linguistic given.

Because of the social primacy of this linguistic beginning, and because political space is an effect and an historical accretion of linguistic circulation, I’d like to lay out a prosody of the citizen, where the term prosody describes the historical and bodily movement of language amongst subjects.  This opening of the discourse of prosody away from the technical conventions of measure, towards the movements of a generative immateriality, contributes to an interpretation of the domestic sphere that’s aligned with the shifting vectors and intensities of embodiment. A prosodic thinking of politics will carry Hannah Arendt’s statement concerning the polis into the domestic sphere also: “The only indispensable material factor in the generation of power is the living together of people. Only where men live so close together that the potentialities of action are always present can power remain with them. . .” (Arendt p201) In The Human Condition Arendt, following Aristotle, argues that polis is the exchange of speech, and arises anywhere and each time this free exchange takes place.   In Arendts’ thinking, it is the beginner who is the guarantor of political freedom, the beginner, born into speech, speaking to the world, to other beginners. The human social beginnings—of birth, of speech—define the shared condition—natality, in Arendt’s coinage– and ensure that action reveals the improbable yet always renewing freedom inherent in collective life. Without speech, she argues, action would lose its subjects and become violence. It is this ethos of a necessary alignment of speech and action in the subject that ensures that embodied political speech cannot be subordinated to a simplistically communicative and instrumental role, a means to an end, a violence, but carries with it always a revelatory, innovatory, and transformational agency. It is through speech that the citizen acts and freedom articulates its claim on subjects. The subject begins in the co-movement of speech. Natality and prosody are terms that underscore the necessary vitality of this movement, natality from the point of view of  the recognition of embodied subjectivity as incipiently ethical, and prosody from the point of view of the linguistic traversal and elaboration of that subjectivity.

Arendt’s refusal to define the shared condition of the political subject in terms of  mortality was a powerfully implicit critique of Heideggarian ontology, and of the claims of the eschatology of the Church Fathers on European thought. Now the need to align political thinking with life and beginning, rather than with a morbidly theological end-thinking, becomes increasingly urgent in the present escalation of state-sponsored, economically determined violence in its many guises. Arendt’s defense of natality as the form of life has inflected current discussions around biopolitics, where citizenship is before all else an co-embodied belonging. The citizen’s body, in its charged relationships to other bodies, is the temporal matrix and radical mediator of politics. Each body, each birth, each coming into speech, bears the radically unquantifiable potential of co-transformation.  The domestic sphere, that urgent foundation for natality, will here be considered in terms of a mediating skin, rather than in terms of a private interiority conceptually opposed to a social outside. This mediating condition will be inflected temporally, rather than spatially, since its limit is less structurally architectural than flexibly transformative: the taking in and preparation of food, of erotic encounter, of various modes of work, of reproductive labour, of the production of an affective surplus and the constant re-initiation into a freshened verbal motility– at best the place of rhythmic protection of the vulnerable body, while sleeping, in illness, age, and childhood, often while eating and washing, while resting, while talking and working. So the domestic sphere isn’t private just as the body and its modes of conviviality, reproduction and care aren’t private—it expresses a complex temporality that includes coded information from the past as it moves always in the light of the polyvalent and self-inventing present. In terms of subjectivity, the domestic sphere emerges as an embodied vector that breaks open, floods the habitual containment of the public-private binary. In this shift away from a spatial metaphor of the domestic, a displacement of power occurs. The time of the body is generative, commingled, gestural, enacted; in a temporal interpretation of the domestic sphere, power innovates itself as an improvised co-embodiment. In this sense ecology rather than economics might provide the circulatory model of a mutually embodied, and temporally vulnerable power-in-relationship, as long as one considers ecology in terms of complex processes of disequilibrium and emergence instead of an image of harmonized closure. Systems of integration, mutuality, rejection, dispersion and synchronous transformation, rather than a structural semiotics of bordered exchange, characterize domestic activities and interactions.   Across these constantly shifting melodic thresholds, the flow of spoken language, from birth-cry to digital transmission, evades spatial reduction, and rhythmically innovates the time of our collectivity. This collectively spoken time is the sole incubator of subjectivity.

Read it all.

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Domingo

⇒ The best political action we can take right now is to work against voter suppression. (Z)

⇒ The roundups of indocumentados are a beginning, and we should pay attention. (Z)

⇒ The use of indocumentados is a form of slavery. Capitalism requires slavery, and slaves must be foreign. (Z)

⇒Racist imperatives fuel the militarization of the border. (Nicky)

⇒Poetry is only a havoc that restores. It dissipates the false pretenses of an ordered world. (Bataille 1943)

Today in culture:

Let’s look at a timeless Vermeer. And another. And more.
An interesting translation magazine: Palabras errantes.
Cinema tropical.
Huizache.

Fifteen Afro-Latin films everyone should see.
I am not your negro is playing now and must be seen.
On Netflix, we must see 13th.
We will see Ixcanul on Netflix as well, and Herzog’s Into the inferno.

Sidney Blumenthal has a smart history of the Trump family in the London Review of Books.
Jonathan Mayhew has good advice on how to learn foreign languages.
Rosie Gray discusses Bannon and the white supremacy movement in The Atlantic.
Nikil Saval writes about Gareth Dale writing about Karl Polanyi, and I would have liked to converse with this man; he is important.

Activism:

I have heard there is a number you can text to your phone, that will program in the numbers of your senators and representatives. You can do this, too.

Work:

I was going to make an announcement about, and a commitment to archiving bibliography in Zotero and/or JabRef, and not an Amazon wishlist or even Evernote. Instead, I simply started.

Axé.

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“It’s the world committing suicide”

Normalization is not an option. From Tikkun. Worth reading slowly.

Poem by Rachel Zucker. From The Nation. “Meanwhile oil unstoppably pouring into the blue-green.”

Also from The Nation, a fascinating review of A Nation Without Borders–a book which has been widely discussed elsewhere as well, and which should clearly be read.

UPDATE. Someone else said:

What we now have in the US is a takeover by a particularly virulent hybrid: a deeply masculinist, racist, corporo-fascism. For many white liberals the idea that the US is now a corporo-fascist regime was at first unthinkably shocking because it runs counter to deep veins of white exceptionalism– “It can’t really happen here.” The current corporo-fascist regime, with the largest imperial military in the world, the largest national surveillance intelligence apparatus in history, and the will to use both with the utmost brutality and ruthlessness in the interests of the patriarchal corporate 1%, is not national fascism in the sense that Nazi Germany was, or white nationalist South African apartheid was, but is a new, deeply dangerous political mutation, emerging from global neoliberal austerity, taking root in a country gutted by austerity, and now put in place to further gut the state, and gather all economic and political power in the hands of a tiny corporate-military-intelligence male minority. That’s why we could do with less fixating on Trump himself, as the fixation feeds off the US cult of personality and celebrity identification. We need to make visible and name the gathering figures in the shadows for whom Trump is simply the useful Avatar, an Avatar who (it is my bet) they will dispense with quite ruthlessly if he doesn’t toe their line. Which is looking pretty likely right now, given his megalomania. The corporo-fascism will remain, and we need to seek out its soft places of vulnerability, invent new strategies, and not underestimate their will to crush us, nor underestimate our own power to resist.

Axé.

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