Hi everybody. One month after the end of the poetry and/or revolution conference, we wanted to organize some provisional thoughts.
We are not certain about many things, including the relation between revolution and poetry if there is one. But we are certain about the need for revolution. And we have certainly spent much of our lives engaged with poetry.
We were not certain how the conference would go given that it was the continuation of a conversation among people from two groupings, UK and Bay Area poets, that had recently been quite fractious.
And yet we felt the conference was a success not in spite of but because of a shared need to hold open a space for disagreement, uncertainty, and speculation. As we organized this event, we made sure that every panel was structured around a comparative exploration of US and UK gender, antiracist, and anticapitalist politics. And every minute of the conference affirmed this, we said it over and over, everyone said this in lovely, complex, and contradictory ways. A commitment to the messiness and difficulty of thinking together: together as people, but also thinking together the big questions and struggles, rifts and legacies, aesthetics and politics. This was the thinking of revolution and/or poetry. We didn’t finish. We barely started.
We posted everything we could from the conference, and then we posted everything that was passed our way regarding the conference along with public responses and so on. We didn’t include and/or exclude.
And then a predictable thing happened, which was that there were responses that were not in this spirit. We can say two very clear things about these first responses. One is that they seemed largely to be from other folks from the U.K. and to come from a context we can’t really claim to grasp in full. But another is that these responses singled out people as individuals in ways that were alienating and/or threatening and/or and dismissive, and most but not all of these individuals were women. Or they had language that was alienating and/or threatening and/or dismissive to women more broadly.They sometimes purported to be doing this in the name of some revolution or another.
Because these responses were by men and claimed to be somehow part of the thinking of the conference, it became possible in being angered and alienated by these responses to imagine that the division and the anger was between revolution and/or poetry on one side and women and/or feminism on the other.
That is mistaken. Radical gender and antiracist politics—particularly in the context of active and evolving social movements—are neither peripheral nor exclusive but are constitutive features of poetry and/or revolution. Revolution is not some autonomous object or program. There is no opposition between feminism and revolution, or antiracism and revolution. It is not a form of solidarity to suggest that there is. It is a familiar and regressive fractioning of thought however messy into a world of individuals and false oppositions. We think these things together. Expunging the participation of nonwhite and non-cismale individuals from confrontational street actions and/or launching toxic, sexist attacks that cast discussions of empathy and social bonds as fundamentally reformist — these are especially noxious forms of contemporary radical baiting.
A further set of replies to the first round of responses which had singled out mostly women elided the stark difference between the conference and its initial respondents, erasing the contributions of some individuals at the expense of others. It accepted and took up the order of proper names and empty antinomies. This discussion has increasingly seized the opportunity for varieties of red-baiting and radical-baiting which are endemic to contemporary discussions about poetry’s relation to political life.
And yet we were struck by how conference presenters consistently refused to render these moments of political mobilization mutually exclusive, how smartly they challenged persistent media-managed stereotypes about who engages in contentious politics and who engages in the work of support and care. We were struck as well by presenters’ attempts to imagine the metabolic relation between conflict and care in social movements as something other than essentially male and female, white and nonwhite, and privileged or unprivileged; how they consistently valued both political antagonism and affective bonds; how they saw them as working together. We would like to thank again everyone who participated. We feel tremendously hopeful about the gathering as a model for how our increasingly circumscribed social roles could, in the words of one participant, inelegantly unstick.
the po-rev-ers, aka the and/or-ers
Dear excellent lover thinkers and dear haters too!
We’ve been posting things about poetry and/or revolution as we find them or as people have sent them to us. Thanks to everyone who wrote or thought. And who wrote-thought.
We now begin the moment of posting nothing more here, right now. We can’t maintain a blog! We’ve got no process for it. No skill for it. No aptitude.
But all encouragement to the debates to continue! We will be reading them. And enjoying them.
The conference made us happy and full of love. That most of the conversation seemed to be about love was said several times. And even when the conversations were difficult, still it has made happy and love, in us. Thanks anyone who was open to this with us.
Until next time. (This conference happens every year or so, right?)
Sincerely, the po-rev-ers, aka the and/or-ers
a response to Alejandro Ventura’s “Incitement to a Book Burning”
The following exchange, which emerges out of an ongoing correspondence with Boston-based poet-activist Boyd Nielson, elaborates on a variety of questions presently in circulation concerning the articulation of poetry, political economy and activism. Conducted by email, as time allowed, from late-August through mid-October 2013.
[A correspondent sends us the following proposal in response to the themes and problematics of the poetry and/or revolution conference]
INCITEMENT TO A BOOK BURNING
Exhibition Proposal, Working Document
“Where books are burned, in the end people will burn.”
—Heinrich Heine, 1821
As you are aware, the current state of affairs exists to conflate categories of thought such as poetry and social relations, public discourse and private wish-fulfillment, community and individual, art and criticism, and so on and so forth, until we are left digging graves.
As Marx said, there is no such thing as a metaphysical problem, yet here we are, mired in all this bullshit about the laboring subject needing poetry to overcome his or her subjugation to capital, whatever that means. What those of us who know what we want are after is precisely this system, transformed to serve our needs. Unfortunately, as Freud said, people are disposed to get off on their symptoms. Or, put differently, as Lacan said, no one has a theory about what happens beyond neurosis. Or, as Zizek said, what we lack is sympathy with thought. Or, as Joshua Clover said, we are living in this world. Or, as Josef Kaplan said, shoot the kids in the head. Or, as Big L put it, fuck love, all I got for bitches is hard dick and bubblegum.
This is as good a place as any to recall that Wittgenstein, the greatest of all billionaire Marxists, attempted to emigrate to the Soviet Union before coming to his beloved senses and remembering his fabulous life at Cambridge.
Our so-called “crisis” is a simple mechanism: the confusion of the order of things, the exile of materialism from thought. As in the mainstream public discourse, nothing is more taboo than materialism in the fantasyland of magical-Leftist, Harry Potter-Marxist poetry or philosophy. I for one would much rather have a drink with my friends on Wall Street, than with the so-called community of “progressive” poets, who are rightly perceived from the outside as a bunch of child-people.
But I digress.
In sum, I am after the acceleration of the exhaustion of idealisms in this society. That is the task I have set out for myself. No matter how resolute some of us have been in our attempts to murder poetry, it will not stay dead. I have racked my brain recently as to what, if any, critical work or symbolic act might bring about in this especially metastasized discourse the desired effects of silence, laughter, and most of all, the sense of getting-on-with-it.
I propose the construction and installation of incinerators for the burning of poetry books in as many art galleries as possible. These can take the form of modified industrial kitchen ovens with improvised conveyor belts. At present I am of the mind that the apparatus should be constructed in such a manner that it automatically collects the ashes of burned books in urns, so that poets may have a keepsake in which to drown their sorrows.
Poetry is dead, long live poetry.
for the final panel of Poetry and/or Revolution, we were asked to give manifestos, responses, or proposals. as my contribution, i wanted to make this material available for distribution. my closing statement was in part related to the trauma caused by activism and/or other personal history. you may have noticed yourself tremoring after a fight-or-flight event (like this polar bear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-H_PLi8-N4 ). tremoring is the body’s natural response to traumatic incidents; it releases the stress hormones created during times when the body is in fight-or-flight mode. for reasons unknown, this tremoring often does not happen in adult humans, and in these cases, trauma can have long-term effects. someone who is traumatized has trouble being in the world, being out of their home, making decisions in times of pressure, or in some cases, making decisions period. in order for us to remain able to work together and to think/act for ourselves/each other, we need a method of clearing this stuff. this PDF contains a section from a book on trauma, which shows you how to put stressors on your leg muscles to tire them out, which eventually induces tremoring. these releasing exercises have helped a number people i know who are coping with the aftereffects of trauma, whether from a history of abuse, activism, or living in war zones. they may be helpful for activists who have been in situations where ‘fight or flight’ takes over – running from police, witnessing/being a victim of police violence, watching friends/comrades being arrested, or being arrested themselves. one of the best things about these exercises is that you don’t have to talk about your experiences during clearing – it is a somatic process which releases the stress hormones that accumulate in your body during fight-or-flight episodes. the exercises are very simple, and the tremoring feels really good. they take about 40 minutes to complete.