Theses on Poetry and/or Revolution

Tim Kreiner and Jasper Bernes

1. The Poem

The bad romance of poem and revolution unfolds, largely, as a problem with time, a problem with timing, a surplus or shortage of time. Because the poem is, in the last instance, a disorder of time, a refusal of all the patterning markers of first and last, if and then, the poem arrives at the revolution either way too late or far too early or maybe both. The poem is either “the first repercussion of an act yet to come” or “the last shock wave whose significance escapes everyone”; either the promesse d’bonheur that will pay dividends only to the revolution’s dead, or the crucial registration of history’s truth long after all those who could have benefited from it have been imprisoned or maimed or otherwise crushed. In this sense the poem vouchsafes the truth of insurrection, itself arriving too early or too late, forced to preside over its own funeral or commanding its doomed partisans to surge forward, hopelessly, into the guns. The poem in the longue durée is therefore a doubly sad object, late for that which is itself late, or early for that which is too early.

2. The Poet

The poet is something else, alas. Every poet who remains a poet within the moment of revolt is either manager or mortician. If we say that after the revolution there will be poetry but no poems, what we mean is that every poet is a counter-revolution in miniature. To enter the commune as a poet is to remain within the individuating misprisions of language, the un-common, re-animating the carcass of authorship in accord with the status quo, a regime for which identity is to the individual what copyright law is to The State: a negation of collective activity in the name of ownership. Thus it makes as little sense to be a poet in the commune as to be a thief in communism. Proletarian shopping, like the poet, belongs to an order of things wherein need shapes women and men among the goods and affects of the marketplace. Where markets no longer reign, there is just as little need to slink through the night stealing bread from your neighbors as to insist on identities — and activities — that hinder the abolition of need as the sole artist of social forms. If poets have a part to play in smashing the state of atomistic welfare and sinecured laureates, it is not as scribes of the new, but among crowds committed to the armature of omnia sunt communia.

3. Poetry

There have never been any real revolutions just as there has probably never been any real poetry. There have been a few genuine insurrections here and there, hyperbolized and hypostasized by the literary carrion feeders they entrain, and then there have been about ten thousand counter-revolutions. That’s what history is: a Russian doll of counter-revolution inside counter-revolution from which we can trace out, in negative, the lines and forms of prospective revolution. Insurrection is a break, a swerve inserted into the prose sentence of capitalism, a breakdown, a moment in which all the habits which hold us and the rest of the world in suspension fail. The pathways and circuits through which we are herded by money and meaning and the cops disappear, and a new city emerges, from which what results is a tremendous act of improvisation. That’s what the insurrection is: a failure of habit, a collapse of the social theatre and division of roles, to which people respond with tremendous and moving acts of invention. Everything has to be refunctioned, even breathing, even speech and especially poetry. When we talk about the poetry of revolution, we mean this spirit of invention, and not poems as such, which could only be written through the continual performance of the outmoded social role of poet.

4. Revolution

This, finally, is the sense in which we may speak of poetry and/or revolution. In fits and starts of rupture and invention, the revolution dissolves poets into the poetry of deeds and words in defiance of habit. Thus poetry’s insurrectionary acts break with the page just as revolutionary acts break with everything that exists to force us back into routines. The port blockade, the occupation, the riot, the barricade, the strike, the demo, the street fight, the general assembly – all these iterations of failure, exhilarating missteps and momentary breakthroughs finally end not with the kettles and batons, cops and courts, but in our return to the status quo. What crushes us is rarely the violence of the moment, in spite of the shock and awe of a confrontation that is more and more brutally asymmetrical. What crushes us is the longue durée of despair, the Lethean waters in which counter-revolution grows hourly to fill up the pores of days through which we drift further and further from the experience even of our most crushing failures. Poems are, at most, a rift in this despair; hence the funereal mien of their partisans as they rush into the guns and/or back onto the page. Therefore when insurrection arrives it can have no use for poems; the process of revolution it inaugurates proceeds through the abolition of poets, and the realization of poetry.

1 comment
  1. Fady Joudah said:

    Love it!

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