“… a man in himself is a city…”
- William Carlos Williams, Paterson (1946)
An imaginary map
of an unimaginary place.
Of motionless afternoons.
Of cats melting into asphalt.
Of boarded-over windows
and old hockey injuries.
I know this place. It is
caught under my nails
and between my toes.
It is the wind that bothers
the curtains before sound,
before time, before the dog
has stretched and yawned into
her paws and forgotten,
for the moment,
It is the country I travel alone,
beneath the prairie sky.
Pat(t)erson: the city is a man.
Perhaps, but what is a city that never took?
A pothole swallowing all
we’d rather forget.
A plastic rat I thought was a flower
blooming in the wreckage.
A dead grandfather
half a country removed.
We peer through broken windows
into the eyes of strangers.
... if my intended purpose in starting a blog was to prod poets to discuss poetry directly without going through the normal institutional mechanisms to do so, I really failed to grasp what may be blogging’s greater long-term potential to erase borders between poets of this, that or the other national circumstance.
In my lifetime, there have been three or four profound transformations that are immediately visible in poetry. ...
The third transformation, and the one I think may have the most profound long-term consequences for poetry, has to do with the question of national literatures, the Nation Question as my friends in the Old Left might have phrased it. When I was in tenth or eleventh grade in the early 1960s, we were required to memorize the nations of the world, of which there were roughly 120, depending on whether one counted Vietnam was one nation or two & the current state of “liberation” among the European colonies in Africa. In London, at this year’s Olympics, 204 nations were represented, with one athlete competing under the UN flag because of ongoing questions concerning the status of South Sudan. The UN recognizes a somewhat larger number, just over 240, of nations and “autonomous” communities. In 2013, voters in Scotland will determine whether to go forward as part of so-called Great Britain, a ballot that is being watched with interest by the citizens of Wales, among others. We can be confident that the end of the 21st century will be greeted by something on the order of 300 polities. This should be a cause for alarm.
No single phenomenon more thoroughly empowers capital than do borders. Marx’s admonition that there can be no socialism in one country merely acknowledges that the possibility of capital flight is sufficient to keep capital itself out of the reach of any given group of reformers to “regulate” the depredations attendant to its concentration into the hands of a few. If the auto workers of Michigan are too uppity, capital sends the work to the south. Or to northern Mexico. And if workers get too expensive in northern Mexico, the jobs go to China. And if they get too expensive in China, robotics will enable automobiles to be constructed sans any presence of an organizable workforce. This can be replicated in every industry across the globe, as Americans have been learning the hard way for several decades.
But the movement of capital, of business – and ultimately of jobs and economic futures – gets carried out in language and through many local cultures, and the transformation of poetry from a series of largely self-contained literary enclaves into a global writing is itself a profoundly complicated phenomenon. There are enormous advantages in 2012 to being an American writing in English, but these do not come about free of complicity with the processes that make these advantages real. Similarly, there are enormous complexities to being a non-American writing in English, as there to being a writer in any other language, especially those that are “minority” languages within a given national context....(more)
... to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.
The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. - Sally Kohn (Fox News)
A sweeping gesture to the thorn of mast jutting from my mother’s spine—spine a series of narrow steps leading to the temple of her neck where the things we worship demand we hurl her heart from that height, still warm, still humming with the holy music of an organ—
We do. We do. We do and do and do.
The gravediggers and their beautiful shoulder blades smooth as shovel heads. I build and build my brother a funeral, eating the dirt along the way—queen of pica, pilferer of misery feasts—hoarding my brother like a wrecked Spanish galleon. I am more cerulean than the sea I swallow each day on the way to reaching out for him, to sing his name, to wear him like a dress made of debris.
These dark rosettes name me Jaguar. These stripes are my slave dress. Black soot. Red hematite. I am filled with ink. A codice, splayed, opened, ready to be burnt in the square—
I am. I am and am and am. What have I done?...(more)
The town has ten bridges. Four, five, six times a day I cross the river. I know the west side mansions and the east side taverns. It’s my job to move cargo across the bridges. Hardly anyone sees me or knows my name. I was raised an only child. I know how to be still and silent. I'm counted upon to do it right, in my quiet way.
I begin in darkness. The hot sweet coffee is my beacon. Most days are dreary. We have nine months of November here. We know grey like the Eskimos know snow. Precipitation, showers, sprinkles, drizzle, fog, mist, rain. The bridges are so high that if you're not careful the wind will blow you into oncoming traffic. If the wind isn't blowing then its the rain. It makes the bridges slick. You have to keep an eye on the pedestrians too. You never know when you'll get a jumper. Lots of good, tall bridges to choose from.
I know a woman who used to do my job. Won't do it now. She's afraid of driving over the bridges. She imagined her van would slip, crack the thin eggshell of the guard rail, and go the way of the jumpers. Newspapers say a big earthquake is coming. A heavy rain of masonry will befoul our streets. The bridges will be knocked out.How would I do my job then? I'm thinking about getting an inflatable raft and keeping it in my garage. A woman like me, with a boat, in that situation, could move a lot of cargo. I've got a dog. He keeps me company on the drive. After our deliveries we walk in the forest, turning our shoulders to the wind. He points his gaze upward. The rain pierces the membrane of white sky. A squirrel teases and chitters. The dog is off, beyond my bellowing for his return. As a middle-aged woman I naturally go unnoticed and unrecognized, but he is a Catahoula Leopard Dog. He draws many an admiring nod....(more)
From a stall at Les Puces, pungent with mold, dust, and sun-scorched canvas awning, Michel Tanguy brought home to his room on rue Saint-Martin a book, whose author, Maurice Leblanc, a forgotten resident of Paris during the previous century, had passed the studious hours of a lengthy and obscure retirement, immersed like a diver in the shadowy alcoves of the reading room in the Bibliothčque nationale, searching English, German, and French newspapers for instances of the marvelous. Attracted by the volume's adherence in its physical dimensions to the Golden Section and by a sumptuous binding conspicuous even in the sprawling diversity of the Paris flea market, Tanguy knew nothing of its contents, intimated not at all by so general a title as Recrudescence, until, several months later, he cut apart its thick pages and began to read....(more)
Up the steps of imperfection we stumble & stall,
Blind upstarts, our feeble feet astray & unstable,
Panting after perfections we are no more able
To encompass than an imaginative animal.
While some describe the world as round as a ball,
Others maintain that it is flat like a table.
Its shape is immaterial, there like the air.
Better, perhaps, to be sorry than safe after all,
Seeing no security could enable
One to scale unscathed the inexorable stair.
Ian Hamilton Finlay's Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. is one of the most important visual poetry magazines internationally. The magazine began to publish an increasing amount of visual poetry starting with issue 5. Finlay (1925-2006) would eventually distance himself from visual poetry in favour of his Wild Hawthorne Press, poetic objects and his monumental Little Sparta.
What to do now, little gumshoe? The slow slop of the imprecise vagaries of day turn out not to coalesce and all is floody with lingual excess. There is no “that it is” and the “unmanageable pantheon” isn’t out there in the world-ruckus, it’s here, sitting acroup in the sizzling neural capacitor, and worded beyond belief....(more)
Kristeva says too that mothers are in a “catastrophe of identity which plunges the proper Name into that ‘unnameable’ that somehow involves our imaginary representations of femininity, non-language, or the body” (Stabat Mater 134). A catastrophe of identity. The me and the not-me. In the night, with a wrapped baby and aching biceps, the I-was batting quietly at the I-am. The I-am is all body. Arms to hold and bathe and change him, milk to feed him, a voice to sing and soothe him. The I-was is a different beast, made of words and books, uninterrupted conversation and the kind of self-obsession and autonomy I didn’t know existed until it was gone.
Finding Your Own Name
Finding your own level of hell with cultural signifiers glowing in
giving a safe suntan both opaque and transpįrent-in-a started
of-your-fķrst - bįnd in a hip commśnity-where įll will be one -
better-than-a-dog with a tśrnip-and-a bée in the building collecting
money-for-the-French - overcapacitįtion-of-a-secret stįr on a
favorite yacht on a ledgelike evening
telling your stories through me
Showing-mé to mé emptying texture from things-from-which-I-
as it clings to a lóng-wooden-tįble tagging someone to-spéak-
with two more eyes along its flank as-lócal-as-a-memorial-
overjoyed and meaningless as the sort of political process I try
to shrug off foreshadowed-in-a-book of mémories it came
through the door that was found
in the sky moving-acróss-itself
If the Republican candidacy race of 2012 is any indication, then political discourse in the United States has not only moved to the right—it has been introducing totalitarian values and ideals into the mainstream of public life. Religious fanaticism, consumer culture, and the warfare state work in tandem with neoliberal economic forces to encourage privatization, corporate tax breaks, growing income and wealth inequality, and the further merging of the financial and military spheres in ways that diminish the authority and power of democratic governance.[v] Neoliberal interests in freeing markets from social constraints, fueling competitiveness, destroying education systems, producing atomized subjects, and loosening individuals from any sense of social responsibility prepare the populace for a slow embrace of social Darwinism, state terrorism, and the mentality of war—not least of all by destroying communal bonds, dehumanizing the other, and pitting individuals against the communities they inhabit.
Totalitarian temptations now saturate the media and larger culture in the language of austerity as political and economic orthodoxy. What we are witnessing in the United States is the normalization of a politics that exterminates not only the welfare state, and the truth, but all those others who bear the sins of the Enlightenment—that is, those who refuse a life free from doubt. Reason and freedom have become enemies not merely to be mocked, but to be destroyed. And this is a war whose totalitarian tendencies are evident in the assault on science, immigrants, women, the elderly, the poor, people of color, and youth....(more)
This is not a good time for writing, since it’s such a bad time for reading, especially on the web. I’ve been castigating photography for its increasing reliance on what I call one liners - quick photo projects that require at most five minutes of your time and that, of course, are ideal fodder for online consumption. But photography really is just part of a larger culture that does not value thoughts any longer that can’t be summed up in a single sentence or, god forbid, thoughts that can’t even be summed up at all. The horror, the horror! We want certainty, and we want it quickly and easily. So why then even spend more time thinking about photography and writing, when I’m already sounding old or old-fashioned or both?...(more)
Every book is an image of solitude. It is a tangible object that one can pick up, put down, open, and close, and its words represent many months, if not years, of one man’s solitude, so that with each word one reads in a book one might say to himself that he is confronting a particle of that solitude. A man sits alone in a room and writes. Whether the book speaks of loneliness or companionship, it is necessarily a product of solitude. A. sits down in his room to translate another man’s book, and it is as though he were entering that man’s solitude and making it his own. But surely that is impossible. For once a solitude has been breached, once a solitude has been taken on by another, it is no longer solitude, but a kind of companionship. Even though there is only one man in the room, there are two. A. imagines himself as a kind of ghost of that other man, who is both there and not there, and whose book is both same and not the same as the one he is translation.
Auster writes Winter Journal in the second person and so becomes his own translator – his own ghost writer, the second man reasserting the solitude of the subject; a kind of paranormal activity we recognise from Oracle Night when Sidney Orr disappears into his study with the blue notebook and breaks his writer’s block....(more)
It allowed me personally to advance where there is no longer any path, to separate myself from the world of psychology and analysis, and understand that feelings and existences can be felt deeply only in a place where, in the words of the Upanishads, there is neither water, light, air, spatial infinity or rational infinity, nor a total absence of all things, neither this world nor another.
Blanchot, on writing Thomas the Obscure. From a letter to Jean Paulhan dated 27 May 1940.
Words used to come easily to me. Words to speak, words to write.
But now they do not come – or will not come – when I want them. When I reach for them, they move into the quiet corners of my mind, their architecture hugging the walls of thought so that I struggle to discern them, to peel them away from the shadows. Where is the word that fits the prickly shape of my grief, or, the word that echoes the hollow emptiness of my belly? Where the word that mimics the way anger floats on the surface of my days, a slick spill I cannot contain?
Sometimes when I turn away they come; the words and phrases materialize, as if they’ve always been there had I only chosen to look.
They murmur in my sleep: Her hair, straight as corn.
They tease me while I’m driving: Long ago Sundays I remember as yellow.
They interrupt my dinner: I am windswept streets.
But more often, they awaken me in the middle of the night, a tangled knot of garbled language in my throat. I lay there, sleep banished, thoughts racing, yearning for the notebook on my nightstand, but knowing that the second I reach for it, the knot will dissolve and the words will dissipate into the dark.
thoughts are in real time
after you've gone
they keep your body alive
reserving the right
to legally define
that technological blip
first sense of spring
When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food. And even keeping the model and knowledge of agriculture alive may become crucial to our survival at some later point.
Food is now a means by which a lot of people think about economics, scale, justice, pleasure, embodiment, work, health, the future. Gardens can be the territory for staking out the possibility of a better and different way of living, working, eating, and relating to the world ....
You can argue that vegetable seeds are the seeds of the new revolution. But the garden is an uneasy entity for our time, a way both to address the biggest questions and to duck them. “Some gardens are described as retreats, when they are really attacks,” famously said the gardener, artist, and provocateur Ian Hamilton Finlay. A garden as a retreat means a refuge, a place to withdraw from the world. A garden as an attack means an intervention in the world, a political statement, a way in which the small space of the garden can participate in the larger space that is society, politics, and ideas. Every garden negotiates its own relationship between retreat and attack and in so doing illuminates—or maybe we should say engages—the political questions of our time....(more)
Mountains rise above us like ideas
Vague in their superior extent,
Part of the range of disillusionment
Whose arresting outline disappears
Into the circumstantial clouds that look
Like footnotes from above. What wisdom said
The mind has mountains? Imagination read
The history of the world there like a book.
Playing peek-a-boo with famous peaks
Afflicted with the vapours leaves a sense,
Frowned down upon by all that bleak immense
City of rock and ice, that men are freaks,
In the original program of creation,
Afterthoughts. Each jack pine seems a brother;
Even in lichens we perceive another
Example of our own organization,
Tenacious, patient, in a century
Growing perhaps a quarter-of-an-inch:
Glaciers do more daily, an avalanche
In minutes. The eroded immobility
Attributed to mountains is a fable,
Like the Great Divide. They move when you’re not looking,
Like stars and stocks, distinctly better looking
From a distance, and chronically unstable.
Sooner or later facebook will reach a stage of equilibrium, just like the world population, where the number of people dying will balance (and will possibly even exceed for a while) the number of people joining.
And in the very long term there will actually be more dead people on facebook then there are people living on facebook. I’d estimate that crossover to be around 50 years into the future, possibly a bit later.
That steady state will be a cross between a place to meet the living and one to remember those that came before, and in the very long term the living will only be a very small fraction of the people on facebook that are dead!
I wonder at which point the atmosphere on facebook will change, from photo sharing website to digital graveyard, a place where we come to worship our ancestors....(more)
The belief system encountered on the plains and in the earlier indigenous communities in New England obliterated by the Puritans was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the concept of technological progress, empire and the ethos of the industrial society.
The effect of this physical and moral cataclysm is being played out a century and a half later, however, as the whole demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate consumption and growth implodes. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African-American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We were next.
The determining factor in global corporate production is now poverty. The poorer the worker and the poorer the nation, the greater the competitive advantage.
The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse, and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry reflect our flight into collective self-delusion. We stand on the cusp of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history, one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the environment, and our national obsessions, because of these electronic hallucinations, revolve around the trivial and the absurd. The illusionists who shape our culture, and who profit from our incredulity, hold up the gilded cult of Us. Popular expressions of religious belief, personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation and self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled and unique. All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and undiscovered talent, by visualizing what we want, can achieve, and deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. It is, of course, magical thinking....(more)
Ode: this leafy, streamless land where coy waters loiter
Under the embroidered soil, subterfluous coin
Of another culture destroyed by lack of moisture,
Spoiled by the unavoidable poison of choice.
Archaeological lawyers exploit the foibles
Of a royalty that in time joined hoi polloi:
History’s unemployed, geography’s anointed,
Unlike the orchids of the forests, spin and toil.
Imperfectly convinced of final disappointment,
Persuaded of the possibility of joy,
Pen poised for the pointless impressions of those voices
That boil up like bubbles on the face of the void,
. . the new thing that has happened, or the old thing that has happened again, namely the breakdown of the object, whether current, historical, mythical or spook. . . .
The artist who is aware of this may state the space that intervenes between him and the world of objects; he may state it as no-man’s-land, Hellespont or vacuum, according as he happens to feel resentful, nostalgic, or merely depressed.
— Samuel Beckett, out of “Recent Irish Poetry” (1934)
What is a poem? A poem is nothing. By persistence the poem can be made something; but then it is something, not a poem. Why is it nothing? Because it cannot be looked at, heard, touched or read (what can be read is prose). It is not an effect (common or uncommon) of experience; it is the result of an ability to create a vacuum in experience––it is a vacuum and therefore nothing. It cannot be looked at, heard, touched or read because it is a vacuum. Since it is a vacuum it is nothing for which the poet can flatter himself or receive flattery. Since it is a vacuum it cannot be reproduced in an audience. A vacuum is unalterably and untransferably a vacuum––the only thing that can happen to it is destruction. If it were possible to reproduce it in an audience the result would be the destruction of the audience.
— Laura Riding, out of Anarchism Is Not Enough (1928)
Rolf Wiborg's Tough Love for Canada A top petro engineer for wealthy Norway says Canada is 'a fantastic country' that's 'totally mismanaged by design.'
Mitchell Anderson the tyee
"I gave up on Canada as a safe haven. Something happened between the mid-'70s and the 1990s. I still haven't figured out what exactly but it happened all over Canada, not just Alberta. I realized that this was no longer my dream country."
Most Canadians are well aware of what happened in the 1980s. The decade saw the election of Brian Mulroney, the Free Trade Agreement, and a continuing devolution of powers toward the provinces -- something that Wiborg feels is one of the main impediments toward a coherent national energy strategy such as what has been achieved in Norway.
"I know one place in the world, one nation that could have successfully followed the Norwegian model, and still could do it, and that's Canada. But Canada has two things stopping it: the provinces, because you need a system of equally distributing wealth, and also the mindset that someone with a title or money knows better than you how to run your own affairs."
"You're in a better strategic position than we were and are. You should be among the winners in the globalized world. You should be where we are. Alberta Heritage Fund should have been the Canadian Heritage Fund. You can still make it. When are Canadians going to grow up and realize that they are a powerhouse with resources the world needs and take that responsibility seriously? Many good politicians in Canada have asked that question. So far they have been failed by their voters and by short-term thinking."...(more)
Final fantasies: The illusions of personal debt and Canadian consumerism
Michael Laxer rabble
Canadians as individuals are in debt. In debt to an extent never before seen in Canadian history, and to an extent never likely to be seen again. Much of this debt, as I noted in an earlier piece, is invested in the ultimate middle-class dream of personal home ownership, a debt that has been backed by the government as a dangerous and "tax-payer" insured form of speculative stimulus.
Yet that is only one side of the equation and only one side to the story of how credit has been used to artificially sustain a middle-class consumerist illusion on a continent that has for decades increasingly turned away from the production of commodities.
In the end, as a society we have created a culture of debt, not to sustain ourselves through times of need, but rather to sustain the self-indulgence of our consumerism and the hyper-profits of corporations. Our debt cushion, a cushion that means that the average Canadian is now over $100,000 in debt, is the only thing that keeps the house of cards intact and is the only reason that we can have a society that is based on consumption ahead of production and that outsources the heavy lifting for its consumerism to the less fortunate of the world....(more)
After all, Akin's atavistic idiocy is really nothing but the flip side of Party Boss Limbaugh's own belligerently infantile grasp of the science behind birth control -- its not the smirking arrogance of these mutants that floors me, but rather their intractable, jaw-dropping "always wrong but never in doubt" pig-ignorance. That is the GOP's genuine innovation: breeding a generation of cow-dumb meatsticks, who will go right on hating and fearing Negroes, uppity woman and Liberals more than anything else on Earth no matter how depraved and dishonest their leaders and candidates show themselves to be....(more)
Funeral for Walt Whitman
Translated from Arabic by Michael Beard and by Adnan Haydar words without borders
So finally, atop the fender of a tank,
lounges Walt Whitman.
Finally he observes the streets of Baghdad.
He sees above him birds of paper.
He ponders how the caliph’s palace was constructed
and how airplanes destroyed it.
Walt Whitman is not afraid of rivers.
After all, he drowned there before.
Walt Whitman is not afraid of palm trees.
After all, he let a palm tree approach and enfold him.
Walt Whitman is not afraid of a woman’s abayas,
not afraid of perfume, rouge, or camisole
because he never loved a woman.
Those who accompany Walt Whitman
will disperse before sunset.
Those who make Walt Whitman’s dinner
wish he were a vegetarian.
Those who dislike Walt Whitman’s poems
write secret poems
about what robots think
and what they like to do,
and write more poems about how valleys breathe,
the songs of wood cutters,
the sweat of plants.
Walt Whitman met Lorca at the cathedral in New York.
He met him near the casement
and on the lake, in front of the altar.
He met him in the hallway.
He met Lorca before he ran away.
Walt Whitman met al-Mutanabbi behind the Statue of Liberty. ...(more)
"Our mountains are real, and they are spectacular"
Lee Poissant, on vacation from Plattsburgh, New York, train watching on a strip of grass adjoining the Destiny, U.S.A. shopping mall. Syracuse, NY
“I’ll watch the trains for a couple hours and then maybe I’ll go to a movie, play some golf, or watch the Yankees. I taught philosophy and logic for 30 years, and compose chess problems for two different magazines. So far this afternoon I’ve seen three freight trains and the Chicago-to-Boston Amtrak.”
The LBM Dispatch
An irregularly published newspaper of the North American ramblings of photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar.
Postmodern pastoral retains certain allegiances to the lyric and to individual subjectivity while insisting on the reality of a world whose objects are all equally natural, and therefore equally unnatural. Because this is an anthology of poems, its primary orientation, its allegiance, must be to the aesthetic, to the movements of language and the imagination. Yet as the ecocritic Kate Soper has remarked, ‘it is not language that has a hole in its ozone layer’; imagining ‘the good life,’ or its betrayal, has a clear relation to the actual suffering world. Postmodern pastoral offers a means of mapping the shifting terrain of that world while maintaining its ethical consciousness that the map must never be mistaken for the territory.” -
When I approach the history section in any bookshop I am perpetually startled by thedisturbingly large number of volumes on military warfare in comparison to anything else. Is our history so scarred by continuous warfare that every other aspect of ancestors’ lives is deemed subsidiary? I’m of the opinion that whilst warfare has been an ongoing occupation of many historic peoples, it has by no means been their only occupation, nor their characterising feature. Instead, we might accuse the modern day reader with a bloodthirsty appetite of skewing the publishable ability of historical research, and the historian past and present of labouring over a romanticism of national identity and violence. With this in mind, I intend to look again at the sources surrounding Anglo-Saxon society, a culture whose subtlety is often obscured by excessive attention to barbaric violence and glorified epic war poems. Whilst it is undeniable that violence and its glorification existed in Anglo-Saxon society, its relation to peace and the complexity of its place in Anglo-Saxon culture have only recently begun to draw the attention of the historian. Peace, I will argue, is essential to adiscussion of war in Anglo-Saxon political thought and deserves just as much attention as the studyof warfare...(more)
"The most impressive achievement of The Wire, however, is the way it humanizes an entire segment of American society that most white Americans would just as soon ignore (and generally do)."
... the world of The Wire has not disappeared. If anything, it has gotten worse with our prolonged recession and the continuing retreat of low-skill jobs. What has changed is the almost total absence of a national conversation about these issues. Perhaps because he is our first black President, Barack Obama has studiously avoided discussions of race and poverty. Democrats more generally have found any talk of social policy a toxic issue in a political climate where the government is seen by Republicans as the main threat to our well-being.
Our conviction that social policy is doomed to failure increasingly demonstrates the parochialism of our national discussion. The fact that North Americans have been largely brain-dead on this issue for much of the past generation has not stopped people in other parts of the world from innovating. Poverty rates and inequality have dropped over the past decade across Latin America, for long the world’s most unequal region, through a combination of economic growth and intelligently crafted conditional cash transfer programs like Oportunidades in Mexico and Bolsa Famķlia in Brazil. What these countries have that America lacks, surprisingly, is not just innovative policy, but a much greater political consensus that some degree of strong government action—and, yes, wealth redistribution—is necessary to undermine the nexus of drugs, poverty and crime. Americans, by contrast, have had to sneak redistribution through the back door by means of artifices like subsidized mortgage lending—a path that was neither efficient nor, as we have seen, safe for the economy as a whole. The country needs to address the problem of the underclass forthrightly and on its own terms....(more)
... as an undergraduate, I took a class on Athenian politics in which we read a lot of the speeches that were given in Athenian law courts. I was really taken aback by the fact that there was very little mention of imprisonment in those speeches, and I suddenly realized that I couldn’t imagine a world where prisons weren’t a major part of how we think about punishment. That captivated me, and I wanted to understand a world where imprisonment was not the dominant mode of understanding punishment. In that regard, the origin of the book was absolutely the shock of discovering, by looking at the ancient world, that our world is contingent, and that one particular contingency is the degree to which we use incarceration. It bears some thinking as to how we got there and what a world without extensive incarceration looks like....(more)
... it is clear that most political struggles at the moment amount to a war over time. The generalised debt crisis that hangs over all areas of capitalist life and culture – from banks to housing and student funding – is ultimately about time. Averting the alleged catastrophe (of the end of capitalism) will heighten the apocalyptic temporality of everyday life, as the anticipation of catastrophe gives way to a sense that we are already living through the catastrophe and it, like work, will never end. The increase of debt justifies the extending of working hours and working life, with retirement age being pushed ever further back. We are in a state of harrassed busyness from which – we are now promised – there will never be any relief.
The state of reactive panic in which most of us find ourselves is not an accidental side-effect of post-Fordist labour. It is highly functional for capital that our time is not only quantitatively short but qualitatively fragmented, bitty. We are required to live in the condition that Linda Stone has called “continous partial attention”, where our attention is habitually distributed across multiple communication platforms.
As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi has argued, we now live in the tension between the infinity of cyberspace and the vulnerable finitude of the body and the nervous system. “The acceleration of information exchange has produced and is producing an effect of a pathological type on the individual human mind and even more on the collective mind,” Berardi writes in Precarious Rhapsody. “Individuals are not in a position to process the immense and always growing mass of information that enters their computers, their cell phones, their television screens, their electronic diaries and their heads. However, it seems indispensable to follow, recognise, evaluate, process all this information if you want to be efficient, competitive, victorious. … The necessary time for paying attention to the fluxes of information is lacking.”...(more)
Even though we know that the organization of the brain is made up of a gazillion decision centers, that neural activities going on at one level of organization are inexplicable at another level, and that there seems to be no boss, our conviction that we have a “self” making all the decisions is not dampened. It is a powerful illusion that is almost impossible to shake. In fact, there is little or no reason to shake it, for it has served us well as a species. There is, however, a reason to try to understand how it all comes about. If we understand why we feel in charge, we will understand why and how we make errors of thought and perception....(more)
I was pulled
out of myself
through a leisurely
a dome of worry
splash of blue
in the air
Facts on the floor,
an impossible less,
no answers for what
and all these
door-knockers of rain,
that gets less
all the time, ...(more)
Flaunting big sticks, big boys will strut, though contemptuous glances and thoughts are constantly cast in their direction. These ogres are also vain, however, as evidenced by their endless efforts to aggrandize themselves, as with the London Olympics. Somalia-born Mo Farah’s two gold medals were cheered as proof of Islamic integration and success in England, but what’s ignored is the UK’s more than a century-long history of colonizing, bombing, subversion and exploitation of numerous Islamic countries, with Iraq, Libya and Syria just the latest examples.
As for the United States, it is a tireless crafter of its own fun-loving and sexy image, to be exported worldwide into the most obscure teahouse, hut, yurt, igloo or cave of every last province of every country. American tanks, planes and bombs are painted with cartoon characters, and American pilots sing, “Bye, bye, Miss American pie,” as they zap your families from the sky. After foreigners are bombed as they listen to Lady Gaga or Britney Spears, the adult corpses can be wrapped in New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys blankets, while their dead children can be interred in Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob SquarePants comforters. It’s all good....(more)
Two worlds overlap, drifting sullenly between clouds and shadows. Only one body desires to consume itself in darkness overnight. Suited as predatory capitalists on a mission, manifest destiny manages to migrate across fictitious borders on its way to harvest flesh. War for “Whites” means humiliation to satisfy power through the rigours of sacrificial violence. Men aiding the men of property unshackle my ancestral relatives and lead them to a wooden structure. With the river’s strength flowing behind them, the water scripts its forever return downstream only to come back. That day in 1864, among a modest crowd drawn into the spectacle, five honest men hang....(more)
In this age of distraction, we’re uncovering writing that’s worth slowing down and spending some time with. And in doing so, we’re giving great writers, literary magazines, and independent presses the recognition (and readership) they deserve.
Behind the hypnotized grimaces of official pacification there is a war. We can no longer merely call it economic, or social, or humanitarian. It has become total. By now everyone has felt their existence becoming a battlefield on which neuroses, phobias, somatizations, depression, and anxiety each beat their respective retreats; yet nobody has managed to grasp the
meaning of their trajectory or what is really at stake. Paradoxically, it is the total nature of this war-total in its means no less than its ends-that has allowed it to cloak itself in such invisibility.
Empire prefers quiet methods over open offensives: chronic prevention, the molecular diffusion of constraint into everyday life. Here, internal police run relay for the generalized police state, just as individual self-control does for social control. Ultimately, it's the omnipresence of the new police that has made them undetectable.(....)
Retaking the offensive for our side is a matter of making the battlefield manifest. The figure of the Young-Girl is a vision machine conceived to this effect. Some will use it to account for the massive character of hostile occupation forces in our existences; others, more vigorous, will use it to determine the speed and direction of their progression.(....)
The Young-Girl is explicitly not a gendered concept. A hip-hop nightclub player is no less a Young-Girl than a beurette tarted up like a porn star. The resplendent corporate-advertising retiree who divides his leisure between the Cote d’Azur and his Paris offices, where he still likes to keep an eye on things, is no less a Young-Girl than the urban single lady too obsessed with her consulting career to notice she’s lost fifteen years of her life to it. And how could we account for the secret rapport between ultratrendy musclebound Marais homos and the Americanized petite bourgeoisie happily installed in the suburbs with their plastic families, if the Young-Girl were a gendered concept?
In reality, the Young-Girl is simply the model citizen ...... (more)
On the naked or velvet midnight or on any mind, this weak effort, I doubt, represents, any anterior clarity, given its late, low value; only sufficient, it maintains amidst the active shadows a paltry residue of bright day, thought, almost thinking. This poor glow is transformed into a dull and impermanent cheek, soon its useless face smiles against me, prompt, itself consumed by the deepening luster of dusk.iii
It is my bottom depths that I touch. To such a number of spontaneous figures all my invention restores, that is to say it starts again, here, far below all scales of comparison, after an indifferent period or lapse, having always followed lost ways, the being who is made for forgetting; or maybe it returns as a scattering of diurnal charms, dismantling the constellation of everyday forms.
Robertson and Farr
Stephen Collis on Lisa Robertson and Roger Farr
...it’s texts like Robertson’s and Farr’s that re-engage me with the possibilities of critical prose—in part because these are anything but “normative” examples of disciplinary circumspection. They are commodious (to use a favorite word of Robertson’s) refusals and shape-shifting experiments.
The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated.
In what follows, we examine some of the curious lexical, grammatical, and stylistic features of what we call International Art English. ...(more)