ARMED CELL 3
ARMED CELL 3
STEVEN ZULTANSKI from UNTITLED POEM FOR POLICE LOG AND MINUTE HAND MAYA WEEKS WE ARE ABOUT TO MAKE SOME DISCOVERIES ERIC LINSKER IN THE RAID INSTANCES NICHOLAS KOMODORE from MOON CONTOURS: 2. 6. JEFF DERKSEN from THE VESTIGES BRIAN ANG LANGUAGE WRITING AND THE PRESENT LYN HEJINIAN THE MADDENING OF CONNECTIONS
ARMED CELL 3 Edited by Brian Ang firstname.lastname@example.org armedcell.blogspot.com Cover image by Coupe L’état “Impervious/Within This Burnished Night” coupeletat.org Physical edition of 100 Free ARMED CELL seeks to publish what is urgent and necessary in poetry and poetics. It insists on militancy “working for the emancipation of humanity in its entirety” (Alain Badiou) to confront the notion of there being at present “too much anti-capitalism” (Slavoj Žižek) and not enough direct action against “capitalism (or whatever other name we might want to give to the process dominating world history today)” (Giorgio Agamben). ARMED CELL seeks relationship with those engaged in research and practice with this matrix of concerns, in order to be, like Lenin’s pre-revolution withdrawal to study Hegel, a site for the study necessary for executing political actions. ARMED CELL 3 was first distributed at the Poetry and Poetics of the 1980s conference, University of Maine, 27 June–1 July 2012. ARMED CELL 4 will appear in January 2013. Submit cover images and writing by the end of November 2012 for consideration.
from UNTITLED POEM FOR POLICE LOG AND MINUTE HAND 12:01 a.m. Group of people outside yelling.
12:02 a.m. Violation of the city noise ordinance.
12:03 a.m. Police respond to a report that a snow blower is keeping residents awake, but no one is seen using a snow blower.
12:04 a.m. Officers ask a couple of people on a porch to quiet down.
12:05 a.m. Officers tell a group of people making noise on a roof deck to take the party indoors.
12:06 a.m. A group of kids is dispersed.
12:07 a.m. Police responded to a report of three males yelling and possibly fighting in the third floor hallway at the Extended Stay hotel. No arrests were made initially, and the suspects were advised to quiet down.
12:08 a.m. Report of a male in a verbal altercation in checkout line at Walmart because he cannot purchase beer after midnight.
12:09 a.m. Noise complaint.
12:10 a.m. Vicious dog complaint.
12:11 a.m. Parking complaint.
12:12 a.m. Suspicious vehicle.
Shane Martingano, 20, was charged with breach of peace. Police said he was observed throwing a filled beer can into a large crowd in Farmer Brown's parking lot at 12:12 a.m. Martingano was released on a $500 non-surety bond and is scheduled to appear in court on May 7.
12:13 a.m. A condo renter’s life has been disrupted by his downstairs neighbors constantly pounding on the ceiling.
12:14 a.m. Improper photography.
12:15 a.m. After screaming for 15 minutes, a woman relaxed by sitting on a driveway.
12:16 a.m. A 24 year-old man was assaulted in a home.
12:17 a.m. A woman calls to report that a male wearing a black hoodie and a surgical mask over his face had been following her. Officer Hickey located the subject and he was sent out of the area.
12:18 a.m. Assault.
WE ARE ABOUT TO MAKE SOME DISCOVERIES to be worldly is a blessing or a curse in a small town
say clapboard like cupboard
amtrak i love you but you’re bringing me down
the more secure a child’s sense of self the more likely she is to stick to one favorite color
my favorite colour is grapefruit
we all want to be part of something different lightning strikes plane forces it to return to airport
nexus recognition place faces
that was last night this is a carrot
everyone takes a shot of snake blood
preliminary research evinces pacific trash vortex
possibility is geography hello california
you chose to be here and you can return any time you want to
no time for bodies no space for tears it’s been a full life
we are not really symmetrical
but who’s going to look?
wanting to feel better feeling fine
interest becomes a couple of things
the question is ever how much to pay attention
an army of glue sticks a battalion of feelers
moving around an image that isn’t every thing an object to walk on
more or less analog incendiary
eucalyptus you could get in it
an orchestra without a conductor
a sick face wet
sneeze is convention forget it
a slick pace cred
why go to new york?
new york is coming to us
IN THE RAID INSTANCES At once she read three books None open. Reread in smoke Misusage walking rampant In the verdure of the word smoke A manhole opened outside her None in her family read Her brother slept and wept Sleeped and weeped Leaped and swept His body from the walk To the skylight, first result Of sun motes set apart From the chance at epic Drops clearing trash For sun motes as the cost of A sun mote, the drop suicided By an attachment Behind the verdigris firing On a man in a hole behind A bush. Often he dropped His words from his body Shot in the dark Here, anybody selling Dust gathering in the bank
In the thread of the post In the chance trash on the walk As I waded up to the first boss On impulse, on the smokescreen Behind banks, a sun behind Banks, the word of firing Behind his suicide, ramps Up to a word behind my head The sun an impulse for Screen shots in the trash Clearing my head From its body, from the top
from MOON CONTOURS 2. VICE ↔ VERSA ↓ MORAL → REALM ↓ ↕ ETHOS ↹ THEOS ↓ VIRTUE ⇥ VIRILITY ↓ ↘ PHILOTIMO ↹ PHARISEE ↘ MOON ← MAN ↙ LOGOS ⇥ LOGO ↓ SOUL ↔ SALT ↓ JAZZ ↹ INJUSTICE ↓ ↘ COURAGE ⇉ COURT ↓ AGAPE ↔ PAGAN ↯ ORGASM ⇥ GOURMET ↓ ↕ MIASMA ⇇ MISSING IN ACTION ↘ CUBA ↔ CUBISM ↓
EROICA ⇥ PERESTROIKA ↙ PINOCCHIO → PINOT NOIR ↙ STEROIDS ↔ STEREO ↕ MONACO ↔ MONASTERY ↙ GENDER ⇥ DERMATOLOGY EASTER ↔ AUSTERITY ↙ ARCHITECTURE → ARCHIGRAM ↑ ↓ PARLIAMENT → AMEND ↓ ↓ LIPS → PEEL ↓ SWEAT → SWEET ↓ HARVARD ↔ COWARD ↕ ↕ SHARK ↔ CRASH (2008) ↘ BALONEY ← COLONIALISM ↙ ↘ INSURRECTION → SURGERY ↘ ↙ ↘ HIV (AIDS) ↔ HADES (PHARMACEUTICALS) ↓ PROGRESS ↔ GRASS ROOTS ↕ ↕ PEOPLE ↔ PLETHORA ↕ ↕ LIFE ↔ LOAF
6. MOON PAWN UNION KING OIL KNIGHT FACTORY ROOK BANK QUEEN OLYMPICS BISHOP MOVE PAWN THEORY ROOK POLIORCETICS KING TAX BISHOP COLD KNIGHT GUILLOTINE QUEEN SOCIOLOGY ROOK BOOK PAWN TREATY
QUEEN STRATEGY KING POETRY KNIGHT ELLIPSIS BISHOP FAUST KING BURGER QUEEN WATER ROOK INSTITUTION PAWN SOLAR KNIGHT BATTERY BISHOP GOLD QUEEN ATHENIAN KNIGHT VIOLENCE PAWN ARETE KING HUBRIS ROOK TOXIC BISHOP SUICIDE KING ANGLOSAXON PAWN PRESIDENT QUEEN
KILL BISHOP BLUECHIP ROOK SAD KNIGHT CHEMICAL ROOK MILK KING DIASPORA KNIGHT AUSTERITY QUEEN MODERN BISHOP ALMOST PAWN TARIFF QUEEN OPERA KNIGHT QUENCH KING RACISM PAWN HISTORY ROOK ATOMIC BISHOP READ KING CLOWN QUEEN POLICE KNIGHT LUMBAGO
PAWN TAVERN BISHOP FIDEL ROOK STATE QUEEN PROGRESS ROOK EQUATION KNIGHT CASINO KING FOOTBALL PAWN FASHION BISHOP SEMIOTICS KNIGHT LIE QUEEN PAPER ROOK WAKE PAWN SOPHIST KING BATHROOM BISHOP PRE KING POST QUEEN ANTI PAWN INTERNET ROOK
CROOK NANO BISHOP DAILY KNIGHT CLONE PAWN BASTARD ROOK CATHOLIC QUEEN MUSLIM KING JEWISH KNIGHT BUDDHIST BISHOP DANCE ROOK DNA QUEEN PORN BISHOP PRIVATE PAWN PARADIGM KING ORGANIC KNIGHT KONG KING BOREDOM KNIGHT MOMMY QUEEN MEDIA BISHOP
BARRICADE ROOK UPRISE PAWN CHECK MATE SOON
from THE VESTIGES What would we learn by reliving the riots with the roles reversed? Coal miner’s strike, nation pits cops unions towns breakdown “there is no such thing…” famously [and fuck the Falklands] “I love a man in a uniform.” “The Call Up”. The General Strike called back in the final moment. The retaking of the “heart of the neighbourhood”, a building from a developer’s city plan to other hands to see it given again The Gift Economy Enclosed! The Wood Squat taught (history teaches). Regina 1935 “shot or sent back”
Ottakring Februaraufstand 1934 “heavy fighting in the worker’s housing” January 1958 Caracas the modernist blocks mass squatted as Jimenez Perez flew to Miami that day “And the devil came here yesterday…. and it smells of sulfur still today.” In 1905 1,000 slugs of punctuation “felling absolutism” as the word spread. Paving stones, and who’s on top, kicking off an ultimate final offer on the table, cutting the legs out from under and the fixed factory itself cut up and shipped off. We don’t negotiate with workers or terrorists post Thatcher
Post-Mulroney Post-Reagan Post-Kohl Post-NAFTA Post-marker bubble Post-industrial Post-port city Post big bailout Post G20 Post-market tin-pot grab-and-go cronies local products [add your own] Money changing hands – like it was material – in a brown paper bag under the table of the convention centre shaped like a ship a decorated shed. A new crass capitalist class “what about” locked in competition with each other! The super rich eat the rich! “last of its kind” or “only eleven left” space scarcity spilling off the hills homes spilling off the hills on the slopes to the sea’s abstract view. Abstract
paintings I walk by downtown (“Downtown! Things will be better when you’re”) Cleaners clean the lobbies on temporary visas. Silhouetted. “Look at the sun sinking like a ship” into stacked coloured cube container ships abstracted. “From pins to people…” it adds up. Soft power over borders holds or hordes bodies, when today arranges arcades – the miracle of social space refracting “sheer life” gold, growth industries public-private partnerships that’s legislation over flesh. Isn’t that the state how it relates to hollowed-out spaces?
LANGUAGE WRITING AND THE PRESENT “What is the difference between method and technique? One could say that technique is the principle of construction in the writing. In other words, how the writing is written. And method is the principle of construction which begins with the activity of the writer as a whole, the extension of the act of writing into the world and eventually into historical self-consciousness.” – Barrett Watten, “Method and Surrealism: The Politics of Poetry” (1981)1 This paper will examine methodological constructions in Language writing for the purpose of furthering potentialities for present poetic praxis. The phrase “language centered” first appeared in print in Ron Silliman’s edited feature “The Dwelling Place” (1975): “9 poets out of the present […] [c]alled variously ‘language centered,’ ‘minimal,’ ‘non-referential formalism,’ ‘diminished referentiality,’ ‘structuralist.’ Not a group but a tendency in the work of many [….] What connects these writers […] is what I take to be a community of concern for language as the center of whatever activity poems might be.”2 “Language centered” was accorded the status of a name by Steve McCaffery in his edited feature “The Politics of the Referent” (1977) in his analyses of “language centered” works to construct stronger propositions: “Language-centered writing involves a major alteration in textual roles: of the socially defined functions of writer and reader as the productive and consumptive poles respectively of a commodital axis [….] [L]inguistic reference is a displacement of human relationships and as such is fetishistic in the Marxian sense.”3 Silliman’s “Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World” of the same year further developed the analogy of linguistic reference to commodity fetishism by historicizing and prescribing: ____________
Presented at the Poetry and Poetics of the 1980s conference, University of Maine, 27 June–1 July 2012. 1 Open Letter 5.1, “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Issue” (1982), 129. 2 Alcheringa 1.2 (1975), 104, 118. 3 “The Death of the Subject: The Implications of Counter-Communication in Recent Language-Centered Writing,” L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Supplement Number One (1980).
“What happens when a language moves toward and passes into a capitalist stage of development is an aesthetic transformation of the perceived tangibility of the word, with corresponding increases in its descriptive and narrative capacities, preconditions for the invention of ‘realism,’ the illusion of reality in capitalist thought. These developments are tied directly to the function of reference in language, which under capitalism is transformed (deformed) into referentiality [….] By recognizing itself as the philosophy of practice in language, poetry can work to search out the preconditions of post-referential language within the existing social fact. This requires (1) recognition of the historic nature and structure of referentiality, (2) placing the issue of language, the repressed element, at the center of the program, and (3) placing the program into the context of conscious class struggle.”4 This methodological proposition of poetic significance, politicizing referential critique and the emphasis on language, enabled such statements by Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein in a 1979 interview: Bernstein: “I am interested [in] stopping the sense of transparency in language […] because it is people that make up language and in that way change reality [….] [I]n working on writing I am interested in creating things which aren’t simply vehicles for something else […] things that exist on their own, for themselves, by themselves.” Andrews: “[T]he way writing uses language as a paradigm for how people can operate within this larger social system […] I think are the broader political implications of some of these kinds of writing [….] If people can come to a greater understanding of how those systems operate […] then that’s a political dimension to this work which I think is going to be undercut […] by demanding the work to take on a more obvious or visible political content.”5 Language writing’s methodological semiotics enabled increases in the agency of technique for non-instrumentality to have politicized poetic significance, which Andrews strategically diminished “obvious political content” in this early phase to emphasize. Andrews swiftly contextualized method toward further potentialities, as in “Writing Social Work & Political Practice” of the same year: ____________
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Supplement No. 3 (1981). “Pacifica Interview on Politics,” ibid.
“One mode of writing tips its hat to assumptions of reference [….] An alternative structuralist view. Here the medium of writing is language, understood as a system [….] Writing can attack the structure of the sign after declaring that settled system of differences to be repressive. But there’s an ironic twist here. The Blob-like social force of interchangeability & equivalence […] precedes us: it has actually carried quite far the erosion of the system of differences on which signification depends [….] So to call for a heightening of these deterritorializing tendencies may risk a more homogenized meaninglessness [….] Writing doesn’t need to satisfy itself with pulverizing relations & discharging excess. It can charge material with possibilities of meaning […] where meaning will insist on spinning out of the closed circuit of the sign, to reach or act on the world.”6 Andrews theorized method beyond referential critique and the emphasis on language toward the investigation of social meaning. Silliman’s social concerns developed to emphasize audience consumption and social struggle, as in “The Political Economy of Poetry” (1981): “The potential contents of the text are only actualized according to their reception, which depends on the social composition of the receivers [….] Poetry […] reflects struggle […] as much [as] between audiences as […] between poets (or, to be precise, it is one between social formations).”7 The next notable methodological proposition of poetic significance was Conceptual writing, which challenged audience consumption by reading altogether, as in Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Conceptual Poetics” (2007): “[C]onceptual writing is more interested in a thinkership rather than a readership. Readability is the last thing on this poetry’s mind. Conceptual writing is good only when the idea is good.”8 In this early phase, Goldsmith strategically diminished reading to emphasize poetic significance in the concept, similar to how Language writing’s early phase diminished reference to emphasize poetic significance in the emphasis on language. Language writing swiftly nuanced its strategic diminishments and emphases, as in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine’s “Supplement Number One” (1980) which reprinted McCaffery’s “The Politics of the Referent” with a preface: ____________
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E 9/10 (1979). The New Sentence (1987), 25, 31. 8 “Journal, Day One” (2007), http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/01/journal-day-one/.
“[T]he tendencies in writing McCaffery is talking about under such headings as ‘language-centered’ are as open to the entrapments of stylistic fixation as any other in recent poetry [….] [T]he idea that writing could be stripped of reference is as troubling and confusing a view as the assumption that the primary function of words is to refer, one-on-one, to an already constituted world of ‘things’.”9 Craig Dworkin and Goldsmith’s Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011) was edited with the strategic diminishment of creative authorial intervention to emphasize Conceptual writing’s uncreative aspect of its emphasis on concept. As Dworkin wrote in his preface: “Our emphasis is on work that […] refuses familiar strategies of authorial control in favor of automatism, reticence, obliquity, and modes of noninterference [….] This anthology documents the explosion of publications since the turn of the millennium under the sign of the conceptual.”10 With this documentation complete, methodological contextualization and nuancing toward furthering potentialities for present praxis are needed. Conceptual writing’s diminishment of reading and emphasis on uncreativity “are as open to the entrapments of stylistic fixation as any other in recent poetry”: already within its methodological semiotics of poetic significance in its emphasis on concept is the potential for an increased agency of technique for reading, similar to the enabling of Bernstein’s increases in the agency of technique for non-instrumentality within Language writing’s method. Within Conceptual writing’s method, an increased agency of technique for reading could dynamically relate to concept operating as a definition of context enabling meaning investigations not otherwise possible, in contrast to early phase Conceptual writing in which reading is diminished and subordinated to concept. Similar to how Against Expression “include[s] the writings […] from […] earlier generations […] to demonstrate that particular techniques […] have precedents,”11 there are precedents for this dynamic conceptual mode. Andrews’ Lip Service’s concept is a “recasting of Dante’s Paradiso […] tak[ing] Dante’s thematic cues […] to rechoreograph […] material […] on love, erotic intimacy, gender socialization & the body […] with a drastic constructivism of syntax […] detonation & fluidities magnetizing its word-toword attractions.”12 Robert Fitterman’s ongoing Metropolis’ concept is an investigation of ____________
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Supplement Number One (1980). “The Fate of Echo,” Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011), xliii-xliv. 11 Ibid., xlv.
urban space: its progression has been from readerly textual technique toward the strategic diminishment of reading to emphasize sections’ concepts, as in “Metropolis 16,” included in Against Expression, a list of corporate stores.13 My current poetic project The Totality Cantos’ concept is an investigation of epistemological totality, the synchronous archive of present knowledge.14 These works’ concepts both bear poetic significance in themselves, as in their promotions of a constructivist gender perspective and encyclopedic polymathy, and define the contexts of their meaning investigations through reading, including Metropolis since its heterogeneous thirty sections require entrance into the work to consider even its most unreaderly sections and especially facilitating for Lip Service’s drastic textuality. A text’s mode of consumption determines the composition of its audience: the potentialities of the consumptive interface of poetic significance through concept are the conscious provision and utility of dynamic conceptual investigations, such as concerning gender, urban space, and epistemological totality, for the composition of audiences in the perpetual class and social struggle. The stakes continue to be the constitution of the world.
Lip Service (2001), back cover. Against Expression, 218-221. 14 See “From Pre-Symbolic to Totality: On Method,” ARMED CELL 2 (2012).
THE MADDENING OF CONNECTIONS from POSITIONS OF THE SUN “The madman does not notice that he is changing subjects. He grasps a piece of shining yellow straw and shouts that he is holding the sun.”1 Denis Diderot makes this observation to his beloved Sophie Volland in a letter dated October 20, 1760. That was more than 250 years ago. If anything were to last forever it would have to exist in a universe entirely invulnerable to temporal blows. I can hear the sound of the wind sweeping across the walls of the building, a distant dispiriting helicopter, a sequence of unpromising phrases running through my mind. I label myself discouraged, ebullient, angry, satisfied—or perhaps dissatisfied; I’m defiant, excited, tired, eager to understand (or, more likely, eager to unburden myself of) my feelings. The self-involvement of intellectuals of my social background is its own kind of madness. I tell myself I only have the machine, I’ll only halve the machine, I’ve only half the machine. Everyday life is going on pretty much as usual. But there are vagaries of context and sometimes turmoil, even sometimes states of perpetual upheaval. It’s not only art that can intensify everyday life. In my opinion, we are currently living under siege, but the situation is so pervasive that it has come to feel natural, as do the forces by which we are besieged. Nonetheless, their pressure is increasing. We can apply an allegorical supplement to the situation. It can appear in the form of a caption—whether or not it is visibly present as an inscription, as a title, legend, heading, name, or as an interpretive or critical thought, a mental addendum. We want it to point to a way out of the situation. The beholder declares to herself or to her companion, O, it isn’t just a poem about a girl petting a swan, it’s a picture of innocence—remember what it was like before we knew what exploitation was? A good reader will, in time, open a poem to de-allegorization: O, she will say, this isn’t an allegory, it’s a poem about a girl running her fingers down the surprisingly warm—almost hot—and thorny soft breast feathers of a real swan. The good reader continues, distributing (and sometimes dispensing with) her intentions. Literary language can’t escape reality, it’s vivaciously additive, and it is with an addition of language that an object, image, or situation becomes allegorical and also still real. ____________
Diderot’s Letters to Sophie Volland, selected and tr. by Peter France (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 85-86.
Something’s common designation, its name—Lyn Hejinian, Wheeler Hall, Paris—is rarely allegorical and alternative names (nicknames: e.g., Lynnie; descriptives: e.g., the English Department building on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley; evaluative anaphoras: e.g., the greatest city of Europe) are not necessarily so, though the latter tend toward interpretive and captioning functions, which have strong allegorizing potential and sometimes exercise it. Contextualization is a process, an elaboration of conditions and circumstances, a flow of contingencies and interruptions (not of interpretations). Context is not so much definitive or determinative as prospective; many possible actualizations could take form in it. To the extent that we know it, it has informative but not necessarily explanatory potential. What’s happening now can’t predict what I’ll dream tonight. Context has duration, as in the continuous present of political protest, whose outcome is never assured and whose cause, affixed to ambient conditions, contains simultaneously both its past and its future. I dream that I’m a resident of a hotel in Bombay, a hotel run by a family whose previous hotel was in Africa. I lived in that one for a time, too. The beautiful and enchanting little daughter is crying; she thinks I don’t like her. But I love her, I say to her father. Yes, he says, it would be impossible not to. It’s easier to draw an admonition than a moral from a dream when it’s one’s own. How does one care about the things one knows? Why does one come to care, and how does one carry out the caring? Maxims: Leave the sparrows singing in the bush and let your tears of laughter add salt to the sea. The man who runs uphill will eventually run down. Money may make a man but what it makes him may not be worth much. It’s not shame that binds us to duty but beauty. A chant goes up: indict the kleptocrats! Every political action carries out an interpretation of what has preceded it. Let’s rename the great public university on whose campus the students are chanting, and let’s relocate it. There; we’ve done it. History has to have something to start with. Martin Jay, borrowing terminology from Claude Romano’s Event and World, refers to events that re-open history as “advents.” They are “like what Nietzsche called ‘lightning flashes,’ which are radical breaks in the status quo… inaugurating their own future, as advents that open up possible adventures in a future not yet determined.”2 The university might now occupy a hillside on the habitable planet that Earthling astronomers refer to as P72e3 and its American administrators call Consolation (or Conso®). What the native inhabitants of P72e3 call the site remains a mystery; P72e3ese is impossible to translate into English, as it’s a language of “radical non-indexicality”: the grammar is stable (as far as we can tell), but the word-units that fill out the grammar seem to change meaning from one moment to the next and arbitrarily. Any word might mean anything at any given instant. No dictionary ____________
Martin Jay, “Historical Explanation and the Event: Reflections on the Limits of Contextualization,” in New Literary History 42 (2011), 564.
of the language is possible; evaluations are possible but never stick. What’s hip one minute might be foot another, what’s chill might turn pocket, uniform, speck, stick, changling. Indeed, on P72e3 it is impossible to know what it might mean to turn. The P72e3lings appear simultaneously aggressive and agreeable. Do they or don’t they want to adapt to the new social conditions? We need glossy advertisements for life. As the cricket says, Live it, live it, live it. Moral: Life is to be lived. Rating of moral: widely applicable but with local restrictions. Unrestricted application of moral: insane vivacity, exhaustion, possible dismay. Reality is full of problems. They exist objectively, independent of our being troubled by, or fascinated by, or drawn into them. And they aren’t all sites of divisiveness; problemsolving isn’t necessarily accomplished by identifying a problem and its elements and then separating ourselves from them or them from each other. Problems can exist as compilations, their elements drawn together by a compelling (and neither unifying nor homogenizing) force that overrides, or perhaps creates, the problem as such. Most social relations are problems. “I’ve used half a tube of titanium white on this,” says Lily Ball. “The value of a painting is determined by how much one can get someone to pay for it,” says Tamarind Magee. “Nothin’ ’bout time and materials,” says Commando. “Nothin’ ’bout cutting, erasing, drawing, and telling it like it is.” “No one gets paid just for living,” says Tamarind. “How do you think I should sign my name?” asks Rosario Basho Clark, gesturing with a paintbrush toward the canvas board the others can see only the back of. No one answers. Not every work of art has a future. More to the point, not every work of art can produce a future. As Melville’s Ishmael notes in an early chapter of Moby-Dick, “We are too much like oysters observing the sun through water.”3 “I’ll try Rio,” says Rosario. Rosario Basho Clark, Lily Ball, Commando, and Tamarind Magee occupy one of many possible presents. It is there—which is to say, then—that I picture them in the scuffed but not tawdry milieu of a classroom. Several large tables sit in the middle of the room, there are shelves along one wall, large-paned dirty wood frame windows along another, drawings and paintings hang in view, several vividly painted papier-mâché sculptures are arrayed on a shelf—it is the “art room” of the converted warehouse in which the Oakland MAP is located (not far from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, the site of ongoing political protests). “In this day and age, everyday life is lit by false suns: morality, the state, ideology. They bathe it in a phoney light, and even worse, they lower it to the depths where possibilities cannot be perceived, and keep it there. Sadly, the stars of what is possible shine only at night.”4 Rosario has been working at an upright easel. He turns the easel so the others can see the painting’s phenomenological face, a surface on which expectation has passed through ____________
Chapter 7, “The Chapel.” Henri Lefebvre, “The Theory of Moments,” in Critique of Everyday Life, vol 2, 348.
experienced and produced memories. An allegorical situation arises, in what Rosalind Krauss has called “the space of confrontation between the sign or emblem and the one who views it.” Such a space, she says, is created by “a directive addressed to someone, who is asked to make sense of it.”5 Its propositional open-endedness is of crucial importance. As Barbara Maria Stafford, in her book Visual Analogy, puts it, “a proposition […] is an offer extended by one body or thing to another inviting it to relate in a new manner.”6 But who are these characters for whom I’ve invented names? Or perhaps that’s the wrong question. Rather: what are these names for which I’ve invented characters? Gloria Steven Nakamura, Vivienne Forty Shushanian, Blister O’Leary March, Kasper Anselm Vanderenden, Xialu Janet Wang, Legs Nadler Lexington. These are possible names for credible configurations that, emerging from a collision of contexts, might show up in a work of documentary prose. They are, I assure you, based on actual people; they transfer one reality to another. Events need to be connected, and we prefer them to be connected to humans (though connections to other creatures can often be delightful and pertinent, as in La Fontaine’s Fables, for example). Connections to inanimate existence are harder to care about. Minerals are connected to geologists. But perhaps I’m wrong about that—maybe geologists are connected to minerals. We like to give characters a landscape to inhabit. Clark Kent, Peter Parker—they leapt out of a landscape to undertake acts of heroism. Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Herman Melville, Marianne Moore, Willa Cather—they burrowed into one. Sunlight is sliding over the street and bouncing on the whitecaps the wind is pushing across the bay; it spreads along the piers and strikes the facades of buildings in the financial district it cannot enter. “Who comes is occupied”—thus begins the tenth poem of George Oppen’s Discrete Series. The poet is watching a steam shovel operator engrossed in his task; he is stripping away a stretch of pavement or road, leaving “The asphalt edge / loose on the plateau,” and exposing what seems to be a rapid sequence of earlier moments there—an unfettered horse, sparks from an electric streetcar, the images themselves lasting no longer than a spark.7 Under the pavement and asphalt surfaces of Education Alley, College Avenue, Enlightenment Street, Mobility Boulevard, Anxiety Lane lies gray or dun-colored dirt, hard-packed and inert, reeking of dead bacteria, deprived of sunlight and rain, oppressed by the weight of the city. The sun moves relentlessly, slowly but without caution; with each change of position, it withdraws its light from one thing and casts it onto the next, allegorizing and then de-allegorizing and then re-allegorizing again. Continuity is made, not ____________
Rosalind Krauss, “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America,” October, 3 (Spring 1977), 152. Barbara Maria Stafford, Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 183. 7 George Oppen, New Collected Poems, ed. by Michael Davidson (NY: New Directions, 2002), 14.
found. But is it really, as Kierkegaard suggests, only human beings that can consciously enter into continuities, only they who, by hoping for a future, can “gain a history”?8 Images of clocks and watches—in advertisements, films, photographs, paintings, literature (“The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air”9)—create anxiety rather than continuity, a sense of time’s reluctance to approach or its inability to withdraw. Whatever the time that the face of the clock or watch registers, even if it happens to be the same time it is now, it is nonetheless that time at some other time than this one. The present is a tense of multiple, alternative hours. They don’t accumulate and can’t be gathered together, but they aren’t inconsequential. Though they are so closely interconnected in the popular imagination, heroism and history offer us materials from which we can extrapolate very different meanings. True, history produces heroes, and heroes produce history; or, perhaps, history just happens and heroics are opportunistic, or accidental. The heroes of this essay (only glimpsed, but palpable in their effect) are perhaps like Dr. Rieux in Camus’s novel The Plague; they take the requisite actions because there’s no good reason not to; these are the grounds on which they discover their ethical and practical imperatives. Heroism is in a praxis, just as victory is in a struggle. What heroes do is perfectly ordinary. Heroism, like history, can never deem anything insignificant. But what of Nikolai Rostov, the eager young brother of the heroine of War and Peace, whose first encounter with battle is overridden by the accidental. His account of it, accurately told, would be of nothing but trivia. Everything happened not as he willed it, but as if directed by accident. And so, likewise, is his account. “He could not simply tell them that they all set out at a trot, he fell off his horse, dislocated his arm, and ran to the woods as fast as he could to escape a Frenchman.” Perhaps we are as little in control of our interpretations of history as we are of history itself. Tolstoi tells us that young Nikolai “began telling the story with the intention of telling it exactly as it had been, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably for himself, he went over into untruth.”10 And with that untruth Nikolai creates an image appropriate to the silent caption he imagines underwriting the battle experience he wishes he had had: “A Young Hero at Dawn,” “On the Road to Victory,” or, simply, “Courage.” Armbands, tie on the red Behind, half the citizenry left Black, wearing Cap, military cunt Day, livelong ____________
See Kierkegaard, Either/Or, part II. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (NY: Harcourt, 1981), 186. 10 War and Peace, Richard Pevear and Larisa Volokhonsky, translators (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 242.
Direction, the right Doors into another world, let’s open Exits, entrances should reverse Happiness, quotidian Implacable, remain In arms, comrades Pathos, historical Silence, in a confounding Silence, keep Tension, unbreakable Us, they are threatening Victorious, patience will make us You, thank Yourself, do it Wound, head If you want to point something out, you should be neither too close to it nor too far away. If, however, you find yourself in the latter situation, please note that things that are far away are easier to point out if they are moving.
Impervious Within this burnished night, Despite our wretched State of history—here— Radiant thought! A fuller universe Spun from many worlds Wrenched on by class war