Saturday, June 10, 2006

Back from LA and lots of books in the mail to make bills and other unpleasantries easy to swallow:

from Ugly Duckling Press: After You, Dearest Language by Marison Limon Martinez; a book of Mandelstam translations; and also Gabriel Pomerand's Saint Ghetto of the Loans, a long prose poem here twice translated (by Michael Kasper and Bhamati Viswathan into English) and by Pomerand, on the facing page, into strings (rebuses) of pictographs and hieroglyphs. Pomerand's version of Lettrist practice--breaking down words and sentences to the materiality of the letter in order to discover a magical, immediate and directly effective language (he conceives of his poem as a spellbook, a magical primer) evinces hopefulness about the power of poetry that is rare or non-existent today. It's hard to imagine any writer today searching for "intrinsic figuration" or believing that onomotapoeia is anything but a illusion that meaning creates. And yet, the search for linguistic materiality by way of fragmentation and negativity is something recognizable in other poetries from later moments in the century; it's hard not to think of Ron's notion of the new sentence here, and the peculiarly paradoxical language of uncovering and covering, language "tightly wrapped in searing penetration," is something little writing gets away from. Any revelation's a covering, too.

Also--Josh Corey's chapbook Compostition Marble and Mike Magee's Mainstream (which they were both kind enough to send). I'm looking forward to reading all of these books. I start intensive French on Monday (25 hrs/week) and have no idea how much time this will leave me with for extracurricular reading.

I have wanted to respond to Standard's remarks, here, about the technologization of poetry as a set of new "enclosures" (at least that's the implication of the final paragraph) and his opposing to this a "voluntary history" that breaks free from the habits of memory and official histories. It's a provocative and unsettling claim, and I see it as in part a response to the question I asked two or three posts back about the nature of the public and private in the blogosphere. It is all the more timely a remark given the current bill in the legislature which would allow for a further privatization and corporatization of the internet. (Note: what follows is not about Flarf, but about technology and artistic practice more generally).

The book that comes to mind here, and that I think Standard is referencing, aside from _Capital_,--is the Retort group's account, in Afflicted Powers, of the 21st century as a new age of primitive accumulation and dispossession, a new age of enclosures--by way of not only privativation, market liberalization, free trade and mass media but also blatant colonialization and occupation. The other works that comes to mind are Hardt and Negri's books Empire and Multitude. Hardt and Negri would agree, to a large degree, with Afflicted Powers notion of primitive accumulation and extend it to the realm of the informational (the internet, etc.) and the biopolitical (genetic engineering, agricultural science). Hardt and Negri are optimistic where Retort is pessimistic, and so as much as they see a new age of displacement and dispossession they also see a simultaneous back-creation of a "common," here analogically linked to the common lands which the enclosures in England destroyed. This common, in their account, can be found on the internet, in shared knowledge, and in the biological. For Hardt and Negri, these areas are in excess of capital's ability to control and adminster them and allow for subversive reappropriative actions by individuals. As much as the internet is most commonly used to buy and sell things, it is also used to organize political actions and distribute information in a manner that is in excess of the state's, and Capital's, regulatory abilities.

The counterargument here (perhaps Standard's and perhaps not) is that the derealization and virtualization of the world allows for a internet world of pseudo-freedoms and pseudo-life all the while that exploitation and domination in 3-D-ville (land and air and sea) proceeds apace; the worry, I suppose, is that action in the media, in blogs etc., will substitute for action in the world. So this would be a pseudo-common, a common that is in fact an enclosure, and which permits dispossession in other spheres. This is the basic plot structure of so many science fiction books and movies, right? We're watching a thrilling and endlessly entertaining movie while our organs are being removed.

But it's wrong, I think, to over-identify a particular technology with the exploitation for which it allows. And this is where I disagree with Standard, at least as I'm reading him, and as much as I agree that historical consciousness of this type is crucial--in fact, I think it sounds little different than Benjamin's exhortation to seize an image of the past that flashes up in a moment of danger, to use the past for the purposes of present political consciousness. But the society of the spectacle and its enclosure(s) are a set of social relations, not just a technology; it is a social image fostered by image-machines, and to the extent that we take as our object of critique the technology itself we miss the point, and we may run the risk of getting rid of the technology and maintaining the social relations. It's not technology that's the problem, as I see it, but the use or misuse of that technology. To a certain degree, no doubt, the social relations of late capitalism have become part of the very form of the internet, a kind of sedimented content that is structural and hence inescapable. But I suspect that this is only part of the story of digital technology, and that a good portion of the deleterious effects of it have to do with the uses to which it is put. Uses that are, also, voluntary.

Mediation of life occurs through various devices, low-tech, hi-tech, no-tech. To the extent that, on the one hand, we think that avoiding the hi-tech or the popular makes a substantial difference we've conflated cause and effect. To the extent that we think some kind of internet image-war is what it's all about--and this would be the danger of certain technologist positions-- we're set up for a series of pyrric victories. We have to look for the ways in which the internet points back to and feeds into social life in the world in which we still, thankfully, live. Both of these interpretations are part of what T.J. Clark has referred to, in trying to counter misreadings of Afflicted Powers, as Donald Rumsfeld's theory of spectacle. We can't forget the society part of Debord's title.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not interested in living here, in ones and zeros, while public space withers and gets more and more desertified. And yes, I'm aware that for the most part the online world is a machine for keeping us in a "depthless present" in which we avoid, in fact, the terrors of the present moment, ditto the past and future. But I think that search engines or whatnot, or other technologies can be used, if not for historical investigation, then for a lateral recovery of the full sprawl, the full excessive (abundant) massiveness of the present in all of its aspects. And one gets to make voluntary present-worlds here, too. One gets to see connections here, too. And I think that there is a slippage, in Standard's account, between information-economies and commodity-economies. Information is in abundance in the world today; the way that one makes information into a commodity is by limiting access, valuing certain types of information and devaluing others, and in all respects convincing other people that the "real information" is here, not there. But most of the time that same information can be had for free, so being-in-the-know is a scam. The commodity part of information is all in its organization, its form, and so, perhaps, there are ways of arranging and rearranging information that do not follow the logic of the commodity. [I'm going to continue to think about this. Any thoughts would be appreciated.]

Look, I'm more than aware that every time I buy a book online, or download an article, I'm contributing to the death of the street. But I also know that, for instance, the BBQ I went to yesterday at Rodney Koeneke's house, where I saw Alli Warren and Kasey Mohammed read their thrilling poems, and met Rodney's beautiful little boy Auden (only ten days younger than Noah!) was partly a social connection spurred on by the internet. The same thing happened a couple of weeks ago when, after an e-mail exchange, I ran into Standard at Normal Cole's, Melissa Benham's and Mary Burger's Artifact reading. A disagreement that might have turned more negative than necesary turned into a truly pleasant and edifying conversation, and I found Standard an immensely likeable fellow with whom I have numerous common interests. And no doubt more than a few points of difference.

So, I think that, as with any technology, there is little that is inherently open or closed in digital technology. It's a question of how, and to what purpose, something is used. Or so says my Wittgenstein. I think the same goes for the ostensibly trivial aspects of popular culture--yes, a song by X or Y may be basically ideological and obfuscating or toxic, but if contextualized correctly, if juxtaposed in intriguing ways, it's anything but.

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