Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Post-Crisis Poetics conversation

Editor Brian Ang in conversation about post-crisis poetics with Caleb Beckwith at The Conversant.

“I launched ARMED CELL in 2011 at the Durruti Free Skool, convened by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr in Berkeley. Our projects shared a desire for a social poetics, a poetics resonant with social struggles. The magazine’s first poem, David Lau’s “Communism Today,” takes as its context the California anti-austerity university struggles that began in 2009, the first significant resistance to the 2008 economic crisis in the United States, as Jasper Bernes has argued. Joshua, David, Jasper, and I were participants in those struggles; responding to the crisis was central to participants’ practical understanding, that the crisis crystallized the secular stagnation of systemic capital accumulation projecting an absent future of exacerbated dispossession, exploitation, and unemployment, and we extended our investigations through poetry. My editing has emphasized a multiplicity of writing attuned to senses since the crisis; I first named “post-crisis poetics” in my analysis of “Communism Today” and extended the term in my essay analyzing writing from every issue to that time. My essay closed with an invitation to readers for further views for a series that I’m editing in order to continue developing this historical perspective’s suggestiveness for writing.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Brian Ang, Post-Crisis Poetics

Post-crisis poetics: desire for a poetics adequate to the present, the world since the 2008 economic crisis. I started my magazine ARMED CELL in August 2011 to investigate this, with a backdrop including the Arab Spring, the European “movement of the squares,” and its faint echo in the Wisconsin capitol occupation.1 The magazine’s title was drawn from a desire for militant intransigence signified by that form of struggle, a value of the California anti-austerity university struggles that began in 2009, the first significant resistance to the crisis in the United States.2 “There is no such thing as a peaceful insurrection. Weapons are necessary: it’s a question of doing everything possible to make using them unnecessary. An insurrection is more about taking up arms and maintaining an ‘armed presence’ than it is about armed struggle.”3 The university struggles are the context for the magazine’s first poem, David Lau’s “Communism Today”: its first section ends “Occupy everything, including Humanities,” an extension of the university struggles’ slogan that influenced the Occupy movement that began in September 2011 from the communization of space and time toward the communization of knowledge, starting with the humanities within which poetics is governed, a slogan for post-crisis poetics as a historicized critical poetics.4 What I want is to connect practices into a dynamic stance toward the present in order to lead to a new poetics adequate to the post-crisis period in progress.
Call-in request line binding force
cut back, fought
with Mozart and the percussion great
called Non-Los Angeles.
They came around the
building with our comrades
in front of them as shields.
Fuck Dave Kliger.
Which one of these anarchist faggots stole my SIM card?
See if the janitor has the key to open these doors.
He’s the person we need everything.
The telos today closer to undead,
insurrectionary Velazquezes incapable
of enduring independent labor monitors—
wild Mike is straight up drugs.
Sri Lankan and subjective confusions
adopted that language
as in Balzac when rude boys
had rivers to cross.
A snort of laughter to knot
en El Encanto Sanitarium
near the freeway river flowing 100,000 stanzas,
let Placitas bloom 1,000 at a time
quickly into inauspicious jobs.
Occupy everything, including Humanities
Desire for an out to postmodernity, a “Non-Los Angeles” preserved in the freedom of Mozart’s Enlightenment ideals, found irruption in the California university struggles. Building occupations and fighting the police radicalized a current of anarchist and communist “comrades” explicitly antagonistic to the privatizing administration. Radicalization also irrupted internal conflicts, signified by “anarchist” combined with a homophobic slur, within the “SIM card,” technology equipped student movement. Traversing conflicts were alliances with workers with “the key to open these doors,” occupation as both tactic and strategy toward seizing “everything” as expressed in the occupation slogan, “We Want Everything.” This desire for totality opened onto the post-crisis sense of “telos” toward catastrophe, an undead capitalism in which merely liberated presences, as in Francis Bacon’s postwar hystericizations of Velázquez, are inadequately resistant, the system shambling forward through exacerbated exploitation of labor without resurgent capital accumulation—illegal resistance requires opacity, signified by subcultural slang. The “Sri Lankan and subjective confusions” of M.I.A. adopted such subcultural language to combine her Sri Lankan experience with those of the global dispossessed, a pop realism as in Balzac’s literary realism of the rising bourgeoisie when “rude boy” Jamaican subculture still “had rivers to cross” to influence British subcultures, manifest in M.I.A.’s music compatible with the movement’s “Electro Communist” dance parties. “A snort of laughter,” an assertion of presence, “to knot” the global back into the local “en El Encanto Sanitarium,” a convalescent home whose senile and mentally challenged patients were counted to meet the minimum population to incorporate the City of Industry as an industrial suburb of Los Angeles, allowing capital to define the image of its ideal citizen and use a local government for its interests with minimal expenses for residents. Industry is near the San Gabriel River Freeway, flowing with shipping containers for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the standard units of global transport composing capital’s epic in progress, containing histories of attempts at urban reinvention such as Barrio Planners’ slogan “Let a hundred placitas bloom!” that proposed to retrofit Eastside Los Angeles neighborhoods with small plazas as stages for local identity, thwarted by a planning bureaucracy that favored the building of thousands of minimalls, the post-crisis landscape of “inauspicious jobs.” Against such an absent future emerged the university struggles’ slogan “Occupy Everything” calling for the immediate formation of communes, which the poem extends “including Humanities” against reformist calls to “Save the Humanities,” the communization of knowledge aimed at in “Communism Today” emblematic of post-crisis poetics’ project variously extended in the following practices.

ARMED CELL 2 (January 2012) started with Josef Kaplan’s “Ex Machina”:
On the morning of April 16th, 1993, Hamas operative Saher Tamam al-Nabulsi drove a Volkswagen Transporter to Mehola Junction, a rest area on the Jordan Valley Highway in the West Bank. Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas bombmaker, had rigged the car to explode using three large propane tanks and explosives collected from grenades and other ordnance.
          Just after 1:00 AM, al-Nabulsi pulled the car in between two buses and reached for the detonator switch Ayyash had connected to the driver’s controls… but suddenly Athena, daughter of Zeus, who bears the aegis, shouted aloud for him to refrain. Al-Nabulsi’s hand curled in pale fear and the switch remained untouched. And all lived.
Each of the poem’s twenty sections narrates a Palestinian suicide bombing chronologically selected from its first decade, “but suddenly” interrupts the bombing with a deus ex machina nonchronologically selected from film, literature, or television, saving all casualties: “And all lived.” This first section narrates the first Palestinian suicide bombing interrupted by the deus ex machina from Homer’s The Odyssey. The poem’s use of the device combines high cultural examples such as from Homer and mass cultural ones, such as from Newhart in the poem’s final section, mirroring their combination in postmodernity. This history of Palestinian suicide bombings interrupted by deus ex machina’s archive estranges the symbolization of this history in culture’s nihilistic machine. The repetition of dei ex machina emphasizes the uncertain redemption of this period of Palestinian political violence in Israel-Palestine’s post-crisis period, marked by Hamas’ rise to governmental power and Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Beyond the specific, “Ex Machina” confronts the uncertain redemption of political violence and estranges its symbolization in culture and history for active construction.

ARMED CELL 2 also included my first presentation from my long poem The Totality Cantos:
                Relaxation churches unintentionally restructuring mastery exception manuscripts
            Known cultural able-bodied simple plutocratic proportion dualism energy signs
Home death tendency novelty alliance guard failure overstressed
          Old world-laden frustration copy act around return coterie rebellion mistresses
              Available earth interlocutors moderate fashion emperor
    Better bland origin
                  Restless gunpowder disemboweling hierarchy philosophy
        Pagan century party withdrawn
      Difficulties stirred
          Hand introduction symbol man storms paradigm conference
      School portrays
              Made rights dealt disparate poetry counties
Temporal intelligence number
The poem is open to the totality of discourses in one hundred cantos of one hundred lines each. Every line is a complete poem. Every set of ten lines consists of lines of one through ten words long and aligned flush left and to nine indentations in order to create dynamic rhythm and spacing. Every length and alignment occurs before being repeated in the next set. In the transition between sets, equal lengths and alignments are prevented from being adjacent in order to maintain dynamic continuity. Lines traverse discourses: each canto is differently constituted by fifteen vocabularies from the totality of discourses. The fifteen vocabularies are organized into five groups of three: two tertiary groups, two secondary groups, and a primary group designating the dominance of each group in the canto. In the poem’s transformation across cantos, groups emerge and ascend the hierarchy, dominate, then descend and disappear, each group getting its dominant canto in combination with subordinate groups. Three hundred vocabularies, one hundred groups of three, are drawn from in total. Names are suppressed in order to decenter attention toward vocabularies. Every canto breaks down into sections delineated by flush left lines; this excerpt presents two sections. Any section can be excerpted as a dynamic totality and connected to any other in order to assemble new signifying combinations as long as equal lengths and alignments are not adjacent. In this excerpt, therapeutic churches interpellating relaxed subjects unintentionally restructure previously mastering manuscripts into critical exceptions by decentering them within such churches and the hegemonic ideology such churches support. Knowledge, culture, and ableism combine in a homogenizing plutocracy, its proportional dualism of a wealthy minority ruling the dispossessed majority through governing over energy flows of signs. Being at home in the world is unsettled by being toward death and continuous technological novelty, guided by alliances of capital guarding its reproduction that productively fail, overstressed through capitalism’s continuous widening of its limits. Signification is predicated on the organization of differences into discourses that guide the production of meaning. Tradition and the world anchor desire, frustrated into repetition with a past act and restored around the return of coterie rebelling against tradition through transgressing marriage through mistresses. Activated deterritorializing dialogics moderate fashion’s despotic repetition of the same, opening difference. The superiority of genesis flattened by structure effaces origin in the play of differences. Agitated by emerging capitalism, the ascendence of gunpowder warfare among centralizing states and spectacular torture as population control form bases extending to present power-knowledge relations. Pagan flight from organized belief in the past century provides conceptualization for a party in diversity’s subtractive politics. Difficulties direct flows. A genealogy of gesture in the introduction of language in symbolizing man storms language’s present paradigm and institutions with subjugated traces. A school represents a relation of subjects to knowledge. The history of rights distributed power disparately, the context for the hegemonic organization of poetry scenes. Time is striated by the intelligence’s geometrizing number. The Totality Cantos is assembled from a desire for more totalizing signifying possibilities adequate to investigating post-crisis reality.

ARMED CELL 3 (June 2012) started with Steven Zultanski’s “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.
          12:16 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.
The poem is a selection of incidents from various police logs organized by time of day. Police logs are part of the police’s public representation that propounds their legitimacy as problem solvers. The poem’s reframing reflects the police’s round-the-clock surveillance, widening criminalization of minor offenses such as noise, and solicitation of the public for information, reinforcing fear and intolerance of disorder. Such practices make the public easier to police, increasing police power in daily life and reducing resistance before violence is required, including against movements challenging the system of inequality that the police preserve. After the Occupy movement’s inadequate resistance to the police, the police’s violent repression of the movement, and the movement’s inability to reestablish the occupations on May Day, “Untitled Poem for Police Log and Minute Hand” conceptualizes the governmentality of police power in daily life so that it can be continuously resisted and the system that the police preserve can be changed.

ARMED CELL 4 (February 2013) started with Maya Weeks’ “Eastbound/Northbound”:
it’s just the same as last year
enjoy the evening

indeterminate bias
youngish in the
kitchen a damn
sexy mess

it is the function
of a preposition
to locate
the position
of a thing
to which
it relates


this is not the way i understand
justice and forgiveness

handwashing always easier
than expected
After the Occupy movement’s repression, the poem represents the continuance of hegemonic ideology’s perpetual present and imperative to enjoy, managed by such indeterminate elements as youth, cooking, and sex, through which liberation is both expressed and controlled. Ideological relations are represented through grammar, including ideology’s image combining youth and sex “in the / kitchen” and imperative to the Occupy movement to get “OUT OF OAKLAND,” expressed through the public and intensified during the movement’s repression. The movement’s negative pointing that “this is not” the best possible world, combined with the abstraction of its referent, capitalism itself, irrupted a pluralism of political desires, including for “justice and forgiveness” both within and beyond capitalism. Ideology manages frustrated desires, making it “always easier / than expected” to drift away from movements. “Eastbound/Northbound” maps ideology’s continuous neutralization, complementary to and made more legible by the Occupy movement’s repression, so that it can be continuously resisted and overcome in future movements.

ARMED CELL 5 (August 2013) started with Wendy Trevino and Dereck Clemons’ multisection collaborative poem:
Relying on relations, exploiting them in order to compensate for the ways your privilege has not prepared you for the work you do
You go over & over what someone said—
How friendships forged from the hatred of a common enemy
Are less secure, you forget, than what—
Thinking instead of the lack of an unnecessary center,
How the marches converged in Cairo & Montreal,
How by the time you got to the square you were thousands,
You were pulling down a fence
The poem consists of notes composed by Trevino then arranged into sections, titled, and edited by Clemons, its division of composition emphasizing the shared experiences that its process traverses. This section represents complicity in interconnected relations of exploitation and oppression and how they deform even those who experience privilege. Experience, as in “the work you do” and “what someone said,” gives rise to reflection on the insecure solidarity of “friendships forged from the hatred of a common enemy” compared with organizing for autonomous liberation without need of a commanding center. Such decentralized organizing brought together the mass mobilizations in the post-crisis cycle of struggles from Cairo to Montreal, empowering collective direct actions envisioning the “COMPLETE DESTRUCTION” of intersecting systems of exploitation and oppression and the horizons for “TOTAL FREEDOM” beyond them.

ARMED CELL 6 (January 2014) started with material from Jasper Bernes’ We Are Nothing and So Can You:
This was one of the first depots to emerge from the revolutionary wars. It was used, originally, as arms stockpile and supply point for partisans who did not fight in order to create communism at some far-off date but for whom the construction of communism, immediately, without compromise, was itself the war. The elaboration of zones like these – places where anyone could take what they needed – was an offensive rather than defensive act, and more powerful than blowing up a bridge or a munitions factory, though that happened too. You can still see the battlements lying around in the middle distance, and this explains, perhaps, the somewhat heavy-handed design of the depot, constructed by people who were born in and had lived decades under despotisms of all sorts, under the boot of wage and market, and who carried these things in them, they felt, as one carries a disease in remission. Literalists of the revolution, then, whose penchant for austere and humorless redundancies of design was held back, thankfully, by the modest range of their power.
The poem’s title emphasizes the negative commonality of the dispossessed, those with “nothing” to sell but their labor, in the post-crisis period of exacerbated proletarianization. This material represents a post-revolutionary horizon projected from post-crisis experiments with communism as a process, the formation of zones removed from capitalist exchange in the occupations of universities to city squares. With exacerbated dispossession, “the elaboration of zones like these – places where anyone could take what they needed” – becomes more powerful for spreading revolt than limited acts such as sabotage which the system can absorb and concentrate repression upon, though that happens too. Constructing increasingly offensive zones will require participants to transform their oppressive power relations formed under the wage and market that limit revolt’s power to spread from within. The literal, exact representation of limits corresponds to the “modest range” of complementary strategic prospects, the “middle distance” between the present and its possible futures. We Are Nothing and So Can You’s envisioning of a possible future reflects the limits and prospects of the post-crisis present, making them more legible to navigate.

ARMED CELL 7 (July 2014) started with Joshua Clover’s “Questions of the Contemporary”:
Some big container ships are
                                          coming back some are
                                                                           underwater. One standard
forty ft container equals two
                                         twenty ft equivalent units
                                                                              or TEUs but so does one
Hi-Cube despite eight additional m3
                                                    it’s not an exact science like
                                                                                              Max Martin. Just a slab
of unfigured air a kind of
                                   room to move. The desire
                                                                         of a planetary civilization three pct
maybe three five and enough
                                          left over for the aesthetic.
                                                                               Annualize that shit. What if
it’s just cruel mercantile
                                   plus dubstep from here on out.
                                                                               What if it’s just IF THE RICH
                                    THE DEAD. Why do things keep on
                                                                                     because reasons.
Amidst the post-crisis downturn in world trade, shipping companies’ orders for record-breaking “big container ships” returned to seek profits through economies of scale. Low demand and oversupply of shipping capacity sent charter rates plummeting, which plunged ship assets “underwater,” their prices collapsing below their outstanding debts, tightening shipping’s financial markets. Shipping capacity is expressed in inexact TEUs, unlike pop music’s exact economic expression in sales. The endurance of Max Martin, the auteur of teenpop, the most popular music of the nineties’ dot-com bubble until its bust, is an exact scientific expression of post-crisis affect through his hits’ post-teenpop nostalgias for the timeless affect of the nineties. Shipping capacity is “unfigured air” until filled with shipping demand, potential “room to move” for companies in their struggles for profits. As profits have faded in production since the end of the postwar boom, the “desire / of a planetary civilization,” the investment of global capital, has sought profits in circulation focusing on the realization of a higher percentage of production’s declining valorization to meet the historically requisite annualized compound rate of capital accumulation around three percent and with “enough / left over for the aesthetic,” having become dedifferentiated into libidinalized, global economic processes. Since the crisis, capital’s zero-sum “mercantile” struggles for profits in circulation continue to cruelly impede its accumulation by undermining its source in production, affecting an ominous, wobbly future mirroring the post-crisis mainstream emergence of dubstep. With the continuing expulsion of labor from production and decline of value production relative to increasing population, the rich continuing to capture greater shares of the diminishing surplus forecasts increasing immiseration for the living. “Questions of the Contemporary” inquires into capital’s post-crisis dynamics, the reasons why “things keep on,” for where to intervene.

ARMED CELL 8 (February 2015) started with a poem by Anne Lesley Selcer:
An accelerated alphabet
a mumbled picture
a ridiculous florescence of page after page
peacocked on a green screen
as if each term flagrantly raised an objection
against its own denotative power
under local clouds
now it’s your turn to fall down
from the love of the look
that turned politics to puddles
turned it to feathers
slowed it to pollen
slowed it to oil which shimmers in a slick
a scripto continua an angel wrote
then threw like a parachute into thin air
each corner held down by a small child
who, unemployed & not yet signified sings,
“empire is everywhere nothing happens
everywhere everything happens all at once.”
“An accelerated alphabet,” the recombinant infinity of letters and phonemes scattering “a mumbled picture” through texts, ensures “a ridiculous florescence” of excess meaning “peacocked” to attract reading for further recombination “on a green screen.” Terms and their denotations flagrantly turn against themselves by the infinite combinatory possibilities of letters and phonemes, localizing meaning below the level of the word illuminated by the rearrangement of the first three letters of “local” in “clouds.” The reader falls through the rain of language coded by an aestheticizing gaze tracing a politicized pastoral of weather, wildlife, and the long-term, slow-motion catastrophes of pollinator decline and oil spills. The world rendered as an angel’s continuous script requires a human reader’s intervention in slowing its fall through history’s indeterminacy. In the post-crisis period of exacerbated unemployment, the figure of a child born into the present yet prior to meaning is traced as a subject, singing against empire’s neutralization with an infinitizing of what is.

ARMED CELL 9 (August 2015) started with Rob Halpern’s “Hoc Est Corpus”:
The sclerae are white with no petechia. The external auditory canals, external nares and oral cavity are free of foreign material and abnormal secretions. The nasal skeleton is palpably intact. The tongue is unremarkable. The lips are without evidence of injury. What would it be like to kiss them? Transcription of the autopsy report gives way to these fantasies of contact. Every sentence arrives at its denotative limit in a body dead on a gurney, which having been withdrawn, carries with it the threads that connect it to a world, as if my own sentences possessed some restorative force to bring the body back. Is this the opposite of Bartleby’s refusal to copy? As if, in writing, “The teeth are natural and unremarkable,” the teeth would in fact be natural and unremarkable. Mention of his unbruised organs yields this rush to my adrenal gland. His matted hair so limp with curl my specimen on the table. To be penetrated is to abdicate every pretense of power. His death can’t be verified except by a report that falsifies the flesh, only thereby making it true.
The poem emerges from Halpern’s transcription of a 2009 U.S. Armed Forces autopsy report of a Yemeni man detained at Guantanamo Bay. Through his engaged transcription, the report’s clinical language gives way to eroticized fantasies of contact, engaging the report’s denotative limit with desire for the body’s restoration from its linguistic remains. Engaged transcription reaches toward the detainee’s occultation in the social imaginary, the opposite of Bartleby’s refusal to copy and relate that mirrors the state’s prohibition on relations with the detainee. Engagement imagines the writer’s body in a relation of care toward the detainee through an erotic exchange traversing geopolitical space, the detainee’s denoted organs yielding the writer’s adrenaline rush reinvested in lyrically caressing the detainee’s “matted hair so limp with curl.” Such an exchange’s interpenetration imagines a non-repressive relation, an abdication of power in a common place exceeding the report’s falsification of flesh into written fact. “Hoc Est Corpus” orients one’s body in a relation of care toward the detainee as paradigmatic of socially negated bodies in order to imagine such relations that a non-repressive future depends on and make felt the state’s epistemological and penal apparatuses that block their emergence and need to be destroyed.

Post-crisis poetics: construction of a network of practices adequate to writing the present, the post-crisis period in progress. Toward its construction, I’ve analyzed practices investigating multiple dimensions of the post-crisis world-system, suggesting lines for multiplying the communization of knowledge within the unfolding present. To continue construction and encourage discussion, readers are invited to give their views of what writing can contribute to further investigating the post-crisis present for a series that I’m editing to be published over the course of a month. Submit to armedcell@gmail.com by the end of July 2016 for consideration. The series will be published at postcrisispoetics.blogspot.com.

Published in ARMED CELL 10.
1 See Some Oakland Antagonists, “The Rise and Fall of the Oakland Commune” (August 2013).
2 See After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California (February 2010). “Though smaller, relatively, than other anti-austerity campaigns by university students in London or Puerto Rico, the events of 2009-2010 at university campuses in California are some of the most vigorous examples of rebellion in the US in recent years – indeed, they were, until the unfolding events in Wisconsin, probably the only significant resistance to the crisis yet visible in the US.” Jasper Bernes, “The Double Barricade and the Glass Floor,” in Benjamin Noys, ed., Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles (2011), 164-165.
3 The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (2008), 128.
4 See Brian Ang, “Post-Crisis Poetics: David Lau’s ‘Communism Today,’” ARMED CELL 5 (August 2013). “[T]o grasp the three logics behind the slogan ‘OCCUPY EVERYTHING DEMAND NOTHING,’ I want to travel backward to one of the immediate and domestic roots of the Occupy movement—specifically the US student occupation movement that began in New York in late 2008 and peaked in California in 2009. […] [T]he mythical moment of inception for the Occupy movement—Adbusters’ call—itself drew heavily from the experiences of 2009 at the University of California, and from a single document circulating in that moment.
          “I do not want to exaggerate the significance of this history, nor promise it any primacy among origins. There are many available. There are the events in the Maghreb and Mashreq known as the Arab Spring; there is the movement of the squares, largely in Europe; there are anti-austerity insurrections in Greece, the UK, Chile, and more than a handful of other hot spots. In the Bay Area itself there was the committed militancy following the police murder of Oscar Grant earlier in 2009. Herein, I mean only to track down the arrival onto a broad political stage of the slogan OCCUPY EVERYTHING DEMAND NOTHING, so that it can be thought in full.” Joshua Clover, “The Coming Occupation,” in Kate Khatib, Margaret Killjoy, and Mike McGuire, eds., We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation (2012), 95-96.