Monday, December 10, 2012

after Rimbaud: The Kidnap and Murder of David Cameron

I think it was probably some kind of terrible mistake. He’d howl all through the night, bloodshot and ridiculous: “I am not to blame. Prison, slavery, luxury. Crowbars and magistrates. Metaphors and factories”. I didn’t know what he expected from me: his thought-processes were mysterious, his logic slightly disturbing, all I could do was laugh in his face. Each morning I would clamber out the window, and wander through a landscape of geometrical music, a galaxy of vaguely corrosive stereotypes. State bureaucrats, military prisons. I had compressed all centuries, the better to see into his bones, the insipid cultural signals that had bound us together so strangely.

Sleep was no better. I’d turn out the light and his voice would be all that remained, rumbling like an imageless space, like surgery, an immense collection of shattered and pilfered hours. His idiotic dreams cut through me at impossible angles, finance and real estate shredded and negated. We had been walking together for centuries, sucking on stones, on cavern gas, on corked wine and planetary diagrams. I had meant it as a kindness: to tear out his heart, throw it to the dogs and to the homeless. The songs of heaven, the secrets of history, the kidnap and murder of David Cameron. Steal away.

after Rimbaud's Vagabonds

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Letter on Work and Harmony

I’ve been getting up early every morning, opening the curtains and going back to bed. There have been rumours of anti-unemployed hit squads going around, and I don’t want some fucker with a payslip lobbing things through my window. Especially not when I’m asleep. Though I don’t expect to be able to fool them for long - my recent research involves an intense study of certain individual notes played on Cecil Taylor’s 1966 album Unit Structures, and so obviously, once I’ve managed to isolate them, I have to listen to these notes over and over again, at very high volume. Someone from the Jobcentre is bound to hear them eventually and then, even though I’m not claiming benefits, my number will, as they say, be up. Taylor seems to claim, in the poem printed on the back of the album, that each note contains within it the compressed data of specific historical trajectories, and that the combinations of notes form a kind of chain gang, a kind of musical analysis of bourgeois history as a network of cultural and economic unfreedom. Obviously, I've had to filter this idea through my own position: a stereotypical amalgam of unwork, sarcasm, hunger and a spiteful radius of pure fear. I guess that radius could be taken as the negation of each of Taylor’s notes, but I’m not sure: it is, at least, representative of each of the perfectly circular hours I am expected to be able to sell so as to carry on being able to live. Labour power, yeh. All of that disgusting 19th Century horseshit. The type of shit that Taylor appears to be contesting with each note that he plays. As if each note could, magnetically, pull everything that any specific hour absolutely is not right into the centre of that hour, producing a kind of negative half-life where the time-zones selected by the Jobcentre as representative of the entirety of human life are damaged irrevocably. That’s nothing to be celebrated, though. There’s no reason to think that each work-hour will not expand infinitely, or equally, that it might close down permanently, with us inside it, carrying out some interminable task. What that task is could be anything, it doesn’t matter, because the basic mechanism is always the same, and it involves injecting some kind of innovative emulsion into each of those hours transforming each one into a bright, exciting and endlessly identical disk of bituminous resin. Obviously, what is truly foul is what that resin actually contains, and what it consists of. Its complicated. The content of each hour is fixed, yeh, but at the same time absolutely evacuatated. Where does it go? Well, it materialises elsewhere, usually in the form of a set of right-wing gangsters who would try and sell those work-hours back to you in the form of, well, CDs, DVDs, food, etc. Everything, really, including the notes that Cecil Taylor plays. Locked up in cut-price CDs, or over-priced concert tickets for the Royal Festival Hall, each note he plays becomes a gated community which we are locked outside of, and the aforementioned right-wing gangsters - no matter that they are incapable of understanding Taylor’s music, and in any case are indifferent to it - are happily and obliviously locked inside. Eating all of the food on the planet, which, obviously enough includes you and me. That is, every day we are eaten, bones and all, only to be re-formed in our sleep, and the next day the same process happens all over again. Prometheus, yeh? Hang on a minute, there’s something happening on the street outside, I’m just gonna have to check what it is. One of those stupid parades that happens every six months or so, I imagine. One of those insipid celebrations of our absolute invisibility. Christ, I feel like I’m being crushed, like in one of those medieval woodcuts, or one of those fantastic B Movies they used to show on the TV late at night years ago. Parades. The undead. Chain gangs. BANG. “Britain keeps plunging back in time as yet another plank of the welfare state is removed” BANG our bosses emerge from future time zones and occupy our bodies which have in any case long been mummified into stock indices and spot values BANG rogue fucking planets BANG I take the fact that Iain Duncan-Smith continues to be alive as a personal insult, ok BANG every morning he is still alive BANG BANG BANG. I think I might be getting off the point. In any case, somewhere or other I read an interview with Cecil Taylor, and he said he didn’t play notes, he played alphabets. That changes things. Fuck workfare.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cell 1 / Suite 3 / as in Crisis

 with his knees and his fists in bituminous black - Garcia Lorca

ok think this / or as in scabies, social ones
in any fiscal exit, in any skaldic bullet glass
is spinning: like the scorn of andromeda
would compress our picket cells, as infinite
scratch that /  with all your social nails, like
literally, inside our cutting waters, nails, like
inside our stuttered fall / & capital is mind
o frozen predicate: as in any social microbe
is mundane and berserk, as any slave ship, as
any social drunken boat, as in any scabrous
general strike, o scarab: would scratch this
numbered surface bone / like our finite scorn
of prison nails / this thing has fourteen lines
as in picket lines / like venus in a closing sky

October 2012: Blanqui is still in jail, and as the cosmological city plan becomes ever more compressed, each human body comes to resemble a conspiratorial cell. This is individualism: all of us fixed into a collective table of anti-matter that no-one believes in, despite how much its wild flashing may sometimes portend trouble. Official speech takes on the rhythms of chicken bones, glue and feathers cast across a receding social sphere, and the antiphonic interplay of megaphones disperses like the dust of imploding stars. Within this reactionary net, the poem is negation, which simply means that it is false. A hopeless omen that longs to rupture the tyrannical banality of the ‘true’.

Monday, October 15, 2012

HUNGER: A Sorrow Song

- sometimes I feel like -
- sleep now -
inside the mayor of London
- that thing -
yes / the trouble I’ve seen
his gasps of blazing snow
his misty mathematic glaze
- sleep now little hangman -
inside his word for coins
- yes / sometimes I feel like -
in each of his numbers a starling
in each of its beaks a startled knife
- sorry, we are that knife -
sleep well / we are cold and bleak

- sometimes I feel like -
a million shuttered doors
of meat and blazing stars
- it is 9.45 exactly -
- o golden city -
its livid sentence punctured
its corpuscles and laughter
- wait -
the city’s outer circuit
inside the mayor of London
- his automatic claws -
- his staggered scrape of convicts -
- stop now -
his million punctured doors

- yes / sometimes I feel like -
a bird within its shell
- stop now -
o desolate drinkers
metronomic and scared
inside his word for London
inside our disk of wages
- of dragonflies and moths -
- sometimes I feel like -
- stop -
- o graceful city -
- o graceful colour of ash -
a poisoned lark is shrieking
his golden voice is leaking

- sometimes I feel like -
- a rim of cutting wheels -
- inside the mayor of London -
his stocks and with his chains
his misty mathematic blaze
- steal away -
fuck it / the trouble I've seen
- sleep well -
o diplomats and bandits
- inside their mouth a printed rag -
- inside that rag a midnight hag -
- o public debt -
- sorry, we are not that debt -
- & music for our sorrow -

I haven’t slept since Thatcher
yes / have never been awakened
- stop it -
- sometimes I feel like -
- your silver and gold -
- stop -
we are your midnight lasers
your ritual and your razors
- stop -
- o spectral city boiling -
- its bitter coins are burning -
- sometimes I feel like -
- a motherless child -
- a long way from my home -

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Letter on Harmony and Crisis

Thanks for your list of objections. I accept most of them: my vocabulary, my references (my identification papers) are for the most part things I’ve pulled from the past. Old films, old music: abstractions, commodities. Its exactly the same when I go to the supermarket. The instore radio, the magazines, the DVDs: all of them register some kind of obsessive relationship with the culture’s recent past.  Don’t think I’m moaning about it. I quite like it in the supermarket, I go there every day, in fact I rarely go anywhere else. Its a kind of map of the future of London, adjusted to admit a slightly censored collective history, where friendly and contradictory forces confront each other with rapidly diminishing strength. Astrology, basically. Or at least some form of stargazing. A weird constellation of information, fact and metaphor that invokes a comforting aura of a very gentle death disguised as a glistening array of foodstuffs, endlessly re-arranged on the gridplan of the shop to give an impression of constant social movement. Its a substitute for the calendar, basically, a system of harmony set up to keep an extremely fragile stability in place. Its why they only ever play certain songs in there. Simply Red, for example. Though that’s not quite the case. I was walking around in there the other day, wondering what it would be like if they were playing Leadbelly’s “Gallis Pole” over their radio system. You know the song. Did you bring me the silver, did you bring me the gold, and all of that. The guitar picking sounds kind of like a spiderweb. It would actually make the whole thing worse: the vibrations would empty the content of the supermarket back into the frequencies of folk ballads and superstition. Rings of flowers and gallows trees. It would be useful insofar as the contradictions and antagonisms of bourgeois production would be strikingly revealed. It would be a disaster inasmuch as all sound in the supermarket, including the old Leadbelly song, would be reduced to a frequency spectrum of predominantly zero power level, except perhaps for a few almost inaudible bands and spikes. We wouldn’t be able to get out, is what I mean. All known popular songs would be seen flickering and burning like distant petrol towers in some imaginary desert. Well, not really. Actually, thats why I hate all those old bands like Led Zeppelin. They took all those old songs like “Gallis Pole”, straightened them out, and made them an integral part of the phase velocity of  the entire culture, arranged as a static sequence of rings, pianos, precious stones and prisons. Its not entirely hopeless, though: the circulation of these songs does contain within itself the possibility of interruptions. I’ve been following the progress of the strikes at Wallmart with great interest, for example. They’re establishing a system of counter-homogeneity, basically: the structure of the supermarket is kept in place, but all of a sudden the base astrological geometry of that supermarket is revealed as simplistic, fanatic and rectilinear, and the capitalist city as a tight lattice of metallic alloys, ionic melts, aqueous solutions, molecular liquids and wounded human bodies that would prefer not to die. The city is all perimeter. And song is not, ultimately, a rivet into that place, but absolute divergence from it. The event horizon as a rim of music, all vocabularies as an entire symphony of separations all expressed at the moment immediately prior to their solidification into the commodity form. At that moment there is everything to play for. All else is madness and suffering at the hands of the pigs.

The last sentence is adapted from "Affidavit No. 2: Shoot-out in Oakland" by Eldridge Cleaver. There are also a couple of near-quotations from Marx's "Theories of Surplus Value", and a few words pinched from Trotsky's "Notebook on Hegel".

Monday, August 13, 2012

Memo: On Violence - 5, 6, 7

The social butterflies have become pterodactyls" is from LeRoi Jones' (Amiri Baraka's) poem "Friday", in Black Magic Poetry, and "You may bury my body . . . . " is from Robert Johnson's song "Me and the Devil"

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Notes on Militant Poetics 3/3

As for the political thought of the Black Panthers, I am convinced it originates in the poetic thought of Black Americans . . . . We are realising more and more that a poetic emotion lies at the origin of revolutionary thought - Genet

This antagonist is still maintaining his incognito, and he resides like a needy pretender in the cellars of official society, in those catacombs where, amidst death and decomposition, the new life germinates and blossoms. - Heine

The songs I heard there seemed to have been composed in hell and the refrains rang with furious anger. The demonic tones making up those songs can hardly be heard in our delicate spheres, until heard with one’s own ears in the huge metal workshops where half-naked figures illumined by angry sparks from the forge sing them with a sulky, defiant air, beating the time with their iron hammers: the boom of the anvil makes for a most effective accompaniment to the scene of passion and flames - Heine

Accordingly, the dialectic image should not be transferred into consciousness as a dream, but in its dialectical construction the dream should be externalised and the immanence of consciousness itself be understood as a constellation of reality - the astronomical phase, as it were, in which Hell wanders through mankind. It seems to me that only a map of such a journey through the stars could offer a clear view of history as prehistory - Adorno

The revolutionary kernel of the poetry fetish becomes clear if George Jackson’s letters are read simultaneously with Lautréamont. In a 1943 essay on Lautréamont , Aimé Césaire wrote that “by means of the image we reach the infinite”. This “infinite” is no bourgeois escape route through which the poetry fan can reach a gated community of cosmic harmony: when Lautréamont  sneers that his pen has made a boring Paris street like Rue Vivienne “mysterious” he means the poetic image has been transformed into a splinter of glass fixed into the centre of your eye, a glass through which we see the capitalist class as the lice and bedbugs they really are, and in like fashion, the proletariat become a swarm of red carnivorous ants. In a figurative storming of the Bastille - or Newgate, or San Quentin, or Soledad - the counterpanoptic of the poetic image gives an x-ray view into the infraviolence of capitalist reality. Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, published in 1955, insists that Lautréamont’s work is an “implacable denunciation of a very particular society”. The “infinite” is precisely that “denunciation” where, in Adorno’s terms, hell wanders through humankind. The world turned upside down, or inside out. Blake, who right now I’m tempted to call the English Lautréamont, tracked a similar activation of perception:

Now will I pour my fury on them, & I will reverse
The precious benediction; for their colours of loveliness
I will give blackness; for jewels, hoary frost; for ornament, deformity;
For crowns, wreathed serpents; for sweet odors, stinking corruptibility;
For voices of delight, hoarse croakings inarticulate thro’ frost;
For labour’d fatherly care & sweet instruction, I will give
Chains of dark ignorance & cords of twisted self-conceit

The “precious benediction”, “crowns” and “sweet odours” which are all of our birthright have been blasted apart by capitalist alchemy, and our “voices of delight” have been occupied by advertising, which can only be countered by the “hoarse croakings” of the poetic hex. But the realities of the prison cell and the police bullet have made poetic beauty banal. Capitalist poetics transform everyday life into the advertiser’s sublime. Every abandoned billboard is a bulletin about the nature of your invisibility .The collapse of capital has neutralised poetry’s counterpanoptic: Blake becomes an emblem of English nationalism, Lautréamont  becomes a refuge for goths. And yet a nonconformist reading might force an electrostatic discharge, a brief flash where whatever remains unstable within the poem - everything that cannot be reduced to simple fetishism - is all that is available. What interested Benjamin about the early 20th Century avant-gardes was their intermingling of “slogans, magic formulas and concepts”. The sharp clarity of the slogan pierces the esotericism of the magic formula, forming new constellations of meaning and a new rationalism absolutely alien to bourgeois forms of logic. If its true that only poetry can do this, its also true that hardly any poetry (be it the so-called mainstream or the so-called avant-garde) actually does do it. When, in the poem “Black People”, Amiri Baraka said “The magic words are: Up against the wall mother / fucker this is a stick up” he had found the almost invisible point where George Jackson and Lautréamont  become the same person, where the revolutionary tract and the esoteric poem become the same thing. The “wall” is the limit of the poem, and also the contested site where the poem blends into absolute reality, where the “invisible point”, in its moment of crisis, becomes visible, and yet . . . . .

Ce n'est rien; j'y suis; j'y suis toujours

We need new forms. New modes of speech

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Letters: On Harmony

Recording of my Letters: On Harmony available here //////// previous poems in the sequence were published in "Four Letters / Four Comments" (inc. "Letter on Poetics" from "Happiness) - which has just been reprinted in Crisis Inquiry //////// I might do a recording of em if I get round to it ///// anyway . . .

ps - just so you know, the text on the picture above is from an old Exuma song, which was also covered by Nina Simone

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Notes on Militant Poetics 2.9 / 3

One of those tall ultrabright electrical fixtures used to illuminate the walls and surrounding area at night casts a direct beam of light into my cell at night. (I moved to a different cell last week). Consequently I have enough light, even after the usual twelve o’clock lights out, to read or study by. I don’t really have to sleep now if I choose not to. The early hours of the morning are the only time of day that one can find any respite from the pandemonium caused by these most uncultured of San Quentin inmates. I don’t let the noise bother me even in the evenings when it rises to maddening intensity, because I try to understand my surroundings.

George Jackson works to understand the truth content of his invisibility - the cell as the defining molecule of the official world, which, to quote Marcuse quoting Hegel, is “a strange world governed by inexorable laws, a dead world in which human life is frustrated”. Or rather, a dead world in which Jackson has suddenly come to life, and now must gauge what is comprehensible and alive within its noise and maddening intensity. From his cell in San Quentin, Jackson is writing from the centre of the position that some of the greatest moments in western poetry have only ever been reaching towards, and it is through this awareness that we can begin to understand what Genet might mean by insisting on his sense that Jackson’s writing is poetry. It is telling that Jackson calls the prison world Pandemonium, for Milton talks about the same impossible situation. When, in the tenth book of Paradise Lost, Satan and the rest of Pandemonium’s citizenry are transformed into serpents that transformation is registered primarily by the loss of language, communication and thought: “dreadful was the din / of hissing through the hall, thick swarming now with complicated monsters” - the rebel angels are forced into a “maddening intensity” of noise, where thought and speech become impossible. Attempts to deal with the necessities of speech and cognition from within a place where they are made impossible is a defining theme throughout revolutionary poetics, from Milton through Blake and Shelley, and via Marx into the radical avant-gardes of the early twentieth century. Blake’s Urizen, in The Four Zoas, tries to but cannot communicate with the “horrid shapes and sights of torment” he sees within the Abyss - ie prison, factory, slum - because his language, whether “soothing” or “furious”, is “but an inarticulate thunder”. Shelley’s poetry is full of a sense of a liberated language which comes from a place so distanced from the official world that it can barely, if at all, be heard: in The Revolt of Islam the spirit of Liberty speaks in a “strange melody / that might not belong on earth”, while in Prometheus Unbound we are told that we cannot speak at all if we cannot already speak “the language of the dead”. That language of the dead is, in Marxist terms, the voice of dead labour, capital itself. Most contemporary poetry, both “avant-garde” and “mainstream”, is allergic to those voices, and would like to pretend that poetic time lives separately to the dominant time of capitalism. It isn’t true. Poetry has to pretend it can’t communicate “ideas” because the cargo it carries - to once again use Benjamin’s metaphor - is the collective voice of the victims of those ideas. The carefully put together exercises that pass themselves off as poems can only ever be polite facsimiles of the exterior of cells like that of George Jackson, but it can only ever be the flaws and cracks in the surface that really speak. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), in 1964, his own poetry beginning to crack apart under the pressure of the increasingly obvious contradictions between his aesthetic and political commitments, wrote that “poetry aims at difficult meanings. Meanings not already catered to”. Poetry doesn’t talk about the world, nor does it create meaning, but rather aims at meanings not yet articulated, meanings not catered to in the currently available aesthetic and social networks. This pushes poetry to a critical edge-condition which risks its destruction as poetry in a way that is far more serious than any silly corporate nihilism claiming to have “killed” “poetry”. Meanings are communicated which risk tearing the poem apart. Edouard Glissant describes this same process, taken out of the framework of the history of poetry and into actually lived time:

Since speech was forbidden, slaves camouflaged the word under the provocative intensity of the scream. No one could translate the meaning of what seemed to be nothing but a shout. It was taken to be nothing but the call of a wild animal. This is how the dispossessed organised their speech by weaving it into the apparently meaningless texture of pure noise.

The organisation of speech provokes the communication of meanings that had previously been impossible: it goes without saying that this organisation has yet to be achieved. The poetics of the enemy has not ceased to be victorious, its own “meaningless texture of pure noise” all too readily comprehensible. On August 21 1971, three days before his trial was due to begin, George Jackson was shot dead by a prison guard. If the internal secret of bourgeois poetics is the voice of the oppressed and dispossessed, its silencing perimeter is the bullet of a cop.

to be continued

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Notes on Miltant Poetics 2.5 / 3

There, too, are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic, and inconceivable analogies and connections between events are the order of the day. It is the region from which the lyric poetry of Surrealism reports. And this must be noted if only to counter the obligatory misunderstanding of l’art pour l’art. For art’s sake was scarcely ever to be taken literally; it was almost always a flag under which sailed a cargo that could not be declared because it still lacked a name. This is the moment to embark on a work that would illuminate as has no other the crisis of the arts that we are witnessing: a history of esoteric poetry.

Walter Benjamin believed the most hermetic poetry had a latent content, a secret that in being actually spoken could negate the secret of the commodity. He drew a compelling analogy between Rimbaud, Lautréamont and Dostovevsky, and the “infernal machines” of the 19th century anarchist terrorists. Mallarmé did the same. It doesn’t quite work: the nihilism of Nechaev, or the anarchism of Bakunin, is ambiguous to say the least. The content of Rimbaud’s flight from poetry - ie the realisation of that poetry- was a flight into the silence of colonialism, free trade and capitalist vampirism. If esoteric poetry is potentially the unspoken expression of the destruction of capitalism, then it is just as potentially the unspoken expression of the fascism that is always lurking at capital’s centre. Thus, André Breton’s insistence on the need to work out a combination of the insights of Rimbaud and Marx continues to be one of the most important ideas in the history of modernist poetics. It has yet to be satisfactorily achieved. Breton’s fetishisation of poetry prevented him from understanding that it’s latent content could only be realised through a dialectic of poetry and Marxism, and not the merely complementary relationship he envisioned. That this dialectic risked the destruction of poetry as poetry was more than Breton could bear. Likewise, the Situationist realisation of poetry, as a détournement  of the Marxist realisation of philosophy, was a vital moment whose chance, so far, has been missed. It is because of this failure that the political essays Jean Genet wrote between the late 60s and his death in the early 80s, and in particular the series on George Jackson, may be the most suggestive and important essays on militant poetics for our own period. They have still not been sufficiently understood. No idealist, Genet knew, more than anyone since Benjamin, the basic ambiguity of extremist modernism. The dialectic of radical poetry meant it was also realised in the brutality of capital itself. The George Jackson cycle sets up a fight to the death between the sentences spoken by the judge, and the sentences Jackson wrote in solitary confinement. The prosody of capital’s domination is inherent in every syllable the judge utters. His sentence freezes the time of the captive, who now has to live within that sentence for months, years, a lifetime. Insofar as that lifetime is virtually erased, the judge’s sentence also travels back in time, taking possession of every second the captive has lived through. Genet wants to believe that every sentence Jackson writes, from within his forced invisibility, negates the judge’s prosody: for Genet, Jackson’s writing realises a counter-time which is necessarily revolutionary. This only sounds idealistic. Jackson’s revolutionary writing can, for Genet, be called “poetic” without belittling either Jackson’s militancy, or indeed poetry, only within the context of Genet’s Blakean claim “that the revolutionary enterprise . . . . of a people originates in their poetic genius, or more precisely, that this enterprise is the inevitable conclusion of poetic genius”. This cuts both ways: if it is true, then the judge is the conclusion of the poetic genius of the bourgeoisie. The many levels on which the class struggle has to be fought includes a realised poetics. For Jackson, the “poetic genius” of the African-American people has only ever been “the theory that we are good for nothing but to serve or entertain our captors”:

Love has never turned aside the boot, blade or bullet. Neither has it ever satisfied my hunger of body or mind. The author of my hunger, the architect of the circumstantial pressures which are the sole cause of my ills will find no peace, in this existence or the next, or the one following that; never, never. I’ll dog his trail to infinity. I hope I never will feel love for the thing that causes insufferable pain.

The “hellhound on my trail” of ancient blues mythology, which Jackson has no use for, is reversed. Jackson’s language is what remains after the record stops. Traditional poetic impulse is transformed within the high temporal compression of the cell into tense clarity, pure content which, in its turn, transforms into intent:

One of those tall ultrabright electrical fixtures used to illuminate the walls and surrounding area at night casts a direct beam of light into my cell at night. (I moved to a different cell last week). Consequently I have enough light, even after the usual twelve o’clock lights out, to read or study by. I don’t really have to sleep now if I choose not to. The early hours of the morning are the only time of the day that one can find any respite from the pandemonium caused by these the most uncultured of San Quentin inmates. I don’t let the noise bother me even in the evenings when it rises to maddening intensity, because I try to understand my surroundings.

to be continued

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Third Letter on Harmony (unsent)

Sorry I’ve not written for so long, I’ve been pretty busy, and on top of that things have been getting rough again. I’m gonna have to go on the dole soon, and I’m really not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel any guilt about it, not at all. The pittance they give us is an insult anyway. Its not even the workfare programmes, its just that the Job Centre, the whole process, is a nightmare. Years ago they used to play music in those offices, I don’t think they do anymore. It was always the same old predictable crap, yet played just below the standard audibility range. Yeh, I guess that's one way of thinking about the unshielded harmonic condition common to everyone with less than five pounds in their pocket. The weird gnosticism we live inside these days. The social truths that only those who live far below the hunger line have access to. Them, and of course the very rich. As if the rich were some kind of jagged knife, out on the social perimeter, and we, the very poor, were being scraped against that knife, over and over. All of you people in the middle - no matter how much you do care - are really just sleepwalking. Its why I get so incensed when you chastise me for the violence in my work. I mean, what do you dream about? My dreams are identical with those of several Tory MPs. Except, of course, I have them when I’m awake. But anyway, whatever, I don’t mean to go on about my problems: I’m supposed to be writing to you about music, so lets just think about those songs they used to play in the Job Centre. All of the latest chart hits, converted into a high, circular whine, and in the centre of that whine an all too audible vocabulary. Money. Sanctions. Etc. That whine, that disaudibility, is fascinating. Its supposed to be. To be honest, I’m surprised its not been taken up by The Wire. I’m surprised there aren’t CDs, gigs in the Cafe Oto. I mean, its a very interesting listening experience. You move in slow motion. You feel like you’ve just been injected with 300 mg of burning dog. Grammar and syntax can no longer be controlled. Speech, which usually would be your means of entry to actual lived time, is compressed and stretched into a network of circles and coils, at its perimeter a system of scraped, negative music, and at its centre a wall. And then you wake up after a night of terrible dreams to find you are that wall. See you soon, I hope. Isn’t it about time you had me round for dinner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Notes on Militant Poetics 2/3

I have completely repressed all emotion; have learned to see myself in perspective, in true relation with other men (sic) and the world. I have enlarged my vision so that I may be able to think on a basis encompassing not just myself, my family, my neighbourhood, but the world. I have completely arrested the susceptibility to think in theoretical terms, or give credence to religious, supernatural, or other shallow unnecessary things of this nature that lock the mind and hinder thinking.

This, from the earliest letter in George Jackson’s Soldedad Brother, might be read as the negative expression of the famous statements in Rimbaud’s letters of May 1871. Where Rimbaud proposed an expansion of vision whose negation of privatised consciousness would permit entry into a transformative collective that would challenge and ultimately shatter the constrained possibilities of bourgeois consciousness-as-usual, Jackson’s expansion of consciousness is made necessary and also possible through a maximum tightening of those same constraints. Jackson writes from solitary confinement, where the almost total annihilation of his subjectivity forces an expansion of “vision” so that it includes “not just” himself and the “family” and “neighbourhood” that he is separated from (ie the content of a denied memory) but also “the world”, a “world” that Jackson believes he can see with absolute clarity because through his enforced separation from it he is able to reject the “unnecessary things” that define and “lock” it. Whereas Rimbaud believes he can achieve clarity through a flight from bourgeois constraints, Jackson is forced into that clarity by the very impossibility of that flight. But more than Rimbaud, Jackson’s early letters resemble the writing of the revolutionary psychopath Sergey Nechayev, whose 1869 Catechism of a Revolutionist was reprinted by the Black Panthers in 1969:

The revolutionist is a person doomed. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and passion for revolution . . . . The revolutionist knows that in the very depths of his being, not only in words but in deeds, he has broken all the bonds which tie him to the civil order and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities and customs, and with all its generally accepted conventions. He is their implacable enemy, and if he continues to live with them it is only in order to destroy them more speedily.

Where Rimbaud also wishes to liberate himself from the “laws, moralities and customs” of the bourgeois civil order, Nechaev refuses the ecstasy of that liberation and bolts himself to the cruel centre of that same order. In seeking to express through his person the absolute negation of everyday reality, Nechaev becomes the personification of its basic banality and brutality. The “passion for revolution” into which Nechaev must eradicate his being is only the negative expression of the “passion” for money to which any bourgeois will ecstatically sacrifice their person. Jackson is forced into a more radical position than either Rimbaud or Nechaev precisely because of the forced eradication of that passion. Jean Genet, in his introduction to Jackson’s book, claims that the arid zone this necessary (self-preserving) refusal of passion gives access to is the place from which a new, militant poetics can emerge. Genet says of the writings of Jackson, and of the writings of other imprisoned black militants:

(T)heir voices are starker, more accusing and implacable, tearing out every reference to the cynical conjuring of the religious enterprise and its efforts to take over. They are more singular, and singular too in the way they all seem to engage a movement that converts the old discourses, in order to denounce the curse not of being black, but of being captive.

Genet insists that Jackson’s letters be read as “poetry”: his use of the word, like that of the Situationists, is symptomatic of a crisis in the artform - a crisis expressed most forcefully in the fact that it remained an artform - that in part arose from the failure of Surrealism to achieve their much advertised synthesis of Marx and Rimbaud. It is an understanding of the possibilities of poetry that sounds almost hopelessly utopian now. The writings of Genet, the Situationists and Jackson, even given the pitches of rage and icy violence each of them reached, are soaked in revolutionary optimism. Victory, as far as all of these writers were concerned, was inevitable. From the standpoint of our own apocalypse such optimism reads, at best, bitterly. But maybe an icy bitterness is just what we need. The violent austerity of Jackson’s writing, and thus Genet’s claims for it, may have managed to smuggle some of that revolutionary charge into our own historical position. The austerity of the language means that everything must be laid bare. Genet notes that in order for his letters to get past the prison censor, Jackson must conceal all of his passion within a language in which the only permitted emotion is hatred. Poetry, the “slandered, the reprobate words . . . . the words that don’t belong in the dictionary” becomes so much contraband. Forced to speak the language of the captor, the captive is only permitted to speak in a way that is absolutely comprehensible to that captor. All of the many things the word “poetry” is supposed to mean begin to buckle and come apart under this kind of pressure. Genet elsewhere speaks scornfully of the well-made poem or artwork: “the closer a work of art is to perfection, the more it is enclosed within itself”. That aesthetic enclosure is, obviously, the counter-prison. The reactionary esotericism of remarks such as George Steiner’s “Celan’s poems take us beyond what we already know”, or Mario Vargas Llosa’s “we remain in the dark, unable to penetrate that mysterious aureole that we feel to be the secret of (Vallejo’s) poetry’s originality and power” conceals the social pain, hunger and rage contained in that poetry. Anyone who has suffered the gross humiliation of being left out of the “perfection” of bourgeois reality knows all too well what that “beyond”, what that “secret” is, and they know it because they are it. Contemptuous of a poetics that is only ever an aesthetic parody of the commodity form, Genet implies that we need to think in terms of a poetry that can be somehow prior to itself, and can thus force that “secret” into the raw light of day.

to be continued

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Notes on Militant Poetics 1/ 3

“There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity when an authentic upheaval can be born . . . . (a) descent into a real hell” (Fanon).

“Truth content becomes negative. [Poems] imitate a language beneath the helpless language of human beings: it is that of the dead speaking of stones and stars” (Adorno)

The Situationists called poetry the “anti-matter of consumer society”, a fairly questionable claim, but one that is at least expressive of the chasm that operates between official reality’s definitions of poetry and those of whatever still remains of the revolutionary avant-garde. 'Mainstream' poetry is irrelevant: the Situs knew the real poetry of capital was advertising. Advertising, the corporate avant-garde, is the anti-matter of everyday life. Poetry, meanwhile, has become entirely invisible - or rather, it only exists in weird states of high and necessary intensity, in zones of absolute negation. And so it would stay, if it were not true that advertising is itself becoming fluent in what was always poetry’s esoteric specialty, ie the language of the dead. The empty billboards that are becoming more and more common throughout East London (and everywhere else) speak more eloquently about the collapse of capital into sterile and arid zones of its own making than any poetry. Advertising, and the utopia it expresses, is now the anti-matter of itself. Anyway, perhaps we should shut up about the Situationists - as the saying goes, FORGET MAY 68, FIGHT NOW. Though it's clear that advertising, like poetry, has its origins in the curse, the charm, and the spell. The supposed spells of the Welsh bards, all those secret combinations of words that had the power to kill kings - those fantasies have become all too real in their transformation into the secret combination of words that have the power to make you want to kill the poor. And as the whole shit-house goes up in flames, only an idiot would fail to see that the truth content of the spells of advertising’s poetry are the sentences spoken by judges. Advertising was only ever the glamour cast over the real poetry of capital, the arid realities of the prison sentence and the police bullet.

to be continued . . . . .

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Letter on Harmony and Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking about the riots again lately. It seems to me, sometimes, that the week in which they happened has been compressed, buried somewhere in the distant past, and we’ve all been trapped within its shell. Nothing has happened since then, nothing at all - or rather, everything that has happened has been blind scratchings at the walls of that week, on and on, hurtling further and further back in time. Its a purgatory which I suspect we will only be able to escape from when Margaret Thatcher dies. Can you understand what I’m saying? Actually, I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago about what “understanding” might actually mean. “Understanding”, he said, “is precisely what is incompatible with the bourgeois mind”. For some reason I started thinking about the final scene in Lindsay Anderson’s film If. You know it, of course - everybody does. Malcolm McDowell and his crew are sitting on the roof of the school, firing at all the teachers and parents and other kids, and then in a brief pause, the headmaster steps forward. He thinks he’s such a liberal, you recall. “Boys”, he implores. “boys - I understand you”. Yeh. And so the character played by Christine Noonan - one of the few characters in the film who isn’t a “boy” - she shoots him right in the centre of his forehead. You know what I’m getting at - that bullet is his understanding, plain and simple, tho I’m not quite clear just how incompatible it is with the headmaster’s presumably bourgeois sense of beauty, love and imagination, or indeed his understanding, ultimately, of himself and of everything else - including his killer. A killer who is identified only as “the girl” in the cast list, even tho she’s obviously the central figure in the film. Anyway, I’m getting off the point: Margaret Thatcher, and her strange relationship with the combined central nervous systems of all of the people who were picked up in the weeks following the riots, around 3000 of them. It is, of course, a very tricky equation, and has to take into consideration all of the highly complex interactions between the cosmological circuit of the entire history of the city (as perimeter) with the controlled circle of each of the riot prisoner’s skulls (at the centre). There are those who say Thatcher is just a frail old woman and we shouldn’t pick on her. I prefer to think of her as a temporal seizure whose magnetosphere may well be growing more unstable and unpredictable, and so demonstrably more cruel, but whose radio signature is by no means showing any signs of decreasing in intensity any time soon. They can hear it on fucking Saturn. The paradox being, of course, that Thatcher herself sits far outside any cluster of understanding the bourgeois mind could possibly take into account. But in any case, its clear to me the heroes of Lindsay Anderson’s If, had they lived, would have ended up as minor members of the Thatcher Cabinet, or at least as backbench Tory MPs. But we don’t know whether or not they do live: the film freezes on McDowell, sliding down the school roof, blasting away, his face not quite fearful, not quite anything. Then silence. Just like the riots, they stay where they are, and so does everything else, fixed into that single, fearful second. According to some cosmological systems, and ones not so far removed from our own as we would maybe imagine, when anyone dies - be that Margaret Thatcher or Mark Duggan - they take their place among what are called the “invisibles”, traditionally opening up a gap in social time, a system of antimatter in which nobody can live, but from which new understandings and arrangements of social harmony may be imagined. Music, for example. Or the killing of a “king”, etc. But while I’d like that to be true, its essentially hymn-singing, a benevolent glister on the anticyclonic storms of business-as-usual rotating counterclockwise at ever increasing speeds into the past and into the future. I take those “invisibles” as being not too dissimilar to so-called “undesirables”, all those refugees banged up in the various holding cells that cluster in rings outside airports and cities etc. That is, objects of human sacrifice which vicious and simplistic systems use to sustain a sinister and invisible harmony where everything spins on its own specified orbit and everything remains in its preordained place; everything that is except the ever increasing density of suffering, as pressure increases and one by one we vanish into some foul and unlikely parallel dimension. You know, like a government building or something. A cathedral, for example. Or a medieval jail. Or a Heckler & Koch MP5 (Police Issue). Anyway, I’m rambling now. I know full well that none of the above is likely to help us to understand, or break out of, or even enter, the intense surges of radio emissions we’re trapped inside. Cyclones and anticyclones. Like, I’m certainly not proposing Thatcher as a counter-sacrifice, however tempting and, in the short term, satisfying that may be. It would be impossible: every Daily Mail reader would understand exactly what we were doing. Its horrible. I feel like its gonna be the 6th August 2011 for ever. Christ, for all I know its still 13th October 1925. The estimated costs of the August Riots were around £100 million. You can get 46 rounds of the ammunition that killed Mark Duggan for 15 dollars and 99 cents. On Amazon. For the police its probably far cheaper, and right now that's the clearest definition of harmony I can get to. Happy new year.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fragment: On Harmony

Sorry / I wasn’t talking to you
but factory rhythms / your mouths
are not unbroken infernos
inside your personal numbers
in each of those numbers a starling
in each of its beaks a startled knife
sorry / we are not that knife
on the city’s outer circuit / frugal
& unbroken. This sentence was never
declared & is a used surface, a
geiger trap or love’s blunted blade
well screw that & the point of our face
is they screwed it shut. Things grow
The perimeter scratches are fearsome

ie the sentence was never declared but punctured, and the rings of the city are sharp metronomic traps, all of them stored in (1) the villages we burned (2) the impact sphere of (number) rubber bullets and feral longitudes all occupied by your local jobcentre, which of course its clients understand as, at best (3) Alan Sugar screeching in utter fear . . . .