Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Letter Against the Firmament (two)
Thanks for your letter. You think I spend too much time going after ‘easy targets’, do you? Got to admit I chuckled over that one. A while ago, you recall, I admitted to you I make a fetish of the riot form, and in that admission implied I was fully aware of the risks involved, that any plausible poetics would be shattered, like a shop window, flickering and jagged, all of the wire exposed and sending sharp twists and reversible jolts into whatever it was I was trying to explain or talk about. Think about it this way. Imagine that you had a favourite riot, one that you loved. Tottenham. Millbank. Chingford. Walthamstow. I like the last one, but only for sentimental reasons. It’s a stupid question, but maybe will help you to see what I mean when I use the word “poetics”, or “poetry”. What was Marx referring to when he was talking about the “poetry of the future”, for example? And what use is that in thinking about prosody? Anyway. Loads of people have made maps of clusters of riots, trying to come up with some kind of exegesis based on location and frequency. And quite right too. Think of the micro-vectors sketched out within the actions of any individual rioter, of how those vectors and actions relate to those shared among her or his immediate physical group, and thus the spatio-physical being of that group in relation to their particular town / city, and finally, the superimposition of all of those relations in all of their directions and implications onto an equally detailed charting of the entire landmass understood as chronology and interpretation. Christ, you could include data about the weather-systems on Neptune if you wanted to. What would happen to this map, I’ve been asking myself, if we went on to superimpose the positions of riots of the past, the future too if you want to be facetious, onto the complexities we’re already faced with. Sudden appearance of the Baltimore Riots of 1968, to take a random example. Or the Copper Riots of 1662. The Opera Riot, Belgium, 1830. The 1850 Squatters Riot, California. Personally, I like the Moscow Plague Riots of 1771, both for their measures of poetry and analogy, and for the thought of them as an element of the extraordinarily minor Walthamstow Riot of 7th August 2011. Plague is a bad metaphor, thats it accuracy, it refers to both sides, all sides, in quantitively different ways. Hegelian “aspects” and all that, yeh? But primarily, its dirt simple: It runs in both directions. Means both us and them. Is a jagged rip through all pronouns. The thunder of the world, a trembling, a turbine. Cyclical desperation, clusters of walls. The first signs of plague hit Moscow in late 1770, as in a sudden system of forced quarantine and destruction of contaminated houses. Within a few months, a clock of vast scratching, fear and anger. September 15th they invaded the Kremlin, smashed up the monastery there. The following day they murdered the Archbishop, that wormfucker, Ambrosius, they killed him, and then torched the quarantined zones. Much burning, yeh, much gunshot and vacuum. And no antidote, no serum. Around 200,000 people died, not including those who were executed. Its a grisly map. Disease as interpretation and anonymity. The plague itself as injection into certain subsets of opinion, those predominantly generated within hegemonic diagrams of running water and digital electricity. Plague sores, each basilica split open to various popular songs, calendars folded within them, recorded crackles through the forcibly locked houses, code etc., LEDs and meth. Basic surrealism. Aimé Césaire wrote years ago that “poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge”. And science itself the great silence at the centre of corporate knowledge, its dialectical warp and synaptic negation. As in a single node of extraction made up, for example, of the precise percentage of the world’s population who will never again be called by name, except by cops and executioners. Each one of those names - and we know none of them - is the predominant running metaphor of the entire culture, a net of symptom splinters producing abdominal pain and difficulty breathing, which in turn leads to a sharp increase in arrest numbers throughout the more opaque boroughs of selected major cities. OK? Now write a “poem”. Directly after the August Riots I went to one of the big public meetings, don’t know why, guess I was feeling a bit confused. Or maybe just bored. The speakers were awful, patronising, professional counterrevolutionaries, you know the type. But there was one woman who spoke, she had nothing to do with the organisation, they’d got her up there for obvious reasons, yeh, and she lived on an estate somewhere and her son had leapt 16 floors from a tower block window. He’d been on curfew and the cops had turned up, without warning, at his flat. To check up or something. Anyway, he leapt 16 floors down, and they told her he’d killed himself, “and I know my boy”, his mother said from top table, “and he wouldn’t have jumped, he wouldn’t have killed himself, not for them, not for anyone, not for the cops”, and her voice cracked a little and then she said “and as for the riots, I thought they were fair enough, and I think there should be more of them, and more, and more”, and then she stopped and there was some applause, but it was a little shaken and a little nervous. Understand? Here’s a statistic for you, an elegant little metric foot: not one police officer in the UK has been convicted for a death in police custody since 1969. Get that? A lifetime. I think that’s what she was getting at, at the meeting: every cop, living or dead, is a walking plague-pit. And that includes the nice ones with their bicycles and nasty little apples. Like some kind of particle mould. They are all Simon Harwood. They are all Kevin Hutchinson-Foster. And are running, with crowbars and wheels, year by year, strata by strata, backwards into, well, what they used to call the deep abyss, or perhaps the metamorphosis of commodities. The unity of opposites, anti-constellations cutting through chronology, an injection of three droplets of the weather on Neptune into each malevolently flashing unit of time tumbling backwards through all of written history, all 16 spirals of it. “Poetry”, remember, “is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge”. What do you think that means, “the great silence”. I ask because I’m not quite sure. Hölderlin, in his “Notes on Oedipus”, talks about the moment of “fate”, which, he says, “tragically removes us from our orbit of life, the very-mid point of inner life, to another world, tears us off into the eccentric orbit of the dead”. But he’s not talking about “fate” as in myth, or the number of fatalities taking place every year in police cells and occupied territories worldwide, or indeed the home of every benefit claimant in this town. He’s talking about prosody, about the fault-line that runs through the centre of that prosody, and how that fault-line is where the “poetic” will be found, if its going to be found anywhere. The moment of interruption, a “counter rhythmic interruption”, he calls it, where the language folds and stumbles for a second, like a cardiac splinter or a tectonic shake. Again, just as with the plague, this is a cracked metaphor, an abstraction or a counter-earth. Actually its an entire cluster of metaphors, and each one of those metaphors twist in any number of directions, so that “counter-rhythmic interruption” refers, at the same time, to a band of masked-up rioters ripping up Oxford St., and to the sudden interruption inflicted by a cop’s baton, a police cell and the malevolent syntax of a judge’s sentence. We live in these cracks, these fault-lines. Who was it, maybe Raoul Vaneigem, who wrote something about how we are trapped between two worlds, one that we do not accept, and one that does not exist. Its exactly right. One way I’ve been thinking about it is this: the calendar, as map, has been split down the middle, into two chronologies, two orbits, and they are locked in an endless spinning antagonism, where the dead are what tend to come to life, and the living are, well you get the picture. Obviously, only one of these orbits is visible at any one time and, equally obviously, the opposite is also true. Its as if there were two parallel time tracks, or maybe not so much parallel as actually superimposed on each other. You’ve got one track, call it antagonistic time, revolutionary time, the time of the dead, whatever, and its packed with unfinished events: the Paris Commune, Orgreave, the Mau Mau rebellion. There are any number of examples, counter-earths, clusters of ideas and energies and metaphors that refuse to die, but are alive precisely nowhere. And then there is standard time, normative time, a chain of completed triumphs, a net of monuments, dead labour, capital. The TV schedules, basically. And when a sub-rhythmic jolt, call it anything, misalignment of the planets, radioactive catastrophe, even a particularly brutal piece of legislation, brings about a sudden alignment of revolutionary and normative time, as in the brute emergence of unfinished time into their world, it creates a buckling in its grounding metaphor, wherein that metaphor, to again misuse Hölderlin, becomes a network of forces, places of intersection, places of divergence, moments when everything is up for grabs. Well, that’s the theory. Riot, plague, any number of un-used potentialities we can’t even begin to list. The names of everyone who has died in police custody since 1969, for example. The name of every civilian who has died in Iraq since 2003. Plague. The opposite of solidarity. Or rather, solidarity itself: the solidarity of isolation and quarantine, of the bomb-zone or the ghetto. The great silence is full of noises. And thats what I mean when I talk about poetics. A map, a counter-map, actually, a chart of the spatio-temporal rhythm of the riot-form, its prosody and signal-frequency. A map that could show the paths not taken. And where to find them, those paths, those antidotes, those counter-plagues. Anyway, I hope that answers your question. It’s a very partial account, for sure. There are hundred of other points of access to the metaphor cluster engaged within the riot form: think about the Portland Rum Riots of 1855, for example. Or the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Their trajectories through the varying intensities of official and unofficial chronology, the music of the past re-emerging as a sheet of blazing gin flowing through Chingford. Like that time we marched on Parliament, burned it to the ground. Remember that? It was fantastic.