Notebook (discontents)

July 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

“You became used to the look of the crowd: the particular pressure and mass of bodies, the look written across multiple faces, both of determination and surprise, the spray of signifiers in banners, flags, placards. You recognised it again: the way people filled the Wisconsin Capitol building so it seemed there was barely an inch between them; the changes that Joanna Biggs reported from the UCL occupation – “The stately dome and columns… are dominated by a bedsheet banner proclaiming its occupation and the grey stone is scrawled with coloured chalk: ‘Cut Out Cuts: Don’t Con-Dem Me!’” (And, of course, during the UCU strike, the sign they hung on Jeremy Bentham’s glass cage: ‘SCAB’.) In a moment, you were convinced, these spaces were no longer what they had been. As Alain Badiou writes: “After a certain threshold of determination, of stubbornness and of courage, the people, in fact, can concentrate their existence in a square, an avenue, some factories or a university… In the stride of an event, the People is made of those who know how to solve the problems brought about by the event… Problems that, at the level of the hundreds of thousands of risen people mobilized from everywhere, seemed insoluble, all the more that in this place the state has virtually disappeared. To solve insoluble problems without the assistance of the state becomes the destiny of an event.” Walter Benjamin remarks on the place of the crowd in Baudelaire’s poetry: “the secret presence of a crowd is demonstrable almost everywhere… [t]he mass was the agitated veil; through it Baudelaire saw Paris”. The crowd was a genuinely new figure in lyric poetry, brought into being by the historic transformation of high capitalism. And that crowd always contained within itself the possibility, the image-event, of the transformation of the space it inhabited and defined – the moment when the everyday time of commodity-production that ruled the crowd’s motion stopped, as the barricades went up and the space of the street, no longer dominated by traffic, was seen anew. Baudelaire experienced this himself in the insurrection of 1848, and thus Benjamin remarks on the cryptic solidarity between Baudelaire and Auguste Blanqui. A strange negative image of such a moment occurs in London: after the 1992 IRA bomb in the City of London, the camera joins the gawkers looking up at an office block with most of its windows blown out. Papers flutter down and white plastic curtains flap out and rustle, dancing in the wind; Keiller holds the shot for perhaps a minute. If poetry, I thought, couldn’t capture a moment of transformation – a moment filled, in ghostly form, as Benjamin writes, “with the presence of the now” – like that, I didn’t consider it worth a damn.”

“Although I feel bad about it – as apparently poets are the only persons to do so these days – I don’t read much new poetry. This is partly because I don’t have the money or willpower to buy and read new poetry books and magazines. But it’s also because I don’t feel much of it is capable of achieving some purchase on the present situation: most of the work I come across by young poets is domestic, whimsical (the blurbs usually read ‘surreal’), guiltily twee, a poetry of the small and everyday – not, in itself, a bad thing, except that it refuses to extract from its tableaux the stranger logic that lies behind them; it asks no questions, and makes few demands […] It wasn’t that I wanted a move away from Trivial Things and a return to Serious Poetry. It was that those very things of everyday life – dream, memory, desire – were already serious, and I wanted to articulate how.”

“The choice between informationism and poetry has nothing to do with the poetry of the past; just as no variant of what the classical revolutionary movement has turned into is of any relevance anywhere as part of a real alternative to contemporary life. The same judgement leads us to announce the total disappearance of poetry in the old forms in which it has been produced and consumed, and its return in forms that are unexpected but operational. It is time to stop writing poetic orders – time to start carrying them out.”

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