Friday, July 08, 2005

Henry asserts that "the astounding expansion of (relatively) free enterprise economies and (relatively) private property relations rendered pseudo-Marxist terms like "late-late-capitalism" meaningless." I don't understand how the expansion of "free enterprise" in India in any way contradicts the thesis that capitalism has entered a new stage (so-called globalization—a term at least as obscurantist as "late capitalism") or the undergirding thesis that capitalism evolves. We might agree or disagree on whether this is a wholly good thing—I suspect we do—but his irritation at the terminology only challenges us to use it less glibly, or better yet, come up with different descriptors. No one will be happier than I if we can move past the era of post-this and late-that. The fact remains, however, that there is an existing discourse for talking about the intersections of culture, capital, and politics (which is radically different from the state-sponsored cultural demagoguery Henry deplores) and I find it useful for describing certain tendencies and certain problems which poets I'm interested in are trying to figure out.

Perhaps Henry has a better model to propose by which intellectuals can "contribute to the actual reform & betterment of society." I'd be curious to hear about a possible program that is not merely anti-intellectual: that is, which doesn't simply tell all the eggheads to come down from their towers, renounce theory (I don't mean theory in the fashionable sense but theory as that which requires distance from practice in order to exert critical power), and get their hands dirty. (As if all our hands weren't already dirty, bloody in fact.)

It may or may not be poetry's job to reform & better society, but it does have the task of responding to that society and discovering bases for action and emotion in its language. Which means not just the skillful and ingenious deployment of everyday language, but the introduction of languages—academic, Marxian, ethnic—that put the "everyday" under revelatory pressure.

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