Monday, April 30, 2007

Apparently there's a bespectacled photographer on the interwebs who shares my name, but with a definite article in front. Who is this guy? He takes great photos.

The Corey.
Congrats to Mark on his upcoming Zukofsky bio. Click the link for details.

Life is chaotic just now. Please stand by....

Monday, April 23, 2007

American Small Press Poetry

I recently entered my collection of small press poetry books in a competition held by the Cornell Library. Didn't win, but I thought some might be interested in the little essay I wrote to introduce said collection:

For as long as I can remember I've been a haunter of bookstores and libraries. But I didn't begin to accumulate books in a serious way until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 to begin a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford. It was there that I developed my interest in alternative American poetry, and started buying as much of it as I could afford. What do I mean by "alternative"? Contemporary poetry isn’t on many people's radar these days; even highly literate denizens of English departments don't always know much about what's going on in poetry. The poets who do break through to something like mainstream attention—John Ashbery, Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, and Billy Collins come to mind—actually represent fairly narrow swatches of what's been possible in American poetry for the past fifty years. These are the poets published by the big publishing houses, whose books actually stand a chance of being reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. But it's actually the small and really small presses in this country which have done the most to keep something like a living tradition of poetry alive. I should say rather "traditions," because the glory of American poetry is its multiplicity, the range of its techniques and styles and preoccupations. I have tried, in building up my collection, to accumulate as broad a swathe of these alternatives as one poor graduate student can.

San Francisco has been an alternative poetry mecca since before the time of the Beats, and I arrived there hungry to learn what my new city had to teach me. I visited Green Apple Books and City Lights in the city; I carried armloads out of Moe's and Serendipity in Berkeley; I uncovered treasures at the late lamented Wessex Books in Menlo Park. In these bookstores, and in conversations with other poets and poetry aficionados, I discovered numerous alternatives to the large-press poetry that had heretofore dominated my sense of the possible. At first I was most intrigued by the legacy of the Language poets, a tightly knit group that had gotten its start in the Bay Area in the 1970s and which had gone on to become the most controversial, contentious, and just plain difficult movements in American poetry since the days of Ezra Pound. The Language poets sought in both their writing and in their chosen modes of publication and distribution to challenge the prevailing hierarchies of American poetry, which at that time (and to some degree still even today) privileged a poetics of the "I"—what critic Charles Altieri has called the "scenic mode" of American poetry, in which a speaker looks out into a landscape and discovers—himself (or herself). For the Language poets, how you said a thing was as meaningful or more so than what you said, and the poems they produced were spiky, hard to follow, sometimes gleefully obscene, sometimes austerely beautiful. Their work attempts to enlist the reader as a comrade in challenging modes of meaning-making that have been hijacked by advertising and corporate media—and by an American poetry mainstream that was too often reflexively apolitical and anti-intellectual in its biases.

The Language poets sought nothing less than the seizure of the means of meaning production, and if their project was quixotic, the scope of its ambition was thrilling nevertheless. Uninterested in the New York publishing world (which would have rejected them out of hand, anyway), they created their own small presses and samizdat-style magazines and distributed them across a network of sympathetic and interested readers that now spans the globe. Browsing the bookstores, reading the spines, I learned to look for the press's name before even taking note of the title or author: O Books, Roof Books, The Figures, Edge, North Point Press. Since many of these publishers continue to operate, I began to discover new poets, some of them my age or close to it, who had learned what the Language poets had to teach about do-it-yourself meaning-making. I also began to discover a heritage for American poetry that was far richer and more complex than the narrative I’d been taught (it began with T.S. Eliot, skipped forward to the "Confessional" poets of the 1950s, and then petered out into the easygoing piety of the aforementioned scenic mode). Behind the Language poets were the "New Americans," first put forward as a group by Donald Allen’s 1960 anthology of the same name. I discovered the Black Mountain School of poetry, centered around the work and teaching of Charles Olson and the radical college in North Carolina that he'd taught at for a few crucial years in the 1950s alongside Robert Creeley, John Cage, Josef Albers, and Merce Cunningham. The poets of the San Francisco Renaissance—Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Robin Blaser chief among them—brought a queer sensibility to their investments in the English literary tradition, and wrote poems stained with a baffling and exhilarating outsider's mysticism into their poems. The poets who were associated with the art scene in New York in the 50s and 60s, known as the New York School, brought a fierce, yet whimsical integrity to the task of writing poetry, and fostered one of the most enduring and pleasurable avant-garde movements in American poetry, one that continues to this day. More recently I’ve been fascinated by the practitioners of "flarf," a movement that like Language poetry pushes hard against the boundaries of the acceptably "poetic," but does it with more pop-cultural panache. And then there are the strangers and outsiders, the founders of one-poet movements or the participants in trends that were never recognized, or have yet to be fully born.

In two short years I spent nearly all of my disposable income on books of poetry published in the past five decades. Only a few of these would qualify as rare books, but I think I've built up a genuinely rare collection that surveys a broad swathe of what's been most significant and vital in alternative American poetry. There are holes and gaps: I am increasingly conscious of the odd provinciality that comes of being a citizen of empire, and would like to strike out into reading and collecting the poetries of other languages and traditions. Still I retain my commitment to taking the pulse of poetry by centering my reading and collecting on what's published by the small presses. My book collection, like many people's is a physical manifestation of my consciousness and the number of connections I'm able to make. I hope it continues to grow.
Meta-Free-Phor-All.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Grief

Because it seems I can think of little else but the Virginia Tech massacre this week, I will try and record some thoughts about it. It strikes home for many reasons. It could have happened anywhere (though it's a little harder, I think, to buy handguns in New York than Virginia). And I feel torn, to the point of tears, by a double-edged empathy. Of course I imagine what I would do to protect myself and my own students if someone came into the classroom with a gun. It's a sickening feeling, a gut-wrenching doubt. At the same time, though it seems clear that Cho was insane, part of me empathizes with what I imagine to be the humiliation that formed part of his motive. I was a socially inept outsider in high school myself—though much less so in college—and I carried many bitter resentments toward the more fortunate and popular. High school seemed like such a small, perfectly enclosed world, with such severe limitations on what was okay to say and do and feel, and I hated those who seemed so serenely well adapted to an environment that I felt to be soul-crushing. My salvation, at least in part, came from my sense that there were, in fact other worlds—with college being the nearest and most accessible. So it came to pass: I survived high school, went to college, and discovered a world where I could have friends and be encouraged in my interests. I never felt safe in high school but I felt safe at college—not that my time there was trouble-free, but it was nonetheless a place I could breathe. This was so much the case that a few years after graduating I found myself drawn back to academia as the place where I wanted to make my life.

Now, as a member of the academic community, I feel sickened at this attack on it, and I want to add my voice to those who cry "We're all Hokies now," just as other members of what's called the civilized world said "We are all Americans" after 9/11, in that too-brief moment of solidarity with suffering. And I'm shocked that someone could have found the world of college—which as I experienced it was a place for freedom and inquiry, a chance to readapt my gawky and oppressed high school self into something functional—to be their enemy. Again, I recognize that Cho was insane—a narcissistic sociopath—and identifying with his rage may be an egregious exercise in liberal guilt. I identify more now with my nascent role as professor, and my painful wish in that imaginary scenario to somehow interpose my body between a killer and his prey. And I feel the burden of failure that I on some level participate in. The failure of universities to protect their students. The failure of parents to raise their children as decent human beings. The dismal success of our governments in making incredibly lethal weapons readily available to anyone with the cash to pay for them (I am baffled by the argument that, if Cho hadn't had access to guns, he would have found some other weapon. Would we really have so many dead if he'd been armed with a knife, or even a pipe bomb?). And the failure of our culture, of its violence and failures of empathy toward the most vulnerable, both within and without our borders.

Not the least disturbing fact about the massacre is its unexpected intersection with creative writing. I was dismayed to learn that Cho was an English major, as though that somehow tarnished the discipline, further tugging on my perhaps overdeveloped sense of responsibility. One of the New York Times' articles on the shootings today includes this sentence: "Carolyn D. Rude, chairwoman of the English department, said faculty members were pro-active, even attending seminars on helping students in distress, a skill particularly applicable in an English department, where creative writing teachers had intimate glimpses into their students’ troubles and temperaments." This intersection of the academic discipline of creative writing with mental health and crisis prevention frankly takes me aback. In what sense has my scholarly and literary training prepared me for "helping students in distress"? If I am supposed to be a mental health counselor for my students, give me the appropriate resources and training! It surely doesn't hurt to attend "seminars on helping students in distress," but is it really a creative writing teacher's job to counsel disturbed students and to search their work for evidence of pathology? And should we accept the culture's further demand to view "creative writing" as thinly veiled narratives of the pathological, as opposed to the difficult art of possibility that it is? I fear these attacks will lead to the further erosion of the dignity of writing—will encourage the tendency to view poetry and fiction as more or less transparent containers and blunt instruments for deeply impoverished notions of "the personal" and "the real."

The pain of these events is almost too much to bear. I wish intensely for peace for all who've been touched by this, and most especially for the victims and their families.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Small presses and publishers are under threat from a postal rate hike designed to benefit big media. Click here to protest.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stayed put in Ithaca—the roads through the hills were darn near impassible. Alas. Someone tell me how the reading went.

Decided I don't need titles for every post after all. Especially short posts. Like this one.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cruelest Month

Is that one or two L's in "cruelest"? My limitations as a cameraman may prevent you from grasping what a great reading we had in Ithaca on Saturday from Kate Greenstreet and Janet Holmes. Kate's reading style is intimate and subtly funny—she draws you into the lyric landscapes of the road trip that is case sensitive. Most of the poems she read were from one of the latter sections of the book, which puts speaker and reader through the paces of a police procedural while the question "where's the body" takes on additional resonances. It was a thrill to have her, and her lovely husband Max too. I picked up a box of greeting cards she made—Kate is a visual as well as verbal artist—and now I have to decide who I like enough to send them to. My favorite has this legend superimposed over an evocatively blurry image of a human figure: "Then we played an intensive game of statues."

Janet delivered her poems with theatricality and flair. The title of her book, F2F is instant messaging talk for "face to face," and a number of its poems take the form of IM exchanges. These are, obviously, difficult to read, so most of the poems she read were those that featured figures from Greek myth, generally referred to by first initial: O for Orpheus, E for Eros, P for Psyche, etc. This might seem tired, but Janet makes it work by using these figures to meditate on the idea of being seen or not being seen—that is, she thinks about the role the mediated image plays in human relationships. All of these mythic figures of course engage the visual: Orpheus looks back at Eurydice and loses her (though in some versions of the myth she does the looking); Psyche is forbidden to see Eros and when she does, he abandons her; Narcissus has only eyes for himself while Echo is bodiless and invisible. Janet's project thinks through these figures, with considerable wit and panache, by placing them in a very recognizable modern mediascape.

Incredible April snow breeding no flowers out of no dead land is dumping down on Ithaca right now, but the roads may be clear enough for me to attempt my drive to New York this afternoon to catch tonight's reading. If you see me there be sure to congratulate me on my foolishness.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Greenstreet and Holmes

A buzzy, shaky video of Kate Greenstreet reading "Dusting for Prints" from case sensitive.


A slightly better quality video of Janet Holmes reading "Lost on us" from F2F.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Google Says

Google says sorry to Sohu for using their software.
Google Says Sorry for Stealing.
Google says not so fast,
Google says speed is king

google says - bring it on - we have safe harbor baby.

Google says outright "we're not building a mobile phone"
Have a say in what Google says about you.
Google says bill could spark antitrust fight.
Google Says “No” To Death Threats.

Google says it has plugged desktop search flaw.

Don't you dare google, says Google.
Google says that it has the "highest regard" for the privacy of its users' information, and insists there is nothing sinister about Gmail.
Google says may launch video service in Japan.
Help, Google Says I'm Gay. Google says I have a virus...

“Your brand is what Google says your brand is, not what you say your brand is,”

Google Says They Won't Ask For Help In China To Compete.
Google says "Gmail" is no joke, but lunar jobs are.
Google says go get your goggles~!
Google says web users are too stupid for semantics.

Google says its users trust the company.

Google Says I’m Important (now life has meaning).
Google says disable your firewall.
Google says to swim the Atlantic.
Google says it keeps search logs.

Google says so.

Google Says Pakistan Is Most Sex-starved Nation.
Google says no to digital music.
Google says swim.
Well, If Google says so.

Google says the laws would condemn the Australian public to the pre-Internet era.

Google says Internet isn't TV.
Google says: “You asked, and we listened:
Google Says You Have Insufficient Qi.
a "more relaxed" agreement with Google, says

Google says online dating offends family values.

Google says "Triumphalize this!"
Google says speed is the key.
Google says CIA thing is untrue.
Google Says It Compromised Principles by Bowing to Chinese Demands.

Assume that everything Google says is true.

Google says you don’t need a web site any more.
Google says no, Yahoo says yes.
Widget lets Google finish your sentences.
Google says, "go home".

Google Says "Hi"

Don't Google Google Says Google.
Google says you are a slut.
Google Says Porn Is Killer App For Mobile.
Google says that you can't confuse your site's visitors.

What Google says.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Coming to SOON

People in Ithaca, mark your calendars: Kate Greenstreet and Janet Holmes are coming to read in the SOON series at the State of the Art Gallery downtown at 7 PM on Saturday, April 14.

Kate Greenstreet is the author of case sensitive (Ahsahta Press, 2006) and Learning the Language (Etherdome Press, 2005). Her poems have appeared in CARVE, Cannibal, Fascicle, 26, Conduit, and other journals.

Janet Holmes is an award-winning poet and author of F2F (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), The Green Tuxedo (1998) and Humanophone (2001). She is director of Ahsahta Press and teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boise State University.

Speaking of readings, New York City denizens should not miss next week's Reading Between A and B series, featuring Susan Howe, Richard Greenfield, and Dan Beachy-Quick. It happens Monday, April 16 at 7:30 at the 11th Street Bar between Avenues A and B (natch). If I can swing the logistics I'll be seeing you there.

And finally: Good night, Mr. Rosewater.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What Remains

(Before I say anything else: rocking good news from Mr. Bernes about his collection Starsdown (great title!). I've been waiting for a while now for someone to have the good sense to publish that work. Well done!)

Jessie, Emmet, and Virginia Mann, from Sally Mann's 1992 collection Immediate Family.

This past weekend we saw a documentary about photographer Sally Mann named for her exhibition of photographs of decaying bodies, landscapes in which death had occurred (Civil War battlegrounds, but also a spot on her own land where an escaped convict had killed himself to avoid capture by the police), and—as a perhaps willed moment of redemption (redemptivity?)—luminous, spooky photos of the faces of her three adult children (who as youngsters were made famous by photos like the one above). I'm a sucker for portraits of artists at work, which partially redeemed Pollock for me (almost more as a portrait of an actor at work than a painter); this is also why The Five Obstructions continues to be one of my absolute favorite films. The film depicts Mann as that rarest of artistic birds: a committed romantic who is also thoroughly unsentimental. The controversy that erupted over her most famous photos, which made her something of a bit player in the culture wars of the early 1990s, was centered on the the photos she took of her own children, many of them nudes or partial nudes. At least as disturbing to the public as the simple fact of a mother exhibiting photos of her naked children was her characteristic oil-and-water mixture of high romanticism (the photos are ravishingly beautiful, as are the children themselves—the whole Mann family appears to be an unusually good-looking one) and a refusal to idealize children in the accepted ways. If Mann's children are "little angels" and cherubim, they come out of Milton rather than Hallmark: fierce, terrifying, simultaneously innocent and knowing, and sexy without being sexualized. Mann's photos aren't in the least degrading of their subjects—these images are as idealized as anything produced by John Singer Sargent—but they refuse the uncomplicated notion of innocence that we like to attribute to children and childhood experience. They are, in short—you knew I was going to say this—a mode of pastoral.

The makers of the film What Remains have a lot invested in their notion of Mann as a pastoralist. She is depicted for the most part as rooted to the ground of her Virginia farm (though curiously isolated from other Virginians, save for her family members and a couple of family friends) and seemingly detached from modernity. The camera fetishizes Mann's own camera (a gigantic nineteenth-century model that uses glass plates) and the matter-of-fact, dirty-hands artisanship of her photographic practice. If there's a computer or a TV in her house we don't get to see them, and it's mildly shocking to see Mann driving her BMW (which has a pro-choice bumpersticker on the back windshield, the only glimpse of overt politics in the film). Interviews with Mann stress her attachment to the land, while the narrative of the film mostly thwarts the possibility of her cosmopolitanism (in spite of a photo of young Jessie Mann that imitates Manet's Olympia [Manet—even their names sound the same]). We do get to see her briefly at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, but because the Pace Gallery in New York decided not to show the death-haunted photos of What Remains we are spared the country-mouse-in-the-city image of Mann in Manhattan (where it is hard to imagine that this supremely confident woman would not in fact fit right in).

I am not trying to argue here that Mann's connection to the Virginia landscape is bogus—it's rather that I believe the filmmakers' desire to present Mann as a pure product of that landscape is a disservice to the full sophistication of her art. While Mann admits to being naive about the impact her family pictures would have—and how could she truly have anticipated her work's becoming a political football?—it's a mistake to depict her, however subtly, as a "naive artist" the way the film seems to want to. It may also be a mistake, though, for me to discount Mann's participation in that particular act of mythologizing—consider her response to an essay on the family photos by Noelle Oxenhandler (now THERE's a pastoral name!). Although she rather uninterestingly slams academia, for me the most vital part of Mann's response to Oxenhandler is her insistence that her children are willing collaborators in artmaking. I think this is a necessary fiction for many artists—not that by "necessary fiction" I mean that the assertion is necessarily untrue, only that it's a construct, a kind of ethical ladder, that the artist needs to climb if she's to fully encounter her subjects and materials. It's a particularly fraught fiction for a pastoral artist—someone with an investment in depicting the possibilities of a non-exploitative relationship to and among nature. In the case of Immediate Family, Mann's children appear as nymphs, spirits of the landscape that both beckon to and withdraw from the camera's eye. The images are startling for their unpredictable combination of polish and rawness: we feel we are beholding something of the quicksilver essence of life, yet that essence slips away even as we sense its presence in the stony, vulnerable eyes of Mann's children. In the spirit of nature we discover the unheimlich, the uncanny which, as Freud taught us, comes from recognizing some detail entirely intimate to our own lives that we have disavowed. We see ourselves in the photos as we imagine we once were, as we dream we might be again: fully alive, at one with our desire, suffering and free.

An image from the What Remains exhibition.

The What Remains photographs are a logical next step for Mann to take: from the uncanny of eros to the uncanny of death. Et in acardia ego: according to the film, Mann began taking these photographs after her husband Lawrence was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, bringing a whiff of mortality into their idyllic Virginia landscape. Also crucial was the above-mentioned convict's suicide by self-inflicted gunshot in full sight of Mann's house. Mann became fascinated with landscapes through which death had traveled, and from there became fascinated with how landscape travels through death in the form of decomposition, the absorption of the body by the land. So she took beautiful, deliberately flawed pictures of battlefields, and then she took photos of a beloved dog's decay (the above image), and from there took the most controversial step: she took photos at a coroner's laboratory of the decaying bodies of human beings. Presumably those people gave their bodies to science, but did they also intend to give them to art? In what sense is Mann a collaborator with the dead? It's the sort of unanswerable question that sharpens our relationship with that most seemingly harmless and pastoral of art forms, the landscape; as Mann says in the documentary, it's the artist who gives meaning to a landscape by remembering the deaths that took place in it.

Untitled #7 from Mann's Antietam series.

Mann's work is valuable for my understanding of the artist's pursuit—her construction—of a relationship to nature and the world that is neither exploitative nor wholly passive. We might call it humanist pastoral, or by any other label that would preserve the active stance we ought to take toward the world that made us and which we make. It also presses me closer against the barrier between my vulgar Marxist understanding of the world as a vortex of ideologies that conceal real material conditions, and my intuition of something more significant—some kind of resource—to be derived from mythic patterns of understanding of life and death. These structures of thought and feeling need to contest each other more vigorously, rather than coexist uneasily or through blindness to the other's reality. It's that path of contestation that Mann's work helps me to see more clearly, and to tread. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood....

Friday, April 06, 2007

Here Comes Everybody

An anthology of the interviews that Lance Phillips conducted over the past couple of years is now available from BlazeVOX Books. Check it out.

UPDATE: Oh well, never mind. See here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tonight's the Night

April Enthusiasms

- Mika, "Grace Kelly." Does Daniel Nester know about this guy? He's the absolute reincarnation of Freddie Mercury (I hear/see more than a little bit of Rufus Wainwright and Hedwig and the Angry Inch too), and this is the wittiest, most infectious pop song I've heard in ages. Deserves to be as big as Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," or bigger.

- Effing #6, edited by Joe Massey. It's almost all excellent, but what stands out in my mind (with the magazine not in front of me) are the contributions of Mairead Byrne. She has a poem about a sponge in a plastic bag that nearly moved me to tears.

- The Show with Ze Frank. I am so very sorry I missed this while it was happening, but a stroll through the archives does not disappoint. Who likes the little duckies in the pond?

- Khaled Mattawa's poem "Tocqueville" in the premiere issue of /nor. One of the darkest, most sustained, genuinely terrifying political poems I've read in a long while. A searching investigation of self-betrayal and the violence that infects every level of empire, margins and centers. A poem-war on terror-war, a postcolonial polemic that never entirely loses sight of the mutual demands language and ideology make on each other. To paraphrase Ezra Pound, what this nation might be if it read poems like this haunts my sleep.
Vegetarian seder plate from Monday night, with Paschal Yam

Monday, April 02, 2007

The New Enclosures

From left to right: Barry Maxwell, George Caffentzis, Iain Boal, and Peter Linebaugh.


"Between Primitive Accumulation and the New Enclosures" took place at Cornell this past weekend and featured the gentlemen above (Silvia Federici was unable to attend) thinking out loud about what many call globalization but what they call, following a concept invented in the early 1990s by the Midnight Notes Collective (of which Caffentzis and Linebaugh are charter members), "the new enclosures": the rampantly successful efforts of global capital to privatize "the commons," that is, property held in common by one or more communities. Wikipedia defines "enclosure" as "the process of conversion of common land to private ownership. Historically, enclosure is primarily associated with the privatization of land in England from the 12th to 19th centuries." "New enclosures" don't stop at land, but refer to what Iain Boal calls in the title of a forthcoming book "The Long Theft" of oil, the airwaves, intellectual property, and perhaps most fundamentally human labor (slavery was and is enclosure in its rawest form). The work of enclosure goes hand in hand with the creation of scarcity: it's practically common sense to realize that there's more than enough food produced to feed everyone on the planet, and yet for "economic reasons" that most of us poorly understand, food is not permitted to flow to the neediest but must be turned to profit and loss. Enclosure is also crucial to generating the surplus labor that capitalism demands: people in Africa, for example, who get pushed off of their subsistence farms (so that cash crops can be grown according to the "structural adjustments" dictated by the World Bank and IMF) are then forced to join (or try to join: there are miserable millions who cannot even get so far) the international labor market. Those with means of livelihood outside of the labor market pose a threat to that market, if only for the obvious reason that someone with a means of survival other than the wage can go on strike for longer than someone who lacks such means.

I was drawn to the conference primarily to hear Iain Boal, one of the members of the Retort group and one of the authors of Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, which made a forceful impression on me back in 2005 (you can read the first essay from the book here). The book remains the most acute synthesis of the post-9/11 situation from a left perspective that I've encountered: a Debordian reading of the attacks, our responses to them, and to the ways in which political, cultural, and even military action are now mediated through/in the society of the spectacle. It was interesting to witness the conversation between Boal and the others; Caffentzis (who was the primary speaker at the morning session, devoted to Africa) and Linebaugh have a more traditionally Marxist view of the situation—as Linebaugh said, "I study Afflicted Powers looking for the class struggle and I do not find it." This was something that Boal said would be partially rectified in a missing chapter of the book, unready at press time (the book was published on Election Day 2004) that I gathered would eventually see the light of day, but Linebaugh's comment underscored the ideological differences among these men who were nevertheless unselfconscious users of the word "comrade": as Boal said, "The analysis of enclosure pushes one into the black tent" of anarchism, whereas Linebaugh and Caffentzis are still marching under the red banner of Marxism. But it was agreed in the general discussion that the concept of enclosure is actually enormously useful because it doesn't actually push one into any sort of tent, but is a mode of analysis useful to reds, blacks, and greens as well.

As a student of pastoral I was interested in hearing a green voice regarding the concept of the commons, but such was present at the panel only in its absence. The original "New Enclosures" essay that Midnight Notes published in 1990 (available at their site or from the conference site) is critical of the Green movement for its essential political conservatism after the waning of the anti-nuclear movement:
Ecologists in the Reagan period returned to the self-righteous ideology of "natural consciousness," morality of "good will" and a practice of "recycling" and "stewardship" of the 1970s. This movement has all the markings of Marx and Engels' petty producers' thought and manners writ large. Even the etymology of its name has echoes of the ancient Greek aristocrat's "aikos" or "hearth and home." But just as the word "economy" surreptitiously introduces into the capitalist factory the rural patriarchal relations of father-wife-child-slave, so too "ecology" presumes that the earth is an "aikos" to be well managed instead of the terrain of global class struggle. For proletarians might be natives of the earth but we have no home here. (331)
Natives without homes: I think as I so often do of the protagonists of Virgils' First Eclogue, Meliboeus and Tityrus, whose hold on their "native," idyllic land is so precarious, subject to the whims of Rome and the weapons of soldiers. But I wonder too if Midnight Notes should be so confident about the desirability of transforming the earth into the battlefield for class struggle; I think of Michel Serres' crucial insight in The Natural Contract (published as Le Contrat Naturel in France the same year as "The New Enclosures") that the earth is not merely the background of human struggles but a third party implicitly excluded and subjugated by the combatants, who do not even have the minimal contract of war (expressed in the question, "Who will win?") between themselves and the earth that suffers from the combat and eventually retaliates against the combatants. I agree that thinking of the environment in terms of "management" is problematic; but I would rather see a left ecology movement that enlisted the environment as, in effect, one of the proletarians rather than sticking to the traditional Marxist view of nature as the "non-organic" object of human manipulation.

Susan Buck-Morss' dog.


A great deal of food for thought: I will be thinking more in terms of "the commons" (a term whose inherent romanticism ought to be resisted) as I proceed with my pastoral project. And I'm interested in how some of the panelists' statements contradicted Frederic Jameson's claim that there are no longer any meaningful "pre-capitalist enclaves," and that in fact it is the condition of postmodernism that there be no outside to capital. The panelists seemed to suggest, particularly in their discussion of Africa, that there remained a mode of class struggle different from the struggle over the wage (that is, the class struggle inside capital): the struggle to remain outside of capitalism and to create or recover the commons. Perhaps this contradiction speaks simply to Jameson's being more concerned with describing the first world scene. But I was interested in the possibility opened here for the creation of the commons, and the panelists' claim that "commons" of one sort or another were constantly being produced by social groups, and are in fact the necessary ground of a social group or class' self-reproduction. I thought of course of the poetry world and how the DIY and small press scenes attempt to create a common space in which poets and poetry can create and sustain themselves. This commons is of course under constant assault by forces of enclosure that would appropriate it (another word for "commons" in this context would be "indie cred") or seek to turn its resources to the advantage of those who would, literally, capitalize upon it. At the same time there are limits to this analysis: if a poet from within this scene acquires some mainstream success and/or trappings, does this necessarily mean he or she has exploited and enclosed the commons? Perhaps a poet of integrity could find a way to re-integrate their new resources into the commons, providing new opportunities for the publication and support of others. The model of climbing out of the ghetto—any sort of ghetto—has to be countered with the model of replanting and reharvesting the seed, rather than selling it for market price (and driving down the value of others' seeds). That's where my thinking about this has led me, for now.

And yes, I have just joined the 21st century and acquired a digital camera. You can expect to see more images on this site from now on.

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