Monday, February 23, 2004
being coaxed or pushed into a fight.
2. You can’t help feeling like a fight because you’re sick to death of
To otherwise be happy in the field recording statistics, events, and
the same tales of his exploits in different versions because the original
stories were fundamentally untrue
The most concerted air campaign since World War II delivered by B-52s and
Stealth Bombers. Cruise and Tomahawk hit targets hit with inevitable limited collateral.
The centre of Baghdad erupts on Sky. You feel the air full of
fire and electricity then wash your hands like Macbeth.
been in it for a while. It ended up being the most difficult concept of all.
Ottoman. Saud. Damascus. Over and down to South Asia:
Two firearms hidden in a refrigerator were also seized.
AK-47 and M-16 rifles from southern Thailand to Aceh. Smuggled firearms were
brought to the Idi Rayeuk village in a fishing boat. To outwit authorities, the
firearms were concealed in gunnysacks. With $15,000 cash, they went back to
Thailand, via Port Klang in Malaysia. From Malaysia they went overland to Hat
The army shot deserters and took a notebook containing the cell phone numbers
of separatist guerrillas from a dead body.
The rebels move through the villages mingling with the local population.
The military follows close behind, rounding up anybody deemed suspicious.
We’ve been in it for a while, in one way or another. A young man locked in a
cell and left to decompose with insects. Pits full of bones opened up to
punishing desert sun. Sudan under Egypt to Desert Fox F-16 swarm.
Clinton bombed a Sudanese factory that made medicine; at the same time, defined
terrorism as a crime. Then, one word fatally obscured by the politics of
non-intervention happened to be the most precious and important definition we
could ever hope to uphold.
Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not
sweeten this little hand..
Bashar, Bashar, set the world on fire!
Ibn Saud, the Bedouin. Rein in Ikhwan killers when necessary. Unleash, when
necessary. Raids launched deep into the territory of Transjordan and Iraq.
The Shammar tribe suffered 410 deaths, the bani Khalid 640 and the Najran a
staggering 7000. And the cities were not far behind.
Then, with the coal face chipped, slums clumped and stained, the stench of
steam and rain:
there was, in the sun, dazzling Cairo. The ambition of the Suez or the way
progress could undercut autonomy, and the occult rule of power. (Talking of
Rommel driving onto Alexandria.
miles from the Capital: a radio announcement details imminent occupation. Time
Cities are older than states, borders and Empires, but can be destroyed by them.
The requisite sacrifice, the humbled subject. Carthage. London.
of wealth. OPEC, St Tropez, Marbella, the Bush Dynasty, Yamani’s yachts.
The “house of the people” will be declared an illusion. The
Council of Guardians veto any legislation.
F-15s and F-16s over Iraqi airspace; M-1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles in
the heart of Baghdad; soldiers and marines deployed to Japan and South Korea.
Nasser stocked with Soviet jets after the Zionist rout.
The American Civil War created a boom for Turkish cotton.
1865. The Young Ottomans are the first political party in the Empire. Stemming
from literary roots (Namik Kemal and Ziya Pasha) and the influence of French
theory and poetry, their eventual expulsion, due to political agitation, is
inevitable. Exiled to the European capitals, they continue to publish reform
journals and pamphlets and smuggle them into Turkey. Ideas survive. In the end,
there is Ataturk.
Troops dispatched from Istanbul via the Suez canal.
The defeat of the Wahhabis at Mecca and Medina, 1811-19.
Henceforth, we are all brothers. There are no longer Bulgars, Greeks,
Romanians, Jews, Muslims; under the same blue sky we are all equal, we glory in
William Knox D’Arcy scoured the Persian Empire for oil, on a sixty year
concession granted by Shah Muzatta al-Din. The British lobbied very hard for
this. Then they sent the Navy.
Negligence is an extreme thing
The beautiful ruin of symmetry or the allure of the cosmopolitan centre: its
irresistible orbit another crash state and test case.
The goal is to create a web of far-flung, lean forward operating bases,
maintained in peacetime only by small permanent support units, with fighting
forces deployed from the US when necessary.
Power projection hubs and forward operating sites: a new lexicon of force.
Pentagon owns and rents: 702 overseas bases in 130 countries, with an
additional 6000 bases on US territory; 44,870 barracks, hangers, hospitals etc.
plus 4,844 on lease. That doesn’t even begin to cover the actual number on the
called the arc of instability.
After two to three years of exploration, the Blok A gas field is expected
to start production in 2007. Rachmat said the country currently had some 160
trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, including critical regions such as deep
seas and remote land areas. He also said the government should provide
incentive for investors to develop gas reserves in the critical regions. He
said the incentives could be in the form of more favourable production splits
or cost recovery.
Indonesian fire is heavy. You can still smell that stench, can’t you?
The question is: can the clamour translate?
It turned into a question of survival, rather than, say, success.
That stench on a fresh breeze. Ignore it, and it may pass.
Exxonmobile and Conoco, years from the horizon, with all-new stainless steel
and chrome equipment.
Revise the production split and
Never drink Diet Coke. Diet Coke is for fat people.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Valentine's Day Message
I was always subtle about this: there was posture or the way her legs looked in nylon, skirt and heels, when crossed. The eyes, their colour, what they convey - humour, mischief, mystique, occasional genius, joy, loss, or sorrow. Even spite - now that was something - just NOT blank, bored, or self-serving. Charisma contained like a secret revealed in body language and movement - for example, the way she walked down the street, flicked hair out of her eyes, or smoked a cigarette. The feel of clear skin or a cold body warming up.
I was overtly romantic at some point, and still there seemed to be a problem. Well, yes, apparently there was a problem. I just wasn't told. You think that could mitigate it? Her desire was mobile, moved continually, or died. To be left standing still, or to be caught, or trapped, was to be left in silence with her own thoughts. To be left with nothing. In the end, it came down to this:
vanity. In retaliation I learned to love it and so revenge its covert form; I admired its extremes. The best dressed and the mirror-struck. I began to afford them the simple respect they deserved. They would be judged on personal taste, self-obsession, or detachment. I knew where to stand and there would always be reflected glory. There was also The Image all over the rest.
How words betray us, for in saying your image I did not want to make you believe I saw you. No. If only I had! I sometimes tried desperately to see you, by shutting my eyes or just the opposite, by opening them very wide upon the darkness of the room.
There was also "my eye for the ladies," twitching like a maniac, with insane industry, converting someone on the street into something as flat and fleeting as a bus stop Versace poster. (George Melly said that losing his sex drive was like being untethered from a wild beast!)
Not just images and bodies but every material: metal, glass, plastic, fibre. So tactile! The connection between Guy Bourdin's early slides of LA doorways and curbs and his later fashion photographs make exact and perfect sense now. He made connections that would come to define the link between lust and consumerism. He realised this subtle intimacy between things, how it would, in the future, finally determine reaction and response, undercurrent and contours.
This is more to do with blank and obtuse visual dynamics, the awkward and cruel pose of bodies, the sheen of skin glossed into a plastic (fetishist) desire, the sharp colours and angles of concrete curves and corners, corrugated iron doors, road signs, and the discreet order of rock formations (Bourdin's early photos of cliffs and granite structures, and his Kodak slides of LA buildings and road patterns set up the visual lexicon of his fashion photographs - a tactile and textural language is worked out before and directly informs these pictures). Bourdin creates an impersonal visual world (coldness and cruelty) that remains glacial and grotesque in its distance and distortion, and is therefore necessarily and inescapably seductive. A cold eroticism that freezes LA sun. (atff)
It's the distance that compels a desire to touch, or be absorbed. Which makes lust a little sick, or sickly - a total glut, and only those with a taste for the suffocation of hardcore pornography can bypass it completely.
But it is human to search, from lure to lure, for a life that is at last autonomous and authentic.
Otherwise you are caught; and not caught because disgust is inescapable, yes, and also, with luck, there can be personal and physical rapport. Contact of bodes is an escape from image and cloth; the obscure magnetism of smell, touch, humour, empathy, desire. The unraveling. Something mortal and mortifying. Love is a tangle of physical reactions and mental telepathies and a spark of laughter. That's why it fades, or comes undone. Then it leaves the obtuse impression that wrenches.
Dear Darling. Damn your enormous eyes.
This is the short story of our loss, what a fucking waste, or waste of time. It still makes me angry. Incensed, I should say! Speechless! I still blame you, totally. You probably blame me, finally.
The one I loved, no I wouldn't go so far as to discuss her again.
The good things of life - caviar, plovers' eggs, champagne - it seemed to me it was all as if he had never heard of them, but had discovered them all by himself.
Sunday, February 01, 2004
pragmatics is a politics of language
If genre is shattered, collapsed, erased, I wouldn't necessarily call that theory. It's not a stylistic decision any more. Look: you know it, poetry no longer works. That doesn't mean there is no poetry. It means that traditional poetic form has no use because, now, it stops words from functioning. Poetry works as form in a specific context, for example: Elizabethan drama, between the opening of the first theatres in the 1570s and the Civil War that closed them again in 1642. With Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster, Middleton and Rowley, words and form and social function and energy work as complementary instruments and forces towards perfect pitch, interaction, exactitude. And at the same time, for example, Tamburlaine still remains ferocious, repellent, compelling; is still useful beyond all measure (humanity as both aberration and source of beauty: that is eternal) but could not be written now.
As for the writer, he is sitting on a melting iceberg; he is merely an anachronism...
Stanza, rhyme scheme, metre, rhythm etc...: these formal aspects and residual arrangements constitute poetry as "craft" in the way that Pound defended pure verse. This craft is now akin to carving Love Spoons. It already was by the 1920s and Pound was the first to say so. If Pound still retained the idea of writing as a craft then you can see that the requirements and techniques had changed. Craft now, as it stood, was destructive: dismantle parts; or more actively, vividly, break them. At that point reconstruction began, and only at that point.
That was The Cantos' ambition: a process only thus begun. This now represents the pure form of poetry: a blueprint and manual. The formal potential contained within is infinite, and incomparable. Think of it not as drudgery but as a kind of dance.
Genre is not dispersed: it just feeds a reading market that feels and seems and is removed from writing and the use of words to translate or render or evoke. To write you cannot demand anything from writing, but you must demand as much as you can from words, dialects, grammar, syntax. And not even "demand" but forget all formal and thematic restriction and slide easily, silently, onto free space (an empty page to fill is different from a sentence to write, poem to compose, novel to construct).
And this is, in fact, a political choice. A politicised slant or route. The politics of writing (as in, far from simply political subject matter). So that Orwell can claim the most apolitical writer, Henry Miller, as more political and nuanced than self-conscious polemicists like the Auden-Spender coterie of Oxford Communists. Because of the force of one decision, and this is the decision to make, either way: "He is fiddling while Rome is burning, and, unlike the enormous majority of people who do this, fiddling with his face towards the flames." (If you want that clarified then Inside the Whale is available from Oxfam for, usually, £1.50.)
Here's a political choice that can be made both outside of and in relation to (i.e. to go elsewhere, not recede) history and tradition: The reclamation of satire as untenable disgust and sickness, but not as (simply) nihilism or (sadly) cynicism. For example: Swift, Wyndham Lewis, Celine as effective and useful precedents. Or, actually, more important than that: the reclamation of irony from retreat, guise, disappearance, immunisation, or abdication. Irony should be the most responsibly used weapon. The fact that it is now used to forfeit responsibility itself is our great loss. Irony is not a smirk: it should be employed as an offensive strike. And that can be (as this is different again, and in a crucial way): irresponsibility as a deliberate option, like, in Orwell's terms, Henry Miller. Or, again, responsibility as a dangerous declaration of strength or defiance.
Either way, the moment you work and think as a singularity - a hopeless, helpless, formless voice seeking, trying or exploiting new forms and ways to express what you see and feel on a blank space. Irony can be used as a crucial tool at that exact moment. Whatever tools are used, that is when words work effectively, fully.
That involves any language, all aspects of language - any spatial or temporal arrangement or formation. Language constitutes elements, variables, devices, dynamics. Also: music, chromaticism. Metre and rhyme in constantly novel configurations. But: the eradication (the refusal) of stanza form, structural rhyme schemes (e.g. couplets), sonnets etc., proscribed as a rite, an ideal. Plus: not accepting the notion of free verse as an opposing tendency or "alternative" to structured norms; this should entail abandoning the idea of free verse altogether.
Apart from a politics of writing, there's the problem of writing about politics (outside of straight reporting). This is almost always reduction to opinions (or "commentary") which are even less useful than they seem. In fact, opinion is disingenuous, or outright duplicitous.
It should be the attempt to curate and collate paradox. Only then, if you can, carve out a position while retaining all complexities that exist and you have learned. This should take exceptional skill and courage. It should seem impossible until the moment you feel you have to choose - and even then that choice should remain open to challenge and change. That kind of responsibility (which is also, in a way, irresponsible) should always remain flexible, permeable. Because that is what distinguishes it from blind faith (i.e. abdication of responsibility to superstition, spiritual despotism). It's what makes it better (and that's my choice). Look, you can no longer be "left" or "right" - that's the fool's position; faith, as such, is inflexible and dangerous. It's the essence of jihad and Shining Path and the discursive root of Bush's "axis of evil" speech.
Literature as we know it is an individual thing, demanding mental honesty and a minimum of censorship. And this is even truer of prose than of verse...The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature.
Consider the market as the new orthodoxy: its own rigorous strictures and demands. Life is becoming...more harsh and direct, less opaque, in many ways. The 90s moral and semantic fog is actually lifting (or has lifted). War has clarified things, even if it cannot clarify its own dimensions. 9/11 drew up clear sides for the first time since the Cold War (if not completely, re: Saudi Arabia, at least more clearly since then). And even Baudrillard can see that: he said it first, the events strike is off. Except he's also wrong, because his (correctly) predicted return to Gulf War syndrome can never effectively reverse that. The dilution and co-option of journalism (see the fate of the BBC; pervasive "tabloidisation"; last year's editorial scandal at the New York Times; the tragic suicide of Sky News reporter James Forlong) is the great danger that writers face: this is the front line of a fight for the use-value of language (spin is as damaging in this respect as totalitarian jargon; r.e. the Clinton administration: "it is possible that acts of genocide may have occurred in Rwanda"). That's a political fight. On the other hand, the terminal condition (or: the end) of traditional literary form and genre (poetry, theatre, the novel...) offers a clean slate for those capable of and inclined to liberate and exploit language (in all its manifestations) and make it work again as poetry. That's a political fight, also.
Useful writers, then:
There is no limit to voice or text, except formal limitations as harness, frame or leash. Like, do not abandon poetic form if used to exploit particular sound, symmetry, or rhythm - again, use-value, as in exploitation, application, not utility. Poetic form as a set of potential devices or hybrids or voices. And: slangs, patois, dialects, urban variations, jargons, professional and technical languages, secret languages, lyrics, signs, headlines...
As already cited: Ezra Pound; The Cantos. So, no, don't be cowed by aggressive erudition, deliberate intimidation or elitism - you can, after all, track down all allusions and references if you care or worry enough about it. The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New Directions, 1970) is a final arrangement of fragments to be used - like their condensed cousin, The Wasteland - for the strategies they invent and evolve. They are the most useful (for poetry and prose): the most applicable and evocative. I say "use" because language is, after all, a technology; words, grammar and structure are cogs, bolts, mechanisms, circuits.
The Cantos respond to, or stem from, World War I and its aftershocks: the immolation of nation states, laissez faire capitalism and Empire; the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, the Soviets; the wake of the Wall Street Crash, and the Great Depression. It is a number of tendencies, strategies, and dominant voices: the American emigre immersed in European culture and history, Asia and the Ancients; the poet breaking up language into variable particles, incorporating Chinese characters, ancient Greek, diagrams, drawings, sheet music, hieroglyphics etc; the privileged male breaking away from his position of security, up into voices from the Roman Empire, the Orient, fascist Italy, the feminine, etc. This one singularity forced to confront and contain (an explosive rupture) all potential voices, cries, quakes, escapes. Any other singularity invariably takes the same course: The Cantos provide a principle workbook for a contemporary inscription of voices. That potential often glimpsed in those who follow this route: T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Mina Loy, Anna Akhmatova, Basil Bunting, Frank O' Hara, for example.
Pierre Guyotat; Tomb for 500, 000 Soldiers and Eden, Eden, Eden mount a fierce offensive on the Novel and on political discourse. The Cantos are a product of conditions of breakdown and malaise that result from World War I, but Guyotat's novels are like projectiles shot straight out of the Algerian War and into the white heat of Paris, 1968. Guyotat writes in one tense: the present. In Eden... this is taken to an extreme horizon: the text is comprised solely of clauses, or the pure phrase, what Roland Barthes calls the "substance of speech, with the qualities of a fine cloth or a foodstuff, a single sentence which never ends, whose beauty comes not from what it refers to...but from its breath, cut short, repeated." Guyotat's scope and reference is intensive (Pound's extensive) but elemental: sex, violence, language; Catholicism and War. The politics of writing (and the writing of the political) are at their most intimate and indissoluble: Guyotat's texts weave all strands with a ferocious, basic, rough-hewn felicity.
All coordinates are lost and therefore inherited strategies are worthless and you are forced back on your own resources and your own reserves and your wit and your nerve. Once you stop accepting then accepted order breaks up, or just evaporates, almost magically, like when a population suddenly refuses the will of a tyrant.
Samuel Beckett; prose works. Beckett is the central prose stylist of the 20th Century after Joyce. His novels and prose fragments are in some part Ulysses satellites, but more poised, condensed, artful, and ironic. Interior logic, micro-perceptions, and the claustrophobia of limitation come out in dry, thin, ironic, cruel, allusive, slow, keen, gentle, hesitant, beautiful, wise and weakened voices. Each voice is written, in the way you seem to see the shape of a word in your mind; a combination of letters, phonemes and physical, emotive or any associations: a packet of ghosts. The mind's focus when observed in splendid isolation so; insular workings, markings, tendencies, and obsessions. Reduced to a few elements - physical, mental, linguistic - that can sustain a paradoxically parched but inexhaustible poetry.
Within this past, there is no end to my reminiscent visions of myself. But always alone, without family. I do not even know what language I spoke. I do not see myself ever in the councils of Christ; or in the councils of the nobles - Christ's representatives.
A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.
More writers fail from lack of character than from lack of intelligence. Technical solidity is not attained without at least some persistence.
I wouldn't normally go in for this, but the talent involved deserves a response, and the challenge demands it. I certainly accept mistakes, and I am willing to correct a minor misunderstanding or six, but - errors of judgment? That's another thing altogether.
To start with something minor. Of course I would be wrong to say that Pound was the first poet in history "to understand that poetic form was an anachronism," but that was not my claim. In truth this was entirely my fault - an error of sloppy thinking and writing on my part. What I should have said is that Pound would be the first to say this, and so fully convey my real point which is that, despite the emphasis and value he placed on poetic craft, he also - in context of tradition, time and place - recognised its formal redundancy. His reappraisal of what poetic craft could mean and do, however, was more self-conscious and deliberate than Rimbaud. In this sense he has more in common with Mallarme or Joyce. This is where you break from me, perhaps: for you that emphasis on form is academic and slows the pulse of poetry, its life-force and effusion. On this I couldn't agree less. When allied to extremes of feeling - but also thinking, seeing - then we can sense the true force of poetry.
I do think it's worth discussing the relative characters, lives, and beliefs of the poets involved, more so as you dismiss Pound in favour Whitman because of his "insistence on the starched collar." Well, on this "insistence" - culled from what I would consider an off-hand and self-ironic jibe - I would also disagree. For all the reasons cited in my defence of The Cantos - the various personal and historic striations and ruptures that run and course though it - I would argue that Pound's "effects" and conclusions are every bit as valid, radical and elemental as Whitman's. They differ in technique and tendency, but certainly not to the detriment of Pound as a poet.
What we have done is draw up our own separate little canons. Yours = Blake, Rimbaud, Rilke, Baudelaire, Nietsczhe, Whitman. Mine = Mallarme, Pound, Eliot, Loy, Ahkmatova, O'Hara, Guyotat, Beckett (with a dash of Orwell and Swift, but that's another story). One thing: we both agree on Shakespeare: he shredded blank verse, gutted the sonnet. I don't argue that traditional poetic form is devoid of all use or potential ("destruction": that was simply Pound's approach in The Cantos, and even that's not accurate). (And didn't I also say "do not abandon poetic form if used to exploit particular sound, symmetry, or rhythm".) What I do deny is that reliance on or acceptance of proscribed norms of composition retains any value whatsoever. On this we completely agree.
And as you say - formal development, to be successful, must always be fed by excess of feeling or perception. Which is why "my" poets work as well as "yours" (if you'll forgive my crudity). Why Eliot, as the morbid, apocalyptic emigre of The Wasteland, is a better poet than the dour and eloquent Anglican of The Four Quartets. The power of Loy's personal flights and breakdowns explodes into dry, technical logophilia and formal implosion. Ahkmatova's life-or-death run from the Soviet censor, the imprisonment of her son and friends, the loss of St Petersburg and all the symbolic implications contained in that - all of this finds an indirect and fearlessly experimental voice (or, more accurately, voices) in, for example, 'Poem Without a Hero'. And what about the joy of O'Hara and his dancing, violent, quickly-dashed words - why can't the frivolous be as profound and compelling as the infernal? Maybe more important are my deliberate omissions: the entire international school of Concrete and Language poets, George Oppen, Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, Robert Creeley, and many others. Here form is a series of effects without root - feed both an "idealisation of the self and an idealisation of form", with thin, uninvolving, and, yes, quite useless results.
Pound and Rimbaud bring utterly different qualities, inflections, manifestations, phantasms, etc., to the table. The question, I argue, is not one of a comparative excess of inspiration or Spirit - I don't consider Rimbaud's flight to Africa and arms trading to be too far removed from Pound's exile in fascist Italy and incarceration in a mental ward, if that counts - but rather technique and expression. I maintain that - partly through neglect, partly through quantity, and certainly in terms of quality of writing - The Cantos can be used as an invaluable sourcebook for a fresh, vivid, relevant, politicised form of poetry if - and only if - informed by an excess of Spirit, an almost damaged drive for blood, love, immolation or salvation. You may be interested to know that when I read your brilliant poem 'Heronbone' it made me think of Pound as well as Baudelaire.
One last point: satire. I think you are right about this up to a point, and then you are wrong. The author of satire is very definitely not "invariably a figure of moral authority" - the very opposite in fact. Which informs my further points that irony can be used as a weapon, and humour must be fearless. Do you think that what you say of satire would be true in Moscow in the late 1940s, say, or Poland in 1956? And why is satire so thoroughly oppressed by any even slightly despotic regime (say, Cuba)? Hitchens quotes an apocryphal story about Freud that nevertheless illustrates the use of satire, irony and humour against the ignorance of total authority of any kind:
When he was trapped in Vienna by the Anschluss, he asked the Nazis for a safe-conduct to leave. They granted this on condition that he signed a statement saying that he had been well-treated. He asked for permission to add an extra sentence and to their delighted surprise wrote "I can thoroughly recommend the Gestapo to anyone."