Rob Wilson, Stubborn Resistance: Juliana Spahr’s Auto-ethnography in the U.S. Poetic Undercommons

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by Rob Wilson

a review of Julianna Spahr’s DuBois’s Telegram (Harvard University Press, 2018)

He called his doctor and joked to him that he was ill with late capitalism.  His doctor did not laugh…

–Juliana Spahr and David Buuck, “The Side Effect,” An Army of Lovers.[1]

Change is quick but revolution

will take a while.

America has not even begun as yet.

–Diane di Prima, “Revolutionary Letter # 10”[2]

Amid atrophied hopes for a literature effectively ‘revolutionary’ in a precarious time of post-Occupy, authoritarian revanchism, the far-flung ills and blockages of Late Capitalism, and what she tracks as returns of “stubborn nationalism,” Juliana Spahr stakes her claim for U.S. poetry with a bleakly Adorno-esque refusal she aims to conjure into new millennial credibility: “’this is not a time for political works of art.’”[3]  The three postwar U.S. literary movements she tracks in Du Bois’s Telegram:  Literary Resistance and State Containment – turn-of-the-new-century alter Englishes, avant-garde modernism, and movement literatures of resistance since the mid-1960s– will offer an emplotted “slide from [Audré] Lorde to Adorno” (15).  This means the shift from claims of poetic activism in writing as such, back to negation, irony, or qualification of such immediate claims for transformative resistance.  All this movement is figured under the pervasiveness of capitalist structures and presumes what Spahr calls literature’s semi-autonomous or “half-in and half-out relationship with capitalism” (16) and so many varied refusals of “complicit nationalism” (53).  To phrase this in the book’s overall analytical trajectory, Spahr tracks how “movement literature with its ties to militant resistance [across the late 60s and early 70s] morphed into multicultural literature” across later decades that instead seek to represent national inclusion and canonical assimilation of diversity (127).

Spahr’s much-needed lyric/critical jeremiad, putting the micro-literary (poetics) and the macro-political (structured relations) together where they belong, tracks an under-recognized trajectory of state interference in literary figurations and more sublimated avowals into the turn of the twenty-first century as immersive poet-scholar subject.  Spahr complicates and renews “the vexed and uneven relationship between literature and politics,” challenging the all too literary avowal that “literature has a role to play in the political sphere, that it can provoke and resist” (4); that writing (especially “language writing”) as such comprises a politics of resistance in its negations, fragments, non-linearity, and deconstructions.  Framing structural issues and social relations between literature and the state as well as alternative forms of what literature might do politically, Spahr deepens the grasp between such historical ties and private foundations, sites of higher education, as well as publishing outlets both multinational and “a localized, decentralized small press culture” (5) in localities like Honolulu, Oakland and Buffalo.  The book is ‘auto-ethnographic” of Spahr’s own entanglements, complicities, and refusals of American literary-national culture and its university programs and funding structures that sustain it short of revolution and resistance as nourished in the coalitional social “undercommons.”[4]

Writing on the side of alternative languages and social forms, language becoming minor and de-Anglicized, Spahr embraces the micropolitical flux of what M. M. Bakhtin called the “heteroglossia” within the dialogics of the sign.[5] She yet warns that “there is no robust counter” as alternative to state funding forms and modes of liberal domination, “with a politics that is anything more contestatory than liberal” (26).  Her heart, as poet, editor, publisher, and teacher, remains tied to alternative production and circulation sites in communities of resistance from subpress collective in Honolulu and Chain in Philadelphia to Commune Editions in Oakland. Even as she elaborates multiple forms (experimental, multicultural, neo-formal modernist or worse) for containing, manipulating, acculturating, and restricting “literary resistance” by the American state, still somehow, this study remains hopeful of “antistate” (53) as well as “other-than-national” (53) poetics in form, substance, and social relation.

This is no melancholic rear-view mirror, but a proleptic movement forward as such into and beyond the contemporary. The sustained argument or, better said, way of reading this poetry is finely scaled at critical-creative levels of macro and micro intervention that may just carry the new millennial day (“it survives”), even if as W. H. Auden demurred in the radical thirties of Yeats, Eliot, Pound, and Rukeyser,

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives</p

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.[6]

Making unexpected linkages from Paris and NYC to Africa and the Pacific, Spahr’s study shows that American liberal-literary culture (not just amid well-studied Cold War antagonisms and cooptation but into the blockages of the present moment), was never that free or autonomous.  It was never under-determined or “apolitical” in poetry’s homespun global diplomatic role to shape the world into an American telos figured as freedom, liberation, and self-determination, especially in the global wake of World War II and rise of English. 

“Relentless monitoring” and co-optation of literary sites, outlets, and works became the US state-funded norm to counter, mollify, moderate, neutralize, and defuse resistance and thus keep any form of “armed militancy” (especially black or Third-World affiliated) at foreign bay (130-131). Networks of foundation funding and State Department support provided the capillary flow of power and capital, covertly and more openly so at times across the sixties and seventies if still “under recognized” (141) in its pervasive impact and consequences as Spahr claims.  At the university level, this meant “an institutionalization of these culturalist movements that would sever them from more insurgent and militant possibilities as they were located within the university” (139).  Such networks of biopower helped to produce and contain racialized resistance, as Roderick Ferguson, Eric Bennett, and Jodi Melamed et al have noted, as recuperated within if not beyond the Cold War academy.[7] 

Challenging her own immersion in lyric ideologies of First World privilege and a university literary culture aligned with US “imperial globalization,” Spahr exposes claims, taking academic dominion as absorbed in her “avoidance” training at SUNY Buffalo,  that “the modernist tradition excluded [valuing] writing that had direct connection to thriving culturalist and anticolonialist movements of the time” (8).  “I was thinking,” Spahr admits while tracking her own counterconversion to “poetry’s [subaltern] socialities and prosovereignty literatures” in counter-nationalist Hawai’i in the 1990s and the alter- or other-than-Englishes then emerging, “in the way the State Department and the liberal foundations that worked with the State Department wanted me to think” (10).[8]  As Spahr will admit later in chapter three reflecting on another wave of stubborn nationalism, “in many ways this book is an autobiography about how my education [at Bard and Buffalo] told me that certain forms of literature were autonomous when they were not and how long it took me to realize this” (110). Still, Spahr’s will to cultivate resistance remains no less stubborn, no less deeply affiliated as material and literary intervention.

We need a larger context for mapping strategies of liberal containment, then and now, as in the global critical visions of Aamir Mufti and Stathis Gourgouris working against the unity of the Anglo-global norm and residual claims of Bandung humanism.[9]  For this Spahr deftly turns back to a Cold War moment of resistance in an uncanny trans-Atlantic sign.  The Congress of Black Writers and Artists was planned, for Paris 1956, to serve as “a second Bandung” to help promote the production of literature by black writers, in effect aiming at a kind of literary self-determination beyond colonial interference or world-systemic alignment (1) by the US or USSR.  W.E.B. Du Bois, whose passport had been revoked by the US government the year before, sent a telegraph explaining his non-attendance and refusing acquiescence to the state:  “Any Negro-American who travels abroad today,” Du Bois wrote, “must either not discuss the conditions in the United States or say the sort of thing which our state department wishes the world to believe.”[10]  He further explained his action in terms of political refusal and social re-alignment:  “The government especially objects to me because I am a socialist and because I believe in peace with Communist states like the Soviet Union and their right to exist in security” (2). 

Indeed, as Spahr elaborates this longer duration, CIA front groups would fund Americans attending as writers and expected ideological acquiescence in return for such support:  “In addition, all [writers, such as Richard Wright, Mercer Cook, and Horace Mann Bond et al] had agreed to file reports to the Congress for Cultural Freedom, another CIA front group created to covertly launder funds from the CIA into various cultural diplomacy projects, when they returned” (2).  In this particular Paris conference forum, the US state department wanted to assure that voices of anti-colonialism would not carry the agenda and that systemic critiques tying US racism to such figurations in Europe and the Caribbean would be diminished.  Here Richard Wright played anti-communist informant, assuring that figures such as Duke Ellington would attend the congress rather than the antinomian Paul Robeson whom James Baldwin, by contrast, had long defended as figure of radical black critique from Harlem to Paris to Moscow. 

Bandung in 1955 had awoken this US apparatus to African literature as a site of decolonization struggle (93), even as embraced through quasi-blackface figures like Uli Beier funded from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea.[11] “The combination of cultural center and [literary] journal was a classic CIA pattern at the time,” meaning post-Bandung as Spahr explains (96). The CIA works with private US foundations to support postcolonial English writing in Africa and the Boom in Latin America as literary freedom beyond ordinary realism at best or some version of “apolitical’ influencing the transnational imaginary and containing the literature of decolonization. Not as Aime Cesaire advocated for Martinique, revolution in the name of bread, fresh air, and poetry.  All literature is embedded in social relations, struggles, and wars of position however sublimated.  Spahr rather jarringly supports Pascale Casanova’s all-too-Francocentric assumption of aesthetic experimentation that literature is created via “incessant struggle and competition over the very nature of literature itself—an endless succession of literary manifestos, movements, assaults and revolutions,” both at the world and national level.[12]  This agonistic struggle to define and canonize American poetry, Spahr shows, had the manipulation of the nation-state as long shadow to its formally “autonomous” achievements.

Spahr presumes, with the world republic of letters model of Casanova she invokes, that there is an inherent conservation function to “literature that is written in the language of the state, the standard language” (12).  But such writing is always being opposed, denaturalized, and denationalized from various angles, as in the poetry of Myung Mi Kim et al.  Such resistance is read at best as partial or transient or, by now, “rare.”  Spahr views such resistance as “supplementary” to more radical claims.  She notes how literary ties to social movements of resistance “so often fail to be revolutionary for long, fail to grow, or merely maintain [community] solidarity” (14). 

In chapter one, Spahr assumes that a poetics in by-now-dominant English that includes “languages other than English” might offer “a possible literature of resistance,” at least to “linguistic curtailment” or death of minor or other languages (29), linguicide-via-global-hegemony.[13]  Given the threat of monolingual nationalism cum globalization, other languages from Polish to Thai heritages et al begin to manifest in American English poetry, but hardly marked as “a language of liberation” (33).  Pidgin appears besides colonial languages and is used as investigative medium for global routes and colonial crossings that lead to the present settler-colonial layering:  as in the exemplary transpacific Korean/American work of Myung Mi Kim in Dura and Commons, read by Spahr as situating “the 38th Parallel [tied] to her personal narrative to be understood as a larger historical narrative, as the result of globalizing capitalism” (39). 

Spahr rightly argues, in such contexts of language mixtures, language politics, and entangled resistances to state-sponsored English anguish in dominated spaces, that “Hawai’i provides an unusually succinct example here of both the importance of literature to [Hawaiian] nationalism and of resistance to [US] nationalism at the turn of the twenty-first century (41-42).  Her reading of these tensions in an array of contexts and struggles from the 1970s to the present is convincing.  Hawaiian language becomes imprisoned yet flourishing, Pidgin English both inflated into anticolonial tactic and accommodated into tourist functioning, as is her related reading of the ambivalent Narragansett language use in experimental texts in Rhode Island in the early 1990s and Nahuatl language use in Francisco X. Alarcon.  Nevertheless, as a force of resistance to dominant-state nationalism and the capitalist dynamics of globalization, Spahr invokes David Graeber on the militant anti-globalization movements from Seattle to Chiapas, assuring that for the state “it is puppets, not literature that police fear at this time” (55).[14]

In chapter two, Spahr queries how much of an “other than national” challenge literary modernism was as an internationalism of resistance to any such U.S. “literary nationalism,” as she was taught at Buffalo.  Such a poetics embraced “syntactically atypical grammars” and dialectics of idiolects as in “smashing and crashing” (76) prosody of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons that (in its “bourgeois interior” as “imperial space” [74]) yet challenged official verse culture in the New Critical mode (57).  “Nashville, not Paris, was the center” of this official American-verse culture refusal to be sure (57):  “I carried this division in my suitcase with me to my first job at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa” (58) she admits of her pre-conversion model opposing lyric quietude to post-language traditions. Stein’s works need to be read, as she learned in Hawaii, as a response to colonialism and imposed languages (61), “very aware of language politics” (61) in such sites of linguistic and cultural domination and shifting hierarchies. 

Literary movements towards aesthetic revolution, even in the ferment of little magazines like Transition that played such a crucial role in fomenting international modernism, as Spahr will summarize, “are poked and prodded into existence by social forces and influences”(63).  This occurs even in sublimating modernists like Woof, Eliot and Stein, here read as writing “in a world changed by colonialism” (68). Even Stein, as Spahr tracks her modernist experimental movements into and out of abstractionism, becomes a “cringe-inducing” jingoist (77) and stubborn nationalist Example One.  As “national governments [began to] manipulate, cultivate, and fund what [Casanova] calls ‘autonomous’ literature to instrumentalized it as nationalist” (77).  Spahr rehearses how (ironically in a “Casanova-style rhetoric” [82] embracing aesthetic autonomy) the postwar CIA became increasingly interested in promoting “abstract and avant-garde art forms” as signals of American freedom, ideological transcendence, and anti-communist play via state-sponsored cultural diplomacy to rival that of the Soviet Union.

Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess would be funded, spread, performed, and highlighted internationally as American works “to instrumentalize blackness in cultural diplomacy” via state or private sponsorship (83). Fending off critiques of the USA became a mid-century literary goal, funded, sponsored, nourished at home and distributed abroad in a nexus of state and private sponsorship. This infrastructure makes this “world republic of letters” as Spahr rehearses in compelling scope and detail, wobble with capitalist distortion at the Cold War core of this emergent American-global nexus. Moreover, this core, on the American front from Richard Wright to James Baldwin and William Faulkner et al, took thick-cultural dominion in anthology and university study, as “writers amplified by these networks are disproportionally [still] represented in the canon of American literature” (89).  This cultural diplomacy and funding produced and contained resistance on the home front.  It became, in effect a capillary version of Foucault’s liberal nexus of power and resistance:  “It might be that at the end of the twentieth century one could not become a successfully resistant writer,” Spahr argues, “without having at some moment been supported or amplified by the publication and distribution technologies of these [state-sponsored] networks” (90-1).[15]

Even in a seemingly post-national or multinational publishing era of the global novel, “the role the Standard English realist novel has in upholding U.S. nationalism” is not abolished especially as it can absorb other national forms and cultural modes, and even as “state sponsored multiculturalism” continues (146-147) through tactics of cultural diplomacy enduringly global. Resistance in the new millennium grows ever more atrophied. Mainstream American poetry, in the wake of programs like Poetry for Bush, becomes gleefully accommodationist, “conventional and outmoded” as in business-value poetic works of Kooser, Keillor, Barr, Gioia et al (157). Such literature produces a faux populism and apolitical muse of cheery pluralism, as in the nationalist inaugural poems (here read as multicultural “strawpoem[s]”) performed by Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco. Spahr goes against the grain of this naturalized claim to ratify social diversity as achieved via American literary inclusion: “How to understand this insistence by institutions that U.S. literary production is diverse, is a sort of social justice program [justifying the nation], when it is not in the aggregate is something I am attempting to puzzle through” (182). All this is taking place at a time when the literary vocation has become increasingly professionalized and, at the core, tied to academic legitimation.

Nowadays, across the new century signified by the neoliberal MFA industry, “literature has been sequestered into [American] irrelevance” (184),  Spahr concludes. This is a poetics shorn of ties to movements of social resistance, militant or antifascist dissent.[16]  More literature is produced but less is read, or read by smaller literary-supporting and reviewing communities, becoming inconsequential, sustained by those with a professional stake in literary production and consumption or its sheer continuation, limited in political efficacy by such “structural conditions” as she elaborates them in this study.

 

“If I was a poet,” as the auto-fiction narrator in Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) confesses, “I had become one because poetry, more intensely than any other practice, could not evade its anachronism and marginality and so constituted a kind of acknowledgement of my own preposterousness, admitting my bad faith in good faith, so to speak.”[17] This is one of many deconstructive feedback loops of self-irony undermining the postmodernist will to literary activism via formalist experimentation. Drifting into and out of “the handful of prefabricated subject positions proffered by capital or whatever you wanted to call it,” Lerner’s hyper-reflective expatriate poet (funded by a Fulbright fellowship) is haunted by dope-addled inaction, museum going, urban drifting, and North American privilege as well as what he calls “bad faith” leftist claims to overcome the political-literary divide running from the Spanish Civil War to 9/11 and the US War in Iraq.  “I could lie about my interest in the literary response to the war because by making a mockery of the notion that literature could be commensurate with mass murder I was not defaming the latter,” Lerner admits of his picaresque literary protagonist, “but the dilettantes of the former, rejecting the political claims repeatedly made by the so-called left for a poetry radical only in its unpopularity” (101).  The Fulbright director in Madrid is only too happy when the Spanish Civil War-researching American expatriate poet finally gives a talk on a “literature now” panel (as Spahr’s study would have predicted) disavowing the political efficacy of literature to alter history, in the tortured self-ironizing claim that “literature reflects politics more than it affects it, an important distinction” (175).

Leaving behind the 2004 terrorist bombing of Madrid’s Atocha Station if not ironically abiding in deferral tactics of virtuality mimed in the John Ashbery poem of the novel’s very title, Lerner undermines more extremist claims (contra Du Bois, di Prima et al) that “poems [function] as machines to make things happen” (52) in history or society, then or now.[18]  By novel’s end, Lerner’s writer-hero gnostically abides in scare-quotes of irony (as in “the so-called left” or, later, “when history came alive, I was sleeping at the Ritz” [158]) and a future-perfect virtuality. Lerner’s novel is riddled with affects that Benjamin had called at the dawn of European literary modernism the “left-wing melancholy” of idealized attachments to the past, defeated causes, bad poetry, and failed revolutionary dreams.[19]  It is this sense of perpetual poetic self-irony that Spahr herself (as does Lerner’s persona by contemporary analogy) battles against by affirming (against neoliberal odds) the will to break through forever signifying utopic virtuality and backward-focused defeat or compulsion into stronger, transformative, and abiding forms of “resistance.”[20]

In the face of stubborn nationalism, professionalized academia, white privilege, and multicultural accommodation, Spahr’s Du Bois’s Telegram (like a message blasted from future movements) refuses perpetual self-irony, left melancholy, and pessimism of the defeated will:  “We are for sure not there, yet.  But one can always hope” (194).  That is, to align with insurgent forces of the undercommons to manifest modes of “stubborn resistance” in poetry and other works and sites, as in an emergent subterranean nexus of social domains and labor.[21]


[1] Juliana Spahr and David Buuck, “The Side Effect,” An Army of Lovers (San Francisco, CA:  City Lights Press, 2013), 101.

[2] Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letters (San Francisco, CA:  Last Gasp, 2007), 20.

[3] Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram:  Literary Resistance and State Containment (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2018), 15.  Spahr is quoting from Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, vol. 2 (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1992), 93-94.  Further references to Du Bois’ Telegram will occur parenthetically.

[4] In defense of revolutionary energies and tactics surging up in the present moment of neo-liberal blockage, Spahr credibly invokes Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, (Brooklyn, New York: Minor Compositions, 2013).

[5] See The Dialogic Imagination:  Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin:  University of Texas, 1981) on literary language as “ideologically saturated” with contestation and subversion, 171.

[6] W. H. Auden, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York:  Random House, 1976), 197.

[7] At varying levels of racial and class containment as well as productive proliferation across university culture, see Roderick Ferguson, The Reorder of Things:  The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy:  Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2011); and Eric Bennet, Workshops of Empire:  Stegner, Engle, and American Creative Writing during the Cold War (Iowa City:  University of Iowa Press, 2015).

[8] On counter-conversions taking place across the decolonizing Pacific at the time Spahr was teaching in Hawai’i during the 1990s, see Rob Wilson, Be Always Converting, Be Always Converted: An American Poetics (Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press,  2009), especially chapter four on the world vision of Epeli Hau’ofa’s polytheistic Oceania, 119-142.

[9] See Aamir R. Mufti, Forget English!:  Orientalisms and World Literature (Cambridge, Mass:  Harvard University Press, 2016) and Stathis Gourgourias, The Perils of the One (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2019).

[10] The FBI file of state surveillance on James Baldwin contains some 1884 pages of documents, becoming a kind of “fiction produced by the state” about the writer’s ties to the Communist party, the Black Panthers, and other radical movements, and his Paris ties:  see Hannah K. Gold, “Why Did the FBI Spy on James Baldwin?”, The Intercept, August 15, 2015):  https://theintercept.com/2015/08/15/fbi-spy-james-baldwin/.  Gold quotes Baldwin’s scathing insight that J. Edgar Hoover is “history’s most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur.”

[11] For global political contexts within and beyond anti-colonial claims at Bandung, see Aamir Mufti, “The Late Style of Bandung Humanism,” boundary 2 conference on February 12, 2013:  https://www.boundary2.org/2013/02/aamir-mufti-the-late-style-of-bandung-humanism/.

[12] Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, trans. Malcolm DeBevoise (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), 12.

[13] Even in the US, Spahr observes in her capaciously empirical first chapter, there are still 169 languages indigenous to this mongrel polity and 430 languages spoken across it, reflecting and refracting varied reactions to the rise of global English, Du Bois’s Telegram, 30. 

[14] David Graeber, Possibilities:  Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire (Oakland, CA:  AK Press, 2007).

[15] Although Foucault is not invoked in Spahr’s study, the problematic of state power not merely repressing but actually aiding, informing, producing, and abetting certain forms of resistance and dissent, would be compatible with his thickly elaborated model of neoliberal governmentality as an ‘agonism’ of reciprocal incitation, discipline, and struggle across social fields:  see Michel Foucault, The Foucault Effect:  Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1991), 4-5, 141.

[16] For the longer duration of poetry valued as a site of cultural production and imagination opposed to forms of state domination, tyranny, and terror, see Paul Bové, Poetry Against Torture:  Criticism, History, and the Human (Hong Kong:  Hong Kong University Press, 2010).

[17] Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Coffee House Press, 2011), 101.  Further references to this work will occur parenthetically.

[18] For a far-ranging intertextual reading of the relationship between Lerner’s two novels and his own hyper-reflective poetics signifying claims of ”virtuality” as contemporary American poet, in the postmodern wake of John Ashbery, Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley et al, see Daniel Katz, “’I did not walk here all the way from prose’:  Ben Lerner’s Virtual Poetics,” Textual Practice 31 (2017):  315-337.  Lerner’s post-Ashbery poetics, self-referentially cited by the novel’s Lerner-like protagonist Adam Gordon in To the Atocha Station, (pp. 90-91), had first been published as “The Future Continuous:  Ashbery’s Lyric Mediacy,” in boundary 2 37 (2010):  201-213.  See also Ben Lerner, “Of Accumulation:  The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley,” boundary 2 35 (2008): 251-262, as particularly relevant to the Marfa chapter of Lerner’s second novel, 10:04 (New York:  Faber and Faber, 2014) set “at the house where Creeley began to die” (167).

[19] Walter Benjamin, “Left-Wing Melancholy,” republished in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited A. Kaes, M. Jay, and E. Dimendberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994),  305.  See also Wendy Brown’s focus on Stuart Hall’s overcoming this attachment to lost objects and idealizations of some quasi-Marxist revolutionary past, “Resisting Left Melancholia,” Verso Books blog (February 12, 2017):  https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3092-resisting-left-melancholia.  Brown’s influential essay had first appeared in boundary 2 26 (1999):  19-27.

[20] “Resistance” can seem an antiquated slogan.  In a neo-liberal capitalist regime assuming self-surveillance and self-exploiting labor and consumption, as Byung-Chul Han grimly argues, wherein “auto-exploitation” of the achievement-driven subject has become everyday norm, “People who fail in the achievement-society see themselves as responsible for their lot and feel shame instead of questioning society and the system…no resistance to the [neoliberal] system can emerge in the first place”  See Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics:  Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, trans. Erik Butler (London and New York:  Verso, 2017), 6; and (by contrast) the heretical tactics of “Idiotism” in Chapter 13.  Hence, “depressive” affects and the “psychopolitical” ills and compulsions of Late Capitalism are tracked in Spahr and Buuck, An Army of Lovers (see footnote one above).  Writing becomes less the resistance than the insistence of such psychosomatic and systemic ills.

[21] I still admire the subterranean and quasi-messianic force of Bob Kaufman’s absurd/communist (Abomunist) demand from the undercommons of Cold War San Francisco, as first articulated in his Beatitude mimeograph journal (1959):  “Abomunists demand statehood for North Beach.”  See Bob Kaufman, “Abomunist Manifesto,” Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (New York:  New Directions, 1965), 81. Kaufman’s “black Jesus” tactics of silence, flight, self-martyrdom, and absurdity seem close to what Byung-Chul Han calls (after Deleuze) the immanent beatitude of “Idiotism,” Psychopolitics, 86-87. 

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