Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002
Subject: working class poetry and The Myth of Revolution

Ron Silliman wrote:

> To confuse those people with $150K networking consultants or junior accountants at Andersen who plan to make partner (or planned to, anyway, before Andersen blew up in its own corruptness) and who think of W as being too far to the left is to yield a pretty incoherent picture.<

(It may be a sign of my own creeping conservatism, but I personally feel uncomfortable with gratuitous vilification of financial industry professionals. As if there were no James Sherry. And now especially, after the wholesale slaughter of them in the tens of hundreds and the leveling force of the Grim Reaper's scythe has painfully revealed them to be/to have been little more than workers in their own right. But that's not my point here . . .)

Isn't all this discussion of class and class obligations within poetry missing its propelling factor, without any corollary sense of revolution and the poet-revolutionary? Any attempted analysis of class, even from a rightist consumer-exploitative stance, has its basis and origin in, of course, Marx's class theories. And that Marxist, post-Marxist or quasi-Marxist always took its motivating force against class from variously manifested versions of "revolution."

I have recently been reinvestigating Surrealism, . . . which partly lost its saliency because the "engagement" [pronounced "on-gozh-mon-t'"] of Existentialist commitment segued better into the concrete '68 revolutions, . . . and its genuine, troubled political dimension: Andre Breton co-authored a paper with Trotsky, many Surrealists "defected" from the Surrealist Revolution into Communist Party membership, etc.; so, it's much on mine my mind how, where, and when both real collaboration with "revolutionary" political movements and social forces or a myth of revolution fuelled the XXth century avant-garde we're the inheritors of.

The line forward from Surrealism and the October Revolution is fairly easy to draw: Surrealism out of the more short-lived, nihilistic and less articulated Dada forward into Lettrism, Situationism, and perhaps Lacan and post-structuralism. But I find myself faltering --- I need more research or education into the pre-history of Modernism --- in trying to trail the line backward chronologically. The Modernist precursors, the Impressionists in painting and Les Symbolistes in poetry, although formally often continuous with the Cubisms and -isms that flowed out of or were spawned in reaction against them, on the face of things do not exactly appear to be revolutionary in the same sense: rather, the Manet depictions of men in waist coats and top hats as the celebration of haute bougeoisie, the Monet leisure, etc., and, in poetry, end-of-an-era decadence rather than a generative "revolution,"--- a decadence, albeit, whose obscurantism remains larger the prototype and starting point of Modernist and post-modern obscurantisms, including the current "asyntactical."

However, despite the occasional formal resemblances, --- and I know that here and there there must indeed have been counter examples of sympathies for the emergent splinter group pre-October Socialists and utopians that I just am uneducated about, such as (?) the younger American Whitman or Hawthorne's and the Transcendalists' Fourier communes --- these precursors, again, rather than being anti-"capitalist" seem to typify an epitome of capital, and their aesthetic revolution to be on the plane of, say, innovation in the fashion design of haute couture clothes, glass stemware (Lalique, Tiffany), and such.

The ultra-moderne rather than Modernist "revolution."

For want of a better word, I'm thinking of that high capitalist ~semblable~ of later anti-capitalist avant-garde as "High Style." (Maybe it's a Mannerism.) Regardless, it represents a legitimate moment where formalist relatedness conceals political antithesis, and demonstrates a Modernism that was fully dedicated to capital, rather than class revolution.

(And there was pre-Modernist or even anti-Modernist, non avant-garde revolutionary art: the realist classicism of Jean-Louis David's Tennis Court Oath, etc., which commemorated political upheavals and coups d'etat.)

And, --- pessimistically? --- I wonder if we haven't come full cycle and, fin-de-siècle again, at the turning point of both centuries, whether our particular historical branch --- "hippy" revolutionary Beat > Black Mountain > Language --- hasn't had the revolutionary myth effectively drain out of it, --- so that our current uneasy condition is a vestigial lip service to "revolution" but a reversion to High Style "bourgeois"/middle class conservatism. The discrepancy between the lived careerism and MFA-ing of poetry, the (first generation) New York School buttoning up back into shocking neckties and blazers versus the Beat dishevelment, (the journal Fence?) --- aren't we in a position like the earliest Modernists, living "the good life," fully trafficking in the pleasures of capital, and only observing a
superficial (hypocritical?) trace pseudo-revolutionariness in formal aesthetic experimentalism (an experimentalism that has, meanwhile, obviously become its own paradoxical conservatisim of an "alternative tradition," perhaps in fact the sole keepers of tradition)?

The point being that, without revolution, including a revolutionary ideology for poetry (Revolution dans la Langue Poetique?), class is merely class,--- and discussion about its frictions is just moot, neither here nor there: it's all missing its necessary leverage ("revolution").



(Any "revolutionary" agenda, of course, is currently badly compromised or stifled, like the tepid street protests against the recent World Economic Forum, by revolution's indistinguishability from terrorism, or, for that matter, berserk schizophrenic violence [the newspaper-certified "schizophrenic" shooting up a post office, and Bader Meinhof-ish shooting up a post office], and the reasonable-seeming total clamp-down of new social controls and revoked civil liberties.)

(. . . And something should later be said about "Drug Culture," the most covert co-factor of revolutionary avant-gardism.) :)