Saturday, April 12, 2014

WILL ALEXANDER ON SOTÉRE TORREGIAN

From Will Alexander's preface to the expanded edition of Sotére Torregian's Age of Gold (Kulchur Foundation 1976; Rêve à Deux 2014):
Sotére Torregian's The Age of Gold has come to poetic fruition in a healthless psychic environment, in an American environment subsumed within a degenerative epoch. He has been compelled to survive its tensions by means of a riotous imagination. I'm referring to the treacherous condition which was the New Jersey of his youth, fraught as it was with galling racial schizophrenia. To paraphrase the historian David Brion Davis, racism remains as the DNA of America. At best it persists as a susurrant nettling to all who exist inside its borders. This is a realization registered early on for such an advanced adept as the young Torregian. Given his racial complexification, and ancestry which includes "Ethiopian", "Arabic", "Greek", and "Moorish"amongst others, there is no surprise that Sotére defied and continues to defy assigned racial limit. He could not and cannot be limited to its defined "performative expectations." In this sense he is not unlike Aimé Césaire ...  
[...] 
Let me say that our species has inhabited for some time this tenuous zone which constitutes the apocalyptic. Within this circumstance regularity can no longer evince itself, so collective habitability on terra luna is now called into question. It seems fraught with abruptness, not unlike the length of a waning December sun. Knowing this to be the background from which Sotére's poetry projects, there can be no preconceived regalia, no constricted oxygen in the writing. Instead it emits a consciousness which leaves one dazed, much like facing the paradox of dawn on Venus. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

THIS ABSOLUTE MUSIC

Reading last week through the various fragments of Dudley Randall's selected writings (2009) and Melba Joyce Todd's extraordinary biography of Randall (2004) available online, I found myself thinking somewhat distractedly about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, and other class-based organizations that emerged in Detroit through the late 1960s and early 1970s. So to complement the Randall and Todd readings I returned to Finally Got the News, the 1970 Black Star film produced in collaboration with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, if only to think further about the completely startling first stanza of Randall's "A Poet Is Not a Jukebox" (1980):
A poet is not a jukebox, so don’t tell me what to write.
I read a dear friend a poem about love, and she said,
“You’re into that bag now, for whatever it’s worth,
But why don’t you write about the riot in Miami?” 
Dudley read widely, admired Keats and Shelley, and whether intentionally or not, these lines distantly echo a comparable concern Coleridge actively grapples with in "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement" (1795):
Ah! quiet Dell! dear Cot, and Mount sublime!
I was constrain'd to quit you. Was it right,
While my unnumber'd brethren toil'd and bled,
That I should dream away the entrusted hours
On rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart
With feelings all too delicate for use?
Beyond wondering if the political force of Randall's poetry is in fact strengthened rather than diminished by his refusal to reduce his practice to something akin to cheap punditry, I found myself puzzling over the various forms of cultural and class particularity built into prosody and sound patterning. Across the past few years, as I struggle to more firmly grasp the mechanisms that enforce the reproduction of class, and as I continue to marvel at the endlessly twisting face of the freshly resurrected culture-of-poverty debate, exploring the link between prosody and class politics has never felt more vital.


Thinking about the clip immediately above from Finally Got the News, there seems a kind of lyricism built into the rant that begins the video (0:00 - 1:48)—that is, there seems something embedded in the sonic architecture of this resonyng complaynt that makes of it a music which is not conspicuously poetry but is arguably aesthetically immanent, and so I find myself wondering about a prosody of class-specific modes of informal protestation, kitchen talk, table talk, and I am reminded of speech patterns, ways of saying tangled up in thinking and seeing, in class-specific modes of perception, in scoring when writing, which tend to be devalued or dismissed until elevated to the level of the aesthetic, and I am reminded mostly of talk, table talk in break rooms at various factories, packaging plants and other places of work, or the violently lyrical rants and conversation and arguments I grew up around, the sound patterns and intuitive linguistic impulses that reproduce themselves endlessly, as though the throat itself were inscribed with or scarred by a kind of geographically inflected socioeconomic specificity. Such utterance hurts, it registers hurt, and it is a way of coping with that hurt just as it participates in reproducing that hurt, and it can pose a meaningful challenge to that hurt. Paradoxically, such utterance—utterance which simultaneously responds to and enables class violence—has neither any discernible cultural value nor any quantifiable market value until wrenched from the originary scene of its performance and absorbed into the larger architecture of an aesthetic undertaking that renders it somehow legible to an audience beyond the dissatisfaction and longing which compels it. But I would like to think otherwise and to understand this kind of utterance otherwise, to hear it and think it and feel it otherwise.        

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

PAUL ROBESON ON FULL EMPLOYMENT UTOPIAS

THE PROUD VALLEY (1940) | SCENE ONE 

                    ITINERANT HOBO: Work? It's a disease.

                   GOLIATH (ROBESON): Well I wish I could catch it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RON SILLIMAN ON PETE SEEGER

Sitting in a reading room at the O'Neill Library, Boston College, with Boyd Nielson about six or so months ago tearing through the entire run of the US culture and politics quarterly Socialist Review, I recall now how absolutely dumbstruck I was by an article from the March-April 1987 number titled "Pete Seeger and the Avant-Garde." Written by Ron Silliman, who was then executive editor of the journal, the essay is most immediately a riposte challenging an attack on Seeger and Si Kahn that appeared in The Nation under the sneering title "I Dreamed I saw MTV Last Night." In The Nation article Jesse Limisch, then a professor of history at SUNY Buffalo, lambasts folk music and radical film, specifically the documentaries Seeing Red (1983) and Union Maids (1976), as "aesthetically retrograde and deeply out of touch with the realities in America today." According to Silliman, however, what lurks beneath the desire Lemisch expresses for instances of cultural representation and production commensurate to this (or, more accurately, that) technologically advanced moment is, in the end, a desire for modes of cultural authenticity capable of accounting for developments on the terrain of mass media (i.e. MTV), deindustrialization, the rise of neoliberalism, the advance of globalization and so forth. But rather than merely savaging and discarding Lemisch's position, Silliman locates within it an opportunity to think the more troubling assumption upon which Lemisch's argument is built:
[T]o dismiss his position because it's empirically flawed fails to recognize it as the symptom of a deeper more serious issue: the uneasy relation between contemporary mass culture, thoroughly commodified, market governed, chock full of bourgeois and technical mystification, sexist, racist, you name it, and any art forms that aspire to offer an alternative experience of life. For Lemisch's argument is, in reality, a traditional complaint, although one aimed more often at what seems to be the furthest end of the spectrum from Si Kahn and Pete Seeger: those incomprehensible formalists of the avant-garde.
Silliman's critique is a canny, awe-inspiring thing to marvel at and a touching defense of Seeger against banal charges of cultural irrelevance. The essay undoubtedly wears its moment on its sleeve; the terms and phrasing deployed in the essay bear a timestamp that ruthlessly binds it to the coordinates of a dated debate between mainstream and fringe, center and periphery, inside and outside, corporate and grassroots. But Silliman's identification of an oppositional folk culture ridiculed for gazing nostalgically back toward greener pastures with a forward-looking, intellectually sophisticated and technologically savvy cultural avant-garde concerned primarily with formal innovation is a fascinating gesture that most certainly merits further consideration. Take for example the following passages:
So where do Si Kahn and Peter Seeger fit? As drawn by Lemisch, the boundary around market culture excludes folk music and if, as he implies, only the market is pertinent to the life of the masses, picking up a banjo would indeed be a self-isolating gesture. But if these borders are permeable, or if folk music and other oppositional genres actually fall within the circle, then what is needed is a radically different conception of their place, their role and their politics.  
Here the history of the avant-garde has a lot to offer. If folk is an ensemble of practices centered on musical genres that, because they were mostly rural, preceded market culture, then a major, if not primary, political function of folk music is, by its very opposition to commerciality and commercial technique, to foreground those same institutional structures of which it refuses to partake. Like the avant-garde with which it shares so many of these features, folk has a politics implicit within its form.  
What Silliman here frames as "commerciality" obviously refers to the culture industry at large and in its totality. The assumption of course — the correct assumption — is that nothing escapes capital, nothing escapes the limits of the market, and Silliman appears to imply that this inescapability is something Seeger and other folk artists are very well aware of. The three-quarters of a century Seeger devoted to activism, to actively organizing and challenging power, would certainly seem to suggest as much and, while Seeger insisted on the enduring efficacy of seemingly outmoded cultural forms and practices, he seems to have suffered no illusions.

Unfortunately Silliman never republished this essay from Socialist Review, presumably due, if only in part, to the narrow specificity of the debate with Lemisch to which it is tied. But there are indeed some startling moments within the essay and against whatever troubling claims and assumptions occasionally emerge throughout the essay I find myself deeply admiring the scope of the material Silliman handles and the contradictory links he forges in defense of Seeger.

NB: 1.29.2014: Silliman transcribed and posted "Pete Seeger and the Avant-Garde."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

UNFINISHED NOTES ON THE CONSUMPTION OF EXTREMES

After reading various reports on the unveiling of the Volker Rule, a terse Keynesian adjunct to the 848-page Dodd-Frank financial oversight act introduced in 2010, I found myself returning to Danny Hayward's People (Mountain Press 2013), particularly his piece "The Consumption of Extremes," an exceptionally long text subtitled "A Family Drama." Ed Dorn once said the social formation that most intrigued him was the family. In Being a Human Being (Object Permanence 2006), Tom Leonard usefully reminds us "not to put friends and family before the rest of the world." Leonard dedicates the book to his family. "The Consumption of Extremes" is dedicated to no one. It is a proper family drama. Dramatis personae, or the extremes, the family, include: X / X1, Y / Y1, XA / XA1, YA / YA1, XB / XB1, YB / YB1. Each of these paired characters would appear, on one hand, to stand in for an undisclosed or indeterminate value (i.e. X) and, on the other, this same value and its supplement (i.e. X1). Possibly. But probably not. But also. These are paired extremes. They resemble algebraic variables whose values remain unknown if not fluid, components drawn perhaps from the context of a differential calculus.

Linked to his work on Capital, Marx devoted a considerable amount of time to exploring differential and integral calculus, believing this work could be articulated with his larger inquiry into political economy. Although he never came round to collating and publishing the work, Engels considered Marx's mathematical manuscripts vital. He even mentions this work in his introduction to the second edition of his Anti-Dühring. But Marx's mathematical manuscripts, an enigmatic critique of Newton and Leibnitz, are completely mystifying, an all but grotesque wonder to behold. In order to proceed with his work on Capital, Marx felt obliged to get a firm handle on higher forms of algebra. In an 11 January 1858 letter to Engels he writes: "I am so damnedly held up by mistakes in calculation in the working out of the economic principles that out of despair I intend to master algebra promptly. Arithmetic remains foreign to me." Several years later, and still several years before the first volume of Capital would appear, Marx notes in a 6 July 1863 letter to Engels, "In my free time I do differential and integral calculus." Differential calculus deals in determining the rate at which quantities change. It is the process of finding a derivative, an instrument that measures the sensitivity to change of one object (a dependent variable, i.e. an object in space) through its relation to another (an independent variable, i.e. time).

In Being and Event there is one brief instance, more than two thirds of the way into the work, when Badiou addresses the distinction between differential and integral calculus: "[T]he complete language is the integral calculus of multiple-presentation, whilst a local approximation already authorizes its differential calculus." Integral calculus is the inverse of differential calculus and "The Consumption of Extremes" has nothing to do with either beyond dealing with extremes, with the maxima and minima within a set—within, that is, a totality—per set theory. Calculating the values of extremes is the focus of mathematical optimization, a practice that falls under the rubric of differential calculus. Determining a value is the first step on the way to its consumption. Demand does not determine value. It goes the other way round. And at the center of "The Consumption of Extremes," which itself sits at the center of the book like an all-consuming vacuum, we find "A Pedagogical Interlude," a moment of pause presumably intended to redirect our attention back toward the primary concern of the work:
                   
[...] is not 'bad' because it exploits the labour
of workers, or because it determines how
fast and under what conditions they work,
though both of these practices are requisite to it:
       capital is destructive because it produces
                            both inside and outside of
the wage relation manifold forms of compulsory,
damaging and miserable activity;
and while from the perspective of capital the activity of
wage labourers is the most immediately important (and also the
most controllable) activity,
the requirements of capitalist production,
including its most intractable contradictions,
must shape other forms of activity right
down to their
winnowing toner.
Capitalist production is objectionable because it
demands a capitalist society: capitalist
society is only very partially defined
by the literal process of exploitation.
No admittance accept on business.    

Mathematical values are purely quantitative, all business. All is mired in interlinked matrices of exchange, the codification and circulation of values, and so back to basics, this distance between quantitative and qualitative value that Prynne marks out in his 1968 Note on Metal: "For a long time the magical implications of transfer in any shape must have given a muted and perhaps not initially debased sacrality to objects of currency-status ... But gradually the item-form becomes iconized, in transitions like that from aes rude (irregular bits of bronze), through aes signatum (cast ingots or bars) to aes grave (the circular stamped coin). The metonymic unit is established, and number replaces strength or power as the chief assertion of presence." Currency, cash value or the value of cash, stands in for us as the promise of a presence it eventually supersedes in priority. Presently burning money, the destruction of currency, is forbidden by law. The function and flow of value is a hinge. "[C]apitalist | society is only very partially defined | by the literal process of exploitation." Nor is mediation (abstraction) the crux of the problem since, as Prynne remarks, stone was always already the abstraction of standing, of balance. Or we can turn to Simon Jarvis's commentary on the capitalist grammar of commensurability in his critique of Note on Metal: "The way in which the qualities of concept and object are suppressed in a predicative proposition reflects and assists the way in which the different qualities of commodities (including commodified human labour) are regarded as irrelevant to their expression as exchange-value. The limitations of the predicative judgment, that is, are not merely contingent limitations of this particular mode of expression, but are representative of the limitation upon thought as such within a society in which all qualitative difference is increasingly required to become commensurable and exchangeable."

The basics. Or the simplest things last. The final sentence from the closing piece in People, a short essay titled "By Impossibly Popular Demand," reads: "Learn the basics." We are told in the opening sentence of the essay that this directive is the first line of Bertolt Brecht's poem "Lob Des Lernen" ("In Praise of Learning"). Later in the essay Hayward insists, "The very simplest thing is in the strongest sense the popularisation of anti-capitalist beliefs, ideas, and moral attitudes." But for Hayward the popularization of such beliefs, the various modes of their dissemination, cannot be wrenched from these beliefs as such. Dissemination, popularization, is predicated on the largely impossible task of simplifying, or reducing, incomprehensibly complex ideas:

The sublime sense of auto-obliviation felt by radicals as they ponder the deeply metaphysical problem of the correct slogan is only the conscious content of the deeper and for the most part unconscious acknowledgement that the work of popularising ideas opposed to the present state of things is a work for which no individual slogan will suffice, because the popularisation is not a matter of the single best conceptual simplification but of a thousand tones of voice and a thousand accents and temperaments: of modes of expression more various and more constitutionally unmanageable that those contained in any novel by Joyce or app by cliq consulting. 

The despair and frustration the difficulty of simplification yields displaces, according to Hayward, analyses of the "complex social work of simplification"—that is, if I understand the passage correctly, the affectivities that the impossible task of simplification generate among radicals eventually comes to stand in as the primary object of their critical attentions. Rather than engaging in an analysis of the task of simplification in the interest of popularizing anti-capitalist ideas, Hayward suggests that radicals instead devote their attention to the despair and frustration produced by the overwhelming pressure of such a task. The problem, for Hayward, is not a conceptual or epistemological one but a problem of labor:

Just as capitalist theories of value assume that the value received by capitalists is equal to their 'contribution,' and so effectively attribute to individuals the 'creation' of value which is in fact the work of innumerable people, the aesthetic thinking of bourgeois writers, including those who consider themselves to be opposed to present social relations, perpetually distorts into an aporetics of individual obligation a task whose true domain is collective human existence. The complexity of simplification is constantly annulled and reproposed as the simple work of 'understanding' a single complication , along the lines of, how do we make our ideas reach the audience which might use them? This single complication is the labyrinth in which bourgeois aesthetics and vanguardist revolutionary politics together perform the preparatory workouts for a social insurgency the deferral of which is in part their own responsibility.  

The question of labor can never be disarticulated from that of value. As such it is perhaps value and not labor (and thus not exploitation) which remains the primary—and possibly in this instance an a priori—hinge. Value can be produced and determined apart from labor. The recent economic collapse demonstrates this convincingly well. So, more than a problem of labor, the problem Hayward points toward may in fact be one of value. Further, although the affective detritus any species of difficulty yields (i.e., frustration, despair and so forth) may be the result of labor, affect does not necessarily presuppose labor. Nor are difficulty and labor one and the same, and while all labor, even the most demoralizingly mind-numbing labor, must necessarily involve some measure of thought, not all thinking should be mistaken for labor. Here I think Hayward's commentary slips frighteningly close to the easy transposition of labor into a philosophical register, an intellectual sleight of hand extending back to Hegel which Christopher Nealon critiques, albeit for markedly different reasons, in The Matter of Capital. Or perhaps I am wrong and the problem actually is, as Hayward asserts, one of labor, of work, rather than value, though the pervasive ease with which recent theorists have deployed imaginings of cognitive capital, cultural work and poetic labor—often to the further devaluation of manual labor by way of a contradictory identification with manual labor—leaves me feeling skeptical. But more than signaling any kind of dismissive challenge to this particular essay, or People as a whole, I should hope my skepticism stands as an index of my desire to further engage this astounding work. Bluntly put, the book would indeed appear to be, as one friend recently remarked, the revolutionary wedge we've all been waiting for.
 
§ The cover of People, front and back, features a picture by Icelandic artist Erró, known among other things for collaborating in 1963 with Carolee Schneemann on the series of photographs titled "Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions" (the reproduction of social relations begins at home, with the family, "whose true domain is collective human existence"); cf. Joan Robinson, "The Cultural Revolution in China" (1968): "In the arts, the dominance of politics produces a dreary philistinism and in literature a stupid black and white morality, smothering the subtlety and grace of Chinese traditions under what even Mao deprecates as the 'slogan and poster style." What even Mao deprecates.


Back cover of People | "Art and Industryscape," Erró, 1984

Sunday, November 24, 2013

SEA ADVENTURES, OR, POND LIFE

While reading through the remarkably generous second number of Hix Eros, the poetry review edited by Jow Lindsay and Joe Luna (JLJL), I found myself thinking again about Sea Adventures, or, Pond Life (Runamok 2012), a vertiginous run of linked poems collaboratively built by Harvey Joseph and Lindsay James (Jow Lindsay and James Harvey). Short of reproducing the book in its entirety here, venturing a description of the work would seem an uncomfortably difficult task. The work is wildly disorienting, fantastically so, like C.S. Lewis or Frank L. Baum amped up on the terror of recommended retail prices, like Sandburg's Rootabaga stories which never get old. The book is, in the most immediate sense, an adventure narrative, a narrative set largely at sea, following a route traversed by Japheth, the youngest of Noah's sons, around whom the manically shifting registers and disjunctive flickering of the poems coalesce. In one of the more conventionally coherent moments within the work, a moment uncharacteristic of the book as a whole, Harvey and Lindsay, Joseph and James, offer the surface architecture of the anti-story assembled around Japheth:
 
Freed from all obligations,
Set out to seek his fortune,
Which, me know, my children,
Means seek adventure.
 
Spying Tristan & Juliet on the swell,
He made himself into a cod,
& dispossessed them of their coracle.
By hook & by crook, by God.

Orisons of sailors more pious
tested Japheth's tempest-sped brains,
till his Saviour grew overgenerous
& swift He was forgot.

He came where once were fisherman—
Crabbers, whalers, trawlers—but all lived
Nowadays in Rawls's Original Position;
"We prefer not to select," they said.

They had not one resource of Earth,
And woven within their Veil,
A quality not unlike mirth.
He would not stay, but made sail.

But even here, in what appears to be the most lucid moment in the narrative, a number of puzzling tensions and complexities undermine these otherwise unassuming quatrains. In the second stanza, for instance, we have neither Tristan and Iseult nor Romeo and Juliet but something altogether different, a conflation of the two couples that either suggests fickleness and infidelity or signifies the shattering intensity of an absolute love encapsulated in a coracle adrift at sea. When Japheth shape-shifts into a cod and appropriates the coracle the splendor of this love, whatever species of love it might be, is left to drown. This is not the wreck of the whaleship Essex. Japheth is no Ishmael. He bears a closer resemblance to the young Harvey Cheyne of Captains Courageous, the implacable son of a bourgeois railroad magnate rescued from drowning by fishermen in the North Atlantic. Madeleine L'Engle's 1986 fantasy novel Many Waters also comes to mind. The novel's young protagonists, Sandy and Dennis, travel back in time where they meet Japheth, a prospector searching for water immediately before the great flood (floating capital). In any case, the Japheth of Sea Adventures is a violently resourceful character all too willing to let love drown in seeking his fortune. Suddenly the exhaustive catalog of Recommended Retail Prices (RRP) printed in exceptionally small type across the flyleaves at the front and back of Sea Adventures begin to make a particular type of sense.

Amphibious. Japheth traverses the sea in a Frog Ark, which may or may not be the coracle he stole from Tristan and Juliet, making his way to Spain, reminding us of Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, who traced the origin of western civilization back to Japheth. In the port of Cadiz Japheth marries a "pygmy mayd" who somehow, within the space of a month, dies. After a stunningly brief moment of mourning Japheth reorients himself and returns his attentions to exploitation and entertainment: "In the heaving Spanish port | It was amusement he sought, | And in the revolving masses | Simple to snatch their purses." Like Lorca in Andalusia, Japheth sets out for the sun and is almost immediately executed by the Civil Guard: "After a whole month was done | He ventured out into the sun | But a guardsman shot him in the head. | Could it be that Japheth lay dead?" Not at all. Further in we find, "The headwound had reprogrammed Japheth" who now must "get into the astral tory camp | in geosynchronous orbit over hackney city farm." Other characters and themes include: Luke, who is absolutely and not at all a manifestation of Japheth; Sophia; Hermione; amphibians; a lobe-finned fish from the late Devonian period that swallows Luke; Blind Pew (Treasure Island); Imogen; Byron who like Japheth also turns into a cod; toilets; Easter Island; Caliban; the police.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SCATTERED THOUGHTS ON THE ANTIDOTE

After two brief epigraphs, the first from Ben Jonson ("I am all fire") and the second from Brian Whitener, Jackqueline Frost's The Antidote (COMPLINE 2013) begins: "POVERTY has nothing with which to feed its love." We can begin here, as the book does, with a proposition: Poverty suffers a love it is utterly incapable of sating. Or perhaps this opening line from The Antidote means to suggest this: The thing poverty feeds the love it suffers with is exactly nothing—an unimpeachable negativity that offers non-sites of limitless possibility. If this is the case, or both are the case, then The Antidote begins with a lack—an inadequacy or disadvantage—which, by means of the need it suffers, inverts itself, thereby casting itself toward the un-inscribed limitlessness of absolute possibility. For a book to begin so within the space of such a brief opening statement is an extraordinary thing.
   
 
Handling the book, I find myself struck by the typographic configuration of the work, particularly the lineated and enjambed titling where letters and syllable formations appear wrenched apart and rearticulated, i.e. "ANTI" is consistently separated from "DOTE." Where "DOTE" is the outward expression of an unconditional fondness, an affection beyond criticism, "ANTI" becomes the ethos that might turn such recklessly partisan affection against itself for its own good. Even in the outward configuration of the author's proper name, the appearance of the icy surname on the cover of the title is split, enjambed, the "F" in "Frost" segregated by way of line break such that the final word on the back cover of the book is "ROST"—RO[A]ST—a typographic allusion to the labor of a fire that emerges recursively throughout the work, as in the following passage:
I have tended in no quiet way the prospect of fires. They would unburden propriety of passage from all fugitive territories. A portal glitches on the ground here. The result of practice. We thought that we might find a name to share that does not splinter within the cathexis of the voice. 
In this instance fire releases us from the propriety of the proper name, generating instead conditions that might enable the emergence of a shared name not yet shattered by the individuating force of proprietary difference. This fire is not offered in the interest of self-defense, of defending the self, but in the interest of building something apart from the social mechanisms that produce a self capable of imagining itself by itself: "better to be a scarlet transference of rage itself." Sean Bonney's recent aphoristic commentary on fire comes to mind: "I DON'T WANT TO DEFEND MYSELF | I WANTED TO PUT UP A WALL OF FLAMES."
           
Sean Bonney | "I don't want to defend myself" | Posted 5 November 2013
 
In Frost and Bonney the same slippage occurs, a pivoting movement from active present (i.e. "A portal glitches on the ground," or, "I DON'T WANT TO DEFEND MYSELF") to statements of intention fixed in the past (i.e. "We thought," or, "I WANTED"). In both cases something beyond what was desired or anticipated occurred. Mourning, regret and a recognition of missed opportunities emerge, but the element of frustration and possible despair these statements introduce seems oriented toward an active future perfect. Again, from The Antidote:
One could fabulate, desperately, a sequence for crisis, but never without nostalgia's subterfuge. We do not know how many people built barricades to defend the Commune or marched on the port, or how. How somewhere, someone has explained that suddenly you are draining the tanks of motorcycles for molotovs, as if the present in someone's past were perceptibly arriving. To whom does one even say I feel more alive than ever.
The last statement in this passage—really a question which, in coming to a full stop, forecloses on the possibility of an adequate answer—seems, somewhat obviously, a direct allusion to, if not an active critique of, Keston Sutherland's 2012 Birkbeck talk "Revolution and Really Being Alive" where Sutherland writes: 
Revolutionary poetry may, exceptionally, have nothing at all to say about any fact that will be identified as political; its grammar may be thoroughly opaque and its sentences almost totally free of direct social reference. But imperatively it must do this one thing: it must hurt and thrill a reader with an irresistible premonition of the feeling of being more fully and really alive than ever before, the feeling that is the true, unmistakable and inalienable basis of revolutionary subjective universality.
If Frost's comment on feeling "more alive than ever" is in fact a critique of Sutherland's Birkbeck talk, how are we to read this critique? Can it be read as something more than rigid and irreconcilable disagreement? Does the work itself, The Antidote, desire an extended and collaborative engagement with others, through disagreement, against capital? The following question, which again eschews its question mark and insists on the revelatory self-evidence of a full stop, would seem to disclose precisely such a desire for the continued labor of a collective thinking: "What is the corresponding figure of open burden." This is not a question. It is an assertion. And this assertion concerning the openness, the illimitability, of the burden, our labor, follows from a reference to "Thom," presumably Thom Donovan:
As Thom said, 'the lyric won't die because there are still bodies and we suffer those bodies beyond conceptualization at a limit where individual touches multitude.' That this coincidence is like an overexposed photograph of something joyous.