Friday, August 05, 2011


In a usefully lucid but far from reductive introduction to the Dorn issue of Hot Gun! Josh Stanley writes, "The work presented in this issue of Hot Gun! focuses on Dorn's anti-capitalism, emphasising the materialist and political aspects of Dorn's writing, which are linked to a highly metaphysical discourse." I take this editorial gesture as one committed to undoing the considerable violence performed by crudely depoliticized readings of Dorn's work, readings that persistently reduce Dorn's accomplishment to a species of formal innovation.

Gold is, of course, up — quadruple what it was before the meltdown. In her contribution to the Dorn feature, an essay on gnosticism and alchemy in Gunslinger, Reitha Pattison remarks, "The Western psyche is still largely at the mercy of the mineral realm." Nowhere too distant from swords and sandals.

Heading out for a few odds and ends yesterday my wife asked me to grab a copy of the local paper. Not to read — we cull most news from the web now — but for cleaning. And standing at the checkout, I couldn't help but take notice of a surprisingly bold front page story on the economy:

Companies are reluctant to hire until they're convinced enough customers are ready to buy their products or services. Corporate profits are booming, though, because companies laid off millions of workers, learned to operate more efficiently with smaller staffs and expanded in growing markets overseas.

The article continues:

So companies are waiting for consumers to spend, and consumers are waiting for companies to hire them or offer generous raises and job security. It's a tough cycle to break.

Most striking about the article is its cunning rhetorical construction. The unemployed and underemployed, uninsured or under-insured, are imagined as a community financially capable of intervening in the economic crisis. The article suggests working people and the working poor, following fast on the heels of an enduring foreclosure crisis and the collapse of a construction industry which hasn't yet recovered, can intelligently call the bluff of "booming" corporations and ameliorate stagnation simply by spending money. The logic is an impressively grotesque manipulation of the old and at all times destructive adage: "It takes money to make money." Dorn was especially attuned to these forms of cunning and manipulation. In an October 1987 editorial for Rolling Stock magazine he writes:

"Americans" are a weirdly subject people. They are often berated for not saving ... And yet again, immediately the economy slumps, they're accused of not buying enough. It's rather difficult, as a whole, to get pushed around more than that.

More than most, Dorn recognized the extent to which even the crudest mainstream punditry had a decisive impact on, and was itself produced by, consciousness. As such, and as Josh Stanley suggests in his introduction to Hot Gun!, Dorn's investigation of consciousness completely circumambulates the solipsistic situatedness of self as the ground zero of poetic inquiry, but without the wholesale disavowal of self characteristic of "innovative" poetries:

Dorn's concern in poetry was to recognise "the inch of space in time I have" and work out what I just now woke up from and what rubbish dump of history my living is going to be done in, noisily refusing the avoidance of self-knowledge: Dorn said we're all sinners — justification as a concept follows disgust.

To be so reminded is a privilege. The trick is not to lose sight, or as Amiri Baraka insists in "Doc-I-Meant," a 1999 essay written in memory of activist and poet Gaston Neal:

From Soul to Sold. For a profit, we abandon our deepest function as Prophets, to tell the world where it is and where it was and where it going.

This sense of "prophet," the antithesis of its contradictory homophone "profit," is one Dorn would have likely agreed with and it appears to be used in a way strikingly similar to Rimbaud's understanding of voyant in his 1871 "Lettres du voyant." In Rimbaud's usage the double-meaning of voyant is at all times retained so that a voyant is at once a prophet whose future-perfect imaginings allow him to stand as an instrument for gauging and calibrating this machine, this inch of space in time we have.

The Baraka essay comes to mind because I take it as an absolutely indispensable ars poetica that was composed relatively late in Baraka's writing life. The essay remains uncollected and has, so far as I know, received no critical attention. Composed prior to a wide range of crises — the dot-bomb, the increasing privatization of war, Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, the subprime mortgage crisis (Bear Stearns, AIG &c) and the collapse of the housing industry — the essay presciently calls our attention back to class struggle and the determinate character of the economic.

The direction of Baraka's gaze is fixed on the "un-new," as when he writes, "History, WISE 1 ' ... ban yr oom boom ba boom ... you in deep deep trouble ....'" For Baraka "The Word is the FIRST DRUM" — not was but is — and like Cornelius Cardew after his disavowal of atonal and aleatory forms of "avant-garde" composition, Baraka, possibly thinking back to his turn away from New York School poets and the contemporary art scene following the assassination of Malcolm X, insists: "Now it is abstract, in the main! Like Hieroglyphs under the weight of commerce becomes Hieratic. Drum Word, under the weight of middle passage and Homolocus Subsidere betraying the method to Slave Master obscures its ultimate Science and becomes abstract expressionism!" The insistence is against abstraction — against, that is extraction, reduction, extrapolation, anything that would compartmentalize and thereby allow one to deludedly imagine an interdependent component of the social whole as discreet, sovereign, imminent.

The Baraka essay appears in the Spring 2000 issue of Prosodia, the journal of the recently bankrupted New College of California. However strangely, the same issue features a memorial tribute to Dorn that begins with a stretch from Chemo Sabe followed by a touching comment from Tom Clark and ending with a well selected passage from Book II of Gunslinger:

Yet the sad fact is I is
part of the thing and can never leave it.
This alone constitutes
the reality of ghosts ...

There is no wholesale refusal of lyric subjectivity in Dorn; instead we find a persistent turning and a constant pressure that presupposes ghosts are more than a deceptive fiction, that every fetish commodity, including the self, contains within itself an elusive remainder — to say, perhaps, as Hegel did, the spirit is a bone, or what for Benjamin is aura; but more than this, against the destructive nostalgia that would have us believe newsprint is for more than cleaning windows, this I is the ineradicable trace of a freeze-dried self, at once hypostatically universal and cryogenically individual, the citizen, "the sad fact."