Monday, January 23, 2012

LUKE ROBERTS HIS FALSE FLAGS

On the day Luke Roberts's False Flags (Mountain Press 2011) arrived Foreign Policy magazine reported that Israeli Mossad agents have been posing as US spies in an effort to recruit members of the Pakistani militant organization Jundallah in order to wage a covert war against Iran. Such an operation is a "false flag" operation which, as Roberts points out in a closing note to False Flags, "is a manoeuvre by which one group incriminates another, usually in an act of sabotage or violence." Although the Jundallah is outwardly regarded as a terrorist organization by the US, Iran (along with Seymour Hersch) maintains the US has long supported the Jundallah. In this instance it wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that the Foreign Policy article itself might be part of a false flag operation oriented toward holding Israel accountable for a US transgression. Such speculation, however, would situate us firmly in the realm of conspiracy theory, the stuff of Tom Clancy novels. But in the final pages of False Flags Roberts is remarkably clear on this point: "DECOY || No conspiracy theory is dialectical."

For anyone invested in dialectical thinking from Hegel forward the claim Roberts puts forth seems perfectly reasonable; the logic that typically governs conspiracy theories is crudely empiricist, not dialectical. But the word "DECOY" which precedes Roberts's proposition is troubling, undermining any possibility of absolute confidence we might otherwise have in this absolute statement. As a decoy, the absolute character of the proposition exploits our desire for certainty, distracting us as we're quickly reabsorbed into a world of radical instability and interminable contradiction where any meaningful synthesis resides just beyond the horizon of possibility. Looking broadly at the poems, this ongoing push-and-pull seems to move the book as a whole forward and through to the false confidence of a closing statement that, in the end, refuses the sham finality of closing statements.

Initially imagined as a satirical consideration of "conspiracy theories and New Age irrationalism starting at Ground Zero and stretching back to the space race and other territorial contests of the past fifty years," False Flags takes up questions of strength, ambition, belligerence and violence. A line from the opening poem "Colossal Boredom Swansong" states, somewhat bluntly, "the weak slap down the strong," reminding us of those horrifyingly well-known lines from Yeats's speculative comments on the second coming: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst | Are full of passionate intensity." And like Yeats's "Wild Swans at Coole," Roberts's swansong features a narrator saddened by "those beautiful creatures" who, instead of alerting one to the passage of time, serve only to signal a species of flight we all participate in destroying. As such, swans become an object of hate: 

Every starling I see I will kill with my brain-mask, my weak
hand strangled by the jury, whose task must be to shine
through to the hurtful limit. Twelve or so I thought, the rest
caught by public confession to betrayals they didn't
fight. I accept everything, every tiresome imitation of flight.    

A lot is happening here, far more than I can now reasonably address, but the final statement in this first poem appears to set the tone for the whole of the book, this surrender to simulated flight, from cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's inaugural 1961 voyage into space, to the 1986 Challenger disaster, to the flights that leveled the twin towers. In each instance the same "passion and conquest" that "attends upon" Yeats's wild swans also attends upon these, but tiresomely, violently. This passion is the passion of the weak and the worst and their efforts at flight can bear no more than a misguided trace of the flight they so desperately pantomime. Situated as a sort of prolegomena, "Collosal Boredom Swansong" is, as a lyric whole, a fairly extraordinary thing, an abject stretch of scorched earth where "Galileo swoops from the sky and kills the whole farmyard, | tearing the throats of geese with his universe, holding  | down pigs, ripping the tails from rabbits to fashion | a new love." And for Roberts the horizon of this post-apocalyptic past extends, somewhat naturally, to the savagely terraformed terrain of culture to which the poet responds: 

I, champion of poetry, salute the elders, put my
foot in a desk, kicking poetry with a desk lamp
strapped to my heart. Send me a sick bag to speak
to you from, leaving the pre-snow, glass headed
swans slowly tunnel through the mountain. In my dream
phones signify 'family', so synthetic brothers, sisters,
put your money all over the table. I am so tired it's
not true. I could do this all day, eating figs, eating
the remnants of the New British Poetry, warring clams,
pelicans vomiting blood into boring glands, buying floor
fans to keep the city cool.  
I spoke warmly and my speech turned into a wing
and the wing broke my arms, and my arm continued to sing.
Dear cowards, the sea dries up and you remain. The presses
are idle and the censor's lunch is so long and dream-like
you trouble nothing, not even my heart. The craters on the
moon are okay, dogs' bark drowned between
the tables where the bets were being made. I cut limbs
from my Axolotl and they re-grow, I will go blind
and recite the best poems to my children in the dark. 

It's difficult to exaggerate my enthusiasm for the extraordinary shape and force of these lines — I mean, the pleasure I find myself taking in this poem is no different than the incredible pleasure I first found in, say, Crane or Moore or Pound however long ago. And for fear of falling into an absurdly maudlin endorsement of the work it's probably best at this juncture just to say the entirety of the book moves likewise. Dear cowards.     

Saturday, January 07, 2012

NOTES TOWARD A READING LIST

Thinking for weeks now about the wide range of publications — poetry and otherwise — that complimented, emerged out of or responded to the past year of global upheaval, riot, occupation and protest. The hope is, against experience and reason, that this is only the thin wedge of a much broader moment of resistance which, on the terrain of the cultural, will continue to cut a little deeper than the slogan-ready sound bytes so easily kettled by safety-orange polyethylene fencing or so viciously subdued by industrial strength pepper spray.

J.H. Prynne. Kazoo Dreamboats, or, On What There Is. Cambridge: Critical Documents 2011. Although I haven't yet gotten hold a copy, I'm told this slim collection turns previous readings of Prynne's work from Brass (1971) forward upside down. A sort of extended paraprosdokian, the appearance of this book has the potential to compel a critical reappraisal of all Prynne's previous work. This view of the work might be hyperexuberant overstatement, but the following posted Dec 12 at Sad Press:

[...] Rule One: people with top pay are rubbish,
everyone knows this, it’s a law of nature. Rule Two: Diogenes
offered himself as a master, in the market, to any slave who needed
one. Rule Three: you do not see into the life of things, dimension-
less or not, except by harvest of data plotted against uncertainty.
Rule Four: justice is scarce ever the obverse of injustice, since
the one is the top end and the other the bottom. None of this it
must be said is the power of harmony even in charge fluctuation
or lifetimes except the desire integrate the variation of sep-
arate notice, that’s what spirit mostly does who where she went
bare in her forehead morning, only men write their socks off like
this: better to be clear than dizzy or cynic, not to refuse joy
in favour of rapture or contentment, the gradients are lateralised
in additive counterflow. But rapture is also pretty nice [...]          

A second edition of Taylor Brady and Rob Halpern's Snow Sensitive Skin. Displaced Press 2011. Edition includes a new foreword from Michael Cross, who published the first edition through his Atticus / Finch. Cross: "It is no accident that the most frequently used words in Snow Sensitive Skin (after requisite prepositions and articles) are 'we' and 'our.'"

Parenthetical note: EVERYDAY RESOLUTIONS: 1) Cheap ambition is the enemy; 2) Building a mirror — or, as some seduced by the language of technological determinism have it, a "monitor" or "screen" — was never enough; 3) Imagining oneself as a machine, recording device or passive site of transmission is a total cop out. Every intervention is an active and partisan intervention.

Ryan Dobran. Confection©_© Press 2011. An astounding book that, despite however many readings, I'm still finding my way into, the work characterized by an oscillating and somewhat disorienting movement from prose to lineated writing. The opening epigraph preceding the title page: "OUT, YOU DOG-LEECH, | VOMIT OF ALL PRISONS." Each line or clause in the book is deeply sedimented and the first stretch of prose is, I think, representative of the unrelenting intensity that drives the whole of the work from beginning to end:

Seems thus pittanced ease against just, so thinking that for thus, missed shat for trust, mistook, under grave conditions no less which bloodied for hours some dumb serpent wheezed to bone-level diagrams of stumps, and in turning that path downward leans to frame the arousal of last cupidity, genuflected prior to a vision left wilting on the printer, left the lab soon after, get this seeming lost to frowning upon a gesture stacked and busty with strawberry tongue all the more of which that until then had not yet gone under, this, yet something not unsavory prolonged the gasp, bite clench, as if the inlay were interior parsimony, chevrons lately of desire came later in the last pass by otiose decorum, and this, yet not until bye accounts for procedural distemper, clouds of quartets in the pyrocentric tabula unfit for cheery entrance, sits down, blades lock into announcements of typographic patter, rump tipples in trails the crimped blood snuggie, talked to without circles of data to hold talked to like never before crass with blow nose and fruits of those fiendish time exchanges, lest in spring breed views to concrete music and value tacks settle into broke, term mantic swirly, and to sundryfold cheaters same sparkling fascia tends, nowhere spotted the pink noose slipping off the lofty dais, assurance registered into likeness, gummy and marrow, demi-gag to the apple of his throat, restores voyager spitum to the sweat before taste all roomy dancing. 

Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles and New Political Scenarios. Eds. Andrea Fumagalli and Sandro Mezzadra. Semiotext(e) 2010. Far and away the most affirmative intellectual response to the financial crisis and the first book-length collection from the UniNomade network in Europe. In her introduction Fumagalli writes:

We come, as we've said, from the great tradition of revolutionary Italian workerism, and our work is collocated within what is now, in the international debate, referred to with the certainly insufficient but also somewhat effective term "post-workerism." We nevertheless feel the need to question our own theoretic tools and to be open to discussion with other currents and with other theoretic practices that have contributed to the critical comprehension of the present in the last few years: from postcolonial studies to the most recent developments in feminism, from the reflections in new media studies to the frontiers of political philosophy ... We hold dear the science — and consequently the reasonableness — of subversion and don't hesitate to define ourselves, once and for all, as revolutionaries.

A good deal of the thinking emerging out of the UniNomade network has a decidedly Foucaultian bent, which troubles me a little, but not so much that I would dismiss the absolute necessity of this work or the extent to which it so productively responds to global crisis in ways that no other network of intellectuals have managed, at least not with comparable success. The book includes essays from Fumagalli, Mezzadra, Christian Marazzi, Carlo Vercellone, Stefano Lucarelli, Federico Chichi, Tiziana Terranova, Bernardo Paulré and Karl Heinz Roth, and closes with ten collectively constructed theses on the financial crisis:

1. The Current Financial Crisis Is a Crisis of the Whole Capitalistic System
2. The Current Financial Crisis Is a Crisis of the Measurement of Capitalistic Valorization
3. The Crisis Is the Horizon of Development for Cognitive Capitalism
4. The Financial Crisis Is a Crisis of Biopolitical Control — A Crisis of Governance That Demonstrates a Systematic Structural Instability
5. The Financial Crisis Is a Crisis of Unilateralism and a Moment of Geopolitical Re-equilibrium
6. The Financial Crisis Demonstrates the Difficulties of the Construction Process of the Economic European Union
7. The Financial Crisis Marks the Crisis of Neoliberal Theory
8. The Financial Crisis Highlights Two Internal Contradictory Principles of Cognitive Capitalism: The Insufficiency of the Traditional Forms of Labor Remuneration and the Vileness of the Proprietary Structure
9. The Current Financial Crisis Cannot Be Resolved With Reformist Politics That Define a Renovated New Deal
10. The Current Financial Crisis Opens New Scenarios of Social Conflict

This is certainly not the space for offering an extended critique of this first wave of UniNomade essays, but I sense an intellectual overinvestment in theories of cognitive capitalism has the potential to present any number of difficulties, as does a critique of political economy that situates a theory of biopower front and center. But in "Cognitive Capitalism and the Financialization of Economic Systems," Paulré says, "In our opinion, the essential feature characterizing the accumulation system of contemporary capitalism is cognitive accumulation, broadly assumed as including knowledge, information, communication, creativity: in a nutshell, everything that constitutes intellectual activity." When he says "our" one can only assume he is speaking on behalf of the whole UniNomade network. For the UniNomade "cognitive accumulation" (imagined, following Michel Aglietta and the French Regulationists, as a "regime of accumulation") is a fundamentally unique regime of accumulation different from Fordist (not Taylorist) industrial production. But Fumagalli writes in her introduction:

When we talk about a radical transformation in the modes of capitalist production, of a capitalism that is no longer "industrial," we are far from negating the importance (that, in a sense, is ever growing) that industrial production and labor continue to have on both a global level and in our own territories. Instead, we are insisting on the fact that this production and this labor are progressively "articulated" in (and commanded by) valorization and accumulation processes of capital that function according to a logic that differs from "industrial" logic.       
        
David Harvey advances essentially the same assessment in The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), but what separates the UniNomade approach from Harvey (or other assessments of post-Fordism / flexible accumulation) is the reliance of the UniNomade network on a theory of "the becoming rent of profit," a theory articulated with notions of cognitive accumulation and biopower but connected most immediately to certain moments in the third volume of Marx's Capital. And perhaps it is this I find most affirming and useful. Rent, according to Negri, is what mystifies the common of social production. It is what enabled the earliest forms of enclosure and what, more recently, enabled the foreclosure of homes on such a breathtaking scale. As Carlo Vercellone explains, there is a "manner in which the tendency of the development of credit and stockholdings companies was leading to a deep separation of capital ownership from management." Vercellone continues: "According to Marx, capital ownership was following a similar path to that of ground rent in the shift from feudalism to capitalism: it is to say that it was becoming external in relation to the sphere of production and, like land ownership, capital ownership was extracting surplus value whilst no longer exercising any function in the organization of labor." Viz. the relative autonomy of the financial sector which, while it determines the shape of productive of forces, is not itself so beholden to the push and pull, ebb and flow, boom and slump of industrial production.

Drifting here (arguably a necessary peripatetic ambling), but I find myself thinking a good deal about processes of labor extraction lately, a subject several of the UniNomade theorists have taken up, i.e. Tiziana Terranova and Christain Marazzi. Cary Nelson and Marc Bousquet have written a good deal on the use of adjunct labor in the university industry (all the full-time faculty brains at less than half the price and yielding ten times the profit in an economy that has long since rendered privately funded education beyond high school mandatory for all US citizens stupid enough to desire a standard of living just above total poverty). Commenting on the information industry and the nascent digitariat up to the dot.bomb and beyond, Terranova writes:

While the workplace atmosphere became ludic and more informal, wages as fixed income were integrated into a participation of variable income constituted by rent earned through stock actions. Sprinkled by a potent flow of financial capital — also in mutation — hardly anyone seemed to care that the rhythms of digital labor made agreements and compromises like those of [the] videogame [industry] ... and ... the wages of the most part of new media employees were much lower than those of traditional media workers. Under this financialization push schizophrenically, a new labor culture emerged that ... absorbed the refusal to work and transformed it into a new modality of labor that partially accounted for the needs for liberty and informality that had come from the preceding cycle of social struggles, imported the partial dissolution of the borders between life-time and work-time from academic and university labor and, in many cases, an entrepreneurship that combined self-education with self-exploitation. 

Terranova also addresses the externalization of labor and accumulation of surplus value through the Web 2.0 platform (i.e. end-user reviews, online surveys or the unremunerated reportage news networks and programs extract from viewers desiring recognition). Christian Marazzi picks up on this thread from Terranova's essay in The Violence of Financial Capitalism (Semiotext(e) 2011), an extended version of the article that appears in Crisis. In this instance the end-user or consumer becomes an active agent in the coproduction of value, and the logic of this coproduction of value extends well beyond the web, pervading most every area and aspect of consumption. Marazzi points toward Ikea as an example:

Ikea, having delegated to the client a whole series of functions (individuation of the code of the desired item, locating the object, removal of shelves, loading it into the care, etc.), externalizes the labor of assembling the "Billy" bookshelf; this is externalizing consistent fixed and variable costs that are now held by the consumer with minimal benefit in prices, but with large savings in terms of company costs. 
       
Ikea, of course, appeals to a very specific demographic, at least in the US: the "poor" young urban professional (individuals short on financial capital but rich in cultural capital). Most every other major retailer, however, has long since adopted similar strategies of extraction: Wal-mart, Target, Lowes, etc. Home Depot offers one of the more stunningly pernicious examples of externalized production and labor extraction. See, for instance, Chris Roush’s chillingly titled corporate biography Inside the Home Depot: How One Company Revolutionized an Industry through the Relentless Pursuit of Growth (McGraw Hill Professional 1999). Commenting on the stratification of customer service within Home Depot — now the fourth largest retailer in the US with 321,00 employees — Roush describes three types of highly specialized customer service employees: “[E]mployees called ‘Bernies Buddies’ — retired contractors or home builders who have expertise in do-it-yourself projects — spend time handling customers on the floor. There is ‘Arthur’s Army,’ a cadre of electricians, plumbers, and painters who also help with customer service." With the aid of specialized trade workers displaced through deindustrialization and the recent collapse of the housing industry and now (under)paid an hourly wage between $11 and $16, customers, especially “home-owners” whose properties plummeted well below the price of purchase following the 2007 mortgage scandal, take on the wholly unremunerated task of coproduction. As of November 16, 2011 Home Depot reported a third quarterly profit of $934 million, up almost precisely $100 million from the year before (Wall Street Journal 16 Nov 2011).       
   
Chicago Review (Autumn 2011). Veronica Forrest-Thomson feature exquisitely edited by Michael Hansen and Gareth Farmer. Three previously unpublished essays from Forrest-Thomson and new writing from Keston Sutherland, Tom Pickard, Marjorie Welish, Stephanie Strickland, Anne Blonstein, Trevor Joyce, William Fuller and others. Hansen and Farmer insist in their introduction to Forrest-Thomson's essays, "At a time when literary studies is struggling, often clumsily, to find new ways of talking about form, Poetic Artifice feels remarkably vital." According to Hansen and Farmer, the Forrest-Thomson essays in the feature apply the strategies developed in Poetic Artifice to nineteenth century poetries (Swinburne, Rossetti, Tennyson, Hardy, etc). Pound, as Hansen and Farmer acknowledge, stands at center in Forrest-Thomson's poetics (her 19th century bears a remarkable resemblance to Pound's). Forrest-Thomson herself writes:

I suppose I shall have to repeat that Pound's strength comes from the fact that he believed literally what was only a fiction to the English nineteenth century. I do not mean that he believed literally the myth of Proserpina seeking flowers, a fairer flower herself by gloomy Dis was gathered, nor even that he believed in the transience of love. What he believed was the value and vigor of beautifully shaped words — "who speaketh words as fair as these" — to create an earthly paradise. 

To read such a passage against Sutherland's first "Ode to TL61P" is an astounding, if not nerve-shattering, experience (Laura Kilbride notes in an interview with Sutherland published in The Literateur back in November that TL61P is "a now obsolete product code for a replacement door on a Hotpoint tumble drier which doesn't exist anymore"). The ode begins thus:

In future you cover your cost in void too empty to be lost, static at terminal velocity; on the opening night as light parts and you jump out to gravitate orderly to ballot the flattering flesh you missed resist arrest in its shattering petty larceny, who looming over a motto executed in the Ottoman style of the sex jargon recited by Ériphile at II.i.477-508, in the mannequins' scan of which smudged erotic jottings alleged in a hologram into the deep • private end of the primitive primary streak canal bound in stratified squamous • epithelium to descant many few billion one-liners into the hot squamocolumnar • junction with its teat cistern, a photocopy blurred into alienating aleatory poésie concrète by being roughly swiped back and forth with an aging raging hard-on for dysphagia over the scratched platen glass of the Canon MF8180C or Brother DCP-9045CDN all-in-one fax, printer and copier of the incomplete catechism that stubs out the real Shelley's "Triumph of Life," the leading question "What is lite?," under the table propped up at right angles folded until they froth, to triple accountability to an afflatus, doing as the banks just did, not as the banks just said, I understand the hole that George is in, a dot whose innuendo comes too late ... 

In section 1.2 of the ode Sutherland writes:

Dispersing the riot in smoke like love in conscience: "the use value of a thing does not concern its seller as such, but only its buyer." In which case use values are exclusive to consumers, and consumers are in that case the Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde of the way of despair squared, so that as our art is increasingly sold, and love is, so that there are many more sellers, many of them good sellers, its use value as what the Nigerians call a supernumerary proportion of its total combined value including its exchange goes into improbable dramatic decline, like Chekhov. 

I can't adequately reproduce the visual appearance of the poem here, but these blocks of prose appear much narrower in the Autumn 2011 number of CR. The quoted passage from 1.2 of the ode is from a section of Marx's Grundrisse that appears under a brief abstract beginning "Production process as content of capital" (hallelujah Google, master of extraction and successor of the Toyota mode of misery):

The use value of a thing does not concern its seller as such, but only its buyer. The property of saltpetre, that it can be used to make gunpowder , does not determine the price of saltpetre; rather, this price is determined by the cost of production of saltpetre, by the amount of labor objectified in it. The value of use values which enter circulation as prices is not the product of circulation, although it realizes itself only in circulation; rather, it is presupposed to it, and is realized only through exchange for money.     

Reading this, I now wonder to what extent "Ode on TL61P" is an elegiac lamentation for the living labor objectified (and thus rendered dead or surplus) in a tumble drier replacement door. The manufacturer's product code, the very name of the object invested with value, is now obsolete, but not necessarily the object as such, however likely this may be. Nor does "TL61P" signify a singular object but rather an unknown quantity of strikingly similar objects manufactured as a ready reserve of replacements for a particular part on a machine that, in all likelihood, will itself wear out long before its door does. A commodity like any other, TL61P is transformed into an object of affection through the objectification of living labor embodied in it. And in its capacity as a replacement part for which there is presumably little demand and whose use value can only be fully realized through and beyond the moment of exchange, the moment when a desiring consumer summons the object by name, TL61P seems an incredibly lonely object. But the object (or set of objects the specificity of the product code designate) is neither metaphor nor allegory but precisely the object itself.                  

Youssef Cassis. Capitals of Capital: The Rise and Fall of International Financial Centres 1780-2009. Cambridge University Press 2006, 2010. A strange but usefully comprehensive history of international finance. Strange for its source: the book was commissioned to commemorate the bicentennial of Pictet & Cie, a private investment bank based in Geneva. Partner Claude Demole writes in his foreword: "At its inception in 1805, our establishment was a merchant bank, ready to undertake all sorts of banking business and trading operations. Often working closely with other private bankers in Geneva, it gradually evolved over time into an investment bank, placing its capital in various ventures, such as shipping, before setting up an investment trust in US and Mexican shares in the early years of the twentieth century. Finally, from 1910 on, Pictet & Cie turned to specialise in private banking and, later in the century, branched into institutional asset management to become eventually what it is today: a small international banking group dedicated to wealth management." The book celebrates one bank's ability to weather two centuries of financial crisis.

Alice Teichova et al, eds. Banking, Trade and Industry: Europe , America and Asia from the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press 1997, 2011. Essays on banking and finance across the whole of capital's longue durée. A book that reads well against Giovanni Arrighi's Long Twentieth Century or any of the World Systems Theory analyses. Larry Schweikart's essay "Banking in North America 1700-1900" seems especially useful, his treatment of banking and state power from Hamilton's Bank of the United States, through the Panic of 1837, Andrew Jackson's attack on centralized banking, the subsequent proliferation of state-chartered banks, etc. Also a brief history of banking in Argentina from 1850 by Andrés M. Regalsky (thinking the 2001 collapse of the Argentine economy, the emergence of politica afectiva).  

Enjoyed the incredible honor of publishing four essential titles in 2011: Down You Go, or, Négation de Bruit by Frances Kruk; Inebriate Debris by Rosa Van Hensbergen; HAX by Francis Crot; Four Letters | Four Comments by Sean Bonney (the letters followed by speculative remarks from Jennifer Cooke, Pocahontis Mildew, Danny Hayward and Lara Buckerton). The whole of the Kruk and Bonney books, and part of the Van Hensbergen book, will appear in the forthcoming volume of Damn the Caesars. Cooke, in her comment on Bonney's letters, writes:

Even if protest fails or achieves very little, it is vitally important, for the same reasons as Bonney's poetry is important: we need a record of our desire to protest and a record of our protestations. We need those to be part of a chain of continuity of different historical constellations of protest, into one of which, to take an example from the letters, Rimbaud wrote his soul. 

A series of Fiery Flying Roules, single sheet pamphlets circulated electronically and subtitled "To All the Inhabitants of the Earth, Specially the Rich Ones," emerged likely out of Oakland and through the same impulse that informed the occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza, the November 2 general strike, etc. Several installments of the series have yet to be uploaded to the tumblr site, but these digital sheets seem to demonstrate and supplement the "record of our desire" Cooke refers to.