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.