Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On War

One could have some respect for the thing if it provided a real opportunity to destroy our enemies, not merely a series of humiliating occasions on which to obey our commanders.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Memo from Norman Mailer to Romney/Ryan

"So long as there is a cold war, there cannot be a conservative administration in America. There cannot for the simplest reason. Conservatism depends upon a huge reduction in the power and the budget of the central Government. Indeed, so long as there is a cold war, there are no politics of consequence in America. It matters less each year which party holds the power. Before the enormity of defense expenditures, there is no alternative to an ever-increasing welfare state. It can be an interesting welfare state like the present one, or a dull welfare state like President Eisenhower’s. It can even be a totally repressive welfare state like President Goldwater’s well might be. But the conservatives might recognize that greater economic liberty is not possible so long as one is building a greater war machine. To pretend that both can be real is hypocritical beyond belief. The conservatives then are merely mouthing impractical ideas which they presume may bring them power. They are sufficiently experienced to know that only liberalism can lead America into total war without popular violence, or an active underground." (Norman Mailer, The Presidential Papers, 1963, p. 170-171)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Layton & Robertson

I want to put two passages alongside each other. The first was published in 1961, in the foreword to Irving Layton's The Swinging Flesh:

The society of the future will have no more need for living, creative art than for religion. To the comfortable air-conditioned suburbanite of tomorrow the intuitions of the one will appear as ludicrously pitiable and archaic as those of the other. Indeed, they will be as incomprehensible to him as the vanished ecstasies of bull-worshipping. Such a society — its outlines are already visible to anyone who is not afraid to take a good look — will be run by a tolerant élite composed of scientists, well-heeled technicians, and efficient commissars, buttressed by serviceable cadres of social workers and psychiatrists. As the tragic drama unfolds,these grousp must play the assassins of whatever is passionate and unpredictable in human experience — that is, of art.(Engagements, p. 93)

The second is from Lisa Robertson's "Untitled Essay" in Nilling (Bookthug, 2012) also published online as "Prosody of the Citizen". Here she says:

Now language and money circulate using the same medium, a grammar which is digital, horizontal and magnetic, and politically determined. Maybe all language will be eventually administrated as an institutional money: a contained and centrally monitored instrumental value. On the other hand, the digitization of value could mean that language in its vernacular expression can infiltrate and deform capital’s production and limitation of social power. If it is to be the latter, then vernacular language’s magnetism will reorient the polis.(Nilling, p. 78)

There are vast differences in temperament between Irving Layton and Lisa Robertson, but I think they are diagnosing the same problem (the tragedy continues to unfold), and, interesting, they offer the same solution: poetry. The problem, in a word, is money. (See Layton, p. 35ff.)

Robertson's introduction to Occasional Work reads as follows:

The Office for Soft Architecture came into being as a I watched the city of Vancouver dissolve in the fluid called money. Buildings disappeared into newness. I tried to recall spaces, and what I remembered was surfaces. Here and there money had tarried. The result seemed emotional. I wanted to document this process. I began to research the history of surfaces. I included my own desires in the history. In this way I became multiple. I became money.

Layton quotes Pound's "Serious Artist" with approval: the poet displays "a sort of persistence of the emotional nature, and, joined with this, a peculiar sort of control" (125). That describes Robertson's work during her process of, if you will, becoming-money.

For Robertson a "poem is the shapely urgency that emerges in language whenever the subject’s desiring vernacular innovates its receivers". Layton is more old-fashioned: A poem is "the miraculous fusion of sound and sense" (124). In both cases, the poem is going to have to counter (or perhaps just modulate) the effects of money, in which our cities, and our homes, are dissolving.

Poetry and Postmodernism

Over at, I offered Lisa Robertson as an example of what postmodernism in the social sciences might imply. A "nilling" of social science, if you will. To be replaced with poetry.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Things behave in particular ways and things are made of matter. Our understanding of matter is expressed in our physical theories. People, too, behave in particular ways and people are shaped by society. Our obedience to society is expressed in our social practices.

Practice is to power what theory is to knowledge. Obedience is to power what understanding is knowledge. There is (ought to be) no such thing as social theory. ("Ought" is to power what "is" is to knowledge.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Irving Layton on Corporations

Many years ago while on vacation in Canada, I went looking for a book of Irving Layton's prose, which I thought I'd found when I found Taking Sides, four years ago. (See this post for a funny story about this quest.) Well, this year I finally found it; the right book, it turns out, was his 1972 collection Engagements. I was looking for this passage in particular:

Marx's vision of the proletarianized dregs of mankind finally revolting against their condition of abasement and humiliation and establishing a classless society has nothing but its thrilling poetry to recommend it. It is necessary to do with Marx what Marx did with Hegel: turn him over on his head. The only hope for civic and world peace lies in the rapid growth and spread of multinational corporations. By a paradox that Marx undoubtedly would have greatly appreciated, it is the Devil's pitchfork of greed, pride and egotism that is prodding the capitalist and managerial class to create a world where mutual benevolence and goodwill have become eminently profitable. The swift unstoppable development of multinational corporations and oligopolies will do more to eliminate wars between countries than the Sermon on the Mount or Shelley's pious hope that people can be humanized by reading poetry. (P. xiii, my emphasis.)

I'm not sure what Layton had behind his idea to "recommend it" at the time. But it's interesting to note that his idea has been tested in practice. Not only have multinational corporations taken over the Earth, poetry has, in the same period (the last 40 years) come to occupy an entirely marginal position.

PS. I almost forgot: on the next page he puts a button on it with the notion that "the United States is the most powerful single force promoting peace and social democracy in the world today".