Friday, January 20, 2017

"Post-recognition" and art questionnaire

—How have and do artists position themselves beyond recognition?
—Does the artist have a privileged role to play in seeking a society beyond the recognition of the State?
—In what practical ways do artists function beyond the State: e.g., through what daily economic, social, and extra/legislative practices and modalities?
—How do the formal qualities and content of art works reflect the problem of post/recognition?
—Is there an aesthetics of “direct action” and extra-legal political actions that intersects with the problems and questions of aesthetic discourse?
—Inasmuch as State recognition relies on the concomitant recognition of the marketplace (capital) and the university, how might artists exist without currently dominant markets and liberal institutions?
—Should art have a different social function than it currently maintains and/or aspires to? 
—Can strategies that we associate with non-Statist political blocs and subjectivities—e.g., mutual aide, group self-determination and governance, practices of everyday resistance and collective insurgency—be pursued through an art practice and/or aesthetic discourse?
—To what extent is art history/contemporary aesthetic discourse categorically embroiled with recognition politics, thus beholden to political formations and subjective enunciations determined by the politics of the Neo/liberal State?

Monday, January 02, 2017

from The Camp (or Camp Amerika)

The camp extends everywhere
comprising the exceptional jouissance

of suffering’s hyper-visibility, and general
dishonorment, and natal alienation

and gratuitous violence, but also en-
compassing what we do everyday

without interruption
                                    while our wills

to this public sentiment called progress
and participation and democracy

survive the president being cooler than
any who preceded him, this coolness 

being precisely what should have worried us
while I.C.E. was being built-up.

The camp is a function of constitutionality
and not giving a fuck really except when

it concerns us to do so.
                                    It is otherwise un-

concerned with freedom, except the freedom
to not be fucked with by others and to critique

identity selectively (Locke 101).
It views our freedom in other words negatively,

freedom being the denial of others' capacity to
fuck with us but it also views our freedom

                 retaining notions such as universal

human rights and the public sphere when
we know quite well (or we only pretend not to)

whose interests these conceptions serve and
who gets excluded by the practice of law.

Like the Black Codes did not endure, or the
flesh, or we did not know exactly where the

detainees were interned,
                                      though they transmit no

sound and how can you listen anyway to some-
thing no one wants to hear because it would take

more than ears to hear it,
                                        by which I mean, one

would have to act in the world as though they
had registered social death as fundamental, as

though they had ears with which to see the musique
concrete of forced feeding.

As if one’s conscience itself were on mute—that’s
what it feels like to live in the camp which is

everywhere and yet no place in particular,
sensing only our differential places within it,

distinguished by the whiteness of mobility, and

wealth, and history—by the capacity of art, of poesy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On Jibade-Khalil Huffman's "Stanza"

The newest issue of BOMB has a little feature I did on Jibade-Khalil Huffman's extraordinary video installation, "Stanza."

from The Refusal

Akademie Schloss Solitude, where a couple years back I was a fellow, has published part of a longer poem of mine regarding the vicissitudes of "refusal" for their series about art and politics, Schlossghost.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dictionary of the Possible

Over the course of a year Shifter hosted a series of public discussions, each concentrated on unraveling a keyword – a term that carries with it both a sense of urgency and agency in our present climate. By inviting artists, writers, activists, philosophers and others to propose terms and lead discussions, we opened up our editorial process to the motivations of others. The yearlong series culminates in Shifter's 22nd issue Dictionary of the Possible. This dictionary catalogs the keywords taken up for discussion over the course of a year, accompanied by a list of questions provoked during each discussion. Rather than providing static definitions we envision a dictionary that continually incites discussion.

Abhishek Hazra, Adam Spanos, Alison O’Daniel, Allan deSouza, Amanda Parmer, Andrea Geyer, Andrew Weiner, Annika Thiem, Arlen Austin, Atul Bhalla, Avi Alpert, Billy Galperin, Brendan Fernandes, Brian Block, Cassandra Guan, Chelsea Knight, Chitra Ganesh, Colin Jager, Colleen Macklin, Danilo Correale, Devin Kenny, Dominic Pettman, Dwayne Dixon, Francesca Coppola, Edward Schexnayder, Eric Angles, Gabriel Rockhill, Géraldine Gourbe, Henry Turner, Hong-An Truong, Jane Jin Kaisen, Jaret Vadera, Kajsa Dahlberg, Kanishka Raja, Keith Tilford, Lana Lin, Lauren Denitzio, Leah DeVun, Lindsay Benedict, Liz Park, Margarita Sánchez, Mari Cruz Alarcón, Matthew Metzger, Mériam Korichi, Mimi Winick, Mira Schor, Molly Dilworth, Mylo Mendez, Naeem Mohaiemen, Nick Keys, Oliver Kellhammer, Philipp Kleinmichel, Pushpamala N, Railbird, Raphael Zollinger, Raqs Media Collective, Rebecca Alpert, Research Service, Rey Chow, Rit Premnath, Roger White, Shadi Harouni, Siddhartha Lokanandi, Steffani Jemison, Sudha Premnath, Tara Kelton, Terike Haapoja, Thom Donovan, Tyler Coburn, Veronika Zink, Will Lee, Yamini Nayar, Zac Gunter
Sreshta Rit Premnath, Avi Alpert

Monday, November 21, 2016

Halmos' Contemporary Print Handbook

The Contemporary Print Handbook is a textbook for studio printmaking, with a focus on lithography. The book renovates print terminology, both new and old methods of technique, theory, and modes of dissemination, as well as the economy of the multiple within feminist terms that engage abundance, plurality, and care. Contributors include Transformazium, Maddy Varner, Suzanne Herrera, Thom Donovan, Corinn Gerber, and Erik Wyzocan, edited by Cara Benedetto, published with Halmos.

Sunday, November 13, 2016



Today Ted posted a picture of someone in a Big Bird costume sitting on a park bench in Central Park, holding a package (or is it all of their worldly possessions?) in their lap. I wrote in the comments of Ted’s post: “allegory.” Big Bird—symbol of childhood and public broadcasting—getting the fuck out of this hell dimension. Allegory of the public sphere’s withdrawal.

For many years it felt like the ground was slipping from under my feet—the erosion of civil liberties under W. Bush, the destruction of society through neoliberalism, governance through debt—until I realized there never was any ground. America was never great. As I told my students yesterday, you cannot found a country on genocide and slave labor and not expect for it to eventually self-destruct. Exceptionality has always been constitutionality’s greatest myth.

The title of this book holds many connotations. Withdrawn: as in, a depressive or anti-social psychological state; an occultation of the senses; a period of suspended use of a controlled substance; to exit, or to pull away; to become isolated, alienated; to retreat; to take or bear away. So finally, perhaps, begins the real withdrawal—from aesthetics into politics, from a false sense of being grounded to pondering the lack of ground under our feet—necessitated by an event that had not been so much unthinkable or unimaginable as unactualized.

Yesterday I wanted to write on Facebook (and my wanting to write on Facebook is very likely part of the problem): It was everyone’s fault. Not just for not stopping Trump, but for not stopping Obama, and before him W. Bush, and before him Bill Clinton, and before him Bush senior, and before him Reagan… and so on and so forth through a chain of presidents since the nation’s founding. I wanted to write also, and I write now: My poetry is a failure. The books I have written are failures. This book is a failure, because they have not made the necessary demands on our conscience. I wanted my books to constitute a “commons.” I wanted them to “prefigure” a world we “would want.” I wanted them to “punctuate clock time differently.” But as my friend Brian curses in his book Face Down, implicating my practice across a span of books and years and conversations, “Fuck these tiny holes." A strategy of “counter-distribution” was never enough. Bringing "life" from an online environment into a bound codex was never enough. Creating the community to which I wished “to belong in my dreams” was not enough.

And yet, at the risk of creating an alibi for myself, I believe that Withdrawn: a Discourse may trouble the way art (and poetry) is typically conceived as “autonomous” from social life, if not politics itself. As the epigraphs go:

My study began with Rimbaud and what I took to be Rimbaud’s flight from l’être poète: a flight that took shape, as I came to realize not with his famous silence, his departure for Africa, but in 1870 when he wrote his first poem. Rimbaud left literature before he even got there.
—Kristin Ross

In the names away in blocks
with double names to interrupt
and gather
—Fred Moten

Written under the influence of Kristin Ross’ The Emergence of Social Space: Arthur Rimbaud and the Paris Commune and Fred Moten’s B Jenkins, the book attempts to create a space where poetry can disappear through its occasion, its sociopolitical contexts, and the nexus of relations that it actively constructs through dedication, interlocution, and modes of address. To present the discourse in lieu of the poems. For an exchange among proper names to be objectless. For the poems qua objects to be occluded, leaving what we say to each other, if not what we do, unreified. “Life is what escapes,” Moten writes after Michel Foucault. That Withdrawn has yet to appear and perhaps never will would now seem a perverse accomplishment of this ‘project’.

Yet, Not an Alternative’s contribution to the book correctly warns that participatory art can itself become reifying. Discourse can become a fetish without action in socio-political space. Generously, Brian Holmes’ essay in the book posits that Withdrawn is an attempt to establish a “missing matrix of mutual self-recognition” within “the rhythm of punctuated outbursts that composes a not-so-secret history.” However he also admonishes that “[t]he obvious problem, which climate change reveals, is that it is really getting a little too late to continually return to living in the gaps between such explosions.” In other words, the intensification of cycles of crisis troubles the luxury of protracted reflection represented by my attempt to posit a dreamy cohort—my team, my band, my commune, my friends.

In his proleptic review of Withdrawn included in Withdrawn: a Discourse, Ian Dreiblatt playfully imagines me like St. Anthony retreating to the desert, absconded from Empire, holding court among acolytes, pilgrims, and fellow exiles. Teaching most of all has saved me from the fate of the recluse. Teaching and a tenuous sense of community after the precarious birth of my daughter two years ago when it became nearly impossible to be communal and public and generous in the ways I was previously. We need to withdraw sometimes to ground ourselves. To have the resources intellectually and imaginatively that can prepare us for the unactualized.

Nearly two months ago Dottie and I had a cancer scare with our daughter. After performing an ultrasound and an MRI doctors couldn’t discern whether a vascular tumor on my daughter’s left arm was malignant. In the days following her surgery, I imagined what I would do if they discovered cancer. I imagined losing her and what it would mean to live in a world without my daughter. Should she die, I was determined to live my life differently in her absence. My friend Rob correctly recognized the possibility of her death opening a space for fantasy related to my capacity for world-forming. She was not diagnosed with cancer—thank goodness—but a residue of those fantasies remains. They are activated again by the situation we find ourselves in. If the world is in fact lost what should we create in its place? If God has withdrawn, an image so central to Jewish and Islamic antinomianism, what laws should we observe? What will command and compel us?

Or, as Aime Cesaire writes in his Cahier:

What can I do?

One must begin somewhere.

Begin what?

The only thing in the world
worth beginning:
The End of the world of course.

Perhaps now that neoliberalism has revealed its dark underbelly we must finally do the work that Cesaire implored us to do all along. To bring about the “End of the world,” which is to say, of racist, misogynist, xenophobic, settlerist capital.


America, you ode for reality!
Give back the people you took.
                        —Robert Creeley

Let us all survive, who need to OK?
And we wish each other luck!
                        —Amiri Baraka

One of the central presumptions of Robert Creeley’s poem “America” which I question is his use of the plural pronoun “we,” having recourse to “we” myself in many of the poems of Withdrawn. To whom does this refer? Whom is this “we” inclusive of? Who is “the People” invented by America, presumably by the Constitution? Who are the people it “took”? It is unfortunately not clear, and this lack of clarity is a problem. Amiri Baraka’s particularity in “Who Will Survive America” is refreshing in this regard. For it is only the “Black Man” who will survive in America. Not “Negroes,” not “Crackers,” not “Christians,” not “Red Negroes.” The distinction is not merely divisive. Rather, an Afro-Pessimist avant la lettre, Baraka recognizes a central antagonism between “White” and “Black” paradigms, and it is the former which, for both Wilderson and Baraka, cannot survive. Whiteness must die, and we are now finally forced to kill it once and for all, lest we all perish.  

Who this “we” will be constituted by is something I have been struggling with. Specifically, how and whether it might include me. Both Withdrawn and its companion book are thoroughly entangled with the problem of collectivity, and specifically what it means for the poem to be a locus for collective enunciation, mutuality, and exchange. But a “we” has limits, as I discovered the hard way when I gave a reading last year at the home of friends in Ypsilanti, Michigan. For writing through the “we” in relation to Black Lives Matter and in memory of the many Black people who have been murdered by police I was taken to task by audience members, none of whom, interestingly enough, were Black. A year later I am haunted by the question of whether my art can claim solidarity with others differentiated by their vulnerability to premature death.

Ultimately, I don’t know what I would do without interlocutors, people to think and talk with, a “we” both constituted in fantasy and reality. Withdrawn and Withdrawn: a Discourse bear out this compulsion. Art objects and texts I encounter often become guides—both in the spiritual and geographic sense. They are orientating intellectually, morally, and emotionally. Encounters with others often seem evental and catalyze occasions for poetry. George Oppen writes that “other voices wake us or we drown,” emending T.S. Eliot’s original and to an or. The folks gathered in this book are ones who have woken me in different ways, at various stages of my life. Having written with them in Withdrawn, through a sense of identification and solidarity, I write to them in Withdrawn: a Discourse, as a means of dramatizing exchange. I realize that there is nothing very extraordinary about this: we all write to each other, poets especially, and an age of social media has made us more garrulous than ever. However through this project I wanted to honor this writing to and writing with as central aspects of whatever can be called ‘my practice.’ The result is a metadiscourse: a reflection, framing, or amplification of the act of discourse itself.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Withdrawn: A Discourse launch event

Withdrawn: A Discourse

A book-launch celebrating Shifter’s 23rd issue, with readings and presentations by Bruce Andrews, Thom Donovan, Ian Dreiblatt, Robert Kocik, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Eléna Rivera, Gregory Sholette and Kathy Westwater.

Saturday Nov 12, 4-6pm

Printed Matter
231 11th Avenue 
New York, NY 10001

A book of metadiscourse, Withdrawn: A Discourse consists of 50 letters composed by Thom Donovan to the proper names of living personages which appear in his currently unpublished second book of poems, Withdrawn. In response to his letters and copies of Withdrawn in manuscript, thirty-two addressees offer images, letters, drawings, poems, essays, dream journal entries, art works, documents, and manifestos. Withdrawn: a Discourse also includes Donovan’s correspondence for the project; an essay regarding the “authorless” book; as well as a review of Withdrawn by poet and translator, Ian Dreiblatt.

Other contributors include: Adam Pendleton, Not an Alternative, Ben Kinmont, Bhanu Kapil, Brandon Brown, Brian Holmes, Brian Whitener, Bruce Andrews, CA Conrad, Charles Bernstein, Chase Granoff, Claire Pentecost, cris cheek, David Buuck, Dodie Bellamy, Jordan Scott, Eléna Rivera, Etel Adnan, Fred Moten, Fred Tomaselli, Gregory Sholette, Jennifer Scappettone, Kathy Westwater, Mary Austin Speaker, Melissa Buzzeo, Rigo 23, Rob Halpern, Robert Kocik, Sanford Biggers, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Stephen Collis, and Tyrone Williams.

Edited by Thom Donovan & Sreshta Rit Premnath

Shifter is a topical publication that aims to illuminate and broaden our understanding of the intersections between contemporary art, politics and philosophy. Shifter remains malleable and responsive in its form and activities, and represents a diversity of positions and backgrounds in its contributors.