Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rob Halpern's Disaster Suite

Experiences are not "as if." The disappearance of the I in the moment of the shudder is not real; but delirium, which has a similar aspect, is nevertheless incompatible with artistic experience. For a few moments the I becomes aware, in real terms, of the possibility of letting self-preservation fall away, though it does not actually succeed in realizing this possibility. It is not the aesthetic shudder that is semblance but rather its attitude to objectivity: In its immediacy the shudder feels the potential as if it were actual.
--Theodor Adorno

We are on the edge of disaster without being able to situate it in the future: it is rather always already past, and yet we are on the edge or under the threat, all formulations which would imply the future--that which is yet to come--if the diaster were not that which does not come, that which has put a stop to every arrival. To think the disaster (if this is possible, and it is not possible inasmuch as we suspect that the disaster is thought) is to have no longer any future in which to think it.
--Maurice Blanchot

An adequate response after a surpassing disaster cannot be only political and economic, but has to include a specifically cultural and artistic component. A distinction has to be maintained between an understandable willful rejection by some of the defeated of what they associate with the defeat; and an objective withdrawal that has nothing to do with the intentions of individuals, although the later can be read as a symptom of this objective withdrawal....
--Jalal Toufic

So far I have received three books from Vigilance Press, a press without authorization or bibliographically established origin. The third of these books is Rob Halpern's *Disaster Suite*, whose epigraph reads *No 'force of nature ' did this* and is attributed to (an) "Unauthorized Report". Having been struck by Halpern's powerful first trade editon book off Krupskaya, *Rumored Place,* I am dumbstruck by Halpern's eerie epigraph and succinct, following text...

*Disaster Suite* is labored, if not enviably "fucked with". Which is to say, I read it as a text of found and altered language materials--a textual "non-site" (Smithson)--but also a text, like *Rumored Place*, of one incredibly skilled and intellective eye/ear. I have no doubt that Halpern is among the foremost of a new lyrical poetry (and "lyrical" in the most exalted sense of such a stigmatized term), and an appropriate edition to the other texts so far published by Vigilance: Michael Cross' *cede* & Craig Dworkin's *All Saints*.

If I could guess at the way the text was made I would say that Halpern took much time to re-work a group of texts found and composed, "playing" with their sequencing, their "mixing" and re-mixing. This is a poem one must read not only backwards and forwards, but non-linearly--each line seems so much to set off each other line, each punctuation mark and spacing every other.

Wetlands and marshes slow.
But my poems, like *phynance*
---- this accumulation of waste ----

I mean *this*, you and "the cranes
Like ships," they're relentless
---- targeting flows, pipelines ----

Thru which the silence, too,
Has slowed, tho it's still refining
---- me, I'm down to prewar levels.

When I read the "disaster" of Halpern's title I read *disaster* in terms of at least two souces: after Maurice Blanchot for whom *disaster* refers to an ontological *inter-ruption* by which time has ceased to "flow" chronologically and/or synchronically and remains as a *trace*--an anachronistic event or anarchism deferring sequential beginning (*arche*). I also read the term where Jalal Toufic more recently refers to a *surpassing disaster* as a time *at* or *after* the "end of [a/the] world," a period of "withdrawal" whereby cultural traditions are occulted by a social disaster, or disaster otherwise.

The disaster I believe Halpern to "actually" refer to in his text I don't doubt to be local and global at once; it is one of widespread and emergent economic-ecological catastrophe. The locale I continually picture reading his text is the Pacific U.S. coast where I know him to currently live. And yet there is an effective sense of the occult and ubiquitous infusing his text: that this disaster is everywhere and nowhere, that like all disasters that of *Disaster Suite* both immaneticizes and transcends space-time. Halpern's is a global and local disaster concomitantly, a disaster of the universal and the particular in the worst possible (*nouveau-*) Hegelian sense.

Over and above the market, I'm off trade
Now, without exchange means nothing
Like 'the dawn' has no commercial plot

Not belonging to itself, my value affirms
What goes unfounded and this won't count
As one subtracted from prevailing orders

Of inclusion, a unit has no real unity
I mean artifically difference just can't be
Spreading in a tree is not a rock, a bird

The formal rigors of Halpern's text valuably contribute to a textual experience of *this* disaster as well as a melancholy, Janus-faced hopefulness there may be ways to (re)establish (a/the) world(s)--regain sensation, spiritual and material well-being. One feels and thinks disaster in the writer's persistent concatenations of syntax, his sensitivity to caesura and sonorous dislexical sequentiality. Conveying emergent and harrowing contents form itself manifests disaster. Halpern (like a Celan or Oppen or Susan Howe or Mackey) shows us we are diasaster-ed by surpassing measure. Such recourse to surpassing is perhaps all we can hope for lyrically to embody what is happening and what keeps happening to the brink of despair: the Bush administration, unwaning global capitalism, national complancency, Iraq, unprecedented environmental mistake, religious-political nihilism. Formal experiment and radicalism itself must not compromise after the last seven years (nor the upcoming years of that much greater challenge), and Halpern's verses fortunately insist the effort of "shuddering" (Adorno), a shaping in disaster towards word-forms so we are haunted, expressed and potentialized towards action.

Then his voice just petered-out becoming
Strands of pale blue smoke he was gaunt
As an old crane and just as wild as what

I'd be anything to wind you back around
Reaquaint ourselves with lost sensation
Invent a world to save us from the world

Just feel this ---- *damaged roadside fringe*

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