Friday, January 23, 2009

Wig call... and initial response

Check out the below call from Kristen Gallagher and Tim Shaner. While I honor the linkage between poetry and general economy formulated after Bataille (cf., for instance, Rosmarie Waldrop's excellent essay, "Alarums and Excursions", collected in The Politics of Poetic Form, ed. Charles Bernstein), I wonder if we can not rethink what poetry can do vs. its long-observed/supposed uselessness, inoperativity, and luxury. Wig's call has me sincerely wondering how "labor" and "work" can be reunited through a third term which will no longer reify the vita activa (life of activity). (In Hannah Arendt's book, The Human Condition, I believe Arendt's own third term is action.) How, furthemore, should poetry or prosody (more generally) present tools of critique/tactic, and a spiritual instrumentation in the interest of healing, attunement, and affective agreement (Spinoza's gateway to reasonable society)? Likewise, how can poetry's usefulness counterpose the bad instrumentality of economies, social formations, and institutions which one/'we' (i.e., a collective subject) would like to oppose and/or transform?

I pose these questions in a spirit of solidarity with Wig, whose call I do not so much disagree with (of course poetry must serve a general economy against one of surplus value--and, more often than not, it does), but would like to rearticulate. Can there not be a poetics qua general economy that takes into account usefulness and productivity? Pragmatism and Intuition must always trump Utilitarianism and Positivistic approaches. Why reify use when poetry can make everything happen? When poetry presents a meta-discourse of sense, event, occurence, willingness, and intention?

Perhaps we should all stop writing poetry for a year if only to put much of that energy we would spend writing and publishing poetry into organizing alternative places to gather, work, and towards transformative actions off-the-page (what Robert Kocik calls "Poetry Outsourcing"). Poetry strike anyone? Then again, I also wonder whether the social action of writing poems and "day job" is as discrete as Tim/Kristen seem to make it out. In private conversation Paul Foster Johnson, for instance, has argued that the kinds of leisure time academic positions sometimes afford are at odds with his own practice. Can we celebrate the pressures laboring exerts as it can come to bear on the poem as a measure of one's life? I would personally like more time to "work" on writing essays, conducting research, giving talks, editing and writing poetry--and often lament that this time does not present itself; yet I can also appreciate how having numerous other occupations has, especially in the past few years, enriched and made exigent my practice.

Anyhow, Tim and Kristen have me thinking about these problems again, and I thank them for this...

Wig—inspired by de Certeau's discussion of "la perruque" in The Practice of Everyday Life—is devoted to poetry that employs the poet's labor (i.e. livelihood) as an engine of poetic production. Our first issue highlighted the bifurcated career of Kit Robinson. We hope you might have something—poetry or prose, creative or persuasive—to contribute to our second issue.

We are seeking submissions for our long over-due next issue. Please note that Wig is interested in poetry/writing/art that employs the job—its time and materials—for artistic ends, not necessarily writing “about” work, though that work is also welcome. Overall, we seek evidence of the laboring writer. We welcome already-published work, and permit the republication of any work of yours we print. We consider the magazine a think-tank, of sorts, and place emphasis on the collection of any and all materials relating to our topic. For us, this question is largely framed by our own position as poets and the work of writing poetry, but we realize our concerns exist for many writers and artists of all genres, and spread out to every type of labor from janitorial services to the academic professoriate to parenting.

Problem: In terms of poetry, we hear complaints from some poets that it’s wrong that poets can’t make a living off of their poetry. We have come to think that fact is not only a given but a gift, of sorts. It is poetry’s strength that it exists somewhat beyond the logic of market forces, as a form of what Bataille calls “non-productive expenditure.” Why do it? What’s the point? Think of all the productive ways you could be using your time.

Discussion: The dilemma of livelihood that the writer faces leads directly to questioning the legitimacy of what Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition calls the “laboring society,” a society in which making a living trumps every other form of human activity. Poetry, in such a society, is not only a waste of time but a wasting of time—the kind that defines it as money. This is poetry’s strength, insofar as it challenges, by the fact of its inexplicable existence, the given order. As Charles Bernstein has noted, poetry devalues the very paper it is written on, which means that it testifies to a different value form: that of the gift economy. Charles’s dictum can only be true if we buy into the logic of the market—the very thing we do when we argue that poets ought to be able to make a living from their poetry. Poets should, like anyone, be able to make a living AND write their poetry (Arendt defines the former as ‘labor” and the latter as ‘work’), but because labor monopolizes time, squeezing all other forms of human activity into the realm of so-called “free time,” we are forced to either write on the run, as William Carlos Williams so successfully did, or to become “starving artists,” the latter of which has become increasingly difficult to pull off in this age of flexploitation and institutionalized insecurity, as Pierre Bourdieu called it. Insofar as the academy adheres to the dictates of the laboring society, academics are also forced to write on the run, that is in the interstices—the slack time of the laboring day. Because the academic year is so crammed with busy-ness, the imperative of productivity haunts the summer months—too much loafing and you may find yourself out of a job.

Proposed Solution: Writing, because it takes time to write, draws attention to labor’s monopolization of our time, and hence to the need to reduce the amount of time devoted to labor. Poets wouldn’t need to make a living off their poetry if the work week was cut in half. In that sense, the poet’s dilemma is everyone’s. This is how poets connect with the larger public—not in their efforts to represent the public’s interest by becoming their voice—but through the action of writing, which is always a poaching of company time—all time in the laboring society being company time. Our dilemma is common: we all need our time back. Our labor should create that surplus of time, not erase it.
—Kristen Gallagher & Tim Shaner, editors

Please send submissions by February 14, 2009 to Kristen Gallagher: gallagher dot kristen at gmail dot com


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Dear Thom,

Sounds like you just wrote your (useful) submission to WIG 2!

Hope yr well.


Thom Donovan said...

I guess I did... ha!

hope yer well too Mike!