Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy the MTA: a Proposal

The struggle to claim Zuccotti park as strategic and symbolic ground for the commons is not over yet, but one can imagine that Bloomberg will be successful in forcibly removing the occupiers. The committed citizens occupying Zuccotti have made us believe again that public space so-called is worth occupying: putting our bodies into it, holding conversation and symposia there. And that such gatherings in the spirit of commons—to be among one another in debate, discourse, and struggle—are a good unto themselves. Poetry and art have played a role in this, however minor, inasmuch as the “human microphone” reading format may revivify the poetry reading as a democratic and dialogic mode of assembly. To repeat someone else’s words not only bears a religious function, but is a way of feeling words move within you, to make others’ words inhabit your own vocal chords and nervous system. It is in other words to incorporate and understand. That names were drawn from a hat—no curation, no hierarchy—was also remarkable and unlike most poetry readings, with the exception of that most humiliated of formats, the “open mic.”

The events of Zuccotti Park this past month have set the practical imagination ablaze, and made us imagine anew what is possible in public space supplemented by social media, video, digital photography, etc. I propose that a working group form to consider giving readings in public spaces, and especially via public transportation. What works/text would you wish a public to hear read aloud? Which stand out as revolutionary? Which may overturn or redistribute a common sense? Which may lead to argument, debate, provocation? Groups of 5 or more may board trains and buses to read agreed upon texts aloud. 5 or more so as to bear witness in the case of police intervention, but also so that the readers will feel supported, not alone in their deliberate action. Read a text and then disperse. Or remain if the public engages the reader and wants to discuss. Reconvene regularly to consider the effectiveness of the texts read aloud, and what texts to read in the future. Treat it like a workshop. What worked and what didn’t? What did people find interesting, and why? What led to dialogue, emotional response, enjoyment? If the human megaphone/microphone amplifies cooperatively we might think of the MTA occupation similarly. As inviting a certain kind of cooperation, if only through distracted listening and not echolalia. We might also consider if the readings act as a kind of public service announcement. Not soapbox-style diatribe, but the limited broadcasting of texts that have been carefully considered in advance as something you would want a stranger to attend.

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