Wednesday, February 06, 2013

What won’t we alienate so as to once again possess it (talk)

The following talk was given for the event Windows/Mirrors, a series of "non lectures" at Kunsthalle Galapagos in DUMBO. It was hosted by Adam Fitzgerald, who provided participants with the following prompt:

"Unless the mirror becomes a window, we will never see into the world, even ourselves. Unless the window becomes a mirror, we will never see into our seeing. The world of our parents was a TV world, an imagination that offered a window onto the 'world' that was manufactured, conventionalized with little scope. The world of our generation is increasingly a mirror world, where the Internet hedges us into promoting and narrowing the view of our own self-image. How do we balance window and mirror, can they become synonymous, and what is the danger if they do/don't?"


What won’t we alienate so as to once again possess it
some notes on reflexivity, poetry, and social media

For the past year and ½ I have worked a fulltime plus job that requires that I am not online nearly as much as I had been in previous years when I was a part-time cataloguer and adjunct professor. Withdrawing to a large extent from Facebook, and in turn from many correspondences that I would have once had via email (forget about slow formats like letter writing) has resulted in a certain kind of melancholy, the decathexis from a feeling of participation and mutual exchange that I felt with others, and most intensely with certain poetry and art communities around the occupations of 2011 and ‘12. This participation no doubt had its superficialities, its codes of conduct and manner (liking or not liking something; commenting or not commenting; friending, ignoring, blocking; endlessly inviting). Yet these basic elements of Facebook seem vatic now; which is to say, they often pave the way for more substantial exchanges. Not just the sharing of information (links) or opinion (comments) but discourse via comment streams, tagging, reblogging. While I remain completely suspicious of the corporate platform, whose structures and propriety guidelines make themselves up as we consent, I am also convinced that endless groups have squatted in the medium, reappropriating its various potentia, the agency taken by its users despite hypervigilant managers and programmers.

Facebook was and is some kind of big party, a party had while the world is laid waste to in every possible way. Facebook has also prompted the decapturing of particular affects and content within a period of the accelerated accumulation and circulation of semiocapital. As a form of life, or that which extends and disperses life forms, it escapes. And here I am paraphrasing Fred Moten quoting Michel Foucault in an interview published at the end of his book B Jenkins. I also know I am echoing one of my favorite books of poetry to come out in the era of Web 2.0: Dana Ward’s This Can’t Be Life. Can’t we read This Can’t Be Life as one extended hashtag or shout-out? Shouldn’t it be read as a brilliant mining of pre- and post-social media networks, where emailing, texting, and Facebooking constitute drafting processes. Where they give way to a virtuosic performance that resists “authenticity” while maintaining and putting forth emergent forms of intimacy, a range of affects that may only be possible through participation in an environment conditioned by Web 2.0. Perhaps we can’t help but read any recent book (of poems) in relation to Web 2.0. Yet many of Dana’s works extend New York (School) Poetry and New Narrative writing into an era in which the dream of these movements for aesthetic-communal reflexivity seem fully realized, in fact in often vexing ways. Could Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups be written now via Facebook? Could Robert Gluck’s Margery Kempe? I wonder.

There’s an ambivalence in the title This Can’t Be Life that’s difficult to pinpoint, an ambivalence presaged by Jay Z’s song “Big Pimpin’,” which Dana lifts his title from only to lovingly place it back in its proper context via epigraph on the first page of the book. 

This Can’t Be Life:

As in: This can’t really be happening. This can’t be my life.
Or: What the fuck won’t we alienate?
Or, better yet: What won’t we alienate so as to once again possess it as experience. Reflection, recognition, interpellation.
(Jay Z and Dana are both Hegelians.)

Life so-called appears in the places we least expect to find it; that is its infinite charm. A fugitive bios is the radical kernel of cultural production, whose dark matter is both rejected and captured by commodity fetishism. Life escapes in spite of the totally administered environment of Web 2.0, that which now embodies networked capital.

As a way of addressing Adam’s Windows/Mirrors dichotomy, I want to extend some propositions about the tagging function of Facebook and hashtagging in Twitter, a medium I am less familiar with. The problem, or if you prefer poetics, of tagging goes back to Frank O’Hara and continues through New York poetries, in which we frequently encounter the use of proper names and their abbreviations, where the abbreviation seems less to protect the innocent than to circulate an open secret. Maybe in some cases it is actually a deflection of possible gossip; or a display of humility (Creeley?).

The name in O’Hara functions like a tag inasmuch as it constitutes an affective node—a point of singularity or intensity riven in what Susan Howe calls a “universal flux.” In O’Hara case, it is not just a form of possession to name (which is to say, Adamic); it is simultaneously a gesture of affection and a wager of association circumscribing real or imagined power. The (deterritorializing) power of the band, the pack, the non-familial group, for instance. The (reterritorializing) power of the coterie, the clique, the immediate circle. Branding (or proto-branding) lurks in O’Hara’s use of the name. It is a key aspect of the proper name qua tag’s doubleness. That it constitutes both a form of social capital and expresses a kind of agapeistic relation. Homosocial (if not sexual) as in Michel de Montaigne’s essay “On Friendship,” highly regarded by both Bruce Boone and Gluck. In which the hope for a liberatory recognition of identity is always bound up with commodity culture; the types and constructs this culture produces; the forms of appropriation it elicits, in fact has always been begging for. (Cf. Gluck’s talk at New Langton Arts Center in 1983 for a wonderful unpacking of these ideas with regards to narrative tactics and what he calls “caricature”; cf. also Rob Fitterman’s introduction to Rob the Plagiarism, where he addresses consumerism and identity formation).

Last spring I saw this ambivalence of the proper name qua tag in action, at a reading given by Joseph Bradshaw for the series I organize with Dottie Lasky at Pete’s Candy Store. Joseph read for the first time a poem I’ve since heard him read a few times, “Of Being Numerous.” The title alerts you that something unusual is going on. That the poem he is going to read is some kind of metatext, a poem about a poem. And not just any poem. The poem of George Oppen’s poethical canon.

The poem starts and seems like it will never stop; there is an anaphoric insistence that drives its lines. Its half-tongue-in-cheek litany echoes Oppen’s title, taking it too literally. The litany of proper names is mostly comprised of the names of contemporary poets, but also brand names. At a certain point, listening to it, I was fascinated. Not just to hear these names of people I knew in close succession, but to in some way anticipate my own name, which eventually was read in tandem with an image of Cori Copp holding an iPhone. The intelligence and singularity of this poem issues from the way that Joseph is playing with the narcissistic investments we form through and with Facebook, a medium I know Joseph to have actively avoided all these years. The Mathussian numerousness of Oppen’s original poem is complicated by Joseph’s tactical deployment of the proper name in a tagging function that foregrounds the flattening of proper name and brand name by social media culture. Playing with the distance between self and image, name and social capital, it fucks with our reflection to the point where that distance is abolished. Attaining The Real (in Zizekian parlance). Reckoning with the capture of our capacity to enjoy without a feeling of complicity in a larger matrix of governmental and economic forces.

There is another poem that would be interesting to look at in this context. Anne Boyer’s “The Day Steve Jobs Died, “which I was able to publish last year in a feature devoted to “Poetry During OWS” in Rethinking Marxism. The poem, one might say, is a remapping of O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died,” in which we find the poet moving from site to site, commodity to commodity, ‘friend’ to ‘friend’ throughout his daily life, blissfully unaware of the death of the famous blues singer. In Anne’s brilliant rendering of this poem, proper names are preceded by hashtags. And where we must imagine the 2nd Avenue of O’Hara’s day in “The Day Lady Died,” in “The Day Steve Jobs Died” we imagine the mass arrest of 700 demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge via Livestream.  If O’Hara’s original poem lyricizes an everyday (physical, urban) network of proper names traversed by the names of commodities/brands, if it revels in the egotistical sublime of Personism, Anne reexamines the function of the name in O’Hara’s original poem through the windows offered by contemporary social media, where individuals united in their resistance against finance capital struggle to remain in touch and share vital information virtually. Anne’s poem is satirical. But it also reflects the liberatory recognitions and information sharing that social media makes possible, a potential that should not eclipse important spatial practices but which we have learned through the occupations and other recent civilian uprisings can feedback and inform a new mapping of social-civic space.