Confinement as Commons
Probably all comparison is specious. At least wrong. There was feudalism and then there was capitalism. There were horse drawn carriages and then there were cars. For a while there were both and it was natural to compare them as ways of getting somewhere. Or the telephone as a way of communication soon to be replaced by ‘texting’ message. (The mayor of Las Cruces, surprised by the sudden wave of opposition to the development of a privately built ICE Detention Center, proposed to my friend Dana that they ‘text’ on the matter.) I suspect that the invention and proliferation of instant text exchange has altered the face to face encounter – speech upon being in physical proximity is no longer self-evident. As far as manners and etiquettes of compassion in our new textual spaces, I suppose we just need to figure them out. When I think like this I think maybe it isn’t true that there is nothing new under the sun. Maybe that is all there is. Negation, replacement.
There are three books on my mind this week. They are kari edwards, Bharat jiva (Belladonna/Litmus, 2009), Spring Ulmer, Age of Virtual Reproduction (Essay, 2009) and Catherine Wagner, My New Job (Fence, 2009). Each of these books, written during the oughts and published on the eve of their demise can be placed under the category defined by Wagner’s serial title “Everyone In The Room Is A Representative Of The World At Large”—although perhaps the more accurate phrase would be “Every body in the room represents and receives the world at large.” These books, two of which are poetry books and one, Ulmer’s, is a book of poetically informed essays. Ulmer’s essays study the self as part and parcel of our moment of genocidal current and aftermath. Note: here the collective first person ‘our’ that I am utilizing is informed in part by the premise of Ulmer’s work: in times of virtual representation, we are not only overwhelmed by information and reality, we become it. Aware of the world and its injustices since her birth, being born and growing up in rural Vermont in a kerosene lamp-powered house her radically-left parents built, Ulmer writes of brokenness as hers and also not her own. “An Atlas of the Itinerant Nature of Perspective,” which touches upon her study and time in post-genocide Rwanda (I keep stumbling over writing that, thinking the concept impossible, there is no post-genocide), ends with the line “I will then concede that Abraham’s broken heart is much more broken than mine. There is, of course, no comparison (45).” Since this quote is out of the context, I will explain that what I think is being said is that while there is no comparison, neither is there a clear line of demarcation.
edward’s book, Bharat jiva is in some way a poetic-political-existential-spiritual accounting of her year in an intentional spiritual community in Tamil Nadu, India. The book, like our list of 1970’s movies, ends bleak, perhaps even bleaker than its beginning: her final attempt to find hope in community has failed edwards, it’s the same as every other flawed attempt to get beyond consumption, and the spirit-murderous branding required by consumption (for more on this see Rob Halpern’s excellent essay “Reading the Interval, Reading Remains” in Bharat jiva’s companion volume, NO GENDER, published simultaneously by Belladonna/Litmus—in this Halpern publishes edwards’ emails critiquing ‘community’). The flip side of the abandon and rage and frustration implicit in Bharat jiva is an accounting that the poet brings onto her self-same body alongside every other body (once again, ‘our’ as radical ego collectivity). A passage from the preface reads:
“…when we mention the people, we do not mean the confessional body of the people, we mean the particularly itinerant bodies in mechanic flux, preaching freedom beyond flesh pamphlets of authority, concealed in blind devotion.” (3)
Through the duration of the book, this preaching, edwards’ critique, her attempt to render a different story through witness and poetic action is (now, from the aftermath), “replaced by a generous claw/with nothing to say (115).”
Wagner also makes a statement of poetic negation: “If a poem is active/Its action aborts in you/A colored light flies into black.” (36) Overall, My New Job asserts a practice of poetry as a shared fact, if not reduced than joined by the grunts and sighs that are the facts and banality of contemporary work and getting by. Not without pleasure, penises, vaginas and good fights with lovers, the poem is brought into the world physical body with sound gestures, and nursery rhyme, and commercial jingle
STILL not finished review
but productive day and feeling
like a fine mama
putting down some
like the lost queen
TÜT TÜT TÜT
These poetries, which all put the subjective body forward as a shared space suggest to me that yes, the fantasy of ‘wandering on alone” is forever gone and that ‘our’ bodies, behind screens that watch us back and no longer able to be removed to some colonial outpost, are in fact themselves the site of our new public, our new commons.
Though I’m fairly sure I didn’t get very far in the great project of considering confinement in our times I did learn something about blogging in our times which may after all be critical to the thinking about confinement in our times. Every time I mentioned the blog to someone, their response was inevitably, “Oh you blog???” The way they might inquire if I were a skier, or a practitioner of S/M…”So, you’re into S/M?” And this appeals to me as an analogy because like skiing and S/M, blogging is in fact, not something I ‘do’ but rather now something I have tried, done, dipped into like I have dipped into so many things that one can ‘do’ with no intention of sustaining them as a practice in the way that I practice things like swimming or getting tipsy or sitting on the couch and watching tv or reading New York Magazine talking to Dana now often on the telephone since she has moved so far away. Like skiing and S/M, I find blogging does have its fun but is too much machinery, too ritualistic, its accountrement of too many steps, so much always themselves in the same way for me, i.e. the ski lift and its line, the leather and its fittings, the constant presence of the format. Perhaps holding onto a fantasy of escape, I prefer my watery little dream world where I get to just jump in.
[Note: you can listen to Catherine Wagner read “Coming and I did not run away” in our Audio section.]