Where a chain of events appears to us, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and join together what has been smashed to pieces….But a storm is blowing from Paradise [and] irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of ruins before him grows skyward. What we call progress is this storm.”
Walter Benjamin quoted by Hannah Arendt***
I find my poems reveal "me" and reveal the stories that reside within me in ways that are surprising, but only if I give myself time to think about them; that is, to read and interpret my own accidental being in the moment of composition and consequently in the moment of interpretation. Sorry for that meta-me talk...but it seems highly necessary these days to see yourself as a particular agglomeration open to disciplined attempts at understanding as a process investigation. This is akin to saying of words that I put on paper, "Who wrote that?" or "What of that is true of me?" As might be obvious, those are difficult if not impossible questions to try to answer with anything close to certainty. If asked, "what did you mean to say?" I might be tempted to assert that I don't mean to say anything but the words seem to say something.
Below I excerpt stanzas from a longer piece, "test results," to illustrate my own compositional confusion as I try to discover the ways this condensed version spotlights a stronger and more dangerous interpretation.
furious chemicals will
flesh to embody the fates
they no longer remember
entangled in the specious
present their own history
described by the same quantum
which is indefinite in
terms of important factors
a treachery forgotten
in the course of thousands of
years, forgotten by the gods,
the eagles, forgotten by
the jew as metonymic
a rational example
yielding progressive results
The italicized words are out of Kafka.
What I wanted to offer here is something akin to that economic quip by that horrific man Milton Friedman, "we're all Keynesians now." Is it wrong for me to think of Friedman in the way I imagine Eichmann--a man who's thinking and justifications are excused by ostensible obeisance to the operations of a system one doesn't "control." That is a refusal of responsibility and an acceptance of following power as the correct, pragmatic, action.
One thing I mean to say is that what is visible to us culturally is often this very powerful and strange recurrence of narrative elements with often, again, visibly, a "representative" of the "storied" Jew in his storied guises. It's often inescapable AS story but too as real elements of our imaginary.
But here, that is in the poem, it is the Holocaust, the genocide, that "becomes us" and the Jew in the poem (as metonymic) stands in for the whole of us. Historically we are all in this relationship to extreme arbitrary power and our current mechanisms of state--primarily military and financial (or should I say as citizen-debtors), but also really all systems of sustenance and knowledge--make it extraordinarily easy to CREATE useful catastrophe wherein we are all subjects of experiment.
Himmler seems as readily characterized as an opportunistic businessman. A rather staid description for one committing genocide. But a key factor in much of what he perpetrated was how this human resource might be used to enrich him before liquidation.
So it is from this vantage point that we look back to the example of history. The narrative lessons of easy systematic eradication. Man's chemical fury is NOT effective on insects, but VERY effective on Man. That is "we are all jews now," objects to expunge without compunction--ie, un-beings. There is only power, and only what power can use or destroy.
And here is Arendt, corrective to the "man" Heidegger, and a furtherance of his best work but with greater human, relational, insight. An ethics of how we might correct "technicity" before it loads onto cattle cars (controlled remotely) all those useless to the paradigm "at large."
The full poem is dedicated to Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring as a warning to us about the "banality" of our response to the chemical war on fundamental aspects of our ecology ("bugs" and "weeds" and people who are bugs and weeds to those who hold the spray nozzle), was incisive and clear and a deeply poetic writer.
But in the end the book, while certainly alarming, can be too readily minimized by the human ignorance of interconnectivity. Human chemical agency is like a billion-billion butterflies flapping their wings and altering the world. And it only weakly addresses the fact that human "control" mechanisms are imaginatively as "positive" as the economic realities of the human lives employed in this industry. We invest our being in our economic validation. Death-dealing is a livelihood.
In another context I heard that science, to some, can reveal God to Man, that with enough money, enough people seeking, we will find out the "mind" of God. This is a Progressive idea. It posits a Good that must (reasonably) be considered a Universal and then calculates the cost/benefit of achieving it. This might be considered a scrambled eggs utilitarianism promoted by those whose shells won't ever be cracked. That is, from the right perspective "experiment" will be justified. In fact, we like to say, as those do who praise and seek to justify military aggression in the Middle East, "time will vindicate us." That is, what seems like a terrorizing and murderous venture will be shown "in time" to have been an act of great benefit to "human freedoms." So perhaps, with the aid of passing solar revolutions, humans, if there are still humans, will make The Holocaust out to be a useful experiment for the species.
Or, perhaps, nothing is as hot when you eat it as when you cook it.
This poetic truncation seems a more powerful poem, but as I read this rendition (now a troubling term itself), it becomes arrestingly problematic in interpretation.
A procedure I use in many of my poems is to strip "location" from the text by eliminating the signs of direction...upper case, punctuation, enjambing lines that should be separate...in order to, as a friend has said (warned of), disconcert. I think of it as opening up interpretation. It's a kind of experiment in miscommunication.
In the full poem the "they" in stanza two is meant to refer to the chemicals (furious and fatal) and to render that fate via the political flesh that then applies those furies to other flesh--the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
In this version, due to this lack of direction and this particular truncation, it reads something more like the familiar "blaming the victim" for treachery against God (the Kafka parable of Prometheus).
And that story too has been tested.