10 December 2013

Enclosing Next To Nothing

Anarchy, like Communism, like Marxism, is one of those words that institutional power has poisoned for so many of us. That is to say, we cannot think of it without fearing it in some way: we might fear the idea of it, that is be afraid of what we think anarchy means if "unleashed" upon us, if Marxism means Pol Pot or Mao then we might as well just starve ourselves, or if Communism means Lenin or Stalin then, again, we must imagine our immediate murders, but perhaps we'd prefer this end rather than be forced to live through such a social order. But, let's think a little harder.

We might just argue that bad men make bad things happen by force. We might argue that "ideal" men make bad things happen by force. We might even argue simply that good men make bad things happen by force. And I suppose now there are two common denominators here that you've recognized. Men and Force (and by that I mean violence, but not just physical violence--coercion is often psychologically violent as well, and as an extreme we can point to forms of torture that are directed at the mind more than the body). (I think we might assert a real connection of anarchy to the female and so offer another reason a society dominated by men would want to disabuse us of exploring anarchy.)

Anarchy, Anarchism, is, I think, best characterized by a single tenet: that of eschewing force and coercion. I had written "opposing" here but think that, though true, it might indicate a "counter-force" and I am uneasy using "force."

Further, as a person who writes as a part of self-making, and who writes poetry in particular, I am an anarchist. Which is to say, I am seeking words to embody an openness. Poetry too is coercive, at least as an institutional practice. That is to say form is coercive...which is as much to say that history is coercive. But, let's be clear that it is the systematizing of history that is coercive; the systematizing of form that is coercive.

This (form) does not need to be considered always a negative. Form, at least in poetry, can help focus our thinking. If I have to put a word down that conforms to a rhyming pattern, or a syllable count, for example, then I am forced into a limit. This can prompt one to finding "the right" word.

But see how even as I wrote all of this I used words that really, if enlarged and placed in other contexts, become troubling. We might all believe that limitations and "narrow" or focused thinking are, or can be positive, yet, they seem to me more probably detrimental, at least where thinking is concerned.

Perhaps it is the insistence on form that becomes difficult; the insistence on form is an external pressure, but one that gets internalized in societies and thus becomes a propriety and thus a calcification of thought.

William Carlos Williams said once that Marianne Moore was always a poet. He didn't quite know what else to say about what she wrote, but he knew it was poetry. It might be difficult to understand the idea of Williams, a poet who eschewed form, other than the fact that poems were written on paper and to him really needed to "look" a particular way (that is, he applied a visual aesthetic which may be said to be less of an interference in his thinking than a "metered" or linguistically formal practice might have been), liking Moore's poetry as it seems to stand apart from his own constructions. Moore creates her poems often via "syllabics" and so applies a kind of self-imposed form. Which is to say that MM did not use traditional forms, she made up her own as a way to be "formal" but, we might say, her forms are anarchically free, or "open." Add to this the fact that she changed (revised) her poems constantly throughout her life often to the point of very nearly erasing them entirely.

We might see Williams as a poet of anarchy. Or an anarchical poet. (I think possibly that his contemporary Mina Loy might be a greater example, but I'm not quite, but almost, prepared to say that.)

What he offers in Kora in Hell and in Spring and All are discoveries of the anarchist in the artist. We could go back to Emerson for a "foundation" if only to assert a program to undermine foundations (and programs!): "I unsettle all things," and "I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim."

David Graeber (anarcho-anthropologist?), in his latest book, The Democracy Project, seems to make two primary further points about anarchism as an idea "in practice": it is an opening of a space that allows for, encourages, improvisation. And in that space flowers imagination.

Hence, poetry. Hence, the truly human.

And so too the Williams of Kora ("improvisations") and Spring and All ("the book of the imagination").

There's so much more to say, but I'm really just starting to feel my way into this. And surely I'll have to bring Melville's White Whale into it somehow along the way!

Let's close though with this from Williams (1938):


The anarchy of poverty
delights me , the old
yellow wooden house indented
among the new brick tenements

Or a cast iron balcony
with panels showing oak branches
in full leaf. It fits
the dress of the children

reflecting every stage and
custom of necessity-
Chimneys, roofs, fences of
Wood and metal in an unfenced

age and enclosing next to
nothing at all: the old man

in a sweater and soft black
hat who sweeps the sidewalk-

his own ten feet of it-
in a wind that fitfully

turning his corner has
overwhelmed the entire city

Let's say that with emphasis, "in an unfenced//age and enclosing next to/nothing at all..."

No comments:

Post a Comment