March 24, 2013

Passage from 'Literature Will Be Tested' by Kirill Medvedev


The idea that follows is that in a “normal” society, various strata would get along independently of one another: large corporations would be independent of the proletariat working in their mines and oil fields, bohemia would be independent of the large corporations whom it serves, and so forth. At the same time, nearly every person (especially every artist) wants to be considered unique, separate, independent, disconnected from conditions of, God forbid, “the relations of production.” And the most important idea of all: that the current situation, whatever you wish to call it – “celebrity culture,” “capitalism,” “the Putin regime,” and so forth – is total, that there is no escaping it. These ideas, which seem natural, but which date back to concrete historical conditions, explain the almost absolute hegemony of the “right” in Russian culture and politics today. These are a set of specific, deeply metaphysical ideas about the unshakable foundations of human nature. In their extreme-right, reactionary form, they are manifest in perceptions of the eternal characteristics of ethnic groups, races, nations; in their more or less liberal variant: of the irrevocable expansion of the market, which is impossible to wholly describe, to which one can only resign oneself, and within which the best one can do is find a tiny little niche.

It’s as if, within this system, the artists were indulged as a vessel for a particular kind of political innocence: this is his social role. The artist represents the idea of timeless, “apolitical” categories, of great masterpieces, of existential freedom. A poet is even freer than others, because unlike the artist, musician, or theatre director, the poet doesn’t need any capital to create works. The conditions of production are so cheap that a poet can believe his work is connected directly to the fabric of life, that it prevails over its context and circumstances. On an individual level this perfection is perfectly reasonable and can be productive. In truth, the belief that your work can escape the stagnant social fabric is very important – it is a major stimulus to the production of art.

But when one idea comes to be shared by all poets, it begins to look suspicious. Right now, not only is the idea of the “private project” shared by all poets, it is also the rallying cry of artists, critics, and other intellectuals.

Some examples of the touching innocence that characterizes our leading cultural figures illustrates this: Vyacheslav Butusov, a former star of the punk underground, expresses genuine surprise that he should be criticized for performing at a rally for “Nashi,” the Putin youth brigade; the fashionable theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov criticizes the President in Aesopian language and is simultaneously the main guide of the Kremlin’s cultural politics: he lectures under the aegis of the United Russia party.

The theatre director Alexander Kalyagin signs a letter against the imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in exchange for which he receives a theatre in the centre of Moscow, where he will, of course, stage his incorruptible oeuvres, where he will even stage Brecht – ars longa, vita brevis!

I recently found myself puzzled by one poet and critic who wrote a sympathetic article on “leftist poets” for a pro-Kremlin website. He even expressed a kind of solidarity with the leftist poets, cheerily urging them toward direct political action! And he did this not only from the right (it would not be notable if this were in the pages of the liberal journal Znamya), but from a space that was created by the Kremlin expressly to strengthen its power via the smokescreen of “parliamentary polyphony.” When I wrote to say I was surprised, he answered” “What difference does it make where the article is published; what matters is what is written in it” – again confirming my worst fears regarding the condition of the minds of even the most advanced and talented representatives of the intelligentsia.

What motivates these people is irrelevant: whether it’s really political naïveté or just ordinary cynicism and prudence. It’s impossible to separate one from the other, and I’m not posing a question of moral judgment. Russian culture as a whole has acquired (very much at the wrong time) the possibility of palpable autonomy, and now each individual artist sincerely defends his or her innocence and independence. But it is precisely through this kind of “innocence” and “sincerity” that works of art become commodities – not because the artist believes himself a spineless, prostituted insect, ready to do anything for publicity, but for exactly the opposite reason: because he values himself and his work very highly and believes that media appearances won’t do him any harm.

- Kirill Medvedev, Literature Will Be Tested (2007)


March 22, 2013

Solidarity Comment Thread


I posted the following quote:

“Why is it that right-wing bastards always stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, while liberals fall out among themselves?” - Yevgeny Yevtushenko

And then found the comment thread particularly interesting:

JM: Cause 1/2 those people only call themselves liberals!

TP: We're still alive.

JW: We fall out with each other because we're still alive? Solidarity equals death?

TP: Nous n'aimons pas mais comment pouvons-nous ne pas aimer? 

FG: Let me try something. Maybe it's because lots of right-wing ideas are really simple (close to stupid), so the complexity off bringing smart and creative minds together is not an issue there...

JW: Calling the enemy stupid might also be a way of avoiding the fact that the enemy is winning.

FG: I would say that weirdly, it's not stupidity, it's in fact, in a way, faith. Maybe we have to work on faith.

MA: Because the left never fucks the company, it prefers posting and discussing instead.

EZ: Because they have the power to create money... they can and do fall out with each other all the time... but no matter how much they fall out with each other, they have limitless resources to fall back on... when "liberals" fall out with each other, its often because we are competing for scarce resources.

JR: The right wing bastards understand that corporate/collective action is power. They are winning because they understand this more practically than the left does.

RF: We are cursed with the capacity for independent thought??

NK: Because we're still thinking of "us" and "them".   

KC: Who's we?

JM: When dealing with justice, ie: values and principles (and the rights that societies develop in putting those into practice) the monolithic 'they' that decrees and enforces is an entity that by its essence creates 'we' by virtue of those who fall outside its estate. 'We' is a defacto description of those who do not create, police, enforce or litigate the application of 'justice'; 'We' speaks to those upon whom justice is administered. That is not to be confused with 'justice' as in the 'just' access to rights and application of law, but rather, the imperfect and structurally flawed enforcement of social mechanisms that include the administration of law. 'We' are the excluded, 'they' are the exclusive.

JW: I always thought that maybe it had something to do with a greater respect for hierarchy, a greater respect for discipline and a greater respect for power. But it's also clearly true that's it's much easier to display solidarity when you are the police then it is when you're fighting against the police. Still, no explanation ever feels completely satisfying. And I keep wishing that I was, personally, better at feeling a sense of solidarity.


March 12, 2013

Too Much Fragment


As an artist, my most piercing feeling is that there are too many artists in the world. This mirrors my feeling, as a person, that there are too many people. But what is this 'too many'? Is it based on notions of scarcity? Of competition? Of sustainability? Or simply of wanting to feel special on an overcrowded field?



Carol Treadwell Quote


When they finally slept together, Jean discovered that intimacy between them would not do any good, that when they touched they made dents in each other, made each other cold.

She’d meant to slam him into walls or be slammed. She’d meant to conquer her shyness. But they were in bed and blanketed, one of the more active things she did was sit up.

- Carol Treadwell, Spots and Trouble Spots


March 11, 2013

The books I brought home from AWP


It Then – Danielle Collobert
Murder – Danielle Collobert
Notebooks 1956-1978 – Danielle Collobert
Mopus – Oisín Curran
Tlemcen or Places of Writing – Mohammed Dib
Sprawl – Danielle Dutton
The Parapornographic Manifesto – Carl-Michael Edenborg
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) – Macedonio Fernández
Slut Lullabies – Gina Frangello
In the Moremarrow – Oliverio Girondo
Everything Flows – James Greer
The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist – Emile Habiby
The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal – Tytti Heikkinen
The High Life – Jean-Pierre Martinet
Enduring Freedom – Laura Mullen
Calendar of Regrets – Lance Olsen
The Shock of the Lenders & Other Poems – Jorge Santiago Perednik
Beach Birds – Severo Sarduy
How Phenomena Appear to Unfold – Leslie Scalapino
May We Shed These Human Bodies – Amber Sparks
The Porthole – Adriano Spatola
Wholly Falsetto with People Dancing – Paul Vangelisti
West Wind Review 2013
Vertical Motion – Can Xue


March 1, 2013

Short poem based on an insight (and possible example of sophistry) gleaned while reading A Time for Everything


Scientific method is based on repeatability

you know an experiment is true because you are able to repeat it

a miracle is something that happens only once

therefore, by definition, science cannot recognize a miracle.