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An Interview with the Eds of Revolution: A Reader, Lisa Robertson & Matthew Stadler

By Harriet Staff

Hazlitt has published an interview with Lisa Robertson and Matthew Stadler, who co-edited the recent Revolution: A Reader (Publication Studio 2012), “a prismatic, 1,200-page portrait of revolutionary thought,” which features writing from “Lucretius, Oscar Wilde, Angela Davis, George Woodcock, Edward Said, Kathy Acker, Mahmoud Darwish, The Invisible Committee, and yes, William Hazlitt,” as Jason McBride notes; as well as Arakawa & Gins, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dodie Bellamy, Mina Loy, artist Oscar Tuazon, Michel Foucault, Stacy Doris, Violette Leduc (!!)–this broad is broad, let’s put it that way. It even includes an annotated bibliography of revolution by David Brazil. Robertson and Stadler have a long history–“At Clear Cut, Stadler gathered together several of Robertson’s essays on urban geography and art in the book Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture.” We remember so well those beautiful beribboned books! Anyhow, the interview:

You write in your intro, “Our revolutionary potential is considerable. It has not been erased, so much as we have forgotten how to recognize it.” How have we forgotten? And what best allows us to remember?

Matthew: The potential is not forgotten so much as our habit of looking is worn down. We look at others and too often we see a market—resources, needs, acquisition, satisfaction of needs. Reading helps me see. It’s engaged but haphazard, purposeful but without a goal. Reading is one kind of “open stance.”

Lisa: The reduction of human relationships to the determinism of the market is the fundamentalism we want to thoroughly critique. Market fundamentalism’s refusal of history, of difference, of the proliferation of foci—of life, in short—calls forth our tactical exuberance. Our primary tactic in this project has been conversation. There’s a turn in the word itself: conversing we face somebody else, some body, and recognize there our own refusal to assimilate an untenable measure. This conversational turn can take place as we face a text, a stranger, a death, a feast, an animal, a lover, anything that offers itself unknowably, unaccountably.

For some, revolution is synonymous with the armed overthrow of governments. For others, particularly in the neoliberal west, even the very idea of revolution is considered antiquated or irrelevant. I know that the whole book relentlessly refutes these claims, but for those who have not had a chance yet to read it, how would you respond?

Matthew: Honestly, I have no quarrel with those views. The book doesn’t argue against them so much as it simply opens up contrary realities. The book opens a social space around the word “revolution” and brings us into contact with superb writing. It will be just as engaging for “some,” as you describe these imaginaries, as for others.

Lisa: We wanted to, among many other things, bring a lively history to this word, this concept. For many, history has become antiquated or irrelevant. I think we’re for absolute anachronism though—letting multiple times flood the present. The proliferation of time is for us a politics. Our stance is historical.

And did you know there’s now a Publication Studio Bordeaux:

Were there disputes about which texts to include? Were texts excluded because one of you wasn’t inspired by the selection, or there simply wasn’t room to include them? Could there be a second volume?

Matthew: I don’t recall which texts were dear or more dear to whom. I do recall very much enjoying how open we both were to each other’s enthusiasms and compulsions. The table also held food and drink, and the talk around it came in bursts of enthusiasm, not rational arguments. I think it’s crucial that we conducted ourselves this way, with our appetites and bodies, not cowed by authorities outside the room. We don’t know much, but that didn’t stop us. Once we were in the texts (I’ll get to that) we had arguments and differences.

Lisa: I live in a very good goat cheese region, so there was plenty of excellent stinky cheese. We both love Armagnac; evening conversation was lubricated a little. It was late summer, and the amazing bounty of vegetables and fruits from my neighbours kept us in peak form. I feel it was an ideal process, almost euphoric. A long table hosted a weeklong intense conversation and a book resulted. We have a similar sensibility for the stylistic texture of texts. We are both very demanding! And not really in different ways. At the level of each sentence, the book needed to cohere for us. Smart wasn’t enough for us. There had to be significant readerly delight. The difficult part came later, when we were annotating.

Matthew: We packed all the selected books in a huge suitcase that I delivered to Thomas Boutoux in Paris. He and a group of brilliant students from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux (they are all named in the book’s dedication) had agreed to be publishers. They turned all the selections into digital files and sent those to Lisa and me. For the next two months, Lisa and I read the selections in sequence, she in La Malgache, I in Portland, and annotated them on a Google document that we could both access anytime. Often we were annotating simultaneously, watching words spring up in the document and replying as we saw fit. This process continued into October, when I came back to France, and Lisa and I joined Thomas and his group in Bordeaux, now running Publication Studio Bordeaux, to make the book. We continued annotating and writing literally up to the final hour before printing.

They also bring up, who else, Lucretius!

There are certain authors who get a bit more “play” in the book, both directly and indirectly—Shelley, Dodie Bellamy, Guy Davenport—but Matthew, you write, “I have felt Genet‘s presence hovering behind every selection in this reader.” By the same token, Lisa writes near the end of the book, “It seems that we have never left Lucretius!” I wonder in what different ways Genet and Lucretius are so vital to your conceptualization of revolution?

Matthew: The book is an extended engagement with “the often difficult texture of difference,” as the intro puts it, where “a stance that opens unto a movement beyond” might be possible. Genet maintained such a stance throughout his life and in all his art. There is no margin of inattention or complacency, anywhere. Every trace we have of Genet finds him in this stance. Even his contempt is vibrant and complex.

Lisa: This movement beyond is the energetic twist that Lucretius, following Epicurus, calls the clinamen, or uncaused change. How is it that matter, the matter that we are, does not only repeat itself, does not only follow the law of causation, but transforms, or rather leaps into the new? In rereading and gathering and annotating these texts, we kept asking ourselves this question. We tried to stay with the vibrant contempt of the clinamen.

Read the full interview here. You can view sample pages from the book at the Publication Studio site.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.