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Dispatches from the MLA: Commune Editions at Jacket2
The Modern Languages Association is large enough that it is districted into divisions, like “American Literature to 1800” or “Women’s Studies in Language and Literature.” This year, the “Literary Criticism” division’s special panel at the big annual gathering (a brutal job fair veiled by an ever more threadbare academic conference) was on “Marx and Poetry.” This may be for the simple reason that the division’s head gets to choose the topic: Kristin Ross has written one of the great works of Marxist poetry criticism, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.
But it may be a measure (one might admit to optimism) of some cultural heat, perhaps a thimbleful, gathering around poetry and around historical materialist approaches thereto. After all, Ross got elected. And the Rimbaud book, her debut three deacdes ago, is recently back in print. The panel was well-attended. Despite perfervid dreams to the contrary, Marx has not been a major theme of the academy in recent years, but that may be changing, and not just in the academy. Indeed, the point here is not to capture some sea-change in the MLA, but to discover in it traces of a broader shift.
As many have noted, Marx has returned to broader discussion since the 2008 crisis, returned in a cloud of capitalist anxiety if not yet with a vengeance. And poetry too. Well, that is simply an opinion, but poetry of late seems to us reinvigorated and filled with interesting poems, poets, and developments. One might also note it seems to have done a better job than prose of carving out spaces online; after all, like the single song, the poem is well-formed for the disaggregations typical of netspace, the slicings and dicings of digitality. Poetry likes the mix-taping of the world. [...]
Read on at Jacket2.