Our Occupations (after the Occupations): Ang and Božičević
Brian Ang and Ana Božičević are up next in a series of posts for National Poetry Month regarding how writing and art practices have changed in response to the occupations. You can read the first set of responses from Stephen Collis and Steve Benson here, and Richard Owens and Brian Whitener here. The following two paragraphs contain part of the prompt that I provided to participants:
Something I am wondering about kind of broadly is how your practices might have changed since the beginning of the occupations, if we can mark this beginning in the fall of 2011 (the occupations obviously having their immediate precedent in the Middle East and Europe).
Do you think it may be possible to speak to this a bit? […] Succinctly, in a paragraph or two? Maybe it has had no perceivable effect, which is fine of course, and in which case you might talk about why it is important to maintain what you are doing parallel to (or beyond?) current social movements and political events.
My practices are profoundly shaped by “the post-2008 market crash’s systemic re-exposure of capitalism’s brutality at the level of everyday life and resultant re-ignition of political imagination and praxis for the efficacy of activism” (“Poetry and Militancy,” Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion 4, 2011). The University of California protests since 2009 enabled my participation in the situation empowered by the resources I had: I was most empowered by Marxism which I gained knowledge to through Language writing and avant-garde interests generally. My practices are concerned with the provision of resources toward militancy, as in Paradise Now’s Marxist Flarf motivated by my interest in Flarf’s aesthetics and dissatisfaction with its politics, which along with Conceptual Writing’s politics I historicize as symptomatic of the post-9/11 political pessimism; Communism’s engagement with contemporary continental philosophy; THEORY ARSENAL’s provision of contemporary Left theory; Pre-Symbolic’s reverse crash course through 2500 years of history; and my journal ARMED CELL’s aim “to be… a site for the study necessary for executing political actions,” its first issue, distributed at the Durruti Free Skool in August 2011, including on its first page David Lau’s “Communism Today”’s “Occupy everything, including Humanities” from the University of California protests and the notion of enacting communism with a lower case c.
The University of California protests and other post-2008 activisms contributed to the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon’s explosion the following month. The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon amplified the empowerment of individual praxis’ potentially prodigious effects glimpsed in the University of California protests. The frequently fledgling University of California protests made its reproduction a frequently principal concern, while the Occupy phenomenon’s explosion enabled a panoply of immediately productive praxes as a more principal concern. The emphasis on immediate praxis made more palpable the radicality-diminishing consequences of unrigorous rejection of knowledges’ political potentials. This led to the development of “Anti-Community Poetics” against “a danger of community[’s]… immanent cultural valorization leading to unrigorous thought and praxis” and my solution in “the consideration of the totality of knowledge to exceed community circumscription” (“Anti-Community Poetics,” The Claudius App 2, 2012) in The Totality Cantos, “a poem… about everything, the synchronous archive of present knowledge… prioritizing subjects in the context of totality for specific interventions and the total insurrectionary panoply of knowledge” (“From Pre-Symbolic to Totality: On Method,” ARMED CELL 2, 2012). These practices represent the best I’ve thus been able to do in rigorously considering aesthetics and politics accurate to the present in the capacity of poetry.
I spent the year before the Occupations dreaming and writing about the revolution. There’s no less cheesy way to put it – domage que le coeur aime du fromage. I sang a rhetoric of the polis – it was a matter of life and death. Let me explain. To speak with a public sort of confidence, or to speak at all, seemed to require that one feel at home in the world – at home enough to fight for it, for some notion of rights for oneself and others – whereas I don’t feel of the world, and rarely imbue my presence in it with any significance at all. “It’s like I’m already dead.” At the time, I thought this feeling might have originated in capitalism. To sing to the polis, I believed, was to court life, and when the Occupations came, I frankly expected to be ressurected: for the promise of my song to bear itself out, and through this outward manifestation to lift me, and the country I live in, from the grave. (Happy Easter!)
What happened was more complex. In brief: instead of banishing death, I grew to understand that it was my home. Death is a place that runs much deeper than capitalism, which after all is just a parasitic system whose deadening effect should not be mistaken for rigor mortis. It is, in fact, predicated on the fear of death. The fear is the source of public malaise, of apathy. To paraphrase Will, we weep to have that which we fear to lose. The Occupiers, in their selflessness, while sitting on the ground pepper-sprayed, fought not just for life, but for death. This struggle curiously resembles that of poetry, as one has been reading here (where we are) recently.
What the Occupations have given my practice is the joy of death: the fear is gone. Here is a poem called “When the Dead Sing Out.” I find the idea that poetry is dead very invigorating and witty: it is a properly lyrical statement: because the lyre has always held special powers in the underworld, and “now more than ever seems it rich to die.” I find it wonderful to sing into death. Or not. As in the Orphics: “Rejoice at the experience! This you have never before experienced. … You have fallen as a kid into milk. Hail, hail, as you travel on the right, through the Holy Meadow and Groves of Persephone." Perhaps like in that Tarot card Bhanu pulled, to heal we must be ghosts, fail like J. Halberstam advises. Let the revolution assure us of our mortality. It does not matter that I am dead, but you matter to me, and for that I'll fight.
Thom Donovan lives in New York City where he edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog (whof.blogspot.com) and coedits ON Contemporary Practice with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series (NYC). He holds a Ph.D. in English...