Poetry News

Carla Harryman's Artifact of Hope Fuses Together Philosophy, Document, & Poetry

By Harriet Staff
yellow block

In his final installment at Jacket2Piotr Gwiazda discusses how Carla Harryman’s "critical/creative encounter with the work of the German philosopher Ernst Bloch," Artifact of Hope (Kenning Editions, Ordinance series, 2018), with its pedagogical setting, turns "thinking" into "making." An excerpt:

Harryman’s thirty-five-page volume (part of a larger ongoing project) bills itself as an “epistolary essay combined with the documentary remains of a post-Occupy project.” However, its attention to language, formal variety (prose and verse), self-reflexivity (to the point of self-erasure), juxtapositional method, and fusion of appropriated and expressive material bring it closer to what for many today is synonymous with “poetry.” (It is also listed under “poetry” on the Kenning Editions website.) Artifact of Hope is also the product of a teaching experiment. Not only does it begin with a daydream about the idea of “school,” but it contains a series of reflections on Harryman’s “collective dialogue” about Bloch’s philosophy with her fellow readers and writers at the Bay Area Public School in Oakland and the Pratt Institute of the Arts in New York. The pedagogical setting suggests a level of optimism, a sense of possibility, a focus on becoming. As Harryman notes: “the improvisatory and performative aspects of writing that can enable transgression of categories and boundaries of thought and genre seem to me, potentially or provisionally, to be emerging from or agents of such processes.”

Still, attraction as well as antagonism marks Harryman’s “importing” (to use her own word) of Bloch’s philosophy. Such ambivalence is inevitable considering the genuine difficulty of his thought system, with all its encyclopedic extravagance, and his opaque writing style. It is also due, no doubt, to the distorting effect of translation and commentary that has accrued around Bloch’s work in the English-speaking world. Harryman and her fellow readers are put off by “many dated qualities of his writing ... [his] stilted references to gender, his patriarchal subjectivity embedded in philosophy.” Indeed, a great deal separates the male German philosopher, who in the darkest decades of the twentieth century never gave up on hope (or on Soviet-style communism, at least not until the 1950s), and the female US poet, who in the past few years has found herself losing her “feeling for the future” while she confronts “[t]he accelerated destructiveness of global capitalism, climate change, and the intensified cognition of the Anthropocene as out-of-control actuality.”

Harryman’s reflections on Bloch are thus also refractions. As she turns philosophy into poetry, “thinking” into “making,” she crosses many boundaries: linguistic, cultural, national, ideological, generic, disciplinary. The point for her is to retrieve something useful, even provisionally so, from the work, to make the encounter active, dialogic, even dialectical (as she notes, “Bloch’s theory of hope, paradoxically, significantly contributed to my own feminist poetics.”) This too is a feature of reading, writing, as well as teaching...

Read all of "When poems change" at Jacket2.

Originally Published: March 8th, 2018