31 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Susan Gevirtz

Impasse of the Angels, S Pandolfo

Mycelium Running, P. Stamatz

Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power, E. Grosz

, M. Cross (seriously)

, C.J. Martin (also seriously -even if it wasn't you asking)

Rude Girl
, John Sakkis

The Horse, The Wheel and Language
, D. Anthony

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Alone with the Alone, H. Corbin

Cities of Salt, A Munif

UNSOUND, Jennifer Martenson

Animals In Translation, Temple Grandin

ΚΙΒΟΤΟΣ THE ARK, Old Seeds For New Cultures, (Catalog) 12th International Architectural Exhibition La Biennale Venezia 2010. Commissioners- Curators: Phoebe Giannisi (poet and architect) & Zissis Kotionis; catalog text by poet Katerina Illiopoulou

Dwell magazine, issue on Prefab

and I'm sure I'm forgetting extremely important things that will occur to me as soon as I hit send

Favorite Things 2011: Craig Dworkin

Here's a Top Ten for 2011:

1. Gregg Biglieri: Little Richard the Second (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011)–deservedly luxurious production for verse that  recognizes the plush caresses of lexical excesses.

2. Clark Coolidge: The Human Bond (Some New Bond Sonnets), Fell Swoop Issue 115 [New Orleans: Fell Swoop, 2011]. The first of the Bond Sonnets were published in The Insect Trust Gazette No. 2 (Summer, 1965) – who ever thought there would be sequels over 40 years later? To be read alongside Michelle Disler's new book, [BOND, JAMES]: alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography (Denver: Counterpath, 2011)

3. Baroness Elsa (von Freytag-Loringhoven): Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings, Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo, editors (Cambridge: MIT, 2011). At long-last, a book to set the record of modernism straight (or, rather, set it rightly askew)

4. Spenser Goar: Red Ink (Salt Lake: Paper Noise, 2011). A procedural writing-through of the footnotes in a scholarly edition, poeticizing the paratext.

5. Dana Teen Lomax: Disclosure (Lafayette: Black Radish Books, 2011). The most confessional poem ever.

6. Pamela Lu: Ambient Parking Lot (Chicago: Kenning Editions, 2011). Finally! A book I've been looking forward to for a dozen years now.

7. Joseph Massey: Another Rehearsal for Morning (Guilford: Longhouse, 2011). Poetry perfectly matched to the small-format, highly-crafted mode of the fine-press chapbook.

8. Mimeo Mimeo, ed. Jed Birmingham and Kyle Schlesinger. Hands-down my favorite journal – the only disappointment is that it doesn't come weekly (but the related blog makes up for that: http://mimeomimeo.blogspot.com).

9. Vanessa Place: Factory Series (more information here: http://stores.lulu.com/store.phpfAcctID=4215175). The most daring work on authorship to date.

10. Jonathan Stalling: Yingelishi: Sinophonic English Poetry and Poetics (Denver: Counterpath, 2011). A perfect example of Walter Benjamin's concept of the translator's task.

30 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Cynthia Sailers

*Lars von Trier's Melancholia

*Julian Brolaski's gowanus atropolis

*Dana Ward's This Can't Be Life

*Brandon Brown's The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus

*A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism, Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, Editors

My list is short. But my very first thoughts! xo

29 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Jamie Townsend


Laurel Halo - Hour Logic
Autre Ne Veut - "Drama Cum Drama"
Dev (featuring Kanye West) - "Dancing in the Dark"
Zola Jesus - Conatus
Ford & Lopatin - Channel Pressure
Rhianna - "We Found Love"
Grouper - A I A
Jay-Z & Kanye West - "Who Gon Stop Me"
Cuddle Magic - Info Nympho
Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
John Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Big Sean (featuring Nicki Minaj) - "Dance (A$$)"
Forma - s/t
Destroyer - Kaputt
Thurston Moore @ the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia


Rob Halpern's "Becoming a Patient of History: George Oppen's Domesticity and the Relocation of Poetics" (Really a capstone to 2010, but the beginning of my rethinking poetics in 2011; many thanks to Rob for sending me the manuscript of the lecture as it was the event in recent memory I most wish I could've attended).

Erica Kaufman - "Instant Classic" (Least Weasel); Erica never fails; you can read her work over and over and over and find new, incredible tripwires of language every time. This chap knocked me flat, it's precise, balanced, and conceptually wild all at once: extreme humor, music, and scholarship, pulling together equally.

CJ Martin - "Two Books" (Compline); I think, the most unique new(er) voice in poetry and critical writing today. CJ is mapping terrain that feels domestic (in the sense of being solidly enclosed) and completely alien at the same time. I kinda think he's Duncan reincarnated.

Brenda Iijima - "Untimely Death is Driven Beyond the Horizon" (unreleased); Brenda's work is always infinitely restless and exciting, but this particular collection, with its subtle lyricisms and bone straight left hand margin, really solidifies the fact that she can write in any form (visually wild or mannered) and still be unmistakably Brenda. I love these poems.

Tyrone Williams - "Pink Tie" (Hooke Press) & Dana Ward - "Typing Wild Speech" (Summer BF Press); two chaps that helped me to rediscover the central place of writing in the middle of the most emotionally trying summer of my life, at a point when I had almost given up; Dana's chap is a 2010 joint, but they have such a repoire with each other, and they came to me around the same time (I had to wait for the 2nd printing of Dana's), I feel as though they form two parts of a essential treatise on the integration of an art practice and day-to-day life (especially around issues of grief), eliminating any doubt in my own mind as to why there should be any barrier between the two.

David Brazil - "Orphica" (Lew Gallery); what a beautiful and singular object, which arrived in the mail precisely at a moment of extreme personal loss in my life. David seems to have a prescience for sending correspondence/poetry when it's needed most.

Sueyeun Juliette Lee - "What the Heart Longs for When it Only Knows Heat" (unreleased); Juliette performed from this manuscript at c/c, indulging me by reading my favorite section (and really, one of my favorite pieces of writing lately), a gorgeous, devastating prose poem about intimacy and arctic horses (not in the Equus sense)

Geoffrey Olsen - "Not of Distends *Address Panicked" (minutesBOOKS); Geoff's a good friend and fantastic poet, and his chap through minutesBOOKS this year delivers on all fronts; a sparsely dense mixture of cinema verite and Brakhage-esque visuals in verse, informed, in part, by an intense engagement with Scalapino's writing. Stunning, challenging, and something I found myself returning to often throughout the year.

Stacy Szymaszek - "Hart Island" (ongoing) - Without a doubt my favorite thing being written right now. I've been trying to write an essay about it for over a year and a half now and (like the poem feels in my head) I am hard-pressed to contain it or to wrap it up. I hope it keeps unfolding forever.

Nicholas DeBoer - "Red Night Antimatter" (Potlach Discordian Network); Nick's a beast - he's written enough material this year for at least 2 full-length books - but this chap on the new Potlach Discordian hydra symphonically images a correspondence between an aging Pound and Burroughs in a landscape of Russian Futurist structures. Email him and he'll send you a copy and a friendly hello, he's that kind of guy.

Julian Brolaski - "Gowanus Atropolis" (UDP) - This book is so good, and so inimitable, I don't feel like I have anything semi-witty or erudite to say about it that would do it justice, so here's a quick, bizarre, off-the cuff impression; at times it feels like Dickinson bathed in mead and sprinkled with Jolly Ranchers.

Julia Bloch, CJ Martin, Rob Halpern @ Fergie's Pub April 2, 2001 & Joseph Bradshaw, Thom Donovan, Dana Ward @ Fergie's Pub, July 9, 2011 (really, all the c/c readings this year, but much thanks to CJ, Rob, and Dana who traveled so far and gave tremendous performances)

some things that came out this year that I haven't gotten to yet but can't wait to:

- Thom Donovan - "The Hole"
- Dana Ward "This Can't Be Life"
- Renee Gladman - "The Ravickians"
- Brandon Brown - "The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus"
- Ariana Reines - "Mercury"
- Tyrone Williams - "Adventures of Pi" / "Howell"
- Mark Scroggins - "Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles"

28 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Miranda Mellis

These are some special events that stand out in my mind from last year...

3-11 – Thalia Field at SPT
5-15 – Meredith Monk at the JCC
6/4 – All day reading of Gertrude Stein's The Making of the Americans, & exhibition The Stein's Collect at SFMOMA
6/9 – Trisha Brown at Mills College
7/2 – SF Mime Troupe free performance in Dolores Park
9/9 – Commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion, Freedom Archives, featuring ‘Attica,’ the restored 1974 film
9/10 – Bradley Manning fundraising dinner organized by Sarah Fran Wisby
9/17 – FEEL TANK at Little City Gardens, SF
9/17 – first day of OWS nation-wide
10/13–10/16 – &NOW Festival of New Writing, UCSD
11/2 – General Strike
11/3 – Conversations at the War Time Cafe anthology launch & reading at DNA Lounge
12/3 – Marianne Morris house reading, Berkeley
12/12 – West Coast Port Shut Down

27 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Camille Roy

Discoveries for me this year... (many came out in years past, but I am slow.)

Poetry... Brandon Brown's Catullus, Paul Foster Johnson's Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms, Mina Pam Dick's Delinquent, Ronaldo Wilson's Poems of the Black Object, Judith Goldman's l.b.; or catenaries, Shanxing Wang's Mad Science In Imperial City, Will Alexander's Compression & Purity, Cedar Sigo's Stranger In Town, Jen Hofer's One, Dawn Lundy Martin's Discipline.

Prose... Gail Scott's The Obituary, Tisa Bryant's Unexplained Presence, Eileen Myles' Inferno, Carla Harryman's Adorno's Noise.

History... Caliban & the Witch by Silvia Federici. Loved this! It changed my frame. Looking forward to: Debt, The First 5000 Years by David Graeber.

Movies: Melancholia.

Politics: Occupy! Occupy! Occupy Oakland!! ( A cheer.)

Poetry Movements: Occupy Poetry! Occupy Readings! All the fabulous poetry activists, I love you all....

Journals. My favorite is the one you gave me, On: Contemporary Practice 2. Smart and juicy and lotsa bold. I hope you reject modesty and include this!

26 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Tyrone Williams

Much of what I read is not "new"ditto for music, so here are the things still rattling around in my head...

Noah Eli Gordon, The Source
Eleni Stecopoulos, Armies of Compassion
Lorenzo Thomas, Don't Deny My Name
M. NourbeSe Phillip, Zong!
Kazim Ali, Bright Felon

sous les paves

and the retro music of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, the neo-Motown of Nikki Jean, and the stark pop of Eliza Rickman

Next year: looking forward to reading your book (!) and new work from Evie Shockley, Thom Donovan, Judith Goldman and Rob Halpern.

25 December 2011

Favorite Things 2011: Michael Cross

Kyle Schlesinger: What You Will (Newlights Press)
Brenda Iijima: Glossamatics, Thus (Least Weasel)
David Brazil: Economy (Little Red Leaves) and Orphica (Auguste Press)
Jamie Townsend: Matryoshka (Little Red Leaves) and Strap/Halo (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs)
Lauren Levin: Keenan (Lame House)
Brian Whitener: False Intimacy (Trafficker)
Taylor Brady: For I Know Not What I Did Last Summer (Trafficker)
Sara Larsen: A,a,a,a,a (Berkeley Neobaroque)
Frances Kruk: Down You Go or Negation de Bruit (Punch Press)

Camille Roy: Sherwood Forest (Futurepoem)
Kathleen Fraser: movable TYYPE (Nightboat Books)
Thom Donovan: The Hole (Displaced Press)
Judith Goldman: l.b.; or, catenaries (Krupskaya)
Samantha Giles: Hurdis Addo (Displaced Press)
C.J. Martin: Two Books (Compline)
Alastair Johnston: Hanging Quotes: Talking Book Arts, Typography & Poetry (Cuneiform Press)
Taylor Brady & Rob Halpern: Snow Sensitive Skin (Displaced Press)
Leslie Scalapino: How Phenomena Appear to Unfold (Litmus Press)

Mimeo Mimeo
Sous Les Paves
With + Stand
Both Both
Yellow Field
Rag Tag

24 December 2011


Favorite Things 2011

Last year I asked a handful of friends and colleagues to send me year-end lists of their favorite things to share here at The Disinhibitor, and the response was vibrant and totally interesting, and it left me with tons of new music and poetry and art to investigate this year.

I'll start posting this year's lists from individual contributors over the holidays as they come in, and you're welcome to submit your own list of favorite things (movies or books or music or art shows or happenings or achievements: anything you were particularly excited about this year) by emailing me here: michaelthomascross{AT} hotmail com. You're also welcome to add commentary if you have the time and/or inclination, but this is certainly not necessary!

To get us started, here are the records I listened to the most this year while commuting to and from classes. I listened to a lot of music this year, really A LOT (I often commute upwards of two hours a day!), and these were the records I most often returned to...

Alexander Turnquist: As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color (VHF)
Andy Stott: Passed Me By / We Stay Together (Modern Love)
A$AP Rocky: LiveLoveAsap (self-released)
Atom TM: Programmiert Den Scheiß Aus Sich Raus (Rather Interesting)
Battles: Gloss Drop (Mute)
Blackout Beach: Fuck Death (Dead Oceans)
Blut Aus Nord: 777 Sect(s) / The Desanctification (Debemur Morti Productions)
Drake: Take Care (Young Money)
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX: We're New Here (XL)
Harpoon: Deception Among Birds (Seventh Rule)
James Blake: Enough Thunder (Universal Republic)
Jamie XX: Essential Mix (BBC)
Julian Lynch: Terra (Underwater Peoples)
Klaus: Tusk (R&S)
Kuedo: Severant (Planet Mu)
Machinedrum: Room(s) (Planet Mu)
Marsen Jules: Nostalgia (Oktaf)
Marsen Jules Trio: Les Fleurs Variations (Oktaf)
Nguzunguzu: XLR8R Mix
Sepalcure: s/t (Hotflush)
Thundercat: The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
Tim Hecker: Dropped Pianos (Kranky)
Trash Talk: Awake (True Panther)
Vladislav Delay: Vantaa (Raster-Noton)
Wavves: Life Sux (Ghost Ramp)
The Weeknd: House of Balloons/Thursday (self-released)

21 December 2011

"To become one with Christ, that means also to become with him the destroyer of the law; to have died with him, that means also to have died to the law"

"In this way, the cross or the message concerning the cross must be distinguished from what we have been enabled to see regarding the exposure of the violence of law through the great criminal or the general (proletarian) strike. For in these cases the violence of law seems to be exposed through a counterviolence, or what can at least be readily redescribed as a counterviolence. Thus the situation indicated by these examples may be (mis)read as the countering of one violence by another in which the powerlessness of justice relative to law does not really or clearly come to expression. What Paul is driving at, it seems, is a more clarifying instance in which it is the weakness of the messiah (perhaps of God or the divine as well), in the being overcome by violence--the violence of the law--that exposes the violence of the law and so is more powerful than the law and indeed really overpowers the law (which is also to say, the state, the empire, and so on)."

Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul: On Justice,
Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.
(Standford University Press, 2006)

16 December 2011

More movable TYYPE

I first saw Kathleen Fraser read in an underground basement or bar (or something!) back in (I guess?) 2000, at the book launch for her A+ Bend chapbook 20th Century, reading along with, if I remember correctly, Cole Swenson. I fell in love with her work at that reading, especially the poems in 20th Century, and I was reminded of their power while recently reading her new volume movable TYYPE. The book opens with a remastered, reordered selection from 20th Century, beginning with the unimpeachable couplets of "Orologic" which I present in full below:


Delay'd the—what was it? —leftover, almost said mainspring
locution—off-putting—lifting's effort of red-wire modest stratagem.

Gem's Spa (Ninth & 2nd) chocolate folio under which egg cream air,

he told you—sutured with tape and geranium rose—his secret

stutterer scrapheap
—"...if only we'd...". Said he wasn't spiritual
but could feel the awe—that little Yes material—script pierced (& pierces)

sleep's end of it, rose geranium whistle-stop nape of neck thistle. 

Down fallow mind of page—delay'd, early sphere theory.

Margins: Stella begins rebuke: torn shirt Stanley's & white

silent movie-talk ending, a few blue decals. 

in the projection cabinets. Abuse of reliable matter (embossed), 

how "A" connects to its wire. One glance—marron glace; when

she talks about "frame theory," the game-bird's heartbeat under

glass (fluttery to her as a pamphlet or flock of blank ink), wings tied-off.

Song rebuke rescinds the variable. You often measured

pretense between face and thread, when you demonstrated

linen. Corner understood (unsafe on-camera) reading him:
delay'd erasure, giving him 0 or 1. Syllabic temptation

of yesterday's waving particle. Lawd low Atlantis shallow.
Wrong obsidian lesson & axis ladder & hairpin do not "hold sway."

Kid integer dot picture folds up playground early, witness pulling
her inviolate back a'shine as effacement mirror not seen.

What passed in dark's sidereal cloud chamber festoon'd with giddy
scars is past & perfect. You write "Dear Sir: whereever you be,

please map us there..." (open side of resilient moon yawn

—for J.H. 

15 December 2011

The Hole

I am very happy to report that Thom Donovan's incredible first book, The Hole, is finally available at Small Press Distribution thanks to Brian Whitener and Displaced Press.

Thom and I began designing the book over the summer, and I have to say that I'm pretty excited about the final product! And while the book harbors all kinds of design surprises (take a look at the teaser above!), when you dive into the poems themselves you'll realize pretty quickly that Donovan is a force to be reckoned with.

It's pretty rare for a book to drop with the magnitude and gravity of a real event, and to my mind this is certainly an event! Don't sleep...

13 December 2011

Somatic Engagement this Thursday


Book Launch for Somatic Engagement: The Politics and Publics of Embodiment: with editor Petra Kuppers and contributors Amber DiPietra, Georgina Kleege, Denise Leto, Christian Nagler, Katherine Sherwood, Eleni Stecopoulos.

Thursday, December 15 // 7:30 PM
The Green Arcade, San Francisco

Here's the press release from Chain Links:

Somatic Engagement: The Politics and Publics of Embodiment
: edited by community artist, scholar, and dancer Petra Kuppers (author of Disability Culture and Community Performance), the book opens with Arnieville, a Californian protest camp of disability, homelessness, and poverty activists. From there, a series of enactments welcome trespass and incursion in the name of survival. Amy Sara Carroll on the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a GPS phone that uses poetry to lead the disoriented and thirsty to water caches and safety sites in the US-Mexican borderlands. Devora Neumark on washing Tali Goodfriend’s hands in Lebanese olive oil outside the hotel where Colin Powell speaks to the Jewish National Fund, hands gliding over one another in the middle of an angry public protest. Christian Nagler on writing an experimental novel while conducting an oral history of agricultural labor practices and migration patterns at the site of the Panamerican Highway in El Salvador. Georgina Kleege on touch and blindness as she discusses Katherine Sherwood’s paintings of magic and the human brain, paintings that Sherwood began after her stroke ten years ago. Eleni Stecopoulos on the healing quest as research and the complexities of cultural appropriation. Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto on the collaborative connections of breath, body, pause, pain, and form. Somatic Engagement is an exploration of how relation and support play out in breaths, steps, and touch.

09 December 2011

Cha Archive & movable TYYPE Launch

I'm taking my USF class to the Berkeley Art Museum this Saturday to view the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha archive, and interested poets from the community are welcome to join us. We'll meet this Saturday, December 10th at 1:00 pm in front of the B.A.M. for the tour, which will include artist books, visual art, and video installations they're screening just for us. We worked on Dictee this term, so I asked curators to show material directly related to this particular project.

And later in the afternoon, poet Hazel White is generously throwing a book launch in the city from 3-5 pm for Kathleen Fraser's gorgeous new book movable TYYPE, fresh out from Nightboat Books. If you'd like to help Kathleen celebrate, send me an email at michaelthomascross[at]hotmail(dot)com, and I'll send you directions.

06 December 2011

Look What I Found...

Benadette Mayer, Eruditio Ex Memoria, Angel Hair (1977)

Bruce Boone, Karate Flower, The Hoddypoll Press (1973)

Larry Eigner, Cloudy All Right, tel-let (1990)

Dennis Cooper, The Missing Men, Am Here Books/Immediate Editions (1981) [cover by Tom Clark]

David Antin, Dialogue, Santa Barbara Art Museum (1979)

05 December 2011

A Voice Box

Andrew Kenower recently posted an audio recording of a reading I did for Artifact back in '09 with Erika Staiti and Matvei Yankelevich. It's just under 20 minutes, a perfect length to listen to while you eat lunch! Find it at A Voice Box along with a trove of additional audio treasures.

And speaking of Kenower, check out this video of him playing drums with his band The Horns of Happiness at the Uptown here in Oakland last month:

01 December 2011

Bernes, Clover, and McClanahan in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Percentages, Politics, and the Police
Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Annie McClanahan

The generally inclusive and indefinite nature of the politics behind the Occupy movement has been both its virtue and vice. Or, to put it in less moralistic terms, the ideological flexibility of the occupations — in New York, and beyond — has generated extraordinary opportunities while at the same time presenting real limits to a serious challenge of capital’s domination.

A mutation of both the university occupations of 2009 (where the slogan “Occupy Everything” was brought to life) and the “movement of the squares” in Egypt, Spain, and Greece, these American occupations have managed to draw forth a variegated crowd of generally anti-capitalist character in city after city: Anarchists and socialists, disenchanted liberals and trade unionists, teachers and teenagers, street kids and college kids, the entire motley crew growing rather than fading away, moving from novelty song to popular genre with a breadth and rapidity that would have commanded utter disbelief in August. And it is apparent that the refusal to decide in advance on the exact political content of this movement — and instead suggesting that such a content will emerge through the process of struggle — is very much part of what has allowed for this sequence’s unfolding and brought so many people out into the plazas of our cities. The notion of the 99 percent is part of this inclusiveness, but it’s also an emblem of the real limits here.

Central among these limits is the incoherent stance often taken toward the police by the occupiers, or, more specifically, the organizers of the occupations. It can only be of the greatest significance that this issue has emerged as the central matter of debate; it secures the suspicion that the question is at the center of the occupation movement’s politics, and its fate.

But this hypersignificance remains opaque. Again and again, these occupations have featured scenes in which protesters beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police have insisted that their oppressors are also, in their way, part of the 99 percent. Occasionally, in New York, there is a more complicated fantasy in which the only truly oppressive cops are the supervisors — “whiteshirts,” after the white (rather than blue) shirts they wear, but also because obliquely referencing class status — whereas the blue-collar cops are only reluctantly doing their jobs.

At the same time, there has been more and more criticism of collaborationist policies toward the police, and an increasingly acrimonious debate within the movement, initiated in many cases by its anarchist and anti-statist wing. Occupy Oakland, for instance, has refused to cooperate with the Oakland Police and its General Assemblies feature long lines of people who speak eloquently and bluntly about police violence in the city. So there is a debate within the movement, one that the brutal police repression of Occupy Boston, happening just as Occupy Oakland was getting under way, has in some regard brought to a head.

In an ironic turn, on the same day as the repression of Occupy Boston, n+1 published Jeremy Kessler’s “The Police and the 99 Percent,” a virtual compendium of the fallacies, apologetics, wishful thinking, and historical misprisions assembled to defend the strategy of police compliance. Alas — and curiously enough for a journal with a brief but consistent record of critique — the article sides decisively with compliance and complicity. In doing so, it misunderstands the character of the occupations; the recent history of the movement of the squares; the role and history of the police in relation to antistate and anticapitalist movements; the position of non-violence; and accepts exactly what is most problematic and disabling about the formulation of the “99 Percent.”

Kessler approaches the issue of the police not from a moralistic position – he does not insist, for instance, that we must approach the police with loving kindness, lest we produce bad vibes or bad karma – but from a strategic one. He thinks that confrontations with police dissuade a putative “middle-class,” including union labor, from joining the occupation. The only possible recourse is to live up to the Occupy movement’s promise of including the superplurality of the “99 Percent.” The movement must, therefore, establish links with the police by appearing more like the police themselves, in cultural terms. It should establish itself as, well, kind of normal-looking and non-threatening. This might encourage the police toward a quiet insubordination once the call to crack down on Liberty Plaza eventually comes.

The first thing to say about this is that what Kessler proposes has already been contradicted by the very situation he describes. The occupation in Zuccotti Park began as a relatively small encampment, and the initial police response was, as Kessler himself observes, “brutal.” Videos quickly surfaced of police grabbing, tossing, macing, batoning, barricading, and arresting protestors without provocation; one video showed an officer telling another that he hoped “his nightstick would get a workout tonight.” It was precisely the spread of these videos that drew the crowds, that made it impossible for the media to continue to ignore the protests; it was precisely the unmistakable images of a violent state apparatus mobilized to protect financial interests that revealed the nature of the present moment. The October non-surprise that JPMorgan Chase had previously donated $4.6 million to the NYC Police Foundation (the largest gift in the foundation’s history) gave this relationship between the police and the financiers a headline, but the earlier images of police brutality at Occupy Wall Street had already presented more powerfully the same material fact, and it was these images that began to draw more protestors to Zuccotti Park. We can dispense with the notion that the specter of police violence is the real limit to participation by some phantom “American middle class.” But we cannot dispense with the notion that police are violent and threatening, and that they will be — have already been — levied to break the occupations.

It is hard to imagine anyone denying that it would be a good thing if the police were to take the side of the occupations. This is a far cry, however, from the belief that such a thing could reasonably happen. We must distinguish between analysis — an analysis of the concrete situation and accompanying historical record — and wish fulfillment fantasy. The latter tends, after all, to lead toward quite disastrous strategic and tactical decisions. In Tahrir Square — a place and idea toward which the Occupy movement swears fidelity — there was, despite some folks’ hysterical amnesia on this score, no commitment to non-violence, no gesture of complicity with the police, and no hesitation in resisting the government’s armed thugs. The Egyptians understood with clarity who their antagonists were, what their relationship to them was, and what would be needed to prevent the movement from being crushed by the folks with the guns and clubs.

The argument that “the cops will eventually come to sweep us away” may seem to open onto the conclusion “thus the cops must be befriended” — but only if one somehow suppresses the very reasons that the cops will come in the first place, and the long history of the police in relation to popular militancy. Cairo is one such example; others multiply throughout history. On the other side of the ledger: few entries indeed. It is true that armies and navies have been known to take the side of the people in revolutionary moments, but they are in the business of taking and holding territory, a portable trade. Police are charged with disciplining populations. Were they to take the side of the population, they would be without a trade. Any serious reading of history suggests that the police everywhere maintain their fidelity to the task of performing as bodyguards for money, property, and power.

Kessler offers a paradigmatic example of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism,” which always takes the form of something like the following: OK, kids, utopia sounds great, but let’s let the serious people take over and work within the given limits of the world before us. The problem isn’t simply that this involves quitting in advance of struggling, it’s that Kessler’s historical vision doesn’t even follow the principle of realism, or, even better, of reality. History is not on his side. One of his assumptions is that the ultimate goal of the Occupy movement is to animate a new political majority, a new hegemonic force. There is no discussion, however, of the kinds of force such a majority might exert, of what it might do. There is simply the assembling-in-place of the great 99 percenters and their processual assemblies; these, Kessler assumes, are slowly, somehow, supposed to arrive at an actual political stance. Though this movement might go in any number of directions, it seems clear that if everyone follows Kessler’s recommendation and agrees that the one thing they shouldn’t do is alienate the “middle-class” — if the goal of the movement is simply to assemble and increasingly resemble the already extant social order — then it seems likely that the demand arrived at, eventually, will suffer from the tyrannical logic of the lowest common denominator. It will most likely take the form of a demand that everyone join the Democratic Party immediately to ward off the threat of Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.

Perhaps it’s true, as Kessler notes, that only through agreeing to play by the rules and not offend the delicate sensibilities of the middle-class will the occupations become a true political majority. But it’s not clear what’s to be gained from such growth, if in exchange we make sure to refrain from doing anything that disrupts the smooth reproduction of the status quo. The filling of U.S. plazas and parks with millions of people doing little but complying is unlikely to bring even mild reform. No, to do that we’ll have to resort to the old strategies of the strike, the blockade, sabotage and — one hopes — the occupation and expropriation of private property.

Though numbers are, in many regards, decisive, they are not everything. This suggests there is another way we might interpret the Occupationists’ deferral of content and emphasis on process, that it indicates a focus on what these occupations intend to do, and how they intend to do it, rather than what they say or what proclamations they release. This would bring them back to the ideas that emerged out of the original California and New York occupations, which insisted that an occupation was not a bargaining chip but an act of claiming the things we need to survive. Such occupations were not, therefore, about asking for concessions from the state, nor were they simply a launching pad for a new political discourse or a new hegemony. The sign “I am the 99 percent” retains its ambiguity; signs like “Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed” and “It’s Class Warfare and We’re Losing” less so. Such stances, still lurking beneath the slogans on Wall Street, might be one way to think about what is happening (or what could happen) in Zuccotti Park: people learning to provide for each other, now that it is quite clear that capitalism can’t provide for them.

Sean Bonney in Fiery Flying Roule

[ 5 August 2011 ]

Letter on Riots and Doubt
Sean Bonney

Anyway, I’ve totally changed my method. A while ago I started wondering about the possibility of a poetry that only the enemy could understand. We both know what that means. But then, it might have been when I was walking around Piccadilly looking at the fires, that night in March, my view on that changed. The poetic moans of this century have been, for the most part, a banal patina of snobbery, vanity and sophistry: we’re in need of a new prosody and while I’m pretty sure a simple riot doesn’t qualify, your refusal to leave the seminar room definitely doesn’t. But then again, you are right to worry that I’m making a fetish of the riot form. "Non-violence is key to my moral views," you say. "I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill," you say. But what about that night when we electrocuted a number of dogs. Remember that? By both direct and alternating current? To prove the latter was safer? We’d taken a lot of MDMA that night, and for once we could admit we were neither kind, nor merciful, nor loving. But I’m getting off the point. The main problem with a riot is that all too easily it flips into a kind of negative intensity, that in the very act of breaking out of our commodity form we become more profoundly frozen within it. Externally at least we become the price of glass, or a pig’s overtime. But then again, I can only say that because there haven’t been any damn riots. Seriously, if we’re not setting fire to cars we’re nowhere. Think about this. The city gets hotter and deeper as the pressure soars. Electrons get squeezed out of atoms to produce a substance never seen on Earth. Under such extreme conditions, hydrogen behaves like liquid metal, conducting electricity as well as heat. If none of that happens, it’s a waste of time. Perhaps you think that doesn’t apply to you. What inexhaustible reserves we possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms, in the nightmare of their lives as slaves to the rich. Don’t pretend you know better. Remember, a poetry that only the enemy can understand. That’s always assuming that we do, as they say, understand. Could we really arrive at a knowledge of poetry by studying the saliva of dogs? The metallic hydrogen sea is tens of thousands of miles deep.