People on Sunday (1930)

Now they really are involved, drinking
Coffee with the elms behind them. The trick
To wet the coiled paper slowly so the day
Expands like a writhing insect
As trash is swept up and the resultant street
Hosed down, not everyone is free to brag
In the black and white sunshine.
It gets in the eyes of the mechanic during his
Rotations of the left front wheel
Spinning like the crowds around a monument.
Okay, fine, but what about tomorrow?
Done. The rest is knitting outdoors
Or no, she was petting a struggling cat
That from a distance looked to be
Complacent wool while she stood there.
Barge after barge follows this mistake
Along the major river she considers
While getting ready, starting with her nails,
But maybe she doesn’t want to go out
Yet, ambivalence of lying back down
With one’s shoes still on. Jacket off,
He’s proud of his surroundings, the two
Bottles on a table by a single glass.
Amazingly, they are in the same apartment
Reading parts of a single paper
By the inadvertent clock of a faucet
Leaking. It’s not even Sunday yet
Nor are they actors, but it’s time to change

Clothes, sweep the face with a lathered brush
By a wall with photographs of film stars on it.
You use a scissors, I’ll use razor and soap
And for some reason we’ll both go to work
Destroying their faces after having gone
To great lengths to collect and mount them.
It’s a prelude to going out in our best
Or will they, maybe an argument about
How she’s chosen to wear her hat first,
A bit of a scene in which more photographs
Get destroyed. Or forget photos actually,
We can play cards now that there are two men
Present and she’ll have to watch
Sunday punish her without access to its images
Of smoke from a chimneystack, a man asleep
On a park bench, collective living
Pursued in a single bed. Only now
Is it Sunday. He wakes first and washes up,
Tries to rouse her somewhat roughly
But she is not yet there in the way he is
So he leaves a note by the cards and glasses
On the table at which he’d sat with the other
Man and goes. There are so many like him
Outside, and monuments, arches to be
Passed through in a car, and of course
The bridges, the smoke. That which can’t be
Passed through or under can still be passed by,
Advertisements on the sides of apartments,
Windows, trains, and trees. They’re all going
To the same unrevealed place, half an arrow.
Shy in the best friend role, she looks down
Suddenly interested in tree-filtered light
On pavement. You go on, I must make
A phone call, walk down these endless stairs,
Buy a postcard, order a drink, pair off as
The whims of the atmosphere demand,
Carry a suitcase through the park
To its less populated places. In fact,
That’s what my silent phone call is about,
That and whether she’s even gotten out
Of bed or whether her shoes are still
Unoccupied. It turns out you can walk
All the way to a beach, where you’d take them off
Again to become the postcard of a bather
If no one saw you undress and change.
Now the suitcase makes sense, but not
That kind, it seems to be a portable
Device for playing music, music to change to
With clouds as inspiration. This is
Working out, there are definite foregrounds
And backgrounds, each composed
Then dissolving or stopping abruptly

Starting up again as though continuous
And yes, she’s still in bed so you’ll have to
Enter the water without her, a splash of white
Where you just were. You, if you are still
The man on shore, help the other
Woman with her impossible suit and now
Your friendliness has a touch of eros to it,
You would wake her much less roughly
On that same part of the back of the shoulder
You targeted unsuccessfully this morning,
But this one’s already awake and away,
You share a single body with the water
And forget. Swimming from becomes
Swimming towards, a flirtation through
The awkwardness of the element, and walking
Down steps requires they be walked back up,
Agreeable fate they greet as though air
Were water and vision. Whose desire
Is this anyway and is it a cloud or the boat
Beneath the cloud, the blanket or the sand
Beneath that or the thermos and bottles, etc.
If he won’t move the other man will and if
He won’t serve them sausages the other
Does till everyone is restored—losing some
Is okay because there’s enough and it’s not
Ever lost—he cleans it off and eats it anyway.
Coughing and laughing, each can cause the other
But laughing may last longer in a moment
While coughing goes on intermittently for days
Like a group of boys in ties who take turns
Striking each other. Who’s next is more painful
Than the blows themselves, the same with goals
In sports or growing up into shame about
Your nakedness. Swimming the distance
From birth you’re now used to experiencing
As water or Sunday, those two girls at a window
Fringed by oak trees. The other method to fall
Asleep on a park bench so that while clothed
You have no sense you are, or your trust in others
A nakedness your clothes wear and for a second
We can lie back upon the grasses partly
Naked, taking liberties we won’t push too far.
We are as asleep as she who never left the bed,
Who sleeps for us all like a perfect actor.
Now the mid-afternoon when storefronts thrive,
Fountains rise a little higher, vision pans
Always to the left across construction sites,
Laundry hung out windows, public statues
(Men or animals) and even an obelisk
Crowds rotate around rather than confront
Their obvious destination. In time
It’s all sand, even the marble, so smile
While holding still whether naked or not,
Knowing or not, fat with discomfort
Or aware it’s a trap even when surprised

To know this. Those in front of a camera
Are missing in a saintly way, statues with lives.
Their smiles carry injury, their sadness a power
To adapt, say thank you to the worst of it,
Make a game of snatching its hat and running off
Throwing it till it lodges in one of the oaks.
This precipitates a whole other serious game
Of cooperation—at least three will be required
To spend time getting back the hat of only one,
An inefficiency permitted on Sunday,
The day groups form and learn from,
Deciding where within the frame to go next.
Before choosing a path touch your mouth
Looking sadly at the available options
Then take none at all except the space
Between young trees. Here you’ll meet him
For a second but keep going, there are better
Places to stop for what will happen, and act
Surprised, even discouraged, when he behaves
Predictably; you do too, and where you touch
Each other proof will bloom, you aren’t trees
Growing out of sand. Head back to the right,
You can’t go left forever; go up even, up and right
Then down to where he’s standing while you
Fake sleep and waking from it. He looks like
He’s getting ready for work, holds a pinecone
Like it’s an ancient tool. Others are similarly
Strewn through the instant’s overexposure,
Sprawled or walking, trudging down embankments
Or headed back to the starting point. It’s a huge park
Filled with time they are going to convene
Drowsily, close the musical briefcase, no, not yet,
First a kind of modular pairing-off known
As where are the others—it feels good to say
Finally, even if no answer is immediately
Forthcoming or has stopped to take something
Out of its shoe. The answer is they are here
One at time. That feels good too, slanted
Light to play a last song on the portable
While the final straggler makes her reluctant
Way across involuntary terrain
Over to the fact of the rest. She almost got lost
And that almost is crucial, with its being time
To return, the blue of the afternoon darker
Or deeper, a fight about to break out. Pleasures
Have to be shared, and the grimness thereof
When they’re about to fade. There are many
Others afterwards; they keep falling through
The speed of any one activity’s end
Into a paddleboat either sex can power

Without shame; it’s even enjoyable to move
From passenger to operator and back,
Thinking or doing, melancholy or magnanimous.
The four have forgotten about those who are not
In their boat but are surrounded all the same
By shoreline with unlimited populations
Maples by the water represent; the men
Start play-hitting her, taking fake turns
As they near the shore, and she is mad and happy,
An oar in their water. It’s time to remember, talk
Across greater distances, cooperate with strangers
Stranded nearby. We’ll go over there and retrieve
For them what they can’t get for themselves
Even if it makes us jealous of each other.
Sad to be connected to somebody by so little
So briefly, a note thrown in the water
Unfolds faster. Pedaling hard now they reach
A mooring that leads to others, to a structure
Of some kind where they will have to part
If not all have the money to go on, no, they can
Lend him the money to ensure they meet again.
And he is there, they’re four and one,
It’s still Sunday, full and orchestral if right
About to wane as well. The four become two
Men and two women thinking of the next
Sunday, and probably lying to each other
About this so their bodies will part for real.
One man breaks his cigarette in two to celebrate,
Gives half to the other man. They ride the tram
Like boys without jobs but even they are parted
By the numbers waiting on their buildings.
Back in the apartment the two bottles there
On the table and she still asleep in the bed
As though no time has passed, she refused it,
Nothing has happened but the empty beer.
It’s morning for her but not in the world
That can trade a night for another day
Simply by lifting an invisible hand.
Full morning already, fog in the park
Transported by the many coming off
That double bridge, determined again
To block out the thought of four million
Doing Monday likewise out of sight.
And the cabs that stop almost as often
As they start, bottles packed in crates
On the beds of passing trucks, the rhythm
Causes trivial forgetfulness, white sky.
She leaves her purchase behind in the shop
But it catches her up at the door.

Replacement Therapy

REPLACEMENT THERAPY (2010)

[Video loop, color, silent]

The Replacement Therapy project was conceived and executed during an artist residency at the Lou Harrison Straw Bale House in Joshua Tree. In the small courtyard that I had turned into my studio I used furniture and other household items to construct and then de-construct a large-scale ephemeral sculpture. As is the case with much of my other work, Replacement Therapy investigates ideas about “home.” The piece was inspired by the hormone-driven and at times comical urge to obsessively sort, group, arrange and especially re-arrange, a phenomenon that can occur during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle (PMS), or peri-menopause. The idea was to exhaust myself by using as many objects as possible, building from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling without having any pre-conceived plan. I would go inside, find an object—a chair for example—carry it to the courtyard, and then find “the right spot” for it. Every time I added an object, I took a photograph. Once the space was filled I reversed the process by picking “the right object,” removing it, and carrying it back to where I’d found it, once again photographing the altered sculpture step by step until the courtyard was empty again.

With the photographs I created a stop-motion video loop in which the process of construction and de-construction is repeated ad nauseam. The viewer experiences the artist’s arbitrary or intuitive choice and placement of each object either as a surprise or, alternatively, as a lack of control; it is a similarly obsessive and draining experience. The need to build is replaced by the (less satisfying) need to watch. What will the next object be? Where will it go? How much longer will this go on? Will it collapse? When? Why am I doing (watching) this? And: when will it (I) be done?

 

necessity, immensity, and crisis (many edges/seeing things)

There’s a more than critical criticism that’s like seeing things—a gift of having been given to love things and how things look and how and what things see. It’s not that you don’t see crisis—cell blocks made out of the general meadow, and all the luxurious destitution and ge(n)ocidal meanness, the theft of beauty and water, the policing of everyday people and their everyday chances. It’s just that all this always seems so small and contingent against the inescapable backdrop of constant escape—which is the other crisis, that is before the first crisis, calling it into being and question. The ones who stay in that running away study and celebrate its violently ludic authenticity, the historicity that sends us into the old-new division and collection of words and sets, passing on and through, as incessant staging and preparation. This necessity and immensity of the alternative surrounds and aerates the contained, contingent fixity of the standard.

The alternative, and the ones who stand (in) for it, can only be defended in what Mario Pedrosá calls its “experimental exercise,” which happens everyday, and in the recognition of its exercise, which is what I think Marx refers to when he speaks, in “Communism and Private Property,” of the everyday engagement in criticism that is an essential part of a communist way of life, and which sometimes he more than critically enacts when he engages in critique, in the elaboration of a general theory of crisis, and in the urgent address of specific instances of crisis. Questions concerning the theory and actuality of crisis are no less urgent now because crisis is always with us. Seeing things doesn’t hide the crisis that critique discloses; rather, it locates it more precisely, within a general tendency for upheaval that it constitutes. Seeing things, the alternative seeing of things, the seen and seeing alternative, which a certain deployment of crisis is meant to police, is the crisis of genuine disclosure and generative disruption.

The crisis of deprivation on a global scale is a function of policing that responds to a global ecologic of generation that regulative power brutally (mis)understands as a crisis of law. This is to say that crisis is not only a function of policing but that it has a policing function; it is also to say that crisis is ongoing, generative resistance to the regulation, the policing, that it generates. This poor description of the interplay of policing and crisis is trying reverently to disclose a reversal that already animates Policing the Crisis, the classic attendance of Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts to the range and force of the generative social and aesthetic upheaval of the alternative in England since World War II. Hall and his fellows analyze the ideological manufacture of crisis as a mode of interpretive regulation. The racialization of already extant criminal activity allows its epidermalized “novelty” to be interpreted as crisis. But the criminalization of that activity, in its relation to the normalization of modes of propriation whose brutality and scale dwarf any and every instance of “mugging,” is the real problem because, in the end, it was never about this or that instance or collection of instances of law breaking; it was, rather, about the social self-defense of jurisgenerative capacity of which mugging can be said to be a particular manifestation, noteworthy not because of its brutality or venality or degeneracy but only because its enactment of self-defense through (re)propriative acts are susceptible to a condition in which they reinforce the brutal axioms of ownership and exception.

Criticism, the capacity to see things in their branching and unfolding and generative differentiation, attends to generation while critique, as Marx deploys it, attends to the regulation and policing of generation and while degenerate critique, which seems to be deployed today almost everywhere in the normal human sciences, is driven by its own implicit claims of national identity or political subjectivity that have themselves been made subject to a force, and been understood by way of a logic, of degeneration implying a mystery of loss and of what was lost. Here’s where the neoliberal lament regarding “the crisis of democracy” (which was, according to Samuel Huntington and his fellows, a function of there being too much democracy) can be understood as the animating trace of certain folks, claiming to be on the left, whose lament of the current loss of “our democracy” is driven by nostalgic fantasies of a democracy that supposedly was held within the structure of, rather than resistance to, American exclusion. It’s not coincidence that this convenient repression of American exclusion is usually accompanied by an assertion of American exception which either takes the form of an invocation of “our” best intentions or, more pragmatically, as the assertion of a right to do just about anything in the name of national defense, whose complete detachment from imperial aggression is sanctioned by the serial invocation of crisis.

When people respond to the suppression of the alternative—and Hall and his fellows brilliantly illuminate how state interpretation of the alternative as crisis is a fundamental element of that suppression—the word riot is deployed in order to augment that suppression; but when suppression of the alternative is more (im)properly understood as a response to the alternative it also becomes possible to understand that with regard to the insistent previousness of the alternative it is more accurate to say, over Sly Stone’s growl or Joe Strummer’s sneer, that there is, and already has been, a riot going on. This is about the anoriginary force of tumultuous derangement, a generative sociopoesis given in and as everyday sensuality. To rise to the defense of this sacred, ordinary, generative violence—to protect it from the ongoing murder—is often to risk a kind of appropriation of the very propriative force one seeks to combat with an otherwise animating fugitivity. Such uprising can take the form of burnin’ and lootin’ but, even more easily, such appropriation can take the form of a critical account of the justificatory causes of burnin’ and lootin’. Meanwhile, what always remains or, more precisely, what must be understood as the irreducible remainder that animates such physical acts as well as such critical accounts, are everyday and everynight things. It’s not about the looting of loot or the assault of persons who take shape as shops and wares, or about the insurgents’ loss of or exclusion from citizenship or belonging that supposedly makes the former inevitable; it is, rather, all about insurgence as the performative declaration of what we are and what we have and what we give. Put another way, the seemingly infinite production of crisis finds its limit in the infinite rehearsal of generative capacity, in the open field of a generative grammar, in the fecundity of a range of generative principles, all of which reveal the sclerotic constraints that are fostered by an empiricist attitude whose structuring force in the determination of Anglo-American intellectual identity can be traced back to a certain valorization of the grasp, and the philosophical nomination of the possessive individual to the office of manager of the enclosure, by way of the bloody fingerprints of a transcendental subject who is unable or unwilling to see things but who can neither let things go nor pass things on.

The riot that’s goin’ on is a party for self-defense. The question concerning its causes, its sources, shouldn’t be left to liberal or neoliberal pundits and prime ministers, even when their more or less racist and ageist elitism leads them to say, with a kind of ignorant and imprecise accuracy, that the causes are cultural. What they don’t mean is that culture is the imprecise word we give to regenerative resources of insurgent social life. There’s another way of living that exhausts imposed arrangements. It’s where and how people fight. When seemingly random and unorganized acts of self-defense erupt against the violence of the state and capital, the only important question is how to maintain their connection to the social field they are meant to defend. This is a question concerning the corrosive, reconstructive force of certain practices that Michael Herzfeld thinks of in terms of “cultural intimacy—the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality, the familiarity with the bases of power that may at one moment assure the disenfranchised a degree of creative irreverence and at the next moment reinforce the effectiveness of intimidation.” But what if we begin to consider, against the grain and over the edge of whatever combination of the critique of authenticity and the appeal to upright, paralytic sovereign recitations of the citizen consumer, that the social poetics Herzfeld is after is an undercommon intellectual project that begins to emerge precisely when the distinction between insiders and outsiders breaks down, when a certain kind of communal claim is made in a certain kind of walking down certain city streets, and when that claim is given in and as an active disruption of the nation-state, in and as a kind of masque in which the very habits of the damned are taken on and, thereby, altered in their free, constant and already given alteration. Meanwhile, we confront the emergence of new black acts—of the kind E. P. Thompson describes in Whigs and Hunters—now outlawing autonomous cybersocial organization for self-defense emerge under the self-regulating cover of the ones who internalize the embarrassment they refuse, the generativity non-citizens claim.

The notion that crisis lies in the ever more brutal interdiction of our capacity to represent or be represented by the normal is as seductive, in its way, as the notion that such interdiction is the necessary response to our incapacity for such representation. Their joint power is held in the fact that whether abnormality is a function of external imposition or of internal malady it can only be understood as pathological. Such power is put in its accidental place, however, by the ones who see, who imaginatively misunderstand, the crisis as our constant disruption of the normal, whose honor is given in and protected by its representations, with the ante-representational generativity that it spurns and craves. This is the crisis that is always with us; this is the crisis that must be policed not just by the lethal physical brutality of the state and capital but also by the equally deadly production of a discourse that serially asserts that the crisis that has befallen us must overwhelm the crisis that we are; that crisis follows rather than prompts our incorporative exclusion.

There’s a connection between poetry and violence that Amiri Baraka, among others, began to explore by way of these terms and which now needs to be re-explored in the full awareness that Baraka’s movement extended, rather than disavowed, that antinomian opening of the field that can be traced back through Charles Olson and Sun Ra, Emily Dickinson and Harriet Jacobs, Anne Hutchinson and Tituba, and beyond. The poetics of the open field, especially when performed in the narrow cell, was always tied to the sociopoetics of riot, of generative differentiation as a kind of self-care, of expropriative disruption as a kind of self-defense, of seeing things as a performed social theory of mind. Baraka took it out, and sometimes tried to take it home, which drove it through him and even further out, in the name of an enformant poetics, spreading the news and the new in the giving and taking of form, as lemons, and people, piled on steps, disarrayed inappropriately against every propriative and counter-propriative intention that claims to have put them there. We still enact, because we desire and cannot live without, the immense poetry of war, by which Wallace Stevens meant and didn’t mean a poetics of social pregnancy, the international, anti-national embarrassment of seeing things and making things. The poetics of the alternative is funereal and venereal, surviving in denotative self-defense and the righteous distortions it enacts in rough advent. There’s a This is England poetics, a Luv ‘n Haight poetics, miving without moving in and against the brutal smallness of imposed needs and nationalized histories with the kind of out lyricism that only comes from being constrained to be somewhere else, that will have already come from the other side to keep on going, that had already come with those of us who are the other things we see.

8.19.11