Friday, May 6, 2016

counting in silence

What does it mean to draw attention to Brecht's poetry--to poetry in general--without redeploying the terms of genre, without, for example, deriving from the contrast of his poetic work and his dramatic, a distinction that matters, as genre distinction? At the end of this semester's poetry class, it seems three conclusions were reached: 1) as David Lloyd suggests in "A White Song," that poetry is a condition of "endless readability"; 2) that poetry is something that is an experience of feeling language; and 3) that poetry represents the perspective of the object. Potentially, each of these involves a certain "unrealizability topos," a term Christopher Nealon uses to describe the non-closure of language in the world it discloses. Is it simply that "poetry" names the space for talking about these things--always these things--at the expense of other things?

In reading Brecht, I am drawn to the spaces of non-closure, those spaces that also mark or play at something like the entanglement of illusive appearance and reality in Marx, their nearly impossible extricability from one another. Where is the desire for this extrication? (would be one place to start). Seen in another way, the scene of this extrication takes place only opposite to another no-less real scene--that of the absence, lack, or hole of the Real. Thus Lacanian psychoanaysis and Hegelian dialectics allow for the fantasy of locating oneself on one side or another and develop from the resultant dynamism a sense of the governance by convention of these spaces, as genre. Staying with the impossibility of this extrication is not the equivalent of saying there is no outside; it is a matter of saying there is nothing, outside--of counting in silence, of literally "counting in" silence, as a positive, substantive form of omission. Brecht's lines from "To Those Born After":
Ah, what kind of times are these, where
a conversation about trees is almost a crime
because it includes a silence about so much injustice! 
Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschliesst!
On first reading, these lines register an experience of civilian guilt, a feeling or acknowledgment of one's complicity in the injustice of the world. This complicity, while both implicating the individual and registering the injustice in the world, also holds a place for oneself outside of that imagined world. If the trees could not be imagined as standing outside of the injustice of the world--fantasized as not included--then the terms being spoken about would not even be of human conversation about trees, but about the trees speaking themselves. Complicity then registers this kind of fantastic activity of hallucinating oneself into a scene so that one actually comes to stand outside of it. This is the entire mode in which Brecht's poetry--and the problem of civilian guilt that I also come to describe through the illusiveness and indeterminacy of the poetic speaker--toils. The inadequacy or failing of this mode is a way of thinking about how "silence," a term that is meant to signal the unrealizability of a gest(ure) that is not properly social or symbolic, is not just about what is left out of conversation, the merely "mental abstraction" of reality that retains the rights to perspective, but also consists of something, or has substance as such.

In what sense would this kind of silence be (almost) criminal? The crime here would not be one's guilt or complicity in injustice, as is implied in the first reading; to count in silence, to speak poetically (i.e. in a conversation about trees) would be a crime on the basis of the constraints on speaking in "times, where" saying nothing is already saying too much. This kind of silence would not be inadequacy; it would already be too much. Counting oneself in in order to count oneself out--the defensive move that Brecht's work manifests--defends against the world, and in doing so, speaks to the limitation of the mode of complicity as moving toward the kind of political, socialized realization that Brecht imagines possible.

picture: the North Shore (from my first trip there). Poetry questions, thanks to the members of "Poetry as Cultural Critique." All other things are very old and the effort is to see what remains to maintain.

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