Sunday, 29 September 2013

Note on the metaphorical economy of fucking

Hi all,

Reading and reflecting on Jen, Selina and Will's posts to the blog I was reminded of my own contribution to the deployment of a vocabulary of fucking. This may yet dwindle into spurious and diaristic auto-critique, but I suppose that could be useful too; here goes. The language employed is in the untitled 'last' poem that was published in a pamphlet published by Grasp Press, 'Poems, Written Between October and December, 2010,' which contained (contains) poems by Timothy Thornton, Jonny Liron, Francesca Lisette and myself. I believe this printed fold is now out of print, but I have a .pdf and can send it to anyone on request.

The poem opens "Sections of an absent pressure herein fucks us[.]" To gather the sense of a language of arbitrary, despairing, despondent, throwaway ease of reference in prosaic terms, terms that are used to refer colloquially, but no less passionately uttered, to a situation in which dinner might be burnt and therefore fucked, as much in a situation where generations of children would be excluded from the right to education as matter of profitable principle and therefore also fucked, did not, at the time, seem to me to be, as for example Will's last paragraph figures it, to be fighting fire with fire; that is, its usage did not seem to fight being fucked with fucking. Rather, it attempted to channel disgust at a culture of domination into a steady articulation of the social moment; to be representative of a doomed solidarity of victimhood. This now seems far too abstractly posed. What it felt like was the use of a vocabulary that risked a negatively defined solidarity, one that emerged for me as an aspect of the protests at the time that were eminently doomed to failure, even as the movement in its grandest gestures were at their most ebulliently defiant. The vocabulary of fucking would, I hoped, be powerful enough to to reproduce the affective mediocrity of a ruinous and ruling universal imperative - to sacrifice life on the altar of capital - but banal and colloquial enough to temper such a grandiosity of declaimed solidarity; so that the desire to define ourselves negatively in opposition not only with our friends and each other but with everyone we didn't know, the unborn progeny of policy, would be tempered with a more particularly deflated exhalation. The situation in those protests felt so fraught with the sense of everyday intimate ruination that I wanted to try to register this in the most prosaic terms possible; the violence felt so palpable, so keen and generalised and essential at the same time, that I wanted terms that risked collusion in a violent, unthinking metaphorical economy, as connotative of casual despondency as they were of abject despair, in order to rig my "protest poem" with the catch in the throat any such song would need to be articulate. It was precisely the elucidation of the coeval nature of the banal, the ubiquitous and the horrific that the terms "fuck" and "fucked" tried to articulate. That the ruination of intimacy could be properly imputed by the appropriation of the language of sexual violence to connote general suffering I now find hard to stomach; being raped is not like having to pay £9000 a year in tuition fees. I wanted a disproportionate analogy to exacerbate the normalised credulity of defeat; I now think the analogy is clumsy and perhaps useless.

I'm conflicted about the last line of Will's post, that "struggle, in a revolutionary sense, is the only valid form of ecstasy." I suspect that nominating such ecstasy, however various and contingent, as "the only valid form" risks demanding of the language in poetry that it resonate monochromatically with the authentic desire of "revolutionaries," in whatever context they may be writing; and that that resonance will shine with the singular truth of the ecstasy of struggle in order to refute the lesser, invalid ecstasies that are not of the form "struggle." I don't think I'm being pedantic here; I'm not suggesting that Will means that struggle is always and everywhere ecstatic - surely in the vast majority of cases struggle, however broadly defined, is definitively ecstasy's endless refutation - but I want to escape what seems like the extreme reciprocal tennis-match between fucking as sheerest bliss and being fucked as sheerest oppression. For one thing this underlying assumption seems absolutely based on the privilege of penetration and of the cock-bearer: someone always ends up getting fucked. This contradiction seemed pertinent to me at the time of writing the poem in the pamphlet: it exercised an aporetic economy of unfreedom that could be analogous to the condition and trajectory of any collective innervation produced by a large number of my kettled friends. But it now seems to produce in me the wrong disgust.

Sam Solomon wrote an incisive and committed review of the pamphlet, which can be found here.

I want to say all this in the spirit of questioning my own practice as a commitment to getting poetic work done, and to consider the ramifications of work that has been done, because I think my contributions to this exciting on-going discussion can perhaps best pertain to the particulars of work that I know as much as work of my own that I perhaps no longer know, or feel like the conditions for which were so crushed into a sense of staving off despair that I can no longer know them, or reconstruct them as if I did, but have to grasp at their production in retrospect. I feel at the moment that I'm more capable of doing this than anything else, since after all I want the material content of poems to be at the forefront of thinking about what poems are good at, and what they need to be better at doing, in a forum like ours. That said, I don't want to apologise for the potential treatment of this letter as in any sense narcissistic, although I'm aware it might be taken as such.

all best,


Originally posted to the Militant Poetics listserve, June 25th 2013.