It’s been a busy summer, but I was shocked to see just how much time has gone by since I had heard of Leslie Scalapino’s death. My posting schedule was definitely effected by a personal medical problem that I’m still dealing with: a herniated disc in the lower lumbar region of my back. I wasn’t really able sit down, at a computer or anywhere else, for very long until recently. Things are definitely on the mend now, but it will be months still until I am reasonably “back to normal.”
I’ve been writing like mad this past year, aided by unemployment, I suppose, lots of free time. Most of my work has gone up at Gnoetry Daily under my handle (or gamer name, or trickster name) eRoGK7. [Note: Some poems are currently private, but will return to the site soon.] I was surprised that I had written what amounts to two books and a chapbook of (potentially) publishable work, plus one long project that simply went nowhere.
The Writing Project
I can only describe it loosely as a project right now. I have pages and pages of notes and some aborted attempts to start a “poem,” or whatever it will turn out as. The working title is “Love in the Time of Humanitarian Aid,” which I think captures nicely a theme which I now see has run through my work for a while: namely, how is our sense of concern and love for others (call it empathy or compassion) shaped by the national and international institutions that carry out humanitarian aid? My real obsession with this issue came after the recent earthquake in Haiti and the coverage of that, how it fell into all of the standard colonial attitudes and “white man’s burden” traps that are typical of Western coverage of foreign disasters of all kinds. That, together with the beuarocratic games being played with the initial flow of aid into the country and its distribution, reminded me too much of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, and I was (and am) still upset by that travesty, especially after absorbing Spike Lee’s excellent documentary on it.
Having thought about this project for half of the year now, I’ve been drawn towards two root issues that seem fundamental to an understanding of humanitarianism in our global capitalist world: First, that many many people, significantly many other Americans I’ve known, have difficulty recognizing — or easily forget — the common humanity people share beyond the social, historical, religious and cultural differences between nations. By this I mean only that although people everywhere must struggle against different circumstances and conditions, we do all share in the complexity of the human condition and often desire very similar outcomes in life, be that prosperity, peace, or relief from the constant struggle to survive.
I think the author Chimamanda Adichie has done a much better job at explaining this problem. Her talk “The danger of a single story” examines this issue from a properly post-colonial context, explaining how people in the West, influenced by literature from colonial times to the present multimedia landscape, often rely too much on “single story” narratives, such as the backwards tribal African or the Illegal Immigrant Mexican, to make up their understanding of the “other” peoples of the world.
The second root issue that I’ve fixated upon is that of Power, of those that operate regionally and internationally to ensure the exploitation of the mass of peoples around the world for the benefit of an increasingly concentrated few. This is at the expense of many in the First / Developed World as well as the Third / Un(der)developed (if we must still use such terms). It is the greed and genocidal neglicence of such powers and the institutions they rely upon which, often mingled with genuinely good intentions, end up poisoning the drive for global justice, equity and prosperity that might actually benefit the world.
How I want to approach writing a poem about this has been my problem. I don’t feel like computer programs which essentially carry out a highly flexible cut-up method on source texts are the right tools for this project. It’s not about reconfiguring language, or juxtaposing language from different fields/cultures, or even about playing with language in a game-like interface (my own sense of what my Gnoetry aesthetic is). Aside from my visual poetry, my writing for the last two years has been working almost exclusively in this mode, and I have by writing out of my inspiration/obsession with Jackson Mac Low.
Lately, though, I’ve turned increasingly to Gertrude Stein, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino as models for transitioning away from Gnoetry and other computational poetry methods. But this post is getting long enough. What I like most about these authors, beyond their work, is the way they think about and explain the reasons for their writings, the radical way they thought about what writing could do and what they could do through it. I’ll save an in-depth discussion of this for later.
Here, mostly for my own sake, is a list of some of the books, articles, websites and films that I’ve been researching for this project. Who knows what will come out of all this mess.
- Shadows of War, Carolyn Nordstrom
- Frontline: The Quake, PBS (March 30, 2010)
- Easy money: the great aid scam, Linda Polman, The Sunday Times (April 25, 2010)
- The danger of a single story: Chimamanda Adichie on TED.com
- Aid Watch | just asking that aid benefit the poor
- Good Intentions Are Not Enough
- The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
- The Memory of Fire Trilogy, Eduardo Galeano
- Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, William T. Vollmann
- The Making of Americans | Writings 1932-1946 (Vol. 2) | Gertrude Stein: selections (Poets for the Millenium) | by Gertrude Stein
- Way | The Front Matter, Dead Souls | New Time | The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence | Zither & Autobiography | It’s go in quiet illumined grass land | by Leslie Scalapino
- The Language of Inquiry, Lyn Hejinian [Contains the long poem “Happily”]
- Mulamadhyamakakarika, or The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (trans. Jay L. Garfield) | Shunyatasaptatikarikanama, or Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness | The Raja Parikatha Ratnavali, or A Strand of Dharma Jewels | by Arya Nagarjuna
- The Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse
- The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva
- Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Jacquelynn Baas and Mary Jane Jacob, Eds.
- Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek
- Violence | First as Tragedy, Then as Farce | In Defense of Lost Causes | by Slavoj Zizek
- “Use and Abuse of Human Rights,” Gyatri Spivak
- Pathologies of Power: Rethinking Health and Human Rights, Paul Farmer
- Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag
- “‘‘The Most We Can Hope For . . .’: Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism,” Wendy Brown
- Inhuman Condition: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights, by Pheng Cheah