1. Notes on Kenneth Goldsmith at the Poetry International Festival

00:00-06:53 The camera shows the audience returning to their seats in an atmosphere where the chattering and the lightning makes us feel something interesting happens when elite bodies meet to enjoy Art and Language once again.

07:06-07:24 “Poetry International Festival Rotterdam. Kenneth Goldsmith Pierre Alferi” (2015). For almost twenty seconds we see the image of two persons together (arms crossed, holding each other, embracing) and a chain. It is both a chain and a beautiful thing. It is a very good visual definition of Art today.

07:25-12:33 A white moderator appears wearing a beautiful suit. His body language (facial expressions, tone of voice and movement of hands) reiterates the audience this is an educated and reasonable man. “Important subjects… we can talk as man to man, woman to woman, human to human, which is, which means we share a room together, this evening, in a conversation that I hope everyone will enjoy, and feel to be part of the conversation as well”. One of the best verbal definitions on how the elitist cultural illusion works.

12:32-12:47 The artist-poet Kenneth Goldsmith enters the stage of the Poetry International Festival. He is wearing a white suit. The introduction made no mention, of course, of his recent racist performance. He looks charming and bright up there. Once he starts doing the talking, Goldsmith uses his voice (as ever) to construct himself as a Poet. He uses the tone of his voice to inform others he is the embodiment of High Culture. And to inform others that if you are listening and are part of this language game you should feel privileged too. Notice how he says words like “beautiful” (12:38), “taste” (13:00) or “death” (22:43). He reads for the next minutes brief excerpts from different pieces. The texts are standard. It is not there where his art resides. Kenneth Goldsmith’s art is very traditional and reactionary: the center of his aesthetic form is his voice. But nor him or his critics can say this, because the whole language game would start to collapse. And this language game has as one of its most important rules not to mention anything about the use of clothes, photography, whiteness, body language and tone of voice as the central features of North-American conceptualism. This language game consists in pretending the techniques and the concepts are at the center, and not the embellishing of white supremacist control of bodies. This voice is sophisticated. This voice is elegant. This voice is cool. This voice is soft. This voice is nice. This voice is American. This voice is privileged. This voice is well-mannered. This voice is aristocratic. This voice is democratic. This voice can contain other voices without losing its own fine personality. This voice, you need to listen to. This voice, you need to understand. You need to desire this voice. This voice hides the civilizational crime. Humans should worship a voice like this one. This voice’s performance and explanation you need to buy. This voice informs its own body and other’s that this voice loves the systems of co-control it lives in. This Voice is Often Permitted to Return to a Meadow.

23:00-26:25 The moderator returns and introduces Pierre Alferi. He lies about the importance of the artist coming next, as all introducers do.

26:26-42:03 The French aesthete Pierre Alferi talks/reads statements that have been said thousands of times and are supposed to make listeners feel they are new, smart, nuanced, provocative or possibly subversive. He says nothing about Goldsmith’s open complicity with North-American imperialism and white supremacy. Alferi is so out of touch that he says that he feels “a little like an Indian in the prairie of language… but however, if I am not mistaken, we don’t need this time to kill each other” (41:49-42:01). The audience applauds and some giggle.

42:19-[The End] Kenneth Goldsmith, Pierre Alferi, the moderator and Mia You get together for the final round of conversation. For the remainder half and hour they will talk, especially Goldsmith, saying obvious things in order to avoid the obvious: Kenneth Goldsmith needs to be radically questioned. And nobody does it. And this is what the art context functioning in that space-time is all about, protecting art’s complicity with capitalism and making us applaud and feel the elite is really smart and interesting.

1:08:28-1:12:54 Mia You starts to take the role of the critic finally showing up and will try to question Goldsmith. And the moderator immediately pressures this last-minute-critic saying the traditional “We are running out of time” (to try to undermine the last-minute-critic’s capacity to question the authority of the white artist-writer). As she is starting to try to bring the uncomfortable issue on the table, the last-minute-critic puts her hand in her throat as if she wants to choak herself, hide she is nervous or maybe try to control her voice, and in any case, to try to keep a reasonable, not angry, not aggressive voice, because she is struggling with all those Western dominant values and, in general, obeying the way intellectuals are supposed to express themselves. The critic then builds her momentum and stops controlling her throat and questions Goldsmith rather softly on his recent performance using the report of a black man executed by the police to help neutralize this violent racist event through the umbrella of art. When Goldsmith finally starts to respond, the camera doesn’t move and keeps looking at Mia You, the last-minute-critic, to try to protect Kenneth Goldsmith until the last seconds, as if the burden caused by the response should fall on the critic and get Goldsmith off the hook as long as possible. Once his answer begins to become intellectually credible (gathering notions, terminology, arguments to launch a smoke screen), the screen finally shows Goldsmith continuing his explanation, and says “it was the apparatus” (1:10:18) and “apparatus” he says with that particular tone of voice he uses strategically to create an audio-aura. His explanation works for the intellectual classes because it reduces the discussion to the aesthetic realm. “You know… I am a poet, I make failed works… Many of my works don’t come off. Many of our works don’t come off… Experiments don’t always work”. Goldsmith standard explanation creates consensus and acceptance in the four intellectuals (as their body language clearly shows). And once Goldsmith explanation is coming to an end, the camera again returns to the critic and her agreement (in the moderators words) that “we are running out of time… we have a lot of stuff to talk about for hours, if we could have the time, but I am afraid there’s another program approaching”. As if they weren’t responsible for deciding to not talk about this for the last one hour and twelve minutes. The art show ends. And we are suppose to identify with this crap.

2. Notes on art’s crap

1. Once art is invoked, every one around it becomes impelled to maintain civility. Behave. Obey. Take Your Place. Behave.

2. Whether a material artifact, a verbal entity or a concept, we have arrived to an age where art serves a police function. Art is a context in which the concept of police circulates among its participants. Every element of art polices the others. Whether in front of a microphone, a painting, a book, an author, an audience, a camera, art sole communication is “Police Yourself”. And you are supposed to be the detective who finds other meanings in art and never find the police and the crime. You will police yourself to not ever find the police and the crime.

3. Whenever, wherever, art exists, the body must behave well. This is what art contexts train human bodies to do. Art is an education to self-control yourself in order to enter art’s realm. In art’s realm pleasant feelings are provided for you to experience police as the most beautiful experience.

4. The function of the Aesthetic is to sabotage individual discontent and prevent violent collective explosions.

5. Art softens the senses. Art prepares persons to accept all sort of lies. Aesthetic contemplation is counter-insurgency in the form of delight. 

6. Police is the ruling concept of art.

7. Works of art are part of the pacification apparatus.

8. Works of art are part of the apparatus to pacify populations through the fantasy of a civilizational mediation happening through the educated classes. They consider this a utopia. Works of art are part of the apparatus to pacify the educated classes until they are reduced into agreeing among themselves. They consider this a triumph. And the artist and the critic make believe themselves they are questioning something.

9. Works of art are civilizational devices designed to undermine bodily revolutionary forces.

10. Works of art are surrounded by liberal and neoliberal agents in conversation, who whether aware of this or not, agree that talking-about is a good or great thing. They call it “dialogue”, and they think very highly of it, they regard it as one of their most cherished values, when, in fact, talking hours and hours about this or that only serves their own interests, it grants them high-culture status and functions, respectability, resources and jobs. “Dialogue” gives time for the killing machinery to continue. Art and Dialogue delay the decision to accept the overthrowing of civilization by ourselves or others. Art and Dialogue are counter-revolutionary.

11. Art will not change. Art will not change art. Art will not change the world. The world needs to destroy art. The transformation of the world will involve the destruction of every form of art. Art's self-destruction is not enough.

June 23, 2015


(Still An On-Line Draft)

As a member of the 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conference that crumbled because most of us cancelled (for different reasons), I decided to attend all the seminars and readings I could during the new one titled “Crosstalk, Color, Composition”. I attended three of the seminars (workshop/talks), two of the four poetry readings and the Closing Conversation. I am not sure if all the events were recorded. I think the organizers were avoiding making it a really public event, but I hope I am wrong and my notes can be soon corroborated by the recordings once they become public. Or by others participant’s and audience members’ documentation. I am not sure even if my documentation will be welcomed by the poets involved but I am going to publish it because the conference was a public event and I think very relevant things were said, ones that can help us understand how imperial poetics permeates all the spaces and members of North-American experimentalism(s).

I will particularly concentrate on the last days’ events (Wednesday/Thursday 10:30 to 3:30 pm), which I think were particularly dense with meanings and forms that speak to and about this moment. As a preamble I will describe my impressions on prior performances (Tuesday’s).

I will always regret for not being able to be at the other events, which I hope somebody documented so we can all learn from them. I also want to start this document by expressing my gratitude to the organizers and participants. I will probably be as demonic as I always am, but I know you understand poetry is demonic and should stay that way, precisely because it disrupts our sense of comfort.

I want then to begin citing and commenting the concept that gave shape to the second conference: 

“We write to announce the transformation of the 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conference into a series of conversations, performances, and readings titled Crosstalk, Color, Composition: A Berkeley Poetry Conference.  The conference we had originally imagined and long-planned for no longer appears tenable but we see, in the failure of our original plan, an opportunity to open up new channels of conversation and to feature a new constellation of poets.  To that end, we are organizing a new multi-day event around readings given by and seminars led by several poets of color of national reputation... We want to emphasize that the goal of the conference’s design is to enlarge national paradigms for reading and writing poetry by creating a space in which poets of color may define the issues central to their poetry and imagination.  Crosstalk, Color, Composition will provide a forum for poets, scholars, and the interested public to question the intersections between race, imagination, artistic practice, community, and the institutional lives of poetry, among others.  We believe that such conversations are not simply matters of special interest, but have implications for national literature…”

In bold letters, I am bringing out an element that stands together with the new central concept of inviting poets of color. The national! The national! THE NATIONAL! I know other writers and networkers noticed this element too.

What the national element is doing is warding off the foreign, the alien, the unwelcomed, the transnational. And the national element also helped to control the potentially subversive element of color. By making it a national-colored conference, the participants were structurally invited to remain within the confines of the nation state of poetics, that is, the color element (which is historically foreign) became tamed, weaken, controlled. This is what the element of “composition” also emphasizes: color was asked to compose itself according to the nationalistic. This controlling formula determined a lot of the events happening within this structure. Nationhood became a formula to ensure civility.

With this in mind I arrived to Tuesday’s reading by the Black Took Collective (Duriel Harris, Dawn Lundy Martin, Ronaldo Wilson). I enjoyed it, probably too much. The content was a critique of White Supremacy, a denunciation of practices, artifacts, discourse, imaginaries, imposed on black bodies in North-American society. There is no way you cannot agree with the denunciation of White Supremacy. But some aspects of the form of the video and performance, I have to confess, escaped me. I think Ronaldo Wilson’s role is particularly dependent on North-American mainstream pop and fashion values.

As somebody who spent his teen years in a Tijuana slum with no electricity, I just missed all the pop fun. To this day, I lack connection to many aspects of the cultural industry, from movie references, brand names, some music & video culture I haven’t catch up from that period, etc., so here I am hesitant about my reception of Wilson’s insistence on cool dancing or making constant fashion statements as gestures of radical critique.

From my very personal and cultural background and later experience, I think this heavy embracement and reliance on the cultural industry archive and its embodiments hurts and embeds the critical message he wants to send. The form is too pop to be anti-hegemonic, too in love with mainstream spectacular subject-making. But the message is so powerful that it manages to materially and phantasmagorically survive within the pop-spectacular grid.

I was seating in the back of the room, where I could see others members of the audience (overwhelmingly white audience, as always in UC Berkeley events) reporting enjoyment of the form. Facial and body language look mostly relaxed or even was sending pleasant feedback back to the performance.

I remember a camera in the back either during this reading or next morning’s seminar. I hope that documentation is made soon available, in its entirety, so we can all analyze how can we as poet-performers trying to send a critical work of art that can disrupt the privileges of White Supremacy (routinely enjoyed by audiences in university settings like UC’s) without recurring to the archive of pop, which mostly takes over it.

I am going to leave this point here until we have that material available in its entirety, so we can explore questions like: Do we want the audience to feel jouissance during our performances? How can we as poets of color prevent white audiences from merely feeling reassurance that their elite education successfully trained them to be empathetic with performers of color? Do we want them to feel disrupted, happy, comfy, uncomfortable? What are the forms of critical poetry? And maybe to begin with: are we as performers in the North-American experimental scene ready for trans-national examination of our methods and forms? Or is this too disruptive or “threatening” for the mostly protective North-American experimental “community”?

Unavoidably as colonialism progresses and the Internet spreads, poetry produced in the US will probably become totally dominant through out the continent as, for example, North-American music has been for decades.

Once that process reaches a certain tipping point (which may be arriving in the wake of conceptualisms and post-conceptualisms), North-American poetics will be open to transnational scrutiny, as I think I have been doing for more than a decade now in a kind of forerunner way, I guess, before more numbers of foreign participants-observers-outsiders send feedback or disrupt North-American imperial experimental poetics.

Let’s push then for the crisis to continue so poetry doesn’t become totally ideological, that is, the meadow where a post-crisis or a non-crisis is forged, bracketed, interrupted or fantasied.

Let’s bomb the North-American Illusion of the National to begin with. Let us the Aliens “invade” the U.S. Let’s make the Donald Trumps of Poetics get angry.

Tuesday 10;30 to 1:30 pm: Geographies of Struggle. Panel with Tonya Foster, Ronaldo Wilson, and Duriel Harries

Tonya Foster probably made the most relevant discussion of the last two days of the Seminar’s calendar. She read pieces that explored her experience and involvement with documenting, contacting and being absorbed by (and struggling with) surveillance culture. Listening to her was for me the high point of the Conference. She made it happened: content and form having a good fight, creating a tension, making art appear.

Then Ronaldo Wilson followed and I was waiting to hear him so I could educate myself more on his performative form, maybe try to understand more why I wasn’t connecting with his part of the previous night performance.

Wilson put some videos of him dancing. And the videos were long, and framed in a kind of showing off performative persona, too narcissistic and probably targeted at Millenial culture, that I just don’t get as a late Gen X from the Third World. For me the videos were boring and structured by a North-American gaze. This wasn’t doing anything different than MTV. And what he was saying was just super-imposed. At some point he said this was trans-national because some of the clothes were from Asia and some from California. It made no sense. Wilson was improvising explanations and they weren’t working. Again, maybe me not being a National-North-American is the problem. I had to leave at 3. Did something different happen after?

Wednesday 1:30 to 3:30 pm: Asian-American Avant-Garde. Workshop with Sean Labrador y Manzano

I was able to return to the afternoon seminar. My very mixed-feeling about the previous events had me almost quit coming back, but I came back anyway. Labrador began reading and the form caught me. 

I was curious also about his archive. He gave all this information, names, works, some context about the Asian/American Avant-Garde, everything that all of us, as data mongers, curious scholars or colonial ethnographers always crave for (especially coming from native informants).

He put a video performance of his partner throwing water and hitting him, and how this relates to torture, mass murder, anthropology, imperialism, and Asian/American avant-garde archives.

But once the explanation began, Labrador seemed to make the ideological content of his poetics neutralize the critical elements in the form. He talked about lineage, his embracement of lineage. For me lineage is always suspect. And then he talked about “loyalty”. Loyalty? Toward what? Loyalty toward the US? And because this got mixed with him talking about getting into the U.S. military, the critical elements just went to the floor.

At one point of his talk, he openly became apologetical of the imperial crusade. He was insisting he didn’t “feel safe” at most poetry readings, because he was the only one or one of the few Asian-Americans present. I can relate to that, I mean, I can relate to being a minority in white-dominated events but I don’t understand what North-Americans (white or non-white) mean by feeling “safe” because I come from a city (Tijuana) that is controlled by two governments, literally surveilled 24/7 by the Nafta military, so when a pro-military North-American says he feels “unsafe” around other bodies I run for cover: some ammunition is literally coming (Mexicans are all the time executed by North-American border agents. I don’t think this gets to mainstream U.S. news but this is our daily reality). But I can understand Labrador saying he doesn’t like to be in mostly white audiences as an audience member, though he seemed very comfortable as a performer at UC Berkeley.

And then he told us a brief anecdote of him saying to some Asian-American poets who consider themselves anti-imperialist or anti-capitalists “but you have a white girlfriend” as to imply there is no anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist position possible. And as if the only posible credibility is capitalistic credit and its credibility. And Labrador expanded on how he appreciated and has reconciled with the U.S. aggression to the land of his ancestors, because the U.S.: “gives you one of the best places to live”.

Labrador’s open apologetics in favor of North-American imperialism, as coming from a colonial subject, was accepted by the audience. And this was probably the first moment that I fully began to realize where the new Berkeley conference discussion was going.

He insisted the current climate at the poetry world made him “scared to take positions”, though I think he was just taking one of the worst positions possible: the colonial subject who uses the colonial insurgency archive toward the work of counter-insurgency, or, in the best of cases, deploying the colonial archive at the same time you conduct a parallel pro-military campaign inside experimentalism.

At one point C. S. Giscombe said that “accepting everything feels good”. And I wanted to tell him, yes, I understand what you are saying, but if we break that "everything" down in a bigger context, North-American soldiers are killing people and I don’t accept that. And Labrador, as an Asian-American poet, is defending colonization and it doesn’t feel good to me. Labrador is risking doing something very similar to Gone With the Wind: he is being grateful to the masters, and I am supposed to feel good or feel sympathy? With him? With [North-American] end-results of the imperial crusade? No, this context doesn’t feel good, I am too fucking tired of U.S. imperialism, from my childhood in an old Tijuana neighborhood close to the border and then in my young life in a slum at the other extreme of the city, I could see North-American helicopters patrolling the border and like other Tijuana kids I played and dreamt about shooting down those mother-fucking machines. 

I like C. S. Giscombe but I don’t like everything.

Labrador also engaged in a discussion about the schizophrene and the psychotic. This came from Bhanu Kapil’s use of it. Kapil was mentioned a lot of times by Labrador. She was the dominating reference during this morning. Kapil was Labrador’s central point of reference and the discussion of the schizophrene was really a discussion of Kapil’s notions and reception. 

Labrador’s workshop ended without anybody (including me) saying anything against the passive-aggressive, soft, naturalized imperialism running a sometimes parallel, sometimes intersected course with experimentalism. I have said things in the past about this during events, but I learnt you only become unwelcomed. If you say something about imperial ingredients giving shape to poetics, then, you are seen as unexpected, nasty, violent, a paratactic tactical out of place disjointed guerrilla warrior making nice people uncomfortable and unsafe, even though it is the police outside and the U.S. who is really enforcing Safety and doing the killing. And is always us who need to remain silent.

Thursday 10:30 am to 12:30 pm: Post-Crisis Poetics (Workshop with Brian Ang)

“Discussion will concern the post-crisis poetics concept, the seminar poetries, and further perspectives about what poetry and poetics contribute or could contribute to critically thinking about the post-crisis period in progress, including connections with participants’ work.”

Ang makes a very good presentation from a mostly traditional Marxist perspective, which comes with its Eurocentric teleology. My traditional Marxist training prepares me to agree with this framework and I find myself fighting my embodiment of that training. And the audience increasingly disagrees with Ang’s Marxism. The whole morning, Marxism was a no-no to the audience. 

At one early point Ang summarized his Post-Crisis Poetics in the form of the question “How are our lives going to be in the coming years?” But in listening I am wondering “Who is the we in “our lives”? Ang’s we seems national, North-American, so he seems to be asking “How are North-American lives going to be in the coming years?”

And I too wonder about how North-American lives are going to be in the coming years because when North-American lives economically prosper ours in the Global South worsen and when North-American lives worsen ours collapse. And what we are afraid is going to happen is that when North-American lives collapse we are simply going to be annihilated.

Ang talked a lot about periodicity (how convenient or not is Jameson’s for example) but in the periodicity being discussed 1492 or 1521 don’t show up, and this is very traditionally Marxist (Marx was not very accurate about the role of the colonial in capitalism), so in Ang’s presentation he ignores the role of the Conquest and thus his periodicity misses the point when Modernity and the global market (really) started. And then he misses how the coloniality of power is working in his own schema of things.

But the audience feels even more conservative than Ang’s traditional Marxism. And I think that's a bigger problem that Ang's Western-centric Marxism.

Ang insists poets should be militants. He characterizes the former insurgent model as the poet who formulates messianic utterances. He exemplifies this anachronistic model in Ginsberg “I declare the end of the War!” referring to Vietnam in his “Wichita Vortex Sutra”. Ang declares this model is over. He insists David Lau’s “Occupy everything, including Humanities,” (that influenced the Occupy movement) as a sign of the new program.

Ang insists Occupy is (still) his model for acting (2015). One member of the audience challenges the validity of the Occupy paradigm. Another reports having been sick of it after seeing it being dominated by privileged whites who lived in tents while paying high rent departments in San Francisco. Ang gets questioned (in a friendly way) about how his cartography in general (and particularly his hand-out) seems centered on white/Marxists theorist/authors.

Sean Labrador y Manzano participates and referring to some of these figures he says: “they prevented me from listening” and “I don’t know how to read these people [anymore]”, “that’s the crisis… being infantilized [by them]”. “I feel unsafe at the Public School”.

So this poet is telling us he is pro-military, pro-North-American, saying we all should feel the way he feels and be thankful to the Great United States of America for invading our countries and then giving us the best place to live in Earth but he says he doesn’t feel “safe” at the Public School?

L. Hejinian takes the microphone and says Sean told whatever she wanted to say. As somebody interested in how voice and authority circulates in literary communities in the Americas, it has been very interesting how in these last couple of days Hejinian and Labrador have been communicating.

I am sitting in the back of the room. I accept the place the second conference has given me as a non-national member. As somebody who is outside the “National”. I take that position as an opportunity to feel as an (unconfortable) observer.

The most noticeably thing in the second half of the seminar’s week is that Sean Labrador has gone unchallenged. He has become the star of the poetics discussion. And I find it macabre, funny, ironic, that an Asian-American poet with pro-military positions and a very equivocal discourse has managed to gain and at the same accept the role of the star of the Berkeley poetics discussion.

At another point of the dialogue, which is always friendly and interesting, Ang said “you can’t do political struggle all the time but you can do poetry all the time”. And again I wonder who is the “you” that can do poetry all the time. In my mind appear a lot of people (for instance in Mexico) that can’t do poetry all the time, even though they dream about doing poetry sometimes. And I think of libraries. Who has them? What is needed to do poetry “all the time”? Who has those conditions?

I think of myself in the 90’s when I was a maquila worker and felt miserable during my 12 hours shift and dreamt about writing poems while at the assembly line. I remembered how I was trying to put words together in my mind to make a poem and feel my day was a human one. But I had to put the pieces together, the assembly line was fast, the pieces always won over the words in my mind.

In the Third World you do survival struggle all the time and only a few can do poetry all the time or sometimes. And the Third World is not only located in the Global South.

So Ang’s principle of poetic action must be corrected to say: “North-American poets can’t do political struggle all the time but they can do poetry all the time” (if they are successful or semi-successful in the job market).

“Poetry preserves knowledge for when there’s hot moments” Ang says, and then he is reminded by a member of the audience “totalizing history is problematic… History doesn’t preserve everything”.

“I don’t need more concepts” is told to Ang. And then the point of “the absence of certain presences" returns (Bay Area people who some feel should be at the conference now as audience members). It is argued it is only “through presence” that the discussion should be engaged (participation through virtual reality/social media seems inconvenient, unwelcomed during these last days). Marxism and the Internet are not ok at the Berkeley conference.

But who can be “present” in Berkeley? Who has the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to be here in Berkeley, to be able to regularly come to conferences like this one? I keep feeling the need for me to scream at the organizers to put everything they do, every class, every event (and not just a few) on-line so we at the third world can witness this. This building, that library is supported (economically) by us, by the terror and exploitation the US conducts over the rest of the continent and the world, but we are denied access even to the colonial archives the Humanities’ industry has accumulated (from and against us).

I was able to come to Berkeley, but I am an exception, I was lucky to be able to escape the maquila. When I return to Mexico, my students will not have private nor public libraries (practically nonexisting in the great majority of the country), but some of them have access to the Internet. So we need to occupy the Internet for them, we also need to do the virtual fight, to document things that universities want to keep private, we need the global archive to be on-line and not controlled by Kenneth Goldsmith nor only privately share between the Berkeley community. 

But even this is not enough. Nothing we can think of is beyond the colonial. This is the real defeat.

My past students in Mexico couldn't conduct research. Without libraries no research can be done. Most Third World students cannot compete with US students, their chances in the national and global Humanities are very slim. I don’t think people today in the conference or any other day in Berkeley think about that. I don’t even think they want to think about that. And that’s all I think about. That is what my life has been all about. How to write, how to teach, how to research, in a university system totally devastated, how to survive and then how to help others survive in the Humanities in a condition of total colonial dispossession?

“The crisis at the core [US] will affect everything” says Ang, falling again into Eurocentrism. He seems to think the Revolution needs to happen here and then Russia and Latin America will feel the effect or catch up. But he seems to forget the 20th Century Revolution first happened in Russia and Mexico, and long before Occupy, el zapatismo in Chiapas (1994) began the current struggle and produced a lot of the tactics now being replayed and adapted in the US. I have seen occupy in Mexico City, in Oaxaca, in a lot of places in the South long before this happened in the U.S. But this doesn't appear on the current calendar and map and that's typically colonial.

It wasn't the core that began the struggle, Ang, and revolution will not begin here. We can be sure about that. Comrade, and I saying this without any trace of irony, 1994 was the year that traditional Marxism expired, and new materialistic struggles began, way more radical than Marx. And never less than Marx. Get a new compass and shoot against your clock.

Never less than Marx. This is especially important because in the US, if somebody criticizes Marxism most of the time is not to go further into revolutionary praxis and theory, but to return to liberal or neoliberal positions. That’s the trick of North-American cultural agents engaging “critically” with Marxism. Overwhelmingly, Post-Marxism = Pro-Capitalism. This is how, for instance, Critical Theory is used in “post-Marxist” Berkeley.

Our crisis began in 1521 and the same colonial-capitalistic market killing machine is on today. There is no post-crisis for us yet.

Ronaldo Wilson arrives late, explains why, he explicitly wants everybody in the event to understand his lifestyle, he explains why he is coming late. He makes some comments about a brand of clothes, I think, but I am not familiar with it and I get confused exactly why is he explaining how his choice of clothes today is related to his arrival, but he takes the microphone to start his participation showing us how much he enjoys performing his mix of the critical and frivolous (Kenneth Goldsmith enjoys this a lot too) and then (engaging with the critical) Wilson asks Ang: “How does the archive work?”

Wilson is asking a very interesting question, he is also pointing out how Ang’s references and framework is mostly male-white-Marxist centered. Wilson lists his own archive. “The only reason I got a job is I hold on to this legacy” he says.

I feel uncomfortable hearing that. I don’t think he said that with too much irony. But the statement cannot be listened without irony, how the question of legacy, the North-American job marked and color is structured. Wilson is a poet-performer who seems to enjoy announcing his love of cultures of color and then his privileged position in the white cultural elite structure. This seems a constant syntagmatic form Wilson engages in. A mix of frontal liberal ideology and neoliberal asides by an experimental black North-American poet.

“What’s your archive?”, he again asks Ang (questioning him about the color of his archive) and then he clarifies “I like white men a lot”, and I keep thinking why is he insisting in performing this syntagmatic structure, which in one moment is against white supremacy and the next inviting us to love the white man?

I understand the syntagmatic structure but I don’t understand what he wants to achieve. One of its effects is to make critique more acceptable to audiences and another effect is to kill with the neoliberal asides even the liberal critical ideology you just said, so I don’t understand exactly what Wilson desires to achieve. He seems to enjoy it and make the audience enjoy it, that is clear by the tone of his voice and the audience sound reaction.

Why is he criticizing white control of bodies and then talking about his love of mainstream fashion and white men? I keep thinking I wouldn’t like to be Wilson’s student and hear all this talk. I think the elite classes can handle it and like it, embrace that irony, but the lower classes really would only be invited to give up the fight or feel disempowered. I know professors like that in Berkeley and they are totally disempowering. Colonial.

Am I supposed to hear those comments Wilson choses to constantly say in the conference? Again, his discourse is contradictory, seems to be playing against itself, but, at the same time, seems to invite us not to say anything about this and only laugh in complicity with him and the mainstream. And because he is black you are supposed to not say anything against this liberal-neoliberal syntagmatic structure?

“Is the performance about being dominated [by whites]? Wilson asks Ang, and I would love to ask Wilson to respond to that question himself, but again, I am not American/National, so I need to remain silent.

“Maybe interview David Lau [and ask] what do you think of the black arts movement?” Wilson suggests to Ang.

C. Giscombe says “there are no safe places in public”. This is something I’ve been hearing also which I disagree a lot. I don’t understand North-American elites' permanent preoccupation with being “safe”. I think they haven’t made the connection about this feeling and their government-corporations-media systematic training in making them react that way to any questioning from the “outside”.

Every time North-Americans feel “unsafe”, others get killed abroad. If there is something that North-Americans critical agents need to learn is to feel “unsafe”.

Then at the Closing Conversation, L. Hejinian says “I personally felt totally devastated” [after the first 2015 Berkeley Poetry Conference collapsed) and says she was “angry they [first conference members] weren’t here”. She says she was “profoundly devastated” but “was rescued by all of you”. She also says one of the indications they gave themselves (as organizers) was to “stay off social media”.

As minutes go by during the Closing Conversation, the conversation gets more and more closed, defensive, protective, it seems they are feeling in need of a shell structure. The tone becomes so family-like that I start to feel uneasy to be taking notes with my pencil and probably citing some of those notes in the Internet, even though this is a public event, and everything they said was something they chose to say in public. But I begin to feel they may have lost awareness this is a public conference and not a private elite conversation. I get angry at myself for worrying about them.

And “devastated” is a word that keeps sounding in my mind. “Devastated”. By what? By criticism? Are white North-American poets so fragile, really? I think of Watten also. Have they questioned why they tell us they are devastated? 

And why are they devastated? And is this devastation the same that the colonial devastation that the indigenous people, non-elite black and non-elite latino populations, for example, experience in their daily life and have been experiencing for hundreds of years non-stop? I don’t think so.

Hejinian then reads Robert Duncan’s “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow”.

In listening to Hejinian read Duncan I feel so foreign now, I am thinking of getting out of the room. I start to feel this room is the meadow and if I don’t run soon, I will be trapped inside of it or, at least, this structure will clone itself in my mind, and it will forever permit me to return to this mental meadow.

But I don’t run, I stay there, and I am getting angry at myself for coming and at them for being so privileged and at any opportunity just running away from the colonial setting. Or using it for job market purposes. I feel angry at being a poet. All of this is why I cancelled my participation in the Berkeley Poetry Conference and why I am still angry for having been weak and accepting in the first place. I am angry at the capitalistic context we accept as the only context that can make poetry happen, a poetry that actually makes capitalism happen. 

Why do they need to preserve the privileged permission White supremacy gives them to return to a “meadow”? Why are we so happy about the Meadow?

There are no meadows in the mind of the oppressed. They are only slums, factories, forced-labor fields, border detention facilites, Guantanamos, Abu Ghraibs, cops, devastated streets and jails. Meadows? This is one of the moments I again want to burn the library.


dlci understand Wilson and I understand Labrador, now I understand them. I love white poetry. I love Lyn Hejinian's work SO MUCH, only my love of Gertrude Stein’s poetry is bigger and I hate myself for this SO MUCH now. She is a great poet and person, I know, she is not the problem. The only way I could possibly said this to her personally would be in a total state of collapse. I would break down in tears and then probably collapse because my whole colonial being was structured through a very strong component of love for Western literature and art, and without that I would lose all sense of reality. The problem is then our shared love for the MEADOW.

Vanessa, you are winning, YOU ARE WINNING.

I know, my dear.

Hejinian remembers that Bakhtin said that the novel took everything in (its capacity for heteroglossia) but says that now poetry is doing that. Poetry, according to her, is taking everything in.

“It seems right now that poetry takes in those materials”.

But then, Lyn, why are you also saying [North-American] poetry should not take in the trans-national?

And why then should [North-American] poetry not take social media? Or Marxism? Or disruption? Or white poets feeling devastated?

Why are these very important elements today not part of the “everything” [North-American] poetry is and should take in?

At this point of the conference I am lost. Either they are making total sense to themselves, or this is not making any sense at all for anybody.

I go out of the room. I leave my things there so I make sure I return to the meadow. But I have to go out for a few minutes to walk. In another meadow. My body has been hurting there and I was feeling I was getting dizzy.

When I return to the meadow, Sean Labrador is saying “Marxist theology” robe him of something, don’t understand what, but I hear him saying that and then saying some time ago he chose “getting into the military” and becoming and “instrument of foreign policy”.

Should we applaud him or something?

Vanessa, you are winning. Indeed, you are closing the conference at Berkeley.

And then a member of the audience says he is from Philadelphia and we need to return to the “creative artifact” and asks why did 'they' “allow tactically risky warriors to divide us” and he puts them in the “outskirts”.

He is referring to the Mongrel Coalition, I guess, and to others disrupters in the poetry community right now. These statements seem to be variants of Duncan’s “meadow”.

He is white. And I don’t think he realizes how saying this is so wrong and even more so in the aftermath of the killing in Charleston a few hours before and Donald Trump's words against Mexicans describing them in the same kind of North-American white protective discourse. 

The conversation just keeps closing and closing itself from the outside and becoming so nicely right-wing, at best liberal, that Wilson participates again to say this is a moment for “privileging intimacy, privacy” and returning to “the importance of quiet, intimacy, privacy”.




Civility. The poetry community seems to be asking for Civility.

Meadow, Vanessa, Meadow, you too are asking for a meadow, the meadow of White supremacy spaces, where intellectuals can do whatever they want without outside noise and tactical warriors from the outskirts.

You want the poet to be dead, but you still want to live in a place where you are often permitted to return to the lyrical meadow.

Vanessa Place is the new Robert Duncan.

If you read Duncan’s poem there’s more than the peaceful air or the fucking eco-poetic dog running around and precisely because there’s more, Vanessa Place wants to be often permitted to return to that meadow.

“I love being in the academy”, Wilson says. (Place's laughter silently fills the room now).

Yes, you look very comfy, there, Vanessa. Indeed, very comfy, my dear. 

Wilson said this (addressing outside voices, I guess): “how dare you” (and he used a great performer voice to say this), “how dare you fucking say I can’t have nationalist, American, concerns? FUCK YOU!"

He said it. Wilson just said fuck-you to us, the non-nationals? the non-nationalists? And he added he doesn’t need to think of the “global” or the “transnational”. He said it out loud. He has that power. He is part of the elite.

He can pretend the fruits he buys and eats, the cool clothes he wears, the books he reads, this fucking colonial world he inhabits is not a direct product of the global and the transnational. Or he know it or he forgets it and then he can claim the North-American Right to enjoy a world made possible by a transnational brutal economy but have his fucking discussion about poetics in a national delusional cynical comfy setting. 

Your truly, Vanessa, the world is yours truly indeed. The Berkeley poetics battle is over. You, Vanessa Place, won. The Meadow is Now Yours.

June 18-20, 2015