Anarchism and the Experiment: “Poetry is radically communal”

The concept of language as a part of the common is one shared, implicitly, by all the poets in my project, in some form or another, but it is articulated most clearly and explicitly in Duncan’s work. For example, in a late poetic series, Dante Études, he writes:

Go, my songs, then in zealous

liberality, no longer mine,

but now the friendship of the

Reader’s heart and mind. (Groundwork 126)

Critic and poet Stephen Collis argues that this linguistic commonality is central to Duncan’s poetic and political theories. For Duncan, Collis argues, “language is the commons: we all have equal rights to enter there – permission to return to the common source […] Poetry is a gift of the givenness of language and no poet holds property rights over it, but owes it his or her service and responsibility. Poetry is radically communal” (“A Duncan Etude”). The indeterminacy, the engagement of the reading community, the anarchic themes of attentiveness and interconnectivity, and the politics of responsibility that run throughout the very notion of the poetic experiment (and that are central to the texts studied in this project) emphasize the importance of understanding language, and poetic language especially, as a major feature of the common. That is, the common, as elaborated upon by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, is constituted by and of love as a political concept and a resistance tactic. They write: “Every act of love is an ontological event in that it marks a rupture with existing being and creates new being … To say that love is ontologically constitutive then, simply means that it produces the common” (Commonwealth 181). As such, the traditional prioritization and valorisation of the author figure, in its privileging of a single voice, and its subsequent resistance to conversation (which Casarino, in my epigram, suggests is the hallmark of the linguistic common), is an example of the common as corrupt. Consequently, as the texts I study work to problematize or resist authorship, they also work to construct a poetic language that is “radically communal.”

Hardt and Negri’s conceptions of the common show us that Duncan’s notions of the communal nature of language are, to an extent, naïve. They note in their preface to Commonwealth that language, although a part of the common, is becoming increasingly privatized (ix). And, indeed, many other critical theorists have argued that language (in its language-game of giving and receiving information, its substitutive process) is itself inequitable, predicated on the exclusion of others for its expression[i]. Hardt and Negri propose a common that is not, as Duncan’s work here may suggest, a purely public space, but rather one that seeks alternatives to the binary: “neither private nor public, neither capitalist nor socialist … [but one that] opens a new space for politics” (ix). Central to the common, and to the commonality of language, then, is an embracing of the mutability of human nature and of individual subjectivity. What biopolitics shows us is that “human nature” is always in flux (353). And, this argument has, as I have demonstrated, deep roots in the classical anarchist tradition. To this end, the best way to experiment with (and against) biopolitical production, is to embrace this flux, to move from identity to deleuzoguattarian becoming (x).

As I have argued, this shift is evident in the way that the experimental text disrupts or refuses authorship, but, Hardt and Negri maintain, a revolutionary politics cannot exist solely through the refusal of identity, an argument with which the feminist writers of my project would strongly agree. After all, as Howe famously stated in a 2008 interview, the complete refusal of authorship and identity is “alluring – but problematic for women writing/reading poems” (Guthrie). Instead, Hardt and Negri argue that “revolutionary politics has to start from identity but cannot end there. […] Identity is a weapon of the republic of property, but one that can be turned against it” (Commonwealth 326). This process begins, for them, with an attack on invisibility, a reclamation of the means of production of subjectivity, and, ultimately, a shift from stratified identity to a singularity in flux (327-333). In language, this shift can occur only when the text refuses the representation that Lyotard and May both critique above because representation, Hardt and Negri argue, turns singularities into concrete identities (346). Instead, they propose a production of the common (a production which necessitates alternatives to those language-games that stratify) that relies not on anti-globalization, but rather alter-globalization, that moves beyond opposition and resistance and into the creative process of experimentation (102-104). The common, then, is the production of a revolutionary politics that relies on collective social expression, and here we return to the concept of love. For Hardt and Negri, and for this project as a whole, love is the productivity of and in the common (xii). It is a physical force and a political action, but one that embraces flux, seeks alternatives, disrupts representation and expression, and engages the social in collective responsibility within and to itself. Love is responsible to, and part of, the common; it does not rely on the binarism of individual and society, of self and other, but rather embraces the varied connections between individuals that exist exclusively in flux. Indeed, Hardt and Negri’s conception of love here is virtually synonymous with experimentation as postanarchist literary theory defines it.

[i] See, for example, Jacques Lacan’s “Signification of the Phallus,” Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak,” Jacques Derrida’s “Disseminations,” or Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One. Also of interest are Helene Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa,” or Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, for their notions of experimentation as a means out of the exclusionary nature of linguistic signification.

9 thoughts on “Anarchism and the Experiment: “Poetry is radically communal”

  1. Love “is a physical force and a political action, but one that embraces flux, seeks alternatives, disrupts representation and expression, and engages the social in collective responsibility within and to itself.” Indeed! And, beautifully, we can love what we don’t yet know or will never know; we can love possibilities. Love is maybe largely the embrace of/penetration by what can never be fully legible. Love brings the willingness to be disrupted, the belief that such disruption is generative. A perfect philosophy for the ways of reading you are proposing.

  2. “we can love what we don’t yet know or will never know” — Yes!!

    And we can let postanarchism take this one step further: love as radical politics/poetics is embracing a lack of “knowledge.” This can sound Keatsian (and it is, in a sense, a revisionist negative capability — those Romantics were nothing if not good anarchists). I want it to be take further. Not simply accepting that I do not understand, cannot ever adequately communicate, but celebrating the fact that this lack means a freedom from the limiting structures of Truth! The dancing at Emma Goldman’s revolution.

  3. I love the invocation of love – love as disruptive. I think about this in similar terms in relation to Cage, namely that love is something illegible and nonsensical that pushes, pulls, ties up, and liberates subjects (becoming-subjects or just coming-subjects). However, “love” is this big and empty signifier: an aporia of projection – one person’s “love” is another person’s Hallmark card. I guess I’m asking where this “common” is located. Where on earth are these spaces of revolutionary potential – such as Bey’s TAZ, Foucault’s heterotopia, or Hardt and Negri’s common – supposed to be hidden? (I’m sitting in a coffee shop while I’m typing this and I know this is NOT the common). If the common is a space of postanarchism (and it destabilizes and deterritorializes hegemonic structures of culture and language), then it needs to be un-common. The illegibility needs to be graffitied on the walls, or are there walls? My issue has always been that these liminal spaces of resistance are typically abstract: insofar as Foucault offers examples of heterotopias, one wonders if these examples truly encompass his self-declared definition. Does writing happen in the common? Does love?

    1. I’m wondering if this inability to speak the location of the “common” might actually be construed as an advantage — or at least as a strategy for avoiding the space’s incursion and reification by corporate profit-making schemes, governmental repression, or both. For me, the magic of anarchism lies in the fact that the forms resistance will take can’t be dictated in advance, since they arise out of dialogue and shifting participant constituencies. For historical accounts, this requires unflagging inductiveness and collective authorship. But literary theorizing presents a more difficult methodological issue, precisely *because* it’s theorizing — I’m not sure what the most rigorous way to address this issue might be, but it’s definitely something I struggle with in my own work.

      1. I would absolutely agree that the inability to speak the location of the common is an advantage, but I also share Sean’s frustration with the fact that the inherent deterritorialization of the common renders it annoyingly abstract. Love indeed happens there, “writing” may or may not.

        Your point about theory and methodology is an interesting one, too. I often wonder if my attempts to transcribe these moments of the common, of a radically communal textual relationship, could ever do anything except stratify what might otherwise be in flux. From what all three of us are saying here, it would seem that we all share these frustrations. And none of us have answers.

      2. Thank you for all your responses, Dani. Your distinction between Fish/Anderson and the common, as you imagine it, is fantastically useful. I hope we cross paths at a conference in the future! Til then, I look forward to continued installments of your work.


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