Erin Moure

“To march is writing”: Anarchism and Resistance in _Pillage Laud_

In light of these discussions of readership, authorship, and anti-archive, I should at this juncture spend some time discussing the role of politics proper, and for the sake of this project, of anarchism, in Pillage Laud. The text is at once clearly politicized—by virtue of the necessarily antitraditional positioning of the texts as lesbian sex poems notwithstanding the indeterminacy of their production—and apolitical due to the lack of a clearly defined voice speaking. If, picking up from my last entry in this project, we read the text as the enactment of or enunciation of a speaking self through the fact that a text was produced in the first place, then we must also look at the politics of the relationship between an author produced by the text and his/her audience. That relationship is, I would like to argue, necessarily anarchist in nature, not because there is no power exerted over individuals in the process of reading and writing this text, but because the power is reciprocal. In its reversal of the typical linear power relations between reader and writer, it produces a new way of approaching the political poem that is postanarchist in nature, and that relies heavily on the technological aspects of its production.

While Pillage Laud is not explicitly a digital text, we can still read its technological elements in light of the theories of reading hypertext that have, it would seem, gone out of vogue since the rise of digital humanities. To do so, I return to the work of Michael Joyce and his discussion of the various forms of hypertext. In an early plateau, I positioned Pillage Laud alongside Joyce’s conception of the exploratory hypertext, but on further consideration, I would like to instead (or perhaps also) read these poems as a form of constructive hypertext as Joyce also discusses. The constructive hypertext is marked as slightly different from the exploratory hypertext insofar as it is acutely aware of its readership and is thus unique in its relationship to its audience. Joyce argues that in light of this unique relationship to the reader who physically engages with and changes the text, the constructive hypertext can and should be read as politically salient if positioned as a series of encounters (par. 24). The constructive hypertext functions, much like Mac Low’s asemantic work, as a way of enabling the readers to become politically engaged by way of identifying the ways in which their choices are made for them through the acts of making decisions that would otherwise be made for them in their reading practices. In this way, the experimental, constructive hypertext helps its readers to identify the force of the ideological state apparatus (ISA) (par. 26). This, Joyce concludes, is a primary factor in the development of a community, of communal readership. Central to this politics is a politic of witness, regarding which Joyce cites Mouré herself who, in her acclaimed collection WSW, positions a politics of witness against a bourgeois politics of nonengagement (par. 29-30). For Joyce, Mouré’s politics in WSW, one of her more traditional collections, though no less interesting or engaging for that, is one that encourages reader engagement, ultimately producing readers who are more critical, and more inclined to draw attention to, or at best to work to complicate, the forms of power exerted over them in the form of limiting their ability to freely choose.

Mouré herself is not an explicitly politically-identified author, but in her work there are traces of anarchism and revolutionary thinking, which at times surface almost explicitly. For example, in her aforementioned correspondence with Bronwen Wallace in Two Women Talking, she calls her own writing “anarchic conspiring” (14). Later, she implies that this anarchism has its roots in a politics of witness, though Mouré’s witness is not that of trauma (as we saw in Spahr) or political indifference (as we saw in Levertov). Instead, Mouré encourages a politics of witnessing language itself, and looking critically and carefully at the ways in which a phallogocentrism functions not only to silence voices, but how it functions of the level of meaning-making itself. She tells Wallace that “looking at language … is a revolutionary or subversive act. Looking at how language produces meaning, and how that means that just changing … is just replacing the status quo, being used by convention” (19, emph. Mouré’s). Pillage Laud marks what is perhaps her most concentrated look at language and its production of meaning. In her retention of the grammar of traditional English, the misuse of the words themselves, and the freeplay of the semantic meaning highlights the ways in which language functions through limitation, organizing words through grammar and syntax, and subsequently limiting our options in both reading and writing through the process of meaning making on the level of the words themselves, on the level of signification. The goal, however, is not to produce a text that is activist in nature, or to produce a text in which a writer encodes an activist message that the reader must decode and receive. Instead, as Susan Rudy notes in her excessive reading of Mouré, the function of such close-ups on the production of meaning is not to make poetry activism, but to make poetry that disgruntles its readers (angers them, frustrates them, disorganizes them), allowing them to initiate social change (213). Pillage Laud is not activism; it produces activism; it produces activists.

In light of this, we can unite her politics with Joyce’s described above by understanding the reading of computer-generated text as an act of translation. That is, the politics of both authors is demonstrated clearly in reading the relationship between Pillage Laud and its audience as one in which the reader translates the nonsensical, technologically-produced text into a language that is meaningful to him/her. Mouré is no stranger to the process of translation; she not only writes in a number of languages (English, French, Portuguese, Galician), but she is also an acclaimed translator of the poetry of others. She discusses the politics and practice of translation candidly and often, but it is an early discussion of translation with Chris Daniels, “An Exchange on Translation,” collected in Antiphonies, that interests me most as it positions the translation of a text as a kind of activism. In this exchange, Daniels explicitly addresses the politics of translation, arguing that at its core, “[p]olitics is the art of wielding and managing power over others,” and that in the act of translation, “I exert considerable power” (177). But, rather than seeing this exertion of power as exclusively harmful or negative, Daniels argues that it is possible to consider translation “an act of friendship” that is political in that it forces the translator to recognize other voices, and thus “fights cultural narcissism” (178). Mouré responds in agreement, arguing that the act of translation is central to the disruption of the monadic self. She argues that in translation you “gain the loss of self” (182)[i]. In the multiplicity of voices produced by translation, we observe “our subjectivity shifting” (ibid).

Pillage Laud positions this shifting and the recognition of this shifting as a kind of activism enacted external to the text by the reader. The text is positioned as a site of the production of the communal, where the common is productive in its rejection of logocentrism and its embracing of the nonsensical and the affective. Very early in the text, Mouré implicates the speaking subject (whomever that may be) in this common, too, writing “we are these emotions, we are those errors, and we contribute” (14). The text seeks to produce this common, but in its error-ridden, indeterminate nature, it refuses the utopian connotations of an anarchic common, instead questioning “Do utopias complete those treatments?” (83). The text is thus a resistance that comes not in the form of imagining a more free society—and not even in the production of an analogy of a more free society—but rather a suggestion of how we may draw attention to those places in which our freedom is limited by phallogocentrism and its reliance on representation and signification. For Mouré as anarchist author of Pillage Laud, “[t]exts were methods” (66) of both resistance and experimentation rather than sublime visions of another, freer world. “To march,” she insists, “is writing” (56).

Additionally, the text is repeatedly antirepresentational in the form of being antidemocratic. Democracy is positioned as a form of government that produces stalled and static subjectivities. For example, on page thirty-seven she writes that “Every democracy / appeared to distribute someone, and you were / the diameter of shale” (37). Representational democracy thus produces the subject as shale, as stone; though shale as a sedimentary rock is necessarily multiple in and of itself, the modifier of “diameter” rejects the radical potentials of the stone here. Instead, the diameter of shale is perfectly circular and always already measured, a static piece of rock produced by a form of government that would speak for rather than of its subjects. Later, this conception of democracy as stasis recurs in the line “[t]o stop aids democracy” (94). Instead, a print-mark made to look like a hand-written “A” appears in the margins of page one hundred, suggesting an anarchism just outside of the representation inherent in language, but complicated by the computer-generation of the text. In this way, the text itself is positioned as a method of resistance, and one that works to aid in and to expand the existing resistance movements[ii]. In a supremely postanarchist fashion, the text ultimately encourages revolution of the mind and of the subject, writing first: “The book of ambition must wait: the chins of police / work to absorb mind” (32); and later, “Her identity drifted. / I am the voyage’s resistance; to burn is reducing this” (90). These last two examples suggest a radical postanarchist politics lurking just beneath the surface of these computer-generated lines. It is a postanarchism relegated to the margins of signification, made available through the ways in which the borderline nonsensical nature of the text’s meaning encourages the engagement of the reader on a level quite unlike the typical reading process.

[i] And here Mouré is referencing the work of Robert Majzels, the acclaimed Canadian novelist and translator, with whom she shared a Governor General’s nomination for their translation of Nicole Brossard’s Cahier de roses et de civilization in 2008.

[ii] Existing movements are characterized as weakened or ineffectual, as in the line “Why are the resistances of bread suffering?” (34). The line, for me, immediately recalls Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread and its insistence on engaged collective revolution, a text that encourages revolution (albeit a nonreactionary one).

4 thoughts on ““To march is writing”: Anarchism and Resistance in _Pillage Laud_

  1. First of all, excellent post here!

    In terms of the shale reference, I think it is compelling in terms of its connection between the “frailty” of democracy and the structure of shale itself. According to my geological research, :) , since shale is highly stratified using mud and sometimes clay, it results in very weak structural integrity, which allows it to be broken into individual pieces quite easily. It is also formed from the material of mud and sometimes clay, temporary materials that are pliable yet soft, and can be “washed” away easily, which opposes the lasting presence of “stone” as you mention. All this being said, I find Moure’s use of shale here quite apt–shale is a conglomerate of soft materials that flake easily into even like a feeble democratic system that “distributes” static individuals. Her use of “diameter” is also interesting here, for it denotes a line passing through something, dividing and splitting it. So, perhaps then, like the feeble conglomerate that shale is, democracy actually works to create divisive and contingent ties between individuals.

    Also, it might be worth noting that shale is also a verb, and denotes the removal of a shell or husk from things such as fruits and nuts. I think this might work nicely in terms of Moure’s posturing of democracy as a sort of prosthetic veneer of individuality, something that is supposed to “protect” the inner core yet also renders it immobile.

    My thoughts so far! :)

    • 1. I really love that you put your smiley-face emoticon in commas.

      2. I love love love your idea of diameter as a line cutting through something. I hadn’t considered that aspect.

      3. And I didn’t know about shale being a verb, too. I think it definitely lends itself to your rich reading of shale in this instance. Thanks for your geological research, lady. :)

  2. I think this is a very successful plateau. I sound like a broken record….

    Kate’s comments are intriguing, and worth considering when you return to this plateau in your editing.

    An honest question: are these two statements compatible, or are they contradictory: “we must also look at the politics of the relationship between an author produced by the text and his/her audience. That relationship is, I would like to argue, necessarily anarchist in nature, not because there is no power exerted over individuals in the process of reading and writing this text, but because the power is reciprocal”; and, later: “Pillage Laud is not activism; it produces activism; it produces activists.” I’m sympathetic to both statements, but I wonder if that second statement is too prescriptive/categorical to allow for the postanarchist freedom of possibility you so nicely argue for? Or have I misconstrued your argument?

    A small request: I think this plateau would benefit from a few lines (maybe a small paragraph) explicitly comparing the anarchism you find in Pillage Laud to the more traditional anarchism of several of your other authors (Duncan, Cage, Mac Low). You gesture in this direction in the penultimate paragraph, but only obliquely. I’d like to see the comparison made more directly and bluntly.

    • You haven’t misconstrued, I’ve privileged cutesy wording over clarity. There is something prescriptive in that last statement, and I need to reword it so that it’s…not quite so.

      And yes, sir, I’ll put a paragraphing comparing PL and my earlier authors. It definitely needs to be there.


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