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.

Anarchism and the Experiment: How do we read the illegible?

To work against the relatively[i] conservative scholarship of Perloff, my project employs, perhaps contentiously, the work of Craig Dworkin, who often works closely with, and pays homage to, Perloff. To be sure, Perloff’s extensive bibliography has done its part to bring radically experimental poetry to the forefront of poetic study in the last twenty years. But, in light of the postanarchist literary theory this project seeks to establish, Dworkin’s work is much more applicable, and ultimately more effective. This is best demonstrated in Dworkin’s book-length study, Reading the Illegible (2003), published some seven years before Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius, and yet proving to be a more radical, and certainly more political, text. Amongst other things, Reading the Illegible is a meditation on the author-function in formally experimental poetic texts, but one wherein Dworkin neither holds dear, nor laments the loss of, the Author and its claim to genius. Rather, he notes that the poetics of “plagiarism,” indeterminacy, and collaboration refuse notions of the Author, and instead privilege a détournement, Situationist author and activist Guy Debord’s concept of the defamiliarization of the quotidian. Dworkin writes:

The antithesis of quotation, which marks and reinscribes authority, détournement[ii] pursues a poetics of plagiarism in the tradition of [Comte de] Lautréamont, whose infamous syllogism declares: “Les idées s’améliorent. Le sens des mots y participe. Le plagiat est nécessaire, le progrès l’implique [Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a part in this development. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it].” (13)

While I will shy away from Dworkin’s (and Lautréamont’s) progressivist rhetoric, what is most important to note here is that Reading the Illegible does not dwell on authorship (as Perloff’s texts, including but not limited to Unoriginal Genius, are wont to do). Instead, Dworkin uses Lautréamont’s syllogism as if to accept all radical forms of authorship without reservation, and then moves on. The rest of his text examines the reader and the reading processes of formally experimental, “illegible,” or semantically nonsensical poetic texts, all the while refusing prescriptive ways of reading[iii]. He states this explicitly in his introduction, wherein he argues that “[p]art of what [he] hope[s] to establish … through this book’s many close readings is an alternative strategy of reading itself” (xix). And, this alternative strategy of reading is one that embraces the artifice, openness, indeterminacy, and politics that I have noted are integral to the experimental text. In this way, the experimental poem (to the chagrin of the traditional university English Department), is read but not interpreted. Or, in Dworkin’s own words: “If I have, at times, abjured interpretation in the following pages, it has only been to give onto reading” (xxiv, emphasis in original).

This shift from interpretation to reading recalls Lyotard’s skepticism of representation, and his desire for cultural artifacts that are not limited to the vicarious, substitutive function of denotation. Dworkin’s study argues that these experimental, illegible texts complicate both representation and denotation; their “active language,” that is, language that does not languish in the denotative realm[iv], demonstrates that “when language exceeds its communicative authority – in those moments when its familiar and overworked utility stutters to reveal its ‘fundamentally strange and foreign’ nature – one catches a glimpse of ‘the insubordination of words’” (11). Instead, Dworkin suggests a manner of reading (and perhaps, too, a manner of producing texts) in which communication is achieved without subordinating language to the limiting denotative process of Wittgenstein’s language-game of information.

Finally, it is important to note that this reading process is, for Dworkin, necessarily a communal practice, and one born out of the process of communication. He first makes this point implicitly in his reading of Susan Howe’s Eikon Basilike, when he notes “the repetition and emphasis of ‘common’ (‘in common,’ ‘communism,’ and twice with ‘common-wealth’) [which] gesture toward ‘communication’ through the Latin comunis from which they all directly descend” (45). This may seem, on its own, unremarkable, until one understands that Dworkin reads Howe’s work as “noise” – that is, nonsemantic communication. But, he contends, “noise proliferates hand in hand with an increase in the terms of communication” (45). And, conversely, the proliferation of noise necessarily produces the common. The experimental, illegible texts, for Dworkin, produce in readers a commonality, a community based on the ethical, political dimensions to reading and engaging with the formally experimental text. He makes this political element explicit when, at the very end of Reading the Illegible, he writes:

Whatever the value of the claims I have made in this book […] the mere fact of that hermeneutic activity […] should suggest an ethics of the illegible and remind us that the unreadable text is a temporary autonomous zone: one which refuses the permanence of its own constitution, and which calls on its readers to account for the semantic drives that they cannot, in the end, resist – and for which we must learn, as readers, to take responsibility. (155, my emphasis)

In light of this, I adapt Dworkin’s work, along with the political philosophies outlined above, to be included in postanarchist literary theory. All of these elements – the proliferation of noise, the act of communication, the inevitable “hermeneutic activity” amidst the attempted resisting of “semantic drive,” and the responsibility that readers must take – produce a postanarchist literary theory that is, at its core, a theory of poetry as inherently communal. Or, to be more precise, it is a theory of new activist reading practices that re-envision the production and reading of experimental texts as also producing the common.

[i] And here (in light of committee member Stephen Cain’s comments) I am careful to distinguish Perloff’s work as conservative relative to the work of other scholars, namely Dworkin in this case, who consider the same experimental texts, but do so without (or with a less prominent influence from) the vestiges of a conservative, hermeneutically-driven scholarship.

[ii] Dworkin engages frequently in Reading the Illegible with the work of Guy Debord and his theorizations of Situationist experimentation. Most important for Dworkin is Debord’s concept of detournement, which is articulated most clearly in Debord’s “Methods of Detournement” (1956). In this statement, Debord argues that “[o]nly extremist innovation is historically justified” (1), and that the most extreme and effective forms of detournement (what he terms “ultradetournement”) occur on the level of everyday life (5). In this way, the Situationists, and by proxy Dworkin, politicize the poetic form as defamiliarization, a break from the essentializing and reductive factors of the quotidian. Detournement, for both authors, is a form of parody, but rather than seeking comedic effect, it seeks to devalue the original (Debord 2).

Importantly, the Situationists, and their role in the May ’68 riots in France, provide the artistic and literary backdrop for Barthes’s and Foucault’s arguments about authorship and readership. Thus, Debord’s work, while not significantly referenced in my project, provides an important sociohistorical context to postanarchism’s revaluation of the relationships between author, reader, and text.

[iii] In his introduction, for example, Dworkin writes: “In short, the basic thesis of this book is ………..…………….” (Reading the Illegible xviii)

[iv] Indeed, complicating semantics and denotation is central to the experimental poem, and especially to a postanarchist reading of that poem. But, I should note here that this complication of poetic denotation has long been a hallmark of formalist poetics. Consider, for example, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s now infamous quip in Zettel: “Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information” (§106).

Anarchism and the Experiment: Who is the author?

Because I have privileged authorship (and its destabilization) as the most important aspect of the experimental poetic text, I should here spend some time discussing what experimental authorship entails, and how its problematizing of traditional authorship is a politically-charged activism. As with any contemporary discussion of shifting perspectives of authorship, this discussion begins with the poststructuralist meditations on the Author, the two central texts of which are Foucault’s “What Is an Author?” (1969, republished in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, 1977) and Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” (1967, republished in Image – Music – Text, 1977). Foucault’s essay stands in stark contrast to Ashbery’s Yale musings on the avant-garde, as Foucault begins with the assertion that the author him/herself is not an individual, but rather a discursive practice (114). Rather than view the writer as the “sovereignty of the author” (126), an authoritarian figure that, recalling the Hejinian quotation above, closes the text and stands as the arbiter of literary Truth, Foucault proposes an author-function that situates text and author in a complex of discursive practices that eliminates the notion of correct reading practices in favour of a reader-based manner of reading.

Barthes makes this same point, arguing famously that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (Image – Music – Text 148). Moreover, Barthes notes that this shift in the power dynamic of author and reader is long overdue, arguing that “classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature” (148). While I argue here that one element of a postanarchist literary theory is to make good on Barthes’s command, I do not mean to suggest that this shift is not already an important element of contemporary literary criticism in its various forms. What I do want to stress is the manner in which other contemporary literary theories – among them reader response, but also historical materialism and its ilk – have recognized the importance of the reader insofar as s/he receives and makes sense of the text in question. Postanarchism hears Foucault’s assertion, and understands Barthes’ call-to-arms, as a merger of author and reader in the form of an author-function that is in constant engagement with a real or imagined audience, which is to say that postanarchism argues for an even more central and active role for the reader in the creation of textual meaning, and, indeed, in the productive of the text itself. If, as Barthes argues, removing the “Author” makes attempts to “decipher” a given text futile, because the Author necessarily limits interpretation (147),  postanarchism’s collapsing of the Author proper opens infinite readings, and infinite readers, and is thus especially well-suited as a theoretical framework for reading experimental, indeterminate, and (especially) semantically nonsensical texts[i].

A postanarchist literary theory, then, takes into its framework Foucault’s discussions of the author-function in “What Is an Author?” to understand the relationship between literal writer and the author-function s/he takes on. To begin, the Author is an appropriation that possesses the text (in name as well as legally in the form of intellectual property) (124)[ii]. Moreover, the author-function – in each individual case, as well as conceptually – is neither universal nor constant, and, instead, functions as a result of various discursive practices determined sociohistorically, and predicated on the production of power-knowledge (126). That is, as Foucault writes, the author-function “is not formed spontaneously through the simple attribution of a discourse to an individual. It results from a complex operation whose purpose is to construct the rational entity we call author” (127). As such, the author-function is certainly not an actual individual, but rather the complex interplay of author/writer/narrator (130), and, in light of postanarchism’s interest in the reader, we can now append him/her to that list. This inclusion of the reader as a substantial and central element of the author-function demands a radical re-envisioning of the entire author-function. In the experimental poem, where issues of author/writer/narrator are blurred, often to the point where the boundaries of these entities are unintelligible, Barthes’s and Foucault’s assertions are problematized, and yet also never more valuable because they have opened the door to the reader’s inclusion in the active production of textual meaning. This does, however, suggest that new understandings of the reading processes (processes of reading text and reading author) are necessary in order to develop new and effective ways of readings these experimental texts.

Additionally, it is worth noting that Barthes’s conceptions of “readerly” and “writerly” texts also signal his frustrations with closed and conventional reading practices. In his ideation, the “readerly” text is one that does not provoke the reader to produce his/her own meanings within the text. Alongside his argument that the Author necessarily limits the meanings of a text, Barthes argues that the “readerly text” employs the text and its tradition “like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, [and] safeguarded” (S/Z 200). Alternatively, for Barthes, the “writerly text,” which in this project is represented par excellence by the formally experimental poem, is one that endeavours “to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text” (4). Ultimately, he argues that this is, or at the very least should be “the goal of literary work (of literature as work)” (4, emphasis added). And, in a project that seeks to reclaim reading as activist practice, this notion of “literature as work” is especially pertinent; the work here is not simply the hermeneutic interpretive function of the passive reader, but also necessarily the active, and thus activist, intervention of the reader in the process of textual production, thus destabilizing the hermeneutic process from the start. In essence, Barthes argues that the author-function’s relationship to the text and its reader(s) is the very site at which reading can (and should) be made activist.

And yet, the issue of authorship in the experimental text has drawn a considerable amount of scholarly attention. In fact, the majority of scholarship on the experimental text since the seventies has focused on how the author enacts his/herself in the text at the expense of actual textual analysis. As a prime example of this, in 2010, Marjorie Perloff, perhaps the most famous name in studies of experimental poetics, published Unoriginal Genius, a book-length study of authorship in the experimental text, focusing specifically on texts produced by indeterminate or chance methods. Perloff concludes in her text, absolutely and unfortunately, that while these experimental texts may complicate the author’s role, there is still an author and s/he can still (and often should) be regarded as a literary genius. She writes: “If the new ‘conceptual’ poetry makes no claim to originality … this is not to say that genius isn’t in play. It just takes different forms” (21). Perloff not only relies too heavily on the Author for her analysis, she prizes it. By arguing that the formally experimental text, in its complications and (in conceptual poetics especially) refusals of authorship, actually maintains an Author (rather than an author-function), she essentially ignores poststructuralism’s critiques in the name of genius.

[i] I acknowledge here, and will repeatedly acknowledge throughout my project, my own role as critic in the limitation of readers/readings. This limitation is, I will concede, a necessary evil of the English Department.

[ii] Foucault notes that this primary element is historically determined, writing: “It is important to notice … that its status as property is historically secondary to the penal code controlling its appropriation. Speeches and books were assigned real authors, other than mythical or important religious figures, only when the author became subject to punishment and to the extent that his [sic] discourse was considered transgressive” (Language, Counter-Memory, Practice 124).

Anarchism and the Experiment: What is an experimental poem?

It is important at this juncture to define the parameters of the experimental poem for my work. I have opted for the term “experimental”[i] over the term “avant-garde”[ii] for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the military connotation of the latter. I also employ Graeber’s skepticism of vanguardism, which is, I should add, also a poststructuralist concern[iii]. As such, the texts I read in this project, texts that I maintain are experimental, share not only an anti-traditional poetics, but a poetics that resists the vanguardism that marks many of the movements of the literary avant-garde outlined here. These texts avoid vanguardism’s hierarchical nature in favour of a more egalitarian relationship between the reader and the writer – and between texts themselves – by complicating the role of the author (through, for example, chance or indeterminate operations, “plagiarism” or copying, direct or collaborative engagement with the reader, &c) and demonstrating an interest in the commonality of language. In light of this, any definition of the experiment is nebulous, a compendium of ideas that forms a collaborative series of suggestions rather than a prescriptive map of what the experimental poem should be. I include these criteria only to gesture toward a theory of the poetic experiment.

  1. Artifice: The experimental text is concerned with exposing and/or foregrounding artifice, as Charles Bernstein writes in “Artifice of Absorption” (A Poetics, 1992). Bernstein argues here that a poem’s meaning is located in a “complex” (9), wherein the artifice opposes the realism and mimesis often attributed to conventional texts (and especially to the lyrical poem). Artifice, which also includes “nonsemantic” effects (11), is necessarily part of a poem’s “meaning.” This is to say that a poem’s form is meaningful in and of itself, rather than simply contributing to an overall meaning, or enforcing the meaning of the poem’s content (10). As such, radically experimental form in poetry threatens to negate (or, at least complicate) semantic meaning in the same way that the reverse can be true for traditional verse (15).
  2. Open: The experimental text is never exhausted or exhaustive, and its production is a constant revisionary practice. As made famous in Lyn Hejinian’s “The Rejection of Closure” (1985), the experimental text refuses the “smug pretension of universality and its tendency to cast the poet as guardian to Truth” (2). Closed texts, for Hejinian, maintain a stratified position for text and author, enforcing a single interpretation, and shutting out their readers from the process of their production. An experimental text then, as a text that resists closure, leaves itself open to multiple readings because of gaps in the text left to be filled by the reader. This notion of the closed text is also famously critiqued as fallacy by Roland Barthes, as I will discuss shortly.
  3. Chance: The experimental author leaves him/herself open to the intervening forces of chance, indeterminacy, improvisation, or spontaneity. This includes collaborative inclusion of the reader or other participants, as well as uncreative or Oulipian modes of writing that leave the writing process (in part or whole) up to external procedures. This element recalls the scientific meaning of the term “experiment,” wherein the parameters of the project are set, but the role of the initiator is severely limited regarding the final result[iv]. Jackson Mac Low argues that leaving oneself open to chance in the production of experimental texts is a necessarily anarchic political decision; it reproduces an anarchic “state of society wherein there is no frozen power structure, where all persons may make significant initiatory choices in regard to matters affecting their own lives” (“Statement” 384). In other words, the initiator of these procedures anarchically refuses authoritative authorial control over the production of his/her poem, and thus relinquishes power over the final product.
  4. Politic: The experimental text is political. What Bernstein, Hejinian, and Mac Low all suggest in their aforementioned manifestos is that formal manipulation in poetry is a necessarily political (anti-traditional, anti-authoritarian) act that seeks to disturb, amongst other things, the organizing and thus limiting principles of overcoding inherent in language. This is made most apparent in John Cage’s frequent references “to N[orman] O. Brown’s remark that syntax is the arrangement of the army” and Cage’s subsequent “devot[ion] to nonsyntactical ‘demilitarized’ language” (Writing Through Finnegans Wake 1). For Cage, the experimental poem is a way out of this militarization, a way not to resist, but to refuse; as he suggests in Silence, we need a new language in order to have new ideas (203).

I should also add that, in the vein of Bey’s definitions of the TAZ, the experiment must also be defined by what it does not do. The only concern here is that the experimental text does not reify, rely on, or relish the individual as author. This runs in direct contradiction to John Ashbery’s definition of the experimental avant-garde in his 1968 Yale lecture, “The Invisible Avant-Garde.” Here, Ashbery argues that the very existence of his lecture proves that the avant-garde has become “stratified” (394), insisting that the primacy of anti-traditionalism in the avant-garde has created another tradition that eventually subsumes the individual prowess of the author. In the end, he tellingly laments: “has tradition finally managed to absorb the individual talent?” (397). Recalling Eliot’s famous treatise on the subject, Ashbery maintains that the real avant-garde is the individual; it is not a school, genre, or group, but rather a personal refusal[v]. I maintain that while Ashbery’s privileging of the individual, monadic author is indeed a marker of the avant-garde, it is also the antithesis of the experiment, which embraces the influence of tradition, the mutability of the writing subject, and the collaborative nature of the processes of reading and writing[vi].

[i] And here I define the experimental, first and foremost, as a matter of formal innovation. In this way, the experimental text is one that does not discount or ignore innovation in terms of content, but that necessarily ties innovative content to the creation of new, alternative forms of expression.

[ii] The terms themselves are clearly etymologically linked. As the OED notes, “vanguard” is “avant-garde”’s contemporary aphetic.

[iii] Poststructuralism has long been concerned with critiquing the vanguardist nature of resistance or oppositional movements. See, for example, Paul Bové’s foreword to Deleuze’s Foucault: “Deleuze emphasises that Foucault’s sense of the diffusion of power is a challenge not only to Statist theories but also to theories of the oppositional or vanguard party” (xxix).

[iv] And yet, it should be noted that, despite indeterminacy’s indebtedness to the scientific meanings of “experiment,” its end-goal is markedly different. The scientific experiment seeks category, system, hierarchy, and Truth (bolstered by juridical, medical, logical, and scientific discourses); the experimental poem seeks to disrupt these methods of overcoding.

[v] While I refute Ashbery’s notion here, I do want to make note of the fact that Ashbery holds this very true for his own work, and this is the primary reason why his poetry has proven so difficult to classify in terms of experimental school/genre.

[vi] It is important to note that, at some point in the scholarship surrounding them, each of the authors studied in this project have, in some cases mistakenly, been described as a part of the avant-garde. While I will expand on these distinction on a text-by-text basis in the plateaus on each piece, I should now note that ascribing an author a position in the literary vanguard is a political choice that runs counter to the explicitly anti-vanguardist stance of postanarchism as a reading practice.

Appendix(n): A Note on “Terrorism”

I realise that in 2013 in North America, I write about terrorism in a vastly different political climate than the one in which Bey wrote in 1985. I am also acutely aware that my use of the term is not without political motivation or desire for controversy. Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States especially — but also, to some extent, the better part of the Western world — adopted and adapted the use of the term “terrorism” to demonize the racial Other and to justify multifarious abuses of civil liberties. Importantly, this adaptation has abstracted terrorism to the point where it no longer requires a specific act, or a specific enemy, thus producing a vague, non-localizable threat that effectively produces fear and complicity in political subjects. The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) publishes an Annual Report on Terrorism, which, in its annuality, both restates and persistently alters its definition of terrorism; importantly, its definitions are always taken from the official mandates of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). The publication and republication of this “Annual Report” implies that this so-called terrorism is omnipresent in contemporary society, and that, moreover, there will necessarily be a need for subsequent reports, thus implicitly legitimizing the FBI’s reports, and the NCTC’s very presence, in a distinctly Foucauldian turn. Truthfully, the subtle changes in this definition year-to-year could be the subject of this entire introduction. Instead, I hazard only this brief note on the term to account for, and justify, my use of “terrorism” as a term for experimental resistance. In the FBI Annual Report on Terrorism of 2005, they define terrorism specifically as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” But, in 2011, the FBI reports the NCTC’s definition as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”  This latter definition, in its maintenance of the stress on political motivation alongside its shift of focus onto the identity of the perpetrator — a delegitimised cause that is subnational or clandestine, as opposed to the recognised authority of the State — allows the NCTC and the FBI to classify and condemn activist organisations (even those operating within the US) as terrorists. In this way, the term “terrorism” is persistently used to pre-emptively delegitimize and/or criminalize dissenting voices in the US, and, in turn, the rest of the Western world.

While this project neither condemns nor condones the actions of any organisation classified as “terrorist” under US law, I maintain that the term itself is important to, and helps to explain, the activist nature of reading and writing experimental texts. While the only “violence” committed in the texts studied here is that of radical poetic practice against the normative, organising structures of language, the anti-Statist position at the core of any anarchist practice would be classified, under these definitions, as terrorist. And this violence against language itself is one I can, without hesitation, endorse, and that I can, somewhat reservedly, classify as a Poetic Terrorism against the State(s) of Language, Literature, and the Lyric. As Lyotard writes, breaking from the comfort of preconceptions is a kind of violence, a suffering; “The unthought hurts because we’re comfortable in what’s already thought. And thinking, which is accepting this discomfort, is also, to put it bluntly, an attempt to have done with it” (Inhuman 20). And so, trite as it may read, the experimental writer is a kind of guerrilla poet, and her/his terrorism is instigating the suffering of thinking the unthought.

What is Postanarchism?: Hakim Bey and “Poetic Terrorism”

In 1985, when Bey published The Temporary Autonomous Zone; Ontological Anarchy; Poetic Terrorism, he did so, at least in part, out of frustration with an anarchist-activist movement that had stalled, suffering from the aforementioned unidimensional and unidirectional approach that failed to account for a society in which we must understand power as diffuse and pervasive. Instead, he proposes postanarchism (61), an anarchism that is, not oedipal (to borrow a deleuzoguattarian term, as Bey is wont to do), but rather, band-like (95), a carnivalesque festival (96), and psychically nomadic (97). Bey’s postanarchism would be, as such, “a perfect tactic for an era in which the State is omnipresent and all-powerful and yet simultaneously riddled with cracks and vacancies” (93). Bey’s postanarchism is not a temporal term, not an “after anarchism” that picks up where a failed movement leaves off, but an anarchism that always contains within it the lessons learned from poststructuralist conceptions of power and the State, as well as its revolutionary potentials. What differentiates Bey’s postanarchism most from the anarchism that preceded it is its prioritisation of art, and often poetry specifically, as a revolutionary activist practice. Lamenting the fact that art and literature are no longer regarded as threats to an authoritarian regime, Bey insists that poetry become more radical (although he does not specify how), and that other facets of resistance movements take on the revolutionary potentials of poetic language. He writes: “If rulers refuse to consider poems as crimes, then someone must commit crimes that serve the function of poetry, or texts that possess the resonance of terrorism” (TAZ 27). And yet, while this reads as a resounding advocation of (political, corporeal) radical poetics, Bey never fully develops this concept. Instead, his notion of “poems as crimes” remains unclear. Even his own poetry leaves this poetics underdeveloped and unclear. In it, he maintains the mysticism, the politics, and the viscera of his political writing — see, for example, his acclaimed Opium Dens I Have Known — but because so much of his creative work recalls or even works within the confines of lyrical structure[i], it is difficult to see where or how these poems engage with the “criminal” potentials of language. Bey thus provides us with a more effective and tantalizing poetic theory than he does a poetic practice. This is not to say that his postanarchist poetry is ineffective or irredeemable, but rather that Bey’s political writing can, and should, be taken further as an experimental poetics, as well as a practical reading philosophy. And, indeed, my project is, first and foremost, an attempt to do precisely that. Looking to the postanarchism first proposed by Bey, my project interrogates the poetic theory latent in Bey’s work, and develops this into a postanarchist literary theory that shows us not only how to create texts that are crimes, texts that defamiliarize the modes of poetic production, but also how to make the reading and writing of these poems an ontologically activist practice.

Central to the poetic theory Bey proposes is his concept of Poetic Terrorism, an activist practice that occurs at the site of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (hereafter referred to as the TAZ). The TAZ is a philosophical thought experiment that can be, should be, and is often produced literally. Varying constantly in longevity, type, and size, TAZs range from an individual moment of refusal to the widespread “Occupy” movements popularized in 2012. Bey goes to great lengths to avoid or resist defining the TAZ, but he does note that it is a moment when artistic and activist practices convene in an “uprising that doesn’t engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen” (TAZ 92). Similarly, Bey refuses to define Poetic Terrorism in a prescriptive fashion. Instead, he does so indirectly through examples, such as:

Pick someone at random & convince them they’re the heir to an enormous, useless & amazing fortune – say 5000 square miles of Antarctica […] Later they will come to realize that for a few moments they believed in something extraordinary, & will perhaps be driven as a result to seek out some more intense mode of existence. (TAZ 14)

While still obscure and eccentric, this definition by example reveals the hallmark of Poetic Terrorism: it attempts to defamiliarize, but by way of moving the quotidian into the extraordinary, and, in this example especially, by calling into question the taken-for-granted principles of capitalism and Statism. That is, the sudden acquisition of Antarctic territory, for example, brings to the fore assumptions of ownership as economic, as state-sanctioned, and as socially-recognized. Bey’s Poetic Terrorism here begs the question: how does government, in its many forms, limit our ability to believe in and embrace the “extraordinary”? Thus, Poetic Terrorism infringes on the laws of State and logic, patriarchy and normativity, grammar and propriety. These regulating and codifying effects produce, as Poststructuralism insists, the political subject, and Poetic Terrorism works to liberate the individual from these effects.  Bey’s concept of Poetic Terrorism prioritises the poetry of the deed[ii] (that is, the activist practice of disseminating art and beautiful artefact), but my project focuses specifically on how this concept of Poetic Terrorism helps us to understand the experimental and radical poetics of some contemporary poetry at the site of language itself, and to make them activist.

[i] I admit that there can be experimental potentials of the lyric. Canadian poet bpNichol in his acclaimed The Martyrology series, is a good contemporary example. Additionally, the modernists (among them, of course, Eliot, Pound, and Williams) called for, in a gross oversimplification, the experimentalization of the lyric. Indeed, attempts to radicalize the lyric have been, and continue to be, numerous and wildly popular. That said, this project positions the lyric poem, with its irrepressible contemporary popularity, its rich canonical history, and its predominant interest in a unified, singular writing subject supposedly in control of his/her use of language, in opposition to the radical, experimental poem purely in terms of form. The primary elements of experimental form are elusive, as indicated in this introduction, but necessarily work against the primary elements of the lyric.

[ii] Here Bey uses the phrasing “poetry of the deed” in contradistinction from Brousse’s “propaganda of the deed” to refuse the vanguardism attributed to the latter.

What is Postanarchism?: Theorizing Anarchism

At this juncture, I should make a brief note about the explicitly political, activist nature of these theoretical texts, and of the political philosophy behind them. While I maintain that these texts are valuable to literary study (and invaluable to the creation of a postanarchist literary theory), I do not want these literary elements to detract or distract from the inherent activism of anarchism and postanarchism. As such, I would like to note that Evren and Rousselle’s aforementioned reader is preceded by Saul Newman’s The Politics of Postanarchism (2010), a less comprehensive but no less important treatise on postanarchism, which argues vehemently for the merger of classical anarchism and poststructuralism as a way to reinvigorate new anarchist activist practices [i]. While Newman maintains that postanarchism is a response to the postmodern condition (140), marked by a skepticism of metanarratives, an abandonment of essential identities, and a new view of discourse and constitutive power (àla Foucault) (141), he tends to move these philosophical ideals into an activist practice. Arguing that the political is the “constitutive space between society and the state” (169), Newman uses postanarchism to contest borders and border control (172), to advocate non-authoritarian forms of political organisation (177), and to develop a productive disjuncture between politics and ethics (139). For Newman, postanarchism is, at its core, not “tactical” (169) – that is, not thought before action – but rather, a celebration of heretical (anti)politics (180).

Alongside Newman, who problematises my work by enforcing the practical activist nature of postanarchism, I also place David Graeber, a prominent (and nearly Twitter-famous) radical author and activist whose “Anarchism, Academia, and the Avant-garde” (in Routledge’s Contemporary Anarchist Studies, 2009), should be included in every subsequent anarchist-academic work because it poses the important (though ultimately unanswerable) question: what would an anarchist academic do? (107). Graeber argues here that the anarchist academic occupies a precarious position because these two terms are often understood to be incommensurate; anarchists and academics value entirely different and often contradictory ideals [ii](104). Nonetheless, Graeber positions the anarchist intellectual as a sort of litmus test, “provid[ing] a potential role for the radical, non-vanguardist intellectual” (111). While all of his points are important for postanarchism, Graeber’s assertion that the anarchist intellectual must be anti-vanguardist is especially relevant for my work, and for any work on anarchism and the avant-garde (and should immediately recall Deleuze and Guattari’s desire for experimentation over transgression). Rejecting the vanguardism of avant-garde literary and artistic movements such as dadaism and futurism (and, in one fell swoop also dismissing the anarchism often attributed to them), Graeber argues that the anarchist intellectual must be interested in exploring alternatives, not setting a vanguard (109). It should be noted that Graeber’s assertion here marks a sort of break with classical anarchism, making his anti-vanguardism decidedly postanarchist. That is, classical anarchism, despite its vocal denigration of vanguardist ideals, often implicitly believed in vanguardism to a degree. [iii]

As such, the anarchist academic’s task is difficult, but not doomed ab ovo. “Untwining social theory from vanguardist habits might seem a particularly difficult task,” Graeber writes, “because historically modern social theory and the idea of the vanguard were born more or less together” (108). Instead, the role of the anarchist academic is to develop manners of reading, writing, and understanding, not as a “vanguard leading the way to a future society,” but rather as a way of “exploring new and less alienated modes of life” (109). In this project, I argue that, through its defamiliarization, the formally experimental poem allows us one way of doing just this, and that it is indeed possible to work as an academic studying avant-garde literature without necessarily falling victim to a vanguardism oneself.

For more on Graeber’s antivanguardist anarchism, see my review of his latest book, The Democracy Project, up on Political Media Review.

[i] Evren and Rousselle make a distinction between Todd May’s work and Saul Newman’s work by arguing that while May uses anarchism to make poststructuralism more effective, Newman uses poststructuralism to make anarchism better (10), seemingly implying that, in this dynamic, May is the philosopher, and Newman the pragmatist.

[ii] For example, the anarchist seeks to destabilize hierarchy and hegemony, and what could be more hierarchical than the academy and its valuation of tenure? Indeed, the very system of the academy is based on a hierarchy of presidents, deans, assistant deans, full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, sessional or adjunct instructors, graduate students, and support staff of various types. I will admit that classical anarchism does not object to or reject the authority or expertise denoted by specialization; after all, in God and the State, Mikhail Bakunin famously argues, “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult the architect or the engineer. … But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect … to impose his authority on me” (229). But, the academy, in its hierarchical nature and its concomitant privileging of certain voices, seeks explicitly to impose its hegemonic authority on others.

[iii] As evidence of this anarchist vanguardism, consider the classical anarchists’ interest in propagande par le fait (propaganda by/of the deed), the concept popularized by French anarchist Paul Brousse, and later taken up by mnay activist circles, anarchist and otherwise, that privileged unique and spectacular resistance tactics, both violent and non-violent, as a means of disseminating political statements.

What is Postanarchism?: Poststructuralism and Postmodernism

Aside from Hakim Bey, who coins the term in 1985 (and who I will discuss in more depth momentarily), arguably the most important writer on postanarchism is political philosopher Todd May, whose 1994 book, The Political Philosophy of Poststructural Anarchism, paved the way for later texts that sought the inherent anarchism of poststructural philosophy. May’s text grounds postanarchism as poststructural-anarchism, looking especially to the works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to examine how the implicit politics of these philosophers is necessarily anarchic. For May, the French poststructuralists altered the face of activist resistance by shifting the focus from a Marxist one-sided Statism, to a more effective and appropriate micropolitics (3). Postanarchism, then, incorporates aspects of poststructuralist philosophy into its activist practice to achieve two concomitant aims. As I will work through in the paragraphs that follow, May’s postanarchism has two primary concerns: first, it seeks to reject what May sees as the a priori humanism of classical anarchism, and to replace it with a positive definition of power; second, it works towards a rhizomatic resistance practice that uses diffuse power relations as not only something it opposes, but also an important element of its resistance tactic. For these two aims, May relies on Foucault’s work for the former, and Deleuze and Guattari’s for the latter.

After detailing the failures of Marxism, May incorporates Foucauldian conceptions of power relations into classical anarchist thought. He begins by exposing how Foucault’s ideas of power necessitate a revision of anarchist tactics, which typically reject all forms of power, arguing instead for aspirational systems based upon the avoidance of hierarchies. Instead, May posits that poststructuralist anarchism allows for the incorporation of power into its theories by maintaining that power is constraint, but not necessarily restraint (67). Power, as Foucault asserts throughout his work, emanates from innumerable points, is not exterior to relationships, comes “from below” as well as “from above,” and is both intentional and nonsubjective (May 72).   For an anarchist resistance movement, this means two things. First and foremost, it dissolves the false dichotomy of the individual subject and governing structures that individualist anarchism praises; after all, as May writes, “[p]ower does not merely suppress its objects; it creates them as well” (73). Second, it requires an immediate break from the humanism attributed to many classical anarchists[i]. That is, the primacy of a humanist, individual identity must be abandoned once we understand that the political subject is produced at the same time, and in the same manner, as those larger governing structures that anarchism critiques. In this way, Foucault’s assertions about power and the State form the base of May’s poststructuralist anarchism, and they set the tone for his practical, activist politics.

May argues, then, that a poststructuralist activist practice is, at its core, an anarchist critique of representation (98). This critique of representation is linked, he maintains, to the deleuzoguattarian concept of “overcoding” (105). Deleuze and Guattari define overcoding as a series of “phenomena of centering, unification, totalization, integration, hierarchization, and finalization” (A Thousand Plateaus 41). As such, these phenomena are processes that seek to stratify and normalize subjects, and the best way to resist these processes is to “decode,” or to put these processes in flux. For Deleuze and Guattari, this is achieved through a process of deterritorialization that produces the “nomad” figure, which May argues is inherently anti-Statist (Political Philosophy 104-5). May also notes that “[t]he state is not the only operator of overcoding, but it is the operator that makes it stick” (107). Thus, a purely anti-Statist, or classical anarchist, resistance would be largely ineffectual because it does not account for those elements of power that exist external to and a priori of the State. Instead, May looks again to Deleuze, who advocates a tactic of “experimentation” rather than resistance (112). This, along with its rejection of humanism, marks poststructuralist anarchism’s major break with classical anarchist thought. That is, a poststructuralist anarchism values experimentation over resistance because, as May asserts, “[e]xperimentation, unlike transgression, seeks positive alternatives rather than revolt” (114). The revolutionary, anti-Statist nature of classical anarchism seeks this “transgression,” which can neither account for nor combat these processes of overcoding. That is, in understanding power, and thus political struggle, as unidimensional (as transgression/opposition rather than experimentation/alternatives), classical anarchism ignores those “other operators” of overcoding that proliferate those very power structures that anarchism should, and must, look to disturb. In literature, this poststructuralist experimentation places an emphasis on subjugated discourses (116), which Deleuze and Guattari’s refer to as minor literature. It also, importantly, reorients the role of the intellectual, making philosophical, theoretical, cultural, and artistic practice an active engagement rather than a passive analysis of activism (117). That is, “[t]heory does not exist outside of practice; it, too, is a practice” (97). In other words, May’s poststructuralist anarchism prioritizes artistic, and especially poetic, practice, as a part of activism rather than simply a way to talk about political engagement. Thus, it lends itself especially well to studies of radically experimental poetry. And, most importantly for my purposes, it makes my own project (its theorizations, its criticism, its experimentation) an active practice, and, in some ways, an activist practice.

Surprisingly, then, considering the emphasis here on radical, experimental uses of language, May deals comparatively sparingly with Jean-François Lyotard, whose work focuses heavily on these concerns. May does note that Lyotard agrees with the Deleuzian preference for experimentation over revolt, and, more importantly, that Lyotard discusses the same power relations as Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, yet on the level of language itself. If, as May argues, a poststructuralist anarchist practice is at its core a critique of representation, then it would seem that Lyotard’s work would inform this text much more. This is because alongside Lyotard’s now famous “incredulity towards metanarratives” (Postmodern Condition xxiv), he maintains throughout his work a critique of representation, and especially linguistic representation, as an element of metanarrative. In his 1974 essay, “Beyond Representation,” Lyotard argues that, taken as representational, all art performs a substitutive or vicarious function (158). More important for my purpose is the fact that he goes on to describe a new affirmative approach to criticism that sees the cultural artefact not as representational – that is, not as standing for something – but rather as just standing (158). For Lyotard, who here is aiming his critical distaste at psychoanalysis and its mythologies of self and desire, this new affirmative approach sees a productive capacity of artistic labour beyond merely the substitutive articulation of libidinal desire (that is, lack) (167). May articulates the same concern, albeit taken beyond psychoanalysis and into an ethical realm. This is to say that, for May, the primary ethical concern of poststructuralist anarchism is critiquing this substitutive representation, and that “practices of representing others to themselves … ought, as much as possible, to be avoided” (Political Philosophy 130). It is this critique of representation that makes postanarchism especially well-suited as a literary theory, and one that lends itself particularly well to experimental texts that seek to problematize the same processes of representation. Additionally, noting the importance of Lyotard’s work on May’s postanarchism allows this political philosophy to be more effectively adapted into a literary theory, and especially a theory that privileges experimental form.

[i] This humanism is perhaps most evident in anarcho-syndicalists following in the tradition of Max Stirner, or the staunch individualism of William Godwin, and, much later, Emma Goldman. It is also clearly evident in the deference to human nature of anarchists like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. But, elements of a primal humanism are still present even in the most communal of anarchism, such as the anarcho-communism proposed by Peter Kropotkin.

What is Postanarchism? A Brief Introduction

Despite recent interest in incorporating political philosophies into literary studies, one of the most interesting, and potentially most useful, contemporary political philosophies, postanarchism, has not, as of yet, been given adequate attention as a literary theory. Yet elements of postanarchism are not only readily available as literary theories, they also allow incorporation of political activism with criticism of experimental poetry. That the intersections between postanarchism and literary studies have been woefully ignored is probably most evident in the 2011 publication of Post-Anarchism: A Reader, edited by Süreyyya Evren and Duane Rousselle. The text draws a clear link between poststructuralism and anarchism, and between anarchist philosophy and activism, but it seemingly ignores the potentials of postanarchism as a literary theory that would incorporate literary cultural production into an activist practice. As literary studies works to become more practical, and more in line with activist movements of all kinds, it would seem that postanarchism, in its desire to reframe and rethink our ontological and epistemological practices within and outside of the academy, would be an appropriate and effective edition to literary studies on the whole.

The postanarchism proposed in Evren and Rouselle’s reader, articulated explicitly in the editors’ introduction, clearly situates postanarchism as an activist practice, emphasising that its fundamental ideas would be defined not simply as philosophies, but rather as “consequence[s] of actual activist experiences” (3). Poststructuralism, in this reader, invigorates classical anarchism with a rhizomatic, new activism (5), creating a new current in radical politics (15). Evren and Rousselle’s collection is most important, then, because it gives a name (that is, it collects various essays under this name) and a clear set of ideals to postanarchism proper. Additionally, and interestingly, it puts at the centre of its philosophy and activism the essential mutability of human nature and subjectivity, maintaining that classical anarchism, despite contemporary criticism of its inherent utopian humanism,  was actually always convinced of this mutability (13). While I will discuss this notion further in the theorizations of anarchism and postanarchism that follow, it is clear that Evren and Rouselle’s text is both a revaluation and a reclamation of classical anarchism that seeks to bring anarchism’s classical texts into contemporary relevance.

Given classical anarchism’s standing as a political philosophy, and one primarily concerned with government and resistance, it may be surprising for some readers to learn that classical anarchism has actually long been concerned with artistic practice. Additionally, there has been a long-standing and close relationship between anarchist thought and poetry, especially experimental or avant-garde poetry. One need only to look at the popularity of Herbert Read’s Anarchy & Order; Poetry & Anarchism (1938), or recall André Breton’s oft-quoted adage, “An anarchist world … a surrealist world: they are the same,” to confirm this. And, as I will discuss towards the end of this introduction, some recent anarchist philosophers and activists (Jesse Cohn at the forefront) have done substantial work in connecting a renewed interest in anarchism with the seemingly constant popularity of the avant-garde. But, as Evren and Rouselle’s reader suggests throughout, classical anarchism, despite its suggestions of the mutability of human nature, does not adequately account for shifting conceptions of power and the self, and thus cannot keep pace with the changing face of anarchist activism.

My dissertation endeavours to help anarchist philosophies catch up to this changing activism, working to examine, and in some cases, to define, postanarchism as a theory of activism that can and will incorporate the processes of reading and writing experimental poetry into the realm of activist practices. That is, as poststructuralism teaches us, and as I extrapolate in the pages that follow, the new conceptions of power, subjectivity, and authorship that poststructuralist philosophers have elucidated require that we experiment with new forms of “resistance” practices. And, if we understand that diffuse power functions most effectively at the level of ontology and epistemology (an argument made persistently by Foucault and his contemporaries), then surely the cultural artefact, and especially the literary artefact, must come into play as an element of activist practice. To be sure, art has historically played a role in anti-authoritarian struggles internationally, but postanarchism forces us to make a distinction between political art and art as politic; in the latter, the very form (and not simply the content) of the artefact and the process of its production is a political experiment. As such, my project will privilege the formally experimental poem as the subject of postanarchist literary reading practices.

In order to expand on this theorization, I should first explain that, throughout my project, I will define the experimental poetic form as distinct from the avant-garde. While I will work towards a positive definition of the experiment below, in the section entitled “Anarchism and the Experiment: What is an experimental poem?” it is important that I, in setting the textual parameters of my work, meditate briefly on existing theories of the avant-garde. The genre of avant-garde literature has been theorized and studied extensively, perhaps most famously in Renato Poggioli’s Teoria dell’arte d’avanguardia (Theory of the Avant Garde, 1962), and later in Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984). Poggioli’s work emphasizes the ways in which the avant-garde, as an expression of authorial and audience alienation from society, positions itself as anti-traditional, noting that the “avant-garde looks and works like a culture of negation” (107). For Poggioli, this negation is especially focused on notions of individual production and artistic or authorial control over the artistic product as cultural artefact. Bürger develops this argument further, arguing that the avant-garde’s interest in the negation of authorial autonomy is directly correlated with a negation of audience individuality, an attack against bourgeois ideations of aesthetics and art. That is, he writes, “[t]he avant-garde not only negates the category of individual production but also that of individual reception” (53, italics in original). While I will work to complicate the use of the term avant-garde later in this introduction, this preoccupation in theories of the avant-garde with the disruption of creative autonomy is, I argue, the most important axis in the intersection of postanarchism and experimental poetics. But, as I will work to demonstrate throughout this project, the primary concern of the experimental text is to move beyond the discourse of disavowal that Poggioli and Bürger recognize is at the centre of the avant-garde, and to embrace alternative rather than negation, experiment rather than resistance. More directly, the experimental text, as I define it, embraces a multiplicitous strategy of resistance based on alternatives, rather than the binarism of the avant-garde practice of resistance through negation.

Ultimately, my project sees this theory of alternative and experimentation in action in experimental poetic texts that are either implicitly or explicitly concerned with an anarchist activist practice on the level of the disruption of the author-function. We can see the intersection of postanarchism and poetry in the way John Cage reappropriates source texts in “62 Mesostics re Merce Cunningham” (1973), or the way Jackson Mac Low writes to and rewrites Gertrude Stein in The Stein Poems (2003): both authors seek to defamiliarize language for anarchic ethical ends. This intersection is represented differently in Denise Levertov’s call for readerly responsibility in The Jacob’s Ladder (1961), or in Robert Duncan’s call for readerly community in his Passages sequence (in Bending the Bow [1968] and Ground Work [1984,1987]). It becomes radically feminist in the experiments with authorship seen in the revisionist appropriations  of Susan Howe (Bibliography of the King’s Book, or, Eikon Basilike, 1993), the indeterminacy and transelations of Erin Mouré (Pillage Laud, 1999, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person, 2001), the racialized LANGUANGE work of Harryette Mullen (Sleeping with the Dictionary, 2002), and communal politics of Juliana Spahr (Response, 2000). And it gets complicated both in the form and in the content of contemporary conceptual poetics, as in Kenneth Goldsmith’s emphasis on the authorship in Soliloquy (2001), or the lack of it in Day (2003), Christian Bök’s dramatic use of constraint in Eunoia (2001), and Darren Wershler-Henry’s emphasis on process rather than product in the tapeworm foundry (2000). Working to establish a nascent but important postanarchist literary theory, this project reads and writes through each of these texts to show that postanarchism can and should be used as a literary theory that works, above all else, to make the acts of reading, writing, and thinking about experimental texts parts of an anarchist activist practice.

While I have selected texts that explicitly challenge the authorial role and its concomitant political problems, it is my hope that my project brings to light the availability and importance of postanarchism as a theory of reading, and thus, of reading all literary texts. Ultimately, this project argues that these authors or individual texts in themselves are less important to my project than the way that my readings (rather than interpretations) of them help to illuminate the shortcomings of a critical literary theory that, as of yet, has not and cannot account for the changing face of popular resistance movements (anarchist or otherwise). For this reason, while I have, for the most part, selected texts that actively seek to disrupt the conventions of authorship and authorial intention, I have also chosen to examine both poets who are explicitly anarchist (Cage, Mac Low, Duncan, and, to an extent, also Howe) alongside political authors who are not anarchist (Levertov, Spahr, Mullen). I have also taken special interest in uncovering a latent politics in seemingly apolitical or politically disinterested texts (such as the works of Bök, Goldsmith, Wershler). It is my hope that this selection of authors exposes both the necessity and the limitless possibilities of postanarchism as a literary theory.