Monday, November 18, 2019


How to circle wagons
how to signify what looks like a nest
If thinking > feeling
does recognition exploit comic mode
or unfold as motion picture
In our comic strip we met for coffee
anxiety baked in time & place
In Beckett’s Film fingers trace the walls
& refuse to answer
Buster Keaton holes up shushing his pets
turning us one at a time
to face the wall before opening
the envelope of inner images

His action is subtraction
a wave that owns poets
whose feelings precede calculus
whose pictures double what is not I
Proofs of accumulate matter
Scourge of clouds after math
after terminal degree as if speaking to you
of the many ways to maintain scars
Just past the cluster of soothsayer signals
the trashcan curve rattling fastball
time to just intuit and swing

I now work for the outer agency
originally a translation
of what history thinks it teaches
lulled to sleep by a set of config commands
silent switches to suppress
blades thrust in chassis
Let’s just say another world is possible
network of disappearances
Spitting image of what
loved to be loved

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Convergence Insufficiency: Emancipatory Thought

(I fear this talk might better be called coherence insufficiency – that is, I am going to be throwing a thin coat over vast areas– so apologies in advance, though ultimately I seem to be arguing for recuperating the notion of insufficiency.)

The proposed title of my talk, is based on a vision disorder (& I wasn’t thinking of Robert Duncan) – a disorder that prevents the unity of representations – so for example we can’t see the thing in itself...  Here’s a definition from Merriam Webster:
Convergence Insufficiency is: "a condition in which your eyes are unable to work together when looking at nearby objects. This condition causes one eye to turn outward instead of inward with the other eye creating double or blurred vision”

The idea of insufficiency arose in reaction to the call for papers – which suggests that the problem or focus (no pun intended) of the conference would be the growing divisiveness –presumably with emphasis on literary society and/or the postwar University. I was suspicious of an implied “liberalism” – a sort of “can’t-we-all-get-along” – in a time where clearly we can’t, [i.e.], we really do need to be able to punch Nazis.  In other words, converging for the sake of converging is synonymous with liberal reformist notions that ultimately work to maintain the status quo.

So my 1st thought was to talk about problems that activate practitioners in various disciplines, with the presumption that shared problems are how practitioners belong to their discipline. Physicists, for example, owe everything to their problem; they are nothing without their problem.

Isabelle Stengers, who is sometimes labeled a philosopher of science, though she is also involved with emancipatory theory and politics, wants practitioners to work towards converting oppositions into contrasts.  (I’m attracted to Stengers despite the argument (that I also like - using Asad Haider here) that emancipatory politics needs an “unusual conception that doesn’t affirm what already exists…. What the situation dictates is practice bounded thought.” I don’t know that converting oppositions into contrasts can be reduced to a “reformist” label, that is, I think the new contrast or difference generated can actually make a difference, so I can’t give up on Stengers entirely.

Anyway, just as the humanities are particularly vulnerable to privatization and rationalization, they are also more susceptible than the sciences to incompatible “shared” (or constituting) problems.  

The division within specific disciplines of the humanities might relate to a rift between those desiring a truly emancipatory project, and those who do not.  For example, Chris Nealon’s The Matter of Capital proposes (or traces) capitalism as a generative problem in 20th century American Poetry.

I was going to somewhat hyperbolically suggest that in the current regime of reification, where poets and artists have become entrepreneurs of themselves, there is a rift between those who slip quietly into self-entrepreneurship versus those who go kicking and screaming.

I find this now to be inadequate.  But happily this panel adds ‘divergence’ (to convergence). I suspect that the best way to talk about convergence and divergence is as a dialectic.

There's a pithy definition of “theory” (from Andrew Cole who I’ll talk about in a minute) as "philosophy against itself" – so theory itself is (almost by definition) dialectical.  I’d also say emancipatory thought is a sort of thinking against itself.  This resembles the idea or image I have of myself anyway, and may explain how poems get lost in my scrum piles.  

In Andrew Cole's provocative book The Birth of Theory, there is an opening figure (or image) – from Melville – of the whale’s eyes.  This relates directly to the visual disorder (or blindspot) of Convergence Insufficiency.  Human ears are where the whales’ eyes are. The eyes look in opposite directions and cannot converge. For Cole (who is doing a radical rereading of Hegel as the inventor of ‘theory’ in his inversion of Kant) the whale eyes are an analog of the dialectic which he reads in the medieval sense of the play of identity and difference (rather than the cliché of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, which Cole argues is actually Kant.) 

[I don’t have time to go into this in depth but Cole does some remarkable things, most amazingly he has made Hegel appealing to me – as both presciently Marxist, in historically grounding the critique of the lord /bondsman (aka master/slave) dialectic (in feudal times); and in how he works toward converting the opposition of Deleuze and Hegel into a contrast – based on the reading of H’s dialectic as medieval– in effect D is writing in a style consistent with this…]

We need to find DIFFERENCE in identity and IDENTITY in difference.  It is a play of  convergence & divergence.  There is also a dance of concept and figure.

There is definition of ideology from A Cole that I find quite useful: Ideology designates the inability to conceptualize difference and uneven development

A dialectic that works to conceptualize difference and uneven development resists ideology. It resists molecularization – or breaking into pieces, it resists accounting for pieces as if the pieces were all the same.

We do this to ourselves. [So who TF am I to say any of this? I don’t have the answer.] How one identifies as an individual can get in the way of working out a broader definition of the problems that activate "us" in pursuit of emancipatory politics / action.  

Convergence v Divergence also resonates with Lucretius’s clinamen, the unpredictable or random swerve of atoms.  The physics of matter falling from chaos towards turbulent order via the randomness of the swerve is an ontology that (in effect) naturalizes “convergence and divergence.” 

This describes an ontology of materiality – of random deviation as such – that flattens everything into the present, much like the various flavors of so called speculative realism. 

To quickly rehearse arguments against "presentism" (& OOO) -- eg, against flat ontologies & in favor of theories of uneven development – two quick references.

(1st,) Jordy Rosenberg in an essay Molecularization of Sexuality (& more on this in a minute) critiques speculative realism as onto-primitivism – here’s a quote:
 The ontological turn is a theoretical primitivism which presents itself as methodological avant-garde.”  (& I should note here my own weakness for avant-garde meth – but I have been in recovery for several years now.)

2nd, I should mention Ernest Bloch who argues for non-synchronicity - which might be thought of as multi-temporality. The idea that there are many nows.  As commentator Tim Dayton has it: “Every present moment is a tangle of emergent and residual forms.”

Representations of ontology are dangerous precisely because of the flattening that as Franz Fanon says “does not permit” understanding of black or queer life.  Bizarrely, one could also think of this ontology of materiality (of the swerve) as queer, ie, as deviation itself.  (Not as they say a good look.  As A. Galloway says: “Once queer theory is elevated to Being [with a capital B] you’ve got a moral problem.” Better to pursue a queer theory of ontology open to inducing emancipation and which is not hierarchical nor moral (that is, VERSUS a less dialectical Queer Ontology which is more tied to visual representation).

Rosenberg suggests that we should never believe capitalism is ontologically true:  “[N]ever let it be said ... that our consciousness was sheerly molecular, that we truly believed that all the baleful historical foreclosures of capitalism were ontologically true.”  The human is not some fixed creature – it’s more of an errant creature with a high degree of elasticity (or perhaps more accurately, Malabou’s metaphor, plasticity).

If ontology is not thought of as a representation or as a metaphysics, then there could be a queer theory of ontology, (rather than queer ontology per se). From Galloway’s discussion of Rosenberg there are a couple of ways a queer theory of ontology can go.

It can try to maximize heterogeneity-- which is intersectional.  It is an attempt to maximize difference – it is a so-called ‘capacious’ heterogeneity unmarked by homogenous abstractions like the masses or the people. Galloway suggests that this approaches Hardt & Negri’s idea of “multitudes.”  [Identities with as many pinpoints as possible.]

The 2nd Alternative is minimal heterogeneity -- which is in pursuit of a radical commonality, or an insufficient communal (i.e., as opposed to a focus on radical difference).  In effect this is an argument for a queer communism.  I find this latter very appealing.  An exploration of the insufficiency of identity.  (Which might rhyme with convergence insufficiency)

To quote Jordy Rosenberg: “The collective is that aleatory togetherness of which the ontological-turn dreams”

And I’ll end with a quote from Andrew Cole, the goal might be “to practice thinking outside our age,” outside modernity, to find “a place to be where you can become – in the fight for possession [or] recognition.”

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lost premise

How little do I need to say
to be part of the conversation

Three or four buses
crossed the street into the shop
I dreamt of an airpocket
where it doesn't rain
I watched it race along streets
your storm of wakefulness
blind spot to account for
More negative please

Monday, March 18, 2019

Shiny object

I lack all feeling for
what speaks thru parentheses
If gesture cut loose
wrangled yet undefined
I punched the mirror
it’s my repugnant theatre
I chose the tangent
internalized the negative
& sold myself a bill of goods

Have I told you the story of the
ventriloquized scream
(she says she is in pain)
We seek pencil on paper
a deadpan translation
& struggle for stubborn facts
so that the weak may triumph
if there were time to take time
I would subtract myself
& yield to the senator from Minnesota or Maine
or rather opt for nullset or muzzle
& question my body's response
answers captive to the memory of music
I lack all feel for what speaks
(night in which all cows were black)
Paradise if you don’t mind the extremes
the outliers the laughter the tumultuous
drone the placebo
The intoxication coupled in place
with complicit tears

I lack all feeling for
what speaks thru parentheses
(discourse of the unsaid)
exempt from superego
We found your reciprocal angel at the 99 cent store
A barbarism absent all ideology
how to mimic doxa
(inseam of digestive tract)
how to return the pitched ball
how to become proximate cause
to the point of indifference

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The miserablist

Every selection, every decision, is a little violence. The artist who cut off his hand to display it in a self-portrait. The end of the hand in contemporary painting. A phantom limb.

Here comes denial
no possibility of change
Here comes eyeroll

They said leave no footnotes
they said don’t fire until you see the whites
the eggshells the blood orange communes

Let us extinguish light and shadow
Let us reverse cinematic shock
& abolish magic machismo

They set out to destroy thatched huts
social compunction until sodality goes poof
until heroic fade to black

Frantic circuit to synapse
Remember the empire state
plates handpainted irradiated

They said believe nothing
they said manipulate yourself
Motto for self-cannibalizing hole-in-one

Leaderless flak jacket
immune from stunts and strategies
our puritan misanthrope refused to look back

I liked your interior stylesheet
almost no punctuation
commas but no periods

If I embrace the alien
I’d stand six feet under

We succumbed to Occam’s signature cut
& fell in with the in crowd
his emoticons her Moby Dick

Here comes denial
no possibility of change
Here comes eyeroll

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Signal distortion

-for Charles

Did you see the headline
Unrest spreading to grain markets
Intense handhold explained in code
I uncover nostrils
& take my poison straight
Dueling neurons
for the quantum leap I want
to feel the lives of those lost

If memory is triggered by a virus
I desire to be infected
I want to blank the blanks that Jack built
Frequency dependent
linear in gain with unstable levels

When the stars are struck
paparazzi in jars
work to collect us
We pretend to act
Film stills out of the question
working to dominate ourselves
Mouth to mouth
against comic destinations
our transit pass
the difference between anecdote
and antidote

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Send the thief

By internal logic
out of books
into the ruts
of unfruitful meditation

We wait for radiant heat
for ink to dry, for uncoolant
for the initial corrupt
It is time for sad scholars
to make a pile of cash
for the mock elite
for rigorous quaking fist
for unreliable sump
time for sunsets & expertise 

Let’s send the thief
pwned intensity
all click & drag
spider pants & porn
the problem with masses
robots in service of song