Monday, October 5, 2015

Infection: what poets celebrate as "presence"

I've been trying to think through the philosopher Isabelle Stengers' use of the term "infection" (in her book on Whitehead) in relation to poetic practice.

Our experience is infected by objects (or "others in oneself") that our bodies register, perceive and/or interact with, that is, not just by what we are conscious of. An infection means that this interaction endures, that the interaction was successful in some way.

Here's the main citation from Stengers: 

"'Infection' is the term Whitehead chooses to designate, in a generic way, what the poets celebrate as "presence." Celebration refers to the fact that it is a poet's experience that is infected by [Stengers' strange example:] [a] gloomy and ancient mountain," -- i.e., that which is an enduring object (as opposed to some eternal object, like what is conjured by the word blue, that whitehead says "haunts time like a spirit.").  "'Infection' must be understood, not without humor, in a neutral sense" (i.e., infection is speculative -- it doesn’t try to control consequences), "designating the success constituted by all endurance in a changing world.... This infectious holding-together is not a fusion but a valorization, a determinate shaping, conferring a value -- that is, a role -- on what is prehended." 

In other words, 'infection' is about what has got a hold on us. The efficacy of the hold is a kind of endurance -- which is separate and apart from how – once public – a work of art finds 'a life of its own,' i.e., from how a work of art becomes a vehicle or vector for infecting others.  Let's not confuse this with marketing. I don’t want to translate this in a way that would emphasize how public ideas (or works of art) are only alive to the extent that they infect others (or continue to infect me).

The celebration “as” presence is enacted in the unfolding or creation of a poem. Maybe there is a way to relate this to Spinoza's famous statement that 'we don't know what a body can do'.

As a poet might say: “the words write me as much as I write them.”

What Stengers actually says is that speculative thought should infect questions raised by living societies with hesitations and uncertainties.  For Whitehead,  “everything is sociology...   Whitehead can no more tell us what a society is than Spinoza could say what a body is capable of.  In both cases 'we don't know.' We only know that the two opposite extremes 'my body belongs to me' and 'I belong to my society' are somewhat misleading simplifications." (325)

For living societies, everything happens in the non-occupied spaces – on the level of the interstices – between bodies and environment.  Between the power to affect and the power to be affected.

In a way, this is an argument (not inconsistent with Foucault) that (quoting Stengers again) “power is not primarily repressive, but inciting, arousing interest, questions and knowledge. This, indeed, is how infection in Whitehead’s sense could be defined: not by imposition of a role but by the incitement, reflected in multiple and various ways, to take up and prolong that role.  In the generic sense, nothing imposes anything, for there is no authority that has, in itself, the power to impose. All ‘social power,’ unless it is purely and simply repressive (which is a rare and unstable case), designates first and foremost a dynamics of infection.”  (160)

So my hope is that we can attune to the dynamics of infection, and this can incite us to hesitate and think and question. 

p.s.  Stengers again: "The reader will have intuited that Whitehead is no critic of power as such: a nature in which nothing succeeded in infecting anything else would not be a nature, and the possibility of maintaining any kind of nostalgia toward a "powerless" society implies in itself an incalculable number of "social achievements."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Reading/Conversation Stecopoulos / wolach: Sat 3 October, 7p

@The New Foundation Seattle.  312 2nd Ave South. Free. Hope to see you there!

Eleni Stecopoulos is the author of Visceral Poetics (ON Contemporary Practice, 2015), Daphnephoria (Compline, 2012), and Armies of Compassion (Palm Press, 2010). She curated an award-winning series on “The Poetics of Healing” for the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University, hosting writers, artists, health practitioners, scholars, and activists in performance and conversation, and she is finishing a related book called “Dreaming in the Fault Zone.”Her writing is published in venues such as Harriet, Encyclopedia, ecopoetics, Open Space (SFMOMA), Supple Science: A Robert Kocik Primer (ON Contemporary Practice, 2013), and Somatic Engagement: The Politics and Publics of Embodiment (Chain Links, 2011). She appears in George Quasha’s video work poetry is (Speaking Portraits). Stecopoulos has taught at Bard College, in the Naropa Summer Writing Program, and in the MFA programs at San Francisco State and the University of San Francisco. She lives in Berkeley and co-teaches a workshop with the dance poet and movement educator Margit Galanter.

david wolach is founding editor of Wheelhouse Magazine & Press and has been an active participant in Nonsite Collective. wolach is the author of  Hospitalogy, from Tarpaulin Sky Press, as well as  Occultations (Black Radish Books, 2010),  Prefab Eulogies Volume 1: Nothings Houses (BlazeVox, 2010), and  book alter(ed) (Ungovernable Press, 2009). A former union organizer and installation artist, wolach’s work often begins as site-specific and interactive performance and ends up as shaped, written language. Critical work can be found in  Aufgabe, P-Queue, Jacket, Jacket2 and  Sibila: Poesia y Cultura. wolach is professor of poetry, poetics, and queer & cultural theory at The Evergreen State College, and visiting professor in Bard College’s Workshop In Language & Thinking.

And also this week:

Nate Mackey - September 30, 6-7:30 at UW Seattle, Communications Bldg 120.  He will be talking on Precarity and Breath—the first discursive lecture he has written to deliver he says—in the last ten years.  Don't miss it!

UW Bothell’s Fall Convergence Conference, Thursday evening,  October 1, at 7:00 (reception at 6:00) in North Creek Event Center.  The next day on Friday 1-7 in the afternoon a whole host of interesting people and events.

Another conflicting reading. Sorry Gregory!  Shannon, Eunsong 은송, & Gregory Laynor: October 3, Sat, 7 PM at Gallery 1412, 18th Ave. Seattle, WA

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Adorno’s Nose

“Crisis is a convergence misinterpreted by mankind.”
      -Sadie Plant & Nick Land

The precariat sneeze
Carla's sleeveless
I'm already pink
Animating limbs
Machine parts
That act on dreams
Ergo, poetry is not enough
The better to inflict
‎What’s engineered
For predetermine‎d effect

Selfless organ
For chaotic play
Equally garbled
Toward touch
Waxed wing
Freed of napkin ideals
Single click diaspora
I fed pigeons into Ponzi schemes
Agreement where R > G
Fingers > fists
Legal props yield to
Surveillance of the fittest
This end up

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wet Conceptualism (waterboard)

 "...where the pressure of the given fact bursts [its] concept…, one is obliged to invent another concept..."  -Simone de Beauvoir

morbid appearance
‎What eyesores do

when we fake
pernicious drift

Beyond epigraph
One is obliged
To invent

Too drunk to pee
I saw the stars, son
They're upsetting

Living on mute
Don’t talk to me about Crows
how they fly

Foot in mouth
Some syndrome about the character
of web feet

Or how indirection
Sticks to teeth
Solved by maze

They came wearing berets
Fishing for shotgun shack
The new flesh committee

@Skagit logjam
Too studious
in fear of what a novice‎ might say

What revolts
in the simulated ring
‎of your phone

Each square
For circus equation
Each word against

Each onerous use
Each composite
The letters think they own

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Wet Conceptualism

The sarcasm meme
Tears & the litany of words

It all comes down to
All that is solid

Poems that are not poems
Poems that smuggle line breaks into tombs

& die in the arms of prose
Poems that follow horizon to vertical bluff

Hydraulic lift
To immoderate flow

Yes, meet me at listserv
Turn right at heroic MoMA

Chase the emergent props
Subject to the very object

that tracks how hegemonies
fall through our hands

Carpetbagger‎s of modernity
The posse which R US

Out of which we arrive Drooling
Too many flavors or only one

Pint of Boho Raspberry ‎
or Neopolitan‎ Dream

I love this litmus test
Compiling monotone from tricolore

Going deadpan at publicschool
Lost on the upworthy slope

Subject to props‎
to my two body  problem

Erased by a hat

Sunday, July 12, 2015

‎The Past Exonerative

  “Living in the past exonerative tense, as in 'mistakes were made'”

held together by dissent
by heterogeny
one concept a day

face first
freckled & wan

she wrote in Singlish
physical loops
learning to spit, to dance
to destroy horizon

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wound of Spirit: Hegel's rotten body

"A writer who doesn't have a wound that's always open is no writer for me." -Canetti

"Hegel was never more wrong than when he wrote 'the wounds of the Spirit heal and leave no scars behind'." -Shaviro

Here, courtesy darkecologies is Zizek's attempt to get rid of Hegel's rotten body.  I want to say blah blah blah. That's also a Z quote.

Spirit’s return-to-itself creates the very dimension to which it returns. What this means is that the “negation of the negation ,” the “return-to-oneself” from alienation, does not occur where it seems to: in the negation of the negation, Spirit’s negativity is not relativized, subsumed under an encompassing positivity; it is, on the contrary, the “simple negation” which remains attached to the presupposed positivity it has negated, the presupposed Otherness from which it alienates itself, and the negation of the negation is nothing but the negation of the substantial character of this Otherness itself, the full acceptance of the abyss of Spirit’s self-relating which retroactively posits all its presuppositions. In other words, once we are in negativity, we can never leave it and regain the lost innocence of the origins; in the “negation of the negation” the origins are truly lost, their very loss is lost, they are deprived of the substantial status of that which has been lost. Spirit heals its wound not directly, but by getting rid of the full and sane Body into which the wound was cut. It is in this precise sense that, according to Hegel, “the wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.”  His point is not that Spirit heals its wounds so perfectly that, in a magical gesture of retroactive sublation, even the scars disappear; the point is rather that, in the course of the dialectical process, a shift of perspective occurs which makes the wound itself appear as its opposite— the wound itself is its own healing when seen from another standpoint.