Note on Poetry and Politics

What is the relation of poetry to politics? And how should we characterize it—since we cannot uncover this relation without also prescribing it? If poetry cannot be thought of in terms of an uncomplicated concept of expression, but always to some extent overrun or diverted from the simplicity of its message by the medium of its transport and the unpredictability of its reception, then poetry cannot simply be conceived as one among many mouthpieces for political thought or expression. To continue in vagaries (and we shall not cease to), we might say that where politics coalesces around a name, insisting on its meaning in the face of a hostile opposition, poetry is the exposure of the possibility of naming to the silence of language and the clamor of significations.

Any thinking of the poetic must take into account poetry's relation to the excessive potentialities of language. Our goal in considering such potentialities should be not to "free" poetry from any relation to politics, nor should we attempt to cloister poetry in mystical obfuscations, but to understand in what ways poetry and politics are incompatible so that we might better understand how we might articulate their relation.

I venture the following, that poetry at the very least is a property of language or a disposition toward language (or both) that does not respect the distinction between form and content—medium and message, physis and nomos—to the extent that its interest in language never ceases to stray outside of a consistent use of language or a specific end to which language is put. Poetry is what reads and speaks what in language withdraws into silence in deference for consensual, public understanding.

If poetry rests in anything—if it has a single common feature—it is a commitment to what in language resists the sort of identification required for any propriety in language.

If even this very general condition obtains, then poetry remains problematic for any use of language that requires or promotes identification. Poetry cannot therefore be a reliable mode for ethical or political thought. Poetry has at least one axiom: Language will always mean more or less than what is intended (which is still to accept something resembling intention as problematically unconditional). This is perhaps what gives some poems their eternal quality—they anticipate a multitude of future readings, if only by their non-commital openness, which is perhaps their peculiar futurity.

All this is not to say that poetry makes other uses of language impossible, only that poetry is an inconstant friend to such uses—which is why we cannot denounce a statement such as "Art can be nothing without violence, cruelty, and injustice," without tossing out all poetry with it.

Even so-called politically conscious poems cannot help but aestheticize and stylize the events they attempt to describe, turning events of vital import into objects of aesthetic contemplation. Poems are often grotesque and perverse for this very reason.

Perhaps this is why, even though I don't love the tactics of the Mongrels (though anyone who's given it half a thought must agree that the anonymous callout tactic is more efficient and effective than any official channel has ever been), I cannot deny that my heart is warmed by the scale of their aggression and the purity of their near-contentless program, as if they are the recurrence of a now-century-old Futurism. Their negativity (a "murderous repetition of no's") is wonderfully jarring in the indifferent furor of its theoretical illegitimacy and their positive program is inscrutable to the point of gnosticism (and will necessarily be so to a person such as myself).

Perhaps my understanding can only take the form of my immolation at the hands of these mongrels—at which point my apotheosis and my abjection will coincide. It is, for that reason, a perfect figure for poetry.

That said, they suffer in their anonymity, since their particular articulation of poetry and politics hasn't much more than a negative description (primarily in relation to Goldsmith's work). Only that my understanding of poetry as articulated here, which is a badly concealed and worse deconstructionism, would surely complicated their reading of Goldsmith's work.