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EDITORIAL CODA: NOTES ON STRUGGLE AND COSMOLOGY

I. THE CALM IS THE STORM

More than capitalism, history itself is crisis. Contradiction, violence, antagonismthese will outlast capitalism just as they preceded it, perhaps even yielding a comparable string of commensurably horrifying outcomes as history continues to unfold. This is not to apologize for the crises constitutive of capitalism, but rather to suggest that, while the horizon of capitalism resides at all times within crisis, the limits of crisis may not be breached by the collapse of capital. Put differently, if capitalism is crisis, it should not be assumed that crisis is capitalism. Polis, however, social in orientation and prior to capital, emerges with crisis, through crisis, as a gesture toward ameliorating crisis. But if polis is that which aspires to reconcile crisis, it can only do so through struggle. Jan Patočka, writing during an ongoing moment of crisis in the Czech Republic that eventually led to his death, makes this strikingly clear in the second of his Heretical Essays:

The spirit of the polis is a spirit of unity in conflict, in battle. One cannot be a citizenpolitesexcept in a community of some against others, and the conflict itself gives rise to the tension, the tenor of the life of the polis, the shape of the space of freedom that citizens both offer and deny each other …

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For those of us located at the epicenter of the “free” world, Patočka’s insistence on situating the concept of freedom, the ideological lynchpin of Western Democracy, as the common denominator of conflict can, if misread, be troubling. But his insistence on the primacy of strugglehis repeated belief, via Heraclitus, that polis and polemos mutually constitute and sustain one anotheris not only striking but, at this historical juncture, instructive. For Patočka, polemos is the indispensable power through which the belligerently undisclosed can at last be unconcealed: “Polemos, the flash of being out of the night of the world, lets everything particular be and manifest itself as what it is.” 2 Here it is only through radical conflictmoments of irreducible disagreementthat we are afforded the privilege of seeing ourselves. This seeing is fundamentally social; seeing ourselves through conflict demands that we see ourselves among others, through our relation to one another, as one among others. As such, polemos is not blind and divisive destruction but rather the trembling surface upon which we meet in open conflict and recognize our relation to both our comrades and those against whom we struggle.

Crisis should not be confused with struggleit is not polemos. Crisis is the space where

conflict ought to have

been and now

must be. Crisis is what the positivist vacuum of

  • 1 Jan Patočka. Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. Trans. Erazim Kohák. Peru, IL: Open Court Press, 1996. 41-42.

  • 2 Ibid. 43.

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EDITORIAL CODA: NOTES ON STRUGGLE AND COSMOLOGY I. THE CALM IS THE STORM More than capitalism,
EDITORIAL CODA: NOTES ON STRUGGLE AND COSMOLOGY I. THE CALM IS THE STORM More than capitalism,

conflict’s absence (consensus) manufactures. Crisis is the impact of force that meets no

meaningful resistance. In ancient Greece krisis (κρίσις) was used variously to refer to discrimination, decision, and crisis as we use it todayas, that is, the crux of a moment when one can no longer put off making a decision (discriminating). Understood in this way, crisis discloses itself as the precondition of polemos, which is at once the precondition of polis and also what is common, our common and common to all. Thus crisis is precisely that thing we must respond to lest we, or those for whom we care, suffer and die.

The suffering brought on by crisis, as we presently understand it, alerts us to the decisive influence crisis has on the body. This sense of crisis as a material force that determines the wellness of a body is made readily apparent through its usage in pathology, where it indicates the turning point in a disease when the condition of a body can either worsen or move toward recovery. Earlier the concept of crisis stood as a quilting point articulating a range of now-discrete and, in some cases, long-since discredited practices and disciplines. In early modern astrology, crisis referred specifically to the determinate impact stellar and planetary configurations were believed to have on disease and events. The English soldier and astrologer Christopher Hayden appealed to this usage of crisis several times in his Defence of Iudiciall Astrologie (1603), as did the Flemish physician Thomas Montis in his Quodlibetica (1521): “Per motum lune medicus veram crisis horam prenoscere potest, ac bonam aut malam crisim ex aspect ad ceteros planetas intrepide denunciare potest” (“Through the motion of the moon, the physician can foretell the true hour of a crisis, and securely denounce its beneficial or harmful nature from the moon’s aspect with the other planets”). 3 Here the knowable trajectories of celestial bodiesthe elliptical patterns of their interminable turninghold incredible sway over the communities beneath them. Like capital, the movement of these planetary bodies is, in many instances, predictable. We can know what to expect and what the heavens tend toward. We can anticipate the hour of crisis.

Mocking these seemingly superstitious efforts to understand the human body through its relation to the whole of the cosmos, Samuel Butler remarked in the first canto of his cynical polemic Hudibras (1663):

They’ll feel the Pulses of the Stars, To find out Agues, Coughs, Catarrhs:

And tell what Crisis does Divine The Rot in Sheep, or Mange in Swine:

In men, what gives or Cures the Itch, What made them Cuckolds, poor or rich 4

3 Steven Vanden Broecke. The Limits of Influence: Pico, Louvain, and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology. Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2003. 44. My emphasis. 4 Samuel Butler. Hudibras. London: George Sawbridge, 1704. 29.

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conflict’s absence (consensus) manufactures. Crisis is the impact of force that meets no meaningful resistance. In
conflict’s absence (consensus) manufactures. Crisis is the impact of force that meets no meaningful resistance. In

Composed during a time of war, these lines express a deep skepticism not only in the determinate character of cosmological influence at a moment of radical instability, but also in the ability of intellectuals to name the hour of crisis (disease and injury, condition and class) by observing phenomena external to and well beyond the immediacy and presence, the empirical evidence, of the body. There can be little doubt that the results of treatments based on diagnoses guided by the heavens were useless if not disastrous, and it is obviously this Butler satirizes. But there is also a sense in the identification of the body with the totality of the known and knowable universe, reminding us, perhaps in the most basic way, of Charles Olson’s insistence on a fundamentally human universe where “man and external reality are so involved with one another that … they had better be taken as one.” 5 If this is the case, approaching the body without attending to the human (viz. social) conditions of the universe beyond it seems as misguided as denying the extent to which the whole of the cosmos inheres in bodies and things. But the error Olson makesa grave misstep that threatens the whole of his poeticslies in his failure to adequately address the social, to decenter (the) man in (his and never her) relation to the universe, to address the “body of citizens” as more than a homogeneous “group with will” blinded by consensus, the suppression of polemos. 6 Although Patočka, too, insists on totality—on the oneness of polis and of the universethe oneness he imagines interiorizes and is in fact interminably built and rebuilt by disagreement, strife and struggle: “Polemos binds together the contending parties, not only because it stands over them but because in it they are one.” 7 In this configuration, the oneness of human civilization is galvanized by open conflict, suggesting that the oppositemoments of consensus, synthesis and harmonypresuppose crisis.

Focusing expressly on the occurrence of crisis under capitalism, Marx notes in Theories of Surplus Value, Crisis is nothing but the forcible assertion of the unity of phases of the production process which have become independent of each other.” 8 Contrary to polis, which in Patočka’s theorization is strengthened by discontinuity and disagreement, capital is threatened by internal discord. Harmony and consensus are essential to capital’s survival.

When this harmony is disrupted, as the aftermath of the 2007 financial meltdown well

demonstrates, capital enters into crisisinto that moment of radical contingency wherein capital’s only objective is to restore the balance, the unity, among its various phases of

accumulation by any means necessary. From the myriad tent cities that emerged in the US following the foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment, to the overwhelming bailout of unsustainable financial institutions on the brink of collapse, to the violently contested austerity measures implemented by governments throughout Europe and North America, we see capital engaged in a desperate effort to recalibrate itself and return to those fleeting

  • 5 Charles Olson. Collected Prose. Ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

  • 6 See George F. Butterick. A Guide to the Maximus Poems. Berkeley: University of California, 1980. 25.

  • 7 Patočka 42.

  • 8 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2 nd ed. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton,

1978.

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Composed during a time of war, these lines express a deep skepticism not only in the
Composed during a time of war, these lines express a deep skepticism not only in the

instances of harmony that signal crisis for all who live under capital. But it is precisely the instant of disunity, the event of polemos, which concedes the conditions for an as yet unrealized and fundamentally social polis.

Clearly this sense of polis did not escape Greek activists associated with the All-Workers Militant Front (Πανεργατικό Αγωνιστικό Μέτωπο) when, on 27 June 2011, they gathered at the acropolis in Athens to protest one among many parliamentary votes on austerity. 9 The acropolis has long been a crucial site of protest in Greece and since the financial collapse there have been no small number of protests staged among its ruins, but most striking about this particular instance was the scale and stunning simplicity of the banners unfurled from its ramparts. Among other things, the banners read, in both Greek and English, “Never Surrender.” In most any other context the phrase is no more than a banal and gratuitously violent slogan, but positioned at the originary ground of polis, the exclamation fully embodied the very ethos of polis as polemos. The acropolis is likewise the embodiment of polis. We know it in much the same way we know the Great Wall of China, Big Ben or the Washington Monument. But as a word in language, acropolis endures, like the structure to which it refers, a transhistorical ruin that contains within itself polis at its most absolute limit. Akros (ἄκρος) is the limit, but mortared to polis this limit is not simply the outermost limit of the city. It is precisely the uppermost limit, a location at once at the heart of the city and closest to the celestial bodies against which it struggles to grasp its relation to the cosmos.

II. ENGAGING THE CRISIS

Assembled largely from August 2011 forward, this volume includes writing solicited from a diverse, transatlantic constellation of poet-critics, many of whom have long been active in a variety of struggles that articulate the cultural and the political while carefully negotiating the overdetermined and differential relationship between the local and the global. To speak for the work collected hereor, perhaps worse, to situate these writers as representative of a discrete school or movementwould, I sense, betray the work. But hazarding a comment, however brief, feels essential and to regard the work contained here as writing which intimately attends to the ebullient cascade of overlapping crises that have dominated the whole of the twenty-first century would not be unfair. Distinct from residual or dominant tendencies in contemporary writing, even a cursory view of the work in this volume indicates the terms of engagement taken up by these writers are fixed on a moment informed by the unforgiving shock and awe of economic contraction and protracted war; in short, life under capital at this conjuncture. But much of this work is also motivated by, or congruent with, protest, riot and resistance. And if these writers engage crisis, they do so through a

instances of harmony that signal crisis for all who live under capital. But it is precisely( ἄκρος ) is the limit, but mortared to polis this limit is not simply the outermost limit of the city . It is precisely the uppermost limit, a location at once at the heart of the city and closest to the celestial bodies against which it struggles to grasp its relation to the cosmos. II. ENGAGING THE CRISIS Assembled largely from August 2011 forward, this volume includes writing solicited from a diverse, transatlantic constellation of poet-critics, many of whom have long been active in a variety of struggles that articulate the cultural and the political while carefully negotiating the overdetermined and differential relationship between the local and the global. To speak for the work collected here — or, perhaps worse, to situate these writers as representative of a discrete school or movement — would, I sense, betray the work. But hazarding a comment, however brief, feels essential and to regard the work contained here as writing which intimately attends to the ebullient cascade of overlapping crises that have dominated the whole of the twenty-first century would not be unfair. Distinct from residual or dominant tendencies in contemporary writing, even a cursory view of the work in this volume indicates the terms of engagement taken up by these writers are fixed on a moment informed by the unforgiving shock and awe of economic contraction and protracted war; in short, life under capital at this conjuncture. But much of this work is also motivated by, or congruent with, protest, riot and resistance. And if these writers engage crisis, they do so through a Helena Smith. “Greek Communists Storm the Acropolis in Bailout Protest.” The Guardian , 27 June 2011. 363 " id="pdf-obj-3-48" src="pdf-obj-3-48.jpg">

9 Helena Smith. “Greek Communists Storm the Acropolis in Bailout Protest.” The Guardian, 27 June 2011.

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instances of harmony that signal crisis for all who live under capital. But it is precisely( ἄκρος ) is the limit, but mortared to polis this limit is not simply the outermost limit of the city . It is precisely the uppermost limit, a location at once at the heart of the city and closest to the celestial bodies against which it struggles to grasp its relation to the cosmos. II. ENGAGING THE CRISIS Assembled largely from August 2011 forward, this volume includes writing solicited from a diverse, transatlantic constellation of poet-critics, many of whom have long been active in a variety of struggles that articulate the cultural and the political while carefully negotiating the overdetermined and differential relationship between the local and the global. To speak for the work collected here — or, perhaps worse, to situate these writers as representative of a discrete school or movement — would, I sense, betray the work. But hazarding a comment, however brief, feels essential and to regard the work contained here as writing which intimately attends to the ebullient cascade of overlapping crises that have dominated the whole of the twenty-first century would not be unfair. Distinct from residual or dominant tendencies in contemporary writing, even a cursory view of the work in this volume indicates the terms of engagement taken up by these writers are fixed on a moment informed by the unforgiving shock and awe of economic contraction and protracted war; in short, life under capital at this conjuncture. But much of this work is also motivated by, or congruent with, protest, riot and resistance. And if these writers engage crisis, they do so through a Helena Smith. “Greek Communists Storm the Acropolis in Bailout Protest.” The Guardian , 27 June 2011. 363 " id="pdf-obj-3-57" src="pdf-obj-3-57.jpg">

range of practices that might be most usefully approached by considering what they are not. None of the writing contained here is flippant, nor is it the work of an evasive, disengaged irony. Where irony does erupt it is an irony that surrenders itself to exhaustion, laboring through itself to arrive at something beyond the originary terms of the despair that ignites it. Similarly, the modalities of engagement taken up by these writers are markedly different from, and occasionally in open conflict with, those poetries that, in previous decades, imagined the structures of language alone as the primary site of strugglea tendency in writing, the object of which is perhaps most exuberantly expressed by Jean Baudrillard in his structuralist critique of Marxism, The Mirror of Production: “The exchange of signifieds has always hidden the ‘labor’ of the signifier: let us liberate the signifier and the textual production of meaning!” 10 For many of the writers featured in this volume, putting distance between signifier and signified, or playfully indulging in the newly liberated materialityof pure language, can never be enough. Nor can the performative or linguistic erasure of subjectivities that continue to press down on us and through which we suffer or profit according to currents of power.

For fear of (further) misreading the work gathered here, I will stop short of commenting on the commitment many of these writers have made to a thoroughgoing reimagining of lyric practicecommitments that, for my own part, I have learned by, admire and am deeply grateful for. The only thing I can share with confidence is my own enthusiasm for the force of this work, an unrelenting force exertedeven and especially in moments of patience, pause and surrenderto match that of capital as it struggles against capital.

The architecture of this volume is anchored around Rob Halpern and Keston Sutherland, two geographically distant and intellectualy singular poets whose poetic practices converge on the question of capital. In conjunction with a generous amount of recent work from Halpern and Sutherland (poetry, prose, essays, lecture notes, and other materials) are several critical comments on their writing from a number of poets and critics, colleagues and comrades. These are followed by provisional checklists which are by no means exhaustive and intended only as bibliographic touchstones enabling further inquiry.

Regrettably, given the scale of these essential features on Halpern and Sutherland, the writers appearing here are a disproportionately small sample of a much richer range of writing communities, and more than representing a set of tendencies in writing, this volume intervenes as a gesture intended to point toward the ongoing labor of innumerable and diverse writers on both sides of the Atlantic who are just as intensely engaged in responding to crisis. Dozens on dozens of poets come immediately to mind. As does the need to recognize that the majority of critical essays contained here were written by poets whose work is no less charged than that of those they respond to.

range of practices that might be most usefully approached by considering what they are not. None

10 Jean Baudrillard. The Mirror of Proudction. Trans. Mark Poster. Candor, NY: Telos, 1975. 18.

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range of practices that might be most usefully approached by considering what they are not. None

The varied uses by contributors of Anglicized and Americanized orthography and punctuation have been preserved, as has their citational and bibliographic formatting.

Moving from the assumption that what W.W. Greg so long ago referred to as “accidentals”

(i.e. punctuation, italicization, word division) are indeed “substantive” and capable of radically altering the way a text resonates, I have chosen only to correct typographical errors made in haste. Very little has been normalized and any error that might appear above is strictly my own.

RICHARD OWENS

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The varied uses by contributors of Anglicized and Americanized orthography and punctuation have been preserved, as
The varied uses by contributors of Anglicized and Americanized orthography and punctuation have been preserved, as