Sunday, March 26, 2017

When Revolution Was Sexy, or: Tania, Ché’s Woman in Bolivia



Not long ago, as I was shuffling my way through the local used bookshop, I saw a pristine copy of the November 1968 issue of Evergreen Review. William Burroughs! Céline! Nat Hentoff before he slid rightwards! The Chicago police riot! Something called “Tania: Ché’s Woman in Bolivia,” for which the only appropriate response is to shout “how was this not turned into a movie with Dennis Hopper in heavy makeup and Jane Fonda with a brunette dye-job?” And speaking of Jane Fonda: an ad for Barbarella on the back.  Hell yes I bought it. For a fiver, too.

Reading around in the thing—the articles and letters, but also all the ads and paratext—made one thing absolutely clear to me: the revolution was eroticized.  I mean, half of the ads for books are for sex-themed reading, the ad for the Village Voice is a kind of callipygian parade, and you’ll see headings like “How about those kookie nudists?”  Of course it’s nothing new to note that the revolution that stuck, from those heady days of wide bandwidth rebellion, was the sexual revolution. It is striking, though, to see how hooked into other forms of rebellion it was. Revolution—the word, the concept, the display on the street.

What’s amazing about this element of the 1960s is how it sits vis-a-vis some of what that great guru of the sixties, Herbert Marcuse, had to say in One-Dimensional Man. One of his better inventions was the notion of repressive desublimation. One element of the theory of repressive desublimation takes the form of a contention about libidinal energy.  Once upon a time, when we were all jammed up Victorians in tight corsets and high collars, goes the story, we couldn’t simply follow our erotic urges, so we attached them to higher ideals of one kind or another. Think Tristan and Isolde yearning for one another—the idea of erotic fulfillment becomes attached to something grand, something set in an imagined historical elsewhere, where passions are immense, where actions are significant, where we are heroic. It’s all very Madame Bovary, isn’t it—this sense of a better literary elsewhere as criticism of this world, and of that elsewhere being charged with eros? (Bovary is, in fact, one of Marcuse’s examples). From our perspective, of course, this kind of celebration of tragic and romantic love, “appears,” as Marcuse said, “to be the ideal of a backward stage” of development.  Good riddance to whalebone corsets and virginity-until-marriage!

But wait. That better or idealized world we’d suffused with eros functions as a kind of critique of the world we live in: Marcuse calls it “The Great Refusal”—and it’s desirable, juiced up, because we’ve made it the sexy place. It’s where our sublimated sexual energies went.  When we stop sublimating, and decouple the erotic from the ideal, those other worlds lose their drawing power, and we miss the force of their implicit critique of our own world. Instead, we all just fuck—or, as Marcuse put it, we find our satisfactions “rigidly reduced” to “a localization and contraction of libido, the reduction of erotic to sexual experience and satisfaction.” We’re not freer and more happy than those Victorians who sublimated their erotic energy into dreams of other, better worlds.  “The Pleasure principle,” Marcuse writes, “is reduced—deprived of the claims which are irreconcilable with the established society. Pleasure, thus adjusted, generates submission.” And that’s why desublimation—which sounds so liberating—is, in Marcuse’s view, repressive.

So what to make of the attachment of eros to the idea of social and political revolution, as we see it in the Evergreen Review? What to make of Tania, Ché’s woman in Bolivia? It’s a remarkable combination of desublimated eroticism, and an attachment of the erotic to an ideal that refuses the world as it is. Some of it, of course, is just marketing: there’s that ad for Barbarella to consider.  And the overwhelming majority of it, in the November 1968 Evergreen Review, caters to heterosexual men, and doesn’t seem to have any second thoughts about the male gaze and the objectification of women and a host of other things we have—slowly, falteringly, inadequately—begun to criticize. But it’s also something that seems to have moved beyond the binary of a liberating sublimation and a repressive desublimation.

It’s been a while since revolution has seemed sexy. But the way our politics has gone, it’s looking more attractive all the time.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Resist Much/Obey Little, or: Here Comes Everybody, and They All Hate Trump



Remember how the anti-Trump demonstrations were so vast they sent our president running to his phone to squeak out some angry tweets? I'm hoping the vast list of contributors to Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance will do the same. I've got a piece in the book, and so do these people:

Nibaldo Acero Nancy Agabian Andrés Ajens Youssef Alaoui Rosa Alcalá Charles Alexander Will Alexander William Allegrezza Caitlin M. Alvarez Joe Amato Bruce Andrews Robert Archambeau Bob Arnold JoAnn Balingit Barbara Barg John Beer Ana Belén López Rosebud Ben-Oni John M. Bennet Steve Benson Jay Besemer Stephen Bett Richard Blevins BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP Andrew R. Boettcher Kathy Bohinc Charles Borkhuis Dianne Borsenik Michael Boughn Kent Bowker John Bradley Susan Briante Alan Britt Christopher Brown Lee Ann Brown Laynie Browne John Burns Melissa Buzzeo Don Byrd Anthony Cappo Xánath Caraza Brenda Cárdenas Jessica Wilson Cárdenas Kristen Case Hayan Charara cris cheek Chin-In Chen Maxine Chernoff Abigail Child Wendy Chin-Tanner chiwan choi Andres Cisneros de la Cruz Franklin K. R. Cline Norma Cole Victor Coleman Ed Coletti Matthew Cooperman Michael Copperman Joshua Corey Paul Corman-Roberts Lydia Cortes Ricardo Cortez Cruz Curtis L. Crisler Garin Cycholl Lyle Daggett Beverly Dahlen Pedro Damian Bautista Chris Daniels Ruth Danon Jill Darling doris davenport Michael Davidson Jenny L. Davis Jean Day Terence Degnan Ian Demsky Lynne DeSilva-Johnson Reed Dickson Linh Dinh Dante Di Stefano Thom Donovan Johanna Drucker Andrew DuBois Alice O. Duggan Denise Duhamel Patrick Dunagan Rachel Blau DuPlessis Marcella Durand Patrick Durgin Tongo Eisen-Martin Stephen Ellis Clayton Eshleman Carrie Etter Amy Evans Tanya Evanson Jim Feast Robert Fernandez Crystal Field Guillermo Filice Castro Bonny Finberg Annie Finch Norman Finklestein Norman Fischer Kass Fleisher Lewis Freedman Lisa Freedman Ru Freeman Bill Freind Philip Fried Gloria Frym William Fuller Kelle Grace Gaddis Matt Gagnon Forrest Gander Edgar Garcia Drew Gardner Joseph Gastiger Galo Ghigliotto David Giannini Robert Gibbons Daniela Gioseffi Judith Goldman Larry Goodell Nada Gordon Noah Eli Gordon Jaki Shelton Green Peter Milne Greiner Myla Grier Whit Griffin Rosemary Griggs Gabriel Gudding Jeff Gundy Eduardo Guzmán Chávez Rob Halpern Janet Hamill q.r. hand jr., Daniel Y. Harris Roberto Harrison Carla Harryman Quintus Havis Marwa Helal Michael Heller Jeanne Heuving William Heyen Matt Hill Owen Hill Brenda Hillman Jack Hirschman Andrea Hollander Bob Holman Darrel Alejandro Holnes Christopher Howell Detrick Hughes Brenda Iijima Alan W. Jankowski Lisa Jarnot Edgar Artaud Jarry Paolo Javier Brooks Johnson Judith Johnson Kent Johnson Patricia Spears Jones Pierre Joris Janine Joseph Fady Joudah Michael Joyce Judy Juanita George Kalamaras Eliot Katz Vincent Katz Tim Keane Douglas Kearney Burt Kimmelman Basil King David Kirby Davy Knittle Robert Kocik Ron Kolm Anja Konig Irene Koronas Dean Kostos Dee Dee Kramer Sean Labrador y Manzano Mark Lamoureux Susanna Lang Ted Lardner David Lau Patrick Lawler Mercedes Lawry Ruth Lepson Ken Letko Andrew Levy erica lewis Susan Lewis Genny Lim R. Zamora Linmark Joan Logghe Janice A. Lowe Brian Lucas Nathaniel Mackey Steven Manuel Filip Marinovich Al Markowitz Shelly Marlow Jack Martin Valerie Martínez Paul Martinez-Pompa Siwar Masannat Farid Matuk Syreeta McFadden Rubén Medina Caits Meissner Miranda Mellis Edric Mesmer Philip Metres elena minor José-Luis Moctezuma Juan Morales Laura Moriarty Sarah Morrison Andrew Mossin Erin Moure Laura Mullen Eileen Myles Sawako Nakayasu Joe Napora Uche Nduka Paul Nelson Murat Nemet-Nejat Richard Newman Brian Ng Joey Nicoletti A.L. Nielsen Joseph Noble Urayoán Noel Linda Norton Nita Noveno Jules Nyquist Gabriel Ojeda-Sague Peter O’Leary Adrienne Oliver John Olson Sergio Ortiz Gordon Osing Alicia Ostriker Maureen Owen Joe Pan Tamas Panitz, tr. Soham Patel Julie Patton Ted Pearson José Peguero Michelle Peñaloza Craig Santos Perez Emmy Pérez Michael Peters NourbeSe Philip Wanda Phipps Wang Ping Robert Podgurski Julien Poirier Tina Posner Robert Priest Patrick Pritchett Chris Pusateri Ruben Quesada Alicia Jo Rabins Charles Rammelkamp Margaret Randall Amanda Ngoho Reavey Tennessee Reed Margaret Rhee John Rigney Marguerite María Rivas Sherry Robbins Mg Roberts Kirk Robinson Kit Robinson MaVi Robles-Castillo Lasantha Rodrigo Luis J. Rodriguez Ruben J. Rodriguez Pilar Rodríguez-Aranda Linda Rogers Michael Rothenberg Julie Rouse Joe Safdie Lisa Samuels Edward Sanders Larry Sawyer Jared Schickling Jason Schneiderman Danniel Schoonebeek Ilka Scobie Hugh Seidman Jesse Seldess Anis Shivani Larissa Shmailo Evie Shockley John Shoptaw Laura Shovan Ron Silliman Sandra Simonds Jonathan Skinner Austin Smith Gerard Smyth Megan Snyder-Camp BJ Soloy Alan Sondheim André Spears Dani Spinosa Eleni Stecopoulos Julia Stein Winifred Celeste Davis Stragand Chris Stroffolino Terese Svoboda Eileen R. Tabios Nathaniel Tarn Ken Taylor t thilleman Lorenzo Thomas John Tipton James Tolan Edwin Torres Rodrigo Toscano KC Trommer Keith Tuma Matt Turner Arysteides Turpana Peter Valente, tr. Kevin Vaughn Lisa Vihos R.A. Villanueva María Villatoro Moisés Villavicencio Barras Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Fred Wah Anne Waldman Lewis Warsh Joshua Weiner Marjorie Welish Donald Wellman Ross Wheeler Frederick Whitehead Walt Whitman Charles Whittaker Tyrone Williams Morgan Grayce Willow Suzanne Wise Lissa Wolsak Heather Woods Jeffrey Cyphers Wright Anton Yakolev Daniel Zimmerman Marilyn Zuckerman

The 740 page outpouring of patriotic dissent can be purchased here. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Anthony Madrid's Defense of Rhyme



You want to know about rhyme, you ask Anthony Madrid.  Trust me on this.  Here's the beginning of his new essay, "A Gallery of Rhymes from Palgrave's Golden Treasury," the latest installment in the "Essays & Commentary" section I edit for Plume

Spring, the sweet Spring, is the year's pleasant king;
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing, 
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

This is the first stanza of a short poem by Thomas Nash. I have “bolded” the rhyme words, as I shall be doing throughout these notes.
The poem first appeared in Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592), a play that no one has read in hundreds of years. The poem occurs near the beginning of the play. It is a song.
There is another poem from Summer’s Last Will that is more famous nowadays, I mean the one with the refrain “I am sick, I must die. / Lord have mercy on us.” Naturally, it occurs at the end of the play.
“I am sick, I must die” did not make it into Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. “Spring, the sweet spring” did. Nothing else by Nash is in there. However, it was used as the first poem on page 1. “Book First,” first poem: “Spring, the sweet spring.”
It was a bold choice. It only has one good line in it. However, that line is repeated three times in thirteen lines: “Cuckoo, jug-jug,” etc. Palgrave and the other people on his secret committee (which included Tennyson), had no doubts about this piece.
Forget the good line. Look at the rhymes. At least two things worth commenting on. Number one, the fact that you get not a rhyme pair but a rhyme hexagon. That’s not common. Number two, it’s not an equilateral hexagon. What do I mean by that.
I mean the status of the words sting and ring is quite inferior to that of spring, king, thing, and sing. Look in any concordance to any lyrical poet’s works. You’ll find the words sting and ring are not used as rhymes with anywhere near the frequency that the other four are.
Your concordance will also show that the rhyme pair {spring|sing} beats any other combination of those six words, probably by a factor of ten-to-one. The reason is obvious, we needn’t get into it.
The crazy thing is: If you rank the words by frequency, you’ll find the “pecking order” is more or less the same among poets born in the same generation. This is because lyric poets are a bunch of brainless babblers, just as we ourselves are. They want more than anything else for their song or poem to sound like a song or a poem, and so they are forced by powers larger than themselves to say things like “Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king.” It can’t be helped.
But I’m about to say something very important. There was nothing wrong in 1592, and there is nothing wrong in 2017, with using the same rhyme pairs over and over and over. You can call {sing|spring} a “rhyme cliché” if you want, but that attitude leads to flushing six sevenths of world literature down the toilet. 
More on this hereafter.

Hereafter begins here, where the whole essay can be found.