Crash the Heavens

by on Nov.05, 2011

I walk down Wall Street all the time. Most of my doctors are downtown. You won’t find any protestors on Wall Street. What you will find is George Washington’s camel toe.

I was downtown again today. Wall Street was totally blocked off. Past the barricades I could see a hundred or so police charging a mob of rioters. There was smoke, blood, guns, pandemonium — and no protestors.
This wasn’t a protest. This was Batman.

Wall Street, playing so hard-to-get with those it fucks openly, opens its legs freely for the Dark Knight.

I stood there wondering: When will we see this scene again?

Will it be next summer, in a crowded movie theater? Or will it be this winter, after New Years, as the dollar slouches toward zero, dragging all other currencies with it? How long will a strategy of currency devaluation, which steals from the poor to give to the rich, be countered with a strategy of lawful occupation? At what point will occupation become the law itself? When will all policies be recognized as policies of austerity, and austerity as a policy of violence, and violence as a fact to be countered with violence? How long until the flash mobs of Milwaukee and Philadelphia descend on Manhattan, and will they be politicized when they come, will they, knocking down the doors of the 0.1%, bring the horror home?

Until then:

Stop the Heavens
from crashing to the Earth.
This is the cry of the biggest
assholes in Heaven.

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23 comments for this entry:
  1. Jared

    Amazing how life and art intersect here, have intercourse, Washington here with his dismembered member, a sex-change victim/proponent waiting for/overseeing his lovers/children. I’m just finishing up Dean and Massumi’s First and Last Emperors, which dovetails nicely. The lack of an anatomical Washington seems inevitably related to the excess of people being “fucked” by the system descended from his loins, and are we to hope for a Batman/hero/Dark Knight to save us on the Silver Screen? Is Batman in bed with Washington via his displaced Wall Street genitalia? Should we move the US capital back to NY and be done with the charade? Is Batman really Obama off set? How long before we see robbers in Reagan masks to go with Guy Fawkes? Interesting echoes…thanks for this!

  2. Dan Hoy

    @Jared: To your point, perhaps history books should refer to Washington as the “Mother Father of his Country”. What’s also interesting is this statue is commemorating the spot (Federal Hall) where Washington took his oath of office as President of the United States in 1789. It’s as if Washington D.C. was created the following year as a diversion from the real locus of power. I’m also wondering if the Washington Monument was intended as a compensatory “erection” since the Washington on display on Wall Street clearly has a vagina. On a side note, this makes me think our default pejoratives when referring to DC and Wall Street should probably be “dicks” and “pussies”, respectively.

  3. Jared

    Yes, the Washington monument, surely a compensatory structure! Interesting, too, it’s being closed after the earthquake earlier this year due to questions of its structural integrity. (I believe it is still closed, no?) Washington’s body still with us…

  4. Kent Johnson

    In close relation to this and to the prior posts and extended discussion on the Croatoan/PF incidents, I thought I’d share something I posted just a bit ago from a discussion among poets elsewhere. It’s in reply to something written by Edgar Garcia in response to Josh Stanley, who reflects, in the link at bottom, on the role or not of radical poetry in the recent uprisings:

    Edgar Garcia wrote:

    >And if he discovered in his exile the “fractured rocks” which Josh identifies as “a prologue toward possibilities” does he hurl them with a poem or not? And, if so, is he throwing them at the same abyss at which they were thrown in Cairo or Rome?>

    Of course he may “hurl them with a poem.” There’s no harm in the trying.

    It might be interesting, though, to hurl some poetry-rocks within our Field, too, at the structures inside it that partake of, even replicate in strong fashion, those that OWS, etc. is confronting. Not too many avant poets seem to be thinking of this as a parallel, complementary path of “possibilities.” And I wonder, were such gestures more common, if we might find that a politics of poetry and a poetry of politics would begin to more resonate beyond its micro-boundaries, be less prone to fall into the abyss of sub-cultural sideshow.

    I mean this in the most practical, conjunctural sense, actually: that bold actions of Institution Critique by innovative poets (i.e. those directed fiercely inward, in protest of centers of control and power within the Field) tend to prove MORE intriguing, inspiring, and relevant to broader radical audiences than innovative-protest poems directed “outward.” The latter end up relatively inconsequent to politicized audiences because so evidently marginal to a proto-mass class politics–which isn’t to say such poetry is fated to be irrelevant at certain special moments, or unimportant in what one could call the Adornean long-view of things. Again, there is no harm in the trying.

    Examples of what I mean should be well known; the historical a-g provides plenty of ready ones in terms of the Institution Critique outlook I’m referring to, from Dada, to Surrealism, to the Situationists, to the heroic revolutionary cultural politics of the Chilean CADA. These folks weren’t pulling up the rear and anxiously reaching to catch up to already existent mass movements, wringing their hands about how they could poetically “fit in”; they targeted their ire and action *at the structures shaping their collective habitus and practice,* understanding this location as where their gestures mattered most directly and would have, too, the best chance of greater social resonance. They were able to come to have a material impact on their respective moments, able to earn a place for art as broader radical critique, by scandalizing, in first instance, the relations of power and ideology within the cultural field. (Before the slogans of CADA, for example, were taken up front and center by the mass resistance to Pinochet, Raul Zurita and friends got into the collective imagination by doing such things as masturbating in front of official paintings in the National Museum of Art, dumping their shit in front of official literary sites, and so forth.)

    Here is a current IC instance, still unfolding: The protest interventions of the Croatoan Poetic Cell at the Poetry Foundation headquarters in Chicago. These have been decidedly embryonic, improvised actions carried out by a group of eight to ten young poets and artists, and the symbolic effects have far exceeded their scale. The CPC commandoes, their last action at Zurita’s PF reading–he later effusively praised them in an article in one of the main Chilean newspapers–brought forward the link between financial/political structures of power and cultural ones (in the case of the Poetry Foundation, the links are literal). They have made clear democratic demands (calling for the $200 million PF to invest in inner-city poetry centers) that–modest as they are–have succeeded in attracting much more attention (in part, to be sure, because the PF, parading its arrogance, continues to call the State on peacefully protesting poets!) than any poetry readings at OWS demos by experimental poets. This consideration, indeed, is likely to increase if a rumored feature appears in what may be the most widely read internet news source in English; the CPC activists have already been extensively interviewed…

    The attention has been controversial, to be sure, with some poets haughtily dismissing the CPC activists, while others–some of them prominent poets of the Left, like J.H Prynne, Ammiel Alcalay, Rodrigo Toscano, Forrest Gander, Clayton Eshleman, Frances Kruk, Sean Bonney, Linh Dinh, Dale Smith, Philip Metres–have come to their defense [nota bene: no Language or Conceptual writers here so far]. And I’d submit that it probably takes more courage and risk to put one’s body where one’s words are inside the legitimating citadels of Culture than it does to read a poem at a big rally of comrades, good as it is to do so–which is perhaps why more buzz and critical reflection has been given to the two small actions so far by the CPC than to all of the poems and poetry readings and poetry-blog posts contra Wall Street proper.

    All of this by way of saying that we might begin to think beyond what seems to me to be some surprisingly limited poetic politics right now. The politics to face down is staring us in the face, daring us to step outside the timidity and opportunism that is now rampant in our professionalized, ladder-climbing Field. If we can’t confront that with some imagination and daring, then we probably haven’t any right to confront “Wall Street.”

    Greetings All – Here is a considered response to Josh’s October letter: Take care.


  5. Really, Kent?

    Dan, great post.

    Kent, as usual, yaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnn. Nobody cares about you and your immature son.

  6. Kent Johnson

    Hi there, Really, Kent?:

    Since you are with (as I’ve been told by someone in the know) the Poetry Foundation, I’m not surprised you would respond with such a comment.


  7. Kent Johnson

    I should clarify that this brave and intelligent commenter left a similar little blurt elsewhere…

  8. Dan Hoy

    @Kent: I know po biz is your area of focus and you see it as maybe a controlled environment in which to address ideological etc issues that refract into and out of the world at large. I get it, even if I wouldn’t refer to the poetry institution scene as a field of power except ironically. Maybe this is because I don’t subsist on it for a job. Regardless, I would reject wholeheartedly your closing comment:

    “If we can’t confront that with some imagination and daring, then we probably haven’t any right to confront ‘Wall Street’.”

    It’s surprising to hear somebody so concerned with mechanisms of control refer to “rights” here, which is not a term I would use in any context except, again, ironically. Additionally, the disparity in stakes here is so wide I don’t even know how to measure it. WTF does a poetry institution have to do with the price of tea in China? I would counter by challenging you with the same logic: If you can’t get past your po biz comfort zone with some imagination and daring, then you probably don’t have any right to confront Wall Street.

    The question is NEVER what should we do as poets, but what should we do as human beings. In fact this is ALWAYS the question, whether we are writing a poem or throwing our bodies up against a line of police. Everything is a strategy of resistance against our own inertia.

  9. Really, Kent?

    Sorry, Kent. I don’t have anything to do with the PF. Don’t even like them! Just turning into a regular old single-issue Internet troll. Like you.

  10. Kent Johnson

    Hi Dan,

    You wouldn’t see the field of poetry as a field of power?

    So much for Foucault or Bourdieu, I guess. Or a few other notables. Gramsci, say.

    In any case, theory aside, I believe you misread my point: Regarding that last part of my comment you take such issue with, I thought I was clear that poets SHOULD be on the streets with non-poets right now? I believe that very strongly! (All the CPC activists, by the way, have been right in the middle of the OWS protests in Chicago, among other stuff, and I assure you the range of their activism leaves most poets in the dust.) And when I say “we,” I am referring to those of us, you included, I think, who entertain the idea, utopian or not, of poetry as a potential mode of resistance and critique. What I mean (and taking a look at Josh Stanley’s essay in link might help to make the context more clear) is that there’s a contradiction in play when radical poets would militate against broader forms of power (not all that hard or controversial to do for leftists), and yet blithely accept, at the same time (whether conveniently, or in fear, or in simple confusion), the workings of power and control in their own cultural space of operation. Yes, the scales may be different (obviously they are), but the scales are not disconnected.

    Let me give you an obvious, if somewhat obscene example of such contradiction: the Poetry Foundation itself, which has posted in righteous indignation more than once on the use of the police to put down some of the OWS protests, even as it itself has twice called the police to arrest protesting poets at its headquarters (at a Raul Zurita reading, no less), and is determined to do so again, as it has made plain. And which, moreover, did its utmost, in criminal court, to send one of the activists to one of the most violence-ridden women’s penitentiaries in the land… Now, granted, one might see that this is no real contradiction for the Poetry Foundation, whose higher officers have intimate ties to Wall Street itself, but it does seem to me a troubling contradiction when so many poets active in the OWS protests (as they should be) say NOT A WORD about the most monied and influential poetry institution in the country deploying the forces of the State against other poets. Seriously, does this seem to have nothing to do with power to you? That part of this silence might not have to do with power and the “polite” obedience it fosters?

    My point in the comment, again, is not that poets shouldn’t protest Wall Street (!); it is that one way of expanding the possibilities and dimensions of protest, of poets acting as *cultural workers*, of striving to show how power refracts into our cultural space and outward, in spectrum and flow, as you nicely suggest (and not least within our “post-avant” arena, now very much a wing of Officialdom–and thanks in some measure, incidentally, to the Poetry Foundation!), is to begin to actively question and challenge, as uncountable writers and artists throughout the world have done, the institutional dispensations within the culture fields. I’m saying the two approaches to activism for poets (as history indeed shows) are complementary and needed; you seem to be saying that only one truly matters…

    In that regard, I would give a qualification to your own and somewhat strange clarion call of a concluding statement:

    For poets, in the current conjuncture, “The question is ALWAYS what we should do BOTH as poets and human beings.” In the sense, that is, of the two identities being closely related, if one is a poet. Last I checked, since poets are people, there wasn’t necessarily such a divide between the two categories as you seem to imply.

  11. Dan Hoy

    Thanks Kent. I get what you’re saying about the irony of the Poetry Foundation supporting OWS while simultaneously calling on the state to protect its own space from anything that might try to occupy it. I get this. The thing is, I don’t give a shit about the Poetry Foundation. It’s not that I’m against it. I just really don’t give a shit. Poetry means something specific to me that has little to do with the academic and vocational squabbles that make their way across blogs and forums. To me poetry is a strategic practice. Whether or not I write a poem, or join something, or protest something, or ignore something, or mock it, depends on the strategy. You can refer to my first post on The Pin-Up Stakes to get a sense of what I mean here, and why what the Poetry Foundation does or does not do is completely irrelevant to me. Poetry is indeed a field of power, but most of what passes for poetry has no part in it, least of all the institutions “erected” in its name.

    We’re all living in a system that has been pushed beyond its limit, and yet its architects continue to sell us all down the river. It’s going to be a long way down. If you thought the system itself was bad (which it is), just wait till it collapses. Everybody alive is fucked. This is the current situation. These are the stakes. And you want to leverage this situation to call attention to the already-evident hipocrisy of the Poetry Foundation? Again, I understand that this is your area of focus, but I think your strategic framework is either totally inappropriate or being misapplied. In either case, I don’t think exposing the ideological blindness of the poetry biz is something to prioritize. Others may disagree.

  12. Dan Hoy

    Back on topic: I’ve updated the post above with video (thanks to Sam Frank for the link):

  13. Kent Johnson

    Dan, OK, good, no disagreement with most of this. On your concluding passage below, though, I need to say: No, it’s not my “area of focus.” Nor do I think it’s a matter of “prioritizing” — tried to make that clear in my last. I’ve been interested in the PF actions since they happened, that’s true, going back a couple months. So I’ve commented on some on it, as an observer. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me, one I think points towards possible new forms of poetic action (new for us, anyway; as I said, this sort of IC has a venerable tradition): Poet’s Theater beyond the generic boundaries, so to speak, and with real-time bite.

    As to strategy: I go back a ways, and I was discussing strategy and tactics in the Socialist Workers Party (and in the Sandinista Militia in northern Matagalpa, an unforgettable experience) when you were maybe four years old. That’s not an insult, just a fact. So I know a tad about it. And the first, basic thing to know, because your comments suggest you might have a somewhat rigid notion of this matter of the “strategic” (impressive a thinker as you are, and I believe you know I mean that), is that strategy is something always wed to tactics, and just as tactics will be shaped by larger strategy, the opposite is also the case: one must remain open and attentive to the results of tactical forays –including those of others, of course– especially those actions, perhaps, that push into novel territory. That is, one theorizes larger strategy in the good old dialectical sense, in real time and local practice, remaining critically open to various tests of resistance and in different locations. Because a strategy of effective resistance is probably going to develop on various and complementary fronts, and growing numbers of people will be operating simultaneously in a number of them. The cultural field will likely be one of those fronts. Let’s hope so… And one more thing: You say you don’t “give a shit about the Poetry Foundation.” I am quite sure the CPC activists don’t give a shit either. But in terms of the above, you see, our personal preferences (a “strategically key point!) really shouldn’t matter.

  14. Kent Johnson

    On a slightly different PF note, see here, on the refusal of Harriet blog to note the feature interview with Poet Laureate Philip Levine in the NYT Magazine this past Sunday, where he magnificently boinks the PF’s fearless leader, Big Finance multi-millionaire John Barr (also author of what is perhaps the most racially outre poem–book-length–since Vachel Lindsey’s The Congo), which gives you some idea about the poetry politics of the PF when it comes to… Oh, anyway, you can see and figure it out yourself.

  15. TL

    Hope this isn’t too far off topic:

    From Latta’s blog:

    “Noted, too, today, serendipitously—Charles Bernstein’s upcoming reading at the Foundation on Superior Street is, ahem, sold out. Just another ham-handed story of ordinary outsider become consummate insider . . . call it The Sell Out’s Sell Out . . .”

    From “Free (Market) Verse” by Steve Evans

    “The next great talent in American poetry would be lucky not to be recognized by Barr and his friends at the NEA and Library of Congress, for there’s no telling whether he or she would survive the attack this novum-phobic crew would no doubt launch in the name of rational didacticism and the beleaguered general reader. With hundreds of millions of private and federal dollars now at their disposal, the businessmen poets are positioned to administer serious damage to one of the liveliest, most democratized, and brilliantly articulate art forms in America. But it is doubtful that their curious amalgam of economic elitism, drowsy formalism, and right-wing populism will prove a match for the Whitmanic tradition of radical democracy, fearless formal investigation, and do-it-yourself ingenuity that has produced most of the country’s greatest poetry. While the Poetry Foundation prescribes its Prozac poems to reluctant readers, the wide-awake poetry of the present can be expected to be everywhere otherwise occupied.”

    From Charles Bernstein’s “Against National Poetry Month”:

    “Poetry: Readers Wanted. The kind of poetry I want is not a happy art with uplifting messages and easy to understand emotions. I want a poetry that’s bad for you. Certainly not the kind of poetry that Volkswagen would be comfortable about putting in every new car it sells, which, believe it or not, is a 1999 feature of the Academy’s National Poetry Month program.”

  16. Dan Hoy

    Just wanted to give you all the heads up that that’s the last comment mentioning the Poetry Foundation that I’m going to approve. I’m trying to talk about cool shit like camel toe and Batman and the end of the fiat currency system and you all want to bring it back to partisan poetry and Charles Bernstein? The world can’t end fast enough.

  17. Kent Johnson

    Poetry is a kind of money.

    Who said that?

  18. Dan Hoy

    Economies are how I fuck off.

    Who said that?

  19. adam strauss

    “Economies are how I fuck off”–who did “say this”? Or am I being dumb and taking sorta seriously a joke-point?

  20. Kent Johnson

    OK, Dan has laid down the law.

    To mention, then, that I’ve read David Lau’s recent report from the Oakland demos, where he presents the “Black Block” window smashers and car burners as a healthy development for the OWS phenomenon. In process, he refers to those attempting to keep the demos on a peaceful, mass track as the “right-wing” of the movement, and gives, in passing, a barely veiled smirk to the example of MLK and the Civil Rights movement. I see that others in the poetry field are implicitly agreeing with this take by putting it front and center. But I guess I can’t mention where.

    I’m going to try to write something more extended on this. For now, just to propose, in case David Lau or anyone else wants to jump in to discuss: This kind of infantile ultra-leftist line –the promotion of a fringe, elitist grouplet that is acting (objectively speaking) as provocateur for the State– is shameful, and a betrayal of the patient task of building a broad based left movement. It betrays a sad ignorance of long-standing lessons acquired by the Left, a patronizing attitude towards potential and key allies, and an irresponsible disregard for any kind of politically serious (to use a word entered by Dan) “strategy.”

  21. Jared

    Wow, lose track of a post for a few days and all kinds of interesting things can happen. Some thoughts:

    – Dan, still an amazing collection of correspondences here — I’d like to talk to you about a possbile elaboration and publication of this material if you’d be interested.

    – Kent, I think you must be my long-lost uncle from another grandmother (to parody a certain political candidate). Poets need to think through this stuff and I personally welcome all disturbances, additions, and excesses.

    – Just so everyone knows, I’m a collection of chemical bonds dying to fly apart at the seams. I have nothing to conserve. I am my own conservation and my own undoing.

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