"Just Write!": The Corruption of Criticism

by on Jul.02, 2012

It’s interesting to see the backlash against AD Jameson’s post about sincerity as technique; the intensity of which I think justifies my idea that it’s worth discussing.

It seems like most people are NOT objecting to the posts on the grounds that we’ve discussed here on Montevidayo – ie the concept of sincerity, the idea that there are formalist techniques separated off from culture. Instead they seem to object to it because they object to Jameson writing anything at all about sincerity, about poetry. In other words, they reject criticism as an insincere approach to poetry.

This “sincere” notion that interpretation is insincere is based on objection to all criticism. You’re just supposed to “get” the poem, the reading is its own tautology. To talk about it is to open the text up to corruption. This is a model based on the bourgeois idea of the private soul engaged in the private reading experience. I send a message in the poem; you get my soul. What is lost? The bottle of course, which is beautiful (and which can be used as a weapon in a bar fight, or to be decorated with glue and feathers).

When people keep repeating the mantra “Just write. Stop talking, just write” with moralistic outrage, what they’re repeating is an incredibly conservative workshop-era mantra that ensures the status quo (ie, just write, don’t question the role of institutions or dominant paradigms etc, just repeat after me, just let the Taste Autorities pick their descendants as winners of Foetry contests so no new aesthetics will erupt and challenge). They are policing the discussion of poetry. “Just write” is as commandeering as it sounds.

[Insert picture of person with whip etc]

Likewise, when writers claim they “don’t write criticism” or “don’t have time” to write about other people’s books or whatever, they are falling back on a MFA-era model of Genius writer who doesn’t soil his hands with corrupting work such as criticism. They are too busy with “real art” to talk about it; leave that to others. I’m sick of that shit. It’s not just a recipe for the status quo, it’s enacting the status quo.

Now I’m not totally opposed to this rhetoric, as I have admitted in the past. Obviously, I don’t agree with it, but I do think it does have something right about it.

It insists on the importance of the reading experience. I totally agree that the key to literature is still to get lost, absorbed, “shattered” by the reading experience. It’s not that there’s “too much poetry” being published, as Tastemakers and academics like to point out as an excuse for why they stick to their own narrow little aesthetic corridor, it’s that reading itself is already “too much.” Poetry is “too much.” Art is “too much.” Art is already a plague ground. Art itself is already corrupting. I want to be fascinated by art; I embrace a radical passivity; I masochistically subject myself to Art’s occult powers and influences.

But part of this shattering experience is the corrupting of the simplistic model of the private individual with their souls and interiorities. Art ruins that. Art connects readers and texts and writers and a whole bunch of other debris to a whole bunch of significant or insignificant moments and conversations. Art invites the corruption of being “talked about.”

So I do agree with the emphasis on the reading experience, but not one that is based on the private interiority of the reader and writer in communication. But I do think it’s a reaction to a PHD-line of criticism that has – despite the proliferation and “too much”-ness of poetry – maintained a very narrow canon.

[I think Language Poetry strangely saved the academy in that way, it gave the academy a lifeboat – ie “the avant-garde” as high taste, as above the plague ground of poetry’s proliferation. Now to do work on contemporary poetry is more or less always to study “experimental poetry.” At the same time, Langpo did bring a lot of interesting conversations into the academy.]

And this explains in part the seamless acceptance of Conceptual Writing by the academic establishment. Kenny Goldsmith not only says he is the antidote to the proliferation of poetry (“creative writing” is he says, not “Creative” anymore – ie he totally believes in Creative Writing and originality despite himself, phew); he has also forwarded the model of the “thinkership” over the “readership”. This is exactly how many academics already read, seldom getting lost in the art, or the “plague ground” of contemporary poetry, instead using art that fits into their models, theories to maintain Tasteful hierarchies.

This doesn’t mean I hate academics, I am one and I enjoy their/our company, but based on this context, I can totally feel the frustration of “sincere” writers who want to get back to the reading experience, even if their solutions (and conclusions) are wrong.

37 comments for this entry:
  1. Seth

    I agree with much of what you say, but the Romanticism-inspired “genius” paradigm of creative production is one the MFA model has pushed violently against for about 125 years now–there’s a reason that (rightly or wrongly) in workshop students are told to shut up and listen to other people tell them about their poems and those poems’ shortcomings. It is non- and quasi-institutional bohemian communities which have long attempted to isolate individual “geniuses” from that sort of confrontation with their readership, the better to elevate/fetishize the Romantic ideal of a muse-inspired “pure creative genius” who is carefully cordoned off from his/her Society. I don’t know where in the history of the MFA or the pedagogy of the workshop you are seeing _any_ systemic mollycoddling/privileging of genius. If MFAs worshipped the genius of their students their faculties wouldn’t teach them or work with them or talk to them at all–and as I keep telling you, that model may prevail (somewhat) in Iowa City, but it’s D.O.A. almost everywhere else, i.e. at the other 223 MFA programs, so it’s in no sense whatsoever endemic to the Program Era (~1987-2012).

  2. Johannes

    i see your problem and it may have to do with my having studied at iowa but i do think im right – who makes the teachers evaluation so crucial. the program era does talk about this. ill explain when im not on iphone in airport. thnks for the comments, johannes

  3. Johannes

    actually you may be right seth im probably conflating different phenomena. johannes

  4. Kent Johnson

    Regarding Conceptual Writing and further resonances of Johannes’s “phew,” issue #3 of Claudius App, coming out July 5th, I’m told, will carry an exchange of somewhat charged correspondence I’ve had with one of ConPo’s main figures. Plus some other things in direct relation, including a fascinating contribution by one of Langpo’s founding fathers.

  5. stephen tully dierks


    “If there is an amateur reader still left in the world—or anybody who just reads and runs—I ask him or her, with untellable affection and gratitude, to split the dedication of this book four ways with my wife and children.” -Salinger

    I appreciate your viewpoint and thoughts, J.G.. I agree that poems can be discussed and that it can be interesting and nice to do so.

    I disagree with your tying (as I see it) of “sincere” writing/”one soul communicating to another” to MFA culture–to me, MFA workshop culture is about “craft,” first and foremost, and then, secondly, meaning or “expressing yourself” or whatnot.

    The writers I’m most attracted to reject everyone’s advice–*as they see fit*–the workshop, but also the academics and the critics.

    I see value in editing, in deliberately, artificially (as it were) creating effects, or creating affect..

    I don’t like the widespread insistence on denouncing individual, private, emotional/intuitive, unacademic ways of reading, writing, appreciating art. I think it results in art seeming like an appendage of the academy, politics, and discourse, instead of relatable to those things but yet its own thing. It also I think elevates art (and discourse, politics)–the things humans make–above humans, the appeal of which I understand but don’t like (I don’t think art is better or more valuable than human beings). I’m not stupid–I’m aware I can’t send my soul to a person in a text doc. But I think labeling the emotional, earnest approach to art, whether the art is “sincere” or “insincere” or intuitive or carefully designed–to label that inherently bourgeois, that is, “wrong,” to be discouraged, is for me to consign art to discourse and politics and deny it its human (its doomed, mysterious, inadequate, flawed, complex) ineffability.


  6. Johannes

    i dont think im labelling earnestness as bourgeoise but the idea that a writer shld just write
    so probably i agree somewhat with you

  7. stephen tully dierks

    cool. understood.

    i like “earnestness” as a word/ethic, much moreso than “sincerity.”

  8. Carina Finn

    I feel like this is a conversation that keeps happening over and over again and no one ever makes any headway. I’m starting to feel a little like this about the Sincerity conversation. And the Gender conversation. And all the other Conversations. Like, it’s not the content of these posts/articles/rants that holds weight, it’s the trendy/trending headline; the catchphrase-password that allows for entrance into some circle of elite conversationalists, most of whom seem to be interested only in perpetuating the blank form of conversation.

    Which is fine. I like both blank form and conversation. Maybe these conversations are actually a kind of Langpo that’s dealing with repetitions of critical and theoretical rhetoric, and ten or fifteen years from now, if we’re still around, people will study these conversations as weirdly baroque collaborative megapoems. Cool.

    I think the concept of backlash against a blog post, any blog post, is kind of ridiculous. I don’t care what AD Jameson says about sincerity as technique, obviously, because I didn’t read his post. In general, I read blog posts written by people whose ideas I find generally interesting, and I don’t really care what they’re writing about. Which is why Joyelle can write about Bataille or she can write about hanging out with her kids at the beach and I’m still going to feel compelled to read and probably stimulated by it, because the whole thing that makes the blogosphere function is this idea that it’s the persona behind the post that generates the content and keeps readers coming back, not necessarily topical relevance.

    Maybe this is a digression from what you’re talking about in this post, Johannes, but I think there’s a correlation between these substanceless catfights and the same emptiness that is the program-era call to action to go sit alone in a field in the Midwest and interact with naught but your Moleskine and a copy of The Anxiety of Influence.

  9. Johannes

    what im reacting to is the cavalcade of people who seemed offended by the very idea of writing about powtry. i think its fair to call that a backlash. maybe we were part of it too but in a more general way.

  10. Johannes

    another thought: youre an amazing writer of criticism; i have failed spectacularly if you think that writing about poetry is somehow separate from the pastoral ideal you posit in your interview. johannes

  11. Carina Finn

    Oh, I mean, obviously backlash exists; I’m not denying its presence. I guess I’m just positing that so many people obviously have a lot of mental energy they’re willing to spend having conversations on the internet, so I wonder whether it could be put to better use. & the people writing about how it’s not okay to write about poetry — aren’t they just disproving their own point simply by making an argument?

  12. Danielle Pafunda

    Do you know this Latour essay: “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern”? Here’s a pdf: http://mendota.english.wisc.edu/~clc/Latour.pdf

    Also reading Ann Jurecic’s Illness as Narrative that draws on it… Will post about that later.


  13. Drew Krewer

    Thanks for this post, Johannes. I’ve been thinking alot about this as well. I don’t really have a problem with writing about poetry/criticism. The quibbles I have with AD Jameson has more to do with the framing/positioning of his musings. Carina’s post that was discussing “futureless space” connects closely to this because I think we *are* moving into a space (social, artistic, cultural, etc.) that is futureless, and Jameson’s comments, to me, seem as if he’s operating under a paradigm that is in denial of an impending shift. Perhaps due to my own ignorance, I can’t take people seriously when they’re taking stabs at “the next movement.” Movements operate on a primarily temporal plane (maybe slightly geographical when movements are centered in specific cities), but now we have technospace, which operates on a mutated sense of both space and time. I just can’t believe, in this environment, any unified effort to be “sincere” is possible, if it is indeed sincerity we’re talking about when we talk about the new sincerity. I guess what I’m getting at is that Jameson’s tendency to think categorically about poetry is, in some ways, working against something that is coming toward us, and I just want to see what that is instead of trying to hold on to what is comfortable/what is “known.” But then again, I don’t have to read things that are working against that in the first place. People like Jameson are needed, though, because they encourage discussions such as this one we’re having on Montevidayo right now. Exchange is important.

  14. Johannes

    yeah i hear what youre saying here drew; there is something offputting perhaps about the taxonomical emphasis. but like you say its a starting point. johannes

  15. Ryan Sanford Smith

    I hate the lack of latitude involved in both conceptions surrounding poets who do / don’t ‘write criticism’ or ‘write about poetry’, that is to say sure some people are wrapped up in a certain area of thinking (the solitary Genius) but whenever this comes up I’m surprised at how hardline the comments tend to be in reaction to that ‘era’ — that is to say not everyone avoids these cap-C conversations because they feel they shouldn’t / are soiled by it / that it isn’t their ‘job’, maybe they just think it’s boring. Many do feel and act how they do precisely because of the perspective you rightly criticize I just don’t see progress in criticizing one closed-door, hardline view with another (i.e., ‘when writers do or say x, it’s [obviously and entirely, apparently] because of y-era thinking. It’s patently untrue and unhelpful.

    The ‘debris’ absolutely exists objectively but I’m pretty open to ideas of reading experience to subjectively choose to not acknowledge / care about it. If I pleasurably experience a book as a more or less singular object / blah blah my private interiority, so what? This rarely happens in reality but if that’s what someone experiences by choice or not, that’s the rules they chose to set. I don’t understand agreement / disagreement with these experiences. It feels to my mind like saying you don’t agree with someone enjoying the flavor of steak or not, I can grasp it but it doesn’t parse as anything.

    The ‘solitary experience’, including or sans ‘genius’ seems to be a bit indomitable / prevalent / ‘real’ / whatever, doesn’t make it right or wrong but it seems strange to build the frame of a very specific criticism around that experience, the experience seems bigger than that? I’d agree for the same about an opposite mode of experience. I guess these C-Conversations feel immensely awkward because of that, ‘Oh that’s this era, or it’s PhD-thinking, or it’s the Tastemakers doing that dirty deed’…it’s trying to staple a picture frame around a zeppelin. Though to be fair in picturing that exact metaphor it’s a wildly fun image, so maybe keep on going, we’re all mad here.

  16. Kent Johnson

    Some here may not know that the concept of New Sincerity in relation to poetry (along with the term!) originates in the 1980s with the Moscow writers Mikhail Epstein, Dmitri Prigov, and cohorts. Epstein, who’s taught at Emory for many years, is the most prominent Russian theorist of new writing; the late, great Prigov was one of the founders and leaders of Russian Conceptual poetry (fascinating that these now U.S.-vogue ideas, New Sincerity and Conceptualism, should originate in the cultural twilight of the USSR, twenty years or more before they emerged here). I knew both Epstein and Prigov, in fact, and closely collaborated with them in editing the first English-language anthology of avant Samizdat poetry and theory of late Soviet years, published in 1992. In that collection are magnificent examples of poetics both Conceptual and New Sincere, fashioned long in advance of anything of the kind in the U.S. (Two other underground movements in USSR at the time, also represented in the anthology, were Metarealism and Medical Hermeneutics; perhaps we’ll have the U.S. post-variants of those soon, too, who knows!)

    Pasted below is the section at Wikipedia on the Russian invention of New Sincerity (it’s all been written about extensively by Epstein and others). The thing is, the description of it below
    –the commitment to a rhetoric of sincerity that is inseparable from a knowing sense of irony in regards that very commitment– seems to me aptly descriptive of what goes by the NS term here, though (at least to my mind) most of the U.S. practitioners seem quite a bit less able and honest in their handling of the contradiction than the Russians were.

    But here’s the main point, and it’s in angled agreement to Johannes’s argument: That above contradiction, which is the very ideational motor beneath the hood of the vehicle’s aesthetic, ipso facto *demands* and excretes secondary writing and self-reflexive mediation (see Tao Lin, for extravagant U.S. example) from its exhaust system. And in this sense, the notion that such “sincere” literature can be apprehended without forms of critical and meta-commentary to mark its specific cultural wager is naive-oblivious at worst and disingenuously self-serving at best. (And much of that self-serving naivete is disingenuous by definition: Those striking the pose [again, Tao Lin is the exemplary customer] know full well that in the age of Poetic Late-Capitalism there’s no free lunch.) Anyway, below’s that entry from the Wikipedia page. Those interested in knowing where the New Sincerity in poetry began, and who theorized and practiced its paradoxes best, need to read the Russians.

    >In Russia, the term new sincerity (novaya iskrennost) was used as early as the mid 1980s[17] or early 1990s by dissident poet Dmitry Prigov and critic Mikhail Epstein, as a response to the dominant sense of absurdity in late Soviet and post-Soviet culture.[18] In Epstein’s words, “Postconceptualism, or the New Sincerity, is an experiment in resuscitating “fallen,” dead languages with a renewed pathos of love, sentimentality and enthusiasm.[19]
    This conception of “new sincerity” meant the avoidance of cynicism, but not necessarily of irony. In the words of University of California, Berkeley professor Alexei Yurchak,[20] it “is a particular brand of irony, which is sympathetic and warm, and allows its authors to remain committed to the ideals that they discuss, while also being somewhat ironic about this commitment.”[18][21]

    Nowadays New Sincerity is being contraposed not to Soviet literature, but to postmodernism. Dmitry Vodennikov has been acclaimed as the leader of the new wave of Russian New Sincerity.[22]

  17. Kent Johnson

    Josh Corey has a very good post contrasting the New Sincerity with Montevidayo school poetics at his blog http://joshcorey.blogspot.com/

    I posted this comment under it, which I thought I’d post here, too, since you folks are being talked about. Of course, I know you think I’m full of crap, but that’s OK:

    I have similar conflicted feelings about the Montevidayo aesthetic, impressed as I am by much of the work. There are the unleashed psychic energies of it, and some of it bears the condition of unusual poetic courage. But it seems to me the darker forces inherent in those energies are sometimes not reflected upon sufficiently– I mean the clear tendency there of a Sadean/Bataillean/Artaudian excess getting celebrated for its own sake, a love of the prohibited, and with some obliviousness, amongst some of its practitioners (not including McSweeney or Goransson here, though they have in a sense spawned the danger), to the possible easy flip into evil (‘evil’ for lack of better word–you might call it, less economically, a potential proto-fascist nihilism) that latently lurks there.

  18. Ian Keenan

    I haven’t been paying attention to this discussion. I see Jameson’s essay as an attempt to associate traditional form with some admirable instances of confessional content. ‘Irony’ and ‘conceptualism’ are being eliminated on the basis of having been banalized by minor figures. Prigov’s and David Foster Wallace’s original uses of the term were entirely ironic, and are subsequently being utilized for the elimination of irony. I suppose metaphor, etc., is supposed to go, too.

    “This is why today’s most convincingly realist art is tomorrow’s stylized artifice,” citing old Hollywood movies: I don’t agree that Stendhal, Balzac and Dostoevsky are “stylized artifice.”

    A more interesting case for a sort of sincerity was made by Lukacs when he was just about to be routed by Brecht (and also Bloch) on this point. He was mostly defending the totality of the historical and social reflection and reconciliation of opposites in 19th C novels (Tolstoy, Sir Walter Scott) against the fragmentary, unstable Modernism appearing in the early 20th C and in some cases before, often, like the Expressionism he cited, expressing deep emotion. There was, of course, a thorough agreement on the part of Lukacs and Brecht over the importance of irony, though differing in technique and ironic effects: for Lukacs “the irony of the novel is the correction of the world’s fragility,” focusing on the protagonist or narrator, with Brecht, the irony is extended to the presentation of the narrative amongst other things.

  19. Kent Johnson

    Also, one complication with these recent discussions around the American version of “New Sincerity,” it seems to me, is that the term has been little parsed for particularities. I’ve noticed, for example, that poets like Dean Young and Frederick Seidel often get thrown into the mix. What poets like Young and Seidel have in common with writers like Tao Lin, Joe Massey, or Dorothea Lasky is not very clear. Nor is it clear what writers like Massey or Lasky have in common with someone like Lin, his MuuMuu circle, or the Alt-Lit derivations that AD Jameson has been promoting.

    For instance, Young and Seidel so aggressively parry the pretense of candor with counterpoints of acute irony (in both topical and formal ways) that any notion of sincerity, really, flies out the window: textually speaking, if they are in any way “sincere,” their sincerity is in how openly, and often satirically, they stage rhetorical artifice.

    In poets like Massey and Lasky, on the other hand, the sincerity affect gets carried in relatively straightforward melody, with very little fraught irony about it: They seem to really believe in the genuineness of their language, and the laconic, plain registers of it seem honestly proposed as superseding any interfering, “extra-poetic” noise. This can be a tricky thing to consistently handle: even a gifted poet like Massey can sound, in weaker moments, like a post-avant Hallmark card.

    In writers like Tao Lin and his imitative cohorts, something very different from the above cases is going on. Here the rhetoric of unmediated sincerity is also put front and center, but at such high-pitched scales of naivete and ingenuousness that it can only be (the unspoken secret is that it is meant to be) taken as *disingenuous.* And that, indeed, is the ingenious game. The art of it is realized in a coy dance along the thread that separates the ersatz real estate of “sincerity” from the very real demand for Authorial derivatives in overheated lit-biz markets. One can complain that the opportunist performance is cynical, but in the Literary Exchanges, as in the financial ones, there are bubbles, and operators can accumulate fifteen minutes of capital from playing them. After all, when it comes to “sincerity” in poetry these days, morality is pretty much for losers.

    So I’d propose that if we’re going to speak of any kind of actually existing New Sincerity in American writing, we’ve got to be more specific about what we mean, and not throw very dissimilar practices into the same basket.

  20. James Pate


    I love this quote: “I mean the clear tendency there of a Sadean/Bataillean/Artaudian excess getting celebrated for its own sake, a love of the prohibited, and with some obliviousness, amongst some of its practitioners (not including McSweeney or Goransson here, though they have in a sense spawned the danger), to the possible easy flip into evil (‘evil’ for lack of better word–you might call it, less economically, a potential proto-fascist nihilism) that latently lurks there.”

    If I didn’t know a thing about Montevidayo, I would instantly want to check out this blog after reading that…

    It’s interesting that Josh Corey’s reservations about this blog are image based. (Of course, he makes it clear he’s only talking about his own subjective response, he’s not making some grand claim there.) But image and evil have been coupled all the way back to the Greeks. Image, in this way, is seen as the breeding ground for pure negativity, for lies, for nihilism. Something is “only” an image, something is “only” a movie.

    But Kent, I do think you raise a really interesting point, and much more interesting than the image criticism — when does negativity turn into actual nihilism, when do the ghosts turn into demons? And what does it mean when they do?


  21. Lucas de Lima

    Awesome points/questions, James… I was thinking about evilness today while riding around my bike through swaths of suburbs to a corporate park where I filled out some forms for a temp agency. Kent, could you elaborate? For the record, I think nihilism does exist–but I’m not sure it’s happening, at least not these days, in the shadow of the French writers you’re isolating.

  22. Kent Johnson

    Thanks James and Lucas. Happy 4th of July. Air conditioning on high. I suppose I had Habermas’s thinking in back of mind: his take on the essentially “conservative” (and potentially nihilist) nature of postmodernist “anti-rationalism.” His “Modernity versus Postmodernity” is the well-known essay on this–there was a big debate about it back in the 80s, I’m sure you know, which still continues today, at various angles. Foucault and Habermas famously went at it on the topic. Unless my memory fails, I believe Habermas discusses Montevidayo hero Bataille as a case of proto-nihilism. One could argue that a philosopher like Baudrillard bears out some of Habermas’s worry. Or, more indirectly, though certainly in historical connection to anti-rationalism, a decidedly right-wing writer like Houellebecq, all the rage.

    You say you don’t see any cases of “nihilism” in American poetry. I’d say I see it, and plainly, at least in embryonic form, in two of the most currently hip manifestations of the literary avant: Conceptual writing and the Tao Lin circle, whose “Cultural Field” MO, which seems quite evident to me, I sketched in a comment above. Of course, these cases constitute a very differently inflected nihilism than one would find in, say, de Sade! It’s a more contingent, market-oriented, sociological nihilism.

    But in terms of Habermas, etc, I understand that you and other Montevidayo writers probably wouldn’t want to call your aesthetic “postmodernist”… You maybe see it, even, as something drilling into pre-Modern sources? I assume so. A tapping of atavistic, ancient, submerged, repressed currents present through all history? Bully for that, I say, as poetry flows there, no one can argue otherwise. Then again, Heidegger thought that, too, as have many right-wing thinkers, at various articulations. The Nazis loved the irrational…

    My point, a fairly banal one, I guess, is that when you take the deep plunge (and Montevidayo writers seem engaged in taking a deeper psychic plunge than any American poetics of late–Deep Image would be like snorkeling in comparison), darker energies can handily be of double use. Or, better said, those energies can also handily make use of *you*. And without the “you” necessarily realizing it.


  23. James Pate


    Interesting points.

    First, I’m not sure if Houellebecq is right-wing in any usual sense. I’m not a big fan of his work (though I do think he’s a great stylist, in the tradition of Camus) but in many ways he seems to hover between being a libertine and a social democrat (he hates the hippies because of their selfishness, for example). His remarks on Islam have been insanely stupid, but Zizek has also made insanely stupid remarks in a half-hearted praise of Nazism — my point being that the same person who might be interesting or brilliant in one way might very well be utterly blind in others. (Of course, I could add Sartre’s famous statement that the French terror didn’t go far enough, etc.)

    As for the irrational, yes it can truly cat both ways. The destructive dance-fervor that seized the Dadaists, as Griel Marcus and other have pointed out, cannot wholly be divorced from the destructive fevers of Fascism. Not that I’m equating the two whatsoever! But those Furies are a-moral: they can be harnessed in all sorts of directions. Though “harnessed” is probably not the right word.

    But, as Deleuze once beautifully said, better dissolution than what we currently call health.

    Or to quote one of my favorite contemporary writers (and who has also been accused of nihilism), Jonathan Littell: Writing shouldn’t move from the darkness to the light. It should move from the darkness to a place of greater darkness.

    But this darkness isn’t foundational, isn’t truth, I would argue. It’s the recognition, among other things, that even the “rational” is irrational, based on historical accidents, chance, fear, lust, revenge, covert meetings on a street, a voice heard in the next room, political and academic maneuvering…


  24. Kent Johnson

    James: Not sure how related it is, but since you brought up Zizek and his loony flirtations with Stalinism, the weird contradiction of it, here’s something that’s pretty interesting, if distressing.

    I’ve been lately reading the collected newspaper/journal articles of Cesar Vallejo (his Cronicas, two volumes, almost none of it translated, a massive compendium of often thrilling criticism). It reveals Vallejo to be one of the century’s great poet-*critics*. Lots of work in English to do with his prose for us to more fully understand his legacy.

    Anyway, here’s what’s distressing. Early on, following Lenin’s death, Vallejo was strongly sympathetic to Trotsky and the growing Left Opposition in the USSR –he even has a couple articles about it in 1926, or so– but then, and shortly thereafter, he pretty much capitulates to Stalinism and starts spouting the line, including, amazingly (the author of Trilce!), Socialist-Realist lockstep nonsense. The low point is in a stunning long piece where he defames Mayakovsky (right after VM’s suicide!) and with viciously personal attack (he says he knows VM was never a true revolutionary because he met him one time and could tell he was a fraud from the way he carried himself). Another piece, this being one of the very few that’ve been Englished (years ago by James Scully–I’d read it in my twenties but didn’t recall its drive), is a scorched-earth Party-line screed against Breton and Surrealism (and against Trotskyism, by implication), where he nigh calls for his execution.

    Of course, things were very fraught and ugly within the communist movement at the time, and lots of confusion prevailed. In fact, *most* of the original cadre of the Left Opposition capitulated, so in that regard, Vallejo’s peace with Stalinism is not unusual. Too, Vallejo’s militancy as a writer and propagandist for the Spanish Republic during the civil war was inspiring in its energies. Still… it’s deflating. I did know CV stayed a CP member, but I’d always harbored this atmospheric sense that he more or less carried to his death the revolutionary socialist principles of his close friend, Latin America’s greatest communist intellectual, Jose Carlos Mariategui, who died before Stalinism roared into gear. But it was more “complicated,” alas.

    Ah, No purity in poetry; nothing sacred. Not even Saint Vallejo!

  25. Ian Keenan

    Kent: Vallejo didn’t refer to the the Surrealists in his “Autopsy” document, which I have in my hand here, as being part of a misguided branch of Marxism, but for being “incurable anarchist intellectuals.” This statement is made clearly, over and over. Trotsky and Stalin are not mentioned in the document, and there is no basis whatsoever to say that Vallejo “implied” this as an attack on Trotsky.

    If you have the motive of dealing precisely with the material you are citing, it would be helpful not to continually deal in innuendo such as ascribing violent motives to intellectuals that don’t exist. In this case, you have seized on Vallejo’s “Corpses can’t be guillotined..” and in Aragon’s case a while back, it came completely out of nowhere. You are continually planting weapons. You then use terms like “scorched earth” to describe his essay on Mayakovsky, which, though a reasonable person could think it inappropriate, is nonetheless a passionate and thoughtful document, written concurrent with his own Socialist realist novel which, as I said two months ago


    had a strong influence on the course of Peruvian fiction that is reinforced by the stark economic divisions and extreme exploitation waiting to be chronicled. He was, simultaneously, becoming suspicious of Gorky and realist structure, but his work was to be more polemic as you know from there on in.

    Re: Sade, Bataille, Artaud.. the three have been described as “ethical” writers in that they deal with evil with a minimum of hypocrisy. Sade was the most precise because he acted on the hypocrisy of aristocratic privilege to the extreme that he had to mercifully be locked up, but his experience gave him an rare insight into human nature. I may be in agreement with you that to find Sade simply kinky and entertaining, like in the movie Quills, completely misses the point of what Sade was revealing about human nature, including the extreme torture visited first on the victim and then the perpetrator of destructive vice. Artaud was the most hermetic of the three and most honest, of most use to those who don’t consider him prescriptive. Bataille theorized about these issues in excruciating detail and I refer you to his texts on evil, which seem at times, like his fiction, to be borne of the desire to shock but are simultaneously thoughtful and genuinely interested in all the subject matter taken up. Ernesto Sabato said this better:

    “Literature cannot lay claim to being the full truth about this creature (man).. without a census of hell. Blake said that Milton, like all poets, belonged to the band of devils without knowing it. Commenting on this idea, Georges Bataille maintains that the religion of poetry cannot be more powerful than the Devil, who is the pure essence of poetry; even though he would like to, he is unable to build and is only real when he is in rebellion. Sin and damnation inspired Milton, from whom paradise withheld creative power. Blake’s poetry paled when distanced from the impossible. And any of Dante’s except for the Inferno is a bore.”

  26. Kent Johnson

    Ian, I have some replies to you below, after the quote for context from your comment. I’m going to answer in a comradely spirit, without the accusatory language you use. You make a number of fundamental errors in your complaint, and you seem to not know about some of the historical background, so I want to point a few key things out.

    >Kent: Vallejo didn’t refer to the the Surrealists in his “Autopsy” document, which I have in my hand here, as being part of a misguided branch of Marxism, but for being “incurable anarchist intellectuals.” This statement is made clearly, over and over. Trotsky and Stalin are not mentioned in the document, and there is no basis whatsoever to say that Vallejo “implied” this as an attack on Trotsky.

    I’m bemused. What do you mean, exactly? Are you saying that Vallejo’s epithetical use of the term “anarchists” means that Breton and company were, in fact, anarchists and not Marxists? Vallejo is practicing hard polemics in the essay, and he uses the term “anarchism” as a political hammer: much in fashion at the time for Stalinists to use ‘anarchist’ in this way (they shortly later slaughtered them in Spain). Vallejo well-knew that Breton and most of the surrealists had a long relationship to Marxist thought and to the French Communist Party, which Breton, Aragon, Eluard, and Peret joined in 1927, Breton remaining a highly critical, embattled member until his expulsion in 1933. (Pierre Naville, actually, original co-editor of La Revolution Surrealiste, before falling out with Breton, quit the PCF in 1926 and founded the POI, an independent communist organization aligned with the Trotskyist opposition. He was pilloried by his former Party as an anarchist, a Fascist, and an imperialist agent, among other things.) And Vallejo knew, denizen of Paris and intimate as he was with French communist politics, that not only had Breton and others stubbornly fought inside the Communist Party against its growing attempts to control artistic freedom, but had openly sympathized, from day one of their membership, with the Soviet Left Opposition’s critique of the Stalinist turn. These of course were positions at direct odds with those of Vallejo during the time of his ‘Autopsy’ article. If you read Spanish, you should check out other of his Cronicas, where he makes this quite clear, particularly on the matter of literature’s relation to the Party. Vallejo, fairly explicitly, is for subordinating the writer’s autonomy to the greater wisdom of the Party’s direction.

    And Aragon, of course, the same, though even *more so* than Vallejo; he became a Party-line writer who defended the purges and wrote odes glorifying the NKVD. I’m sure you’re aware that the break with Aragon was very much tethered to issues pertaining to communist politics and the key matter of the artist’s autonomy–which is to say the obvious: that the politics of Marxism were at the core of the Surrealist enterprise, and Marxist political divisions of the time plainly inhere as the sub-text of Vallejo’s essay, whether he mentions them explicitly, or not. His ridicule of Breton and the group is inseparable from Breton’s Trotskyist leanings and Vallejo’s orthodox Third International affiliations. If you are at all aware of some of the above history and of what was to follow, it’s frankly naive of you if you think otherwise.

    Now, it’s absolutely true that Breton and other leading Surrealists had close and sympathetic relations to anarchism. Breton and others wrote regularly for the anarchist Le Libertaire, and Desnos and Peret had irregular formal affiliations with anarchist groups. Breton had considerable respect for anarchism, even as he strongly dissented from them on various occasions. And in 1938, when Trotsky and Breton co-authored ‘Towards a Free and Revolutionary Art,’ they write that in defense of the absolute freedom of the artist within the revolution, the Marxists and Anarchists must march hand in hand. This was not Aragon’s line, that is for sure; nor, sadly, was it Vallejo’s, after his sad capitulation. But this is completely secondary to the derisory thrust of Vallejo’s term.

    As for the Mayakovsky essay, which you defend as “passionate,” well, I would agree it is passionate. And it is an exciting read, no question. But its also a piece of ideologically fueled character assassination.

    Hope some of this helps.

  27. Ian Keenan

    Kent, I just took exception that you were putting words in Vallejo’s mouth that he didn’t say. These are your opinions and historical accounts. I have been writing about this historical background since the mid 90s, and a lecturing tone is best accompanied by accuracy.

  28. Ian Keenan

    Kent, You might also want to check out Vallejo’s book “Russia in 1931,” which went through three printings in Spain upon its release, criticizing the Soviet bureaucracy and repeatedly quoting Trotsky as an authority on Soviet governance.

    btw Super duper post, Johannes et al! (trying to be more positive) I still have some candy corn but it’s a tad stale now.

  29. Seth O.


    I don’t like the widespread insistence on denouncing individual, private, emotional/intuitive, unacademic ways of reading, writing, appreciating art. I think it results in art seeming like an appendage of the academy, politics, and discourse, instead of relatable to those things but yet its own thing.

    But “unacademic” ways of reading exist in the schools. Judith Halberstam, presently at USC, champions thinking like Dory from Finding Nemo and the boys from Dude Where’s My Car. There are many ways to think. Schools don’t have a monopoly. I think messy readings are the best kind — ones that draw from all different types of sources. When I read a book I sometimes think of French philosophers and I sometimes think of telly shows. One isn’t superior to the other. They both contribute to the thrill of reading. Reading is total warfare: everything is involved. I don’t think JG wants to ban “emotional/intuitive” readings. I think JG is interested in how reading crit/deploying crit can be as “emotional/intuitive” as using your “feelings” (which I don’t have).

    The Alt Lit writers (the primary conveyers of the “New Sincerity”) are cute and enthusiastic. I am especially found of the melancholy girls, like Gabby Gabby. But some Alt Lit writers make me utterly uncomfortable. Here’s something Walter Mackey said in the Alt Lit zine Habitat:

    I feel really sorry for people that have to sit and think out poems, rhyming schemes, word choice, word flow, metaphor vs. simile, iambic pentameter (I think that’s a literary device) and all of that bullshit. I stated in a tweet—”if your heart and soul is in your writing, then it shouldn’t take forever to produce #altlit #newsincerity #quickshit”.

    Mackey sounds like a beatnik. It connects to Kerouac’s vulgar theory: “First thought best thought.” Mackey takes up the cause of the brainless hippie, who simply wants to “feel, man,””dig on each other,” and “be groovy.” Mackey’s advocacy for thoughtlessness is NOT peculiar or unique. 99% of earth’s inhabitants don’t think at all. They eat, work, and fuck with all the predictability of an academic schedule. Not thinking is not a pathway to innocence: it’s a one-way ticket to adulthood. Not thinking is the opposite of the priceless Salinger quote that S.T.D. brought up:

    “If there is an amateur reader still left in the world—or anybody who just reads and runs—I ask him or her, with untellable affection and gratitude, to split the dedication of this book four ways with my wife and children.”

    Run away from any predetermined paradigm, whether it be the academy or the anti-academy. Salinger wants a messy reader — a reader who doesn’t heed boundaries. The Salinger characters are thoughtful. Franny THINKS about religion. Holden THINKS about the Robert Burns poem. Salinger is very dear to me. He makes his own special, unique, delicate, cute world. His books have meaning because they’re THOUGHT OUT. Holden THINKS about the consequences of the “Fuck You” written on the wall. The person who wrote that “Fuck You” — an average, standard phrase — did not.

    Art involves thinking. It requires assessing and processing a multitude of things. Being a human isn’t art — it’s normal. If you wish to talk about your heart and soul and feelings than go to a Gay Rights March. But I, for one, am not concerned with following normal categories. I want specialness. I want to get lost in art, NOT in someone’s mediocre personhood.

  30. Kent Johnson

    Someone wrote me to ask what the relevance of this discussion between me and Ian Keenan on Surrealism and communist politics could have to Montevidayo themes. I replied that Montevidayo poetics wouldn’t exist without Surrealism, obviously, and historical Surrealism wouldn’t be Surrealism without communist politics. So that would be the connection, even if we’re admittedly getting into some “esoteric” Left matters. And I would say that some of these lesser known particulars regarding Vallejo, one of the greatest a-g poets of the world, should be of some connection and interest. So I continue…

    Ian, that’s a disappointing, suggestively evasive reply to key issues raised in my second comment. And I’m not sure what you mean about my “putting words in Vallejo’s mouth.” You will need to be more specific. On my way out of town for a bit so I’ll have to respond more fully tonight or tomorrow. I’ll provide for you some specific documentation regarding Vallejo’s political volte face then, relevant to his anti-Surrealist screed: from pieces that haven’t yet been translated. It’s quite fascinating. Perhaps it will be of some use to you in your further writings about the “background” you’ve been studying since the mid-90s, which I certainly honor. I’ve been interested in that background (still learning!) since the mid-70s (!), when I began a roughly fifteen-year career in Marxist-party activism. So we share that fascination with Left cultural politics. Let’s keep that as the basis for a constructive discussion. Till later.

  31. Kent Johnson

    And to say, Ian, for I meant to note it above, that your comment about Vallejo’s Rusia en 1931 evinces, I’m afraid, a lack of awareness on your part about some bibliographic/historical facts. I’ll explain when I can write at more length.

  32. Ian Keenan

    Kent, Regarding what this has to do with Montevidayo themes, I have absolutely no idea. I was scrolling down and for some reason I went there, so as to correct any possible historical inaccuracy that might pop up on the World Wide Web.

  33. Kent Johnson

    A long posting here, which I’m dividing into two parts.

    So Ian, the reason Rusia en 1931 is irrelevant to your attempts to disprove Vallejo’s capitulation to Stalinism is this: The book, for the most part, compiles pieces written in 1928 and 1929, from Vallejo’s first two trips to the USSR (his last was in 1931, after the book came out). It is largely made up of republications of articles that ran in series in the Paris-based journal Bolívar, in 1930, a number of these actually republications themselves, from the Lima newspaper El Comercio. The Bolivar series had been such a success that Ediciones Ulises commissioned the gathering; Vallejo made more money from it than from anything else he ever published. So the mostly factual mentions of Trotsky that appear in the collection (Vallejo did not include his most enthusiastic pro-Trotsky writing in the book) come from his late pre-Stalinist period, when he was still very much flying the Mariátegui, socialist-democracy banner.

    And 1929 is crucial to understanding Vallejo’s political turn. As I said, and though I respect the keen interest you have in the politics of the historical avant-garde, you seem to not be aware of much of the key documentary evidence concerning the impact of the period’s international communist politics on Vallejo (hardly your fault—most of it is obscure and very little of it is yet translated).
    There are two illuminating articles I want to point out, and perhaps their stunning contrast will help you better see why your view is in need of some greater complexity: On January 19, 1929, Vallejo published an article titled “The Lessons of Marxism,” in Variedades, of Lima. Here, in my quick translation, is the article’s concluding paragraph:

    >Trotsky has provided a range of other lessons in liberty. His own opposition to Stalin is proof that Trotsky does not just go with the flow when it is contrary to his beliefs and spirit. In midst of the colorless, ritual obeisance toward Soviet politics practiced by the communist world, the Trotskyist insurrection constitutes a movement of great historical significance. It represents the birth of a new revolutionary spirit within a revolutionary State. It constitutes the birth of a new Left inside another Left, the latter which, in the process of natural political evolution, turns out to be on the Right. Trotskyism, from this perspective, is the reddest red of the Red flag of the revolution, and, consequently, what is most pure and faithful of the new vision.<

    This quote is fully consistent with Vallejo’s position up until the publication of the article. He and his political mentor, José Carlos Mariátegui, Latin America’s greatest Marxist leader of the early century, had closely studied Trotsky’s writings together, and they both strongly sided with the Left Opposition’s struggle against the revolution’s anti-democratic, bureaucratic institutionalization. But this comment would prove to be Vallejo’s last public expression of sympathy for Trotsky. [cont. below]

  34. Kent Johnson


    Less than a year later, on December 13, 1929, Vallejo published an article in Mundial, of Lima, titled “Mundial in Russia.” In the article, Vallejo announces the following — again, my translation:

    >It is obvious that the thought and actions of Trotsky have been, and since before the revolution, extremist to the nth degree. His extremism is in no way a new development. The greater part of his disagreements with Lenin can be explained by his temperamental and incurable ultra-leftism. During the earliest days of the revolution, long after his formal entry into the Bolshevik party, Trotsky always handled the problems of the civil war and the organization of the State with an exacerbated intransigence. Only the deep ideological and political devotion he felt for Lenin reined in the excesses of his tactical extremism and permanent rebelliousness. Trotsky is, thus, a revolutionary and an organic, internal agonist. What was in Lenin’s lifetime his base emotional propensity, an impulse fortunately tamed and haltered [by the Party], was transformed, upon the death of the great and respected leader, into uncontrolled and reckless action. Lenin now dead, no one in the Party with the ideological authority and principled backbone was left to bridle this “moral monster,” as Lenin called Trotsky.<

    How is it possible that a great poet like Vallejo could make such an astonishing political reversal? The drama of the shift is nigh absurd, and the tone of the second quote approaches the sense of a forced confession.

    In fact, there’s a simple answer to explain the contradiction, and it’s precisely in the sense of a “confession” that we should read the second passage: Between the writing of these two very disparate 1929 articles, Stalin’s victory over Trotsky had been finalized, in February, when Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union. Almost immediately, the Soviet opposition fell into disarray, and thousands inside the Soviet Union, fearing for their lives, came forward to apologize for their mistaken anti-Stalinist path. As did most the international cadre who had once sided with Trotsky and the Left Opposition. The battle, as many saw it, was over, and you either went with the losers into exile, irrelevance, or worse, or you joined the winners. Vallejo, sad as it is, made the latter choice, and his writings from then on reveal a steady adoption of the ruling Stalinist tenets, not least through his partisanship for Party direction of artistic and literary production, which reaches a heightened pitch in his writings and speeches during the Spanish Civil War.

    In this light, Vallejo’s near-immediate 1930 attacks on the out-of-favor Mayakovsky and the Trotskyist sympathizer Breton (who had openly fought, precisely, for the artist’s autonomy inside the Party) take on a more contextualized character. They can’t be simplistically regarded as “passionate” outbursts by Vallejo, or mere expressions of his impatience with an atmospheric “anarchism,” as it seems you would have it. Indeed, and very much in parallel with his volte face in regards Trotsky, Vallejo had, and only a short time earlier, written about both writers as exemplary of the conjoining of revolutionary art and politics!

    So it’s this historical context, you see – now coming to clearer focus as centripetal to the poet’s life — that helps us better grasp the aesthetics of the later prose and plays, as well as of a monumental work like Spain, Take This Chalice from Me: They are works (certainly among the greatest of the mode) that reveal Vallejo’s apparent rejection of the avant-garde poetics of Trilce, and his personal embrace of the directions of Socialist Realism.

  35. Ian Keenan

    Kent, I have been offline all weekend as I mentioned in my email. Any research on and translations of Vallejo are most welcome by many readers including this one. I have been meaning to get the California collection of Vallejo but I scanned it once and didn’t see much I didn’t have already in paperbacks and pamphlets. I will look at it again.

    Again, I don’t know to what extent this discussion is appropriate here, but it is of interest to me. I agree that Vallejo is one of the best, possibly the best poet in the 20th C, someone who could naturally imbue every line with a visionary quality, and who sought ever-increasingly to make his commentary on the politically turbulent times essential to any appreciation of his art.

    Let me get first to the main point/question: Have you found a single passage of Vallejo in any book, anywhere, that speaks in complimentary fashion about Stalin, using his name? I am not asking for your own personal definition of what general attitudes and affiliations constituted a threshold of Stalinism in the 30’s, or when “anarchist” is really, really, a synonym for “Trotskyism” for scholars in the know. Does he mention Stalin’s name, and say good things about him, anywhere, any time? Because if you find one such passage, that’s one more than I’ve found.

    I am inclined to think that Vallejo’s participation in the publication of a book called Russia in 1931, published in Spain in 1931, to be one in which Vallejo is mindful of how its reportage on divisions within the Russian left would impact the factions in different regions of Spain.

    If your earlier characterization of “Autopsy on Surrealism” as being anti-Trotskyist rather than anti-anarchist was simply in error, I am wondering why you attempt to repeat this interpretation in your most recent comment. There were, I repeat, no references to Trotsky in the document and, based on the text, no objective reason to make that inference. Attributing an “anarchist” position to the Surrealists could easily be grounded in Surrealists’ statements and writings of the time, despite the fact that the document preceded Breton’s meeting with Trotsky, whom he always admired personally, and co-authored a manifesto with him then (’35). Benjamin Peret* made statements critical of Trotskyism that were similar to the second quote of Vallejo’s you have supplied, but from an anarchist viewpoint, continually aligned with Breton.

    There is a distinction to be made between writers that preferred certain ideological powers-that-be over others, and those who spoke specifically in support of Stalin. I don’t believe Vallejo belongs in the second group, for sure. And my analysis of texts regards the first question as cloudier than you would suggest.

    * Hint hint, idle French translators: ‘Political Writings of Peret’..

  36. Kent Johnson

    >Let me get first to the main point/question: Have you found a single passage of Vallejo in any book, anywhere, that speaks in complimentary fashion about Stalin, using his name?

    Ian, I appreciate your response. We’re probably approaching the end of this discussion. The relevant thing is that Vallejo, from late 1929 on, is consistently, dogmatically “complimentary about Stalin” in his writings on Soviet and international politics *through* his militant support of Stalin’s policies. Economic, political, and (most relevantly) cultural. He didn’t *have* to mention Stalin’s name to express his faith and commitment to the Comintern. This is something Stephen Hart argues, too, in a terrific essay (it appears to only be in Spanish, not sure you read the language, but here it is, for the record), a study of Vallejo’s writings that demonstrates how he precipitously turned from his
    Trotskyist sympathies to become a full-fledged Stalinist:
    Hart, you probably know, is widely considered to be the leading American Vallejo scholar; he did the Chronology for Eshleman’s Collected, which you have.

    In any case, there are, yes, a few instances where Stalin himself makes appearances in Vallejo’s texts. In Rusia en 1931, if you look, you can find an enthused reference to Stalin’s Theoretical and Practical Leninism. Not a small thing, given the book’s place in Stalin-hagiography, and given that Vallejo, in a poem contemporaneous to Rusia en 1931’s publication, “Telurica y magnetica,” exclaims “O theoretical and practical soil !”, or some years later, still, in Spain Take This Chalice from Me, glorifies the “theoretical and practical storm” of the Spanish proletariat. The allusions are quite evident. Also in Rusia en 1931, he chastises a “backward” Russian worker for his discontent with the Five Year Plan and his specific (by name) critique of Stalin (in his later writings on the USSR, in general, Vallejo has very little patience for any deviation from the Party line). Perhaps the most revealing and disturbing thing about Vallejo’s Stalinist wager is that a few of the articles he published in 1927 and 1928, while still a partisan of the Trotskyist opposition, are later airbrushed by him of their admiring references to Trotsky and revised to conform to Comintern dogma. As Hart points out, “Lessons of Marxism,” an article I cited in my previous comment, where Vallejo had proclaimed Trotsky and his current as best hope of the Revolution, is re-titled “The Doctors of Marxism,” and Stalin is given place of honor. These self-censored pieces were recast at exactly the time of his capitulation, in 1929 and 1930, and published (though not until decades later) in his book El arte y la revolucion. They became taken as the original versions by most readers, the obscure and quite different newspaper articles now forgotten.

    But still, as I said above, you didn’t have to pen odes to Uncle Joe to prove yourself a Comintern soldier; you praised him by propagandizing his Line. And that is what Vallejo, irrefutably, and powerfully, did.

  37. Ian Keenan

    Kent, That’s interesting, and I have been aware that there has been a critical consensus on behalf of what you are saying. I am little swayed by such things, and there have been more than a few aggrandations of other artists’ Stalinism attaining such a consensus. I agree also that Vallejo’s writings of the time involve certain rationalizations of policies (like the worker and the Five Year Plan) that are more difficult to rationalize in reflection. There is also a major difference between referencing writings of Stalin for their utility and ideas, which many have done, and agreement with his domestic and foreign policies. From what I gather, ‘Russia in 1931’ isn’t more complimentary of Stalin than Trotsky, since there were at least two citations that revered Trotsky more than your citations of Stalin (which you seem less interested in), by name or implication.

    There are no references in his poetry to Stalin, you’ll no doubt agree, and I disagree vehemently with your interpretation of ‘Telluric and Magnetic.’ This goes back to the earlier discussion of the essential quality of irony – I wouldn’t be the first to ascribe layers of irony to this poem, including “F— the condors” by one translation, which refers to both the national symbol, nature, and possibly by my interpretation the Romantic and individualistic 19th C literary movement of Condorism in Brazil – also the many ironic references to the capacity of humanity to improve upon nature. The irony and the militance of the poem cannot be seperated from one another, depend on one another, and could be as emblematic of his differences with Leftist bureaucracy than his agreements. If he wanted to write a polemic poem on behalf of the ‘practical,’ referencing the European political context, he could have done so, but the declaration at the beginning of the poem is intentionally buried by the contradictary notions and South American contextualizations that follow.