by James Pate on Nov.30, 2012
— Alexander Cockburn
One of the common Republican refrains when it comes to raising tax rates for the super-wealthy — or as is currently the case, the possibility that the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent might expire — is that the desire to do so is based on class resentment, and only entitlement reform will bring about a truly sound financial future. Of course, the fact that the current tax policy has helped bring about inequalities not seen since the 1910s seems beside the point. For certain conservatives “the economy” is its own independent reality: if “the economy” is going strong (as measured by GDP and stocks and all those other elements neo-liberals are obsessed with), then it really doesn’t matter how many homeless we have, how many live under crushing debt, how many are trapped in shit jobs. By arguing that the economy is one set of numbers instead of another, we can have a perfectly healthy “economy” while also having an utterly barbaric one.
But I’m interested in this notion of resentment, this idea that the non-rich resent the wealthy. It’s an old idea that crystallized (as did so many of our current political views, both liberal and conservative) in England around the Victorian era. But instead of denying resentment, which is what the left and liberals tend to do, arguing, as Obama does, that it is really about fairness, I’ve often wondered why liberals and the left don’t embrace resentment. Why should resentment and anger and hate be so taboo? Love at times can be a tyrannical force; hate can sometimes be liberating and exhilarating.
At the end of Camus’ The Stranger, for example, Meursault hopes that when he is brought out for his execution the public will greet him with “cries of hate.” In those last lines of the novel (which is still one of my favorite books, though I read it for the first time more than twenty years ago), the narrator has embraced his strangeness, his isolation from others. With those closing words, he has made the hate of others into a badge of honor. And Jean Genet, only a few years later, would turn cries of hate into an emblem of negative sainthood, into trumpets heralding the sublime. And his characters understood how beautiful hate could be at certain moments too. As Divine says in Our Lady of the Flowers, “I hate them [pimps and gangsters], lovingly.” There is also the moment in The Thief’s Journal where he sees a woman he imagines to be his mother, and then imagines himself taking her hands into his own and vomiting into them.
On a more political level, I also think of the way FDR embraced hate in the famous speech where he said he knew that bankers hated him, and he welcomed that hatred. Despite all the warnings today about how politicians shouldn’t “go negative,” it should be remembered that FDR won that election by a landslide. Some might argue Roosevelt was only using rhetoric, and that he wasn’t as radical as those words would suggest, and that might be true: and yet can anyone even dimly imagine Clinton (either one) or Obama using such language?
When I was growing up, I certainly hated the avarice of the rich, a naked avarice that was celebrated by the President and the media. In the racially mixed neighborhood in Memphis where I grew up, crack was sold openly on certain corners, and people above the age of twenty-five or so would go inside their houses at dusk, since shootings were common. Some nights, police helicopters would circle, flying around like giant insects with a beaming, bright eye that shone a patch of light up and down the street and through the yards. And the streets themselves seemed populated by ghosts. The trash of Reagan’s America. There were the prostitutes, the so-called crack whores — usually young white women fresh from some small town in Mississippi or Arkansas — who walked around the streets in the afternoon. Their hair would be oily and they’d wear skimpy shorts and always seem to be holding a can of coke and a cigarette. There was the Vietnam vet who lived a few blocks away. He was a black man in his forties who got around in his makeshift wheel chair and would come up to our house some nights, asking for any canned food we might have on hand. He would sit on his porch alone most afternoons and glare at the traffic going by. There were the addicts who roamed around in the same clothes every day. And the young men not much older than myself who would disappear for weeks or months, spending time either in a hospital or prison.
And during this time, which was also the time of Reagan and the time of the first Bush, I hated a great deal. I hated the gunshots, the helicopters. I hated it when friends who lived in the suburbs complained about how boring the suburbs were — I would have loved growing up someplace boring. I hated the news, because when it showed drive-bys, or talked about crack, it would be framed as if those things happened on another planet. And I hated the viciousness of American politics, a politics that I saw as being in literal war with not only the people in my neighborhood, who often looked as if they were staggering about in some collapsed State, but with myself, since I lived there. I hated the well-financed, the well-manicured, the well-connected. Hate kept me going.
Hate can lead to bitterness, small-minded obsessions, etc., but so can love. And hate can produce great Art. Baudelaire, Artaud, Faulkner, Plath, Godard, Bacon, Zulawski, Thek, Soyinka, and Carax. Their work at various points is powerfully lit up by hatred. It might be political or ontological or (as is often the case) both, but it’s there, a warm, dense force reaching outward.
Lastly, one of the things I admire about writers of the political grotesque (McSweeney, Goransson, Glenum, early Reines, Kilpatrick, and others) is their lack of fear in regards to hate. So much American poetry post-1950s has virtually outlawed hate. Or rather, anger and hate is allowed in slam poetry, but not in “literary” poetry, where such forces are often considered bad form. Tragedy is good. So is melancholy. So is a Marxist-Hegelian analysis of X and Y and Z, if you happen to be an experimental poet. But hate? One of the things the American poetry scene owes to poets like McSweeney and Goransson and Glenum is the way they have brought hate back to American poetry.