In Praise of Hate (for Alexander Cockburn 1941 – 2012)

by on Nov.30, 2012


Is your hate pure? 

— 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.

15 comments for this entry:
  1. David B. Applegate

    hi James,

    Interesting stuff. I agree with this:

    “So much American poetry post-1950s has virtually outlawed hate.”

    It has to do with a sort of craft-fair conception of poetry which glorifies inclusiveness at any cost.

    More substantially, I’d love it if you would point me toward some specific pieces by McSweeney, Goransson, and Glenum which you think bring the “hate back to American poetry.” I’ve read a lot of work by those authors and hate never came to mind. Maybe a kind of self-hatred which demands an outlet in violence, bodily modification, excessive adornment, etc. but that doesn’t seem to be the kind of hate you’re talking about…



  2. Mickey

    ” brought hate back to American poetry” – hear , hear !!

  3. James Pate

    Interesting question, David, and thanks for the comment. I’ll write up a more detailed response later, maybe another post on it — I’m watching two kids right now — but I see them as all expressing a kind of rage that is ontological on one level (Nature isn’t some place of holistic fullness and truth but a lack of foundation) and political on the other (if there is no truth we can create our own realities, our own pageants, our own theaters).

    I agree with you about self-hatred, but I also see that hatred as being turned outward too. Or rather the self is already infused with the world. There’s no separate lyrical self with these poets…


  4. Gene Tanta

    Hey, James,

    I like your queering of love as a thing that can as much as hate lead to bitterness and self-satisfaction. It would be a crime against man’s humanity to man to speak of hate + political poetry and not mention Linh Dinh or Kent Johnson or for that matter Jamaica Kincaid or Claude McKay or William Logan or Anis Shivani or Lina Loy or Charles Bukowski or Ishmael Reed.

    I might add, I don’t think it’s just about exuding passion (and I don’t think you think it is) but also about how the writing performs hatred in a way that _becomes_ readers into something other than what they were before reading those particular words.

    Thanks for bringing up the issue of emotion, something the dream of linear thinking (however conceptually or immersively conceived) would like to repress into non-existence, Gene

  5. Ryan

    “It has to do with a sort of craft-fair conception of poetry which glorifies inclusiveness at any cost.”

    Yes, yes yes.

    Dear Mr. Applegate I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Really though, without hate the entire gradient grows pat and worthless. If you don’t have the stomach to tell me what you hate how can I trust you when you say you love something?

    And yes I’d love those examples too…I agree ‘hate’ is in a lot the work mentioned but not in the way described (proscribed?) above. I do feel like it comes out rather admirably on occasion in the prose on this blog, though, interestingly.

  6. Johannes

    This is an awesome post. Absolutely crucial for many reasons.

    I think our discussions of Johan Jönson a while back seems relevant. How in Sweden he was acclaimed as long as his poetry was seen as expressing the sorrows of the working class; but when some critics started saying that it was “class hatred” then suddenly that was no good, and he had to be defended etc. THe key here is that HATRED is not PRODUCTIVE, not constructive, ruins the selfhood of the author – turns him hysterical in some sense.

    It’s interesting to note too the relationship of hatred with masculinity. I know I’ve been accused many times of being misogynist and “too masculine” because I’m too emotional etc. But as many feminist have suggested, the real masculinity does not reveal itself.

    Also: I think this kind of aesthetic runs against the dominant idea that art should be a “critique” of society. I know Steve Burt has repeatedly said that his problem with Action/Montevidayo is our tendency toward “unmediated violence”. Ie it’s not made tasteful, it’s not made into a critique etc.


  7. James Pate

    Good points, Johannes. I think the “critique” aspect is important. It’s why Conceptualism has been so embraced by the poetry community at large — it holds in place a separation between self and event that lyrical poets would identify with also.

    But there’s a whole tradition of undermining the privileged position of “critique” that runs through Spinoza to Nietzsche to Foucault, who was especially against this notion that there can be some special vantage point over and above events.

    I think critics like Burt find it inconceivable that there would be a kind of art that undermines the special privileges of “critique,” and that’s very unfortunate. This undermining of critique is also one more thing that links Action/Montevidayo to the Necronauticals over in England — something I’ll talk about in some upcoming posts.


  8. James Pate

    I should make it clear though that I don’t think all lyrical poets are deeply attached to the separation between self and event. Plenty haven’t been. Byron, Coleridge, the New York School, the beatniks. (Though I’m not even sure those last two are “lyrical” is any real sense: the self in Koch and Ginsberg is porous as hell. Even O’Hara constantly talks of multiple selves, and had a very different notion of “experience” than, say, Lowell.) I mean the heavily Wordsworthian tradition that is premised on the poet contemplating some event or memory, a tradition that mutates very easily into this concept of “critique.” Burt despite his interest in experimental poetry is firmly in the Lowell-ian tradition.

  9. kim

    Reminds of me of an argument d f Wallace brings up in one of his “consider the lobster” essays (the McCain piece, maybe? I don’t have the book) but basically that the democratic fixation on a caring and compassionate (loving) rhetoric allows republicans to have a monopoly on selfish interests, excess (and perhaps, in extension, hatred).

    I’m also curious about a third kind of hatred, somewhere between self and others, a hatred of language, or at least a struggling against language, perhaps more apparent in that zone of foreigness…

    For now. Great post

  10. Lucas de Lima

    Genet and Thek are interesting cases- maybe love and hate are inseparable in their work? Hate seems like it’s brought to bear on love so that something unforeseen can emerge through their clashing… like Thek’s dead hippie, or Genet’s love of criminals, or in Hilda Hilst’s case a godly pig boy. To me this is a visionary tendency, a Blakean fight of opposites through and through.

  11. James Pate


    Thanks for the comment. I have to admit, with your comment, and David’s, you could pick out almost any line from, say, Johannes and Lara and see elements of the hate I talk about here. I think the issue is that they’re not doing protest poetry, but from the post itself it should be clear I’m not talking about protest poetry or art per se (otherwise Thek and Carax and Bacon would look very strange on that list).

    Plus, I think reading the poets I list as being primarily psychological, as David’s self-hate comment would suggest, is very different from how I read them. I don’t see them as writing poems about neurotic issues, etc., but poets who collapse the triangles of the economic, the social, the Oedipal, and the rest, as Deleuze talks about when discussing minor literature.

    I agree with you and David on the big picture here — I just having a very different take on McSweeney and Goransson and Glenum and Kilpatrick…


    I completely agree. With Genet especially, his notion of love is impossible without hate. I’ve been rereading Miracle of the Rose and it’s remarkable how even a prison, in his hands, can become a site of utter scorn and yet also a site of love, as if he were entering a holy order of his own making as he walks through the spartan hallways, dresses in the threadbare prison garb…


    Yes, I remember that argument from DFW, and I think it might be in the McCain essay, though I don’t have a copy of the book either. I’ve seen variations of it in other places too. Zizek argues at various places that the rhetoric of multiculturalism, which is great in most situations, can morph into a kind of tolerance for the greed of the wealthy.

    I’d like to hear more about this third kind of hate. It sounds intriguing.


  12. David B. Applegate


    I think it’s good to point out that McSweeney, Goransson, Glenum & Kilpatrick should not be read primarily as psychological poets, or merely neurotic, and to note the heavily Deleuzian influence (maybe esp. in Glenum).

    One of my favorite observations about this type of poetry comes from J. Goransson himself, writing about Gurlesque, that it enacts “a self-consciously played-out shock, what happens to shock after the shock, almost a kind of boredom.” A sort of overload which struggles against boredom. You can see this in the fascination for kitsch & fashion expressed so often on this blog, a cyclic display and subsequent burial of novel images.

    So maybe in your original post, you are seeing hate as a sort of inchoate outburst in which can be found the collapsed structures you mention (economy, society, Oedipus, etc.)? I can get behind that reading. When I pointed out the possibility of self-hatred being present in the work, I was trying to locate the locus of the outburst, which I see as the attempt to escape boredom. Boredom with images, boredom with identity, boredom with self-consciousness.

    I have certainly been less bored with the work of these poets in circulation…



  13. James Pate


    All good points. The only caveat I would have would be “boredom of images.” I would argue it’s more of a boredom with the idea of the “earned image”: the image in poetry and fiction that earns its place because it has a carefully calibrated meaning, and has a purpose (even if a very nuanced one). Johannes has talked about this elsewhere, and I think it’s a good point. But otherwise, yes, I agree with what you’re saying here…


  14. Matt Miller

    Some great writing in this post, James. Really enjoyed reading your paen to hate in literature. You already named many of my favorites in this vein: Artaud, Faulkner, Plath… Has anyone topped the Jason section of The Sound and the Fury as a literary expression of hate?

    One other name I feel MUST be mentioned in this regard though is Dostoevsky.

    “I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man.”

  15. James Pate

    Jason is a great example. I was thinking of the last part of Absalom, Absalom! and Sanctuary, but the Jason section is certainly hate-laced too (the rumor has always been he based Jason on his father).

    And yes, Dostoevsky: his writing is seething. And oddly joyful too (as in the scene where the underground man invites himself to a party no one wants him to go to…). With all these names, there’s nothing insular, closed-off about their hate.