Q: Looking through a Marxist model at an event that needs to be brought to a standstill. Paradox: we are looking at things that are very much causal. Why consult Benjamin at such a moment?
A: Joshua: I consult Benjamin, but I wouldn't say that he is the analytic by which I want to think these problems. Do we have seven or eight hours? Why did Frankfurt school have such an influence on the academy? Cultural Marxism. But we also need economic value thought. Value theory, analysis.
Q: I'm not sure that causality is the word. I think it's relationality. You are talking about an internal relation that can't be sorted out.
A: Juliana: I think it's interesting.
Q: Instead of displacing causality into production, you are talking about the need to bring those together.
A: My thing is to hold the synchronic and the diachronic together. Three-dimensional relationship.
Q: How do you think about intervention? There is a way of scholarly work that is interventionist but not activist on a teleological mode. One mode is to enter into language games to shift the discursive field, because the field doesn't produce insight. Do you think of poetry as political work?
A: Juliana: I would say it's one part of a political ecosystem. Poets and academics like to see it as the work or the main work. But that's a limitation. A reason to stay at home.
Joshua: This is a historical question. The idea that discourse shouldn't be discounted is not a historical invariant. The groovy thing I reflect on is, why it was in the 1960s we had this great efflorescence of cultural struggle. And now there doesn't seem to be any of that going around. It's because it's a different kind of crisis.
Q: Is today one of those moments?
A: It certainly has less effectivity.
Q: Is that because of capitalism?
A: Yeah. To take the chemical question. Corporations compete by using cheaper processes and cheaper ways of dumping the chemicals. They don't do that because of ignorance, but because they need to out compete the company across the river. So discursive interventions have less force.
Q: And the corporation engages in language of greenness and tries to capture the market.
A: And even then, discourse can't undo a situation.
Q: In Milwaukee there is a black guy, Will Allen, who started Growing Power, he creates soil out of corporate food waste and the largest slum. Generates work for ex felons who are otherwise unemployable. Contact with third world and first world women starting urban gardens all over the planet. That seems like a specific concrete large intervention. He got a Macarthur. He got money thrown at him. He was offered a deal by WalMart.
Q: And he was told by the ag board that his fish system would never work.
A: Joshua: First of all, I'm not going to gainsay a Macarthur winner. This question asks something structural: can strategies of subtraction work on their own? I can exit the wage system. I'm entirely in support of those. On small and on large scales. Not just a good idea but they are going to be necessary. It would be crazy not to stand by them. But can subtraction alone render a structural change in the world? Recuperative attacks of money and grants undermine this subtraction. Attack needs to be in there. The recent strikes in WalMart. The port strike is not a production strike. Nor is WalMart strike.
Circulation side strikes makes our argument far better than we could.
Q: Where does poetry fit into that story?
A: Juliana: poetry is often aligned with nationalism, is often seen as bad and annoying and apolitical. A garden might feel a little less dubious.
Q: But gardens are also compromised. They are even worse than poetry!
A: Joshua: I am very skeptical about the political efficacy of poetry. I have come here to say fuck poetry. But I have also been engaged in a certain amount of organizing in CA. There have been failures that are also successful failures. It's been extraordinary how many people have been involved. So many of them have been poets and poet scholars. Celeste Langan, Romantic poetry scholar.
There is something about poetry that puts people in a position in which other kinds of struggle can be enacted.
Q: I feel a lot of things that Juliana talked about. A lot of distrust in poetry. This conversation happens in poetry a lot. We should all be out breaking windows etc. How do we think somewhere in between the individual and the state?
A: Juliana: the idea of the collective may itself be problematic. Poetry as a place for alternative thinking. The poets in the Bay Area were able to phone each other up. Small. Do it yourself network.
Q: There are things that are worth doing that aren't political. Poetry as a form of thought. Oppen's "Being Numerous." And the metaphor of ecotone. Why choose this as metaphor? Why not contact zone or market place?
A: Joshua. I agree with you in some sense utterly. The goal is not to say a thing that will get other people to do things. That is not my model of political engagement. Poetry is a kind of journaling that enables me to think through problems.
The ecotone is not the marketplace. That space of formal equality and rights discourse is not the way. Ecotone talks about where two entirely different systems form a unity. That's a dialectical thought. Hegel: unity of opposites. Ecotone remains un-idealist.
Juliana: the idea of the contact zone.
Q: If poetry is exciting. Building an illusion. Bringing life back and building illusion of transcendence. To direct people other than simple gain or income. Why the prejudice against activism in academia? What needs to change in the vision of objectivity in academia? What is the problem?
A: Joshua. Poets are used to proceeding as if they had passionate commitment despite miserable failures. That is the affect of political struggle in this moment.
Activism is a complex word. In the Bay Area there is a lot of hostility to activism as a certain kind of NGO let's have a big march model of intervention. There are schisms within the opposition.
But the attack on activism is awful in academia. Here we are, just giving a paper. And then we say we should all go out and do something. That limit is awful. How do we get past that and stop writing papers? And no one in this room will like it if I say "stop writing papers."
Q: But how else are we going to get into attitudes that are beyond thought or previous to thought? Poetry is really really important. We shouldn't minimize poetry. Xavier Sicilia. His son was killed in a drug issue. He refused to write poetry anymore. Formed huge social movement for peace and dignity.
A: Joshua. If the great power of poetry is that you can swear it off, I'm with ya.
Q: I'm curious to hear more thoughts about ports and interventions. Poetics seems like the creation of concepts. The idea of the container. Jameson on modular form: capitalism makes everything more variegated and more the same.
A: Joshua. Montreal as a non-containerized port. Versus productivity: increasing throughput with fewer employees (like Rotterdam). Finance is "nowhere." The port comes to resemble that. Montreal or Duluth type of port has a higher ratio of workers to throughput. Non-worker strikes: people just go to shut down a port.
Q: I find myself wishing Rob Nixon were here. Time and timescale of the disasters we are up against. It is futural. Global warming changes the way we think about time: "glacial" means fast! Just doing things. How does this intersect for us as academics? Cutting ourselves off with perfectionism. Even if it's inadequate we do need to think things, as Tim Morton said. Nixon brings up creative nonfiction. Literature can offer us things unseen.
A: Juliana. The Nixon book is interesting. There is no reason to limit it to poetry. The perfectionism: of academic discussion is to figure out where the holes are and keep moving. I would never expect an action to be watertight. The big problem is staying in your chair.
A: Joshua. The micro and structural scale problem. And the optimism and despair problem. A ruthless critique is necessary. But the problem is when you have to do it even if your analysis means it won't work out. The analysis that gets you out of the house is the right one.