Barrett Watten

My presentism

Entry 10

Cell phone image, Poland. Photo: Julia Fiedorczuk

Looking back on the issues I hoped to develop in this commentary, I am primed for a conclusion (yet do not wish to conclude). The paradox of living in the historical present, during the coldest winter in 100 years, has devolved at a slightly later moment. It is still the present, the dwarf magnolia has had its three-day bloom, several storms have come and gone, the grass is dotted with dandelions, which will not survive the next mowing cycle. This is an allegory for poetics at present—such tempestuous storms! so many dandelions! such blades to mow us down! Two issues now beg for comment before my thread is entombed in the digital archive of contemporary poetics. One is the persistent presentism that afflicts our present time; and the second is the consistent projection of that presentism onto the history that preceded it. The concept of period style is the designated blade runner for this task, reducing the history of difference and antagonism for a diminished textuality, materiality, indexicality.

Entry 9

John Frederick Peto, The Cup We All Race 4

In my last post, I observed a practice that in Jacket2 may have seemed too sensitive, but which has a long history: I refused to name names. Rather than associate specific people with my own decisions in attending an overseas academic conference at a politically volatile time, I wrote: "The next day, four of us from the conference — whom I will not name until I have their say so, such is the difficulty of this topic — took a cab . . . for the day." The "two scholars and two poet/critics" of the group are otherwise not named; each will have their own senses of what the politics of the moment, or of the present, might be, and they are free to express them (or not) as they wish.

Entry 8

Women soldiers at the Wailing Wall, 1997. Photo: author.

This is an ambiguous image. In preparing this entry, I looked at it for some time. Should I post it? I took the picture. It depicts a detachment of Israeli soldiers on security duty in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The time is 1997, a time of relatively relaxed tensions. The women are relaxed, at ease, rifles slung across their backs. Sunglasses and hair styles typical of college students in the period. I refused military service in the Vietnam War, just after graduating from Berkeley. Some feminists advocate for the right of women to serve in combat roles. I heard of discos in Tel Aviv with service weapons stacked up at the entry. The Wailing Wall is segregated into male and female zones, with the women's distinctly marginal, subordinate. What are the gender politics in this complex? At what point may I ask that question? On the other side of the material wall is an alternate spiritual order. I caught a glimpse of the Dome of the Rock through the crack between ancient wooden doors of the Arab quarter of the Old City. It seemed like paradise, bodies effortlessly moving in wide space. The Wailing Wall is crowded, pressed, a different order of experience. Incommensurate. What am I doing there?

Entry 7

Beachfront apartment, Tel Aviv, 1997. Photo: author

Writing on the debate over Israel/Palestine and BDS, while reflecting on the poetics conference I attended at Tel Aviv University in 1997, I am aware of the limits of discussion in public and academic spheres. The boycott itself has occasioned acts of recrimination, but at the same time there is a lack of more general discussion lest prior, fixed commitments be unveiled.

Entry 6

Manikin, Tel Aviv, 1997. Photo: author

1997 was a relatively quiet time, between the first and second Intifadas, in Israel/Palestine (Wiki here): a period of sustained tensions but relatively few new acts of violence after the 1998 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, with 1100 air strikes, Hezbollah counterattacks, and numerous civilian casualties, which led to the 1999 election of Ehud Barak and withdrawal of Israeli troups. In 1997 there had been three major suicide bombings in Israel, one at a centrally located cafe in Tel Aviv in March, and two in Jerusalem markets in July and September.