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.
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.
In a post on Jacket2, "Boycott Language" might mean the Poetry Wars of the 80s, when a boycott mentality around Language writing was manifest in certain quarters of the public sphere. My cover image says otherwise; it is evidence of the ongoing human rights horror in Israel and occupied Palestine that should be at the forefront of political discussion now. As a poet and critic attentive to "language," I want to contrbute to the current debate on the boycott of Israeli universities advocated by the BDS movement and the American Studies Association, along with the more narrow but also controversial resolution on the rights of Palestinian scholars to travel to the West Bank by the Modern Language Association.
Let me set the scene. Getting to MLA was difficult, involving two attempts at traversing Michigan, one blocked by light snow over black ice, obscuring the lanes, and the other hindered by a hundred miles of freezing fog. But what could be better than the entry to the conference hotel after that? The first person one sees is an augury — it was Jonathan Eburne, energetic promoter of surrealism and the avant-garde. Next, in the lobby, was David Lloyd, intent on networking for the policy discussion on travel to Palestine (see forthcoming post on the BDS campaign). Whatever it was that drew me here, now is the moment and this is MLA. And there were sessions, disappointing to be sure in many instances but confirming in others; the book display, with major presses like UC, UPNE, and New Directions not attending; the Pavlovian wine and cheese at 5 in the book display, leading to the perennial overflowing hotel bar, overlooking ice breaking on the Chicago River.
Joshua Clover has written a response to my previous post on the Orono decades conference, titled “Baraka/the divide,” that warrants one in return. In it, he describes his own positionality in relation to Amiri Baraka’s intevention at my plenary talk at the Poetry in the Sixties conference, and draws conclusions about the disconnect between academic Marxists and Third-World liberationists that persist to this day. Score a point for my argument on presentism and historicism: there is no pure present to which politics or poetry may lay claim. But first, a nicety of protocol: when I agreed to write this commentary for Jacket2, I did not imagine a debate among contributors as one of its concerns. The open comment line on poetry lists and blogs, infested by the perennial oedipalism of the sub-sub world, is now a thing of the past; it would seem the moment I put my head above the trenches in virtual space, it would be on me in a flash.