The New Poetry II (1970)
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe,
that observe and do;
but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
— Matthew 23:3
The sign replaces the object and the action. Information could not be transmitted if we needed to keep present the objects and circumstances of the action on which it is based. That condition, essential for verbal communication and the transmission of knowledge, has become an instrument of oppression through the deformation of its essential purpose: representation no longer serves man but rather the mechanisms of the society in which it operates — in our case, the concentration of the means of production in the hands of the few and the restraint of the coherent development of those means through the translation of their essence.
Capital not only confronts man with other men for the benefit of its own expansion, it also alienates man of all relation to himself: his cultural assets, his own life. To separate man from himself and from the external world is the imperative of capital. Mass media has been curiously prepared to achieve this function. The more man is occupied with the reflection the less he is occupied with the object in front of the mirror. The external world is not as it is or as it could be interpreted by a materialist ideology or scientific knowledge as it is said (Joachim Gerz); the external world is as it is said according to the schema of interpretation of the determining economic regime, in our case, idealist, irrational, etc., adequate for those who hold capital and, consequently, power.
Reality is replaced by its linguistic representation, and this very representation ensures, by conceptual habit, its predominance over truth and life. Of the two elements of the sign, the signifier and the signified, the deformation is founded on the signified. The signifier does not cease to be what it is: an object of phonic or visual nature as it is spoken or represented visually, partially or totally, though through the indivisible nature of the sign it cannot escape itself. The “new poetry” is founded on the signifier, although some currents value and make use of the signified. The poetry of expression, that which is based on the elusiveness and allusiveness of the signified, cannot escape the romantic imprints of “the descent into Hell to bring forth the new” or “the omnipotence of the verb” while continuing to develop representation, widening and deepening the conceptual field to the detriment of reality. The same language that, thanks to the efforts of traditional poets, is every so often renewed and freed from permitted forms of use and custom, serves as much the individualistic ambition of particularization (yet another alienating feature imposed by the system at the level of human relations) as well as the requirements of capitalist cultural instrumentalization in defense of its institutions and not only for that, but also for certain possibilities of profitable use in its institutions as applied to recreation and the use of free time. To the extent that language strengthens and increases the unknowableness of the external world by distorting its essential function in favor of that determining force, to the extent that the false information that it broadcasts, not by translating its truth value exclusively, but through the authority of what is said, of the established representation as a means of the indispensable relation between the individual and the external world, to that same extent it will ensure the order that uses it to its advantage.
The “new poetry” that has ostensibly confronted the poetry of expression has not escaped the vice of past “isms.” In short, except for its latest tendencies, it has been developed in the field of representation, either from academic or official positions, or from antiacademic or parallel or countercultural or marginal positions, etc. But, evidently, it moves beyond some formalist attitudes of the poetry of expression, applying and developing a praxis of self-reflexive elements, that is, an informative practice of language about language as a first step toward the discovery and unveiling of new forms of information outside the narrow possibility of signs. All its aspects — technological, plastic, gestural, lyrical, aural, cosmic, phonic, structural, visual, phonetic, photographic, neo-Dadaist, etc. — have been integrated into the system and indirectly serve it, using the usual mechanisms of production and consumption already highlighted by the culture industry: the book, the exhibition, the concert, the happening, the magazine, the performance, etc. They have preserved the order that they have tried so hard to upset, although their influence is undoubted, quantifiable even, in the attainment of an unprecedented art that escapes ars celare artem, that escapes artifice, created and enjoyed by all, that it be just life, not works that speak but don’t make or do.
The purpose of the new art cannot be the creation of durable new representative schemas that can be absorbed by and used for the benefit of capitalist culture, initiating new searches and new developments that will end, presumably, in the same blind alley as current art; nor even the creation of new procedures and mechanisms of distribution, in a vain attempt to “bring the poetic message to all” when in reality it will be the expansion of the market for the capitalist culture industry, although what is distributed is something as far from “business” as the “new poetry” or arts that do not propose knowledge or the expression of reality — susceptible to being altered intentionally — or the opposite even; nor even the possible experiences of exaltation and exacerbation of aesthetic consciences, since consumer society will find, without doubt, ways in which to transform them into consumables, just as it has with all past “isms,” more or less radical. Nor would it be coherent to base the new art exclusively on language (and not only because it has ceased to be the only vehicle in which to dump poetic forms and content), whatever its level and its technical nature, whether literary, filmic, photographic, musical, etc., because of the well-known risks of representative deformation, apart from the futile effort to create new codes that will be overcome by other newer ones, while failing to escape the vicious cycle. It may seem aberrant, in these very special moments, to consider and discuss the ineffectiveness or not of language, though we can agree that the battle is still taking place everywhere, even in those areas that may seem subsidiary or superstructural, including culture, doubtlessly. The current situation of art and the artist justifies the revision: Che Guevara, with his characteristic lucidity, defined it as a being caged by “the freedom of the monkey to perform tricks,” and this does not cease to be true despite the rebirths or the creation of new tricks to perform. To become aware of the useless creative liberty whose exercise assures the frustration or self-aggrandizement and false mirages of “sacrificed” social labor, in the event that the tricks seek to modify reality, or “noble” artistic labor if the proposition is exclusively aesthetic or formal, seems to be the first step toward the destruction of the cage.
From representation to action
Edited by Zane Koss