In 2008 I had the pleasure of working with photographer Erica Baum on an exhibition project through KWH Art, the gallery I then directed at the Kelly Writers House. In keeping with the tenor of the space and its co-function as a reading venue, I was curatorially inclined toward work with affinities to language and concrete poetry.
One of the great lost poetry conversations of the 1970s occurred when Bruce Boone led the formation of a marxism study group at Small Press Traffic, the literary arts center in San Francisco. Boone modeled the group in part after his previous experience at the summer institute for the Marxist Literary Group in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which he memorialized in his novel Century of Clouds. At SPT, the group was comprised not of theorists from the academy, but of emerging local writers who aligned themselves with different avant-garde groups and grassroots political movements.
I am standing in front of contemporary artist Adam Pendleton’s installation at MoMA PS1’s Greater New York show, in the heart of cultural (if not actual) capital, as it were. The work before and around me, The Abolition of Alienated Labor, takes its title from a 1963 work by the French Situationist Guy Debord, in which Debord painted the words “The Abolition of Alienated Labor” over an industrial painting by fellow Situationist Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio. Directly in front of me is a large (five- by seven-foot?), boxy, black-framed object in which I can see the image of a man. The man is black and wears a headdress of some sort, with a feather protruding from it sticking straight up.
The image has an archival quality, as many of the images Pendleton uses in his Systems of Display series do. Pendleton seems to be attempting to evoke a feeling for history in his viewer, without necessarily telling you what any particular image is, or where it originates. The image of the man with the headdress is actually a silkscreen that has been printed upon a mirror set inside the boxlike frame.
Hannah Weiner knew that thoughts are not our own. She knew this, but she still tried — harder than any other poet of her brief day save, perhaps, Jack Spicer — to enter into those thoughts that came to her from outside for as long as she could. In this condition, we might imagine Weiner alone and vigilant at her desk, open to the relentless flow of the manifold data of the world and recording words as they appeared on bodies before her and in the air thickened by them. Her inevitable failure to stay with all of the thoughts that come to thinking in a given moment in time is the essence of her style: a passage of intensities, a discontinuous series of enjambments. For despite first appearances, The Book Of Revelations is not prose. It is a poem which “appears inside prose, breaking it down into fragments around which text proliferates.” Its final value arises from its simultaneous abandonment of textual authorities and its embrace of language in the midst of its long shattering: “letting everything go was at last.”
“Even the reappearance of the sun over the horizon tomorrow morning can be reduced to a question of probability,” writes James Hogan in Climate Cover-Up, arguing that global warming deniers exploit scientific uncertainty. While a future that includes a sun over the horizon is not difficult to imagine, other yet-to-be-experienced future conditions tax our social imagination.