Monster on the 'L'oose

On Ron Silliman's monsters

Note: above, a video of Ron Silliman giving a talk at Avant Canada: Artists, Prophets, Revolutionaries, a conference held at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, November 4–6, 2014. Erín Moure responds to Silliman’s talk in the essay that follows. 


I’ve been asked to comment on Ron Silliman’s excellent talk “Your Monsters Are Our Monsters: The Problem of Borders and the Nearness of the American Avant-Garde.”

In Silliman’s “L-shaped talk,” the shape itself merits consideration. A small l is very singular, like 1, like I. A capital L, however, walks out of itself, first creates the singularity of 1, l, I: then walks away from it.

Who makes an L by drawing the second line toward the center? Who lifts their pen (a hegemony) to draw a line against itself? No, we draw the line continuously and it walks away from singularity.

Where is Silliman’s line walking? Away from the moment of his conversation into an “infinitely larger project,” which surpasses him and includes all poets, all borders, not effaced but ever present (verticalized at times with walls) and not describable (nor does he try) because the infinite is something that can’t be spoken without making it finite, because to speak of something you must be in some way positioned outside, and the infinite does not permit of such positioning.

Already eight hundred languages in NYC homes, and their cacophony sustains (only univocality topples). The irritability of borders and bordered beings everywhere creates not absence but resurged borders made of dead and injured beings, between Palestine and Israel, between Africa and Europe, Serbia and Hungary, the US and Mexico. If a country finds its definition by what it tries to keep out, it dooms itself, for languages infiltrate borders and thrive in homes, and humans cross thresholds regardless of the danger and this is poetry.

The issue is not whom we poets imitate inside the walls of English. It is not that of feeding one hand to the lion while tapping on a keyboard with the other. It’s to be migrant or a-drift, to acknowledge the migrant deaths that sustain our privilege on the planet, even the privilege of this very conversation. 

The crux can still be located perhaps at the doorway of the house, not that of the nation, for individual decisions are involved, and individuals can drift over a threshold successfully — perhaps like Chus Pato writing a language descended from itself (“Old Portuguese” is Galician, for Galician is the root language of Portuguese), who speaks now in English (someone has translated her) — not effacing the borders either of the house, or of the inside/outside of the human person, that undividable, for if you divide an individual, it dies. It can only self-divide, a bit at a time, imperceptibly.

Inside, we are all of us blood and messy (#Iamschmuck); outside, marked by colors and impure. Inside the house, we remove our shoes so as not to bring the outside in, the colours and contaminations, the iterabilities, the people dying in order to be people dying (for the deaths of failed crossings are beyond reason). We who remove our shoes do so because our shoes are not pretty. They stink of feces and the ooze of plants. 

As we sit in the house, fields outside are getting drier. Who will feed whom, who will listen to eight hundred languages at a time when species are dying out? The animals we think of as without language were never mute. And there is no way to listen to all languages; we can listen only to some and then listen to those who are listening to others. Outside, the seas are rising but we can’t live on seas (Drift, Zong!), and on terra firma today it’s drier. We are already the Vikings of Greenland, the Twelve Tribes of Easter Island or of Israel, and we see (sea) as readily (red) as ever, but time will not part waters for us.

Que podemos facer. Eu, xa, non teño resposta, nin fame para buscala. Son das persoas que achegan á morte e que morrerán antes do desastre. Miro xa ás nenas, aos nenos. Que van facer. En que idiomas? Ou xa pasou o tempo das palabras humanas …

What if we were to listen, particularly to the languages we suppressed? Listening means letting speakers learn to speak again and do their speaking to move perceptibly onward, not just to “overcome” the deaths and ruin. Here I point to indigeneity in the forms it will assume. I point to what could happen in the wake of the genocidal actions that were residential schools. This first. Without it, no poetry can matter.

Pouco me importa se ninguén me escoita. Para min, o mundo civilizado sempre fora unha miraxe. Son unha sucia en botas sucias. Credes que un día terei fame? Son unha infame.

Do you really believe that I would lift my pen and turn the line back to itself? Nor does that lion on the porch need to enter. When it feels a hunger in its rage and scrupulous othering, it will ravage its own arm.