P O R E S 4
An Avant-Gardist Journal
of Poetics Research
T o n y T r e h y
Questions of Ideology and Ideological Apparatus
…from Trehy's Althusser's Machiavelli's Poetics (a work in progress)
reading it yourself. Rather, these are two competing
- Charles Bernstein
how why what why – the marginalisation of poetry, questions locating the battleground in reading and public rituals within the material existence of one ideological apparatus – culture. Is it possible to locate answers in an act of reading itself?
Reading a reading of a reading?
Althusser's assessment: “Machiavelli's central problem from a theoretical viewpoint could be summed up in the question of the beginning, starting from nothing, of an absolutely indispensable and necessary new poetry”. (2) In terms of method: “Machiavelli does not offer a general and systematic exposition, but deploys only the theoretical fragments conducive to clarification of the formulation and understanding of this singular concrete case. Above all, Machiavelli's theoretical dispositive breaks with the habits of classical rhetoric, where the universal governs the singular.” For these pre-modern postmodern fragments: 'dispositive' – is to poetry a series of general theses which are literally contradictory, yet organised in such a way as to generate concepts not deducible from them, theorizing in fact a determinative objective, literally generating a structure for politico-poetic change.
Machiavelli's 'endeavour to think the conditions of possibility of an impossible task, to think the unthinkable' induces 'a strange vacillation in the traditional philosophical status of [his] theoretical propositions: as if they were undermined by another instance than the one that produces them – the instance of poetic practice'. Today we must think the conditions of possibility of the impossible task of reclaiming Poetry from what Gramsci called the dual aspect of the power of “absolutist poetry”, violence and coercion, but at the same time consent, and hence 'hegemony'. From these conditions it emerges that the very idea of identity is a structuring mechanism of capitalist market development and therefore also of identity poetry (immanent in the Cultural Ideological Apparatus), so a new textual practice becomes imperative in response as a corollary of global biopolitical new militancy.
To grasp the true character of this dispositive (theoretical fragments focused on the formulation of a poetic problem) and its effects, abandon a conception that brings in only theory for one that brings in practice and, since we are dealing with poetics, poetic practice. This is where Gramsci's remark that Machiavelli's Poetics has the character of a Text manifesto is going to enlighten us with a poetics five hundred years earlier than LANGUAGE theory. Specifically, a theoretical text is affected in its modality and dispositive by poetic practice. This means that even a particular theoretical problem such as this Machiavellian essay should be self-reflexively textually modal, and hence an Althusserian singular conjuncture, which means, first of all, taking account of all the determinations, all the existing concrete circumstances, making an inventory, a detailed breakdown and comparison of them. A conjunctural example:
1) The revised OULIPO Compendium is published in November;
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. (4)
Machiavelli, who in his text elaborated the theory of the means at the disposal of the Poet in 15th Century Italy, treats his own text, in its turn as one of the means in the struggle he announces and engages. In order to announce a New Text-Poet in his text, he writes in a way that is suitable to the news he announces, in a novel manner. His writing is new; it is a poetic act - a Text manifesto, which seems to have its solo interlocutor a future Text individual, an individual who does not exist. Considering his written text is devoted to the Poet (in the singular), that it sets out what the Poet (any innovator) must do, how does Machiavelli indicate this innovator must conduct himself and proceed in order to found and expand his poetry using all available means, regardless of their compatibility with individual morality and the prevailing ideology?
The latter affects us as competently static and customary; the first one as unusual, activating. And the arrow always flies in the direction of action. The questions of their how why what are not our questions of how why and what – but ours are constantly asked as theirs (even though we know their answers); as Sartre phrased it: serial individuals have a unity that is always elsewhere and that serial unity is a negative totality.
How and why is radical work excluded? The Cultural Ideological Apparatus = “The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the [capitalist] conditions of production” (Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, 1970); the default category of the room. What is the history of (any) model of reading? = This history is an academic Glass Bead Game that should be played some time in the future when victors write the past. What is the relationship to marketing? = “… the reproduction of the [capitalist] conditions of production” (Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, 1970). What are the key sites of influence and how do they work? = the ratio of the effective or useful output to the total input in any system (history, vision, guile, praxis). What types of writing and publishing are offering alternative economies of reading to those that postmodern capitalism benefits from? = the language of 'economies' adapts to the ultimate condition of production as the reproduction of the conditions of production. Radical poetics has been dangerously integrated with its reliance on its retreat into academia. Bruce Andrews and Theodor Adorno observed “a taming, a domestication, a shoring up of the old walls (however flashily ornamented by a tokenism of the new, a kind of repressive desublimation). Intellectuals…competing supplicants…are thus virtually compelled to show each other their most repulsive sides [but not repulsive to the forces that negate]… In the end, glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing other than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power.” (“the factory worker is subject to the pressure of his “production group,” (6)). Radical poetics is too fucking nice to its ideological opposition. As Pound wrote to WCW in 1920: “If you weren't stupider than a mud-duck you would know that every kick to bad writing is by that much a help to the good.”
The New Poet can start from anywhere, and be anyone: ultimately start from nothing and be nothing to start with. The anonymous character of the theory then assumes its full poetic significance: the abstraction of the theory of the encounter between the poet and the fortuna (circumstances) that initiate change is not merely a theoretical abstraction here. Althusser argues that the place and interplay of this abstraction impart a concrete poetic function to it; in fact, the abstraction of anonymity is simultaneously the clean sweep of the past and its consequence: namely, he says that the great adventure begins apart from everything that actually exists, hence “in an unknown place with an unknown man”. [It is probably worth repeating here that neither Althusser nor this essay is proposing a model of (male) artist-hero-genius, but instead the possibility of a theory of action - the fabric of the act synonymous with its content].
From the perspective of a Machiavellian New Poetry conducive to Italian unification in the fifteenth century, the action proposed was the rejection of any failed, compromised or corrupted attempts, the rejection of reliance on hypotheses of foreign domination or refuge, and the independence of the origin and characters of the Text, which must be peculiar to the new poetry. In this analysis, it can be seen that the UK poetry establishment is well within its capacity to continue to sideline innovation because so far it is only confronted by political models of poetics that it has already marginalised, and by its own banality – which it celebrates as strength rather than an indictment. Just beneath the surface we can read the thesis underpinning Althusser's Machiavelli's analysis: the Text must owe its beginnings exclusively to itself; it must owe its laws solely to itself.
By means of a methodological theoretical conjuncture the formal textual tools at our disposal (shared with conceptual text-based art since the Sixties) are materiality, intertextuality, constricted/restricted languages, parataxis and spatialisation and (recently discovered) Time. Our question of what is a question of how these are surpassed.
Machiavelli's theme of beginnings poses such 'difficulties' that in order to progress one it is necessary to emulate '”skilful archers…when their target seems too distant; knowing well the power of their bow, they aim at a much higher point, not to hit it with the arrow, by aiming there to be able to strike their target.” To aim at a much higher point: for Machiavelli is explicitly to emulate Moses, Romulus, Lenin, Einstein, Mao and so on. But to aim at a much higher point has a further sense, not spelt out, but practised, by Machiavelli: to aim at a much higher point = to aim beyond what exists, so as to attain a goal that does not exist but must exist = to aim above all existing poetries, beyond their limits. Althusser identifies this as the crucial point of this theory, where poetics appears in person: in the form of a determinate absence. Formally, the theory is presented as an absolutely general theory such that the abstract form of the theory is the index and effect of a concrete poetic stance. If Machiavelli evokes the theme of novelty and beginnings with such insistence, if he speaks of a 'New Poet in a New Poetry', it is because he rejects all existing poetries and poets as old – that is orientated towards the past, outmoded, incapable of the task for the future. He rejects them all on account of their historical impotence. In reality for Machiavelli our conditions are poetic imperatives over which no compromise is possible, since he who does not respect them will succumb to the past, the sway of existing poetries and their impotence. But Machiavelli further considers that these conditions, far from being a reverie, are perfectly attainable. The proof? They have had the sanction of historical reality and that beginning has already occurred, specifically in revolutionary conjunctures of art and writing. Positing a Machiavellian fortuna, the circumstances in which the possibility for the impossible pertain,
the ultimate question then emerges (as it did for him): what direction arises from the conditions of possibility for the existence of a text-poetry? “Poetry is becoming more and more clearly the empty space, the antimatter, of consumer society, since it is not consumable (in terms of the modern criteria for a consumable object: an object that is of equivalent value for each of a mass of isolated passive consumers).” – Guy Debord. What is at stake? Nothing less than everything: the dematerialisation of Art has been commoditised; the marginalisation of Poetic Artifice is suddenly a great strength as the hegemony of mediocrity atrophies in its inability to renew itself. To paraphrase Negri: today the poet cannot even pretend to be a representative, even of the fundamental human needs of the exploited. Revolutionary poetic militancy must rediscover what has always been its proper form: not representational but constituent activity. Poetic militancy today is a positive and innovative requirement, analogised with the constitutive Global model of biopolitical activism and the formation of cooperative apparatuses of production and community.
Therein we find an answer to our current question why how.
1. Hélène Legotien (she had abandoned her family name, Perry, during the war), a woman nine years his senior who had played an active part in the Communist Resistance. He acknowledges in his memoir her indispensability to his thought and in justifying her murder makes himself even more pathetic. By 1980, he writes, "the two of us were shut up together in our own private hell." Hélène seems to have been an unhappy woman, insecure and tormented --and with good reason. The Communist Party abandoned her after the war, falsely accusing her of some obscure act of betrayal during the Resistance. Uneasy with her own immigrant Jewish background, and desperate for the love and attention of her husband, she put up with his moods, his women-friends and his colleagues. “Despair has the accent of irrevocability not because things cannot improve, but because it draws the past too into its vortex.
2. The injunction to practice intellectual honesty usually amounts to sabotage of thought. The writer is urged to show explicitly all the steps that have led him to his conclusion, so enabling every reading to follow the process through and, where possible – in the academic industry – to duplicate it. This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expression, but is also wrong in itself as a principle of representation. Texts which anxiously undertake to record every step without omission inevitably succumb to banality.” - Adorno
3. “With the right tools it was less than a day's work./ It wasn't our trade, but a wire-brush was the thing/for fettling mould and moss from bevelled window frames./Sandpaper took back old wood to its true grain.” Excerpt from Armitage's DIY Period.
4. Text invention in various locations - Venice Biennale 2004 by Lawrence Weiner
5. “He is beyond the moral categories of vice and virtue. For he pursues a completely distinct goal: a historical goal – founding, consolidating and expanding a text that endures. His perfection resides not in moral virtue, but in poetic virtû – that is to say, in the excellence of all the poetic virtues – of character, intelligence, vision, etc. – appropriate to accomplishment of his task.” Poetics Stanza XII
6. Sentence from Jean-Paul Sartre's In Search of Method selected using a chance operation.
7. EMPIRE collapses in 3 ways: natural disaster, decadence from the corruption of power, unchecked external surpassing.