I’ve been thinking about blogging and being a guest and l’étranger and Derrida “On Hospitality” and Adorno “On Lyric Poetry and Society” and thinking about this space (language) as a threshold. An entry point. A door which gives up passage to something. This post, or a poem, as Derrida’s “private sociality.” (I am not asking what you are wearing.) Or personal and public. How the social is rendered in my internal now external or, depending on how fast I type, simultaneously now both. Words. Uploading and spellchecking and revision, notwithstanding. Which is bunk. I clean for company.
(Up into the social. Down into the personal. Loading.)
But I don’t really come to anything, stranger, without tripping over Adorno initially as indictment: “the pressures of the struggle for survival allow only a few human beings to grasp the universal through immersion in the self or to develop as autonomous subjects capable of freely expressing themselves. The others…have the same right, or a greater right, to grope for the sounds in which sufferings and dreams are welded.”
Do I know that in the midst of struggle for survival that no sounds have been wrought in this way? Certainly many significant and well documented cases can be and have been made for the opposite. Read Zinn’s Twentieth Century and you will find poems. Which I mention to complicate the point, not discount it wholesale. I am not arguing for an elitist poetry of willfully detached poems from a solely “privileged” position. Though, who is the arbiter?
This undercurrent is, if prepositionally specific, a carrier for the social to the individual and a river in which we all swim, drink, become infected-cleansed, then die. It is what trails every “I” I write. This is what Adorno was counting on. That the internal struggles within the exemplary art and artist are affected by and of the stuff of socio-historical conflicts, and as such the poem is taking part qua part. That poetry can bear the whole, and that this has import in and of itself without insisting on a further function.
This seems to be so in his argument regardless of what we US career poets can be so consumed by -- numbers. The numbers, or lack, in the poetry audience. They are about the same as of the pot bangers in front of any given city hall or legislative building anywhere in the US (Madison aside). Is this correlative?
Is at last poetry no more than a vehicle for a “private sociality”? A medium in which an individual works through and from and of the individual (in a society of course and with social material) for a handful of others to experience that individual and thus themselves as also individual and individually social? All this in the comfort of an air conditioned coffee shop where we sit alone together?
To temper the matter, here is Jean-Luc Nancy’s reference to an idea of community from Marx. “Community means here [in Marx] the socially exposed particularity, in opposition to the socially imploded generality characteristic of capitalist community.” Poetry as the opposite of alienation from one’s labor.
On to the “I” as a site through which the current flows, a host. As I host the materials and issues of the whole, I am acknowledging a border. To disregard specificity is too limiting. In interpersonal relationships, in the foundation and development of the individual, an I will say no. I think there are more no’s in oppression than one might initially imagine. Otherwise, there is no one or thing oppressed. I do not say this lightly, callously, indifferently. I. Don’t. I also do not write this without an awareness of the problems postmodernism/post-structuralism raise(d) about the subject and individuation as cultural constructs and relational and possibly even fictional. The no is relational.
To say no is to acknowledge a door. If there is no door, there is nothing to open. Also, if I am incapable of no, I will widen the distance when possible between myself and Other. The no allows presence. If I can say no you are not I, I can face you. I do not need to obliterate you through disappearance (of self or of you as enacted upon you).
Which calls Lévinas’ alterity to mind. This is infinitely comforting.
"The Other precisely reveals himself in his alterity not in a shock negating the I, but as the primordial phenomenon of gentleness."
Is this to say that ethics are required of only those who are not in a struggle to survive? Of those who “can afford to be gentle”? No again.
And so, what poetry can or could or might do in this place of the I and the non-I and the in-between….poem qua poem and otherwise.
But first, I acknowledge you, dear stranger, and I endeavor not to make you an object of myself. Welcome.