A. Finkielkraut: Sure, but we’ve also seen what a politics that ignored the sentiment of the majority led to . . . So we have to take the excesses, the atrocities, and the madness of the twentieth century into account.
A. Badiou: Absolutely. But in what way do such excesses and madness detract from the
view that everything you cherish is completely corroded by capitalism and its inseparable partner, representative democracy?
A. Finkielkraut: What I cherish isn’t corroded by representative democracy but by the egalitarian dynamic that introduces democratic norms into areas where they have no business being, such as the family, education, and culture.
A. Badiou: But wait a second – the egalitarian dynamic isn’t the problem! We live in a totally oligarchical society.
The conversation below addresses the work of one of the major European poets of this century, Amelia Rosselli (1930–1996), whose writing has been brilliantly edited and translated by Jennifer Scappettone in Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose by Amelia Rosselli (U. Chicago, 2012)
As we stood
In the unreflective
Pall of the canvas
Neatly pocked by broken
The sickly sweet strokes
Of crap paint
Slapped across it,
I picked up Sacha
And asked him
If he thought it might be
A bit much,
The painting’s title?As we stood
The avant-garde, acting as a cultural tipping point, is mimetic of nature’s tendency to overspill its boundaries, to become something wholly other than itself. With complex systems’ contravention of entropy, nature violates its own initial motion, transitorily self-elaborating against the fact of its ineluctable heat-death. It is this ontological ripple, amplifying wavelike toward rupture, this against in nature that reappears in human culture under the sign of a furor once held to be “divine.”
For Dr Barbara Smith)
As if I never wake from this blackout again, again this minute they lay it out
on the wheeling transporter, so silent, then the surgical table,
my body, my citizen, anesthesiologists back from coffee break, cables
on mylar headrest taking my head down now, arms into armlock,
then positioners, restraints—day talk
all round—the guidewires in, the intravenous ports, the drip begun.
An/aesthesia by which is meant the sensation of having sensation blocked,
a collapse of response, a total lack of awareness of loss of
on the wall, snapshots of the chosen few training on
In 2014 you know it might be avant-garde if . . .
• A poet responds, “It doesn’t speak to me.”
• Another poet responds, “It’s not poetry.”
• A blogger writes, “It has no vision.”
• A reviewer writes, “Oh God, not this again?”
• A poet-critic says, “The Language Poets already did that, back in the 1970s.”
• A language-centered poet says, “We already did that, back in the 1970s, but we did it better.”
• An activist poet says, “It doesn’t try to break things or skywrite, like real poets did in the 1970s.”
• A leftist melancholic says, “My Marxist reading group would never take it seriously."
• A professor says, “It doesn’t fit existing theories of the avant-garde.”
• An authority on the avant-garde says, “I never wish to see it again.” Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition.
The fiction film Tokyo Sonata and the documentary chronicle The Forgotten Space proffer different versions of the global crisis story of destructive redistribution, assault on the public sector, declining prospects for “improvements” of normal consumer life, harsh working conditions, limitless privatization. Strained family ties in the first and intensifying exploitation in the iron triangle of global shipping in the second exhibit the return of “endless toil” in the era of global capital’s “triumph.” Cinematic narrative has long been the domain of petty-bourgeois egos, but the ongoing proletarianization at the heart of the neo-liberal class project has introduced an asubjective tale: des-embourgeoisment, or de-bourgeoisification in even uglier English. De-bourgeoisification is a story without exact historical analogue. In its wake there may be new political openings for collective forms of politics. Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s film The Forgotten Space holds out the prospects of this sort of political organization and development, seeking the workerist politics that could emerge from the internationally networked web of global transport.
In his 1991 book The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde, Paul Mann argues that all modes of discourse, including his own, are subject to recuperation by the very institutions and forces they oppose. Although criticized for what appeared to be his too-easy resignation to nihilism—the very charge made against deconstruction—Mann’s argument, however exorbitant, underscores the point made repeatedly not only by Derrida but also, as Robert Radin notes, by Barthes.
You may notice repetition; evidently I need that to continuously discern life force, here.
poor ghost – its tools – its host
of seven selves that rattle seamless
into dinner now. now grant the way.
it is remote – blue distance – remote
is blue or so
her credits run.
and so it is. and so it is done.
Beliza – Beliza
con atté sic – Beliza
Beliza – Beliza
a sigh and ahead – it is dusk
that continent dull – that endless
standing must be standing on
with eies. that form that seek
and of all these – of the soft and the free
– would make no pattern
“Avant-garde” activity, when exclusively, or even primarily, governed by precepts of formal novelty, is readily (will now rapidly be) domesticated and harmlessly disseminated as ethereal commodity by the dominant sphere; high-modernist “difficulty” has been, for a long time (since at least—it is a suggestive moment—the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom), in fluent accord with the High-Culture administrations of Capital.