We work too hard.
We’re too tired
To fall in love.
Therefore we must
Overthrow the government.
                 - Rod Smith



Theory of Social Semiotics

The social fabric—call it a text—is composed of material elements with immaterial characteristics.  

Poetry’s network within the social text consists of poetry books, journals, presses, reading series, websites, and educational institutions, and also poetry-concerned people, such as poets, critics, and readers.  The immaterial characteristics of these elements include political and aesthetic concerns, histories, and economic positions.  The dialectics of the network are how sub-networks and therefore the network as a whole develop.  It is how, for instance, a poet writing a Marxist-concerned poetry may influence other poets and the development of journals interested in such work, which may reciprocally influence the poet’s work and the development of reading series interested in such work, and so on, all of which form the semiotic conditions for each element’s meaning by being of each other’s constellations.

The Politics of Poetry at Present

The diverse network of poetry at present contains sub-networks significantly interested in radical politics.  These sub-networks have produced the occasional militant activist, and meaning produced by poetry’s network has occasionally surprisingly aided the manifestation of militancy outside of poetry’s network.  The present state of poetry leaves much to entropy in cultivating militancy.  The present state of the social text, with its political climate of the post-2008 market crash’s systemic re-exposure of capitalism’s brutality at the level of everyday life and resultant re-ignition of political imagination and praxis for the efficacy of activism, calls for a greater insistence on poetry to contribute to militancy.  By militancy, I mean activism that thinks toward the furthest limits in challenging the social text for the emancipation of humanity in its entirety, and executes actions as necessary toward this goal, often requiring strikes, occupations, and riots.  If elements of poetry posture to be concerned with politics at all, they need to contribute to thinking and acting toward the furthest limits or they are useless at best and reactionary at worst.

What makes poetry’s present network’s production of militancy so rare?  The diversity of poetry’s network contains many sub-networks of zero, weak, or negative utility to militancy.  Poetry’s diversity produces an array of pleasures to be consumed, but that array is in-sync with society’s proffered array of acceptable commodified pleasures, and therefore diversity’s pleasures are a barrier to militancy, which operates on a terrain far exceeding acceptable behavior.  In sub-networks with interests in radical politics, the diluting plurality of criteria valorizing poetry’s elements makes concentrations of militancy difficult.

From Deficiency to Militancy

Poetry’s decrepit political culture at present and the social text’s excess of distractions make it unrealistic for poetry to achieve that messianic dream of revolutionizing the masses with a profound utterance.  Poets must become militants themselves.  The poet as militant’s constellation includes activist networks, which can encompass the totality of the social text, for instance, activism contesting global capitalism.  The meaning and social character of the poet is produced from and diffused into his or her constellation of poetry and activist elements.  The poet as militant becomes a semiotic scaffold for his or her poems and the active demonstrator and valorizer of their practical political utility, enabling the irruption of poems’ meaningful political utility into activist networks and further cultivation of militancy in poetry’s network.

Given the relation between the immanence of immaterial characteristics of a militant action, being a severe break with acceptable behavior, and the conservatism of the mass media as an ideological state apparatus, the mass media can be expected to slander militancy.  Considering the circuits of the constellation through which meanings will irrupt can provide some guidance on the immanent construction of a particular militant action.  The unusualness of poems and the social character of the very figure of the poet can potentially contribute some resistant intransigence as the militant action irrupts meaning through the mass media’s heavily ideologically mediated circuits.

Militant Poetics

With the poet’s militancy as valorizer of the meaningful political utility of the poet’s poems in mind, what operations of poems might be useful for militancy?

  •  Criticism of relations of elements to be contested or developed.

  •  Deployment of calls to action, didacticism, rhetoric, and statements of ideological contestation or development, which is only compelling and effective if the relations in networks are sufficiently criticized.

  •  Provision of arsenals of theory and experience to form a saturated structure from which to issue attacks.

“Annihilate the Right.”  “Reference criticized equally.”

All of these operations should be in the service of expanding the imagination for and sharpening the efficacy of militancy.  As the social text constantly develops, avant-garde techniques are important for their novel utilities in engaging the text.  “Poetry is not Enough.”  Like communism, only with militancy can poetry be a hammer with which to crush the enemy.

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