THE POETICS OF VIOLENCE
A variant of this violence is telling your boss to fuck off, throwing that tantrum which gets you the sack, because you’re at breaking point and can’t take any more. More often than not, you don’t know it will happen, until it has started to happen, then you know there’s no turning back. This is how I see revolutions emerging, not planned by this or that party or group of conspirators, not premeditated, for no poem was ever premeditated, but breaking out when people suddenly decide “Enough is enough!”—an outbreak of ‘madness’ which leads back to sanity.
Things often happen in this way in response to crises in which people suddenly find themselves saying, “To hell with all this!” and one thing leads to another, then to another and before you know where you are, you have a full scale revolt on your hands. That is poetic and at this point we can begin to talk of a “poetics of violence”. The next question, however, “Where do we go to from here? How do we take enough advantage of this moment to keep ahead of the game and stop the oppressor regrouping?” may seem more prosaic, but in fact it is no more prosaic than completing a poem after the first flush of inspiration has faded. After all, one can no more continue and finish a poem without inspiration than one can begin it.
As one person at work, you can do nothing. You throw your tantrum, resolve your problem and experience catharsis. Then you are sacked. Ah well, you bargained for that in the first place. But nothing has changed, not for you in the long run, apart from the acquisition of a feel-good factor, which is not nothing, and may last you the rest of your life. But the next day you must go out and look for work where the same conditions prevail. The cycle itself cannot be broken, because you are one person against a whole system of bosses and subordinates such as yourself. The same is true of riots. You teach the forces of law and order a lesson or two and the feel-good factor of those who took to the streets is superb. You feel like celebrating; you have put the fuzz in its place, but again, at the end of the day, the system that grinds you down is intact. Only one thing can end it - though no-one talks of such things these days - and that is a revolution.
But was it not Danton who said: “The revolution which stops half-way is doomed to be soon defeated.”? So, you must be prepared to carry that revolution through to its logical conclusion and organise yourselves in such a way as to thwart the other’s reactions. All this is only part of a process already begun when you decided to rebel in the first place. But now is the hard bit. The hard bit in writing a poem is not the beginning, but the middle and especially the ending. Sometimes, poems are still born because no matter how well you think you’ve begun, no matter how auspicious your start, you suddenly stall and can no longer go forward to finish the poem. You “stop halfway”, and so are “doomed to be soon defeated”. You give up in frustration, but you always know that another day another poem will emerge.
One thing is important to remember. When you begin a poem, you do not know how it will end; you are going from word to word, phrase to phrase, line to line, sentence to sentence. The ‘whole’ is only finally seen in retrospect, once the poem is written. In a revolution, you can have no idea, once you’ve begun it, how it will end up. There is a hiatus, a lacuna at the heart of our conception as to just what exactly we want to accomplish when we begin it. There is no programme or plan, only actions responding to situations which are “of the moment”. If we think to situations ahead, we see them as bridges to cross when we come to them. All actions in a revolution are essentially provisional, semi-directed contingency actions, in response to the way the other side acts. The potentialities of a people during a revolution are infinitely open-ended. Likewise with poetry; it is only when a poem has been written that we will ever know what it will look like.
The working-class has only one function in a revolution—to take over the places of work and run them for itself as a class. That is to say, to end its own slavery. It is not to become a new ruling-class. That would be a disaster. Its ‘rule’ should be confined to the economic sphere. The political sphere should just disappear. A poem likewise has it own economy of dynamic self-organisation, but it creates no equivalent to a political space. The poet may produce the poem but that doesn’t mean that he or she is in any way sovereign. Poems have their own agendas which are working themselves out in the act of poets writing them, irrespective of their original intentions.
So, just as a poem catches us unawares and then imposes itself on us and not the other way around, poetic violence does so as well. It is, and can be, no more premeditated than a poem. Once premeditation enters the equation of violence, it has stopped being poetic.
In 1968, 10 million French workers staged the biggest wildcat strike in history, one which brought France to the verge of revolution. There were causes, of course, connected to wages and conditions, and there was also the background of student unrest, but the thing about it was that nobody could have predicted it, not even the workers themselves. It emerged as if from out of the blue, like the sudden birth of a universe - or poem.