Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Which Side Are You On? [13.]

       The gravediggers are at it
                till Love is history.

      The dream ached
            for fresher air but
                    it just doesn't happen.

Cold fingers,

ferreting about.

Some are pointing

way past the tidy trees.

       Everyone will be

            all warm under the soil  
                   when the due date comes.

      And the pages float from the hands:
        ash paper, ash.

                 She asks,
             Was reason ever in revolt?


  1. gravediggers, tidy trees and reason in revolt. Nice collection of images woven together.

  2. Thank you, Jonathan.

    The gravediggers came first; everything else was a long while coming.

  3. I had meant to put this note in earlier but it slipped my mind.

    This piece turns around the following line from the Communist Manifesto:
    "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers".

  4. Let's face it, reason has always been revolting, never more so than when in revolt from itself.

    But now? Where is reason? Is it in the codes? Is it in a Smartphone app? Has it fallen asleep in the Seven Sleepers Den, not to awaken for 300 years? Will the sea levels have risen far enough by then to drown out all foolish pretence of rationality? Will the rational few have just jumped in the car to pick up something (never matters what) at the "free market"? And driven off the fiscal cliff?

    This bit --

    Some are pointing
    way past the tidy trees.

    -- put me in mind of Trotsky's speech in Copenhagen: "The new phase is not a stable one... to see far it is best to stand on the roof of a skyscraper".

    Rewriting that now, perhaps "to stand on" might better be amended to "jump off".

    The more "objective", "rational" view, beyond all self-interest.

    (Alas, few who have enjoyed that view -- falling, falling, falling -- have returned to share its revelations.)

  5. There is an intriguing version of this history -- that is, the history of what occurred before the end of history -- that suggests the best was over before the rest began... and the rest was downhill all the way. Falling into nothingness, like the ashen pages from the hands.

    (I believe this is your "overarching subject" with this series, or have I got that wrong?)

    Trotsky's formidable tactical skills having been erased in the Soviet version of the history by the predominance of the theoretical/strategic role of Lenin.

    (And to be honest, have not theory and strategy always been twin loads of shite, never more so than at this moment, in the post-historical, all but entirely theoretical present?)

    Curzio Malaparte: The Bolshevik Coup d'Etat and Trotsky's Tactics of Insurrection, 1917

    "We cannot enter here into the Stalin-Lenin controversy on the subject of the 'permanent revolution' and of the part played by Trotsky in the coup d’état of October 1917. Stalin denies that Trotsky organized it: he claims that merit for the Commission on which Sverdlov, Stalin, Boubrov, Ouritzki, and Dzerjinski sat. The Commission, to which neither Lenin nor Trotsky belonged, was an integral part of the Revolutionary Military Committee presided over by Trotsky. But Stalin’s controversy with the upholder of the theory of the 'permanent revolution' cannot alter the history of the October insurrection, which, according to Lenin’s statement, was organized and directed by Trotsky. Lenin was the 'strategus', idealist, inspirer, the deus ex machina of the revolution, but the man who invented the technique of the Bolshevik coup d’état was Trotsky.

    . . .

    "Dybenko brought the news that Antonov Ovseienko’s Red Guards had broken into the Winter Palace, that Kerenski’s Ministers were the prisoners of the Bolsheviks, and that the Government had fallen. 'At last!' cried Lenin. 'You are twenty-four hours late,' answered Trotsky. Lenin took his wig off and passed his hand across his forehead. (H. G. Wells once said of Lenin that his skull was the same shape as that of Lord Balfour.) 'Come on,' said Lenin, walking into the Congress Hall. Trotsky followed in silence. He looked tired and a kind of drowsiness dimmed his steely eyes. Lunacharski declares that Trotsky, during the insurrection, reminded him of a Leyden jar. But now the Government had fallen, Lenin took his wig off, as one lays down a mask. The coup d’état was Trotsky’s feat. The man who profited by it, the Chief and the Dictator, was Lenin."

    BTW, WB, must confess that after a dozen readings I am still scratching my ancient broken head over the role, if not the identity (which probably isn't germane in any case -- ?), of the "She", here. "Love" being of course always a private matter really. And history, not so much, really. But the relation between the history and the dream and the cold fingers, that does elude. Not that dwelling in uncertainties, doubts & c. is a bad thing, but still, that itch one can't ever scratch -- the rational. But perhaps my whole reading here is overly influence by the drift of the series. Enforced by "reason in revolt" -- that contemporary book title. (See parenthetical second graph above)

  6. Thank you for your response, TC. These have been tough poems to write. It feels as if they can stand on their own misshapen feet now you’ve given them a nod of recognition (though God help them they’re an ugly bunch of kids).

    The Trotsky link is immensely helpful. History not so much as past but as situation - the place to think from. That there were coordinates for the view worth having – there’s a strange comfort in that. I don’t forget the kind of ruthless bastard he was (Babel’s Red Cavalry stories are a sideways testament to this). Nevertheless, he looked critically and unashamedly at the world. I’m not sure whose skyscrapers we should be falling from these days.

    You are right: this whole series is about the loss of a (way of being in) history. We told ourselves in the UK that the Miners’ Strike was the last chapter but I think things were finished long before. I still think the choice was always (and still is) socialisme ou barbarie: the great fear is that the decision has long since been made.

    I’m trying hard (and I don’t think I’m much closer to the heart of the matter) to understand what all this means for this particular human subject. So much is unresolved. While I hope I’m frank about some of the illusions I struggle with, the tethers, the allegiances, won’t be done away with entirely. I still come over all dewy eyed at the Internationale, even if I don’t like myself for doing so.

    Hope does flit about the corners of this whole run of poems. This isn’t just some embroidered white flag. However, Hope is too hard to grasp. We are, I think, done in.

    I’m not sure I can give adequate responses to all of your closing questions but I’ll say a little more about what was going through the head:

    The she is a she as the question has to come from the forgotten corner of the room.

    That dream: I’m not entirely sure how I came to this personification. It seemed the apt form of subject, desire taking up a shape, to posit with all that falling soil. A poor old figure, set against the prison logic of history as the realised. You could almost substitute the word “ghost”.

    The cold fingers are having a go at some kind of excavation, another way of doing history. To my mind the business is childlike, close to frantic. To sift through the ruins for an amenable truth as Trotsky’s fingers point past the limits of the memorial garden.

    I wasn't entirely clear about how these figures stood in relation to each other but I knew they had to stand there.

    The whole poem has undergone a great many changes over the last eight months or so. I chose to leave off work from it while the thing was still twitching

    The Malaparte, with Lenin’s wig slipping, is wonderful.