It was a delight to work with him on his most recent collection, The Orchid Boat, and to see the attention it has been receiving. It was something Lee could appreciate too; earlier this year, he described being shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize as "warming and encouraging for this scribe".
Harwood’s poems are carried across many horizons by his lightness of touch: it’s like the lightness of the hollow bones in a bird’s skeleton, which are nevertheless substantial enough to carry it long distances. Harwood zooms in and out, from the intimate and immediate to more distantly viewed landscapes and panoramas involving dream, memory, historical incident, all of which freely, and somehow effortlessly, intermingle. His poetry, Iain Sinclair once suggested, resembles ‘floating translucent landscape (much of it out there underwater, a distance we can’t quite reach)’.
– from 'On Lee Harwood', August Kleinzahler, London Review of Books, 9 April 2015
Centuries ago the sages plod up the ivory mountain,
up rock–cut steps, past battered pines,
to the summit shrine to pay their respects,
mist in the valley below, a soft breeze.
Later, I – no sage – reach a summit cairn,
add a stone here for you, Paul,
as ravens glide by, two buzzards circle,
and a flock of goats clatters across the scree below.
Whether the T’ien-t’ai Mountains
or the rough world of the Rhinog,
what the Italian poet called ‘the immensity’?
or at least a peace – the sun slowly setting –
far away from that bitter taste.
Smoke drifting from a giant incense burner
carried by four grimacing demons,
pride and anger in their hearts. (Bronze, 19th century.)
The dowager empress sharpening her nails
while in the kitchens the workers scurry around,
maybe laughing quietly, and in remote fields
villagers hoe and plant, haul heavy loads.
On a street corner, as crowds flow by,
‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing in particular.’
A few more years to go. But then suddenly
that music plays, lifts me to I know not where.
So where’s the boat?
A sampan or a lugger?
or an elegant steam launch?
Is there room for me and that crew of sages?
Zig-zag around, as usual.
What’s to be seen in the old woman’s curio cabinet?
Ivory carvings, plates, cups, and a blue glass sugar-shaker.
We just don’t know the full story.
On the vast beach at Harlech
scattered with tellin shells and razor-shells,
dunes topped with marram grass behind me
and the dark blue grey mountains behind them,
and the flat silk sea spreads out in front of me,
over and far beyond the horizon.
Travel safely, Lee.
–Lauren Berlant, GLQ 21: 1 (2015)
Feral Feminisms – CFP Issue 6 – Feral Theory // Deadline 15 October 2015
Feral Feminisms, a new independent, inter-media, peer reviewed, open access online journal, invites submissions from artists, activists, and scholars for a special issue entitled, Feral Theory, guest edited by Chloë Taylor and Kelly Struthers Montford. This issue of Feral Feminisms seeks writings that explore the feral from feminist, critical animal, queer, environmental, critical disability, critical race, anti-colonial, intersectional, interlocking, and mongrelized perspectives. Submitted contributions may include full-length academic essays (about 5000 – 7000 words), shorter creative pieces, cultural commentaries, or personal narratives (about 500 – 2500 words), poetry, photo-essays, short films/video (uploaded to Vimeo), visual and sound art (jpeg Max 1MB), or a combination of these. Please direct inquiries and submissions to Guest Editors Chloë Taylor (chloe.taylor[at]ualberta[dot]ca) and Kelly Struthers Montford (kstruthe[at]ualberta[dot]ca).
One way in which women have been oppressed has been through their relegation to the domestic sphere and through their domestic labour, and so it makes sense to consider women domesticated rather than feral animals. Indeed, in classic works such as “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex” and “In and Out of Harm’s Way: Arrogance and Love,” radical feminist theorists Gayle Rubin and Marilyn Frye describe gendering as domestication. More recently, in “After Alice, After Cats,” Jessica Polish notes that, for Kant, women were originally and quite literally domesticated animals for men; for example, Polish argues that women may have been men’s first domesticated animals. Kant writes that woman was initially a mule, “loaded down with his [man’s] household belongings,” and later, with the development of polygamous marriage, became more like a dog in man’s harem—or, as Kant puts it, “kennel.” Polish argues that, for Kant, it was only with the domestication of non-human animals that monogamous marriage or “civilized,” intra-human relations become possible between the sexes. If, following Rubin, Frye, and Polish, to become women was to be domesticated, it would seem that undoing gender, to borrow Judith Butler’s phrase, would mean going feral. Monique Wittig long ago described lesbians as “escapees” from gender. Wittig’s renegade lesbian is no longer a woman; like the avian inmate who flees the farm, or the dog who joins the wolves, she has gone feral.
The feral has also been theorized within Critical Animal Studies. In Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka criticize animal ethicists for focusing exclusively on domesticated and wild animals, ignoring the billions of “liminal” animals who live within human communities without being of those communities or directly subjected to human control. For Donaldson and Kymlicka, liminal animals are in different political relations to humans than domesticated and wild animals, and a different set of moral obligations to these animals is entailed by these relations. Although Donaldson and Kymlicka’s theory is important because it draws the attention of critical animal theorists to a previously ignored category of animal, they arguably subsume ferality into existing neoliberal society in a way that evacuates the feral of its political potential. A more radical approach to thinking the feral within Critical Animal Studies would not domesticate the feral into existing human political categories, but would begin with these liminal animals in order to feralize political theory. In “Taming Ourselves or Going Feral: Toward a Nonpatriarchal Metaethic of Animal Liberation,” for instance, Brian Luke takes up the feminist association of patriarchy with domestication to argue that a nonpatriarchal approach to animal liberation would entail such a feralization of thought.
Queer theorist Jack Halberstam has recently argued that the term “queer” has been domesticated, or is being used interchangeably with ‘gay’ to describe homonormalizing political agendas. For Halberstam, we thus need a new term to do the work that “queer” once did, and he proposes “going wild.” Halberstam argues in Gaga Feminism that we are living in a time of chaos, where the meanings of once stable phenomena such as gender and marriage have become definitionally unstable—things are “going gaga” or “crazy.” Rather than resisting this moment of instability and trying to put definitions back in place, Halberstam argues that now should be a time of (queer) anarchy or “wildness.” Halberstam sees this argument for wildness as building on his earlier argument for embracing failure in The Queer Art of Failure, which takes as its exemplars animated revolting chickens, the anarchic bodies of children, and the failed femininity of butch lesbians. Contra Halberstam, however, “going feral” better describes the situation of moving to a less tamed or untamed state after (failed) domestication, whereas, just as there is no “outside of power” for Foucault, there is arguably no possibility of “going wild.” What we need, then, we suggest, is not so much a rewilding of queer theory as its feralization.
At the same time, this issue seeks to explore the racist, ableist, and class-bound implications of elaborating a theory of the feral. While feral is a provocative concept for thinking a rewilding of queer and feminist theories, it is also a term that has been wielded against marginalized bodies and populations. We thus solicit reflections on the manners in which disabled subjects are seen as feral or out of control, and the ways in which these bodies are domesticated, sequestered, expected to be “patients” and to remain at (or in a) home. We invite speculations on the ways that indigenous peoples and bodies are framed as feral or “savage,” and are expected to be domesticated within the reconciliatory ethos of settler colonialism. We are also interested in exploring the racist routes that ferality traverses—historically, politically, and theoretically.
In the spirit of auto-critique, this special issue also invites challenges to our appropriation of the feral as potentially reflecting white privilege. Does our very willingness to celebrate the feral and to propose ferality reflect racial privilege? Although women, including white women, have been viewed as less than fully human and have been associated with animals, the history of animalizing people of colour of both sexes has arguably been even more brutal. Might it be that we are willing to invite identifications with the feral and cultivations of a feral feminism—despite their strong connotations of animality—because we are not among those people who have been denigrated as beastly, savage, primitive, and uncivilized with the most oppressive effects?
Turning to environmental theory, feminist philosophers such as Claire Colebrook and Joanna Zylinska have begun to grapple with what feminist theory and ethics, respectively, should look like in the Anthropocene. Essayists such as George Monbiot encourage rewilding as a way to reconnect with nature and, in turn, our sense of wonder and enchantment with Earth. As we come to terms with the apparent inevitability of ecological catastrophe and mass human die-outs, is it helpful to theorize the feral as an antecedent to learning to live ferally?
While feminist theorists debate the relative advantages of intersectionalism versus interlocking oppressions as models for understanding how different forms of oppression and the subjectivities they produce coalesce and interact, this issue proposes promiscuous matings of theory as a mark of the feral. Far from domesticated pure-breds whose reproduction is constrained by pre-given agendas, ferals interact with each other as they choose and at the moment, producing mongrels. In developing a feral theory, we thus also call for a mongrelization of thought.
We welcome submissions that take up any of the above ideas or explore ferality and feral animals in other ways. Topics and questions may include, but are not limited to:
• crip, queer, and anti-colonial appropriations of the feral;
• critical animal studies reflections on feral animals;
• critical race reflections on ferality, mongrel animals and mongrelized theory;
• feminist, critical animal studies, queer, crip and critical race critiques of sex, gender, normalization and colonization as domestication;
• reflections on the potential of queer theory going feral versus going wild;
• Anthropocene feminist perspectives on the feral future of humans.
The best way to introduce the Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo is not to. They do it best themselves. From “The Gold Star Awards,” a poem / message / award show that appeared on the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, this past April:
GOLD STAR FOR READING ONE BOOK BY A BLACK POET AND POSTING ABOUT IT ONE TIME ON FACEBOOK GOLD STAR
GOLD STAR FOR FEELING “MOVED” BY CLAUDIA RANKINE’SCITIZEN BUT BEING MOVED TO DO NOTHING IN AN ACTUALITY THAT MIGHT IMPACT YOU. GOLD STAR!
GOLD STAR FOR IDENTIFYING YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE BUT REFUSING TO GIVE IT UP–INABILITY TO CONCEIVE OF LIFE WITHOUT WHITE PRIVILEGE POLICE SMILES. IDENTIFICATION WITHOUT ABOLITION EQUALS MINUS TWO STARS. MOVED TO GOLD STAR RESERVE!
GOLD STAR FOR GOOD POLITICS WELL-SAID. YEY! GOLD STAR! JUST KIDDING NO GOLD STAR FOR LITERACY AND RHETORICAL SKILLS. HAR HAR!
GOLD STAR FOR READING THAT ONE BLACK WRITER IN HIGH SCHOOL MAYA ANGELOU TONI MORRISON OR RALPH ELLISON WHICH ONE WAS IT????
GOLD STAR FOR BELIEVING TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS THE NOVEL ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND MASTURBATING TO THE FANTASY OF WHITE SAVIOR ATTICUS FINCH
GOLD STAR FOR NEVER CHALLENGING YOUR RACIST PARENTS AND RELATIVES DUE TO FEARS OF GETTING FINANCIALLY CUT OFF SO YOU CAN’T GO TO ART OR MFA SKOOL AND/OR GOLD STAR FOR USING YOUR RACIST GRANDPARENTS AS EXAMPLES OF WHY POCS SHOULD SELF POLICE TONE
GOLD STAR FOR IDENTIFYING YOUR WHITE CIS HETERO PRIVILEGE. MINUS ALL THE STARS FOR NOT SELF-ABOLISHING. GO AWAY! YEY!
GOLD STAR FOR THE UNIVERSAL LOVE OF THE UNIVERSAL AKA THE SOUL OF WHITE FOLK
“To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition,” writes poet Cathy Park Hong in her November 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde.” The piece proved especially prescient (though it already described a pre-existing and longstanding reality), when the following spring American poetry became embroiled in heated conversations about race and representation. First, conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith read aloud a poem called “The Body of Michael Brown,” which, like much of Goldsmith’s work, took a pre-existing text and remixed it. In this case, the remixed text was the autopsy report of Michael Brown, and the poem ended on an out-of-context (and so entirely deliberate) line: “The remaining male genitalia system is unremarkable.” Second, over two thousand people signed a petition asking the Association of Writers & Writing Programs to remove Vanessa Place—who has for years been tweeting excerpts of the poisonously racist novel, Gone with the Wind, on a personal Twitter account that featured Hattie McDaniel in her role as Mammy as her profile picture and a racist caricature of a black woman as her background—from the 2016 Los Angeles Conference Subcommittee, a group which decides what panels are accepted to present at the upcoming writers conference.
Active in both of these conversations—much of which haven taken place in online literary spaces (Twitter, Facebook)—has been the Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo (MCAG). (Gringpo, to do some white-splaining, is a play on the portmanteau of Conpo, or conceptual poetry: a subgenre that, like conceptual art, privileges the thought behind a work over the physical reality of the work itself. Gringpo names the whiteness/gringo-ness that is the core of this kind of poetry.) MCAG’s goals, among others, are to “dismantle white supremacy,” “kill patriarchy,” “end homonationalist imperialist politics,” and “live.”
Theirs is far from the only voice in these conversations or the only one representing this set of viewpoints. (After all, over 2,000 people found issue with Vanessa Place’s position of authority within the AWP conference planning.) But their words, electrifying and pugnacious, have reverberated. Nearly every discussion of Place’s removal from the AWP subcommittee mentions the MCAG in particular, and many descriptions of the group are tinged with a kind of hysteria (especially in pieces by white writers), which liken the group to ideological shock troops enforcing a hegemony more restrictive, and so worse, than the crappy (heteropatriarchal and white supremacist) set up we have already.
Or put more simply, many considerations of the MCAG support the bankrupt notion that it is worse to be called a racist then to do racist things. “Racism is a serious charge,” white academic Kim Calder writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, wagging a finger at those who would call Vanessa Place’s work racist. Calder admits that Place “has disseminated racist material,” but also argues that it doesn’t mean “she is racist.” This kind of hair splitting comes from a false division (much loved by floundering white people) between racist intent and racist acts. With this framework in place, Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith can broadcast (and profit from!) all kinds of racist language and imagery that actually hurt people of color, but because they don’t mean it in that way, because they aren’t racist on the inside, then their acts—though tangibly destructive—are free from the “serious charge” of racism. With this framework in place, white people can do just about anything they want (and frankly they can anyway) because they can say at the end of the day: “I’m not a racist.”
Ultimately, it’s hard for me to think of many things more racist—which is to say, hurtful to people of color in a way specific to their race—than the dissemination of racist material. There are other and better ways of interrogating how race operates in this country. If you, as a white artist, are creating works that cause further pain to people of color, you are just straight up doing it wrong. Instead of challenging the system, you have reaffirmed it.
The MCAG does this—calling people out—better than anyone I know. They are smart and brave and funny and forthright. They are persistent, they are loud as fuck, they fight. In this light, it’s less surprising so many white people fear them.
In her piece, Calder quotes art historian Claire Bishop: “without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order — a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.” She sees in the recent outcries against these two conceptual poets this “authoritarian order,” but, puzzling, the authorities are not the white artists creating art that cavalierly hurts people of color, art that reaffirms a status quo has been carefully maintained since before this country was born—but the very voices who challenge them. “The Mongrel Coalition’s tactics seem to fit well with the notion of this ‘imposed consensus,’” she writes. “The left, too, has its authoritarian orders.”
Again, Cathy Park Hong’s essay answers this charge months before Calder made it. “Oddly,” Hong writes in Lana Turner, in the eyes of many white academics and artists “the hegemony has become the nameless hordes of ‘African Americans, other minorities, and post-colonials’ while ‘us,’ those victimized students who are searching for endangered ‘true’ literature (read as ‘white’) are the outliers.” This repositioning of any marginalized voice as the “real” power is Oppression 101. Even the MCAG, in a June 16 Facebook post, confessed to how “exhausting” they found having “to defend our protest.”
I spoke with the MCAG via email about the work they do and how they do it. What they had to say is pretty spectacular.
1. Who is the MCAG?
We refuse to bear names. In your search for names you will find all our refusals, nameless skewed answers to the wrong questions. We’ve waited like volcanos inside literatures obliterated by the center. We erupt for the wrong god, flow in the wrong garb, flail for the wrong orb. Armed only with mongrel prayers, we wrest ourselves out of your lies and miseducation.
We rage within and outside of multiple histories but find common ground in an invisibility that precedes our first encounters. Invisibility is not the impossibility of visibilization. It’s optical warfare—a way of becoming visible on our terms.
2. How many make up the Coalition?
547: approximate # of people killed by the U.S. police since January 1
1898: the year the U.S. buys some prime farmable real-estate in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines for 20 million dollars
505: the combined age of the Charleston church shooting victims
600: families, mostly mothers and children, currently held in immigrant detention centers
2000: Black churches burned down since 1995
2 million: The number of people deported under Obama’s tenure
14: the number of transwomen murdered since January 1
670: number of people executed in Iran in 2011
20,000: signatures gathered to keep Reyhaneh Jabbari from being executed
13: years Abu Zubaydah has been detained
17: the number of times Serena Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova
3. How was the MCAG formed? When was it formed? Tell me about your history!
Duplicates who bypass state intervention, blessed by the hurricane. An English garden interrupted our path until we proved too cunning, too damaged for linearity.
The shards of a bottle, edges smoothed by the ocean. Glass swaddled by Yemayá and Mami Wata. Trash before the water and glistening wreckage after the storm.
4. Where are you located? Do you meet up in person? How do you communicate with each other?
Twenty-six of us meet in person and recognize each other only with a wink. We covertly enter the same whited-out barfyawnzone and pretend we haven’t checked out another mongrel. We recognize a mongrel we’ve never met, a potential mean girl, a comrade in rage in a hopeless place. According to some, we use drone technology; according to others, we have a franquist army and communicate via armed repression; according to a few others, we communicate verbally in sparking hide-outs amid the crevices.
Mongrels growl in a common language. Sometimes it’s more like parthenogenesis, mini mongrel clones. We howl across mediums, blasting all the gold we touch into glitch raving mongrel docs!!!!
5. What about poetry is important to you? As a group? As individuals?
Yo llegué a la revolución por vía de la poesía.
Tú podrás llegar (si lo deseas, si sientes que lo necesitas) a la
poesía por la vía de la revolución. Tienes por lo tanto una ventaja.
Pero recuerda, si es que alguna vez hubiese un motivo especial
para que te alegre mi compañía en la lucha, que en algo hay que
agradecérselo también a la poesía.
– Roque Dalton
I arrived at the revolution via poetry.
You can arrive (if you so desire, if you feel the need) at
poetry via the revolution. You therefore have an advantage.
But remember, if you ever find any special reason
to take pleasure in my company during the revolutionary struggle,
to some extent you’d also have to thank poetry.
– Roque Dalton
6. How do you define gringpo? How do you define mongrel?
mongrelsploitation: the reproduction of pleasure that results from the commodification of the radical potentia guadendi nonconsensually extracted from MCAG documents and shine. usually enacted by white conceptualists who have zero imagination.
gringpo: a gringo poetry jawn, or gringo popo. an enlightened daddy. an objectifier. a reason-ridden, discoursed-out, cautiously entitled, “post-naive,” appropriation-ready, let’s consider, high-art peddling, son of a sun-metaphor, irony-induced, snarkpedant. an eternally grateful, diversity-obsessed, multiculturally-driven, executive ceo on the board of the poetry inc. foundation for the illumination of the globe. un pendejo que se creo que tiene palabras doradas porque ha comprado dientes de oro. a straight-time enforcer. a white hustler, hustling rip-off originals, poc products bought and resold for $$$$$$$.
mongrelization: theft in love, history 2, history 3, history 0, holding your kin speaking to her in your language; jigsawed lingering interstitial identifications; myth-taking changería of getting to change hands, destroying tools dismantling their name towards decolonization.
mongrel: a cannibal bent on eating the ice-wormy hearts of gringpos under the post-mercury retrograde full moon
7. What makes you excited about the future of poetry? Of the literary world? (Orwho gets you excited?)
There are so many excited writers who get us excited. Cathy Park Hong’s Delusions of Whiteness. We’ve collaborated with a few such as Sade Murphy on her Lonely Britches post, Jennifer Tamayo who has made some lovely drawings and given us a space on her Poetry Foundation posts, Lucas de Lima a message bearer on Montevidayo and kween of lyric power bottoms
OTHER KWEENS WE LUV:
M. NourbeSe Philip
Don Mee Choi
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Latasha N. Nevada Diggs
Black Took Collective
Feng Sun Chen
Raquel Salas Rivera
Craig Santos Perez
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Vanessa Angelica Villarreal
The Dark Noise Collective
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Jay Santa Cruz
Suzi F. Garcia
hope you’re buying THEM—let Jos Charles kick yo ass!
this list is longer and we keep reading. we’ll continue adding to it <3
*Nota: AGAINST POC WHO ALIGN WITH WHITENESS TO GAIN AND EXERT POWER. AGAINST POC WHO FLAUNT THEIR OTHERNESS AS CAREERIST CAPITAL, BUT REFUSE TO ENGAGE IN THE “DRAMA” OF FIGHTING WHITE SUPREMACY. AGAINST POC WHO PLAY THE GAME AND ARE THEREFORE COMPLICIT. AGAINST POC WHO SELF-SILENCE/SILENCE OTHER’S RAGE AND MOURNING.
8. What are the MCAG’s aesthetics?
In the Caribbean, the conquistadores would often attribute Taíno rebellions to Caribs, something akin to claiming that every time there is a protest it is started by “outside agitators.” The Taínos were depicted as good and subservient and the Caribs were depicted as aggressive, barbarous, and cruel. eyeroll eyeroll eyeroll
No buildings were burnt, no people were beaten, no hearts chewed up.
A group of POC showing they were fucking tired of the racism and colonialism of U.S. imperialist poetics in all caps is more threatening to a white avant-garde than the police, white supremacist groups, the U.S. military, and years of racist art towers.
—“Fascinating and repulsive”
—cannibals ravishing gringpos <3
9. What are your long and short terms goals as a group? What is MCAG’s proudest accomplishment?
A lot of people ask us what our “goals” are as if we had a little sticky note on our fridge with a list of things to do this lifetime. That’s kinda cute to imagine:
1) KILL CONCEPTUALISM
2) DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY
4) BUY EGGS
5) PAY RENT
6) CREATE SPACES FOR MONGREL POETIX
7) ORGANIZE MONGREL BBQ
8) SEND EMAILS AND KILL PATRIARCHY
9) FOREVER END HOMONATIONALIST IMPERIALIST PROJECTS
10) MAKE THOSE BITCHES EAT IT
11) BRAID EACH OTHER’S HAIR AND PAINT EACH OTHER’S NAILS
13) WERQ, PROTEST, WERK, REFUSE WORK, FIGHT.
14) LOVE SELF
As for our proudest accomplishment: we can only take partial credit for anything. We do, after all, have friends in low places. ;)
10. I’m reminded a little of the Guerilla Girls when I look at the kind of work you do and how you accomplish it. How do you feel about them? Who are your predecessors?
There are similarities, but we reject white feminism and the Guerilla Girls tend to be very white. We’ve also been compared to the Riot Grrrls. We were recently called MascPo by a critic who claimed we were “masculinist” which is hilarious cuz we have been pretty explicit: FUCK THE PATRIARCHY, FUCK MACHISMO, FUCK RAPE CULTURE FUCK PROTECTING RAPE CULTURE FUCK MISOGYNY FUCK NORMATIVE MASCULINITY ERASE THAT BULLSHIT.
“MASCPO BITCHES IN ARMS”
We are linked to a constellation of predecessors, some present in this world, some out there in other worlds, some are writers and some are just kissable dears.
11. What do you think MCAG can accomplish as an anonymous group that a named individual cannot? What sort of work do you do as individuals that help the goals of MCAG / ending white supremacy & the heteropatriarchy?
Our invisibility is ours to deploy how we see fit. It’s our basic right to name or not name ourselves and disavow the colonial signs conferred on us by our masters.
As POC we are often already erased as subjects and hypervisibilized as bodies for consumption, but the pretense of inclusion is one that further obliterates by claiming we’re all equally canonized. By avowing our erasure as grounds for transformation, we’ve become visible in ways that were not possible before. [Of course, this is problematic because it was, in part, our attack of white gatekeepers that led to recognition. If we’d only addressed POC who were excluded, white people wouldn’t give a shit. This shows the extent to which they’re centered in their whiteness.] To have no access to our identities is disarming for most white folks. To not be able to attack or discredit us personally breeds a sense of powerlessness. Not that they haven’t targeted our supporters, played police and tried to guess our names repeatedly, but (NEWSFLASH) to this day they’ve failed to identify us. Additionally, the irony of conceptual poetry is that it “says” that it will ostensibly evacuate the fetishism of the subject. Ummmmm NOPE. When Goldsmith blocks detractors and Place claims persecution, their lies become obvious. If the subject isn’t the center of the piece, then does it matter how people respond? Does it matter if they get pissed and take you off panels? If conceptualism followed through with its half-baked dictums its auteurs wouldn’t be so possessive. They’d be willing to accept any and all reactions. They wouldn’t lament the stormy directions the internet has taken like white flight, suburban, gated-community vigilantes. Subjectivity and subjectification don’t cease to exist because they say it’s what they “want”. If that’s what they want we say: boycott the self and divest from your whiteness: Divest, Divest DIVEST.
We throb collectively without having to be asked to perform the free affective labor of reassuring white people of their fundamental ‘goodness’ and why they are ‘different.’ The “we” of MCAG is not totalized. It is a we that speaks for a coalition of voices that take a stand against white supremacy in a given context. The point of writing the manifesto was to delineate OUR positions, not to suggest these were the position of all POC. We’ve never claimed a unanimous consensus model. This would be as absurd as believing that the Civil Rights gains of the 60s have to be revoked cuz not all black people, new immigrants and Asian communities agreed with the Freedom Fighters. We aren’t saying we are Freedom Fighters, but rather that the consensus model is excellent as a “necessary impossibility” (Derrida). We work towards covering as much ground as we can, but there will always be a writer of color who for innumerable reasons feels more aligned with a white avant-garde tradition than with its dismantlement. Do we think we know better than them? HELL FUCKEN YEAH. But they also think they know better than us. This is called having ethical stakes.
As individuals we do all kinds of shit to end white supremacy & the heteropatriarchy. Some of us are activists, others are newer to anything activist-related but have dealt with struggles against oppression in our own way. Of course MCAG is not the only way to fight back. But taking the struggle to all contexts in which one lives and works is fundamental to enacting change. It’s our obligation to exert the same pressure on the poetry “community” that we bring to other spheres of our lives.
12. Does MCAG exist primarily on the internet? How do you see the internet as a tool for your work?
MCAG will use everything at our disposal, including the internet, to demolish white supremacy.
Conpo’s vision of the internet as a neoliberal theme park where everyone is waging pillow fights and stealing from the cookie jar was never a reality for us. We’re organizing via the internet because we grew up training ourselves on it, furiously making ASCII heart shapes and hitting “delete” ;)
MCAG proves the post-human is not white. The internet is not white. Get the fuck used to it.
13. What’s the deal with white fear? (Ugh.) (I guess this is a rhetorical question.)
14. What is MCAG working on now?
We’ve got a few things cooking. One of our deathly cute pet projects is a document that delineates the “levels” of our “organization.” We read somewhere that we’re an organization with many levels and thought this was the most adorable thing ever. We’ve also read the most “fascinating and repulsive” things about our inner workings, our identities, our secret hideouts…This doc will be like a treasure map/videogame and it’ll help those who want to know more about the inner workings of the mongrel world navigate our labyrinthian structure. It will also include a discount package with candycanes, ancient tokens, and expired coupons <3 <3 <3
15. The work of dismantling systematic oppression is exhausting! How do you deal with the emotional and intellectual and realtime workload?
Health and self-care models are often based on an ideal of harmony unreachable to most folks living in the white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, so we aren’t going to pretend our lives are harmonious. We’re overworked, overloaded and strained. While a lot of days are fucken depressing, MCAG is our Starship Enterprise without the Fukuyama post-historical fantasy.
Yeah, the work of dismantling systemic oppression is exhausting. We’re constantly burnt out. We have limitations but we also get love and have enough love in us to blast to those who need it.
We would like to thank the wonderful Bhanu Kapil who gave us life on a particularly hard day. Our co-conspirators have been the bestest and have made a lot of days survivable.
In fall of 1992 when I was a senior in college, Sylvia Wynter published an essay forever etched in my mind: “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues”in Voices of the Black Diaspora ( pages 13–16). That letter was her response to the acquittal of the white police officers in 1992 who brutally beat Rodney King and the jury who further co-signed this social epidemic of white violence. In fall of 1994, the journal, Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st Century, published Wynter’s letter in its entirety in its very first issue themed “Knowledge on Trial.” Both the journal and our mission as part of Institute N.H.I. (named from the charge of Wynter’s letter) was to follow-through on Professor Wynter’s call.
Now 20 years later, after a jury of white women and one Latina have sanctioned and anointed the murderer of Trayvon Martin, I find myself re-reading Professor Wynter’s letter. After the verdict, as I sat for hours and reread her words, I am clear that things are even worse.
In particular, Wynter reminds us in the letter that our social crisis is one that teachers/theorists/educators have created. These people who have normalized anti-black brutality are, in fact, our students, the people who have been educated by us within paradigms that require the murder and annihilation of black people.
Here are the first two sections from the opening to Wynter’s essay. I will continue to post sections of the essay in the coming days (until I get thrashed for copyright issues):
You may have heard a radio news report which aired briefly during the days after the jury’s acquittal of the policemen in the Rodney King beating case. The report stated that the public officials of the judicial system of Los Angeles routinely used the acronym N.H.I. to refer to any case involving the breach of the rights of young Black males who belong to the jobless category of the inner city ghettoes. N.H.I. means ‘no humans involved.’
Stephen Jay Gould argues that ‘systems of classification direct our thinking and order our behaviors’ (Gould, 1983). By classifying the category as N.H.I., the public officials would have given the police of Los Angeles the green light to deal with members in any way they pleased. You may remember too that in the earlier case of the numerous deaths of young Black males caused by a specific chokehold used by Los Angeles police officers to arrest young Black males, the police chief Darryl Gates explained away these judicial murders by arguing that Black males had something abnormal with their windpipes. That they had to be classified and thereby treated differently from all other North Americans, except to a secondary degree, the darker-skinned Latinos. For in this classificatory schema too all ‘minorities’ are equal except one category— that of the people of African and Afro-mixed descent who, as Andrew Hacker points out in his recent book, are the least equal of all.
‘Certainly,’ Hacker writes, in Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal(1992) ‘all persons deemed to be other than white, can detail how they have suffered discrimination at the hands of white America. Any allusions to racist attitudes and actions will find Cherokees and Chinese and Cubans agreeing with great vigor… yet… members of all these intermediate groups have been allowed to put a visible distance between themselves and Black Americans.’
‘The Vietnamese,’ Richard Pryor quipped, ‘have learned how to be good Americans. They can now say nigger.’
Where Did This Classification Come From? The Point of My Letter To You
Yet where did this system of classification come from? One that was held both by the officers involved in this specific case of the routine ‘nigger breaking’ of Black males, as well as by the mainly white, middle class Simi Valley jurors? Most of all, and this is the point of my letter to you, why should the classifying acronym N.H.I., with its reflex anti-Black male behaviour-prescriptions, have been so actively held and deployed by the judicial officers of Los Angeles, and therefore by the ‘brightest and the best’ graduates of both the professional and non-professional schools of the university system of the United States? By those whom we ourselves would have educated?
How did they come to conceive of what it means to be both human and North American in the kinds of terms (i.e., to be white, of Euroamerican culture and descent, middle class, college-educated and suburban) within whose logic the jobless and usually drop-out/push-out category of young Black males can be perceived, and therefore behaved towards, only as the Lack of the human, the Conceptual Other to being North American? The same way, as Zygmunt Bauman has point out, that all Germans of Jewish descent were made into and behaved towards as the Conceptual Other to German identity in its then Pan-Aryan and Nazi form (Bauman, 1989).
If, as Ralph Ellison alerted us to in his The Invisible Man, we see each other only through the ‘inner eyes’ with which we look with our physical eyes upon reality, the question we must confront in the wake of the Rodney King Event becomes: What is our responsibility for the making of those ‘inner eyes’? Ones in which humanness and North Americannessare always already defined, not only in optimally White terms but also in optimally middle-class (i.e., both Simi Valley, and secondarily Cosby-Huxtible TV family) variants of these terms? What have we had to do, and still have to do, with the putting in place of the classifying logic of that shared mode of ‘subjective understanding’ (Jaime Carbonell, 1987) in whose ‘inner eyes,’ young Black males, can be perceived as being justly, shut out from what Helen Fein calls the ‘universe of moral obligation’ that bonds the interests of the Simi Valley jurors as Whites and non-Blacks (one Asian, one Hispanic), to the interests of the White policemen and the Los Angeles judicial officeholders who are our graduates?
In her book on the 1915 genocide of the Armenians by the Turkish pan-nationalists, and on the Jews by the Pan-Aryan racialists of the 1930s-1940s, Helen Fein points out that in both cases there was a common causal factor. This factor was that the millennium which preceded their group annihilation, ‘both Jews and Armenians had been decreed by the dominant group that was to perpetrate in the crime to be outside the sanctified universe of obligation— that circle of people with reciprocal obligations to protect each other whose bonds arose from their relation to a deity or a sacred sources of authority’ (Fein, 1979). In both cases, although the genocides were inflicted in the secular name of a now sacred ‘national’ identity, based, in the case of the Turks on the discourse of a historical Pan-Turianism and, in the case of the German-Aryans, on that of the sanctity of a ‘pure’ racial stock, both groups had been defined ‘within recent memory similarly to pariahs outside the sanctified social order.’ It was this discursive classification that had enabled them to be misrecognized as aliens, as strangers who were, as if it were, of a different species, strangers, ‘not because they were aliens but because the dominant group was alienated from them by a traditional antipathy’ (Fein, 1979).
This is the same case, of course, with the N.H.I. acronym. For the social effects to which this acronym, and its placing outside the ‘sanctified universe of obligation,’ of the category of young Black males to which it refers, leads, whilst not overtly genocidal, are clearly having genocidal effects with the incarceration and elimination of young Black males by ostensibly normal and everyday means.
Statistics with respect to this empirical fact have been cited over and over again. Andrew Hacker’s recent book documents the systemic White/Black differential with respect to life-opportunity on which our present North American order is based. Nevertheless, this differential is replicated, and transracially so, between, on the one had, the classes (upper middle, middle, lower middle and working, whether capital owners or jobholders), who are therefore classified within the ‘universe of obligation’ integrating of our present world system and its nation-state subunits, and on the other hand, the category of the non-owning jobless young of the inner cities, primarily Black and Latino, and increasingly also, White, assimilated to its underclass category.
In the wake of the Civil Rights movements, and of the Affirmative Action programs which incorporated a now new Black middle class into the ‘American Dream,’ the jobless category has been made to bear the weight of the Deviant status that, before the Sixties had been imposed on all Americans of African and Afro-mixed descent, by the nation-state order of the U.S., as an imperative condition of its own system functioning. Indeed, it may be said that it is this category of the jobless young Black males who have been made to pay the ‘sacrificial costs’ (in the terms of Rene Girard’s The Scapegoat, 1986) for the relatively improved conditions since the 1960s that have impelled many Black Americans out of the ghettoes and into the suburbs; that have made possible therefore the universal acclamation for the Cosby-Huxtible TV family who proved that some Black Americans could aspire to, and even be, drawn inside, the ‘sanctified category’ of Americans just like us— if still secondarily so, behind ‘women’ and the other ‘minorities.’
The price paid by the jobless Black male category for this social transformation is inescapably clear. With respect to the judicial apparatus itself, statistics show that whilst Black men constitute 6% of the U.S. population, they have come to make up 47% of the prison population. Whilst, in the entire prison population, in the wake of the mandatory sentences for drug offenses imposed by (largely White and middle class) Drug War officials, both Afro-Black young males and Latino-Brown ones, are to be found out of all proportion to their numbers in the society. The May 7, 1992 New York Times editorial which gives these statistics, also points out that it costs $25,000 a year ‘to keep a kid in prison; which is more than the Job Corps or college.” However, for society at large to choose the latter option in place of the former would mean that the ‘kids’ in question could no longer be ‘perceived in N.H.I. terms as they are now perceived by all; nor could they continue to be induced to so perceive themselves within these same terms, as they now do, fratricidally turning upon themselves, killing each other off in gang wars or by other violent methods.
Where does this ‘inner eye’ which leads the society to choose the former option in dealing with the North American variant of the jobless category of the post-Industrial New Poor (Bauman, 1987), the category to which at the global level, Frantz Fanon has given the name les damnés, the condemned (Fanon, 1963), come from? Why is this ‘eye’ so intricately bound up with that code so determinant of our collective behaviours, to which we have given the name race?
‘It seems,’ a sociology professor, Christopher Jenks, points out in the wake of the L.A. uprisings ‘that we’re always trying to reduce race to something else. Yet out there in the streets race does not reduce to something else’ (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 1992). I have come to believe, after struggling with this issue from the ‘lay’ perspective of Black Studies (which was itself able to enter academia only in the wake of the Civil Rights movements, the Watts urban riots, and the protests which erupted after the assassination of Martin Luther King), not only that ‘race’ cannot be reduced as an issue, to anything else, but that it is we in academia who alone hold the key to ‘race’, and therefore to the classificatory logic of the acronym, N.H.I.
My major proposal is that both the issue of ‘race’ and its classificatory logic (as, in David Duke’s belief that ‘the Negro is an evolutionarily lower level than the Caucasian’) lies in the founding premise, on which our present order of knowledge or episteme, [Foucault, 1973) and its rigorously elaborated disciplinary paradigms, are based.
Citation Information: Wynter, Sylvia. “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1.1 (Fall 1994): 42-73. The full essay is available here: “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.”