I. Renaming the Cosmos
No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. – NRSV
The names we call the cosmos are given in the wrong time. Today the name “neoliberal” rolls across snarled lips, lips hateful of the state of the world, yet worldly wise. Yet the word speaks strangely little to those who use it: university graduates who never much knew the big state nor full employment. The name which once described how the world would work as that big state was dismantled and sold off points only to the status of its speaker. Its utterance is the call of a jargonistic password to a specific social stratum. But as the word points back towards the babbling speakers they fail also to notice that even the name has become corrupt in the wrongness of its time. Despite its prefix, what it described by neoliberalism is no forty years old, and what was “neo” about this liberalism was always questionable. It differentiated itself from the old, progressive classical liberalism not by its novelty but by its demand for a certain type of return to old ways, back beyond the aberration of the state monopolies into which classical liberalism had been transformed by war, crisis, and reaction.
To gloss the pathetic expository power of the term “neoliberal” has been done too often already, but the history of another name is not normally considered. It was a century after the beginning of the industrial revolution that the word “capitalism” would gain popularity as the name for the social organisation of the epoch. This was in no small measure the result of the work of the first generation of german sociologists working at the turn of the century, and in particular the writings of Werner Sombart and Max Weber. By the mid-1920s, amid German hyperinflation, Sombart would describe his present as “late capitalism.” This cosmos whose name was still so young, was itself aged. It seemed to be a social system in its senility. Decrepit, demented, and losing control of itself it had spawned a world war, revolution, and crisis.
Before the name “capitalism” became popular the preferred term was “bourgeois society.” In the untimeliness of the names we use for the organization of the world certain forces can be read. While some of these forces might be jargonistic, defining admission to a social group, other forces are historical. Even as the word “capitalism” came to become an all-encompassing term everything that existed – just at the moment it seemed to be collapsing – for that wave of German sociologists the term “bourgeois society” was still charged. For them its force was not the quality of jargon, but the weight of critique – albeit a reformist one. It was perhaps less a weight than a recognition of distance: to this German bourgeoisie society appeared as something strangely alien, to be studied like nature. And only with study, and reasoned reform, might it be brought appropriately close again to its bourgeois interpreters.
This transformation from “bourgeois society” to “capitalism”, with its force of untimely names might speak of its own history, and the breakdown of the myths of the first liberalism in the 19th century. It speaks of a transformation of a world apparently run by people, the bourgeoisie, to a world defined by their products, capital. It was in the work of Marx, during that century of transformation, that this was most precisely diagnosed. At the very core of Marx’s analysis lies a claim about universality. The universality of the bourgeois class proclaimed in its revolutions was false: it was not the case that all people would have a say, and that equality would prevail. Instead there were always the excluded: the landless and propertiless, women, slaves, convicts and debtors. And those excluded would turn out to be the majority. But the claim to universality made by the revolutionary bourgeoisie was not just a piece of rhetorical bravura: there had been a new universality established, but it was one of capital and not of the bourgeois class, who merely owned this universal medium. Not only those excluded from owning it would be subject to the domination of capital; even the bourgeois class itself would discover itself subject to its movements, as an alien social force, as alien as industrialism had made nature.
The now old words “capitalism” and “society” seem not so exciting any more. They hum along with a tone of “that’s just the way of the world.” No-one would even think of them with names of a cosmos. And so the force with which they are used ebbs away quietly, as endless new names proliferate. It was in the pages of Women’s Own, the churn of the dentist’s waiting room, that exactly a hundred years after Tönnies inaugurated the new science of sociology with his investigation into this alien realm of reality – society – its end would be declared. “There is no such thing as society”, said Thatcher. Instead, for her, there existed just isolated individuals, families, small people with small interests. Tönnies other term, “community” could come to the fore. No more society, just advertising, as the theorists of the time would claim. But society had not disappeared, instead the historical force of its distance had become so depleted that it was just to be accepted, becoming once again unconscious.
II. Brexit dominus domino meo
The little man in me aspires to win you over, as you are ordinarily won over with the tom-tom of leadership. I am afraid of you when the little man in me dreams of “leading you to freedom.” You might discover yourself in me and me in yourself, take fright, and murder yourself in me. – WR
This setting out of sociological theory and the historical shifts of names can help in a particular problem that permeated the referendum. For months the left (and the left is taken broadly here) has fought over positions: does it side with a “working class” – many of whom no longer work, or are un- or under-employed – that expresses racist and xenophobic attitudes, and which behaves en masse in perpetual fear of invasion by foreigners; or does it stand against the attitudes of that class, and against its oppressive demands?
Here the resurrection of old names might be made useful. Many have claimed that the vote to leave the EU was founded on “legitimate grievances”. And under this rubric stands a claim to identification of a genuinely popular position, or of real interests. More than this, it is claimed that this popular position is an authentically working class one. But this claim rests on a highly impoverished account of class. Class here is not a relation, but a thing. It is not something that moves, but something held fast under the gazes of the demographers. Today, though, it may not be as it was for the first sociologists, that society has to be held fast in order to be examined. Instead society may, in its own history, have become something utterly static and frozen.
Yet the attempt to find the attitudes of the class as a thing, as opposed to the dynamics of class politics is hopeless. Beneath the confusions of a “working class” position is a lack of thinking about domination. At all points the mode of relation between the classes is considered as one of playful antagonism. The classes appear in the reports wholly independent of each other, as though they were absolutely free wills attempting to outwit each other on a battlefield. It seems to have long been forgotten that the relations in which they engage are relations of domination. Indeed, if the bourgeois character of society was once proclaimed, it has today been entirely forgotten or silenced. It is forgotten that even if the bourgeoisie are not truly the universal subject of society, they remain the dominant class, the owners of capital, and the purchasers of labour. And while, as individuals they might not wholly consciously determine what is produced (insofar as what is produced must be profitable as opposed to being entirely arbitrary, and not all investments will pay off), the form of what is produced is founded on the dominant relations of bourgeoisie and capital. Proletarian production, indeed all production remains enslaved to these relations. All proletarian production and all proletarian expression is forced through them. Enslavement and obedience to them is the very condition of survival in this world. Meanwhile the use of what is produced in our society perpetually advances this domination.
There is no such thing as proletarian culture; only bourgeois culture with which, in utter terror, proletarians are compelled to identify. Even the meagre products of the most oppressed are barely culture proper. The cry of the oppressed that calls out is still animalistic, its demand no more than one of self-preservation and survival. Similarly there is no such thing as bourgeois culture that has not been produced by the dominated labour of proletarians. There is no bourgeois culture that does not cry out, in yet unheard glory, against the oppression in its creation, and against the oppression it will further commit.
The search for some “authentic working class” position, opinion, or idea in this world will forever be futile. The views of the working class always appear as distorted expressions, in the most useless moment of what is produced. The working class is compelled to speak in bourgeois form. This does not merely mean, though, that the voice is distorted, but more that it is compelled to speak in precisely the tones of domination that cause its own distortion.
III. Mass and Class
The sympathies of the masses, tempered anew by a system of terror, are reawakening more lively than ever. – AB
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum results a race took place to establish a putative class analysis of what had happened. Sociologists dusted off their old ABC1C2DEs in order to establish firmly that “the working class” had done something. More like Linnaeus or Cuvier studying the plants and animals they offered up a taxonomy of social divisions and stratifications in order to deliver an explanation. In the moment of action the population had been held fast like a pinned out specimen. There was, it turned out, no movement, but only demography. This was not surprising insofar as no class action had taken place, or at least no disruption of the class system. Referenda are archetypes of a purely bourgeois politics, in which the polity is allowed to decide as apparently equal and isolated individuals, each treated as bourgeois subjects par excellence. If the class analysis offered was one of frozen classes, this is because of the class nature of this form of political expression.
But the rush towards a class analysis masks another more prominent aspect of the politics that have surrounded the referendum: a silenced, or repressed mass politics. “The masses are stupid/barbarous/violent/brainwashed/inert” are the old slogans. To the bourgeoisie the image of the masses has always been not only detestible but terrifying. And most terrifying is the idea that it might find itself amid its pulsating throngs, discovering its own movements as contingent on the enormous, yet bound, gestures of the crowd. It has for centuries attempted to give expression to its fear in a comparison between its own apparently refined sensibilities (the mask of dominating violence with which they truly govern the masses) and the charged action of the masses. Meanwhile the mass has come to know this, and in a bourgeois society forever is forced deny its mass-character in order to claim for itself refined sensibilities, hoping, like the bourgeoisie, to disguise its own barbarised and barbarous state.
The refined bourgeois individual and the mass are the conjoined twins of capitalism, the struggling progeny of bourgeois history. Just as the bourgeois was displaced by capital at the centre of the cosmos, so at the periphery grows another power. If the particularity of the autonomy of the individual, still dominated by the contingency of capital, still only able to desire freedom in the form of profit, stands at one pole, then at the other stands the mass, as the cultic structure of the people as a whole conjured by the universality of the commodity. Along the axis between these poles - of bourgeois individual and mass - vibrate the egos of this world. At one end they are strong and yet incapable of effecting historical change, their desires attached only to profit, while their strength is expended on resignation to the endurance of the present state of things; at the other end they are weak: the powerful erotics of the mass capable of changing the world are bound and perverted into servitude. One can read these figures in terms of how the referendum has played out as well: on one side are the Guardian-reading critics of ideology who believe they can never be convinced by the lies of the mass media. They gaze disdainfully of at the mass who are taken in and act upon what they are told; yet the guardian readers are fundamentally powerless, condemned only to ever interpret the world, to wistfully sneer, and never to change it.
In the commentary around the referendum this division has been prominent. Every turn has centred on the “patronising” or “belittling” of the mass of the population by a “political, metropolitan establishment.” If once upon a time the bourgeoisie would bear its terror at the mass in public, now any commentary at all is forbidden. This is the result of an attempt to separate these conjoined aspects of the bourgeois world into separate spheres of life. In politics one must act like the bourgeois subject, but in the spheres of culture, of production, of media, of consumption, one must behave like a mass. The great frictions of the last weeks in British politics has been less about some “working class anger” than the antagonisms of these two aspects of capitalist society - the bourgeois individual and the mass - and their cross-contamination in the referendum. The refined bourgeois character hates the fact that the result was governed by the movements of mass culture and media. The accusations that the masses brutal, racist, and xenophobic are just post hoc moralising bywords for this hatred, from a class that has already long proven its brutality, racism, and xenophobia. The bourgeois individuals clean up their own image for a moment and say, “if only you were just like us,” but fail to notice that the dominating force the mass employed was just that. Nonetheless the mass follows suit and says, “we thought about this really hard, we’re not racist.” The mass postulates some “beyond” in thinking for the radio vox pop, giving the assurance that it wasn’t just voting out of totally base, xenophobic fears. Yet they never get there. They try to say “I saw the other side but reasoned it was wrong because of this and this and this” without ever getting to what the “this and this and this” is. And so once again the mass is suppressed, or repressed, and a ban is placed over discussing its behaviour.
To address the erotics of the mass, or the erotics of the masses, might seem undignified. But it remains the only means of putting the argument in a way that does not either scream in terror like the refined bourgeois, nor forbid any discussion. Only in the examination of the mass’s indignity might its dignity be returned to it.
If the structure of the mass has been forced into silence during the course of discussion, if bourgeois repulsion and terror has been hissed only where politeness can be safely abandoned, it has reasserted itself in the wake of the mass’s decision During the days after the referendum calls have come from all quarters not for a new and different politics, but for “better leadership”. The old leaders have been deposed not because they failed to reconcile the divided polity, failed to mediate between individual and society, or between the part and the whole, between the bourgeois individual and the strenuous cultural demands of mass deindividuation, but because they simply weren’t truly of the people, and could not bind and unify them correctly. The raging demand for endless new leaders is the hideous expression left of a muted and perverted mass politics.
The demand for leadership, and of leadership by one of its own, is the classical condition of the mass. In its forlorn and barbarised condition, the mass has been well trained to despise own headlessness, for in its missing head is the promise of the ever transferable mask of bourgeois refinement that conceals the force it knows so well. The good leader of the mass is one the binds the community, that imagines and enforces its limits. As Freud notes in his little book on mass psychology, “the group still wishes to be governed by unrestricted force; it has an extreme passion for authority; in Le Bon’s phrase, it has a thirst for obedience.”
Indeed the mass in capitalist society is obsessed with its limits. Its identity is its self-bondage, founded on the exclusion of the other. The identification of the mass with the leader is grounded in their shared approach to domination, and conceals the fact that in the love of the leader the mass wants to know treated by him just as he (and they) would treat their enemies. It is archetypal of mass politics and mass psychology that it would take as the moment of its self-bondage to be the exclusion of the foreigner, alien, immigrant or refugee. In this sense the politics of the relationship to migration at stake in the referendum needs to be understood doubly: it is not merely the case that the exclusion of the foreigner fulfills an economic role, enriching each member of the mass on the basis of a model of a resource- or job scarcity; but also the exclusion of the foreigner plays an erotic role, in defining the bounds of the mass, and erotogenically binding together its members. The strength of the erotic bonds of the mass are founded on the strength of its collective exclusionary violence; the erotic identification with the mass is founded on the strength of violent disidentification from the other. There is no such thing as society; instead only community a community of little men. The national family, with Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson sat at the head of table, their voices the blend of every bad joke a father ever told. Love him dearly. The figures of Farage and Johnson are those of perverse leaders who reconcile the mass structure of the leader with the individuality of the bourgeois, who reconcile the mass media with individualised bourgeois politics.
In these gestures of self-binding and domination, the mass comes to know not just Johnson or Farage’s body, but also its own body. It finds itself incorporated, ennervated, and excited. It discovers both the pleasures of domination and the discomforts of submission. But more importantly it discovers their inversion: the discomfort of recognising ones own guilt without ever having the capacity to right wrongs, and the pleasure of submitting willingly to authority who, as long as you are obedient, will forgive you. It makes of them a perverse erotics, with capital at its centre. Traditionally the body of this perverse erotics, capable of stimulating and sublating these contradictory excitations, has been known as the nation state.
In a video a woman from Burnley says “I voted leave to stop the immigrants and to save the NHS.” Quickly the country’s biggest employer is transformed from the guarantor of life through the provision of healthcare into the dream of the perverted mass that sees in it a national corporation: a machinery that might adequately foster their erotic energy. And all the better if it serves the lives only of the British. The NHS, in her dream – although she may not notice it – guarantees the health of the Brit insofar as it denies health to the immigrant. She probably calls this “economics.”
IV. Catastrophe’s horizon
The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes also as the vanquisher of the Antichrist. – WB
On all sides the prospect of a catastrophic end of the world is drastically downplayed. There is no thought yet of a short and terrible reign of the Antichrist, based on fear and self-interest, that could obliterate the world. But his first words have already been uttered. If the belief in progress of those who rule is impervious to real crisis upon crisis, then it finds its mirror image in the zealots and dogmatists of the far left that see in every crisis the movements of revolution. It is clear that the result of the referendum stands against the interests of all of the European governments, and large portions of British, European, and American capital. The progressives and the far left zealots are too quick to form out of the scenario inversions of manichaeism. For one side any movement against capital must be a good sign, for the other it is evil. Neither suspects that a horizon of action has arrived that may do away with the laissez-faire order, only to replace it with a bolstered corporate, national one, that brings about not revolution but pure administered cruelty in the name of security, defense, and self-interest. Both sides, blinded by wishful thinking, see only the frozen classes and not the moving mass. Neither sees the danger of the formation of a social body that absolutely combines domination and self-domination with pleasure. The dark scene of the end of the world is a society collectively practicing auto-erotic asphyxiation, wrapping its borders ever tighter around itself. It doesn’t even know the day it accidentally goes too far.
For capital the referendum result is just a mistake, not a shifting of history. For the social democrats there remains faith in the national provision of services. Yet dark spectres of fascism are rising across Europe, in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. This spectre draws strength not only from the productivity of capital, but from a perverse erotics of the mass that might at times subvert capital as it is forced into the mould of bourgeois politics. Both sides willfully ignore wild fantasies of domination harboured by the terrified and dominated. It is likely that in this case the cause will be averted, or subverted by the strength of centrist politicians. But it is unlikely that this will be the last we hear of it. Meanwhile, exhausted and impoverished, we can barely afford to take a liberal view of the end of things.
I have found you because you’re there, all of you.
I want to hear what you say; I’ll speak what
you tell me to. I don’t think this is about love;
you are telling me we need a new description.
Maybe a new language, but you want to understand it.
Everything I say from now on you are saying
to me. In many languages, from many faces; I’m your mouth.
I saw you
come to me
as if you were
a god; as if
a god were the
essence of all us.
I don’t believe we can save our civilization;
I do, I do believe it.
I don’t want this poem to be beautiful. I do.
I have no skills; I have no hope; I don’t want
any hope. I simply want to sit here, in this
calm. I don’t want the electricity to fail. I
don’t want war to come here.
I DON’T WANT WAR TO COME HERE!
I sat beneath the tree for awhile. There was only
one tree left. Here it is pouring rain. The two
men are in a contest to take over the world.
They will be voted for to make it seem as if this
is what we want. Don’t ever speak to me from ecstasy,
my life is broken. Tell me what style you like though,
I need to scream: do you have that one? I want
a woman to be in office where I can see her.
The economy works like mythology, by changing the magic
in the story, like you change a person into a tree, a spider,
or a computer. The computer weaves faster than
Arachne, and outsourced casts a net of loss over us.
I see the net, it’s silver, fine, it keeps me from resting;
it whispers in my ear with its superconductive
powers, you must go to work. I am sporadically employed.
I am by nature a peasant: don’t you try to change me.
I want you to leave me alone. I am a middle-
class westerner, who deserves plenty and calm.
I am an Inuit, my world is melting. I’m an African immigrant,
trying to go home to Europe, return to security and peace,
which I remember from my human past and from longing.
I must see a woman hold power, significant power,
before I die. You won’t see that. This is no style. None
of you are thinking to me in a style. I don’t want to work
in this stupid office. Can we destroy the pyramids of power?
I mean, they’re made out of dust. You’re all just
dust and dried blood, you’re dead. You are not absolute.
Why am I carrying a peony, in my mind? I am looking
at it, white with pink streaks, to present to the monument
of our exalted state. I killed a lot of people. I will always
have done that; when I die I will have done that; when
I’m dead I will remember that I have done that. I’m
not interested in style or syntax or vocabulary. But I am.
They crowd around me in the dark; it’s hard to hear.
I’m crouching inside a dark space, near other
bodies, waiting to dock, hoping we’ll make it across
this small expanse of water. Too many bodies. I
don’t want him to take another wife . . . Do I
need him? Do I really have to have this life?
I’m screaming for food, I’m asking for grain.
There has to be enough for us, so give it to me, I
can cook anything; I can cook flour, or dirt.
I can cook locusts. I can eat grubs raw. I
can chew leaves, but the trees are dried up.
This is the story. The trickster is wearing a red
shirt. He walks across the space of the story. He
says if you make your mark on this piece of paper
and give me all your grain, I’ll give you a house and
a television, I’ll give you more stories than you’ve
ever imagined. Now I have no grain, no house,
no telly. The stories swarm in my head; the trickster
looks just like me, except he has a bushy tail
sticking out from his jeans. I have no words for
what I need. I think it is what we need; but do we
have to need something? Not very much. I’m
starting to see something, I’m starting to hear,
but I know I never really arrive. I wanted him to
love me, but then that wasn’t enough. We
gave ourselves to each other, but then
we had done that. Which one of us was more? He
was always more. I am the desire you want
to have, so you can feel yourself continuously
inside the line of desiring unwinding against
the horizon leading to infinite nowhere.
Molting, the first rush of June is now September.
Prophesy if you dare. I can no longer find any
rationale for living. My life is as small as a firefly’s.
I am always uncomfortable; often I suffer.
I go on wearing this tie, stiff as a hatchet,
around my neck. Tied to the tradition
of boss and cattle. I want more rice. I want
to see and know that rice is beautiful. I
don’t want to speak this language that doesn’t
know me. What can we do about our world?
Why do you all make me struggle? I have to put
up with these people who keep forming me. I can’t
stop changing as they tell me what to do,
even though I resist them; I say I do but
I can’t. Change will arrive suddenly for me.
Most of us are slaves, largely by consent. Or,
you could say we’re brainwashed: women are.
I don’t believe we have it so bad. I do, I work
in a shelter for battered women. I submitted to
a pharaonic circumcision. I, I have no
problems. I’m a distinguished professor in a country
that has always had a male president. I support
one of the current male candidates. I always wear
the clothes that I’m supposed to, for my status. I
have no food for my children. I’m well-off, my husband
beats me, he’s a wellknown inventor with several
patents. Who has changed as a consequence
of anything that they know? I’m sure I will change
before I die, unless I die today or tomorrow. Can’t
we tear this building down, I mean, tear it down?
There are so many of us. I propose the founding
of a country like Israel for women. I propose
the following solution for Afghanistan:
airlift out all the women and children who wish it.
Convey them to that country, the new one.
Pull out the American and European troops and
leave the Afghani men there to battle for
whatever it is they want. But it isn’t like that!
I want to move to the new country right now.
My child is dead, and I want to be with him
in my thoughts; I want to live with him in my mind.
The light took my face. That’s all I want to think about.
I only want these moments between me and the
elements. If I couldn’t see, I would still see, I know it.
I’m anxious, and my mouth is distorting: I need
to wear a hat to cover my hair. I have to
cover up a lot of parts of me. Everyone does. The
morning-glories have already stopped opening.
I want to say something subtle, but I can’t.
It’s that, now that no one loves me, I don’t mind.
I feel awkward, I don’t know how to stand up
among others. Every morning I ask somebody
what day of the week it is, to make contact.
I’m signalling to others that I’m good. It’s
now strange to live in this body. I don’t
feel at one with it at all. I’m sure I haven’t
always had this kind of body to be in:
where precisely am I inside it? I move my
toes, they’re not so far away. I don’t want
to talk to anyone, but I also have to say that.
I’m nervous about succeeding. I think
succeeding’s a hoax. I think everything’s a hoax.
I want to go back to where I once lived,
but it isn’t there any more; that one of me
isn’t here. Are we now making a style?
I speak like a person in my language, with
the wind anxiously hovering, in a receptacle,
over my shoulder. I’m taking pills for my
anxiety. I get charms from a maribout. I’m
trying to make a girl fall in love with me; I’m
afraid it won’t work, but it’s a way of making
my love take an outer shape. I want to tell
you she wears scarlet lipstick, and her
shoulders slope down. The nape of her
neck is indented. She’s very neat in appearance.
I’m roaring through your mouth, I only roar.
I am a wind of energy, I am evil, but
I can’t stop and so I rush along, seeking
gratification. I won’t stop. I don’t want to. I’ll hack
everyone to death that I can see. I’ve been
told to cut and kill with my blade. I will
do it and do it again; I will never apologize.
Why should I be sorry? I am not unnatural,
if I just am; and if the blood and smell are
everywhere, I must see and smell it again.
I have to keep knowing that this extremity
is mine. I know there are other things to do,
and we chose this. We had to. We just have to.
I was inside a house with a gangster with greasy
hair: I knew he was going to kill me. And so
I attacked him and fought him; I wanted to
kill him, kill him to get away. I had had to
strip for him, take off my red velvet dress,
but I had become too thin to strip for anyone.
I can’t be this one who’s just chattel; I
can’t be this woman who’s treated like an
animal naked in a picture for you, genitals
and a face of intelligence, but you can’t see that.
You’ve been brought up to think it’s normal
for women to be naked everywhere, and you
tell them to do this work for you. It’s just
more work. A soldier’s heart exploded, and I
was covered in his blood, it isn’t an image:
the guy has no chest. Who am I here for,
for me? I am somewhere in this damned world
killing people for you, while you conduct an
executive session in a clean clear room with
light and glasses of water. That tie again, those
ties. YOU HAVE NO PRIVATE LIFE NOW!
No, I don’t have a private life. Or is it
everything I think? I don’t seem to want
anything others want. I don’t even know if
I want something. To be perfectly quiet, still alive
with no one pressing me. Or keeping me from
eating. I have to have money for food and to
replace my appliances. I hate them. I don’t want
community. I do. I don’t like other people’s fake
sentimentality; I don’t like their politics, or
their religion. It smothers me. I, I need to feel
something with a group, I mean, I like that.
You can build intensity; you can do good. No
you can’t; there is no good like that. And
nothing’s for women except stupid things to
say like ‘She isn’t feminine.’ I see men every-
where urging us to let them lead us once again
in this time of crisis. I want to walk away.
Leave the crisis. Throw out your stuff and
sit down somewhere; I’ve got a sandwich, have
a bite. I don’t want to eat meat, it stinks,
it stinks like dead people on a battlefield.
I say the same things all the time because
there’s repetition built into time to make it timeless.
I helped build it in, I help do everything. I
don’t wish I were younger, I was more stupid then.
I have no interest in being myself, I just am.
I’m doing what I always do with this cornmeal.
I’m staring out the back window, the dahlias
are up like I like them, again. I can
walk out and be saturated with light for a
minute. I want everything to be bizarre; I
want not to recognize anyone. I want to
sing in a voice you don’t own, that you’ve never
heard and judged. I don’t want to know where it
comes from, even though it comes from me. I
don’t want there to be anything to say about it.
I want to be
locked in this
he threatens me
then tells me
I want to be in well-lit rooms with comfortable chairs,
but I wish I knew how to live. I’m walking in a forest;
I understand trees and plants. I don’t understand
the harnessing of nature to light up a city with neon --
that makes me feel like I’m living in your dream. I
hate my dress. I want to know the thing
that will justify my time, all the time I’ve spent
doing shit jobs. Stupid work. I have a ladybug on
my palm. I don’t move around very well now.
My life has slowed down, and I need to be cared for.
I give my sister back something for her care but
it isn’t money. We are inside care, because we have
to be there -- it’s light and airy, though she gets anxious.
I want to tell everyone in the world what I know.
I didn’t dream for weeks and then I saw the sun bleed
like a Seville orange. My history and civilization
are literally melting; everyone knows. Waiting,
so they can drill. I already have no point of view
except that of the fallen. I have no individuality,
because I’m a deadened thing. I want to risk my life
for my country. It’s the only idea I can think of.
I’ve risked mine for my country all my life, being a poet
who is just a poet. I can’t tell you a thing.
At any moment a force from nowhere could rip me
out of my life. I could die of traffic or weather,
I could die of war or my heart. I have seen several
people die. I have seen so many die that their spirits
now seem to cling to my back like flies buzzing
in my ear only; I carry them with me as I migrate.
I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know which
country I’ll die in. I don’t know what the world will be
like when I die. What it will look like. What the air
will feel like. I now accept its collapse into an
ugly new nature. I saw a hawk in my back yard.
I saw a ladder-backed woodpecker two years ago.
I’ve seen a western bluebird, and a phainopepla.
It’s like a revelation. I don’t know how to stop
yelling at the people on the platform. No one
is kind to me; no one asks me what’s wrong.
I’m looking at them because they’re mean-faced.
My face is trying to get somewhere; I’m trying
to show you how smart and worthy I am.
I see in my mirror that my eyes are the same
color they’ve always been. They are for looking,
but you see them. I don’t want to starve to death,
but I’m starving in order to stay in this country.
I’d rather die than be deported. Give me papers,
which are so fragile, and so abstract -- why
can’t I just live?
Why can’t I
I think the new language must be the inclusion
of everyone. It isn’t about technique, it’s about
inclusion. I don’t want to be included, but
I can’t refrain from speaking. I know I sound
plaintive. I sound desperate. I sound happy,
even though the world is a frightful dream.
I am standing somewhere underground, in
an underworld, with all the others. I never
wanted this. I am one of many, but I am
unique. Saying ‘one of many’ and saying
‘unique’ hurts me. I am just a record player now.
I am the dead. Or, I am a dead man. I
have never been words, but words have never
been words. In language I combine my flesh
with yours, and you with mine; my flesh
is tender, my skin aches from knowing you,
my hand can’t really touch you, but if you
say ‘I’ I’ll say ‘I’. I want to say ‘we’ but I can’t.
I can; but I think that I won’t do that here.
I take a word like ‘morals’ and try to weigh it
in my mind. It has no weight today. I think
it has, I just accept it. I don’t ever want to leave.
I like to be here with the word ‘maintenant’.
In this epoch I think that the Chinese are singing.
I think the Georgians are unhappy right now.
I think my own people are mixed up. I don’t
want to be in love. I’m tired of another’s thoughts.
I’m not, I can’t stand my own. I wish you didn’t
have to go through things I’ve been through.
I wish they wouldn’t go to war again. I
don’t think war is ever justified, it’s only
about death. I am a warrior. I’m young and
strong, and I’m here to help you. I’m overwhelmed
by your reality. I thought you were words, or a thought.
When I go to say what I think, I don’t want to
anymore. I don’t feel like I am where you are;
I’m not in the world except by appearance. I don’t
care if my words make your sense. I’m
communicating with blank. I want to say it in beauty,
or in ugliness. I like the beauty of being restored
to myself, in the pollen light, if it will stay
for us in the future. I don’t know that it will.
I think we had to be so many once we made machines,
and I love us, but I’ve always loved the other species
too, the ones that are saying goodbye. I don’t know
what to do. I’m always saying the same thing,
because it’s so important. I’m not trying to define
us, and are we different from those we kill?
I didn’t mean to kill a thing. I walk through
the program feeling blue; I hate the program today.
I don’t want to call the electrician, he
always hits on me. I brought four children into
the world. Some people have fifteen. I hate
makeup. I like it. I think politics is money,
in the Mahgreb, in France, and in the United
States. I had some money for awhile, but I spent it
on my kids. I’ve always done my job by the seat of
my pants. Why am I alive? I think god wanted you
to live. I don’t listen when someone says god. I don’t
want to talk about god. I’m god, as much as it’s
a word. I have a job that’s outmoded, I care
about words. I don’t care about them because you
already know what I mean. You read my mind.
I care because they’re beautiful. I’m talented with them,
like a musician is with notes, but there’s no system. It’s magic.
I’m so crazy I can’t know anyone anymore. I
listen to voices, see people who aren’t tangible
to others; they sustain me, and I need them. Who’s
to say who’s really here? I’m calling to him
while I’m working, can’t he hear my loving
thought? I know no other thing that means him but
flower, he is my flower. I hear voices in my
head continuously, at least one of them sounds like me.
I can’t hear myself properly -- recorded I sound different.
I can see my body from the neck down, but I can’t
see my back, or my face. I am walking south.
I am going west. I breathe in allergies. My lips are
sealed, though I’m speaking. Everything I think’s private.
I don’t want the dead or telepaths to hear my mind.
I want her to love me. I am able to reach
someone by thinking towards them, partly in words.
I send forth my thoughts. I think a thought shape,
a flow and cloud, touch gold. I touch someone by thinking.
I have corneas and lenses on my thoughts. I have
stone grey eyes. I have brown-black eyes and
night-black skin with a purple-brown sheen.
I’m standing next to a pearl-skinned one with flax hair.
We’re the extremes of our animal; we will never see
our own bodies, existing for the eyes of others. But I
have my thoughts. I love to touch quartz.
I place the azure next to the vermillion. I gasp at
colors that only our species knows, cochineal,
gold leaf, or saffron, lapis, green lake. Have I come
from another world to inhabit this body of mine?
I’m afraid the way I think is an anthropological relic.
I always reflect my tribe or tribes. I want
us to be better people. I scream, Don’t touch me!
I painted my face white to mourn for them.
I couldn’t stop thinking, my thoughts kept attacking
my head; I was my angry thoughts, but I also watched them.
I don’t think you understand what a form is. It’s
what exists and you’re seeing it or reading it, listening:
try it on its own terms. I killed her because she had
been raped, I was supposed to. I’ll never get
over it, I’m going to defend it forever. I want to
touch a phantom, it’s the grey dove of truth,
Inca or Mourning. Or Scaled. White flies up
in my own breast: do you hear me? I need to
know the truth. I was once young and beautiful,
but that’s of no interest to me. I was a handsome
man with glowing skin. I am so fragile
I can’t speak. I have no food. Can you
hear me, all of you? I lost some fingers from
frostbite, I would get drunk and fall asleep
on the street. I’m dead I think and don’t have
any more memories. I was tortured so I could become
a man. I think normal means whatever
the people say, but I’m not gonna say it. Is
it normal for me to starve? Maybe here in this
place that’s always in drought. I was flooded out.
I’m waiting to be rescued by boat. For days
and nights I didn’t know if I wanted to live;
my whole tribe was dead. So, I was the tribe,
I had to live. When I die, a wreath will be placed
on us. I must be more than my tribe. I see
that woman’s back begging on our street. I think
she is Roma. I can’t make my hair go into
a shape I like. I know so much, but do others?
I expect to hear voices forever, even after I’m dead.
Everyone was raping me there in that field, crows
or ravaging tatters all over my soul. I can
barely walk now; I don’t even know who to
hate. I know what’s happening, but I let others
direct me. I let others say what our laws and
institutions are. I want to be lawless; I want
to be alone. I’ll pay taxes as a woman, if you
promise me equality, parity. If not, why
should I pay? I ran across the room to my
mother; I was bleeding from my forehead in a
thin stream. I love that color of green, as dark
as you can get. I want to be in a dark green place.
I caught tadpoles out there at that oasis and put
them in a jar, they have flat little heads. Every-
one’s thinking something different I believe,
everyone’s completely different. If you kill me in
war, you kill a unique person with memories
that light up inside me in fiery messages from
my past, my electric past. I hear a buzzing
wire in my head. I’m sickened by all the suffering
I’m aware of. If I can’t speak for everyone,
who can I speak for, a category? I can’t accept
an identity others give me; I won’t be your person.
I rest all night in the eye of a hurricane. I have seen
so much as a human. Is there no one, nothing
outside us, to whom I can show what we know?
Is there no way I can go outside myself, if
outside myself is only more of us?
I went to a place like another planet where I felt
good without wanting something. I went to the top
of a mountain and sat down alone. I wonder who I
will know when I die, if anyone. Is death human?
You used to
take my breath
no one does.
I don’t want to bother anyone anymore, I try
to stay still. I have a fatal illness that will
eventually be painful. I don’t believe I’ll ever leave:
will I really leave? I think there’s another mind
out there beyond us. I don’t, I think it’s in me.
I think the other’s in me. If I find a you inside me,
will it be the human -- the human potential --
or will it be the morning star? I am promising
to be good again. I am seeing the words I say.
When I leave to live in printed words, who am I?
I know I’m covered in old flesh and my hair is white.
I have so many ideas! I’m so full of thought
I can’t remember what I look like. I will
walk safely and in peace from now on. If I can
have peace I won’t need much else, if others
will allow me peace: isn’t peace a human right?
To walk where I want without others minding?
I’m a woman and I can’t go where I want
without being noticed. I want to be in my mind;
I want to move through this air like a slow bird.
Will I always be speaking here? I have something
important to say, but it’s just that when I was
a child, I went somewhere and saw a kitten and felt
really good. I’m full of a lot of souls, but I remain
singular. I’m tired of my anger, do humans need
anger? They have to struggle against each
other. Do they? I have always wanted to be
outrageous, but outrageous seems to be large,
the biggest sculpture in the world. I would go in my
mind where the others wouldn’t come, but then
they came. I let them in because they needed me.
I must need you, but why? I don’t know. I
don’t take anything for granted. I don’t want to
believe, and I don’t. I don’t ever want to be corny.
I’m sentimental and I like it. I take a thought
and hold it close and pet it. I’m dying on this
parched field, I know that I will rise up and
fly. I can’t remember my body from before
it was skinny. What will fly up is me and will not
look like anything. It won’t have to eat.
I am looking forward to existence without
eating and without serving men. Go out and tell
women to vote for me, he says. I want
to vote for a tree, or a star, or a bear. I want to
tear this building down. I want to have
another cup of coffee. And then someone said
to me, Why are you so fierce? But I’m not that,
that’s only in comparison, inside a framework of
our invention. Okay, I have to flee the storm again.
Or I could stay. I am being hounded for my
beliefs. I’m struggling to tell you, I’m always
in mothballs. I want to migrate, but there’s nowhere
left to go. If I could only find an unclaimed space.
If I could only dream from the beginning! I have
love, and I’m afraid to die. I don’t have love,
and I’m not afraid to die. I just want to sit here
forever with thoughts drifting through, trying not to
make my life finite. But I’m beating on a drum. For you.
Reposted from Eileen Verbs Books
20 June 2016 – The number of people displaced from their homes due to conflict and persecution last year exceeded 60 million for the first time in the United Nations’ history, a tally greater than the combined populations of the United Kingdom, or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, says a new report released on World Refugee Day today.
The Global Trends 2015 compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from 59.5 million a year earlier.
The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries.
Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced – putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.
On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.
Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce half the world’s refugees, at 4.9 million, 2.7 million and 1.1 million, respectively.
Colombia had the largest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), at 6.9 million, followed by Syria’s 6.6 million and Iraq’s 4.4 million.
While the spotlight last year was on Europe’s challenge to manage more than one million refugees and migrants who arrived via the Mediterranean, the report shows that the vast majority of the world’s refugees were in developing countries in the global south.
In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict.
Worldwide, Turkey was the largest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. In terms of the refugee-to-population ratio, Lebanon has the highest proportion, with nearly one refugee for every five citizens.
Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, with many separated from their parents or travelling alone, UNHCR said.
With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome. But these do exist, all around the world
“Our responses to refugees must be grounded in our shared values of responsibility sharing, non-discrimination, and human rights and in international refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement,” UN Secretary-General said in his message on the Day.
“World Refugee Day is a moment for taking stock of the devastating impact of war and persecution on the lives of those forced to flee, and honouring their courage and resilience,” he said, noting that it is also a moment for paying tribute to the communities and States that receive and host them, often in remote border regions affected by poverty, instability and underdevelopment, and beyond the gaze of international attention.
Last year, more than one millionrefugees and migrants arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean, in unseaworthy dinghies and flimsy boats. “Thousands did not make it – tragic testimony to our collective failure to properly address their plight,” Mr. Ban said.
He stressed that meanwhile, divisive political rhetoric on asylum and migration issues, rising xenophobia, and restrictions on access to asylum have become increasingly visible in certain regions, and the spirit of shared responsibility has been replaced by a hate-filled narrative of intolerance.
“With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome. But these do exist, all around the world,” he said, acknowledging an extraordinary outpouring of compassion and solidarity shown by host communities.
The UN chief drew attention to the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on addressing large population movements on 19 September, which he said will offer an historic opportunity to agree a global compact, with a commitment towards collective action and greater shared responsibility for refugees at its core.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that each year, UNHCR seeks to find a glimmer of hope in the global statistics, but “this year the hopeful signs are hard to find.”
He warned that instead of burden sharing, nations are closing their borders and that instead of political will, there is political paralysis. And humanitarian organizations like his are left to deal with the consequences, while at the same time struggling to save lives on limited budgets.
“UNHCR sees 2016 as a watershed moment for the refugee cause,” he stressed. As wars spiral out of control, this must be a year to take collective responsibility and action to end the conflicts which force people to flee and also a year to help the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed by violence.
“World leaders can no longer watch passively as so many lives are needlessly lost,” he said, also noting that the upcoming General Assembly meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants will put all to the test.
For its part, UNHCR launched last week the #WithRefugees initiative to generate momentum towards that meeting, he added.
Mogens Lykketoft, UN General Assembly President, said the numbers do little justice to the pain and trauma that this crisis is causing for individual women, men and children across our world.
“They fail to capture the hardship of those who flee and the fear of those who wait anxiously behind. They fail to capture the hopelessness of those held in detention centres or the final thoughts of those lost at sea without even a whisper,” he said.
The numbers do little justice to the pain and trauma that this crisis is causing for individual women, men and children across our world
He highlighted several points, including that the international community must intensify its efforts to find political solutions to conflicts, as they are the main drivers of humanitarian need. The UN and other institutions and agencies must be provided with sufficient and predictable resources needed to fulfil their mandates and respond to the incredible levels of need.
In 2014, children constituted 51 per cent of the refugee population, with half of these missing out on primary education, he said. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind has placed a new obligation on all to reach those in situations of conflict, disasters, vulnerability and risk.
Citing that almost nine out of every 10 refugees, 86 per cent, are in regions and countries considered economically less developed, he urged the international community to enhance its solidarity with refugee hosting countries.
Given the scale of the crisis, current levels of third-country resettlement need to be reviewed, he pointed out. In 2014, only 15 per cent of the global resettlement needs were met. At least fifty thousand persons, including thousands of children died in the past two decades while seeking to cross international borders. Governments must create safe, orderly and regular pathways for refugees to move to other countries.
Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are of grave concern. All must speak out in the face of serious violations of international law. Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to be becoming more socially and politically acceptable. This needs to change, he said.