Cornelius Castoriadis 1922 – 1997
NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 160 | November 8, 2008
THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE
HATTO FISCHER: Poetry & politics
As Americans witnessed in the presidential campaign, first in Berlin, Europe was waiting with open and anxious arms for new leadership in America. In some ways they sensed the voice within Obama well before many in our country finally cast their vote for change last Tuesday.
It was heartening to witness and hear the groundswell of support all over the world as the first Black, against all odds, historical and cultural, was elected the 44th President of the United State and stood humbly before the thousands who gathered in celebration in Chicago only four nights ago.
Among a number of friends from other parts of the world who expressed their congratulations and thoughts with me, Hatto Fischer, in Greece, is one writer, poet, thinker, cultural-ambassador-to-the-world in particular, that I would like to share at this historic moment with all readers of Poetry Dispatch and Notes from the Underground.
I only wish there were a place for him in whatever cultural program Barack creates for the greater good, the greater world at large. —Norbert Blei
after Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, it is time to say something about the connection between poetry and politics.
Certainly you have made your contributions, from spreading local news to encouraging the poetic way. You have done so by enabling writers, poets to find their voices through publications, reviews, recognitions, discussions and just listening to them.
All along, and ever since with Sam Hamill and others ‘the Poets against the War’ came to life after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I have asked myself what does this say about the American society, its people and especially its poets? In seeing how many engage themselves, poetically speaking, I wondered when will this poetic language enter daily life and daily language? It has to do with not only how to gain dignity in a void of knowledge about existence, so that you end up in some back room in front of an empty sheet of paper, but by learning how to handle the imagination.
As the Bulgarian poetess Dostena Lavergne would say, poetry has to do with something amorphous but it is a binding power of a different order. Many would doubt that connections through poetry have that same quality when compared with hard fought negotiations at the end of which there stands a legal paper called ‘contract’. Yet the poetic commitment to life, the zeal to feel its impulses, is much stronger and more enduring than any contract linking any mortal to a legal system and to the many lawyers who make a living off those who think breaking the law is a way of life.
There are many types of ‘outlaws’ and some may think here of Johnny Cash with his stories about in and out of jail, but he too affirmed to strike back after 9/11 insofar as he said who would be so foolish to do something like that and think to get away with it. Yes, unfortunately revenge exists as a rule all over the world. It is even the highest law in the Islamic religion. It is assumed to be the only way to regain balance out of a position of permanent imbalance. It will be an open question if Barack Obama as President will understand this call: not to define foreign policy on the principle of revenge which is also embodied in the death penalty and meant to deter by being absolute in the negation of life, and which the act of killing spells out plainly for all to see. It is repeatedly shown on the television screen and not only there, for it is backed up by those advocating that by taking literally speaking the law into your own hands, for the state is not to be trusted to do the dirty work, the only way to seek revenge is to do it oneself. But that is an absurd equation of law with own hands, and yet there it is this savage custom to become wild when claiming to be civilized.
And one more thing: if some American writers pride themselves to get the money whenever they want, as if this is the raw law of survival, then in reality this myth ‘of lets go freely on a binge but care only for yourself’, that goes at the expense of those willing to give and who end up being abused by this kind of egoistic drive. Such a drive ends up in loneliness as described by Canetti who sees in it another form of death drive. But that is not the way out of the dilemma insofar as you cannot recognize your own greatness by negating that of all others. If that would be the credo, it would leave America exposed to the kind of vanity fair Palin surely comes close to and which you, Norb, pointed out in that webpage you send around so that we could imagine what would it be like if she sat in the Oval office. The agreement by her to go hunting with the Canadian comedian posing as Skarkozy after he invited her to hunt from a helicopter as he had never done that before, it underlines the seriousness of that joke aimed to expose vanity.
But I want to come back to the poetic language to which you besides Sam Hamill have contributed so much. I think the fact that Americans look at themselves now with respect and take more seriously then their fears their abilities to handle the elusiveness of the imagination to show new ways, it is the result of all this incredible poetic work. So aside from the congratulations which should go directly to Barack Obama and his campaign team, there needs to be given recognition to the poets. Without them it would not have been possible to learn those lessons from the past, including those of the Civil Rights Movement. It explains why the dreams of the past did not shatter even after Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. A powerful emotional base for civic engagement has been created over time and through this election it came to fore. Hence I find it awesome that Barack Obama recognizes this first of all. In Chicago he said to the people ‘you did not elect me’. He meant they elected first of all themselves or rather a more just political system. If hope has a meaning in what Barack Obama says for the future, then it would be important to support him in what he intends, namely to give back or even to give to the people for the first time a political system by which they can govern themselves. All political systems have been abused until now in order to govern against the people. By contrast his style of politics intends to be for the people. Thus he will be a true challenge not only to himself and the American people, but equally to every other government, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world.
We need to think only of the many flawed elections we have witnessed recently in Africa, the countless equally intolerable state of affairs in Zimbabwe with Mugabe clinging on to power by all means but one example, and to which only Gordon Brown has stood up so far in a world wide beset by a permanent art of rationalization. The latter is an outcome of corruption of the mind. It explains why there exists an unwillingness to take serious the need to be honest. So far this has been the type of governance when it comes to viewing what people want. Hence change comes when the imagination enters to further thoughts how best to express good governance through politics by all people. It was the Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who mentioned that participation involves the imagination, even in what people project upon the White House when they drive by in Washington D.C..
I wish you and all the poets you have encouraged so far to keep on writing as testified in that recent book you published, namely ‘other voices’. They should continue, continue to link daily work with day dreams, so as to free the imagination in order to be able and willing to handle with imagination the problems ahead. But what has been achieved as of now, and I mean this election result of Nov. 4th 2008, there needs to be given a tribute to all poets who have already freed the imagination. That is the prerequisite to stand up against doubt and skepticism, as said by Barack Obama. And no wonder he ends with ‘yes we can’. By achieving that American poetry has already contradicted the statement by that member of the Stockholm Academy for the Nobel Prize, who said nothing much can be expected from American Literature when compared to the European one.
What took place in the United States with the election of Barack Obama, is a historical feat. It seems everyone picked up as well something from Nelson Mandela when voting on November 4th, namely to finally get rid of that fear to be great in daily life. Nelson Mandela said you free the others by not being afraid of your own greatness. By doing that you free the others and that is the best way to reach out to the others around the globe.
Greetings from Athens and congratulations to you for all the work you have done to give others a voice.
The book OTHER VOICES is available by clicking here…