Monday, August 30, 2010
David Wolach's writing enacts a radical mode of re-figuring, in the sense that it is deeply concerned with the necessities of body in a vacuum of cultural & economic violence (as in the repetition of the prefix "re" in "Transit" from Occultations:
we will have had to learn to surface, exhale in a burst of pre
rename, relearn, re
trace, redraw what hasn't been
that it imagines a place of trapdoors, hidden expanses, of potentiality in the figure re-claimed). Attuned to the patterns of insistent consumerism, and the politics of comingled sensuality and destruction, David locates cultural sinkholes, points of negative force that bifurcate, exposes collective experiential fault-lines. It is work that maps the field of "commerce" and the fusing of its dual meanings; as an interchange of ideas between people, and as a pervasive, widespread exchange of commodities. How does the body (self and collective) become a commodity, become effectually dis-embodied (this place will have dreamed it was a body again)? How is it rendered (as a poem can be; as a political prisoner)? In what capacity can it re-emerge? (when emergent broken the body / defies occupation). David’s work disintegrates the ease of our categorization; the aesthetic and social borders within the poem, the conditions of resistance, ritual, & disease – all simultaneously generative and depletive modes of physicality.
What I find most valuable here is David's allowance for the vulnerable (an opening to attack), itself a practice of dissent, to reenter the poem and form a basis for communal exchange. Occultations and David's ongoing Hospitology series present a multivalent lyric that splinters the "I" into an interpenetrated "We" by invoking a sense of society's increasing disequilibrium of power. What ultimately constitutes this "We" in all of it, the backwash of economic exploitation, pop ephemera, endless war? In a poetic laying-bare David answers by encouraging all of us to become whole again through active, embodied struggle; through an intimate re-connecting.
David Wolach's Occultations engages a set of intensely immersive somatic rituals which act out a deep commiseration with bio-political abjection. His work inflicts wounds on complacency so that feeling is recovered and the "thresholds we carry" are renegotiated. These empathetic somatic engagements perform a "tensing with a perverting here" compelling readers to "drown out" the text with "reciprocal procedures". Disquieted supplements wail in orchestration. Degraded lyric as convergence of aphorias reengage signification at the base level of dirt, blood and tears. Unaccountable excess—corporeal energy that can't be domesticated into serviceable units stages rebellions. There is increased pressure exerted on the concept of mapping and articulating the body—because how can one locate and distinguish that which has been devastated or deeply disparaged. Maps, for one are the cartography of colonization, something Wolach challenges with his full being. His jittery vibratory verse bounces feverishly within unfeasible ecosystems shaking off coordinates. Presencing bodies protest having become "an appendage of flesh on a machine of iron" to use Marx's language. David’s use of citation is communal in that it connects and catalyzes despairing parts (former missing links) in the social matrix. Coordinates are unstable, changing and disappearing within layers of becoming—most especially when what is being related is a body process of awakening agency. Thank you David, for this sensitizing rush!
Militant Bodies, Common Bodies : Some Notes on David Wolach's Poetry
It was David’s affect that attracted me first — open, vulnerable, patient, disarming — all the qualities a queer boy like myself longs for in other guys, whether there’s some amorous prospect to be realized or not. This was several years ago, but the impression remains fresh. David and I introduced ourselves to one another in a dining commons at Bard College. We both had summer gigs teaching in the Language and Thinking program, a scene of deep collaboration around poetry and pedagogy, which would become the setting for our new friendship.
There is a critical militancy that complements David’s affect — permeates it — augmenting, rather than contradicting, all his qualities that move me. Within a few minutes of our meeting, we got to talking about student activism at the Evergreen State College, where I had spent some time as an undergraduate, and where David currently teaches. We found common ground discussing campus politics — always a distorted mirror of larger social forces — and how our various political engagements, both there and elsewhere, changed our lives.
David’s militancy moves from the union to the classroom, from the clinic to the street, through institutional zones and practices where our collective well-being — the commons — is always being stimulated and suppressed, aroused and seized.
I don’t use the term “militant” casually or commonly, but I like the idea of linking it to the commons. Against the grain of dominant “common sense” — grotesque ideology — militating and communing are not at odds. The militant body may even be consonant with the common body, at home in it — the body as commons? Habeas corpus — to have the body — becomes our common ground, if only because of the hostile social processes that disable, subject, constrain, and debase all our bodies commonly. And yet the body also potentiates a resource in excess of anything we can currently name.
In his introduction to the recently translated Genocide in the Neighborhood, a work that emerged from Argentine activist groups responding to the situation of the disappeared, Brian Whitener notes “ ‘militant’ doesn’t mean military […] militant signifies a stronger commitment to politicized collectivity”, and this may get at the sum of David’s practices, pedagogically and poetically. Whether in a classroom or a waiting room, a poem or a chant, a community of friends or a union of laborers, David’s writing and person activate this commitment to collective engagement, while militating for an enlarged politics.
At a recent Nonsite Collective event where David facilitated a discussion on “The Commons and the Body”, I quickly cribbed a few notes to help me introduce his poetry to the group. I wrote: “In David’s writing, the body becomes an occlusion in common sense.” The phrase came unexpectedly. What was I getting at?: the body as resistant to any regime of knowledge — be it medical or military — that would make of it a ward.
The body manifests in David’s poems not as an object, but as a situation where too many social processes, institutions, and apparatuses converge — medical, military, labor, financial, environmental — in often hostile ways, despite whatever benign appearance. David’s body is a body in revolt from the object status to which these apparatuses subject it, and his poetry is nothing if not an agitator in the interest of this revolt.
This is “the body-as-a-hole” (Occultations 77). This is the body struggling to affect a radical displacement in orders of common sense that determine what can and can’t be seen and said. This is the body as supplement and void — in excess of what counts and thus not legitimately here — challenging everything that serves to enforce orders of state. This is the body as nonsite of the commons, the commons being what is not here, the only thing we can share in truth, a set of social relations we’ve failed to actualize, a blank of pure potential, where we’re always dying, and always becoming. This is the body as an assemblage of intensities linked to multiple scenes of power that contain all our utopian and dystopian possibilities: all the vicissitudes of care and harm. This is the body as the critical situation of our undoing: the body as a commons in the way failure is a possibility we don’t know what to do with.
Tortured body. War torn body. Environmentally ill body. Ecstatic body. Immolated body. “What work this dying is,” he writes. David’s poems consistently make the occulted links between various scenes of the body’s expropriation perceptible. And while the poems affirm not knowing what a body can do, they nonetheless register what the body can’t do insofar as its flows have been obstructed, expropriated, owned, and forced to persist in irresolvable conflict with militarized production, environmental degradation, and geopolitical debasement.
David’s writing portends the body as a kind of “dissipative structure” — (according to chaos theory, a form of organization that resists its own conditions of dissipating energy and eroding resource) — a body at once vulnerable and resistant to every form of social erosion, a vulnerability and a resistance commensurate with the struggle to organize under conditions where the commons and the body alike go on sliding entropically toward exhausted resource.
Organize what?: a community, a union, a classroom, a collective, a poem: “organization” being a dynamic movement between all these organs. Prosody as organized pulse.
In David’s poems, the body-in-pain — chronic pain, constant reminder of mortality — is lived like a third world niche market — frontier of development — where the only lexicons available for speaking or singing of first world illness collide with the perverse semantics of the so-called “developing world”: the body as casualty — what can’t develop any more — sung in “the language of paper / cheap and easy,” when all you can do from here is “hold yr breath & pray / for the lynched.”
Under these conditions of ongoing war and environmental disaster, what has been occulted — nonsite: withdrawn from view — is as much the war-torn body, or the flood victim body, or the fallen militant body, as the memoranda that make these bodies possible, all of which are inseparable from the sick body here, wherever we might call home.
David’s writing proposes to resurrect the failed body as potential and resource. And in this sense, too, his work proposes a perverse model of our occluded commons — body-as-a-hole — the body that fails to count within dominant regimes of visibility. This is the body as “collateral damage”, and it shares what can’t be shared with the militant body fallen in the streets of Gaza, and with the transgendered body violated here on Mission Street.
Just as the commons may be thought of as a nonsite whose history is the story of its own expropriation, this body is a disappearing act: negative ontology of our only common resource. This is the commons as the blank in history — history of the future that haunts us now — and David’s poems propose “degraded lyric as convergence of [these] aporias / The strange tremor of unusual poverties / Of not knowing what will come of this” (Occultations 117). The militant body — the body as secret agent of our commons — hangs on that not, the withdrawn secret of a counter-capacity waiting to be activated, waiting to surge.
This may be our occultation: the militant body as site of common refusal, zone of uncharted futures. This is also the body whose patiency suspends all property relations, to one another and to our life processes — “giving oneself over as shared resource” “given over to community” (David’s notes) — rendering the corpus open, disarming, and vulnerable to forms of unanticipated care, while resisting any form of knowledge that would further subject it.
Here is the abundance of the patient body — “a capacity without limit” — whose unruly excess persists in revolt against a grammar of proper agents and objects, a system that disables, limits, constrains.
David’s writing is the militant affirmation of this patiency.
An occultation is a withdrawing, a flight or sentence into non-existence. In David Wolach's Occultations, the reader becomes propinquitous to so much that she can't see, so withdrawn has the actual world become through a media which functions as the eyes and ears to the detriment of a becoming proprioceptive. By amplifying the senseless via pun and other synaesthesic language effects, Wolach overturns common sense and returns his reader to their senses. What would be contemporary peeks out through Wolach's picnolepsy. Element (principally fire) is not merely a theme but a burden--"the fires have not died / they've moved away with the j o b s"--the ethical burden of whatever remains in the movement between site and nonsite, I and we, direct address and a corrosive intertextual poetics in the service of secular messianic event. "dear, __________" "who will take me from our ashen / refuge?" Reading Occultations, 'I' takes refuge in loss, lack, and non-presence saved only by what cannot be redeemed: the wreck of our bodies shored by the catastrophic convergence of late capitalist Neoliberalism and cross-cultural moral fundamentalisms.
Here's what I wrote as a blurbista for David's super-interesting, complex book Prefab Eulogies, Volume 1: "In Prefab Eulogies, Volume 1 poetry meets positivism on the shimmery dance floor of our eternal present. Along the way, David Wolach raises a slew of alluring quandaries: How can the body be a site of resistance? In what ways are we already fabricating our still-to-be-cooked–up demise? How can Wittgenstein help us decode the USA PATRIOT Act? Was "our fetish commodified long before PATCO"? Is it possible to out-Flarf Flarf? Prefab Eulogies encourages multi-channel collectivity that demands we read—and act—with a finger on the trigger of forgiveness, with an eye trailing reclamation."
To that I'd add that I appreciate and admire how David Wolach concertedly transforms poetry into an explicitly social act. When he performs, he collaborates--often with the amazing Elizabeth Williamson--in engaging, gracious ways that makes space for spontaneity and desire. His poems play out in different ways each time, concretely acting out the abstract notion that the body can be a site of resistance. On top of all that, he's a super-generous curator slash culture worker who does a great job creating theoretically thick, real-world-meaningful experiences for the students he works with at Evergreen State College. How fortunate those students are!