Is Heriberto coming to San Francisco in reality or just in theory?
If you do come, Heriberto, watch out they don’t try to make you a New Brutalist.
My new book Deer Head Nation (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) has been touted (tooted) as one of the first published texts of the New Brutalist school, or movement, or syndrome, or virus. Not by me. But what does that matter? The New Brutalism has nothing to do with telling your own story.
The New Brutalism may be the first literary movement to induct members by force. Hence the brutality. I, for example, have received a great deal of anonymous e-mail threatening me with bodily harm should I continue to cast aspersions. A black car follows me around town. I even woke up one morning to find a dead chicken on my lawn.
This should make everything a lot clearer to all those people asking questions about the New Brutalism (asking questions can get you into trouble, but it’s your skins). It’s not about the writing. The writing is fine, or terrible, or indifferent. Being a New Brutalist is an invasively proleptic symptomaticity, an instantaneous being-colonized. As soon as you hear about the New Brutalism, U R 1. If you so much as repeat the words, even in your mind’s silent voice, you’re a party official.
Heriberto knows that emotions are not expressive. Emotions are a seizure. Emotions signify from the outside in. They’re not something you beam outward like a rainbow. They hold you in a bright circle of exposure like a police flashlight. If you want to use your poetry to show emotions, you’ve missed the point. Poetry uses emotions to show you. Or rather, to show where you are, like a radar map or a tracking device.
In this sense, poetry is like sex as Heriberto describes it. It can happen in theory or it can happen for real. When it happens in theory, we recognize it as sex/poetry: it is sexy/poetic. When it happens for real, we don’t recognize anything, we just get picked up and carried along by it. We seek out conditions of theory for poetry in order to defer an actual moment that we have no words or concepts for.
This doesn’t mean something stupid like “we should just stop theorizing about poetry (or sex) and start doing it for real.” As if it were that simple, or even desirable. It means that the theory is a part of the reality, without which the other part that we artificially separate out as the real reality wouldn’t exist.
People talk about poetry and politics. What is political poetry? Political poetry happens when both poet(s) and reader(s) are conscious of what’s going on. Not that they understand everything that’s going on, just that they know something is happening, instead of one party or the other lying there in denial. “Are you finished yet?”
The political is a state of consensus/shared interests.
We live in a country that demands a constant balancing of denial and consciousness. Denial for short-term survival, consciousness for long-term survival. Poetry, maybe, happens most intensely during those painful transitional moments between denial and consciousness, when the bandage is first coming off. Another way of putting this is to say that consciousness itself is inevitably a temporary condition of sensitivity that quickly generates new layers of desensitization. Poetry keeps the wound tender so we remember it’s there, but also keeps the pain at a low enough level that we don’t black out entirely. Somewhere in there is ecstasy.