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Biopolitics Today, Necropolitics Tomorrow

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“To make live and to let die.” 

Today I’m thinking Foucault.

This is Foucault’s six word encapsulation of biopower, a power the state wields over its subjects that began to be institutionalized by the end of the eighteenth century. Now let me condense (and flatten) Foucault. My apologies, Michel.

The mass deaths involved in the urban epidemics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can’t be underestimated. For cities like London, city-dweller’s deaths by disease often far outpaced births. They would have shrunk without a steady flow of economic migrants replacing the dead. As powerful waves of epidemics rocked cities, many questioned the role of city governments. If these administrations couldn’t prevent the mass deaths of its citizens, what exactly was its purpose? Gradually, government responded by seizing new powers and developing new institutions to count, track, and, when necessary, control the location and activities of people’s bodies. Ordinarily, people did not necessarily want to be quantified and controlled. Crises created by plagues were an exception and so plagues became a laboratory to test forms of governmentality such as the mandatory quarantine, which at its crudest level meant shutting plague victims up in their homes to most likely die where they wouldn’t spread further infection. As Foucault puts it, “[Plague] as a form, at once real and imaginary, of disorder which had as its medical and political correlative discipline.” From the quarantine, discipline. Let die. Locked in one’s own house as the plague does its incurable work.

It’s March 21st, 2020 at 9:24 a.m and my neighbors have stopped screaming at each other. The Governor has ordered the state, essentially, to shut down on Sunday. On my writing desk is a small box. In the box are two plastic bottles that I keep forgetting to fill and send to the state so they can test our water for lead. Buffalo’s toxic water is a real but diffuse problem. It’s unseeable, sickens only some people, unevenly, and slowly, and is the consequence of decade of neglect and disavowal. It’s no Flint, which hasn’t had clean water for six years, whose problem is exponentially worse and the result of both systemic neglect of the health of black, brown, and poor people as well as the ongoing malfeasance of individual state officials i.e. some assholes decided it was okay to to switch the city to the poison waters of the Flint River to save money then stuck their head in the ground when it didn’t work. Other local and state governmental assholes joined them in ignoring the problem.

In 2020, many of the infrastructures that sustain life, having been unraveled for decades by neoliberal programs, are now so compromised that they are doing the opposite–killing residents, shifting the burden onto individuals at the mercy of the private market. Buying a lifetime of bottles of water or expensive filtration systems. Having to buy your own masks, disinfectant, space away from other people. Some things one can’t afford. Some things the market doesn’t provide.

The little testing bottles sit by my right hand, and I do not know if I even want to know. I do not want to live my life in 24 packs of bottled water. I may not be able to afford one of those cool, tall, steel filtration systems. Fortunately, I do have masks. My aging mother got together with her sisters, returned to their working class routes and pumped out nearly a thousand in a month for healthcare providers in Maryland and Buffalo. To be clear, my mother does not want to become a mask factory; she, just a person, does not want to bear the cost of her and her community’s health. She shouldn’t have to.  Combine this with the drive to force people back to work in unsafe workplaces then we have shifted from a biopolitical state to a necropolitical state: one that lets people live (if they have the resources) and makes other people die (through compulsory, unsafe work).

Last night I found out a friend of mine most likely got the coronavirus at her grocery store. But that she was on the upswing. Today, Cheryl and I talked to her husband on the phone. He said he was sick with it and was having trouble breathing. When he said this, we told him we could talk some other time if it was difficult. No, he said, he was sick of playing computer games and wanted to talk. 

Neither of them could verify if what they had was the coronavirus. The county was short on tests.

I open a new browser tab, go to a news cite, and click on the coronavirus thread. In a moment, there are eight new updates in a red bubble.

The story that got traded back and forth between my wife and I and the people we are texting, calling, and video-conferencing with is this: that doctors in Italy are developing new criteria for which patients to devote their dwindling resources to and which they are least likely to save.

Biopolitics: let die. Necropolitics: make die. 

[I think I’ll turn to necropolitics more fully, if there’s time.]

[I should also say I’m having some VERY POLITICAL THOUGHTS RIGHT NOW. Those will feed in eventually. I find myself needing to take my time with this writing, whatever it is.]

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The Plague Was Always at the Margins of My Research

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Airport, morning. Mostly empty.

What do I say about this plague? I’m afraid of losing my job. Aren’t we all? Or already unemployed, perhaps sick. Fixating on door knobs, narratives of touch and transmission. Well, no one I know is playing the stock market, aroused by the blood in the water.

It’s true the Black Death created a labor shortage and this is what destroyed the feudal system. This is a fact I know and don’t know what to do with as I stare at the empty shelves of the Rite Aid at the corner of Delaware and Delavan. This is the fifth drugstore I’ve been to today after a doctor told me to take my temperature, after I was on a flight from Phoenix to Detroit, returning from a wedding with a runny nose and sore throat while someone seated next to my wife puked in their germ mask.

This plague has already created mass unemployment in some states. I didn’t get a thermometer until a friend heard about my problem and left one, wrapped in a Clorox wrap, in my mailbox.

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Dolphin Apartment

Bernie Sanders isn’t perfect. Bernie Sanders isn’t even socialism. Still, I see Bernie Sanders athwart a dolphin, cascading forward.

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I KNOW ITS A NARWHAL

And I don’t want the state to end but to end the state as we know it. Onyesonwu in a Red Nation Podcast episode on Venezuela and anti-imperialism: “In the united states ultra-leftists are like ‘we need to destroy the state.’ If you go to Cuba, they’re like ‘we are the state.'” Elsewhere, in that episode, Onyesonwu suggests that if the majority of people of Venezuela wanted to get rid of Maduro they would. I take this as a way of saying the state evolved with autonomous movements to make space for them. The people’s power to do away with the state is what legitimates the state.

The state should open up space for direct participation in the state and organizations in which direct, democratic participation is fundamental (say worker co-ops).

A dolphin surfaces Bernie Sanders then the dolphin surfaces the seal-blue masses.

Dolphins surface the people through seal-blue waves.

The protean ocean, its place in the imaginary of political philosophy.

hobbes

Hobbes’ subjects compose and look at the sovereign with their hats on. That their hats are on is a sign of disrespect. Their disrespect doesn’t matter. As long as they are facing the sovereign they compose his sovereignty. I will not say his name.

Bernie Sanders recedes, the dolphin remains composed of people holding each other up, shoulder to shoulder. And a text bubble floats form the dolphin’s mouth: ALL CAPS, appears in the bubble, MOVEMENT POLITICS THAT DOESN’T GIVE ITS POWER AWAY.

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I have done some poems in Apartment Poetry Vol 12, for Mike Walsh hast committed them to accessible pixels. The poems called “Da Fugue Zone” are my current obsession. Therapists have invited me to see myself as chronically sad rather than terminally depressed. Ok! It’s been a struggle either way. This sadness is layered pretty thick, year long sneezes of indigo parachutes, those indigo parachutes on the floor of my life. Something like that. They touch the island of depression, finger its shore, its watery mouth, you know?

So that jelly of sadness fermented and off-gassed and gave rise to some poem: Da Fugue Zone. Post 2016 more people are writing poems that enact their politics (and/or there are more publications making way for people enacting their politics through poetry). This is great. I was in the thick of that for a year or so then lost my footing in 2018, lost my local coordinates which guided my poetry when I moved from Buffalo to Ithaca. Then poetry became a space for reflection not of, but reflection on, processing, &, yeah, glitching/crashing & gliding through. They can be a bit dreamy, with poems like BUFRAT asserting as reality, their given, small municipalist aspirations.

In the apartment, CL Young’s poems are poised in attention, phrases hum in braces of space and linebreaks–the leap and its phenomenology. Kamden Hilliard’s dense address & spirals of register and reference, from “dayglo” to “mirror shaped wound,” sandbox video games to spittoons. The world like it is. Ryan Collins’ “Fugue State in D Minor” has a lot of percussion. Consonant drums and slant rhymes improvised over a steel frame. Sara Nicholson, an upstate compatriot, just centered and scaled back so every utterance has its space to sink.What I admire so much is the commitment of these poetics to a relentless clarity. It’s self-professed poetics: “And although there are those who find / Difficulty a virtue, madness too, / I aim to simplify.” Ian Lockaby’s interest in vegetation and taxonomy–an intriguing push and pull between the experience of texture and the production of category. Let no one say I never described.

 

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This is just a list of podcasts & a review

This is just a list of podcasts

Aside from a lot of goofy improv podcasts, I’ve been ravenous for new sources of news, history, and decided and informed leftist analysis that can bridge the local and global. So here’s what I’ve turned to/friends have fed me. What am I missing? 

The Red Nation Podcast

The East is a Podcast

Ogres and Organizing

Working Class History

How To Survive The End of the World

David Harvey’s Anti-Capitalist Chronicles

Who Makes Sense: A History of Capitalism Podcast

Always Already Podcast: A Critical Theory Podcast

I’m a poet tho I’ve given up on poetry podcasts. It’s not that there aren’t any good ones. But more the function of what I turn to podcasts for? Or a sort of cowardice?

If you make these podcasts or point me to them I will subscribe:

-Noises of food cooking.

-The ins and outs of workplace organizing.

-On municipalism.

-Bottom-up news and analysis re: Buffalo, Erie County, WNY.

-Working through Kathy Acker’s poems, one poem at a time, to infinity.

-My friends and their friends, talking.

 

A Review

Greg Bem reviewed my latest book, Someone’s Utopia (2018), at North of Oxford. I appreciate the many analytical lines of flight in the review as well as the double-edged vocabulary he uses to describe the work–to capture it’s difficulty and sprawl, what would compel some readers and absolutely turn others off. Thank you, Greg. This also reminds me of one goal for my writing going forward–after I for the most part finished this one in 2016: to write less damaged work, to write that knits things together, that pulls long threads around each other.

 

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Review on Someone’s Utopia–and the rest

Fitz Fitzgerald recently published a review of my latest book Someone’s Utopia and the rest of my book-works. This is the first retrospective of my first decade of work (2008-2018). That is an insane sentence to type, to have been able to publish that long.

It’s rare to be taken seriously and reviews are often the most thankless work. It’s rarer to be reviewed by someone who has written work you love. So I’m bowled over by Fitz’ extended, luminous attention.

Here’s Fitz on tumblr. If you can, find a way to read his manuscript Cartography, esp the poem “Triage Shirtwaist Fire.”

 

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POST NUMBER TWO HUNDRED AND ELEVEN: VOMITING GOLD // WORKER COOPERATIVES FOREVER // POEM IN BEST BUDS! COLLECTIVE

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This poem at Best Buds! Collective came from working at a consumer cooperative and very much experiencing that as having just a lot more bosses. The customer is always right and also on your board. Not good. The small college town I was in was a hub for  consumer cooperatives. And massively unhappy 20 something employees scraping by, dragging debt around, and getting talked down to by sociology professors. Among these unhappy workers I came to see the difference between the two kinds of cooperatives as differences of kind, not degree. Yet up to a year ago I constantly confused the virtues of one for the other. Then I started vomiting gold.

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Some of the mission statement of Best Buds! Collective:

Best Buds! Is an anti-capitalist, anti-work queer publishing & design collective. We’re made up of writers, artists, editors, and designers who are explicitly opposed to oppressive & exploitative publishing and production models within the arts.

The mission of Best Buds! is simple: to pool our resources (labor, financial, and experience) in a manner that allows artists to maintain agency over their work. We aim not to curate work that we “select,” but to bring to life projects from artists we believe in: our authors & artists maintain every final decision about the production of their work and are given 100% of royalties on all net profit.

Whereas the members of our collective don’t share any explicit political affiliations, we are opposed to white supremacy, colonialism, corporations, xenophobia, ableism, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, the cishet patriarchy, philanthrocapitalism, intellectual property, imperialism, jingoism, and anti-sex work puritanism. Thus, we disavow just about all major policies practiced by major publishing houses and institutions.

There’s more. They have a spreadsheet of their finances below this mission statement.

YES.

 

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Back to my poem, cooperatives. One way forward: a dense web of worker-owned cooperatives. Workers controlling the work place, practicing direct democracy. Worker owned organizations working w/each other, creating circuits of exchange that go beyond currency and level hierarchies of value–a version of the solidarity economy, a culture of cooperatives and democratic control. I look to Cooperation Jackson for this model’s capacity to counter gentrification and massive transfers of wealth from cities to huge, heinous corporations like Amazon. And their model’s emphasis on reducing carbon emissions in the process. And their practice of this vision in a city largely and state entirely hostile to it.

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Here’s a quote from Milton on the necessity of the 17th Century, English version of impeachment in his 1650 The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates: “Who knows not that the King is a name of dignity and office, not of person: Who therfore kills a King, must kill him while he is a King.” Repeat: “Who therfore kills a King, must kill him while he is a King.” His point is that the English parliamentarians could not bring Charles to justice in hindsight, after he had been effectively relieved of his kingship. It had to be done to Charles, King. You can’t wait for a tyrant to relinquish power. Mobilizing the language of tyranny one has assumed that the tyrant won’t relinquish power. The right has been deploying the language of absolutism. This is the rhetoric that was mobilized in response.

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reading…Jill Magi’s SpeechRebel Rank and File, Andrea Abi-Karam’s EXTRATRANSMISSION

Marriage Story IS JUST PEOPLE YELLING FEELINGS.

 

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Two New Poems, Crumb of a Poetics

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I’ve spent the last two years in flux. When writing started to come again, we made the major decision of moving from Ithaca to Buffalo, forever. We needed to. It was the right decision. But it meant being, again, unemployed and scrambling. While we were living in boxes in a short-term rental, I did the kind of jobs I did when I was 18—and 23—and last summer. Like landscaping or working at a CBD farm where, with the whole staff, I got laid off due to some palace/barn intrigue. So I swallowed my pride and entered the adjunct trenches again where I’m not paid anything and often have to check and recheck my bank account and when I get my next paycheck to decide if and when I should buy a book. It hasn’t been all bad—friends have looked to help me all the way and my love and gratitude for them has grown and grown.

But it’s been challenging to write.

I’ve been at it, trying to scratch out something for the past year. I’m tentatively calling it a municipalist poetics. I’m thinking municipalism in terms elaborated by Margaret Kohn in Radical Space (ugh, space) and the eco-socialist Cooperation Jackson, with their combative relationship to gentrification (establishing a “Fortification Line”!) and emphasis on developing networks of organizations of direct participation and democratic control (“solidarity economy”).

I’m trying to learn how this poetics, though rooted in the specifics of a city and its ppl, isn’t a strictly localist poetics. It would seek to slip the local trap. It would still maintain a utopian horizon.

I’m trying to array this poetics in relation to something Buffalo’s Harper Bishop said (tweeted) though I may not have heeded it at the time: political art isn’t necessarily activist art. In this poetics, the political—political content—is not enough. It may politicize in terms legible not to ppl reading Poetry but ppl in that city (and the country?). It would consider, absolutely, it’s circulation and the relation of that circulation to organizing and confrontations w/the powers of that polis.

Part of what necessitates a municipalist poetics is the collapse of a relatively independent press in many mid-size cities. Buffalo has one major newspaper, and it’s no good. An attempt to start a print-online progressive weekly with an emphasis on city politics sputtered out after a few years, though it was doing good reporting on racist policing in the city. It has since stopped doing actual reporting and is now another strictly online source of (increasingly rudderless) commentary on reporting. What’s left is a gigantic affective & informational vacuum that Buffalo’s neo-liberal machine depends on to quietly redistribute wealth upwards. A municipalist poetics enters this space of absence.

This is all very sketchy. I hope to find time to elaborate beyond a pile of highlighted texts and conversations w/ppl.

My own attempts to write in this direction have been…unsatisfactory. For instance, here’s a piece published by PEN America that redirects trauma to the traumatizers: our fascist Sheriff beating himself up, cops killing cops killing cops killing cops, etc. [But some local companies have begun creating their own self-cancelling loops—like Lloyd Tacos apologizing for apologizing for serving tacos to detention center workers who do the work of starving the inmates.] Thanks to Danniel Schoonebeek for peeling this one from my eternally revising grasp.

An earlier piece about Buffalo’s waters was published by Salt Front in their 2019 Summer Issue.