Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span 2012 | Ruth Jennison

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Chad Friedrichs, dir. | The Pruitt-Igoe Myth | 2011

It’s not so much that this documentary is formally masterful; in fact, it’s all about the content here. But the ideological intervention it makes is consummately important and seriously successful. The “failure” of Pruitt-Igoe is the crown-jewel in the anti-utopian, anti-modernists’ case. But we know that it is the utopians that always tell the truth. Pruitt-Igoe, it shows, flamed briefly and brightly as an interracial communitarian project, and its inhabitants cry on-screen over its loss to the austerity attrition of government funding and restoration of segregation in Saint Louis.

Richard Pare | The Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932 | 2007

This book is nicely paired with The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. A loving and voluminous photographic survey of Soviet-era modernist architecture. It’s not ruin porn, if that’s what you’re in search of. Pare’s eye is in absolute solidarity with the social dreams preserved in alembics of concrete and plaster. Each and every photograph, and its thorough attendant description, offers an opportunity to fantasize lavishly about a world where Family and Obedience no longer bind the structures in which we live and labor.

Bela Tarr, dir.| Sátántangó | 1994

You should be suspicions of Tarr, but watch all of his films. Sátántangó, like much of his oeuvre, is anti-Communist, mythic, and quasi-religious. It is also a wildly melancholic and totalizing account of transition—a staring out from a dusty precipice onto emerging landscapes of differently-formed capitalist accumulation. Like the work of Aleksandr Sokurov, it is precisely its anti-materialism that should please the student of history who finds richness in the valiant failure to grasp the punctual moments when one kind of history becomes another.

Bethesda Softworks | Fallout – New Vegas | 2010

According to my gaming statistics, I spent the length of a February in a leap year playing this game. That makes sense, since the game insists on the fictitious nature of any calendar not wedded to seasonal cycle or the actions of its world. The apocalypse, for the game’s creators, brings equal parts Gemütlichkeit and gore. One possible ending, entitled “No Gods No Masters,” carves a home out of time, however virtual, for our anarchist comrades.

Antler | Factory | City Lights | 1980

Antler’s neo-Beat Whitmanian anti-capitalism is a prismatic negation of emerging neoliberalism’s labor regimes and attendant eviscerating effects on the class-for-itself. The repetition of form clogs up the humanism, but you’ll need both Adorno and The 1844 Manuscripts to really get it. The inauthentic solution at the end features a squirrel that can once again travel contiguously from coast to coast on branches reforested over the detritus of capital. Factory is best read alongside the excellent syndicalist anthology Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s.

Hossam el-Hamalawy |

El Hamalawy has been and remains one of my principal guides to the Egyptian revolution. His reporting and analysis offer incredibly subtle and partisan accounts of the unfolding social and class antagonisms in the Middle East. His activism far predates the revolution, and it is his rootedness in the industrial strike actions in the textile sector that allows his analysis to go really vertical; really deep into the prehistory of Tahrir. He is also an excellent curator of revolutionary graffiti and anti-authoritarian metal.

Kenneth Fearing | Collected Poems | Random House | 1940

Sol Funaroff might tenderly eulogize Fearing’s sensorium of historical consciousness: “I am that exile/ from a future time/ from shores of freedom/ I may never know.” My favorite Fearing poem, “Denouement,” is at once a cemetery of socialist possibility and a breathtaking celebration of the kind of infinite vision possessed by the best revolutionaries. If you have the vaguest interest in how poetry supersedes narrative in its ability to mediate the struggle against capital, then you should read this poem. Fearing writes to, and from, that future time.

Srđan Spasojević, dir.| A Serbian Film | 2010

This film received a mixed reception at best. But it’s not at all correct to write it off as yet another iteration in the now fully mainstream genre of torture porn. It is a gritty Skype from the semi-periphery, a filmic impress of teeth-grinding nationalism, war crimes of rape and murder, post-Communist immiseration, “industries” of orphans and pornography, and the blood and effluvium soaked nest of the family romance.

Larry Eigner | Collected Poems | Stanford | 2010

It’s the 70s period windowscapes which I love the most, but I haven’t finished the entire oeuvre, so I could end up loving something more, better, later. I’m reading this alongside Fredric Jameson’s Representing Capital and the two are profoundly inter-illuminating. The geographic fidelity of Eigner’s particulars is matched only by their deference to the silent abstractions of empty typespace. Isn’t that also the secret of the letters, and the dashes, of M-C-M ?

Craig Santos Perez | from unincorporated territory [saina] | Omnidawn | 2010

Perez’s expansive, materialist geographies of Guam remind us that the Pacific is to the 21st Century what the Atlantic was to an earlier capitalism. Perez cites the importance of the tilde (~) throughout his work; its rolling oceanic wave alternates in its function as an allusion to waterways, and to mathematical equivalence. The poem, like its predecessor, from unincorporated territory [hacha], is full Earth in its spatial imaginary, emotionally sonorous and unironically vibrant in its protest. A postmodern Charmorro epic.

Jim van Bebber, dir. | Deadbeat at Dawn | 1988

What if Dayton, and not Detroit, were the site-specific synecdoche of outsourcing, austerity and uncommoning? For Van Bebber, it is. The ultraviolence is robust, at times besting the heroic sadism of Rob Zombie’s anti-federalist lumpens. But it’s the urban landscapes that really show the violence of Reaganite dispossession; unevenly brutal scars on the city combine, and the periphery is an archipelago in the core.


Ruth Jennison is an Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. She has recently published The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins and the Avant-Garde (Johns Hopkins, 2012). Her current project is entitled “Figurative Capital: Poetry and the World System, 1929-1989.”

This is Ruth Jennison’s first contribution to Attention Span. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

November 25, 2012 at 9:00 am

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