I had a major clash with the staff of our literary journal today. I accused them, maybe a bit impulsively, of reifying neocolonialism through a pretty strict focus on the contemporary Western aesthetics of poetry. Like, our journal literally has the word “International” in it, and we made the conscious decision to brand ourselves as an international journal. And yet, our first issue was almost entirely American, with a smattering of some European writers. And here we are again, about to finalize our second issue with almost an exclusive focus on the most recent aesthetic trends of the “western” literary tradition. It’s all wonderful writing, but it’s also very monolithic.
We just received a selection of some translations of absolutely breathtaking poems by a Djibouti poet–one of the most renowned and respected in his tradition–and by a translator equally as respected. And almost the entire staff voted to reject them because they couldn’t see or appreciate their value. Their only framework for consuming poetry comes from the contemporary American tradition; like they’ve simply never been exposed to other poetries, other trends, other aesthetics, and it’s quite possibly the least-international framework from which to operate.
The thing that far too many readers and writers of modern English poetry (and prose, for that matter) seem to not understand is that contemporary American poetry, like poetries elsewhere, is marked by conventions and shibboleths that shape what we consider good poetry to be. For those raised on the conventions of American poetry, it can be tempting to see these conventions as inevitable or “right” rather than as culturally-contingent, and therefore it can become tempting to use these specifically modern, American conventions to judge other poetries–even those that have very different, equally as culturally-contingent sets of conventions. Many “non-Western” traditions (the various African poetries, Middle Eastern, etc) are much more tolerant of and interested in certain qualities; abstraction and sentiment, for instance, while shunned and seen as weak and inferior in contemporary American poetry, is celebrated. Consider these lines:
perdu dans le labyrinthe bruyant de son propre temps il donne des noms à tant de choses en témoignent les seins nus des étoiles
lost in the noisy maze of his own time he gives names to so many things beneath the bare-breasted stars
That last line as a reference to the double star in the constellation Cassiopeia? Holy shit it’s so beautiful, and a perfect example of the poetics of heavenly bodies so common in Middle Eastern, North African, and Franco-Arabic poetry. But in contemporary American poetry it’s seen as abstract, flowery, grand. Take one fucking poetry workshop and you’ll quickly see what I mean. If you’re not writing about the banality of common credences in American middle-class life–about the Pringles can bought for $2.89 at Harry’s Corner Store (literally the line of a poem many people praised)–you’re not writing good poetry.
In fact, there are so many dominant trends in modern American poetry that I find extremely troubling: the backlash against ethnic poets or the complaint that some poems are “too ethnic.” The continuing distrust of imaginative and surrealist poetries. The general inability or refusal to think in terms of “poetries” rather than poetry, which would make our small neighborhood a bit larger, a bit better, a bit richer. Other traditions outside our own value the earthiness, the visionary, the need to speak of the deep winds, both light and dark, that roar around the heart with the voices of our ancestors. Where is this in our poetry? It’s workshopped the fuck out, that’s where.
It’s also particularly telling that the staff of our literary journal is almost exclusively populated by English-only poets and fiction writers, and a few translators working almost exclusively within Romance languages. As a translator of Arabic poetry, and as someone who both reads this tradition of literature and writes from its inspiration, I’m currently the only exception. We have a Japenese translator on our staff, but he’s been one of the biggest advocates for purging all of our submissions from things that seem “too foreign.” He also fetishizes linguistic prescription, so.
And all this would be okay(ish) if we were just a literary journal without the pretense of being “international.” I mean it still wouldn’t be okay, but it’s certainly not okay to position and promote ourselves as celebrating the international voice while simultaneously working to silence or homogenize it. That’s textbook neocolonialism. And it’s incredibly harmful. It’s no small gesture to simply pass on poetries that don’t fit a particular curated aesthetic; when you’re building your journal as one of the few truly international journals, and you’re only accepting a particular aesthetic, writers desperate for publication, who write from other traditions and with different aesthetics, will begin to modify their writing until it’s publishable by these myopic contemporary western standards. And that pushes back against everything that poetry should stand for, now more than ever.
While in classical colonialism this process is paralyzed, neo-colonialist domination, by allowing the social dynamic to awaken (conflicts of interest between native social strata or class struggles), creates the illusion that the historical process is returning to its normal evolution. This illusion will be reinforced by the existence of a political power (national state) composed of native elements. In reality it is scarcely even an illusion, since the submission of the local ‘ruling’ class to the ruling class of the dominating country limits or prevents the development of the national productive forces.
But in the concrete conditions of the present-day world economy this dependence is fatal and thus the local pseudo-bourgeoisie, however nationalist it may be, cannot effectively fulfill its historical function; it cannot freely direct the development of the productive forces; in brief it cannot be a national bourgeoisie. For as we have seen, the productive forces are the motive force of history, and total freedom of the process of their development is an indispensable condition for their proper functioning.
We therefore see that both in colonialism and neo-colonialism the essential characteristic of imperialist domination remains the same: the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violent usurpation of the freedom of development of the national productive forces. This observation, which identifies the essence of the two apparent forms of imperialist domination, seems to us to be of major importance for the thought and action of liberation movements, both in the course of struggle and after the winning of independence.
As Kwame Nkrumah observed, Western powers realized that if they attempted to assert control in the old-fashioned (i.e., colonial) way, they would be met with “colonial war.” Neocolonialism, thus,
denoted a set of strategies by which Western nations could assert control without provoking insurgency, helping assemble an emergent mode of whiteness that could acknowledge independence and sovereignty without ever changing the given distribution of resources.
Roderick A. Ferguson, “The Distributions of Whiteness,” American Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 4 (December 2014), pg.1102
It is impossible for contemporary French intellectuals to imagine the kind of Power and Desire that would inhabit the unnamed subject of the Other of Europe. It is not only that everything they read, critical or uncritical, is caught within the debate of the production of that Other, supporting or critiquing the constitution of the Subject as Europe. It is also that, in the constitution of that Other of Europe, great care was taken to obliterate the textual ingredients with which such a subject could cathect, could occupy (invest?) its itinerary–not only by ideological and scientific production, but also by the institution of the law. However reductionistic an economic analysis might seem, the French intellectuals forget at their peril that this entire overdetermined enterprise was in the interest of a dynamic economic situation requiring that interests, motives (desires) and power (of knowledge) be ruthlessly dislocated. To invoke that dislocation now as a radical discovery that should make us diagnose the economic (conditions of existence that separate out ‘classes’ descriptively) as a piece of dated analytic machinery may well be to continue the work of that dislocation and unwittingly to help in securing 'a new balance of hegemonic relations’.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak? (1988)
Thomas Sankara Last Speech before he get killed : “The Palestinian people fight for their freedom and well-being. The Namibian people fight for their independence. Many other peoples around the world are fighting for their freedom. In Africa we are directly confronting colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism. The fascists, the Nazis who exist in South Africa, created apartheid against Blacks. The struggle against apartheid is not only the struggle of Blacks. Rather, it is the struggle for all peoples who want to live free and united. This struggle belongs to all the peoples of the world, and we Africans call on everyone to participate.
The peoples of the world and the leaders who do not participate in the struggle against apartheid are ungrateful, traitorous leaders. They are traitorous leaders and ungrateful because they forget that yesterday Africans shed their blood fighting Nazism for the peoples of Europe and elsewhere. Today, blood must be shed against apartheid and for the well-being of other peoples.
Comrades, I would like to as you to observe a minute of silence in remembrance of Samora Machel, that great fighter for African Freedom. Thank you.”
I just watched this AMAZING documentary. It’s an multi-award winning film, featuring so many bright minds and economists who simply explain the average lifetime of an empire (250 years or 6 generations) and how that closely relates to the recent explosion of war, violence, famine and conquest that ravage the world (mostly the poor) today. When I was in highschool, I caught the bus to Occupy Chicago after school. I remember telling my mom “the revolution is coming. This is only the beginning and I have to be a part of it.” The same things people gathered in that smelly business district of Chicago, in front of the federal reserve, to protest against are issues that are driving change today. They can’t hold this wolf by the ears any longer.
If you care to learn more about the role of America & the Western world as an economic antagonist and it’s collapsing neocolonialist global empire, I highly recommend this beautifully compiled film. It’s brutally honest, but leaves you with the furthest feeling from that of despair. In fact, It leaves you with the knowledge that apathy is what will destroy us all.
Please share this film so that others can understand and, too, awaken.
When you save someone, you imply that you are saving her from something, You are also saving her to something, What violences are entailed in this transformation, and what presumptions are being made about the superiority of that to which you are saving her? Projects of saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority by Westerners, a form of arrogance that deserves to be challenged, All one needs to do to appreciate the patronizing quality of the rhetoric of saving women is to imagine using it today in the United States about disadvantaged groups such as African American women or working-class women. We now understand them as suffering from structural violence. We have become politicized about race and class, but not culture. (Abu-lughod, 2001, pp. 788-789)
Abu-lughod, L. (2001). Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 783–790.
In what ways could antitheism possibly be violent, colonialist, or white supremacist?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Antitheists wish to live in a world where science and rationality is extolled above all else, while at the same time viewing religion as simply false. We do not wish to live deluded. There is no evidence in any religious doctrine, dogma, or dictate. Period. If this sentence is offensive to you, then you confuse discursive conversation or empirical enquiry for personal/religious attack. Grow up.
In the most literal sense Haiti was […] unsettled: one of the perverse ironies of having gained its political independence from France in 1804 through a revolution was that the
country was forced to pay the European power for the losses it incurred,
and the fledgling nation was thus in debt to France on the order of millions of francs that continued well into the next century. But the price of
the ticket was exponentially inflated: there is debate among historians
that France forced the small country to not only pay for its loss of the
slave colony on the Caribbean island but also remunerate its collateral
losses on the American continent, specifically the Louisiana territories,
in the guise of interest. Burdened even before it began, Haiti stumbled
out of the gates of nationhood as a prototype for the dream of postcolonial statehood and the neocolonial debt economy; indeed, as a birth-place for modernity itself.
From its very inception, and even as a colony, the country that
would come to be known as Haiti has lingered in the shadows of the
U.S. imagination. Haiti has continually challenged the United States’
self-authorized narrative of democratic exceptionalism from the
presidency of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow
Wilson, more recently Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. In the opening years of the nineteenth century, Jefferson, although he supported
the revolutionary spirits that underwrote the American colonists and
French Jacobins, could not quite let himself imagine that blacks were
capable of self-governance and, in his second term, formally created an
embargo against the fledgling country. In the maelstrom of the Civil
War, Lincoln considered both Liberia and Haiti as sites for black relocation/deportation before settling upon the Caribbean island as the
site for a colony; this history illuminates the intertwined impulses of
U.S. nationalism and imperialism even in a moment where the nation
itself threatened to be dissolved. While Haiti never developed into a
fully materialized colony for the U.S. during the nineteenth century,
that haunting desire resurrected again in the aftermath of World War
I during Wilson’s administration. Under the guise of protecting U.S.
commercial interests, the U.S. occupied Haiti for some nineteen years —
as part of the so-called Banana Wars, the specter of Haiti emerged as
one ghost of many (including Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico,
and the Dominican Republic) that put into high relief the relationship
between U.S. exceptionalism and imperialism and, in a broader sense,
the relationship of the U.S. to the Americas writ large. Given its history, Haiti is often seen not only as an unsettled state but a failed state. And
yet for all of its future anteriority, Haiti also served as the model of a
freedom yet to be, haunting slaveholders across hemispheres and fueling nineteenth-century African American sentiment toward liberation
and inspiring global anticolonial struggles and decolonialization movements throughout the twentieth century.
Ivy G. Wilson, “P.S.: A Coda,” Unsettled States: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies, pg.307-9