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September 28th, 2011

The Poets Role?

"This is not the place to discuss the merits or defects of the author's work. What concerns me at the moment is the fact that, despite everything, he is a poet. I am vitally interested in the man who today has the misfortune of being an artist and a human being. By the same token I am as much interested in the manoeuvres of the gangster as I am in those of the financier or the military man. They are all part and parcel of society; some are lauded for their efforts, some reviled, some persecuted and hunted like beasts. In our society the artist is not encouraged. not lauded, not rewarded, unless he makes use of a weapon more powerful than those employed by his adversaries. Such a weapon is not to be found in shops or arsenals: it has to be forged by the artist himself out of his own tissue. When he releases it he also destroys himself. It is the only method he has found to preserve his own kind. From the outset his life is mortgaged. He is a martyr whether he chooses to be or not. He no longer seeks to generate warmth, he seeks for a virus with which society must allow itself to be injected or perish. It does not matter whether he preaches love or hate, freedom or slavery; he must create room to be heard, ears that will hear. He must create, by the sacrifice of his own being, the awareness of a value and a dignity which the word human once connoted. This is not the time to analyze and criticize works of art. This is not the time to select the flowers of genius, differentiate between them, label and categorize. This is the time to accept what is offered and be thankful that something other than mass intolerance, mass suicide, can preoccupy the human intellect."

    Henry Miller (introducing poetry by Kenneth Patchen)

Kenneth Patchen and Some Kind of Monster

The New Being
by Kenneth Patchen

They’d make you believe that your problem is one of sex,
That men and women have mysteriously become
Strange and fearful to one another—sick, diseased, cold—
And that is true. But no loss of a father-image or of
Any other image, did this. Why don’t you face the truth for once?
You have accepted the whole filthy, murderous swindle without
A word of protest, hated whomever you were told to hate,
Slaughtered whomever you were told to slaughter; you’ve lied,
Cheated, made the earth stink with your very presence—Why
Shouldn’t you despise and hate one another? Why shouldn’t
Your flesh crawl everytime you touch one another?
Why should you expect to make ‘love’ in a bed fouled with corpses?

Oh, you poor, weak little frauds, sucking around
Frantically for something to ease your guilt—
Why don’t you face it?
Your birthright, liferight,
Deathright, and now your
Sexright, you’ve lost. What
Did you expect? How
Else could it be? You’ve
Made property and money your only gods—
Well, this is their rule,
This is what you wanted.
And now they’ll wipe you out.

Why don’t you face it?
Stop sucking around.
Your pet witch-doctors can’t help you,
They’re all sick from the same thing.
Your pompous intellectuals can’t help you,
They’re all sick from the same thing.
Your sly, vicious statesmen can’t help you,
They’re all sick from the same thing.
Why don’t you face it?

No, your problem is not one of sex—
Your problem is that you have betrayed your animal
Into hands as cruel and bloody as your own.
Man is dead.
I don’t know what kind of thing you are.


When i say that this is one of my favorite poems, i fear that some of my friends will fear for my mental health.  I have admired this poem since i first read it twenty or more years ago and i have so far remained uncommitted (in several senses of that word).

This is not sacred poetry.  (or is it?  The realm of the sacred includes not only the layman, the mystic, and the priest, but also the prophet, and i hear Patchen here speaking in a prophetic voice, no less than Amos or Jeremiah.)  Poems and songs, i've been told need not be taken literally,  Lovers will be excessive in their praise; fearers may be excessive in their fears and hatreds.  Patchen feared that we had lost our souls, i think he was wrong, but i can't prove it.

I would like to prove him wrong, but i can't,  So for the time being i must treasure his poem.

oocRadio: Patchen and Some Kind of Monster
Read more...Collapse )
I'm going through Terrance Cook's list of egalitarian want reducers looking for unsung heroes, and i come across this name with which i am totally unfamiliar: Etienne de la Boetie. author of "The Problem of Obedience, A Discourse on Voluntary Servitude", written about 1553 when he was twenty-two years old (he had to work fast since he died at 32, an age at which i was still trying to decide what i wanted to be when i grew up).  Anarchists, libertarians, and pacifists have all admired de la Boetie's essay, which was written before Hobbes' :Leviathon and is quite modern in its argument and perception of human behavior and the nature of power.  De la Boetie spent the rest of his short life giving good service to the French Monarch as jurist, negotiator, and diplomat., befitting his aristocratic origins.

The thesis of the essay is clear and simple and still appeals to libertarians, anarchists, and pacifists.  It certainly appeals to me.  The tyrant can only rule with the consent of those who are subject to his rule.  By extension, any government that continues for more than a short period of time can exist only because those subject to it voluntarily submit.  This condition is monstrous, and the character of the subject population must go far beyond any reasonable definition of "cowardice."  People can and should simply withdraw their consent to be governed.

Murray Rothbard, shortly before his death, penned an essay on de la Boetie's essay and i found i could not disagree with a single word in it. (although the word "market" did give me pause).  Yet i place libertarians in the same category with conservatives, capitalists, and republicans and would never want to be identified in anyway with them or their agenda.  This might just be ignorance on my part, or it might involve subtle but important differences in defining such words as "freedom."  I think libertarians, or anarcho-capitalists,  are not sensitive to the power that business can have in a modern society.  Given the power to do so, someone will govern.  Whether he is called "king" or "C. E. O." will not make any difference.  If we must be "anti-government" to be "free," we must certainly also be "anti-business."

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