- Postanarchist Literary Theory and the ExperimentSome Preliminary Notes
Although some work has been done (by Lewis Call, Allan Antiff, Sandra Jeppesen, and others) to incorporate postanarchism into an already politicized literary studies, this work typically involves prose or explicitly political poetry. While the ways that postanarchism lends itself to political work are clear, this article argues that postanarchism provides an excellent mode for approaching the contemporary experimental poem with its challenges to representation, authorial power, and reader engagement. As literary studies works to become more practical and more in line with activist movements of all kinds, it would seem that postanarchism, in its desire to reframe and rethink our ontological and epistemological practices within and outside of the academy, would be an appropriate and effective addition to literary studies on the whole and for the experimental poetic text in particular. This article first works through the extant theories of postanarchism, particularly as they pertain to literary studies, and ultimately proposes a postanarchist literary theory that reframes the reading and writing of experimental poems as activist practice. In the end, this postanarchist theory of the experimental poem demonstrates the political and ethical issues at the [End Page 83] center of conceptualism, the most popular of contemporary experimental poetic movements.
The postanarchism proposed in Süreyyya Evren and Duane Rouselle’s 2011 Post-Anarchism: A Reader, explicitly articulated in the editors’ introduction, clearly situates postanarchism as an activist practice, emphasizing that its fundamental ideas would be defined not simply as philosophies but rather as “consequence[s] of actual activist experiences.”1 Post-structuralism invigorates classical anarchism with a rhizomatic, new activism, creating a new current in radical politics.2 Evren and Rousselle’s collection is most important because it gives a name (i.e., it collects various essays under this name) and a set of ideas to postanarchism. Additionally, it prioritizes the mutability of human nature and subjectivity, maintaining that classical anarchism (despite contemporary criticism of its utopian humanism) was actually always convinced of this mutability.3 While I will discuss this notion further, it is clear that Evren and Rouselle’s text is both a revaluation and reclamation of classical anarchism that seeks to bring anarchism’s classical texts into contemporary relevance. Given classical anarchism’s standing as a political philosophy, and one primarily concerned with government and resistance, it may be surprising for some readers to learn that classical anarchism has actually long been concerned with artistic practice. There has been a long-standing and close relationship between anarchist thought and poetry, especially experimental or avant-garde poetry. One need only to look at the popularity of Herbert Read’s Anarchy and Order; Poetry and Anarchism (1938) or recall André Breton’s frequently quoted adage, “an anarchist world . . . a surrealist world: they are the same,” to confirm this.
This article works to help anarchist philosophies catch up to this changing activism, examining and, in some cases, defining postanarchism as a theory of activism that can and will incorporate the processes of reading and writing experimental poetry into the realm of activist practice. As post-structuralism teaches us new understandings of power, subjectivity, and authorship that post-structuralist philosophers have elucidated require that we experiment with new forms of “resistance” practices. If we understand that diffuse power functions effectively at the level of ontology and epistemology (an argument made persistently by Foucault and his contemporaries), then surely the cultural artifact, and [End Page 84] especially the literary artifact, must come into play as an element of activist practice. Of course, art has historically played a role in anti-authoritarian struggles internationally, but postanarchism forces us to make a distinction between “political art” and “art as political”; in the latter, the very form (and not simply the content) of the artifact and the process of its production is a political experiment. In this article, I argue that the formally experimental poem offers us the perfect place to litmus test postanarchism’s potentials.
I should make a brief note about the explicitly political, activist nature of these theoretical texts and of the political philosophy behind them. While I maintain that these texts are valuable to literary study (and invaluable to...