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  • The Shape of Poetics to Come:On Taking Up the Task of Criticism
  • Tiana Reid (bio)
And: Phenomenology of the End. By Franco "Bifo" Berardi. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2015. 352 pages. $17.95 (paper).
The Argonauts. By Maggie Nelson. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015. 160 pages. $23.00 (hardcover).
Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic. By Samantha Pinto. New York: New York University Press, 2013. 281 pages. $89.00 (cloth). $27.00 (paper).
Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing. By Anthony Reed. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2014. 262 pages. $44.95 (hardcover). $24.95 (paper).
In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. By Christina Sharpe. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. 192 pages. $79.95 (cloth). $22.95 (paper).
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. By M. NourbeSe Philip. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2015. 110 pages. $15.95 (paper).

"I would die for Poetry"

—Bob Kaufman

It is revealing—of past social traces and present political desires—that when we think of Karl Marx, we do not also think of poetics. His well-known Capital: A Critique of Political Economy was a study of abstractions (an analysis of capital on its way to capitalism) in which he was invested in the literary importance of the unverifiable.1 To set the stage for his working-class reader, Marx employed [End Page 139] the usual suspects of literature: storytelling, metaphors, imagery, personifications, and allusions. And when writing about the vicious repetitions of world-historical events in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marx engaged a range of theater metaphors to drive home his point about the instrumentality of the lumpenproletariat in the making of a so-called bourgeois revolution in nineteenth-century France. Among other tropes, he relied on the performative work of tragedy, stages, roles, and costumes. The first of seven sections of his noted historical study also brings us to another aesthetic category at the heart of not only revolution but also criticism: poetry. Marx writes in an oft-quoted passage in The Eighteenth Brumaire that "the social [soziale] revolution of the nineteenth century can only draw its poetry from the future, not from the past."2

Where will the social revolution of the twenty-first century, if it comes, if it is not already here, draw its poetry? Marx urged that poetry itself is embedded in the language and history of future revolutions. In mapping out contemporary social, political, and economic urgencies, will the difference between past, present, and future revolutions come down to the work of poetics, that delicate mix of chance, relation, and criticism? To riff on Ornette Coleman's vision of sonically configured futures in his 1959 jazz album, what is the shape of poetics to come?3

While considering the kind of criticism that might be up to the task of identifying and responding to contemporary contradictions, Fredric Jameson recently described current criticism as being a very "free form," consisting of a range of methodologies, approaches, and differences.4 Not settling for the bipartition implied in a term like hybrid form, free form has been a way to describe aesthetic categories absented of fixed structures—such as jazz and free verse poetry. There is yet another way to think about this free form, however, in terms of one of the most important developments in American literary studies in the late twentieth century, which has been arguing for the importance of the relation between what occurs on the so-called outside of the text (human experience, atrocities of war, local politics, etc.) to questions of rhythm, diction, imagery, metaphor, parataxis, tropes, symbols, and other formal literary techniques. In this light, criticism can reinvigorate itself through a kind of free form, by organizing different ways that questions and answers are formulated. And yet this insistence on a political and social critique, not only of but through literature, and one without guarantees, has plausibly been waning in English departments in the United States, where many have settled for descriptive, surface, or distant reading—in a word, neutrality over a sketch of the stakes of socio-historical-political specificities.5 [End Page 140]



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