Politics

In a handout that the police gave my step-mother after my father’s death, there was a section on shrine building which stated that in order to get through the twelve stages of grief with maximum efficiency, one should dismantle any shrines. As a political position, I hold on to grief. The objects in my shrine represent this. (Prevallet 58)((Prevallet, Kristin. I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time. Athens, Ohio: Essay Press, 2007. Print.))

A section on “Politics” is almost redundant in this conversation. Everything inherent in the discussions of academiagatekeeperscapitalism, and culture is, at its root, political. Yet discussions of written works would have us believe that Politics is separate from Literature. One of the powers of art, of writing, is to forge new ideas and/or to highlight the current ideas in action, to push against that which would contain and constrain us. This is not unique to genrequeer or liminal works.

Since at least the mid-1940s, the pedagogy of English departments and writing workshops has worked assiduously to depoliticize poetics; indeed poetry as a disciplinary field has depended on producing a poetic understood as an elevated form of aesthetic discourse beyond the reach of popular activism, a sacrosanct rhetoric unsullied by contact with the struggling masses. The depoliticization of poetry is so thorough that the openly partisan poetry of activists, for example, is widely viewed by the American academy and the literary press as simply not “poetic.” (Bibby 136)((

Bibby, Michael. “Insurgent Poetry and the Ideology of the Poetic.” Poetics/Politics: Radical Aesthetics for the Classroom. Ed. Amitava Kumar. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 135–154. Print.))

While using political and outlaw poetry as his focus point, Bibby’s argument that the very practice of poetics is a mechanism of politics can be extended to liminal works. Bibby goes on to say that “the poetic serves to foster this amnesiac condition, making insurgent poetry seem not only illegitimate but almost unimaginable, keeping it, in a concrete sense, outside the realm of literary criticism and outside the classroom” (150). We circle around, once again, to Kim’s idea of what is readable, what is part of the archive, and who gets to make these distinctions. We come back to the notion that the very act of naming (“Political poetry” or “poetry” versus “not poetry”) is a political act, even when it is not done with political intent.

Consider the ways that the Library of Congress, the primary resources used to create the bibliographic records that catalog works in most US Libraries, categorizes works. In Radical Cataloging, a collection of essays describing the various challenges facing the 21st century librarians, Tatiana de la tierra states:

The practice of classifying books with defining terms is done with the best of intentions: to increase access to the book, to make it available to library users: But given the subjective human process involved in selecting appropriate subject headings, and considering the political nature of language and the natural evolution of words, cataloging is a perilously imperfect art. Library of Congress Subject Headings can be a reflection of the times…(and) can also be out of step with the times. Despite established usage, for instance, “Queer,” “Transgender,” Latina lesbians,” and “Chicana lesbians” aren’t official subject headings.

Subject headings carry a lot of weight. The right ones can help a researcher find books on the topic the or she is looking for, the wrongs ones, or none at all, can cut off access to them. (Roberto 95)((Roberto, K. R. Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front. Ed. K. R. Roberto. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.))

This same system affects the categorizing of genre-blurring works. Also in Radical Cataloging, Sanford Berman’s introduction discusses the many miscategorizations (or missing categorizations) of Mark Nowak’s Shut Up Shut Down, including its classification as “American fiction” with no reference to poetry: “Not quite bibliocide-by-cataloging, but close” (Roberto 7).

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