Robert P. Baird at 3 Quarks Daily draws a fascinating parallel between the motivations and methods of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and those of the Language poets. He compares Assange’s hatred of secrecy—which he (Assange) views as the essential strategy all authoritarian governments use to maintain their power—with the Language poets’ hatred of “the rules for the ‘clear’ and ‘orderly’ functioning of language” (Charles Bernstein), which they see as similarly essential to maintaining “the capitalist project.” Certainly the paranoia-tinged views of Assange do mirror Langpo’s paranoid fear of “official verse culture” (Bernstein), a.k.a. “the School of Quietude” (Ron Silliman).
But something here doesn’t quite compute. Assange, after all, hates secrets, which (he claims) distort meaning by concealing reality.* Langpo hates the distortion of meaning caused by (wait for it…)—clear and orderly language! This is why they delight in attempting to undermine the referential nature of language. The irony, of course, is that Langpo’s approach results in writing that consists of nothing but secrets: puzzle writing, all gamesmanship, with secret passwords and floating webs of Theory very much like the arcane justifications the Vatican puts forward for this or that social policy. By breaking the connection between words and referents, Langpo, in fact, promotes an aesthetic that serves authoritarian elites by telling the reader that reality either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. Like the aide to Dubya who told journalist Ron Suskind back in 2004 that “guys like [him] were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'” But, the aide observed, ”’That’s not the way the world really works anymore…. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'” Replace “history” with “poetry” in that final sentence and you have a distinctly Langpoesque statement.
My view is that readers certainly don’t need more vacuous political speech in their lives, and they don’t need more vacuous poetry in their lives, either. Both forms of language foster the sense of aimless powerlessness that our political elites count on to keep us in our place. If you’re wondering what that place is like, take a spin through Linh Dinh’s State of the Union. His isn’t the only American reality, of course, but it’s one that neither politicians nor Langpo chooses to acknowledge.
* As a typical U.S. citizen who is sick to death of being lied to, I have to agree with Assange. (Like Morgan Meis, I’ve become a Julian Assange man.)