Good Faith, Stupidity And The Internet
Part 1: The Failure Of Dialectic
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 7/26/08
Recently I posted an article in which I ripped the poor professional ethics of Cambridge University Press, for having violated a promise made to me in excerpting a review of mine, and in deliberately slanting their quotation against my piece by quoting out of context and deliberately berating my opinion vis-à-vis a counter-opinion; all under the guise of an impartial textbook. The piece was titled On Critical Fair Play And Ethics: Cambridge University Press’s Contemporary Fiction: The Novel Since 1990, edited by Pamela Bickley. I write these pieces, including this one (the first in a new series of essays on the Internet) for one simple reason; so that later generations will know and understand the tremendous odds that great artists such as myself, my wife, and a handful of others I have known, had in getting their work out to a receptive audience. The battles to find a book agent, an editor, and a publisher who will ‘like’ your work, irrespective of its manifest quality, is bad enough. But there is a tendency to forget history if not scrupulously documented. Thus, I will herein detail some of the online nonsense I, and Cosmoetica, have been subjected to over the last couple of years. A few of the people and events mentioned will be familiar to longtime readers of Cosmoetica, but to those new to this site, hold on, for you are about to take a ride into the dumbed down, Lowest Common Denominator underbelly of the Internet; a place where the presumption of decency and good faith are laughable, and where execrable stupidity reigns.
Let me start with a returning favorite of Cosmoetica fans- an idiot who has made an ass of himself before on this site: poet and Communist Lyle Daggett. Cosmoetica readers may recall Lyle Daggett’s name from the early days of Cosmoetica, when it was pretty much a local Twin Cities venue. In those pre-blog days I used to post email comments to pieces I ran, but soon found out that I was subjected to libel, even as a few of the commenters falsely claimed such of me. Furthermore, although I, and my wife Jessica, received occasional death threats (we still do), the really disturbing part was that commenters who knew each other in the real world were making such threats. Lyle Dagett never made such threats, but his most embarrassing foray was an online argument with a noted Twin Cities journalist and short story writer named Emily Carter. The two had been involved in an ‘incident’ at a local café that held a poetry reading. The details were of no matter, but Daggett harangued Carter as a proto-fascist for not allowing him to read one time. Carter claimed that she did so because Daggett was demeaning and heckling other readers, and generally making an ass of himself. Not being at the event myself, I just let the two argue; and Daggett eventually and unwittingly admitted to the basic facts that Carter claimed.
Having known Daggett, at that time, for almost a decade, it was not unusual for Daggett to make a fool of himself. I also worked with Daggett for about five and a half years, as collections representatives at a downtown Minneapolis office of AT&T. There are many ‘incidents’ I could go into detail re: Daggett’s instability, psycho-emotional states, silliness, and general immaturity (both at work and in private), but the point of this mention is Daggett’s unrepentant and out of touch faith in the discredited political philosophy known as Communism. Yet, despite Daggett’s avowed claims to be for the working man, not one time, in my days working there and attending the quarterly CWA (Communications Workers of America) union meetings, did Daggett show up. Furthermore, while I eventually left AT&T, after a series of incidents wherein some management employees tried to fraudulently cook the books and let some reps they did not like hang out to dry, Daggett remained there, and never once spoke up against the abuses of management. In short, Daggett was a man who was all about talking the talk, but never walked the walk. He would ‘stand up’ against ‘safe’ issues, like claiming he was against nuclear war, rape, or genocide (as if there was a large lobby for those ills), yet who, if he ever had some personal loss to feel, remained silent.
With that in mind, I came across this ridiculously bad article by Daggett at an online magazine called Pemmican. Back in the early 1990s, the guy who founded this then paper magazine, lived in the Twin Cities and was friends with Daggett. He had little writing ability, and, to this day, his magazine is typical of the online detritus that pollutes cyberspace. Nonetheless, Daggett’s piece, titled Political Poetry (what a stretch!), includes such gems as this:
All human activity is political because it takes place in a context--the
context of history. Sending someone a recipe for crab meat salad is one thing if
you work food prep in a restaurant kitchen. It means something else if you’re
debunked this sort of nonsense so easily before it’s amazing that anyone still
tries to fly this canard. Any activity can be parallaxed against any other
thing. The phrase ‘all art is political’ is about as meaningless as ‘all
art is about poodles,’ because one could as easily argue that even poetry that
does not mention poodles specifically, is about poodles in their avoidance of
the subject matter. Even funnier; to top off his silly claim, he uses a total
non sequitur about crab meat. Just how does Nancy Reagan’s recipe politicize
the crabmeat? Is Nancy Reagan taking a shit some greatly enhanced political act
that anyone else’s shit is not? He then makes this claim:
Poets have been political, in some sense of the word, from the earliest beginnings to the present.
qualifier ‘some’ is missing from the start of that sentence, for one need
only pull out an anthology of love poems, classic American poems or songs, etc.
to see that the overwhelming majority of poems ever written, printed, posted,
read aloud, or shared in some manner, are clearly apolitical. The self and
emotions dominate thematically. Thus, Daggett’s claim is about as cogent as,
again, substituting the word ‘emotional’ for ‘political.’ A bit later,
Daggett again makes a sweeping and unsupportable claim:
Homer was political. (George Bush on the walls of Troy.) The Bhagavad
Gita (which J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted as he watched the first atomic bomb
explode in the New Mexico desert) was and is political. The plays of Aeschylus
and Sophocles and Euripedes were defining forces in Greek society. Dante and
Shakespeare and Milton were all political. (If Dante were writing today, who
would he consign to the ninth circle of Hell?)
Well, again a
qualifier is needed. While there were some political leitmotivs in Homer’s
work, as well as the others mentioned, the Greek playwrights he mentioned
produced work notable for their human characteristics, not their political
force. Even an expressly political play, like Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of
The People, survives and retains its sense of power not because of its
rather banal if noble political message: stand alone if you are right, if
necessary, but because of the way it dramatizes that message. In other words,
the politics of that play, or any expressly political work of art ALWAYS
takes a back seat to the artistic conveyance. If it’s poor, the politics are
meaningless. If the conveyance is good, the politics are relevant. As for Dante,
Shakespeare, and Milton? The vast majority of poems, passages, and sheer words
that they wrote that are apolitical dwarf the political, so again, Daggett is
making much out of nothing, and employing a logical fallacy- that of defining a
thing by one of its most insignificant characteristics. Take a novel like A
Tree Grows In Brooklyn. There are certainly political elements in the book-
ideas on poverty, feminism, classism, sexuality, etc. But to call it a
‘political novel’ is to utterly misdefine it since the psycho-emotional and
cultural aspects it documents are universal; and the very notion of the
universal or cosmopolitan is usually a sign a work is apolitical for, as the
maxim goes, ‘all politics is local.’ The farther an artist or work of art
rises above the partisan and provincial the less political it becomes.
amazingly, Daggett utterly shoots himself in the foot, admitting everything
I’ve just mentioned:
Chaucer was political, Tu Fu was political, Murasaki Shikibu was political. Andrew Marvell, William Blake, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Whitman, Rubén Darío, José Martí, Yosano Akiko. Political, in at least some sense of the word.
Read that last
sentence and all Daggett argues before is rent. Not to mention his conflation of
good and bad poets with each other, as if the quality of the art has nothing to
do with its effectiveness. Intent, in short, is meaningless, whereas to a
‘political’ masturbator like Daggett it is all. Think I’m wrong? Read on:
What we’re talking about here is something more specific. We’re
talking about poetry that expresses or reflects--either explicitly or at least
by suggestion--politics that are left-wing, working-class, populist, or of a
drops his façade. To him, only Left Wing political poetry is of any value:
The widespread stereotype of Socialist Realism emphasizes the huge public portraits and statues of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc., and maybe allows for some murals and poster art of muscle-bound workers in factories and rosy-cheeked starry-eyed young men and women gazing off at the bright horizon of the future. This, again, is the stereotype.
But it should be patently obvious that public portraits and monument sculpture, poster art, industrial murals and calendar art, and so on, comprise only a portion (and not necessarily the best) of a culture’s art. We cannot judge the effectiveness of Socialist Realism (or any other artistic movement or tendency of the political Left) based only on the more mediocre or homogenized examples.
Should we judge the art of capitalist societies based solely on Norman Rockwell and Mount Rushmore? Should we judge American literature based on McGuffey's reader? Are these the basis for the prevailing critical standards advocated by the literature and art departments at leading universities?
For every Norman Rockwell there’s a Diego Rivera, a David Siqueiros, a Walter Crane, a Sue Coe; for every Edgar Guest and Joyce Kilmer there’s a Thomas McGrath, a Muriel Rukeyser, a Hugh MacDiarmid.
Now, note what
Daggett is doing. He is conflating the bad Left Wing art that is easy to
stereotype and ridicule with art and artists that are in no way their opposite.
Mount Rushmore is a product of capitalist art? Norman Rockwell? Daggett likely
is unaware that Rockwell was a devoted liberal and his illustrations were
cultural, not political; and there is a sharp difference between the two terms,
despite Daggett’s (and his ilk’s) desire to conflate the two. Culture takes
in a whole array of human activities, from the personal to the religious, from
the sexual to the private, from the silly to the profane. Politics does not- it
is a separate activity that often infringes on the aforementioned, but is not
intimately defined by them the way culture is. Then, as if to prove his
ignorance, he compares Rockwell, an illustrator, to Rivera, a muralist. Imagine
comparing a traveling mouth organist with George Gershwin. Then he compares
light versifiers like Edgar Guest with a dyed in the wool Communist poet like
McGrath; again a wholly inapt comparison; especially when An Ezra Pound or T.S.
Eliot are available, and, at least, the equal or superior of McGrath and the
other poets. Then again, when one is screeding, honesty is the first casualty.
himself in deeper:
Some people argue that there is much badly written political poetry--that much of it reads like a political pamphlet chopped into line breaks, or sing-song rhyming doggerel--and that this proves that political subject matter is not suited to poetry.
But there is also much badly written love poetry, badly written poetry about religion, nature, and every other subject. Do we then conclude that love, religion, nature, etc., are also unsuitable subjects for poetry? Do Hallmark greeting cards invalidate the work of Dante and Shakespeare and Shelley and Wordsworth?
leads off with a fallacy- the claim that people want to bar politics from
poetry. Go ahead, show me where this comes from- not realty. He then goes on
with comparisons no one but he has ever made. Naturally, the unasked question
is, why do most poems, regardless of their content, fail? And, aside from strict
technical issues, the manifest answer is that if the intention overwhelms the
presentation, the poem (or other art work) will fail. In short, love poems or
political poems, wherein the emotional or political aspects are deemed more
important than the literary and artistic ones, are bound to fail, because the
work will be judged as a poem first and foremost, not for its genuineness of
belief nor claim. Naturally, this is missed by Daggett, who foists up the oldest
of canards- even older than ‘all art is political’:
reports facts; poetry tells the truth.
Poetry communicates ideas about things in a higher form, whether or not it is
truthful. After all, the root of art is ars, which in
Latin means: skill, method, technique, conduct, character.
Note, not a word of truth. It’s also why art shares meaning with the
word artifice, also derived from ars. And, while I’m at it,
journalism reports the facts- and while they can be disputed, facts are the
basis of reality (often conflated with truth); so Daggett makes a false
definition and distinction to serve his own purpose and whims. In reality, only
two human areas are concerned with truth, and neither are art: science and
unmoored from reality, Daggett starts sputtering utter nonsense, even within his
own delimited context:
There is nothing wrong with using, in a poem, words such as
"capitalism," "working class," "imperialism,"
"revolution," etc. The challenge is to ground such language in the
concrete physical texture and detail of the world we live in from day to day, to
reclaim it from the bourgeois abuse and alienation it has suffered, to give it
the life and meaning it can actually have.
Again, no one
ever stated what Daggett claims to lead off this paragraph. Then, look at this
gem of idiocy: ‘The challenge is to ground such language in the concrete
physical texture and detail of the world we live in from day to day, to reclaim
it from the bourgeois abuse and alienation it has suffered, to give it the life
and meaning it can actually have.’ Now, how exactly does anyone take an
abstract thing like language and ground it in the concrete physical texture and
detail of the real world? Even if one grants a specious metaphor to ground
or language, how does one niche that into a detail? This is poor writing
and even poorer intellect being displayed.
Then we get
even more outrageous claims, grounded in nothing but Daggett’s delusions:
Similarly, it can be difficult to write a good political poem if you've never marched in an anti-war demonstration, or faced a platoon of police in riot gear preparing to charge, or tried to pay rent or medical bills when you've been unemployed for six months. The best examples of good left-wing political poetry are written out of an organic understanding of the politics, and out of a passionate involvement in the historical movements of the time and place in which the poet lives.
Tell that to
Right Wing poets, or the innumerable writers and artists who’ve emerged from
the bourgeois; the class Daggett belongs to. He has, to all his claims to me,
never been part of the working class, the underclass, nor the impoverished in
America nor the world. I have. His claims are bunkum, through and through.
Daggett then tries to delineate different sorts of poets of the Left, and his
groupings are, again, silly, and show a limited knowledge of the actual craft
and art of poetry, as he often groups many poets in many classes, thereby
erasing the very false distinctions he is making.
Yet, after all
these claims about politics, Daggett shows there is a true Fascist growing under
the hide of every hidebound Communist:
Let us state here for the record that political correctness, understood
properly, is a good thing.
The expression "politically correct" originally meant "politically (and/or ethically/morally) the right thing to do." It became a little confusing, sometimes, to talk about what was "politically right" because it sounded a little bit like "the political right" (who are, of course, politically wrong). So people got into the habit of saying "politically correct" instead, which sounded a little pompous sometimes but tended to be less confusing.
To write poetry with political content that is left-wing, working- class, populist, or of a similar nature, is the right thing to do.
The examples above make it clear that it is thoroughly possible to write
poetry that has progressive political content and that is well-written. The fact
is that left-wing political poetry, taken as a whole, is better poetry
than poetry in which the poet has tried to leave politics out of it, or in which
the poet has deliberately written from a right-wing perspective (I suppose a few
examples of the latter do exist).
naturally leaves out all the social, political, and civil and human rights
wrongs that PC has inflicted, then ends with the incredible claim that Left Wing
poetry is, by virtue of its politics, better than Right Wing or apolitical
poetry. Does he support this with even one aspect of the artistic, aesthetic, or
craft-based understanding of the art form? Of course not. He simply declaims
Carl Sandburg wrote better poetry than Ezra Pound. Muriel Rukeyser wrote better poetry than T.S. Eliot.
Both cases are
likely draws, and a ranking of the four poets would go: Sandburg, Pound, Eliot,
Rukeyser- again, a draw.
Thomas McGrath wrote better poetry than Robert Lowell. Langston Hughes wrote better poetry than Wallace Stevens. Gwendolyn Brooks wrote better poetry than Marianne Moore.
In the first
two cases, not even close. Lowell, a good man of the Left, by the way (just not
Left enough for Daggett’s ilk), was structurally and metaphorically better
than McGrath, whose worst poems tended to ramble, whereas Lowell’s retained
their structure. Stevens was miles beyond Hughes. Hughes was a good versifier
with a few real poems; Stevens was a master of music, idea, integration and
juxtaposition. Brooks and Moore are close. The best of Brooks likely tops the
best of Moore, but Brooks’ last thirty years were devoted to writing horrid
political poetry that lowers her overall oeuvre below that of Moore.
Mayakovsky wrote better poetry than Akhmatova or Mandelstam. Brecht wrote better poetry than Rilke. Otto René Castillo and Leonel Rugama wrote better poetry than Octavio Paz.
Akhmatova is overrated, Mandelstam is one of the few poets whose great poetry is
translator-proof, while Mayakovsky’s ‘verse’ is hilariously puerile, and
he was a political hack. Brecht is not even a poet, he’s a playwright- his
verse is banal prose broken into lines, while Rilke is the only poet I’ve read
with great poems in two languages (German and French), plus he has the most
great poems of ant published poet I’ve ever read. I’ve not read Castillo,
but Rugama is a typical Latino poetaster of the Left, while Paz is one of the
two or three best poets to have ever written in Spanish.
Etheridge Knight wrote better poetry than John Berryman. Sharon Doubiago and Joy Harjo and Dale Jacobson and Luis Rodríguez and Nellie Wong write better poetry than Jorie Graham or Marvin Bell or C. K. Williams or Billy Collins or Sharon Olds.
one of the great long poems in American literature, and a number of other great
poems, while Knight was a PC poetaster. Doubiago, who was a friend of
Daggett’s), and all the others are poetasters on par with the poetasters
Daggett rips, so why even bother the comparison? Because Daggett has absolutely
no aesthetic nor critical standard by which to base any of his claims.
We don’t need the ruling class (or its representatives in arts and
letters) to tell us whether or not we’re good poets. The record of our poetry,
and the history from which it arises, speaks for itself. We reject
"literary" standards that preclude politics as acceptable or essential
is arguing against a straw man; claims no one has ever made; just his distorted
ideas. The fact is that few people even care about poetry. Even Daggett, who
writes it, and occasionally has thrown the dart that is a great poem, does not
really care for poetry. By his own admission he sees it as only a means to an
end, and a base one, at that: politics. Forget prostitution; is there any baser
human activity than politics- the divvying up of power by the few over the many?
Now, keep in mind my easy denuding of Daggett’s claims, and read this response Pemmican posted to Daggett, by a guy, Eric Racher, not much brighter, but replete with footnotes, meaning he likes to quote others as much as Daggett likes his own ignorance. This why so much stupidity thrives, on both sides. Racher starts with a quote by Friedrich Engels that undermines much of Daggett’s ideas, but then backtracks. Much of his piece is equivocation, which, in the PC universe is as good as a full-on destruction of another’s opinions:
At times I strongly agree with the point of view expressed by Daggett and
think that he has said things that should be said more often, especially to
those who criticize and dismiss a priori all political poetry. Other
times I disagree, just as strongly, with his point of view. Of course it is
natural and just that people should disagree at times, especially in political
matters. In this response I would like to explain, as far as is possible for me,
why I agree or disagree with certain positions taken by Daggett in his essay,
and add anything that appears relevant to the topic. The opening quotation,
therefore, is not offered as proof of Daggett’s incorrectness or what have
you. It is intended rather as an illustration of the subtlety and diversity of
opinions and ideas which are to be found within the many different traditions
usually included under the banner of leftist politics.
not only equivocates in his disagreement with Daggett, but is so mealy-mouthed
as to not even be able to prop up his own equivocation. He then assents to many
of Daggett’s claims about political poetry while conveniently ignoring the
fact that, like most artists, even the most overtly political art makes up only
a small portion of any artists’ canon. Racher then misconstrues a great deal
about Dante, and does so in excruciatingly long and didactic tones. As example:
Dante is the classic example of the politically engaged poet, and
therefore he remains an inspiration to the poet of today-even the poet who does
not agree with Dante's theology and politics (and how can we agree with Dante's
politics and theology when they are more than 700 years old and represent a form
of social structure which no longer exists?).
Look at the
parenthetical. Racher seriously asks how a modern person can agree or not with
Dante’s views, as if reading comprehension and the will to imagine was foreign
to layfolk, much les poets. Over six decades have passed since the Third Reich:
its social structure is as passé as the Medieval Catholic Church’s, yet poets
and other artists rail against it with gusto, today and into the foreseeable
future. The same is true with American slavery, the Native American Genocide,
the Inquisition, and the very works of the ancient Greeks that both Racher and
Daggett mention, but whose work they obviously skimmed, if read at all (hint-
artists of all genres and stripes are notorious for both quoting from and/or
damning art they have neither engaged nor understood). Racher’s whole
dialectic, thus far, is PC bullshit, not even willing to cal Daggett out on his
idiocy; even as PC praises ‘diversity’- as long as it’s not diversity of
thought. The Far Left prefers zombies, of many hues and religions, but zombies
nonetheless. Racher then goes on to defend Milton, whom he correctly notes was
actually a fairly political poet. Yet, he totally ignores the most political and
radical poet in England during the whole 17th Century, and his name
was not Shakespeare nor Milton, but Donne, John Donne. Donne was literally
centuries ahead of both Milton and Shakespeare in regards to his political and
sexual views, which he subversively couched under the guise of moral lessons
(for he was a man of the cloth). But nothing in Shakespeare nor Milton comes
close to the radicalism of content that Donne displayed (as English language
poetry lovers would have to wait centuries for Blake, then Whitman, to surpass
Donne’s radicalism), yet, most importantly, Donne was a superior poet,
technically, to Shakespeare (the former’s Holy Sonnets blow Shakespeare’s
vaunted 154 out of the water in terms of musicality, sexual daring, technical
beauty, and consistency) and Milton (if you even argue the reverse it’s no use
even claiming to be a lover of poetry for poetry’s sake). However, a poet like
Donne would never even come up on the radar of a reader like Daggett, for
Daggett (and I know this from having heard it from his own lips) refuses to read
poets who are said not to subscribe to beliefs Daggett holds dead, even if, like
Donne, the beliefs are, in reality, very copacetic with Daggett’s. Yes folks,
the Far Left is just as biased and ignorant of those they despise as those on
the Far Right. What Racher’s excuse is, however, I do not know.
this does not stop Racher from quoting from people with nothing cogent to say on
the matter. Racher then goes to the other extremes that Daggett does, in
decrying poetry and art made subservient to politics, as was done in the
Leninist era of the Soviet Union:
Lenin, being a strict authoritarian, believed that the Party held all truth, and that everything, even the proletariat itself, should be subordinate to the Party elites. This seems to be much the same point of view as that professed by politically correct members of the academic so-called Left (among others): the idea that one has special access to the truth (even as they deny its existence!), the quest for ideological purity in an institutional setting, the subsequent hounding and uncritical censure of any point of view or simple formulation which is considered "incorrect" by those who decide such matters.
By this I do not want to imply that Daggett is a Leninist (he may or may
not be for all I know, and it is hardly relevant here). Nevertheless there seem
to be some connections between his point of view and the line which has grown
out of Lenin’s article. If we say that "to write poetry with political
content that is left-wing, working-class, populist, or of a similar nature, is
the right thing to do," it seems to imply that writing poetry without this
content is somehow the wrong thing to do. At this point I begin to ask myself a
series of questions: What about, for example, the dedicated activist who simply
prefers writing poetry on other subjects? What about the poet who normally
writes only political poetry and one day finds him or herself inspired to write
poetry with some other sort of content? What about the person who simply is not
interested in politics in any form? If I should decide, after writing a hundred
left-wing poems, to follow a whim and write a love poem or a poem about some
small, personal incident in my life, am I to be chastised because this is not
the right thing to do? And just as important, if not more so, is the question of
who has the authority to do the chastising.
off, Daggett is a Leninist, as well as a Marxist (although not a Stalinist- as
per his own words; for even he was not willing to stand with a mass murderer),
he does not seem to have those opinions. Second, Racher’s point is
correct, but herein a key element- look how bloated and utterly long it takes
Racher to denude the utter silliness of Daggett’s whole article. Think about
it. In this first section of this essay I have shown how cogency and wit can
destroy arguments in a sentence or two (at most). Racher needs to get thousands
of words into his article before broaching the raison for his piece, and then
needs 325 words in the above two paragraphs to state what I do (above) in 54
words (15 if one includes only the second sentence):
Well, no. Poetry communicates ideas about things in a higher form,
whether or not it is truthful. After all, the root of art is ars, which in
Latin means: skill, method, technique, conduct, character.
Note, not a word of truth. It’s also why art shares meaning with the
word artifice, also derived from ars.
Racher recapitulates the fact that bad writers (himself and Daggett) are simply
not good at the technical aspects of writing that stress concision; getting more
from less- the very essence of poetry which is, after all, the closest thing to
pure abstraction the human animal is yet capable of. Racher drones on with the
Yet Daggett would appear to believe that this quality is a direct result
of its political content: "The fact is that left-wing political poetry,
taken as a whole, is better poetry than poetry in which the poet has tried to
leave politics out of it, or in which the poet has deliberately written from a
right-wing perspective." The implication here appears to be that content is
a measure of quality, and therefore a poem which expresses a left-wing political
view is better than one which does not do so. Here I must express my
disagreement with Daggett’s opinion because such a standard would mean that
left-wing political subject matter is inherently better than other subject
matter, and this leads us logically back to the same argument that was used
against political poetry in the first place. Those who dislike political poetry
claim that it lacks quality because other subject matter is more suited to
poetry, and therefore produces better results. Those who dislike apolitical
poetry claim that it lacks quality because left-wing political subjects
are more suited to poetry: "We reject 'literary' standards that preclude
politics as acceptable or essential subject matter" (italics mine).
Politics is essential subject matter, therefore: no politics, no poetry. If the
argument is unfounded when used by opponents of political poetry, then it is no
less so when used by opponents of apolitical poetry.
Eric. But, at least you’re ahead of the Daggetts of the world. Yet he still
misses the fact that the politicality of the poetry is irrelevant to its
success, for ill or good. The point is whether anything other than the art in
the art work has primacy. This, 99+% of the time, will tell the fortune of the
art work. If its politics, personal emotions, religion, philosophy, hermeticism,
etc. are of more import to the artist than the work’s essential reason for
existing- to communicate- than the overwhelming odds are that it will be a bad
work of art. Yet, Racher NEVER tackles this, instead falling back on obscure and
irrelevant quotes to display his egoistic learnedness, not simple correctness.
another Racherian gem:
Any idea of "human activity" implies a theory, stated or not,
of human nature: that is, if we speak of human activity, we are distinguishing
such activity from other types of activity, such as plant activity, dog
activity, rabbit activity, and so on.
to ambulate. There, I just stated a human activity. Does it imply a theory
or a fact? What theory of human nature is implied? After all, if we did not move
we would starve or die of thirst. There are theories as to how humans and other
animals developed their differing modes of motion, but there are no theories on
why people ambulate rather than not. It is a logical outgrowth of a series of
environmentally induced evolutionary adaptations. Or so is commonly believed. In
short, the hows of things can be theorized, but the whys are not
as open to such. The point? That Racher is so invested in reading his own
preening and touchy-feely response to Daggett that his own essay is as poorly
written and thought out as Daggett’s. In short, like most things on the
Internet (see blog comments), you end up with two not so bright individuals
arguing with each other over things neither really has a clue about. Worse,
since Daggett dismisses any opinions that disagree with his political ones, and
Racher disagrees, but is so kowed by Daggett’s argument he won’t even
vigorously defend his own position, you end up with two individuals practicing
bad faith with each other and their prospective readers: Daggett’s bad faith
is based in his condescension and moralizing, while Racher’s is based in his
lack of spine, and unwillingness to state things without the fall back of
couching them with a modifier like ‘seeming.’ In short, Daggett acts as a
bully, and Racher as a coward; again, par for the course in online discourse.
rambles on by quoting, ugh, Noam Chomsky. You know an argument is lost when the
best the arguer can muster is the Appeal to Authority Fallacy with Chomsky as
the authority. Towards the end of his piece, Racher ends with this classic bit
My personal intuition, though I cannot demonstrate or prove it in a satisfactory way, is that the political aspect of literary work might possibly be of a more profound nature than is usually recognized, that it most likely lies in, as Rexroth said, "the very nature" of poetry, that is, poetry’s -all poetry’s- actual structure and mode of functioning represent its most profound revolutionary paradigm.
I realize that what I have written leaves many questions unanswered and
does not deal with every important aspect of the subject, but the limited nature
of a personal response prevents exhaustive treatment….In ending this response
I would especially like to thank Lyle Daggett for his piece on political poetry
which, although I do not agree with all of his opinions, forced me to think
about the subject in ways that I had not previously done and led me to explore
the question from angles I might not otherwise have seen.
The very last
clause in the piece demonstrates one of two things: a) that Racher is a boob,
for never having cogitated on these maters before, yet claiming to be engaged in
poetry and art; or b) a sycophant who is unwilling to truly engage dialectic. My
guess is the latter, since the former makes no sense. But it is the utter lack
of even wanting to engage dialectic, these days, that has led to the dumbing
down of the common intellect, for without pushing your rival to commit to their
best they cannot equally engage you to proffer your best. In short, the sharper
and more pointed an argument (ad verecundiam not ad hominem- see,
I can use big words, too) the better all around, for both arguers and their
To be fair, I
have to point out that Daggett, despite Racher’s weak-kneed dissent, felt a
need to respond to Racher in this
article called (ugh!) More On Political Poetry. Typically,
Daggett’s essay starts off with a bad epigraph from a bad poet that is taken
from a radical publication decades old, and hwhos eclaims show off such age:
"I would like to say first that I believe an act of full belief very
difficult to the bourgeois mind, a reflex from nineteenth-century romanticism
… and that this belief is the action, the function of the writer … the
writer must create from this belief the nucleus of a new condition and
relationship of the individual and society and all the problems involved in that
new orientation." (Meridel LeSueur, "The Fetish of Being
Outside," in LeSueur's collection Harvest Song, West End Press,
1990. Originally published in New Masses, February 26, 1935.)
this swill merely recapitulates Daggett’s beliefs, and exemplifies the
Leninist mindset Racher so gently chided in his rebuttal. He opens:
Eric Racher's essay "A Response to Lyle Daggett's 'Political
Poetry'" asks a number of questions and makes a number of statements that
are based on faulty premises.
The essence of Mr. Racher's remarks, as I understand them, consists of two points:
1. Poetry with explicitly political subject matter is not the only kind of poetry that is valid or worthwhile.
2. It’s fine to write poetry with explicitly political content or subject matter; however, governments, political parties, and other similar entities should not attempt to force or coerce poets to express or adhere to any specific viewpoint or ideology, or to include or exclude any specific subject matter in the writing of their poems or in the content of the poems.
All human activity is political. By "political" I mean that all
human activity takes place in the context of history; all human activity occurs,
to a greater or lesser degree, in interaction with and in relation to other
human activity. Human activity is political in its very essence.
now Daggett is equivocating, with an ‘as I understand them.’ He then states
Racher’s ideas (slanted by his view, as he understands them), and then repeats
the fallacy I easily debunked above, and have on many occasions, and which many
intelligent folks, in and out of the arts, have likewise recognized: neither
‘all art’ nor ‘all human activity’ is political. A brief refresher. You
take a shit. You are a man. Is that shit- a legitimate human activity, in any
way politicized? It can be, if you moon you Senator and take a dump in his
office. But, barring such extremes, the very claim is silly. Is the act of
shitting in private, by a black man, a lesbian, a Hasidic Jew, somehow more or
less political than a shit taken by a white woman, a polygamous Mormon or
Muslim, or a Hindu? If you are even hesitating in saying no, you are a fool, an
idiot, a moron, a boob- continue at your leisure. Now, some online PC Elitists
of a Postmodernist bent would decry such summary judgment by me to be
authoritarian (although it is Daggett who has the Leninist POV down), elitist
(although I argue no one’s shit is essentially worse than another’s-
assuming one of the shitters has not eaten garlic or gassy foods), or
representative of an entrenched majority (although- yes, I am a white man, I
probably subsist on less than most readers of this piece, now and in the
future). And, no, I am not lowering discourse by calling someone a name. If one
utters something racist, to call them racist is not an epithet, but a
definition. To call the utterer of stupidity dumb is definition, not defamation.
In fact, to not call someone out on their idiocy or bigotry is to condone it,
and stand idly by while intellect is demeaned; and intellect is the most
defining human characteristic there is because even animals can feel emotions.
Of course, to call someone out without proof is one thing, but to do so with
abundant proof is another thing altogether, Yes, being correct can matter in
But, back to
the terminally incorrect Daggett. He then refines his silly claim on the
politicality of poetry, and goes on:
To act consciously with an awareness of the implications of one’s actions in relation with other human beings - with an awareness of the context of one’s actions in history - allows for greater possibilities of growth and creativity, both for the individual and for the society overall, than acting without such a consciousness. To act in a manner consciously guided by left-wing, working-class, populist political principles is to act toward the greatest possible realization of one's humanity and the humanity of other people.
mealy-mouthed as he was, Racher did detail the eminent horrors of left-wing,
working-class, populist political principles employed by Stalin, Mao, and
others. So, yet again, like the many other claims about poets and poetry made
above, Daggett’s claim is based upon the Appeal to Authority Fallacy, with
himself as the Authority, and bound by his own omniscience to not even deign
It is for this reason that, in my essay, I referred to political subject matter as "essential" in poetry. I did not say that poetry without explicitly political content is never any good, or that it has no merit at all; I made no such absolute categorizations; I said only that, comparing one with the other, poetry with explicitly left-wing political content is, on the whole, better poetry than poetry in which the poet has attempted to omit such content.
Here is what
Daggett actually wrote:
The fact is that left-wing political poetry, taken as a whole, is better
poetry than poetry in which the poet has tried to leave politics out of it,
or in which the poet has deliberately written from a right-wing perspective (I
suppose a few examples of the latter do exist).
Here is what Racher actually responded with:
there seem to be some connections between his point of view and the line which
has grown out of Lenin’s article. If we say that "to write poetry with
political content that is left-wing, working-class, populist, or of a similar
nature, is the right thing to do," it seems to imply that writing poetry
without this content is somehow the wrong thing to do. At this point I begin to
ask myself a series of questions: What about, for example, the dedicated
activist who simply prefers writing poetry on other subjects? What about the
poet who normally writes only political poetry and one day finds him or herself
inspired to write poetry with some other sort of content? What about the person
who simply is not interested in politics in any form? If I should decide, after
writing a hundred left-wing poems, to follow a whim and write a love poem or a
poem about some small, personal incident in my life, am I to be chastised
because this is not the right thing to do? And just as important, if not more
so, is the question of who has the authority to do the chastising.
In a sense,
one might say that Racher’s mealy-mouthedness served him a good rhetorical
point against Daggett, although that would imply Racher had the ability to
anticipate Daggett’s response- although with such formulaic thought as Daggett
expresses, one might say Racher was hedging his bets against a kicking
jackass’s desire to keep on kicking. Note that Racher never stated nor implied
that Daggett made absolute categorizations, for Racher states, ‘it seems to
imply that writing poetry without this content is somehow the wrong thing to
do.’ Note the word ‘seems’ and ‘imply.’ Seems means to appear,
or give an impression. Imply means to express indirectly or to involve by
logical necessity. Daggett’s idea of ‘better,’ as he defines it in his
first article, is a circular logic- poetry is better if it is Left Wing because
Left Wing poetry is better. As I pointed out, there is no technical nor
aesthetic claims Daggett makes for poetry other than the political content.
Period. This is what his first article states, and what he has stated many times
in my presence, and others’.
Daggett’s claim from his rebuttal to Racher:
To act consciously with an awareness of the implications of one’s
actions in relation with other human beings - with an awareness of the context
of one’s actions in history - allows for greater possibilities of growth and
creativity, both for the individual and for the society overall, than acting
without such a consciousness. To act in a manner consciously guided by
left-wing, working-class, populist political principles is to act toward the
greatest possible realization of one's humanity and the humanity of other
inescapable to conclude, from this statement alone, that when Daggett speaks of
Left-wing activities he sees them as good, in the sense of ethical and/or moral.
Now, stay with me. If Daggett expressly declaims Leftism as ethically correct
(or right- lower case), then Racher is dead on when he claims that it seems
Daggett believes ‘writing poetry without this content is somehow the wrong
thing to do.’ Daggett cannot have it both ways- he cannot moralize about the
political beliefs he espouses, and disregard competing beliefs, then disavow
those stated beliefs when his opponent calls him on them, for the proof lies not
in Racher’s words, but Daggett’s.
shown Daggett to be wrong on his fallacious claims against Racher, Daggett
retreats into further idiocy with this claim:
More specifically, left-wing political poetry is, on the whole, better
poetry, considered strictly as poetry (although I don’t believe such
consideration is possible in reality), than poetry that omits such political
aside, Daggett does believe it is, and, again, has stated such beliefs on more
than one occasion- arguing with me and others on this very point. So, why add
the parenthetical? Simple, because Daggett has enough neurons left to realize he
is making an emotional statement, not an intellectually justifiable one. So he
falls back on his Leninist apologiae:
Lenin, in the passage quoted by Mr. Racher, is not calling for the Party
to take over literature (one of the often-resurrected demons conjured
periodically by the necromancers of Cold War ideology); he is saying that
literature needs to leave behind the rarefied atmosphere of the garden parties
and the isolation of the ivory towers; that the Party needs to encourage the
creation and spreading of literature by the rank-and-file of the Party
organization, and by the working-class population as a whole; and that by this
means, literature might be better integrated into the life and work of the
Party: "Literature must become Party literature."
anyone, knowing the full history of the Soviet Union, can make such a statement,
is evidence of willful ignorance. Ask all the artists and writers who died or
spent decades in the Gulags. Ask Boris Pasternak, who was not allowed to receive
his Nobel Prize. In fact, Lenin and his minions, explicitly called for the
assumption of all art into the Party. With such flat out lies- and, again, there
is nothing to call such that Daggett proffers as a bald-faced lie, Daggett
shows, yet again that even his claim that Left Wing ideas are ethically superior
to others is wrong. In fact, they are just another minor subset of the
Authoritarianism that has dominated human society since conception: be it
feudalism, despotism, theocracy, Communism, Fascism, Imperialism, etc.
Daggett, meanwhile, tries to tar Racher with a ‘general world view
commonly propagated by the political right;’ stating:
Mr. Racher states, for example, that "the authoritarian nature of Marxist-Leninist doctrine naturally extends itself to the artistic sphere in its attempt to control every aspect of the citizen's life." He further makes offhand references to "Stalinist" purges, what he calls "treacherous double-dealing of the Communists against the workers in the Spanish Civil War," and so on. "Many people on the so-called left," says Mr. Racher, "would like to deny the existence of human nature …"
Human nature is alive and constantly changing as human beings interact with each other and with the world at large. Human nature is, by its very nature, political. The questions regarding the imposition of ideological constraints on poetry by governments or political parties are, at their root, questions of political power, of the struggle for political power; questions that are yet to be resolved, a struggle that continues, in the real world.
reader, the utter lack of good faith Daggett employs. In response to Racher’s
remarks on Stalinist purges and the horrors the Communists committed in the
Spanish Civil War (and, no, the Loyalist’s horrors are not at issue- although
they were as bad), Daggett says….not a thing, for they are inarguable. This is
why he likes the Leninist and Stalinist apologist poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, who
helped send many of his artist colleagues to early deaths, before gutlessly
suiciding. Yet, Daggett’s lack of direct response to inarguable points is
another of the tactics online that display bad faith; sort of the inverse of
strawmanning, where one argues against things someone did not say. In this case
one does not argue against what was stated because there simply is no argument.
This is, indeed, what Daggett claims to cherish, both a fact and a truth.
Daggett’s reply is a de facto mumble (when in doubt….).
Daggett ends his piece, claiming, ‘We do not, in reality, have the option
of not taking sides; history is real and the sides - however provisional, and
however many in number - exist. As poets and as human beings, our only choice is
which side to take,’ he is, of course, again acting in bad faith, as well
as chosen ignorance, for as I’ve shown, no such choice exists, and, more so,
the lack of its cogency makes Daggett’s stridency all the more authoritarian,
and his choice (the bad faith of distorting and ignoring his opponent’s
arguments) all the more deplorable.
Nonetheless, let me end by stating that I have never met Racher, but knew Daggett for over a decade. He is typical of the poet who has no real idea as to what constitutes good, much less great, poetry for, as displayed in his own words, his whole notion of artistic quality is not grounded in craft, but in content. As example, check out this post on Daggett’s blog, wherein he is praising the latest cover girl for Poets & Writers magazine (talk about being anti-power structure….NOT!), Valzhyna Mort. Here is a poem that Daggett claims is part of a ‘a defining collection of 21st century poems.’
doesn’t know pain
she believes that
famine is nutrition
poverty is wealth
thirst is water
her body like a grapevine winding around a walking stick
her hair bees’ wings
she swallows the sun-speckles of pills
and calls the internet the telephone to america
her heart has turned into a rose the only thing you can do
is smell it
pressing yourself to her chest
there’s nothing else you can do with it
only a rose
(From the poem "Grandmother.")
Woe be to the future if this is what poetry lovers can expect for the next 92 years! This is a terrible slice of poetry, and if I have to point out the trite metaphors, lack of good enjambment, and excruciatingly maudlin tone, then you should never have even read this far. As a courtesy, let me leave you with a link to another blog that Daggett contributes to. I do so simply so that the reader can come to their own opinion about the utter inanity of Daggett’s opinions, on many subjects, and the contradictory and deceitful methods he employs, as demonstrated in his argument with Racher. And, as a matter of fairness, let me link to Racher’s blog. He seems to be a typical apparatchik in the publishing business, with a penchant for displaying photos of himself as a bad ass (even as that belies his wimpy takedown of Daggett).
In short, the politicality of art has nothing to do with its quality, pro nor con. Walt Whitman is a better poet than Emily Dickinson not because he was a political poet, but because he employed better metaphors, had better music (yes, the old Yellow Rose of Texas slant on Dickinson is true), and engaged a larger purview of what could be considered poetry- he was a more daring innovator. Had he written the clunky quatrains of his youth, while espousing the same views he did politically, he would have been a worse poet than Dickinson, for the exact opposite reasons. That people like Daggett cannot wrap their minds about this or other verities is, unfortunately, not a lone occurrence. It is, in fact, a daily fact of life on the Internet. And, in my next installment in this series, I will be taking on another old favorite, another oldie but baddie to Cosmoetica fans, schizophrenic Right Wing blogger Dean Esmay (Fascist yang to Daggett’s Communist yin), who, in ways similar and dissimilar to Daggett, is dumbing down the discourse for all of us, and with plenty of bad faith. So, in the tradition of the superhero (which I sometimes am left feeling like), join me again in the next installment of Good Faith, Stupidity And The Internet.
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