In an increasingly neoliberalized literary market, “surface” readings constitute today’s most prevalent form of cultural criticism within and beyond the academy. In pop as well as literary culture, amid critical dispositifs of disinterest and “zaniness”—described by Sianne Ngai as an aesthetic of laboring and playing under the new “connexionist” spirit of capitalism—the pressure to trade in nuanced perspectives for shallow punditry or personal diatribes subtends what Avital Ronnell calls our “default of the political.”
For writer Anne Elizabeth Moore, the evasion of national and global crises, in order to maintain the status quo through unexamined obsequies or the revalorization of the private sphere, is a problem for all capitalist subjects, particularly for those seeking to find voice and form for radical critiques: “Nestled within these difficulties is a particular (although not exclusive) challenge to the female of the species, relegated to a gender role rewarded for silence and prized when emotional…. As a culture we value niceness, particularly in women, even at the expense of truth.”
I caught up with Moore to discuss her current multi-media installation for the School of the Art Institute’s “Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture” exhibition (70 collected works of witness memorializing more than 100 reported cases of torture by Chicago Police from 1972 to 1991); her current and upcoming projects; and her post-election response to questions concerning U.S. free trade laws, labor politics and censorship in a neoliberal market.
Virginia Konchan: In your election-day speech on the 19th amendment at the Defibrillator Gallery in Chicago, you argued that merely participating in patriarchal institutions isn’t necessarily an actual gain, if those systems don’t represent through a governing body or in the private interests they serve, the needs of women for safety, civil rights and economic development. What are some guerilla tactics for women to change the system (or, ourselves, as you suggested), from within?
Anne Elizabeth Moore: That election-day piece will be published in a book on inauguration day, but if you can’t wait I do have an audio version of it here.
This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). A version of this interview was first published in Asheville Poetry Review (vol. 6, no.1, 1999). Thanks to Jacqueline Orchard for her editorial suggestions.
Philip Metres: Let’s discuss your creative history. I’d like to know about your family, when you began to write, what poets were influential to you.
Sergey Gandlevsky: I was born in 1952 to a religious family. My mother by birth was from a “church family.” One of my grandfathers and one of my great-grandfathers were priests. My mother had to hide during the Soviet repression of the Church. And one of her grandfathers actually was in Solovki [a concentration camp] and later died in exile in Kazakhstan. My father was a Jew. It was a very strange marriage ceremony, only possible after the Revolution. He came from a Jewish family of the Ukraine intelligentsia. His parents were doctors, children of doctors who arrived here in Moscow after the Revolution. They, like many Jews, were sympathetic to the Revolution and had many children, working hard and honestly. They all were technicians. My father was already a skeptic about the Revolutionary ideology, and my mother—I don’t remember where her sympathies lay, but she really worked hard because she was from a “defeatist” class; that is, she was deprived of rights. But she did have the right to receive higher education, only needing to hide the vocation of her parents. And I was born to them, and lived in peace, normally, undisturbed until entering school. I finished school and began writing at age 15. At first I wrote prose stories. No, when I was eight or nine, like all children, I wrote poems, but I soon stopped.
The Conversant has invited some of our favorite journal and book publishers to curate interview series focusing on their authors. textsound here has asked the contributors to its latest issue to construct collaborative recordings.
Top Row: Katherine Factor, Eben Mannes and Jared Stanley. Bottom Row: AB Gorham, Phil Sawdon and William Stobb.
Andy Fitch: The phrase “patriarchal poetics” makes me picture an exclusionary male coterie, perhaps with Charles Olson calling out “There it is, brothers.” And I can infer how analogous group-formation dynamics arise in relation to racist, heterosexist or anti-Semitic constructs. But your examination of patriarchal poetics suggests that even those individuals who try to escape this constrictive model often end up demonstrating just how elastic, amorphous, almost irresistible its discourse is—say in the “imperial” rhetorical gestures that you describe certain liberatory poets making. Could you start to sketch the parameters of a patriarchal poetics by contextualizing these imperial deployments of multiple gender identity?
Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Here’s the issue: when you first read Stein’s little essay-poem “Patriarchal Poetry,” you sense she has a conflicted (though that sounds too negative) attitude toward this topic. Noting this, I found it satisfying to observe that I, too, have a conflicted attitude. The word “patriarchal” picked up entirely negative connotations during second-wave feminism. It evoked, as you’ve described, an exclusive male coterie saturated with sexism and misogyny. Yet a more generalized usage of “patriarchy” remains quite tempting to Stein, since it suggests a type of totalizing discourse. Its “imperial” manifestation demonstrates that some poets’ subjectivity can reach any position in the sex-gender system. This provides an effective rhetorical strategy many men have deployed. They often possess the social capacity to shift among a variety of gender stances, all under a general rubric of maleness. Of course certain stances do get coded as queer, as fem, aggressive, then passive aggressive. But more generally I argue that because of male social power, male poets have had this capacity for an imperial appropriation and accumulation of wide-ranging subject-positions. The corresponding fact of women’s diminished social power precludes them, in general, from acquiring this capacity to deploy and inhabit and grab whatever subject-position they desire. And yes, women do have their own great range of female-oriented subject-positions. Though as soon as a woman reaches for male subject-positions, she often gets slapped down. Again yes, there always have been transgressive women who dress in tuxedos and so forth. But in general, male figures have the capacity to range and appropriate many more subject-positions including those that contradict each other. This gesture I call “patriarchal,” and men often get praised for it. Critics consider it a positive. Male poets struggle to retain such possibilities. You see that in the relationship between Pound and Zukofsky. Both want imperial authority, and Pound keeps slapping down Zukofsky because Pound thinks only one poet at a time can have it. Here we return to the more rigid feminist definition of patriarchy as a problematic form of dominance and exclusion. Yet my book adopts an ambivalent approach to patriarchy—noting both its oppressive and its liberatory capacities.