Friday, January 13, 2006

Commentary on the Debate

I hope all getting here will consider reading the linked debate between Erich Racher and Lyle Daggett regarding politics and poetry. My own response follows here:

Only in the real world with its endless change and growth, can be found fresh and inspiring material for art.
-- Mike Gold

Reading this exchange between Eric Racher and Lyle Daggett is valuable in that basic questions about art and its role in society are addressed. So too are class perspectives. It is true, as Racher points out, that there is a certain degree of autonomy to the inherent quality of a poem or a piece of art, music . . . and I can attest that there are many bad poems with good content. However, Racher takes on a bourgoise perspective in exaggerating the autonomy of art to a level completely seperate from politics. Daggett is correct that everything in life occurs in the real conditions of our lives and is thus defined by our historic and class conditions and therefore reflects our class perspective. So too this debate.

Daggett asserts that "Left-wing political poetry is, on the whole, better poetry . . ." and he is right but not because it adheres dogmatically to ideology. It has more power because it speaks from the reality of our class experience. It is better poetry because it, as Brecht notes and Racher quotes, "enriches our capacity for experience" and "enriches our capacity for expression" by making us aware of that shared class experience. That realization undermines the isolation and alienation of bourgoise individualism that we are inundated with via corporate culture re-awakeing our social nature -- a truly powerful force that powers the engine of social progress and that threatens the power structure of capital that enslaves us.

The essense of this debate comes down to the disparate class definitions of art's place in our lives: The bourgoise view of art as an autonomus reflection of the individual above the mundane and, free from the demands of "political correctness," or the working class definition of art as rooted in the reality of our experience and having something to say about it.

Both Racher and Daggett reveal their class perspectives in the course of this exchange; Racher in misreading of Leninism as authoritarian and in his general condemnation of the role of Communists in Spain and in the USSR as well as in his view of poetry. He shows himself to be a bourgoise liberal or, as he states, a "Libertarian Socialist." Daggett clearly lays out his own position saying, "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." He then goes on to state that in the real world of class struggle, we have no choice but to takes sides consciously or unconsciously.

Can poetry escape that choice? Daggett says no and I have to agree. A poet conscious of that choice and guided by left-wing, progressive working class principles is going to write, "on the whole, better poetry" and the evidence confirms this. Not only can one cite the historic poets and writers from the Greeks through Shakespear, McGrath, Brecht, Neruda. . . but one can plainly see the difference in overall quality and power in the work published in Pemmican and the Blue Collar Review compared to the vast majority of contemporaty journals.

Daggett, in the end says, "As poets and as human beings, our only choice is which side to take." Again, he is right.

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