(ESSAY) ‘BodiesTM: Poetry. City. Whiteness.’ by Elliot C. Mason
A provocation on whiteness, futurity, capitalism and the fricative movements of racialised and gendered embodiment in contemporary poetics, by Elliot C. Mason.
> Capitalism keeps time in a centrifugal swirl that expands as space. The myth of the future is sucked in to the endless present of working time, the working day that never ends but rather blurrily recalibrates its always-changing relation to the past (the time before Capital, that horrific barbarism which could be called Communism, Africa or Keynesian Social Capitalism, depending on the context) and the future. The mythical future is total temporal accumulation, when the life-times of the disenfranchised are finally worth nothing and the life-times of the Tech-Execs, the Winners, the Exemplary Individuals are worth so much time that they have reached secular eternity: a capitalist immortality. The working time of people is pulled into the blurring vortex, this weightless phantasmagoria, and it expands imperially, ideologically, a waxed leg in steel-capped boots, over geographical codes. The move is architectural, strategically ordering bodies under spatial blocks and signs.
// James Nixon / Ars Poetica #5 //
> The violent horror of this vortex is that it is not there at all. We cannot see it. Our way of seeing is mutually constituted with what we see; Capital’s expansion is simply our sight. Precisely what makes capitalism so different to other ways of organising money and people is that it takes over everything. It destroys religion and becomes God itself. It makes every interaction geared towards accumulation. Dating is like opening a betting account, like browsing estate agents’ windows. The end of a relationship in 2019 is not when you stop seeing each other – it’s when you find each other on a dating app. But this has been happening since the beginnings of this system. Modern sciences are ways of justifying slavery, which Capital needed to produce far more than feudal farmers ever could; the city and its divisive architecture are a response to the need to keep laborers close to factories, to houses given by the factory-owners, to food provided by the factory-owners: to the total subsumption of life in a single Capital. In the beginning there was nothing, and then we traded commodities to accumulate labortime in the imperial movement of endlessly expanding architecture.
our new home has cockroaches.
an exterminator came –
it’s smart how the poisoned gel spreads through the colony
by cannibalism. he explains that they will eat their family,
that the poison will spread faster that way.
/ AK Blakemore / nymphs //
> The creation of the body and its technological assemblages that constitute race and racial thinking are necessary components of these movements. The body in other systems is dependent on context: there is the body on the farm who picks tomatoes, the body in the family who teaches children how to speak, the body in the factory who welds iron, the body at war who receives bullet holes; the body is alive, and at any moment, for any misdemeanour, the lord or the law can kill it. The body in capitalism is always a laboring body, always awaiting work: we ask why that mother doesn’t have a job, why that homeless man isn’t working, we ask children what job they want and lament the misery of our jobless friends, hoping only that one day they will enter an office and reproduce some capital; the body is at work, and if it resists work, at any moment the economy can force it to stay painfully and agonisingly alive until it makes some fucking money! This is the totalizing development of the body as a machine of money-production in capitalism, in which each one of us is a camera for capturing space, pushing those architectural movements of Capital a little further on.
look, i’m not going to manufacture
any more sadness. it happened.
America might kill me before i get the chance.
my blood is in cahoots with the law.
but today i’m alive, which is to say
i survived yesterday, spent it
ducking bullets, some
flying toward me & some
trying to rip their way out
// Danez Smith / every day is a funeral & a miracle //
> The white body can never quite die, though, because whiteness is ownership. The white body is coded as the proper owner of Capital. The Black body is coded as property, and it belongs to the white body. The Indigenous body is coded as a misuser of property, the body that doesn’t know how to turn the land into an industrially productive machine and property into an expansive force of racialization. In the racial architecture of capitalism, the white body is property-ownership, the racialized other body is property. And so what this way of seeing in the vortex consuming time does is maintain a spatial boundary between bodies allowed into one racial category and bodies relegated to another, and this space creates existence: the white body lives and must die; it is narrated as the pinnacle of History and its property must be inherited, passed on to the next imperial body in the patriarchal line – it must become a statue marking space in the city. The racialized other body dies and must live; it is always on the periphery of every narrative, of History, of Capital, of wars and events and statues and the school syllabus (EUROPEANS INVENTED EVERYTHING), always on the edge of existence (AFRICA NEEDS HELP), always in the past (CHINA IS BECOMING WESTERN), and yet it can never die, it must work more, it must join the factory, get a loan from a bank, invest in property, make a classic slapstick YouTube clip, date on a narrowboat with fruity IPA and be saved by the bloody claws of white saviourism.
I chose my brother over my desire
To be invisible.
We thought your brother was dead…
And his death made you
You only see me
When I carry a man on my back.
// Jericho Brown / The Interrogation. Part ii: The Cross-Examination //
> Seeing is capturing. The city sees, and in the racializing city the police maintain the neat division of which body captures and which is captured, which is inside the wall, which outside, which is allowed into the private park and which is not, all the while keeping up the imperial distraction of the ceremony: nothing to see here! Some bodies are allowed protection from this capturing, and must work endlessly for that protection. To have a body becomes a war, an endless body-on-body battle for superiority, the superiority of more accumulated Capital. Some bodies are accumulated, others accumulate. There is no longer any option but these two, and both these options are endless war. To see – to have a body – is not a secret war, a war by other methods: it is war. The very language and code of being becomes the body-on-body bloody war.
Language has no body.
The message is a virus.
The message cannot be killed.
// Jackie Wang / THE DEATH THAT IS NOT A DEATH BUT IS THE BIRTH OF EVERYTHING POSSIBLE //
> Time is taken into this fight, stolen from the bodies in their endless war, and more space is made. Space pushing forwards into open land, making it a battlefield. Space-as-Capital conquers everything and then moves upwards, scanning the land with drones now that the whole world is a warzone. As the drone indiscriminately flies above the areas of extraction, every speck of life everywhere is a possibility, another battlefield for producing profit. Every space is coded as before the present of American Capital, and every space needs to be violently hauled into now. Everywhere that was unspeakable in the grammar of Capital is retroactively certified as nothing but primordial barbarity always awaiting benediction by Capital, a zone marked for extraction, for abstraction, into the language of spatial domination and the force of being defined as a racialized body with no purpose but reproduction.
I was one burnt daughter
in a genealogy.
Stepped into the oil
spill like a siren
emerged dyed black
backed with the wings
of a tanker’s logo
in the outer ocean
// Rachael Allen / Apostles Burning //
> This force is whiteness, and it is everywhere because it is unspeakable. Language cannot speak itself. Like the Law that opens everything but itself to condemnation, the centre cannot be self-seen, cannot be captured by the capturing mechanism of the photographic eye that functions only dialectically – the holder of the camera, of the eye, looking at the object and creating subjectivity through the object-status of the other. There is necessarily always an exemption to the rule, and the expansion of white supremacist Capital is exempted from its own language. It is a violence that constantly labels everything, but which disappears when turned to. A violence that abstracts itself as immovable/unspeakable myth above the rest, God to the Apostles, approachable only through the mediation of the myth itself.
Where are you I am not there for
You. I’m morning in the milkiest decade
of all, a piece of white snow in a snow dome.
Make happy, make ache vanish or dispel well
out on the winter’s wish well well well well
// Amy De’Ath / Holey //
> The Law can only focus on repairing a wound without realizing that the Wound precedes and creates the Law. Without the Wound there is no need for the Law. The Law is a force of imbalanced power that functions to maintain the divisions and differentiations of the Wound. People for millennia have traded in the inequality of bodies, but it was not until Caucasian capitalism that the racialized divisions were retroactively inscribed as the entire ontology (way of being) and epistemology (way of knowing) of life. Every defender of capitalism loves to eternalize power imbalances: Greeks had slaves; feudal farmers were fucking miserable. Obviously. But only in Caucasian capitalism has the racial code become a reproductive dogma, inscribing racial power imbalances in the ideology of time and constructing nothing but the liberal futility of the Law to enforce change, so that regardless of what anyone does, regardless of which laws are passed or who is voted into seats of power, the racial code will survive because to undermine it, the entirety of being, knowing, space and time have to be destroyed. Only in Caucasian capitalism is an ideology of “nature” a homogeneous hegemony. Time, space, being, nature, life: all are bound to Capital. No other system has ever been so self-obsessed. That is the problem with City Everywhere.
If Black Lives Matter, then that means the destruction of America.
The entirety. That vibrates deep down into the core of the earth, to emerge and
destroy Europe and the imaginings of it.
I’m the angel knocking on yr door
To let disease in
The place that I fit in doesn’t exist,
Until I destroy it.
// Jasmine Gibson / Hollow Delta //
> The greatest show imaginable of the whiteness of the Wound in the terrifying horror City Everywhere is the ejaculating white male. The man staring at his laptop screen, pixels tied around the form of feminized bodies, jizz-spilt, spunky teens, the man in his endless war strumming, rubbing time into this spatial production. Rub, rub, rub, make space, man. Spill it over the time you have used, man. The first act of masturbation is Onan in Genesis, who spills his seed on the ground to protect his property. Wanking, like Capital, captures space. But does wanking steal time? Or is wanking its own kind of temporality? It is circular, endless, it goes on and on and never changes and rewrites all time as itself (while wanking, all you want to do is wank forever…) – just like Capital and the shiny shitshow of the white supremacist city. But in ejaculation there is no promise of a Future. Capital must promise a greater Future, the time when value is accumulated entirely in the Tech Execs and the Supreme White Bodies of the Law and the Economy. Wanking is the cancellation of the Future. It is labor that produces no value except the value of itself as a valueless act. It is the spillingof the Future, the cut in flows of Capital. Wanking is the brief moment of calm in the endless war of body-on-body. The body is still producing spatial codes as it spunks up its Future. Ejaculation is the waste of white supremacist Capital.
// Fuck Parade / Wank Against Capitalism //
> And poetry is so spatial, it’s such a rubbing force, collapsing the solidity of structure and yet being so structural, bound so strictly to the past and its ordered forms. The words rise up, the imperial power of language limiting thought to its own centrifuge, restricting knowledge to its own mythology. Poetry clearly shows the impossibility of Wittgenstein’s famous “Whereof one cannot speak”. One is always already speaking, regardless of what one says, whether or not sound is made. In the language of late liberal Capital, everything is said by the code of value accumulation and racializing modern sciences. Poetry is the spatial performance of language, cutting up pages and fetishizing the blank spaces not yet marked in the ink of languages. It is, as it has been thought since Ancient Greece, a mimesis of the city. It is the towering code of privileged space, placing monumental statues as celebrations of imperial domination and the pride of extracting materials to produce more space which creates the architectural/poetic language of words and buildings versus not-yet-conquered land, which is codified in Capital as white bodies versus bodies of colour. Everything about poetry is a battleground of racialized bodies. I keep speaking to people about this and they keep waving me away. But poetry swirls the myth of poetic time into more poeticized space, turning everything into it while it removes itself. Poetry is the city, and the city is whiteness. For how long can we just pretend that raciality and its violent colonial ideologies that construct divided bodies are not inherent in poetry? We’re walking through the city all the time, picking up new spatial codes that break the seamless ease of futurity, spunking out predictable Futures, and so we are complicit in the divisions and the violence.
We drill through to our body’s core with quack psychoanalysis,
drawing ancient oils to conflagration. And it all starts
with a tug on the sleeve: desire to be known.
But what we discover in the cistern of our history is pure horror.
// Oliver Jones / tug on the sleeve //
> I wish I had some kind of solution. All I can think of is writing poetry about whiteness, confront baldly the violence of the city we exist in. To ignore it is to accept the racializing code of the Law. To say it’s not a problem is to presume the spatial divisions of this city are somehow natural or unchangeable. Poets who exist in the category of corporeal privilege called Whiteness (which is the City and the Law) have to undermine the solidity of their bodies by writing it away with new codes of space, spatializing the bodily city in new ways that snap the normative movements of the violent force. Since the white body’s power comes precisely from its self-removal from City Everywhere and its racializing dynamics, it is poets with white bodies that must join the chorus of antiracist poetry by poets with racialized bodies to break the horrible solidity of City Everywhere and its divisive architecture. When poets existing in the privileged category of whiteness recognize that the constitution of their body is precisely the power of the city, when white poets call forth the violence of their oversight that captures while paving over complex temporalities with more white ground, then and only then will a poetry of radically subversive equality be existent. Then there will be a poetry that is not all one, that is not held together by misunderstood pursuits of homogeneous unity and uniformity, but rather a poetry formed of infinite differences in which the meaning of each difference changes every time it is spoken. Poetry distorts the path from sign to signifier, from the thing to what the thing is meant by. When poetry consumes City Everywhere, eating up its tracks and blinding the power of its sight, then black will not mean what black means, indigenous will not refer to that, white will not mean what we all know it does now. There will be difference untied from its singular orbit, unscratched from the hackneyed tracks.
// you //
// Notes // Citations in the order they appear in the text:
James Nixon, ‘Ars Poetica #5’, from Rimbaud’s Lost Manuscript, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Goldsmiths (2018).
A. K. Blakemore, ‘nymphs’, in Fondue (London: Offord Road Books, 2018), p. 23.
Danez Smith, ‘every day is a funeral & a miracle’, in Don’t Call Us Dead (London: Chatto & Windus, 2018), p. 66.
Jericho Brown, ‘The Interrogation’, in The New Testament (London: Picador, 2018), p. 12.
Jackie Wang, ‘THE DEATH THAT IS NOT A DEATH BUT IS THE BIRTH OF EVERYTHING POSSIBLE’, in Carceral Capitalism (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2018), p. 313.
Rachael Allen, ‘Apostles Burning’, in Kingdomland (London: Faber & Faber, 2019), p. 70.
Amy De’Ath, ‘Holey’, in Lower Parallel (Brighton: Barque Press, 2014), p. 21.
Jasmine Gibson, ‘Hollow Delta’, in Don’t Let Them See Me Like This (New York: Nightboat Books, 2018), p. 80.
Fuck Parade, ‘Wank Against Capitalism’, photograph taken by E. C. Mason at LARC (London Action Resource Centre, Whitechapel), November 2018.
Oliver Jones, ‘tug on the sleeve’, in Chronic Youth (London: Eyewear Publishing, 2016), p. 27.
The ideas developed in this essay are taken principally from the following texts:
Neferti Tadiar, ‘City Everywhere’, in Theory, Culture & Society 2016, Vol. 33(7–8), pp. 57–83.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory to Visuality (London and Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
Macarena Gómez-Barris, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).
Sam Ladkin, ‘The “Onanism of Poetry”: walt whitman, rob halpern and the deconstruction of masturbation’, in Angelaki, Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 2, Issue 4, 2015. pp. 131-156.
Bruce Baum, The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2006).
Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (editors), Futures of Black Radicalism (London: Verso, 2017).
Michelle Wright, Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
William Rasch, Sovereignty and its Discontents: on the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political (London: Birkbeck Law, 2004).
Text: Elliot C. Mason