Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 in Shit: The Hanging on Union Square

A new edition of a self-published novel thats almost 80 years old; a novel filled with the structural violence of the Depression so fully that it might be nothing but a stretched taut skin. Where Nut is beat with his comrades, before he knows them as such, outside a Communist diner over a $.05 check unpaid because he holds pride & its racist & sexist dictats sacrosanct & because the cops protect property to the rhythm of baton swoosh-skull-concrete, swoosh-skull-concrete. & because when Communists enter into the property relation shit happens; but at least they aren't Socialists or Liberals. But then in the terse lyric voice that distills that structural violence into the kind of poem that pushes you off a cliff there is that nasty little abstraction, voice, and it carries itself right into a night of homelessness for Nut and the men who invite him in and while it is said that all he does is politely decline and leave the voice is there and it is wretched with violence in absence and there is none of that poetic blood that sutures solidarity this time around but maybe theres the prosaic kind that this voice absences. & because it's a maybe of course it's a yes, in that way that words tremble and shake and never quite work as anything other than they are not.

If I secretly think that the conscious elaboration of a materialist critique of the subsumption of the generic into the symbolic can be done in such a way as to illuminate better the real affective power of that subsumption (secretly because if this is true it remains a radically opaquely motivation to me, if me alone) then there is no better illustration than the way that Mr. System and Wiseguy conspire to capitalize on Nut's performance of the titular act. Beyond "Mr. System / Beware..." being in the running for best refrain of all time, beyond even the way that the book configures itself as a spectacular object (printed rejection letters, cover duplicated but with title added, Nut talking about how annoying H.T. Tsiang is; the act of an Asian American (an anachronistic use, to term the author this, of course) writing a white protagonist (as Chang Rae Lee, in one particular example among others, would do 69 years later and 9 years earlier, to at least one Asian American Literature class at UC Santa Cruz in the last year of the first decade of the 21st century's profound confusion and disinterest) being a more buried version of this, perhaps, although I confess next to no knowledge whatsoever of the nuances of the reception of self-published Communist novels in the 30s, much less how particular groups were racialized within those contexts), there is in all this a narrative of the poor opting to hang from a flagpole in a public space used primarily by organizers and the homeless, and the way that those most comfortably inside the system sup on the myth of the absence of structural determiners to innovate this legal abstraction of individual consent to exploitation and death. And in all of that the material, the stuff, melts away as characters named Nut and Wiseguy enact roles at once systemic and individual, courting particularity in spite of their universal role in economic structures, or courting universality as the negation of the metastasization of words into the abstraction of character as a particular. Which is all just to say that though this may be a Communist novel it is not much of a materialist novel, and even its realism is in constant tension with the allegorizing it seems to need to do.

Whether that makes it an incoherent mess of a narrative or a landmark in absence that could have had the power to supercede much of the zombie realism that shambled through the 20th century with more & more tenuous a connection to "discovering the causal complexes of society / unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power / writing from the standpoint of the class which offers the broadest solutions for the pressing difficulties in which human society is caught up / emphasizing the element of development / making possible the concrete, and making possible abstraction from it" is largely a question of the temperament of the reader and their tendency toward charity or refusal; but then, like the cover says, "the cover of a book / is more of a book / than a book is a book” (which, of course, to explain myself, makes this not a materialist novel but a materialist book, which is to say a materialist material object, which is to say who knows; but also that this cover’s language is a materialist paratext to an allegorical proletarian novel, which is to say I adore it). As though we were still laboring under a culture which reified reading to triply obscure the history of the author-function, the real effects of the text, and the way that modes of distribution create real objects of textuality outside the internalized modes of interpretation/reflection/affective reaction that are completely ignored by anyone but marketers. What a nightmare world that would be to live in.

Violence is the air that Hanging has no choice but to breathe, and reading it makes needing revolution as easy as exhaling. In spite of the borderline aphoristic style and the playfulness in its namings, the most beautiful scenes in the novel (as well, as mentioned before, as the most grotesque) are its scenes of violent material struggle. The first, with Nut being beat by cops over a nickel alongside some comrades who have come to help him against his will, sets the tone. Violence is ambiance for the poor. When this is understood, the foreclosure defense and march through the streets become more than just illustrative instances of hardship; they are moments of icy, hateful beauty in a world that is burning. And just as the haunting that the motif from which the novel derives its name reveals itself as the ultimate negation of the negation, as the dialectically-allegorical Mr. System structures the last possible act of refusal accorded under the dominant mode of production and brings about that aufhebun that finally ends prehistory, at least in the fantasmic pages which stretch past the closed book's endcover, which, considering the semiotic coding as materialism of the material object itself, is much weightier than your ordinary elided-last-event, these moments shine through the historical-universalism of the rest in their own idiosyncratic, non-dialectical immanence, real (fictional) events existing in a real (fictional) world, subsumed into its trajectories but standing still partially outside of them as well.

More than anything else, this is a book that wants you to fight with it, to argue against it and to come away invigorated. The kind that reserves its materialism for its materials and treats language like a formal system of communication capable of operating within other formal systems that it makes itself. It's the kind of book that fucks with you, and it is beautiful for it.

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