Theoria published on the Amazon Kindle platform, click the link below. This is a link to the UK site - the text is also available on all other Amazon sites...
Theoria at Amazon
This is the website of Paul Harrington. Paul Harrington is the nom de plume of the poet Paul Wilson. To date I have completed two books of poetry: Bridges to the Body and Theoria. Further books are forthcoming. On this site you can read and download parts of these books and there are links to the complete e-books on Amazon. In addition you can access some of my critical writings on literature. These refer both to my own work and to other philosophical and aesthetic texts in which I am interested. As I improve and refine the site I hope to make more of my writing available. My main motivation in constructing this site, aside from making the work accessible, is to stimulate critical thinking about contemporary poetry. In particular I am interested in the problem of what a radical poetry would look like today. This is because the trajectory of my own development as a writer has been towards the construction of a full blown and revolutionary avant-garde practice. Theoria, for instance, which is the culmination of many years of labour, is an unambiguous attempt to produce a revolutionary aesthetic work fully comparable to the great works of aesthetic modernity such as Ulysses. The question of whether it is a successful attempt, or, as is more likely, an attempt in which failure was already certain from the outset, immanent, as it were, to the nature of the endeavour, probably cannot be answered at the moment. Nevertheless, since the problem of the construction of a radical aesthetic practice has been my chief concern over the last few years, the critical reflections I intend to sketch out on this site will be skewed to a consideration of this question. It will be evident in the following remarks that I am not necessarily the best person to formulate these. Like all interesting literary works Theoria stands in an extreme formal tension with its virtual, philosophical justification and I am no philosopher. Nonetheless my own views on the matter, however rudimentary, will hopefully prove to be of some interest to those engaged both in writing and reading poetry today, all the more so if they retain a curiosity for the idea of the avant-garde work. The question as to whether there is much genuine interest in contemporary avant-garde practice, and particularly in poetry, is an open one; the receptiveness of a society to potentially revolutionary works, after all, is invariably a reflection of wider social attitudes. No doubt the suspicion of the possibility of a revolution in the Symbolic is a symptom of the extirpation of the chance for it in the Real.
For readers who have little or no interest in this kind of thinking then I advise you to skip to the poetry right away. After all, making this work available is the main purpose of the site. And although the texts I produce are philosophically mediated I do not believe that they are intrinsically difficult. Indeed it is important for me to stress that an awareness of the intellectual context to which the poetry relates is not necessary for an experience of what I conceive to be the revelatory power of Theoria. This is at least in part because, as we shall see, the work is designed to constitute what I call, following the French philosopher Alain Badiou, an Event. In particular Theoria is what I call a poetry of the Event. It is one of the chief tenet’s of Badiou’s work and, indeed, of my own experience, that the question of who does or does not become a Subject at the site of the Event cannot be predicted prior to engagement. It is perfectly possible, in other words, for a reader with little or no awareness of the text's relation to philosophical concepts to feel that these poems are significant. It is precisely the fact that any individual can become a Subject at the site of the Event which constitutes its “miraculous” element. Theoria, which is a poetry which formally affirms the possibility of the impossible, is much concerned with this theme. And it is no coincidence, of course, that a series of paradigmatic Evental sites - tragedy, art, the miracle, love - are central to my practice and thinking on aesthetics.
Having said this I have learned from many years of wrestling with the problem of whether a revolutionary poetics is still indeed recoverable that such a practice can probably not arise any longer on the site of a hiatus in thinking. This is due to the historical situation of the contemporary writer. It is important to emphasise that my thinking is situational, that I grasp aesthetic practices as above all a response to the contingent, to historical exigencies, and certainly not as existing in some kind of cultural or historical vacuum. And what is contingent to the historical situation of the writer today, is, amongst other things, the historical event of modernity itself, the fact that no avant-garde practice could be imagined which was not in some way engaged with the problem of the new, that there could be no going back, in short, to some pre-modern aesthetic practice. Now the concept of the new has itself, of course, long since been appropriated by market forces and emptied of any progressive or radical content. This raises the question as to what the new might look like in poetry today and, as we shall see, this will require mobilising all the resources of critical thinking and aesthetic ingenuity in order to define and actualise the Novum in opposition both to the totalising power of those market forces and to the contemporary ideologies of self- expression which dominate poetics today. The new, as will become evident, will be more like an act of linguistic resistance to the commodity saturated lebenswelt of late capitalism which signifies as the eruption of a radical otherness within the inter-subjective field, as the production of a linguistic form which requires the production of a new kind of content to account for it, like a message from outer space. Such an "inhuman" intrusion might encompass the dissolution of the commodified “social” self in the trauma of the Event and would have little in common with a contemporary poetics which is prone to conceive of the new as yet another hackneyed poetic exploration of "identity". If this is the way the problem of the new must be viewed today then it is clear that contemporary writers cannot simplistically adopt, say, a specifically modernist style or practice in pursuit of a progressive work. Such an approach would not only be completely anachronistic – it would miss the temporally mediated nature of myth; a practice which was radical or progressive a hundred years ago may be entirely reactionary today. Nor does the category of the “postmodern” hold much appeal for radicals since this is an aesthetic which tends to posit all contemporary practices as belated, as if present day art were incapable of anything other than a parodic or ironic repetition of the Gestus of modernity. Instead the historical situation calls upon contemporary artists to adopt a much more sophisticated approach to the problem of the modern, to mediate what Walter Benjamin used to call the truth content of modern art in their own aesthetic practices. And the nature of this truth content has, after all, long been clear – it was spelled out by Theodor Adorno long ago. The truth content of modern art is freedom.
It is in fact through mediating the idea of freedom that contemporary poetry comes both to articulate the essence of the modern and to develop a critical relationship with our own historical present. Now, in thinking about how the problem of freedom manifests itself in poetry, it is well to differentiate between two distinct conceptions of freedom which are mediated by the writer in the act of composition: formal freedom and actual freedom. Formal freedom encompasses the general sense that human beings have the capacity to make autonomous choices and can be associated with Lacan's Imaginary. It may be equated with the writer's capacity for subjective expression. Every artwork produces a distinctive image of the world and the construction of that world – its colours, tones and hues - are an existential, ideological and aesthetic choice made by the work’s producer. Formal freedom can be construed as the manifestation and exploration of a world by a unique individual or self. In Sartre’s definition of the artwork it is “…an imaginary presentation of the world in as much as it requires human freedom." (What is Literature?) Formal freedom operates despite historical contingencies; for instance the political freedom which William Shakespeare would have known in Elizabethan England was fundamentally constricted compared to what we are used to today; rights to freedom of expression are much more extensive and legally protected now than they were when Shakespeare was writing. Yet his art still expresses a type of formal freedom, irrespective of the political constrictions he faced in the society in which he lived. Actual freedom, by contrast, evokes a different dimension of art: its relation to the other or society in this or that historical present, its relation to what is historically contingent in each given existential situation. In other words it belongs to Lacan's realm of the Symbolic and is intimately bound up with the freedom of the receiver or the audience - that is to say with the problem of the actuality of freedom in society itself in each specific historical moment. The extent of the writer's actual freedom in this or that social or historical situation mediates their autonomy - a fact which still applies today of course. From a critical point of view understanding any manifestation of this problem of actual freedom within the text revolves around grasping it as an internal principle of mediation manifest as technique within the work vis a vis the materials. In the case of Shakespeare, for instance, it is possible to argue that the fact only a single one of his plays takes place in a contemporary setting can be partly explained by the constrictions he faced in his own actual freedom. No doubt many of his plays were set in distant historical periods because the fashion for history plays was current at the time and he needed to put productions on the stage which would sell; however perhaps this reality also enabled him to affect a critique of the society in which he was living more daringly than he otherwise might have had his plays been set in his own historical present. What was contingent in his own existential situation, in other words, contributed to the formation of his own distinctive allegorical technique. Setting his works in a variety of different settings and historical periods created the illusion (not always successfully sustained, it has to be said) that they were not intended as a critique of the society in which he lived. Of course no exploration of actual freedom in poetry can be imagined without formal freedom and vice versa; however when Adorno defines the truth content of art as freedom the kind of freedom he is primarily concerned with is actual rather than formal: “Society inheres in the truth content.” (Aesthetic Theory)
The realisation of actual freedom in the literary work would encompass a writing in which the social has been immanently mediated, a writing in which society has been transposed into the truth content. The difficulty in actualising such a conception of truth content in the aesthetic work may be indicated by the fact that this very truth content cannot, as Adorno puts it, "be something made... Although this truth content, conceptless, appears nowhere else than in what is made, it negates the made. Each artwork, as a structure, perishes in its truth content..." (Aesthetic Theory). On the other hand it is precisely through the transposition of the social, of the otherness of world, that practice can attain the sense that it can alter the coordinates of reality, and, in fact, change the world. There is a sublimity in contingency. This is actual freedom in its positive sense, of literature as the supreme expressive possibility to which a human being can attain, of poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world precisely because, through the transposition and representation of that world, through its mediation by art, a sense that it can be changed is perpetuated. In contemporary poetry, according to the doxa, alterity is customarily mediated by the self and the aesthetic act is posited as the self's expression. In fact romantic epiphany, which is the dominant poetic paradigm today and which has been increasingly culturally hegemonic in the English speaking world since the second half of the 20th century, revolves around the twin notions of identity and self-expression, a pair of doleful concepts which are so locked up in a series of banalities and clichés that it is dubious whether either could ever again be brought into a productive relationship with the new. The aesthetic derives primarily from romantic ideology filtered through a series of heterogeneous late 20th century and early 21st century linguistic registers. Romantic epiphany revolves around two key, related ideas: the idea of poetry as self-expression and the idea of poetry as encompassing the expression of identity. The foundational myth of the ideology is that self-expression is an expression of freedom and that poetry exists to facilitate this. This assumption is deeply problematic philosophically and disastrous as the foundation of an aesthetic, not least because rather than opening a space beyond existing power relations, a space of the new, art is invariably appropriated by existing power relations and ideologies and placed at their service; practice is thoroughly instrumentalised in other words. In fact ideologies of self-expression per se cannot be regarded as instances of actual freedom in aesthetics, because the locus of actual freedom lies outside the self altogether, in the other. Acts of self- expression per se are invariably instances of formal freedom, as the vast majority of romantic epiphanic poetry attests. As it happens ideologies of self-expression are generally not a fertile ground for the production of truth content; they tend to be stymied by a misrecognition as to their relation to actual freedom. To put it in Benjamin and Adorno’s terms the actualisation of truth content in the aesthetic work requires the production of a new name, in other words the production of a linguistic object which constitutes a singularity and which, by constructing a non-instrumentalised relation to nature, resists assimilation to the system of exchange. Romantic epiphanic ideology tends, by contrast, to encourage the writer to make a name for themselves, which is then promptly exchanged for a career. This link between career and practice is important for the ideology. Romantic epiphanic practice expresses identity by interpellating the self as an individual through language. It is easy to see why this procedure should be taken up as a teaching aid - the aim of the aesthetic tends to coincide with that of classical liberal ideology. A poetry of the event, which seeks to interpellate a new Subject on the site of the individual’s destruction, will take issue with this. It is important to grasp that romantic epiphanic ideology tends to sever the link between practice and truth content, which is swallowed up in the drive toward identity formation which is the goal of the aesthetic. Truth content disappears. Instead art becomes merely a vehicle for self-expression, a moment in the production of the self as a commodity. Poetic practice becomes just another instance of self-styling, like choosing a new tattoo. Instead of the production of truth content a correspondence theory of truth tends to predominate revolving around the concept of “experience”. Language which accurately realises or corresponds to the self’s inner experiences is true in so far as it translates the reality of inner experience into poetry. Like any romantic aesthetic it is stricken by the problem that all "inner" experiences of the self are, in principle, non-recoverable, except, of course, as a text. Thus the criteria for deciding whether a work has been successful is reduced to a question of the linguistic realisation of “experience”; the expansion of the concept of what constitutes this “experience” is the aesthetic’s most salient feature. Needless to say a poetry of the event will abandon this entire romantic paraphernalia by placing the nexus of aesthetic expression squarely in between people. It is not difficult to see why, in romantic epiphanic ideology, mediation, which in advanced practices is immanent to technique, becomes hypostatised and aesthetic works, so far from perpetuating a critique of the historical moment, end up passively reflecting it. It is no coincidence that the rise of romantic epiphanic ideology occurs at a time of mass participation in higher education and the expansion of rights since the ideology has the effect of completely equalising aesthetic expression and, by so doing, abolishing it. If the goal of art is the production of identity who can deny the right of any individual to express that however they wish? Truth content goes out the window - the individual is their own truth.
In the era of high modernism the new was always regarded as primarily a problem of form. After all it takes a significant amount of textual exegesis to work out what texts such as Ulysses and The Waste Land actually have to “say”. Extracting a definite philosophical content from either text proved equally problematic. Nowadays, however, this link between the new and form is much more tenuous. In advanced western societies today, after all, the problem is less the forms of freedom (although clearly rights still need to be defended and advanced) but rather more the relationship which pertains between the forms of freedom and their contents. What, exactly, is the content of our freedom? The freedom to consume? The freedom to shop? The freedom to experiment with your sexuality but at the same time work for the minimum wage? The freedom to sign up to the interminable corporate drivel and marketing guff with which all large companies now bombard their employees as the price of keeping a roof over their head? The freedom, as a member of a sexual or ethnic minority, to have your rights to equality set out in law but then to encounter situations in which those rights are routinely disregarded? Today, in the West at least, the problem of freedom which is most significant is its social content; it goes without saying that in aesthetics this social content is not equivalent to the work's subject matter or setting, which are different things. A text which depicts working class experiences on a Scottish housing estate is not necessarily more illustrative of a social content than, say, Finnegan's Wake. Instead the social content of freedom corresponds to the work's truth content, to the dialectical relationship which pertains between actual and formal freedom as this is played out in the materials. The goal of advanced aesthetic practice is to construct a revolutionary image of this content. Practice must not only do justice to the catastrophic distortions with which the social content of language is invariably loaded, but must also mediate that content productively, all the way to its transfiguration in the perspective of utopia. Rather than the mere presentation of experience as expression poetry must mediate the experience of the new. In so doing it might then produce a new experience of actual freedom, which is to say a new social content, rather than regarding it as merely immanent to expression. Thus the goal of progressive practice is not to simply return to perception an imaginary signature of the existent; instead poetry must attain an attitude of critique; practice must grasp an experience of freedom mediated through the inexistent. The new, as Adorno used to say, is the abstract, in the sense that it is not immanent, it is not just lying around; reconstructing the relationship between aesthetic practice and truth content would re-orientate art towards the new, since, for the avant-garde, in an important sense, truth is the new. It is a question, then, of producing linguistic works which resist assimilation by the standard instrumental forms of language use which dominate society and which perpetuate so many impoverished experiences of actual freedom, whilst at the same time thinking of art as a place in which non-exploitative forms of understanding might emerge. Indeed the correlation between the search for forms of non-dominative rationality and the production of revolutionary aesthetic works is one of the reasons for thinking that, as we shall see, radical artists would be as likely to draw on certain texts within the philosophical or critical tradition as a resource than the aesthetic one.
The absence of anything remotely resembling a conception of truth content in contemporary literary studies is perhaps most noticeable in the dubious practice, which is ubiquitous on the literary scene, of hypostatising the text’s meaning. In fact, as Adorno used to emphasise, the truth content of an artwork is not identical to its meaning: King Lear means something quite different for us today than it did to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and yet it still produces a truth content for us. For the writer meaning is simply a material, to be mediated with all the other materials. This failure to differentiate between a text’s meaning and its truth content is perpetuated in particular by academics since it enables them to reduce texts to questions of meaning, in other words to questions of knowledge. For meaning is encompassed by extant knowledge; truth content, by contrast, is not. A “poetry of the event" takes place in the aporias of contemporary knowledge; it requires the production of a new kind of knowledge to account for it; truth is tomorrow's news, dispatched to the present, torn from the sublime pages of the avant-garde. This is why, of course, the problem of the work’s truth content cannot be thought outside the problem of its relation to history and is why, incidentally, the hypostatisation of meaning in contemporary literary studies may be viewed as another version of Fukuyama’s “end of history” hypothesis. By over emphasising meaning and abandoning truth content contemporary academia abolishes the new; it condemns art to the hellish eternal present of the commodity form, rather than understanding it as potentially the harbinger of the jetzzeit of political transformation. In fact significant works, those which actually generate truth content internally, by aesthetic mediation, are those most able to be fruitfully reinterpreted in a constellation of different historical situations. Each has something new to say to this or that historical present, each is capable of sparking a new crystallisation of thought. Important literary works do not and never have existed outside time; instead they enable each present in which they are encountered to be relativised and grasped as a historical object; they open the present to reflection in a new way. Strictly speaking they do not exist in the present; instead they assimilate the present as an element of the new, as a moment which is mediated in their production. They anticipate their afterlife in their moment of construction. This does not necessarily require some great reinvention of aesthetic form; the aims of major works are generally much more modest: the transformation of doxa. Since every present in recorded human history has inevitably been sunk in doxa this Act has a perennial significance. In the chaotic, yet petrified, mythic world of late capitalism, where the distinction between truth and error has long since been abolished, the notion of a truth content perpetuated by art retains a validity today. Art becomes new again under the sign of the dialectical recovery, through aesthetic practice, of the philosophical problem - that is, the problem of truth.
If, in times past, writers turned to art as their most significant and potent resource then today radical poets will just as likely arm themselves with concepts as a weapon in the incessant struggle with myth which is less the defining feature of human existence than its linguistic ground. However poetic practice, which seeks to produce an image of the inexistent even as technique works to eliminate what cannot be said, stands in a fraught relationship with the concept. If it allows itself to be passively inhabited by concepts it descends into mere instrumentalism. On the other hand linguistic practices can no more escape the concept than human beings can escape their animal substance. For all the habitual naivety of quotidian language use, which is founded in its spoken immanence and which, incidentally, and entirely predictably, leads to a full blown phonocentricity in contemporary poetic practices, language is nonetheless conceptually mediated through and through; it is the very stuff out of which ideologies are made and the immense technical problems this poses to the writer are evidenced by how infinitesimally rare progressive linguistic practices actually are in aesthetics, how prone practice is to fall under the sway of this or that master signifier. The “theories” which are produced in Theoria are designed to communicate the full measure of this problem; on the one hand, superficially, which is to say on a surface level, they are the simplest things in the world, on the other, on reflection, they hold vast conceptual residues. Mediating this tension is one of the text’s rhetorical strategies; these reveal poetry as a fully autonomous form of cognition, every bit as sophisticated as the most advanced scientific or philosophical discourse. In philosophical terms the texts emerge out of a Nietzschean impulse; they are linguistic experiments of thought and sound which encompass the full range of human intellectual and aesthetic heterogeneity, from the empirically verifiable to the bizarre. The goal is not to produce a poetry passively inhabited by concepts but rather to produce a linguistic space in which new concepts can be ignited, to trigger a new situation, a new thought, a new event, as Badiou would put it, from intensively mediated fragments. In fact they enact a specifically Nietzschean imperative, namely to return thinking to its origins in a cultural space; this is what Nietzsche was getting at when he insisted on a “rebirth of tragedy” since it was in just such a space that the dialectic itself was born; Socrates, as Nietzsche frequently reminds us, went to the theatre. For Nietzsche dialectical thinking originates as a reaction against the values implicit in the Attic dramas; but these dramas nonetheless enabled the problem of truth to emerge fully into philosophical view. And who could doubt that the problem of truth is still in need of being brought into view today? Thus there is perhaps a residue of that originary cultural situation in the text, of that epochal turning of language against myth, which is to be found in the agonal dramas. For it is entirely outwith our capacities as human beings to escape from myth, to escape from what Zizek calls the “plague of fantasies”; myth is the distortion in the symbolic that language opens with the world. "We are such stuff/As dreams are made on" as Prospero says in The Tempest. In the face of this profoundly tragic situation all writers have to ignite the truth event is their technique. “All I have is a voice” as Auden put it. In Theoria this "voice", otherwise known as technique, organises language strategically; language becomes tendential to myth, it moves away from myth; and the form of the texts, their immersion in a limit situation of what can and cannot be said, is a measure of the whole muscular effort which is required to wrench language into this new direction.
It is in the aspect of their form, as Adorno once put it, that aesthetic works, “collide with critique”; in poetry the index of critique is style and it is actualised by nuance. Theoria mobilises an array of rhetorical techniques in order to develop truth content; in particular the way specific phrases reoccur and echo in different textual situations carries a significant part of the exposition; in this sense the text repays the kind of scrupulous attentiveness to textual minutia which was immanent in the critical work of many post-structuralist thinkers in the later part of the 20th century. This is not the only point of connection: as its title suggests the text seeks to recover an idea of "theory" albeit one at odds with the concept that was such a dominant presence in the institution from the late 60's onwards. True the text does, in good Derridean style, encompass a rejection of logocentrism and the metaphysics of presence and I have often wondered whether the "theorists" in those days didn’t, in their way, attempt to save the truth content of avant-garde works by developing some of the implications of those works for conception at a time when most practising writers were abandoning the very idea of the avant-garde. Many post-structuralist insights, after all, are anticipated by writers such as Joyce and Proust; there is no writer more alert to the structure of the trace than Proust, no writer more clear eyed about cultural origins than Joyce; both writers’ works are, in their different ways, intensively mediated by the graphic complexity of origins. It is of course one thing to affect a critique of a metaphysical conception of truth; it is quite another to abolish truth altogether, which Derrida does seem to suggest on occasions. If, for Derrida, the truth content of modern art is that it has no truth, with all the dubious political implications such a position entails, then it seems appropriate for a contemporary avant-garde to in turn "save" the possibility of radical practice by wrenching back this abandoned progressive ground from the theorists. The problem of how that empty space might be recovered by writers is at first opaque; what must be avoided at all costs is some kind of positivist appropriation of existing concepts. In fact it turns out that this is a question which can be resolved by revolutionary technique. Put simply technique operates here by dramatically expanding the materials of art - a procedure which will surely be familiar to anyone who understands the modus operandi of modern art. This ability to exponentially expand the materials of art, let it be said in passing, is in fact a permanent possibility of modernity; it ensures the chance of a revolutionary art today, just as it did for our forebears, all protestations of received opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. Thus progressive practice, in an Act which entirely negates the cynical or world weary Weltanschauung of the postmodernists, attempts to produce the new one more time by grasping the historical idea of theory as such as a new material for art. It is important to emphasise that this is not at all the same thing as merely positing the discoveries of this or that thinker in their content as the generator of the aesthetic work. Radical art, by contrast, opens this new material, the idea of theory in its linguistic historicity, to the dialectical mediation which aesthetics affects.
It is worth reiterating here that it would clearly make no sense for poetry to attempt to unfold some kind of positive content of the idea of theory. If poetry were to do so, after all, it would quickly become not poetry but – philosophy, or a shallow imitation of philosophy within aesthetics. Instead the autonomy of poetry's own forms of cognition must be protected. And so the long and the short of it is that aesthetic practice must focus intensively on the new material itself, which is to say on the actual signifier, on script, on the material word theoria. This is all the more apposite a strategy for poetics since this is not only a material practice through and through but above all the site of the word’s mediation. Mallarmé was implying exactly this when he pointed out, on a famous occasion, that poems are not made out of ideas but from words. This is why I take as my starting point Heidegger’s definitions of the origin of the word theoria in his Science and Reflection. It ought to be said that in doing so I do not imply the philosophical primacy of Heidegger’s text; on the contrary I am personally sceptical as to the efficacy of phenomenological approaches which tend to posit the object of experience as knowledge (pseudo knowledge, Benjamin and Adorno would have argued) rather than grasp it dialectically. However, as Hannah Arendt used to point out, the power of Heidegger’s philosophising lies in its ability to provide arresting definitions of words by illuminating their origins in a new way, and its value is to be discovered in so far as these definitions are regarded as poetic constructions which stimulate critical thinking rather than mystical disclosures of the truth of being. In fact Heidegger suggests the word theoria has two specific roots: horao, which means to look at something attentively, and thea, a second root which means the aspect in which the phenomena shows itself or appears to perception and which is related to the word "theatre". He thus posits a productive tension at the etymological root of the word theoria, a tension which the text proceeds to explore, in order to produce a theatre of the word in which the relation between perception and appearance can be staged - and, indeed, subjected to a process of immanent critique.
In fact in this poetry the historicity of the idea of theoria is acted out by the signifier in the proscenium of language on the stage of the world. The text reinscribes the word not in terms of its epistemological content but through an exploration of its idea as a linguistic Act, an Act which encompasses both the reception and production of perception. The drama of the appearance of the phenomena to perception is mirrored by the drama of the act of perception itself. This dramatic tension produces a poetic Event which shatters the positive order of being and opens a new perspective on the world through which emancipatory possibilities – political, social, aesthetic - may stream. The text occurs in the interstices of being, constructing ruptures in the fabric of the sphere of facticity which a certain species of animal has come to inhabit and takes up Badiou’s conception of the Event as an instant when the ontological order is dislocated in such a way that the Real of existence – hitherto invisible, hitherto unspeakable - penetrates the visual plane. Thus Theoria is an inquiry into the inexistent, into that which has not yet emerged fully into being; the text encompasses an attempt to bring that speechless world into language. If it makes little sense to grasp the conception of historicity operative in Theoria conventionally this is because the whole effort of language is directed toward punching holes, as it were, to adopt a metaphor used by Lacan, in the homogeneous flow of temporality in order to open a passage to a new discursive universe. As Zizek puts it “historicity proper involves the specific temporality of the Event and its aftermath, the span between the Event and its final End” (The Ticklish Subject). What is going on here, in other words, is less a Heideggerian recovery of a lost origin of the signifier than a Benjaminian reconstitution of the “origin” as it emerges into appearance from the ebb and flux of becoming, a reconstruction affected by seizing on flashes of perception, by forcing disparate and heterogeneous historical materials violently together to produce a series of dialectical juxtapositions or images within the textual world. The historicity of the word is realised when it transforms the present as an Act; this is in keeping with Benjamin's dictum, contra Heidegger, that the origin is in the present. Historical materials are shocked into a revolutionary constellation in which the present moment becomes the blank space through which a new truth content may become manifest.
Revolutionary technique mediates language into an Event which can produce a new content; it opens a hole in extant knowledge through which truth can appear, an idea which introduces the central conclusions towards the presentation of which these reflections have sought to generate momentum. For I hold, and above all, that the aim of a radical poetry today is to produce a new Subject. I am thinking of the concept of Subject, like Badiou, both as a new epistemological site which can only be filled in by the production of new kinds of knowledge and awareness and as a linguistic place which requires the foundation of a new community. The progressive potential of radical art lies in its ability to give the receiver a synthetic experience of this possibility; in so doing it becomes the harbinger for the birth of a new community in the political order. In the political sphere exemplary instances of the birth of new Subjects in the recent past would include Events such as the struggle for LGBTQ rights, for women's rights, for environmentalism etc. In aesthetics this new community is signified by the production of a new name: in the name poetry opens a new evental site and creates the space for a new community. The first member of this new community is "Paul Harrington", the first receiver of the text, and this is why I adopt a nom de plume. It is essential to rigorously differentiate between the aesthetic Subject, which is not produced by any one person, and which is basically a metaphor for the new community which the language creates, and the empirical individual who produced the texts. Thus the name "Paul Harrington" has a definite relation to the system of exchange. On the one hand the name, could, (almost) be any name; it can formally be exchanged for any other. On the other hand it cannot be exchanged for the name of the empirical individual who wrote the works as his name is mortified in the textual materials allegorically and expelled from the system of exchange. His name is dispersed into the corpus of the textual body; it becomes the inexistent allegorically. The name Paul Harrington, by contrast, is an empty signifier; as Zizek puts it “The naming of the Truth-Event is “empty” precisely in so far as it refers to the fullness yet to come”. (The Ticklish Subject) Thus the text signifies the chance of a new social content which overflows into the materials formally, utilising the phenomenological Act of reading in a way which is politically progressive. Theoria interpellates the receiver's virtual subjectivity as a constituent of poetic production; an engaged subjective perspective is part of the Event itself. The work's truth content can only be realised experientially by this or that receiver as an Event for them during which they perpetuate this production of a new Subject in which they have an equal stake, not reflexively but ethically. The text resists assimilation by the ideology of romantic epiphany and instead demands that its receivers actively participate in the construction of a linguistic space which is just through actualising themselves as the subject of the enunciation. In an analogous way the name of the aesthetic work, realised through the dramatisation of a poetic Act although nowhere explicitly articulated, becomes the site of a new set of linguistic possibilities which intimate a life beyond capitalism, a new community founded in freedom. Truth is discovered in the essence of language, in the revelation of the inexistent. Revolutionary art expresses what is incommunicable and realises the linguistic antithesis of late capitalist society. The mutilated language of alienated social existence, locked up in the jargon of competition and commerce on the one hand and speechlessness on the other, is negated in its situation - and then annihilated. The poetic word, mediated by a Subject produced at the site of the utterance, founds a place of justice in speech.
The price of a new aesthetic Subject in art is the destruction of the empirical individual into script, the annihilation of the self through a linguistic Act. In Lacanian terms this is a death in the Symbolic and not the Real; it opens a textual space between the two deaths. An allegorical enactment of this process of the individual’s destruction may be found in my first book, Bridges to the Body. In that text the void of a radical negativity is immanent to the construction of a new Subject; it is only through the allegorical dissolution of the empirical individual that a new textual image space can emerge, a process reflected in the text through stylistic and thematic development. This relates to the individual entering into what Lacan used to call a condition of “subjective destitution” and it ought to come as no surprise that Lacan drew extensively on Greek tragedy to illustrate his idea. I follow Zizek's reading of Lacan here in understanding subjective destitution as a limit-experience which is "the irreducible/ constitutive condition of the (im)possibility of the creative act of embracing a Truth-Event: it opens up and sustains the space for the Truth-Event…” (The Ticklish Subject). In tragedy the protagonist suspends the signifier from symbolic norms by his or her acts and throws it into question. The suspension of the signifier from symbolic norms enables the articulation of the word to show itself (thea) as the Event before which myth itself stands accused. The rhetorical trope of paradox describes this process: doxa is wrenched from its extant symbolic context and placed in a distinct linguistic situation; the Act opens a semantic site “beyond” the preexisting meanings of the society in which the word is uttered (para – beyond). This occurs less through a change in this or that individual word than in a transformation of the entire symbolic field, which is opened up towards the new. The exemplary progenitor of this Act, of course, is Antigone, who propels the Logos towards a revolutionary linguistic situation through an Act which provokes a crisis in the values of the society in which she lives, with catastrophic consequences for herself. As Kierkegaard said of Socrates, she uses the same words as everyone else but means completely different things by them. However although Antigone dies in the drama she lives on by reinscribing the word in a new way, which is taken up by the new community which her death produces. The name lives on through its active reinterpretation by the new community, the new Subject which her acts have helped to perpetuate and create.
In literary works the means by which a sentence creates a new happening in the future has parallels for progressive political thought. For radicals, after all, what is at stake in the language of revolutionary art is ultimately the question of who it is for, and, indeed, of whether it can contribute to transforming the future. And it applies as much to Theoria as to any other radical work that the destination of its language is obscure; the fact that there is no pre-extant readership for the work is, paradoxically, the condition of any engagement with a conception of truth which revolves around the new. Could it be argued, then, that language is here merely a bridge to some other who must remain opaque for us today? Or does the language perhaps speak to that dimension of human beings which cannot be reduced to their present day social identities? Or is it rather that the other of Theoria is best understood finally as being inexistent, like the absent agent of political change? In fact the language of Theoria does not address itself to any actual empirical individual but rather speaks to the silences between and within people since its aim is to tell its receivers that they are, precisely, not what they seem. This amounts to saying that Theoria develops a highly distinctive notion of freedom which is introduced in the terms of a linguistic ideality, of a mediation between formal and actual freedom, to, in short, a non-instrumental, inter-subjective form of expression. Perhaps the last poem in the sequence best exemplifies this. Note that inter-subjective expression would not be identical with Habermas's notion of inter-subjective communication, not least because the Subject is less the foundation of this kind of linguistic practice than its goal. By contrast the notion of expression operative here is closer to Adorno's sense of the word as a “cry of pain”; inter-subjective expression opens a linguistic paradigm founded in the mutuality of suffering. Language flows from those aporias of speechlessness which are constitutive of human life to transcribe a common struggle with suffering. But the goal of radical practice is not the mere passive reflection of human suffering as expression but rather its redemption by a new Subject in love. How else, in a world of universal cynicism and left wing despair, could revolutionary art keep its promise to hope? This is why the paradigm of freedom operative in Theoria is not an ideality of communication between human beings but rather the evocation of the sublimity of inter-subjective expression before “God”, which is to say, before the messianic perspective of the absolute redemption of the meaning of human suffering. For those on the left, of course, this messianic perspective would equate to the creation of a just society in which the full richness of human potential could be realised. The construction of such a society could not redeem the fact of human suffering throughout history. But it might redeem its meaning. The redemption of the meaning of that history of human suffering would be – freedom.
These reflections really comprise the intellectual starting point of Theoria and I shall do my best to try and develop their implications on this site. In his Lectures on Metaphysics Theodor Adorno suggests that "the spell which binds us today consists not least in the fact that it ceaselessly urges people to take action which they believe will break the spell; and that it prevents the reflection on themselves and the circumstances which might really break it". I conceive of this site as no more or less than a small contribution to that process of emancipatory reflection.