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agon

 

 

agon

by Judith Goldman, Brooklyn, NY

Paperback: 230 pages

Publisher: The Operating System; 1 edition (April 10, 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0986050598
ISBN-13: 978-0986050596

Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.5 x 6.5 inches

agon:
Partisan Arguments as Collective Utterance (1)
Enthymemes as Philosophy, Poetry, and Political Discourse

By Wally Swist

 

Iconic volumes of poetry that offer themselves as examples of protest literature are rare. This reviewer recalls writing about Diane DiPrima’s Revolutionary Letters (City Lights, 1971) and espousing the book as the poetical anarchist classic that it is.  Judith Goldman’s agon furthers even DiPrima’s accomplishment.  Goldman, who earned a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia University in 2007, is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Buffalo.  She had co-edited the annual journal, War and Peace, with the late  Leslie Scalapino.  Just a mention of Leslie Scalapino’s name immediately evokes Langue Poetry.  Although Goldman’s poetry may be classified as such, it goes well beyond such a concept.  Writing a review of a previous book, DeathStar/rico-chet (O Books, 2006), by Goldman, poet Joyelle McSweeney christens Goldman’s poetry as one of “a conceptual or formal framework that brings attentive pressure to bear on grimly mundane content; the other rejects conventional frameworks and concocts a parallel system of language at once as violent, arbitrary, and paradoxically prophetic of a fait accompli as a highlight reel of daily carnage on the evening news.”

With agon, whose origin is from the Greek and ostensibly can be thought of to mean struggle, but whose root is also in agony, and based in tragedy, classically pitting an antagonist against a protagonist, Goldman creates a hybrid text which blends philosophy, poetry, and political thought that includes an index of such progressive minds as Belgian political theorist and post-Marxist critic Chatel Mouffe and the French philosopher, renowned for his combining of phenomenological description with hermeneutics, Jean Paul Gustave Ricoeur.  In Goldman’s own words, this book is “a potential inventory of current agon.  But failing this, pointing instead to a possible contemporary mutated extenuation of dissensus in current economic, political, and social formations in near-foreclosure by the hyper-militarization of hegemonic power; its near-immediate symbolic and other cooptation through social media and digital capitalism; its near-unpredictability given attenuations of agency, the complicities required for bare attrition survival.”   

However, any discussion of Goldman’s agon would be inchoate if it did not mention either hapology or enthymemes.  About half of agon is composed of Goldman’s textual barcodes which serve as a hapological poetry.  The barcodes stand to serve a multipurpose aesthetic norm: as art texts themselves using a superficial hackneyed layering and as poetic semiotics deconstructing ideas, idioms, and memes in contemporary 21st-century society.  The definition of haplology is the elimination of a syllable when two consecutive and/or identical similar syllables are juxtaposed.  The word originates from the Greek of haploos, meaning simple, and logos, or speech.  The phenomenological concept was identified in the 20th-century by American philologist Maurice Bloomfield.  Expansively speaking, Goldman’s inventive use of hapology within her poetical bar code form is not a dissimilar aesthetic experience of viewing a painting by conceptual contemporary artist Sol LeWitt.  Both Goldman and LeWitt guide our vision quite uniquely to see, as well as possibly comprehend, what we haven’t seen before—although what we, as readers and viewers, realize is that the reality we are now aware of is, and was, ever-present.

With respect to enthymemes, Goldman best defines them in her own inimitable language: “Enthymemes are locations of enculturation: to say speech is encoded is to call out the enthymeme.  Yet an enthymeme solicits inference that draws on its audience’s resources in terms of what it already recognizes and what it may be spurred to imagine . . . supplying a proof’s givens even when the given must be fabricated (as given).”  Essentially, what Goldman so brilliantly creates in agon is an imaginatively clever interactive text in which the aesthetic accomplished is of a social order in which her audience or readership is made more aware of its own implication in current societal norms than ever quite realizing before, often with their own new self-awareness providing a keen wince from within—through what is a “fabricated (as given)” form of Goldman’s invention.  Quoting Professor Henry Farrell on page 67 seems apt here, “The enthymeme, for better or worse, offers a provisional interpretative frame, a caption, that, lends temporary stability to an otherwise unstable and ambiguous complex of appearances.” 

In other words, Goldman rather resiliently turns language in agon inside out for us so that we might see and participate in the struggle in which comes at us from all sides especially in Donald Trump’s solipsistic and authoritarian view of America that has poisoned the culture.  What might best illustrate what Goldman achieves are the last two lines from “Two birds the one watching and passive, the other enjoying its activity:” “He was fracking me/ What goes in may come out.”
 
Goldman furthers, followed by a quote from Thomas de Quincey’s “Rhetoric” (1828), that: “Enthymemes are prevalent in speech.  (How tiresome it would be if they weren’t.)”  A significant part of the DeQuincey reads “an enthymeme was understood to be a syllogism of which one proposition is suppressed . . . But what possible relation had that to rhetoric?”  Of which Goldman, nearly in dialogue with DeQuincey, writes “Utterance “naturally” surrounds itself with enthymemic implicature.  It may be that speech must presuppose more than it says, that everything said is an enthymeme.”

Goldman then summons Valentin Voloshinov’s “Disclosure in Life and Discourse in Art (“Concerning Sociological Poetics)” (1927), in which he proclaims, “Every utterance in the business of life is an objective and social enthymeme.  It is something like a “password” known only to those who belong to the some social purview . . . “

Perhaps an example of such a “password” or at least an enthymemic poetical trope presented by Goldman shortly after her quoting Voloshinov may possibly illustrate Goldman’s noir newsreel vision in which verisimilitude is never spared in what is a largely tarnished cultural portrayal.

“the scholarly study of candy-tampering legends.  He collected newspaper
reports
razor blades, needles, or broken glass in and distributing the candy
that Children copy or act out stories they overhear, adding pins to or
died after eating a cyanide-laced package of Pixy Stix.  A subsequent police
investigation eventually determined that the poisoned candy had been
planted in his trick-or-treat pile by the boy’s father,
Due to their fears, parents and communities restricted trick-or-treating and
Developed alternative “safe” events
also promoted the sale of individually wrapped, brand-name candies and
discouraged people from giving homemade treats to children.”

In what is one of the more lyrically imbued philosophical passages in agon, one in which might have been admired by German poet-philosopher Novalis, Goldman lends an attribute which the composer John Cage found endearing as it is powerful: “The peculiarity of the enthymeme’s silence.  There is a gap in the enthymeme, but there is no gap, as if reinforces the common sense of common sense, the obvious and its obviousness . . . What is not said is leveraged on and leverages a reality principle.  To pass over in silence is not to negate but to make good on.  Here, then, is a silence that is not subordinated to speech, but needed by it: it is the source of speech’s power . . . The omitted may be included by exclusion, but its status is that of constitutive interior, not constitutive exterior.”

Goldman cites American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler in her book The Psychic Life of Power (Stanford, 1997) in that she “returns to the notion of the subject’s ‘passionate attachment to subjection.’”  She also quotes Butler clarion call in that it “arrives severally and in implicit and unspoken ways.”  Of which Goldman posits: “ . . . it is enthymemic.  To be addressed by enthymemes is to be called to reproduce and supplement the symbolic order in all its imaginary probability, to practice social belonging, literacy, emplacement.  Enthymemes meet our readiness to know.  We attach deeply to such implication, it claims us.”

What truly “claim us” is Goldman’s definition of text itself: “It is both the “collapse [of] ‘context’ into ‘text,’ and the essential incompleteness of the context the text that dissolve and resolve discourse into a network of enthymemic prompts.”  What better working indictment of Trump’s version, or inversion, of “fake news” other than Goldman’s inflection regarding text.  However, it is also those individuals who believe that “fake news” is, indeed, fake, which not so much invokes compassion as it does a self-righteous, and perhaps uncalled for, anger.  Goldman, in quoting postmodern rhetorician Michael McGee, offers “text construction is now something done more by the consumers than by the producers of discourse.”  If so, then we are provided insight into an Orwellian version of Trumpian skullduggery.

This brings us to the topic of censorship, of which Goldman mentions the work of Pierre Bourdieu in his book, Language and Symbolic Power (Harvard, 1993), in that Bourdieu defines “euphemization” as the general condition of public speech.  To this Goldman replies, “Bourdieu’s discussion of censorship involves less emphasis on repression per se than on the productivity of constraint, and the way that social context, position, and relation become legible in euphemized utterance.  In a racist society discursively organized around the denial of racism, most speech is marked by the tension of avoiding describing social reality and social processes as racist and, above all, by a taboo on white self-presentation as racist, much of which depends on altogether evading direct mention of race and racism.”  We just saw a stark example of this in President Barack Obama’s eight years in office—in which he distinguished the role of the presidency with eloquence and grace—also in which the American media did very little, if any, reporting about the openly hostile and racist demagoguery and rhetoric of the Republican Party.

Here, again, Goldman offers us an incisive exegesis of American society, “Euphemization bound up with symbolic violence: complicit misrecognition-recognition relies not just on a naturalized social order or the unquestioned desirability of the stakes on offer; but on the soft hypocrisy of public discourse in every field; circumlocution through which power leverages its production and reproduction: language as mystifying displacement, conversion, currency exchange.” 

Goldman declaims that “citational literature comes into being through iteration.”  She also eloquently echoes Amiri Baraka’s deceptively simple yet elegant phrase, “Speech is the effective form of culture . . . Speech, the way one describes the natural proposition of being alive, is much more crucial than even most artists realize” (“Expressive Language,” 1963), in that Goldman gives credence to “citational poetics” as an adequate weapon and as a political act: “the weaponized citationality that citational literature deploys—is necessarily bound up with how the citational work functions as textual speech act.”

These “speech acts” which “function [as] citational poetics” of Judith Goldman are as profound as they are inventive, as significant examples of erudition as they are exhibitions of genuine aesthetics, and as insightful and visionary as they are keys in providing us a sense of who we are both individually and as a society and where we might be stalling and how we possibly can move onward with some modicum of self-awareness and human dignity.  agon is a valuable and exciting work of poetics and philosophy.  The book also is a prime example of the hybrid mix and meld of genres which is the signature of Lynne DeSilva-Johnson’s Brooklyn-based press, The Operating System.  Goldman and DeSilva-Johnson were brought together through the publication of this book in an aesthetic and intellectual fusion which is what makes  literature such as this even more remarkable and so immensely relevant and unusually exhilarating.   


(1) This phrase is attributed to Henry Farrell (1970-    ), professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

 

 

 

 

 

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