David Jones' 'The Sleeping Lord',
In Stanley Kubrick's film 'Full Metal Jacket' bootcamp Gunnery Sergeant Hartman screams at a raw recruit:
'Private Pyle' refers to Gomer Pyle, the sentimentalized, mentally challenged recruit, somehow wise beyond his I.Q., forerunner to the abominable Forrest Gump. 'Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.,' the name of the '60s sitcom was played by Jim Nabors. The program ran through 1969 during the height of the U.S. Invasion of Southeast Asia. It was the quintessential sentimentalized and sanitized imperialist feint with all the 'just entertainment' rationales for its existence during that bloody imperialist adventure. In truth it was capitalist, market-driven agitprop condoned and supported by the U.S. military, which served as a script adviser.
Crude and simple-minded and therefore supposedly beyond the credulity of even the American public as the show purported to be, it still served as propaganda in a time when Marine Corps imperial reality was at its most destructive.
The U.S. Marine Corps has always been a quintessential tool of American Empire, the hegemonic jackhammer for the American business class. As Marine Corps officer and Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Smedley Darlington Butler wrote in an article for Common Sense in 1935:
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers [currently Kellogg, Brown and Root] in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies [Currently Chiquita, Dole, United Brands et al] in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."Note how concretely modernist and referential Butler's quote is.
Major General Butler went on to write the definitive book on the subject of the American Empire in 1935. The book, called War is a Racket, contains so much indisputable and archetypal core truths about the nature of American military intervention and the corporate empire, its muscle, that to this day little pecker-headed policy stooges in Washington, on Wall Street, at Yale, Harvard, the University of Chicago, and in the media et al. work weekends and holidays eschewing their families for a few hours of rest in hotel rooms with expense account hookers after long hours of exhausting themselves in equivocation and lies trying to bury Butler's impeccable logic in Sierras of their academic and journalistic legalistic horseshit. Or is it whore's shit. The Invasion of Iraq, for example, is textbook War Is a Racket Smedley Butler fare: kleptocratic lies to steal another country's resources resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands if not millions of innocent people at the hands of overwhelming military power.
Butler's first hand confessions mirror Richard Drinnon's Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building or William Gibson's Perfect War: Techno War in Vietnam. Both books illuminate the bloody and, as Mark Twain observed, 'bloodsucking' details of the American Empire in the Philippines, Latin America, Congo, China etc. That kind of geographic coverage leaves no doubt there's empire building at work here.
So when Sgt. Hartman asks with obvious disdain, 'Private Pyle, what are you trying to do to my beloved Corps?' It's no surprise that the sergeant's bark echoes throughout the literature of Empire as it does throughout the American Empire itself, the Corps being a tool of those imperialist ambitions.
Thus, the Welsh/British poet David Jones writes apropos of the Roman Empire and, by extension, the British Empire. In his poem 'The Fatigue,' a Roman 'sergeant' comes upon a lazy, day dreaming, possibly sleeping, 'Private' Clitus on vigilia supposedly watching out for encroaching barbarians [Parthians?] in first century A.D. Jerusalem.
The sergeant tears the private a new one for neglecting his post:
'It's whoresons like you as can't keep those swivel eyes to front one short vigilia through as are diriment to our unific and expanding order.'The message of the two sergeants, one in 'Full Metal Jacket' and the other in 'The Fatigue', is unmistakable. Fuck up and you put the Empire at risk. 'Rome never turns its back,' as Jones writes elsewhere.
World War I was Jones's war, the supposed War to End All Wars. A British veteran of Welsh descent, the high modernist poet utterly vivifies the experience of being a tool of empire, in this case the British Empire. And Melvin Tolson's heritage as an African American poet makes him High Modernism's exemplar of the victim of and guerrilla/resister of Empire. The Imperial period which began roughly with conflation of Western scientific and technological advances and a ramping up of European imperial conquest is still flourishing under today's neo-colonial, transnational reincarnation. The devastation left in its wake has left the world near extinction, not just ecologically, but by the insistence on homogenous inbreeding of a capital-driven culture that produces the commercial and political Down's syndrome so prominent today among our elites and their worshipping followers.
Roman imperialism was marked by slaughter, slavery, and the theft and exploitation of natural resources, but to a large extent respected indigenous culture. Therefore, it was no match for U.S. imperialism which enforces an inbred one-world culture of slavering, drooling consumption in turn exploiting resources at an apocalyptic level that the Caesars could not have imagined. What could be more ignorant and pathological than persisting in an epistemology that, no matter its intentions or intentionality, is by its very nature eschatological? With second and third, even fourth phase ecological second-guessing, such as CO2 produced by clearing land for bio-fuels, or windmills dotting the landscape in such numbers they change the earth's air currents and weather patterns, Western epistemology has moved into a stubborn and willful stage.
David Jones in his loose collection called 'The Sleeping Lord' and Melvin Tolson's in his 'Libretto for the Republic of Liberia', both poets capture this brutal essence of Empire, its drive for control through conformity. This is essentially a passion of technique, of method, of form over substance. Thus, the subjective resistance to empire expressed by the myriad minority cultures that struggle against it and the huge variety of resistance. The notion that current technologies are the result of a long ascendancy of form over content should not be as hard to grasp by the Western mind as the onrush toward more and more shallow devices would indicate. The numerous internal pathologies that result should give the West reason to reflect, but instead it substitutes the pause button.
In the so-called Western canon there are two great poets of war, Homer and David Jones. And in the world canon you can add to the list two great poets of colonial empire, Aimé Césaire and Melvin S. Tolson.
Mel Tolson may at first glance seem like an odd choice because, as a descendant of American slaves, he was never directly a colonial victim. Further, it's hard to tag any individual with the intelligence, independence, and confidence of a Tolson as a victim. He was an educator at Wiley College and elsewhere as well as a poet influenced by the pan-cultural approach and polyglot roots of other high modernist practitioners like T.S Eliot, who was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Jones.
Hans Blumenberg in his monumental work, The Genesis of the Copernican World, links the myth of Tiphys with Giordano Bruno’s condemnation of the Age of Exploration and the beginnings of the modern technological empire. The Tiphys myth posits that as soon as the Argos’ hull physically separated from Iolchus the world began a long slow, irrevocable decline into corruption and final dissolution, a kind of myth of entropy. Bruno in his La Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper, 1584) fleshes out that decline in terms of the Age of Discovery and European Imperialism.
'The helmsmen of explorations have discovered how to disturb the peace of others, to profane the guardian spirits of their countries, to mix what prudent nature has separated, to redouble men’s desires by commerce, to add the vices of one people to those of the other, to propagate new follies by force and set up unheard-of lunacies where they did not exist before, and finally to give out the stronger as the wiser. They have shown men new ways, new instruments, and new arts by which to tyrannize over and assassinate one another. Thanks to such deeds, a time will come when other peoples, having learned from the injuries they suffered, will know how and be able, as circumstances change, to pay back to us, in similar forms or worse ones, the consequences of these pernicious inventions.'
The prophetic ring is unmistakable.
The High Modernist approach relentlessly lends itself to discussion of Empire. In a very real sense, in its epic forms, it is the poetry of empire and, as Ezra Pound points out, the poetry of culture. Empire is bedrock in all the 20th Century great ones, Pound, Olson, Eliot, Joyce, Cesaire, Dorn etc. including Tolson and Jones.
Also, no disrespect intended to other poets who saw action in the Great War, such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and E. E. Cummings, but only Jones through his High Modernist roots is epic thus capable of a subject as large as the nature of empire.
In his 'Libretto for the Republic of Liberia,' Mel Tolson exploited the high-modernist style in order to cast the colonial and neo-colonial demons, the struggle for resources at the root of both World Wars, in the coarse, brutal, and morally cryptic and hypocritical language of empire itself.
In response largely to T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland," Tolson's genius was to write a poem using allusions and language from a pan-global world of sources, precisely the kind of poly-cultural and polyglot conditions that exist under an Imperium. If the language of the 'Libretto' is difficult for the reader, tough shit. An imposed regime is, of course, most difficult for the victims, Americans' penchant for projected and sentimentalized victimhood even when 10,000 miles from home notwithstanding. The colonized must work to decode the oppressor in order to resist, rebel, and regain their freedom. This sharpens their wits and steels their resolve in ways that transcend a mere defense of their culture. Thus, Tolson's method is not only entirely legitimate, it is revolutionary. It is the work of a highly successful and motivated guerrilla whose intent is to undermine his oppressor.
Tolson set out to out-Eliot Eliot by making a complex of cultures and language designed to confound his readers at first glance and reward subsequent readings and study. Tolson's zeal and rage is borne of American racism and bigotry. It puts me in mind of the apocryphal story about the origins of be-bop alternately attributed to Charlie Christian, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie. The early proponents of the 'new sound' realized that white musicians were coming to Harlem to Minton's Uptown Playhouse and writing down the black players musical ideas on the cuffs of their pressed white shirts. So one of the black be-bop legends mentioned above (take your pick) suggested that the musicians jamming at Minton's play music so difficult it couldn't be copied and bowdlerized by the white musicians playing in the swank segregated clubs downtown. In a kind of literary counterstrike, Tolson in his 'Libretto for the Republic of Liberia' demonstrated his prodigious learning and the integration of knowledge by using poetry's most difficult and rewarding form, High Modernism. Tolson meant the poem and his poetry in general as a direct challenge to the perceived superiority of the white colonial intellect as expressed through its most ambitious poets and poetry. And through this it is a direct challenge to Empire and extremely ambitious, in-your-face, confrontational poetry.
At the raw and visceral level of the language itself, you can see the deficit minority cultures face being forced to assimilate into the culture of the dominant power, a language imposed. So Tolson shows you what its like and imposes his own language, his personal Esperanto, on the reader. He does this with a verve and intelligence the reader ignores at his or her own risk. Through the use of the techniques of High Modernism, of Eliot, Pound, and Joyce, Tolson's message is Empire is brutal and hegemonic, rootless, uprooting, and enslaving. But Tolson also demonstrates that the High Modernist technique can lead to a poetry which is liberating without compromise or sentimentality.
As the poem 'thickens with fragments of different languages,' as Mariann Russell puts it, Tolson's Libretto exemplifies a universal hope in its final movement, 'Do.' The language races headlong under hopeful rubrics for the future, the Futurafrique, the United Nations, The Bula Matadi or 'stone breaker', Le Premier des Noirs and the Parliament of African Peoples. The final note of Pan-Africanism is the dream of the great resisters of European colonialism in Africa, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyere, Ahmed Sékou Touré Gamal Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe, etc. ad infinitum, all hated, hounded, and when and where possible murdered and maligned by Western imperialists.
David Jones's message is the same but from the point of view of an imperialist grunt in Her Majesty's Army in the European theater of World War I. It's therefore useful to make a distinction between the Jones of his World War I classics In Parenthesis and Anathemata and the collection which comprises The Sleeping Lord and parts of The Roman Quarry, the poems which most deal with the Roman imperium. In the former, Jones personal experience is related as fodder in a war between Western empires for world turf. In the latter, in poems such as 'The Fatigue' and 'The Old Quarry, Part Two,' Jones is speaking through the colonialist mask about subjected peoples. Jones's Welsh ancestors were within the grasp of the Roman Empire which held sway over a much of Britain for over 350 years.
David Jones was a Welsh veteran of Her Majesty's Army in World War I, the War to End All Wars. But by 1919, with the failure of the League of Nations and the draconian sanctions placed on Germany, a new war was already festering in Europe. On the imperial front it was business as usual. At the League of Nations assembly, a young Ho Chi Minh, seeking an audience with the U.S. delegation, was shoved down a flight of granite stairs by U.S. Marines. Woodrow Wilson had promised American backing for Vietnamese independence from the French. But that was in exchange for Viet Minh help. Now that that was no longer needed, the austere intellectual racist Wilson told the Viet Minh to go fuck themselves much in the same way Truman did after WWII.
Ho, who had proposed a Vietnamese constitution based closely on the U.S. constitution, began to doubt U.S. intentions after Wilson's actions, not to mention the efficacy of the U.S. Constitution itself and rule of law.
All of Latin America and the Pacific, specifically Hawaii and the Philippines, were under Uncle Sam's boot and, have no doubt, it fucking hurt.
In the late 1920s and early thirties not only did Western capitalism come into doubt and disrepute, but the whole epistemology of the West came under attack with its non-sensical, anti-rational quantum interpretation of subatomic reality. Surely more abstract, mathematically-based surety and conformity were called for, not only in physics but in economics, too. Thus the ascendancy of the brilliant imperialist stooge exemplified by John von Neumann and his 'Theory of Games and Economic Theory' which he coauthored with Oskar Morgenstern. If this sounds a bit like the world of derivatives devised by mathematicians that precipitated the current Wall Street crash, it is. Mathematical formalizations of large unknowables is not only fashionable but immune from prosecution unlike sloppy, subjective sins of hoi poloi. Figures don't lie—except when they do.
Jones was part of that remarkable group of poets who came out of the so-called Great War, a landmark war in and of itself that established the Western technological mind as by far the most brutish and murderous in history.
The days of sustainable superstition even as regards warfare were gone. No one counted coup at Ypres. Indeed, all gods were dead, even the ones so remote they didn't yet know it.
Like Tolson, Jones had the insight (one might say natural inclination) and talent to work in the high modernist style. This placed him alongside other epic voices of the 20th Century such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Melvin Tolson, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Olson. And it was High Modernism's penchant for epic mythopeia that vaulted Jones's poetry into an orbit beside Homer's.
To this day, High Modernism remains the only poetic style capable of engaging the present malaise other than the malaise of self-indulgence. And it does this, as Jones, Pound, Tolson, Eliot, Joyce or Olson make manifest, in large part by assaying the present against the past sans nostalgia.
Jones used this hardheaded approach to history and culture to his great advantage and with a deft hand. In poems like 'The Fatigue' and 'The Wall' Jones describes the modern colonial/neo-colonial, imperio/technological empire through the empire of the past for the Western mind, the Roman Empire at the time of the birth and death of Christ, the Nativity, and the Passion.
Further, he describes a low level soldier's place in the Empire. The soldier becomes the archetype, which also now includes the poets, for everyone living within the boundaries of empire. If you're not struggling against it, you're a cog or, utilizing Jones's favorite metaphor, a cut stone or brick, silex, a piece of a wall necessary to the maintenance of Empire. Everyone within the Empire has his task. Everyone is a Marine, no matter how self-indulgent poetically or materially. In the ethos of Edward Bernays and his 1928 masterwork, 'Propaganda,' as long as the populace is deluded by bread and circuses into thinking they have some measure of say in their affairs, for the ruling class it's all good. A Marine doesn't have that luxury. He's the purest tool imaginable.
In the poem 'The Fatigue', Jones's Roman sergeant speaks to one of his vigilia, men on guard duty:
Note, not only is the soldier a stone in the wall, he is shaped and by the very nature of a wall forced to look in one direction and one direction only. Further, this is necessary for the efficient maintenance of Empire. The average cog is not supposed to see the big picture. In an Empire the big picture is better left to his betters like Edward Bernays, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, Don Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney ad nauseam.Project an imagined line from that tump, cutting Cheese Gully back to this same block of silex where you now stand And you've got y'r median point of vison---now hold it. That's how we keep the walls of the world sector by sub-sector maniple by maniple man by man, each man as mans the wall is as each squared, dressed stone fronting the wall but one way according to the run of the wall.
[Here, I doubt it would be helpful to point up that, by their sheer choice of representing themselves in all of their average-ness, today's neo-liberal, brick shaped, cookie cutter cog poets have validated their mousy little voices as stooges to Empire at the cost of having any voice at all.]
Jones's Empire was the fading British Imperium. But in Jones's Sleeping Lord as in Tolson's Libretto it's the American Empire that's brought into focus. Tolson was acutely aware of the long history of African empires. He also understood the slave diaspora that was the legacy of the middle passage. But it was the U.S. in all of its colonial brutality and visions of Imperium that assisted in the establishment of Liberia.
So, as in Jones, this is not a matter of the American Imperium following the Roman Imperium by way of collapse, at least, not in the clichéd sense of American culture becoming too decadent and self-indulgent to survive. Not with the murderous scientific/technological dimension going full bore.
Jones's critique in The Sleeping Lord and Tolson's in Libretto are far deeper and more critical. I hear out and out rage in Tolson, absolutely justifiable rage. Yet, when I read the sections of The Sleeping Lord, I find myself shouting, barking like Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. And somehow my rage through Jones's sergeant mirrors Tolson's rage, which is unmediated or inverted by a persona.
This rage concerns the matter of conformity or bowing to authority. But Tolson writes out of Hesiod, 'nullius in verba' or 'on the word of no one', Liberia and Africa itself will make its own way. Tolson is in essence saying 'fuck you' to the powers he mentions above in the same 'Ti' section of Libretto--- 'the White House, the Kremlin and Downing Street.'
On May 28, 1938, Tolson wrote: "England and France and Italy now exploit 500,000,000 colored peoples. For what? For dollars. For profits in gold and oil and rubber and agricultural products. But at home the masses of the population in these countries tear out their lives against economic injustices. That's the cancer that will eat away these dishonorable governments."
Further, the last stanzas of Libretto extol Africa as being the continent that will lead the world to egalitarian justice through its profound and deep relationship with suffering and injustice.
Of course, none of this prevents the three empires above from continuing to exploit Africa in the neo-colonial period (see Congo Redux). As Tolson pitilessly remarks in a Caviar and Cabbage article of May 28, 1938, called 'Drama: The Tragedy of Ethiopia': 'The world cried out in disgust and anger when Germany made a scrap of paper out of the neutrality of Belgium. Of course, people forgot that little Belgium had cut off the hands of black natives in the Congo because they could not bring enough rubber for the white capitalists.'
Ironically, 'nullius in verba' is also the slogan of the Royal Society of London, the U.K.'s national academy of sciences: the place where the basic research that resulted in all the 'civilizing' weaponry originated. The core that both built a British Empire in Africa and elsewhere and, not coincidentally, plunged Jones's as mere cog, as a mere cut slab of silex, into the Great War, the imperial war to end all wars as the joke now goes. In this it rubs up against Pound's Cantos and the rigid collapsed cultures of the Han Dynasty and China's Warring States Period. [Or for a discussion of the brittle brutality of mathematics, quantification, and empire alloyed read James William Gibson's The Perfect War: Techno War in Vietnam.]
And in this instance, like the American Imperium, it is the standardization of 'weights and measures,' the 'idealization' of the object and the reductio of everything to an 'idealized,' interchangeable monad, that keeps the Empire functioning. It's raw positivism that Wittgenstein was able to correct in his own thinking in Philosophical Investigations, but that still remains the dominant blunt instrument in Western epistemology. The dilatory effect on Nature itself under 'the bur and sand casting' of the scientific method, which is currently utterly pervasive, was not yet in Jones's direct purview.
But Jones distills this quality of the culturally conformal from the Roman Empire, if not its scientific underpinnings. Because antique Rome's technological achievements remain popular primarily because they remained too technically benign and parochial to rub up against and precipitate global climate change and/or the rise of sea levels. For the Romans, that was still the purview of the gods, the emperor's status notwithstanding.
The quantitative element is only tacitly addressed in crude quantitative equivalences derived from class and professional status. What could be more crudely conformal than his vigilia who are compared by their sergeant to a stone block in a wall which collectively make up the wall, e.g. the Empire. In Jones's poem entitled 'The Wall,' part of a larger narrative poem, Crixus like his comrades is "a stone in the living wall," one 'cut block' that forms Rome's "robber walls of the world city." Like the later British and American Empires, their success is predicated on theft, terror, and murder but most importantly 'reason': 'the heterogeneous composition of the forces of a world-imperium.'
On the other hand, Mel Tolson is an African American poet. He doesn't have to be told about the negative impact the Western and American Imperia have had on black people. There hasn't been a number in the Western world that hasn't been used to club him with.
Then why did he choose the High-Modernist style to express himself in poems like Libretto for the Republic of Liberia? Precisely because Tolson saw the epic possibilities of the form. As Mariann Russell writes:
'In the period between the publication of Rendezvous and the writing of Libretto, Tolson included in his eclectic reading the moderns who set the tone of the two decades between the world wars. The reading and the public occasion of Liberia's centenary resulted in the style and content of Libretto. In the poem packed with Eliotic notes, we have Tolson's venture in a style aimed at the literary caviar.'Tolson's attitude toward empire in his Libretto is embittered and sardonic, a cascade of vituperation truly spoken and well aimed.
'below the triumvirate flag & tongue & mammonIn Tolson's hands high modernism becomes a revolutionary weapon to fight against Western colonialism and neo-colonialism. The lines are loaded with ripe, symbolic language, western notions captured and ridiculed by mere juxtaposition—'Flag & tongue & mammon,' empire distilled into three words with the first two taking on the negative impact of the third by just by being there, as they were there during the actual hegemonic historical reality. Thus, the vituperation and condemnation that Tolson heaps in them are well-deserved and stands not at all hyperbolic.
Then there's '[W]age armageddon in the temple of the dieu et l'etat.' What better encapsulation of the Cold War.
However, similarly both Jones and Tolson see civilization as cyclical, Jones as a cinemascope and Tolson as a ferris wheel. Jones writes 'I have watched the wheels go round in case I might see the living creatures like the appearance of lamps.'
And as Mariann Russell writes: 'Tolson embodies human history in the ferris wheel symbol, which subsumes empires and nations.'
Tolson saw the end of this cyclical pattern in universal egalitarian reform led by a burgeoning and vigilant Africa. Jones's ticket out was the study of history that he 'might see the Living God projected for the Machine,' a sort of personalized epiphany or Second Coming.
In 'The Fatigue' Jones's sergeant tells the two berated soldiers that one or both of them may be assigned to a speculatore's detail, that is a detail to carry out executions. The implication is that one of those to be executed is Jesus Nazarene. Jones presents this proposition with an unexpected and transcendent assertion from the mouth of the seargeant, who says in an uncharacteristically lyric voice
'to hang the gleaming TrophyHere the brutality of Empire makes way by its very homicidal nature for the bloom, the growth of a loving god. In death there is life and only by at the hands of the empire's cogs, can a new life in Christ be born.
This is the kind of poetic reasoning that someone like Tolson enslaved by colonialism could not accept. This is the reasoning of a cog. This is a reasoning that Tolson utterly and rightfully rejects beginning with the brutal heritage of Christianity itself. But it is also the hope of the Christianized black slave in America. But it is clearly not a hope shared by Tolson.
In Oliver Stone's confused and pretentious morality play 'Platoon,' the American protagonist, Elias Grodin (played by Willem Dafoe), strikes a crucified pose at the film's end while being mowed down by a large number of faceless North Vietnamese Regulars. Here the imperialist is turned into the Christ figure, the good interloper as opposed to the bad interloper played by Tom Berenger, who is made-up to look hideously scarred, perhaps as a way of justifying his brutality or more simply as a personification of evil.
The good imperialist stooge pays the price for his goodness. We're not told how the North Vietnamese troops feel about Stone's indulgence, because it is self-indulgence, the very heartbeat of current American poetry. I suspect despite the Vietnamese people's apparent ability to forgive, supposedly a Christian trait, they would find Stone's interpretation not just absurd but inconsequential.
But the inane notion that the American Empire is benign, but perhaps occasionally brutal and misguided, is not limited to its works of popular culture. Its elected officials, the media, and the population in general under the sway of the Edward Bernays propaganda machine spout this neotenous drivel as though it were gospel, even as the bloody bodies of the victims of U.S. imperialism confirm that it is nonsense, as though the U.S. is on a holy mission to save the world by destroying it. As though there exists some post-Christian flowering cross.
And of course this delusion of a cross does exist, born at the confluence of the Enlightenment, the Age of Discovery/Imperialism, and its enablers science, technology, and the scientific method.
In reality, and no matter how many muddled minds continue to grasp at the Christian, the Enlightenment Technological Imperium has crucified Christ a second time as sure as Descartes and Leibniz drove their ironic nails.
But the question before us is: 'does this self-righteous imperialist bullshit manifest in Stone's Platoon and in American imperialist culture in general infect Jones's work, particularly in 'The Fatigue?'
Jones's war is World War I. It was a war between imperial powers to attain imperial goals. It dragged the rest of the colonized world into war too.
Speaking of the Roman Imperium but clearly alluding to the British Empire Jones writes of:
'The heterogeneous composition of the forces of a world-imperium'Mel Tolson speaks of the brutal and bestial Middle Passage. Here too Africans from many ethnicities were thrown into a mix aboard slave ships for cargo transport to a variety of slave destinations in the New Worldl.
But they weren't just forced aboard willy-nilly. No, the slavers were scientific. They were mathematical. They practiced Frederick Winslow Taylor's Scientific Management. They organized the slaves to maximize capacity and ballast, a first step that by its very objectification gave birth to a new cosmopolitan race even among the most brutal and detestable of circumstances. Imagine having your sense of space and time reduced to a tiny square in near total darkness. Now, imagine Jones's silex cut to conform to its niche in the imperial wall deprived of the kleptocracy's big picture. It's a short trip to Jones in the trenches. A short trip indeed.
Later as factory blokes, the imperium re-uprooted them and rendered them, or at least tried to render them, ahistorical a second time, this time using the rules of scientific management.
Though not coined 'Scientific Management' until the late nineteenth century by the emotional defective, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who designed his 'principles' to control, regiment, and thereby maximize a worker's output. Long before Taylor, slavers used similar management principles as well as simple game theoretical tools to maximize profits on slave ships. Many of these principles are still employed in the workplace, in board rooms, and on Wall Street today, where like Jones's conscripts, employees are left to find their humanity in the workplace where they will, or more precisely leave it at home.
That these principles apply in the discussion of Empire is nearly too obvious to note. But since Jones's poetry has World War I as its core referent, and Tolson's poetry repeatedly alludes to the struggle to overcome slavery, the very tenets of both remain manifest in today's workplace and attest to their continuing relevance.
When not displaying utter ignorance and disregard, an American's view toward the so-called developing world is callous and exploitative. That many Americans express bewilderment that populations which we mercilessly carpet bomb, invade, exploit, and economically marginalize won't accept that we are killing them for their own good reveals a self-delusion worthy of our current poetic output. Americans' obtuseness, especially among the journalistic community, elicits speechless disbelief from those under attack.
In Jones's 'The Fatigue,' the vigilia have their job and they are not doing it to the satisfaction of their superior. This will redound on their superior, the sergeant, if there is an incident because the sergeant too has superiors and they in turn and so on. Likewise in the corporate workplace.
But for Tolson's slaves everyone who is not a slave believes himself to be superior. The condition of the slaves only confirms this.
The fact that Western intellectuals accept hierarchies and organization as ubiquitous and present in all cultures, even some animal societies, speaks to the effectiveness of Edward Bernays type agitprop or the socialization of the notion of Leibniz's mathesis universalis.
Tom Goldpaugh writes: 'In sketching the uneasy boundary between the interior and exterior, Jones's poetry continually employs images of demarcation: the trenches of The Great War, the city walls of Troy, the limes of the Roman Empire, the natural boundaries--the rivers and mountains--of Wales. Walls and boundaries, though, serve two opposed purposes in Jones's poetic universe: one is to protect an endangered culture, "that known enclosure" (SL 56), by serving as "hedges ... round some remnant of us" (SL 63); the other is to serve the interests of imperialism as "the walls that contain the world."
This is not surprising for a British poet, what with John Locke and Edmund Burke, enclosure, et al. This also dovetails nicely with the efficiency seen behind notions of scientific management and the neat and anal quality of quantized discourse altogether.
After describing the center as a last bastion of all that is worthwile, Goldpaugh writes: 'Conversely, the center is the locus of imperial power, where "an inner cabinet plot the mappa mundi" (SL 40) and impersonally send out "the routine decrees" (SL 40) that govern the "Urbs, throughout orbis" (SL 50). The centripetal protective enclosure "gather[s] all things in" (SL 61) as "the holy mound / [the] fence within the fence" (SL 64). Imperialism's centrifugal center extends outward seeking to "liquidate the holy diversities" (SL 62) by levelling local cultures "to the world plain" (SL 55) and by dispersing that which culture would preserve.
At the end of Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, Tolson utterly rejects this notion almost at the risk of appearing naïve. After all, his poem was written on the occasion of his appointment as Poet Laureate of Liberia and to celebrate the centennial of that country's founding. Ironically, that founding in and of itself was a colonialist act, even if inspired by repatriation and a sense of altruism. A passive racism of homogenization persisted and the 'colony' was only marginally successful, though a permanent modern state in conformity with the Western nation state was established which would later prove a practical necessity.
After pounding colonialism and imperialism energetically and powerfully thoughout the earlier sections of the poem, in the last section in the last five pages beginning with 'The Futurafrique, the chef d'oeuvre of Liberian Motors,' he envisions a thoroughly modern and industrialized Africa, yet an Africa re-rooted in its past. He clearly sees both as possible. The language soars. The pages must be read aloud to capture their energy and vitality.
The second to the last line on the prior page sums up Liberia's, Africa's, the poem's and poetry's task:
'The chattel whose Rock vies with the Rime of the upstart Crow?'
It's a second coming for Africa, as out of the carnage of WWI Jones saw a second coming for the Christian soul.
But with the American Imperium intact and as brutal as ever, Sergeant Hartman has the last word:
'There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless!'
Additional work by Carlo Parcelli includes:
and several installments of
"Deconstructing the Demiurge"
"Crimes of Passion"
"Crimes of Passion"
I. A Brief Course in Secular Eschatology
A. At 64
The poet comments on his growing poem:
The Schneidercentric Poetry World of
"Is Everyday Language Sufficient to Embody Everyday Experience?"
Dan Schneider: Cosmoetica vs. Planet Earth
The Schneidercentric Poetry World of
or return to: Melvin B. Tolson FlashPoint Issue #14