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Rexroth's Poetic Anarchism

Posted to Poetry and Politics

Excerpts from Kenneth Rexroth's "The Dragon and the Unicorn" are now online at .

The book-length poem recounts Rexroth's 1949 journey through France and Italy. Anecdotes about his encounters and experiences are interwoven with commentaries from diverse and often deliberately clashing perspectives -- political, philosophical, historical, aesthetic, mystical -- including some of the most incisive and scathing radical critiques in Rexroth's work.

For example:

It is unfortunately
The case, that the world in which
We live is dominated
By two collectivities
Whose whole force is exerted
To depersonalize and
Quantify persons -- the State
And the Capitalist System.
If a person is that which
By definition can never
Be added to anything else,
The State is precisely the
Mechanism by which persons
Are reduced to integers.
The State exists to add and
Subtract, divide and multiply
Population units. Its
Components have no more and
No less reality than the
Mathematics of the battlefield.
Similarly, Capitalism
Views all existence in the form
Of commodities. Nothing
Is valuable except to
The extent it will bring a
Profit on the market. Again,
The human being is reduced
To a special commodity,
Labor power, his potential
To make other commodities.
Labor power on the market,
Firepower on the battlefield,
It is all one, merely two
Aspects of the same monster.
The parliaments of the State
Are only highly ritualized
Capitalist market places.
The battlefield is only
The most advanced form of trade.
The equities of the State
Are only devices for
Postponing the decisions
Of violence to a more
Opportune moment. The ballot
Is a paper substitute
For the billy, the bullet,
And the bayonet.

* * * * * * *

Sexual fulfillment was robbed
Of all meaning. The sex act became
A nervous stimulant and
Anodyne outside of the
Productive process, but still
Necessary to it as an
Insatiable, irrational
Drive, without which the struggle
For meaningless abstractions,
Commodities, would collapse.
This is the ultimate in
Human self alienation.
This is what the revolution
Is about. In a society
Ruled only by the cash nexus
The sexual relationship
Must be a continual struggle
Of each to obtain security
From the other, a kind of
Security, a mass of
Commodities, which has no
Meaning for love, and today in
America, no meaning at all.
The greater the mass of things,
The greater the insecurity.
The security of love lies
In the state of indwelling rest.
It is its own security.
This is what free love is, freedom
From the destructive power
Of a society coerced
Into the pursuit of insane
Against it are arrayed all
The consequences of a
Vast systematic delusion,
Without intelligence or
Mercy or even real being,
But with the power to kill.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Bureau of Public Secrets website features "The Joy of Revolution" and other writings by Ken Knabb (recently collected in the book "Public Secrets"), Knabb's translations from the Situationist International (the
notorious avant-garde group that helped trigger the May 1968 revolt in France), and the Rexroth Archive (texts by and about the great writer and social critic Kenneth Rexroth).