The turn to language took me in the wrong direction for a while, in a detour to linguistics. I must continue to think of the meaning of that turn.

Barrett Watten, The Grand Piano1

When Barrett Watten published OperaWorks in 1975 with Big Sky, a small press edited by Bill Berkson, hardly anyone had heard of Language Poetry. Language Writing, as the most influential literary avant-garde of the postwar period has since come to be known, was largely a coterie affair for the first decade after its emergence in the early 1970s.2 It was also, in the eyes of its most vocal proponents, an avowedly anticapitalist project forged to keep alive the dying embers of the New Left in the heady days of what proved to be a long downturn in capital accumulation. By the mid-1980s, however, Language Writing was at the center of a vitriolic series of exchanges collectively referred to as the Poetry Wars that re-shaped Anglo-American poetics. The pugnacity of the epithet Poetry Wars is not misplaced, if a little hyperbolic. Among other things, those Culture Wars helped cement crude but canonical oppositions between anticapitalist poetics and concerns with race and gender that continue to influence poetic practice and social theory today. From Harryette Mullen's 1996 lament that "formally innovative minority poets" are neither seen as "typical of a racial/ethnic group [n]or as representative of an aesthetic movement" to Marjorie Perloff's recent nostalgia for the Poetry Wars as well as the acrimony surrounding ill-conceived projects by Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the recurring controversies of the past several decades in US poetry have been animated, in large part, by a familiar, politically charged opposition between the purported politics of experimental formalisms and express concerns with social identity that acquired canonical form during the Poetry Wars of the 1970s-80s.3 Language Writing, in this sense, continues to cast a long shadow over American poetry in the twenty-first century.

Yet while much has been made of the rancor surrounding the avowedly anticapitalist politics of form associated with Language Writing, less attention has been paid to the form of politics in question. Or rather, while all parties agreed that, at least for its most strident adherents, Language Writing aimed to sabotage the linguistic machinery of capitalist social reproduction, almost no one stopped to ask how, precisely, the forms of class struggle poets imagined squared with those outside of poems in a decade marked by new readings of Marx and declining workers' movements. The sound and fury of the Poetry Wars drowned out such historical niceties. Today literary historians, therefore, confront a surprisingly unanswered set of questions. How did the politics of Language Writing become associated with a traditional working class even as its champions variously took up the global battle cry of "cultural revolution" popularized by the emergent subjects of new social movements? And how has the legacy of that historical torsion distorted the politically charged antagonisms that continue to divide the field of US poetry? To re-read Language Writing with these questions in mind is not only to see that the received history of Language Writing rests on a partial and peculiarly anachronistic conception of anticapitalist movements and their participants. It is also to grasp the extraordinary complexity of the mediations between literary and social history in the postwar period. If we want to avoid repeating the sins of the past by attributing generic political values to particular poetic tendencies at a remove from contemporaneous political currents, we would do well to reconsider the animus of the Poetry Wars with clear eyes.

Language Writing and the Historical Workers' Movement

We might begin to answer those questions by recalling the canonical mien of Language Writing. Chief among its traits is a penchant for radical fragmentation and agrammaticality volubly aimed against the official verse culture Virginia Jackson has since described as a result of New Critical hermeneutics. Whereas for Jackson the reduction of most poetry to the generic situation of lyric address principally owes to a process of lyricization within print culture and literary studies, however, for the theorist-practitioners of Language Writing the confessional lyrics characteristic of the poetic mainstream in the 1970s were a reified cultural form symptomatic of a society organized by the production of commodities.4 Initially hashed out in the coterie confines of little magazines, poetry readings, and talk series, the astonishing variety of experimental formalisms animating that perspective were gradually distilled into the collective position influentially set forth in "Aesthetic Tendency and the Politics of Poetry: A Manifesto." "'Our work,'" as Ron Silliman, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Steve Benson, Bob Perelman, and Watten carefully put it, "is part of a body of writing, predominantly poetry, in what might be called the experimental or avant-garde tradition. . . against the canonical individual of the 'expressivist' tendency."5 Elsewhere Silliman, an inveterate editor of Language Writing, famously dubbed that formal opposition "a surrogate social struggle."6 Further elaborated in a series of epochal tracts such as The Politics of the Referent, "The New Sentence," and "The Rejection of Closure," the political values motivating that view quickly eclipsed the rather more variegated and, by the mid-1980s, often out of print body of poetry from which those values were abstracted. George Hartley's Textual Politics and Language Poetry (1989) and a raft of essays by academic literary critics praising or critiquing Language Writing not for its formal innovations but for its linguistic activism helped those theoretical elaborations win canonical status.7 Thus, by the end of the 1980s, Language Writing was less a body of poetry than a set of precepts a politics of form, in the argot of the times that established historical coordinates and provided a conceptual vocabulary for thinking about the relationship between poetic form and social politics. As the linguist George Lakoff put it while lauding Language Writers for seizing the agenda of North American poetics from the New Critical establishment during the last decades of the 20th century, it was as if "the workers have taken over the factory."8

That vocabulary and those coordinates will no doubt be familiar to observers of US poetry. Yet the odd timing of their referral, however loosely, to a politics no less generic than the first-person lyrics opposed by proponents of Language Writing has gone strangely unremarked. By the time one of the earliest articulations of the collective project was published in Alcheringa, including two pieces from Watten's OperaWorks, the rank-and-file rebellion that accompanied the swell of New Left social movements was receding.9 Rates of absenteeism, job turnover, and sabotage among blue-collar workers had risen steadily throughout the mid-1960s and peaked during a wave of strikes in the early 1970s. Second only to the immediate postwar decade in terms of worker participation and workdays lost since WWII, the 1970-74 strike wave thus brackets a cycle of struggles endemic to the postwar boom that, as Robert Brenner has definitively demonstrated, gave way to a "long downturn" in capital accumulation characterized by declining rates of profit for US manufacturers after 1965.10 In turn, many firms combated declining profits by closing plants at home and scouring the globe for more profitable outlets for capital elsewhere. The consequences of those closures for proletarians were as legion then as they are incontrovertible now. Labor historians are uncharacteristically unanimous in pronouncing the decline of American unionism during the pivotal decade of deindustrialization the last days of the industrial working class, due, in part, to rampant offshoring and outsourcing of labor by domestic firms.11 As one especially trenchant account of the historical workers' movement puts it, the dual decline of profits and organized labor in the US and other high-income countries during the 1970s marked the emergence of a new terrain of social struggle on which "the class relation has outlived the real movement that was supposed to destroy it."12

At the same time, the global Maoism that animated the New Communist Movement was exerting enormous influence over the anticapitalist currents of the New Left in the US. In spite of considerable differences, what the bewildering proliferation of organizations that bloomed in the fissiparous aftermath of the Progressive Labor Party and Students for a Democratic Society shared was a commitment to the "set of positions and dispositions" derived from Mao Zedong's re-casting of orthodox Marxism for the peasantry of a still largely agricultural China.13 Many historians note that those dispositions rest on romanticized, ill-informed accounts of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Nonetheless, the positions informing what was then widely perceived as a "universal theory of cultural revolution" enshrined in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung proved tremendously influential in the US.14 Chief among the discarded shibboleths was the orthodox view of the proletariat as identical with the industrial working class. As Max Elbaum notes in his definitive study, the core feature of the New Communist Movement was a commitment to antiracism at home and decolonization abroad as the leading edge of class struggle.15 Mao's "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan" and Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth were key texts frequently referenced in the pages of Red Papers, The Guardian, and a bevy of like-minded, if belligerent, New Communist publications. The New Communist Movement was, at best, a microcosm of the antagonisms by which the New Left was riven, particularly with regard to gender and sexuality.16 Yet its sectarian currents unequivocally opposed the racial chauvinism and economism many New Leftists rightly critiqued classical workers' movements for not infrequently harboring. Instead, New Communist Movement cadres championed the revolutionary agency of a racialized lumpenproletariat excluded from the workplace and largely confined to urban ghettos.17 Race, if not gender, joined class as a crucial theoretical and organizational coordinate in the Maoist milieu of the New Communist Movement.

The shifting terrain of class struggle in the US was further complicated by the changing composition of social classes during the pivotal decade of deindustrialization. The eclipse of blue- by white-collar workers in 1955 had already signaled a profound transformation of the US labor force.18 By end of the 1970s, barely one in five proletarians were industrial workers, with the share of the workforce employed in manufacturing beginning a sharp decline in 1966 from which there have been no signs of recovery. Those shares of the workforce relinquished by manufacturers fell to the expanding tertiary sector where a disproportionate number of women and people of color found work in "pink collar," low-wage service sector jobs.19 As a number of observers have noted, during the acceleration of (especially married) women's entry en masse into labor markets in the 1970s, women of color, in particular, were routinely confined to menial services.20 Most experienced little relief from the gendered division of labor in the home when submitting to wage-labor, even as formerly unpaid domestic labor was increasingly subsumed beneath the wage.21 At the same time, the rate of unemployment for black workers remained twice that of their white counterparts. That difference does not include the unevenly racialized surplus populations warehoused in a vast carceral complex built up during the decades of deindustrialization that saw many non-white workers among the first expelled from manufacturing jobs. The real rate of black unemployment including those excluded from labor markets while locked up has been nearly thrice the rate for white workers since the end of the 1970s.22 By every available measure, in sum, the US proletariat bore no resemblance to the classical working class of nineteenth century factory inspectors after 1970.

The emergence of Language Writing against this backdrop confronts literary historians with a seeming paradox. How do we explain the alignment by proponents and opponents alike of an avowedly anticapitalist literary vanguard with an increasingly retro protagonist and form of class struggle during the Poetry Wars? We might, for instance, have expected the theorist-practitioners of Language Writing to engage with the theoretical advances of global Maoism and the organizational welter of the New Communist Movement, not to mention the novel theories of class composition emerging out of new communist currents in Europe that circulated in Telos, New Left Review, and Radical America, the unofficial theoretical organ of Students for a Democratic Society. At a minimum, if we recall the galvanizing force of Fredric Jameson's call to "Always historicize!" during the years when Language Writing became a fiercely contested object in literary studies, we might anticipate stakeholders in those debates noting the historical rhyme between deracinated notions of "cultural revolution" particular to the New Left and the peculiarly linguistic Western Marxism Hartley and others routinely deployed to elaborate the politics of form associated with Language Writing.23 Cultural politics were all the rage when Language Writing was canonized as an anticapitalist poetics.

Instead, what we find are accounts replete with gestural analogies aligning certain poetic modes if not particular poets, their readers, or both with the aims of a generic working class whose literary avatars heroically seize the means of poetic production and materials of language the way workers might take over a factory, even as those factories and that working class were vanishing beneath the horizon of deindustrialization. That theoretical anachronism, as we shall see, lies at the heart of the Poetry Wars. It is also an anachronism that some of the most interesting works of Language Writing complicate in spite of their authors' occasionally crude professions elsewhere. To disentangle the crossed wires of this literary and social history, therefore, we need to look once more, and more closely, at the mediations between poetry and politics in the postwar decades.

Factors Influencing the Politics of Form

One of the first full-length collections published by a self-proclaimed Language Writer, OperaWorks had a profound influence on the politics of form attributed to the collective project today. Written between 1971 and 1975, the poems of OperaWorks might best be read, therefore, as something like Language Writing before the Poetry Wars. Here, for instance, is the beginning of "Factors Influencing the Weather:"

Thin sun
one room
clouds passing rapidly to the right
the music is amassing
to crowd the space and display
in line
halfway backwards
little black discs
by the logic or power which
envelops it
sheath of canned air at the edge
less light all day
and as suddenly clearing
the steady pressure held heaven
his life might increase
changed and warmed
having beaten across
dragging the untouched
northern half beyond
into habitation
stretch of flat
the level intensity connects
current beyond the recesses
past turns in the road
to sense celebrants
yet still pictures
the bank is one hill imposes
desires wrought tearing
pinpoints abstraction
of visual certainty
on vista pinions
as much work done in dreams

First published in this 4 (1973) and the central poem in OperaWorks, "Factors" offers a veritable primer for the subsequently elaborated poetics of Language Writing.24 There is no clear grammatical or thematic subject here. The title gestures pointedly towards the familiar, first-person, scenic idyll into which the poem refuses to cohere. At the same time, the title suggests that the poem will disclose the factors influencing the weather that the poem depicts. It is laborious, but possible, to track the oscillations of these contextual frames. "Thin sun/ one room/ clouds passing rapidly to the right" positions the poem within the tranquil scene of a solitary speaker describing a spot in time via the shopworn pathetic fallacy. "the music is amassing / to crowd the space and display" breaks the spell by bringing mechanically produced sounds into the foreground. "in line/ halfway backwards/ little black discs" signals a turn towards the literal. "little black discs" describes the vinyl records playing the music that amasses in the room. "in line" both fixes the spatial position of the record player emitting the music, and calls attention to the techné shaping the poem: a steady parataxis arbitrarily broken into poetic lines absent grammatical closure. Line breaks form logical hinges. They unfold the scene while suspending semantic certitude. From sun in an isolated room to an expanse of sky seen out a window through which music drifts from a record player in line with the view, the poem threads the detritus of everyday life through a grammatical precision that deconstructs what it documents. The poem, we might say, lays bare a scene that expands to include the process of its linguistic manufacture.

Such lockstitch techniques are commonplace today. Oscillations between concrete details and grammatical abstractions became a mainstay of formally innovative poetics in the wake of Language Writing. Indeed, the tension between subjective experience and the objective structures thereof is a recurring motif here: "desires wrought tearing/ pinpoints abstraction/ of visual certainty/ on vista pinions/ as much work done in dreams." The poem goes on to stage such oscillations repeatedly. Occasionally they synch up in something like an ars poetica: "the private world is endless/ and failing in the half-light/ world of sculpted trees/ feeling cold grey of stone" (OW 22). Yet the poem is not, or not simply, a eulogy for the death of the subject bound by signifying chains not of its making. There is an organizing, if inchoate, point of view around which the poem's scalar leaps from concrete phenomena to linguistic abstraction oscillate:

later it got windy
what chance of recall
the feeling of shapes
a refinery with a chain link fence
bypassing intense interest
clouds understanding
what surface cuts across
clearing contact back there
past all definite tinge
accurately ascribed to
I have words in mind
the necessary bifurcation
violence affords nature to
calm in the face of calm
getting details (OW 22-3)

Some one hundred fifteen lines of such leaps, the poem is a tour de force détournement of Wordsworthian reverie. "past all definite tinge/ accurately ascribed to" iterable thematic contents, here overdetermined syntactic possibilities mix formalist pyrotechnics with realpolitik. "what chance of recall" cheekily recalls the failed effort, backed by organized labor in 1968, to recall then governor of California Ronald Reagan. The lines that follow break that referential chain, however, by rapidly shifting contextual frames. "the feeling of shapes" arguably pinpoints the sensation of having a word on the tip of your tongue or something in mind for which you can't quite recall the proper name. "a refinery with a chain link fence" inevitably describes, for Watten's coterie audience in the Bay Area during the spring of 1973, the Chevron refinery overlooking a rapidly deindustrializing landscape stretching south to the port of Oakland from the Richmond hills. By the time "Factors" was published in OperaWorks, it would be hard to see that "refinery" and not think of the oil crisis that erupted a few short months after "Factors" was first published. At the same time, the referential tug of the concrete in the poem's postindustrial bucolic wind, shapes, refinery, chain link fence "bypass[es] intense interest" in the historical. Instead it "clouds understanding" with a sylleptic flourish that turns dead metaphor into pictoral description. It is not too much to say that "I have words in mind/ the necessary bifurcation/ violence affords nature to/ calm in the face of calm/ getting details" sums up the poem's worldview. The historical violence of words disappearing into a world their referents compose is what the overheard confessions of lyric obliterate. What we see, the poem seems to say, depends on the referential horizon of a given generic and, ultimately, semantic frame.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Frame, the volume that gathers much of Watten's work from 1971-90, nods to the influential notion of "frame semantics" Lakoff helped to popularize.25 Total Syntax (1985), a collection of Watten's early essays on poetics, was one of the early theoretical statements of Language Writing Lakoff was championing when he compared the project to workers taking over a factory. One of Watten's later collections, Conduit (1988), borrows its title from a pivotal salvo in the "linguistic wars" of the 1970s.26 Linguistics, as Watten recalls, occupied much of his attention during the Poetry Wars. The Poetry Wars were not fought on the generative terrain of universal grammar and semantic frames, however.27 Nor, in spite of the ubiquity of Saussurean categories in elaborations of Language Writing, did the theoretical challenge posed to New Critical pieties by structuralism and its post-structural variants start the fire. It was claims placing poetry in the service of class struggle that stoked the flames among poets. Politics, not linguistics, took center stage during the Poetry Wars.

No entry in those debates spurred more belligerence than The Politics of the Referent. The title of an important symposium edited by the Canadian poet Steve McCaffery in 1977, "the politics of the referent" became a popular watchword in debates surrounding Language Writing.28 It is not hard to see why. In McCaffery's overdetermined yet simplistic theoretical framing, "what Marx exposed as the fetishism of the commodity is the same mode of mystification that is enacted in the fetishism of the referent."29 Thus, for McCaffery, by "eliminating [the] grammatical armament[s]" that bind traditional modes of poetic address to their thematic contents, Language Writing strove to sabotage the hegemonic norms of a confessional lyricism that had become little more than an "opiate of the reader" in the decades since WWII.30 Instead, as Bruce Andrews put it in his contribution to the symposium, "scrimmages against reference" like OperaWorks offered a literary analogue to workers' control of the workplace: "Altering textual roles might bring us closer to altering the larger social roles of which textual ones are a feature. READING: not the glazed gaze of the consumer, but the careful attention of a producer, or co-producer."31 By rapidly shifting contextual frames in the manner of "Factors," on this view, poets grant readers the capacity to participate in collaborative decision-making processes that actively produce the significance of semantic leaps encouraged by non-normative syntax, rather than making readers passive consumers of a reified content to which lyric, as a bourgeois form of individual experience, automatically refers. In the generic logic of "the politics of the referent," therefore, poetic modes became cultural avatars for class antagonists. Language Writing, in short, is an experimental mode avowedly in line with the values of a working class opposed to the bourgeois "I" of confessional lyrics.

Whether the force of that analogy was somehow functional or merely pedagogical was never entirely clear. Nor was how, precisely, poems might alter larger social roles. The galvanizing force of The Politics of the Referent was readily apparent, however. For linguistically-minded Marxists, such claims suggested that "the theoretical conditions for a cultural revolution were now fully present."32 Some took the analogy between capital and language to its functional extreme. In the more esoteric variants of that politics of form, Language Writing made cultural revolution possible in the era of deindustrialization because somehow, by the 1970s, "signifier and signified correspond[ed] to exchange value and use value" and linguistic "reference replace[d] surplus value" in Marx's critique of political economy in ways that implicated poetic practice in the accumulation of value.33 Since "meaning is like capital," on this view, poetry such as OperaWorks squeezes profits by sabotaging the production of linguistic reference and, in doing so, "diminishes the profit rate and lowers investment drives just as a productive need is increased."34 More often, and more consequentially, the wishful political economy of that esoteric view was overshadowed by the exoteric party-line that, as Hartley put it, "Poetic practice thus must be seen as a form of class struggle."35 On this view, the "politics of the referent" writ large pitted Language Writing against official verse culture in a surrogate social struggle fought on the cultural terrain of poetic form. Esoteric analogies between capital and language thus met exoteric analogies between poetic form and class positions in a generically anticapitalist politics of form.36 McCaffery's 1977 clarion call could hardly have been more emphatic: "'Phonemes of the word fragment! You have nothing to lose but your referents!'" (70).

While OperaWorks was but one of many formative influences on the "the politics of the referent," however, "Factors" exerted a singular influence on Silliman's justly famous formulation of the "new sentence."37 That influence is readily apparent in Silliman's canonical definition:

The new sentence is a decidedly contextual object. Its effects occur as much between, as within, sentences. Thus it reveals that the blank space, between words or sentences, is much more than the 27th letter of the alphabet. It is beginning to explore and articulate just what those hidden capacities might be.38

The logical leap from "what chance of recall" to "the feeling of shapes" offered one early model at the level of the poetic line. The gap between the context of electoral politics in the throes of deindustrialization and the epistemological concern of how words refer to the feeling of shapes in the mind yawns between the lines in ways that solicit readerly collaboration to parse the linguistic opacity. Less about kinds of sentences per se than contextual gaps between linguistic units of various types words, phrases, lines, sentences the "new sentence" is, in this sense, "the politics of the referent" scaled up from the problem of semantics to the operations of syntax. Taken together, the politics of the referent and the new sentence that "Factors" helped spawn leant crucial coordinates to the anticapitalist politics of form for which Language Writing is best known today.

"Factors," however, is a footnote to the Poetry Wars that followed in the train of those coordinates. The Politics of the Referent and "The New Sentence," meanwhile, became canonical mainstays in politically charged debates surrounding Language Writing. Those theoretical polemics began as a coterie affair but quickly grew to encompass academic arguments concerning the political unconscious of postmodernity. Fredric Jameson, for instance, read Perelman's use of the "new sentence" in the latter's poem "China" as a cultural symptom of late capital on par with the Bonaventure Hotel. Cultural Marxists such as Hartley and Andrew Ross, in turn, aggressively defended the anticapitalist politics of the "new sentence" as of a piece with the aims of the working class.39 At the same time champions of the literary status quo dismissed Language Writing tout court. In their eyes, the collective poetics of Language Writing produced gibberish, at best, and, at worst, an assault on the American values instilled by New Critical literary institutions during the Cold War.40 Prominent Language Writers returned fire in kind. Routinely red-baited in conservative defenses of traditional modes of lyric address, the most visible theorist-practitioners of Language Writing McCaffery, Silliman, and Watten chief among them variously and often stridently advanced the collective poetics as an anticapitalist project.41 Whether seen from the vantage of Left-Right coterie feuds or intra-Marxian debates over the status of Language Writing vis-à-vis capital's cultural pathologies, therefore, the Poetry Wars canonized theoretical scripts for determining the class politics of poetic form in the postwar world. Those scripts, by all accounts, revolve around poetic techniques meant to make readers co-producers of texts by sabotaging generic expectations in ways that are analogous to programs for workers' control and, at the outer limits of the analogy, somehow squeeze profits.

We might sum up this literary history as follows. Born from a collective impulse to contest the mainstream of US poetry in the early 1970s, the terms of art by which Language Writing was measured by the mid-1980s gave rise to canonical notions of a politics of form centered on the cultural logic of capital. For better or worse, according to that logic, the use of particular formalist techné aligns confessional lyrics with the class interests of the bourgeoisie and experimental formalisms with the aims of the working class. Certain poetic forms index the political values of particular social groups, in short. That such claims were advanced by a small number of polemical essays abstracted from an enormous variety of experimental projects over the course of more than a decade made little difference to partisans at the time. The generic logic of the politics of form associated with Language Writing crossed the wires of social politics and poetic innovation in North American poetry in ways that were routinely avowed and disavowed after 1977. Few poets or critics have been untouched by the fallout of those debates since. Fewer still, however, have paused to interrogate the anticapitalist politics at the heart of the Poetry Wars. 

OperaWorks and operaismo

For all the ink spilled over those crossed wires, the most consequential re-imagining of workerist politics in the postwar world played no part in the Poetry Wars. For instance, operaismo, as the swell of workers' movements and associated theoretical currents in Italy became known during the 1960s, found no purchase in debates over the politics of form attributed to Language Writing. This is all the more remarkable since both the esoteric and the exoteric analogies underwriting the anticapitalist poetics of Language Writing traffic in deracinated notions of "cultural revolution" peculiar to the global New Left, including the communist currents that fed into Movimento del '77 the same year The Politics of the Referent was first published.42 Like operaismo and its theoretical descendants gathered beneath the signs of autonomia today, however, the novel theories of class composition that emerged from Italy's decade-long "creeping May" that spanned from the Hot Autumn of 1969 to the brutal state repression of Movimento del '77 did not factor into elaborations of Language Writing.43 When they are specified at all in the annals of the Poetry Wars, as we saw, the class politics of poetic form depend on a generic opposition of the working class to the bourgeoisie loosely analogous to workers confronting their bosses on the factory floor.

Yet, as we also saw, even a poem as committed to the paratactic techné of rapid contextual shifts between linguistic units as "Factors" repeatedly refers to its own historical context. Indeed, this is something like the self-referential force of the poem's concluding passage, with its scenic attention to the rural-urban boundary zone, against which the lines describe the deictic action of the relative pronoun that names the journal in which the poem first appeared:

the woods mean nothing
smoke drifting up through the pine tops
walking around to the front
above the surrounding airport
flash of the year
given land
this places. (OW 24)

Contra popular misconceptions of the politics of the referent, in other words, the poem clearly does not refuse linguistic reference. It is by turns self-reflexively attuned to the grammatical armaments structuring its own descriptions, and attentive to the concrete pours and petroleum fields shaping its "vista pinions." "a refinery with a chain link fence," "old single lane highway/ "lights plaza" (OW 23), "the surrounding airport" these noun phrases both refer to industrial infrastructure and pinpoint the poem's grammatical abstractions by anchoring them to familiar elements of life in the urban core of high-income countries. Such glimpses are no doubt fleeting. They emerge from the poem's linguistic austerity as statements of fact as much as images. Taken together, these statements of concrete phenomena nonetheless sketch an oddly depopulated scene of monumental industrial works devoid of workers. The front and back cover images of the long out-of-print OperaWorks similarly feature black-and-white photographs of industrial architecture sans people. "Factors Influencing the Weather" is literally set, as Watten himself recalls, within pages graced by images of the deindustrialized wasteland into which the historical workers' movement was disappearing in the US when The Politics of the Referent entered heavy circulation in 1977.44

The theory of class composition that emerged from postwar Italy offers a different view of the proletariat, however, than the generic working class of polemical analogies between poetic form and class position in the canon of Language Writing. That theory also offers better purchase on the historical dynamics of capital accumulation than esoteric analogies between capital and language. Best known to the anticapitalist New Left in the US during the 1970s via the works of Mario Tronti in Telos and Mario Montano and Silvia Federici's "Theses on Mass Worker and Social Capital" published pseudonymously in Radical America, that theory devolves from Romano Alquati's inquiries into the postwar dynamics of class struggle.45 Today, meanwhile, Alquati's work remains less well-known in the Anglophone world than the Autonomist deviations from his new reading of Marx popularized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's millenarian manifestoes.46 Yet Alquati's trenchant essays from the 1960s unequivocally set the stage for inquiries into the dual decline of the historical workers' movement and manufacturing profits in the US.

Alquati's intervention was twofold. The first concerns the impact of machinery and deskilling on the shopfloor. In the 1961 essay "Organic Composition of Capital and Labor-Power at Olivetti" that introduced the notion of class composition, Alquati argued that as Olivetti sought to maximize its return on investments sunk in plant and equipment at its Ivrea factory, transformations in the composition of the workforce occurred in tandem with transformations in the workplace.47 Those dual transformations, Alquati noted, were driven by the replacement of people by machines that Marx described as the domination of living by dead labor. Put in the schematic terms of Capital, as Alquati reminded us, the domination of dead over living labor refers, in turn, to a rise in the so-called organic composition of capital, i.e. an increase in the ratio of constant to variable capital in large-scale manufacture. Simply put, as machines displace workers from the production process, those who remain are reduced, via deskilling and routinization, to a "living appendage of the machine," in a phrase Capital memorably borrows from the Communist Manifesto.48 At the same time, the reduction in the number of workers necessary for the production of typewriters, in the case of Olivetti, leads to a rise in the technical composition of capital (C 762), or the number of typewriters produced per work-hour. Taken together, those dual developments yield a singular result. The greater the increase in Fordist automation and Taylorist efficiencies, the fewer workers are needed to produce more typewriters within a given period of time. Thus, for Alquati, the introduction of Fordist assembly lines and Taylorist management strategies after WWII made Olivetti a "pilot industry... in terms of its quantitative and qualitative impact upon the labor movement."

Alquati's second contribution concerns the new forms of class struggle that emerged from those developments at the point of production. Objectively, we might say, displaced workers were redistributed throughout or expelled from the labor force. Subjectively, those technical transformations of the workforce gave rise to new political tactics and organizational forms on the shopfloor. Thus, as Alquati would go on to argue in his influential studies of FIAT in the years leading up to the Hot Autumn, wildcat strikes and the refusal of work increasingly eclipsed collective bargaining and wage demands. Moreover, because the machinations of capital give rise to new forms of struggle in his theory of class composition, Alquati's early focus on workers at the point of production also pointed toward the new struggles and revolutionary actors that entered the fray of class struggle outside the factory gate during Italy's "creeping May." Class composition, as Alquati put it, "begins in manufacture, from a revolution in the conditions of production of labor."49 Yet that revolution places an ever growing "minority of workers on the path to obsolescence, [i.e.] the machine workers on the primary fabrication line of a given factory producing consumer goods." Consequently, Alquati presciently observed in 1964, as the concentration of capital in machinery grows, class struggle remains "constrained to unfold within production and capital accumulation, yet on a social scale or in the piazza."50 For many communist theorists in Italy at the time, therefore, the organization of proletarians on the basis of their identity as workers by communist parties and trade unions was a fetter on class struggle in the 1970s. On this view, proletarians are not identical with wage-workers, much less necessarily employed in manufacture.

The anticapitalist theorist-practitioners of Language Writing had little truck with the versions of that new reading of Marx circulating in the US. The poetics they elaborated drew on a heady mixture of Saussurean and Marxian categories instead. In hindsight, however, the historical rhyme between the domination of living by dead labor Alquati described and the concrete pours populating the referential field of "Factors" is hard to miss. Oil refineries, airports, and electrified plazas are everyday indices of advanced industrial economies. So is the absence of workers among industrial works. Similarly, fixed capital investments sunk in plants and equipment at the height of the postwar boom leading to over-capacity, on the one hand, and the expulsion of labor from manufacturing, on the other, is the crux of Brenner's epochal account of the long downturn.51 In the schematic terms of Marx's theory of value, we might say, those phenomena refer to the rising organic composition of capital that shaped the postwar world. The factors influencing the poem's weather are not purely or even primarily linguistic on this view. At a minimum, those factors include familiar elements of the built world that gave rise to the new sentence and politics of the referent during the decline of the historical workers' movement.

The historical rhyme is even more evident if we widen the view. Much of the formalism in OperaWorks seeks to make sense of a world in which collective action appears to be a thing of the past, and human activity has been reduced to logical abstractions from the practico-inert grammar of industrial landscapes. "You're inside a building," begins an untitled poem that offers a thesis of sorts: "The literal as an attribute of the felt. A straightforward literal worldly interest in the variety and implication of things" (OW 28). Things dwarf people here, particularly in the prose poems that ostensibly describe concrete places. "City 9/29" begins "I'm in China," but any sense of the first-person speaker's agency is dissolved into a static urban tableaux riddled with commodities and their adverts:

We enter into the city itself, more eventstaxis weaving in & out, longer rows of finished & unfinished eaves, washline, bamboo fence, transformers, old manorial temple, art ads, Coke sign, large police station-warehouse with iron grill roll-down door, three story apartments, with neon signs in Chinese, a palm growing out of artificial container, a large traffic circle, radio repair, signs for movies, plastic pillows, bird cages on second story roof, airconditioning ad, woman on bicycle, blue truck loaded with sugar cane, cement police barracks, St. Michael Hospital, garbage trucks with musical chimes, a man with a face mask, a man carrying garbage pail, t-shirts on bamboo pole, distilled water truck, police station, large hotels, old brick barracks, the park running along the left hand side of the road, small banyan trees, aluminum pots, road grader, high school, and so on as we make left hand, then right hand turn to the outskirts of the city. (OW 43)

Police stations, hospitals, and schools the institutional architecture of an industrial world outnumber people in this passage. The speaker is merely a register of what surrounds. Moreover, those buildings are not only institutional nodes wherein the disciplining and reproduction of labor-power take place. They also belong to the strata of white-collar jobs that have outnumbered blue-collar jobs in the US for the past half-century.

"Santa Cruz," the final poem in the collection, sums up this post-industrial view: "The world is not a miniature, I know now, having attached shock to productive forces in parking lots, rail yards, under freeway ramps, etc." It goes on to conclude the collection with the odd accusation "Whose life is not a category, you don't even know how it works" (OW 61-2). People, in other words, are grammatical functions of hostile "productive forces" embodied in the concrete pours of everyday life. Parking lots, rail yards, and freeway ramps have more agency than "I," a grammatical shifter which has merely "attached shock" to its predicate. The politics of the referent and new sentence notwithstanding, we might say, the poems of OperaWorks inarguably refer to the landscape of deindustrialization the New Communist Movement and operaismo confronted while classical workers' movements receded from view during the 1970s. Far from advancing the aims of the historical workers' movement, however, in this light OperaWorks offers a dystopian view of industrial works absent workers' movements in the urban core of the advanced capitalist world.

To put things this way is not to join Jameson in affirming that proponents of Language Writing simply mistook cultural symptoms for acts of sabotage in the postwar world, however. The anticapitalist poetics of Language Writing kept time with the era no less than the poems of OperaWorks. To put things this way is, instead, to recall what was readily apparent to militants in the high-income countries during the 1970s: cultural revolution went hand-in-hand with deindustrialization. For Lotta Continua, a group of extraparliamentary militants that emerged from the worker-student alliances in Turin during Italy's Hot Autumn, "Cultural Revolution" was the banner beneath which workers in Pirelli factories rebelled against bosses and shop stewards alike while class struggle raged outside the factory gates in 1970 due, in part, to the workers' insight that "the truncheons the police use against the Italian people are made by them."52 In the US, under the auspices of the bellwether New Communist organization Bay Area Revolutionary Union, the Richmond Workers' Committee the lone student-worker alliance in America during the 1970s organized support by students from San Francisco State University for the 1969 Chevron strike as well as workers' support for the 1968-69 strike at SFSU that won the first ethnic studies program in the US.53 Not unlike the poetics of Language Writing in the eyes of its most vocal champions, that is to say, the Maoist currents of the New Communist Movement that swirled around the Chevron and SFSU strikes, on the one hand, and the workerist currents of operaismo that animated Movimento del '77, on the other, were variously committed to widening the terrain of class struggle beyond the factory. For better or worse, as George Katsiaficas has observed, by the end of the 1970s "the global political revolt of 1968 to 1970 was displaced to the cultural arena."54

The politics of form for which Language Writing is best known today was, in sum, part and parcel of that cultural turn. Far from a pure product of historical developments internal to literary studies, Language Writing was one of many anticapitalist projects to leap from the revolutionary currents of the New Left into the sphere of culture. Where communist militants in Italy and the US leapt hand-in-hand with the new theories of the proletariat emerging from operaismo and the New Communist Movement, however, the theorist-practitioners of Language Writing imagined its anticapitalist poetics as an analogue to workers' struggles in the factory during the pivotal decade of deindustrialization. The turn to language as a cultural front in North American poetics during the 1970s was, in other words, a poetic correlative of proletarians pursuing new forms of class struggle outside the workplace, but one wed to an anachronistic conception of the working class. By the same token, the poems of OperaWorks are neither mute symptoms nor heroic negations of capital. "Factors," as we saw, refers to the deindustrialized wastelands that signaled the decline of organized labor in the US even as its paratactic techné and refusal of lyric personae exerted an enormous influence over the heterodox workerism associated with Language Writing. Neither symptom nor negation per se but partisan ripostes unevenly attuned to the shifting terrain of class struggle in the postwar world, the pinpoint abstractions of OperaWorks and anticapitalist poetics of Language Writing are both signs of the times, but signs whose referents cannot be parsed by the generic logic of the politics of form. If we want to grasp the ins and outs of the Poetry Wars, we need to ask after the concrete forms of politics on offer both within and without literary studies in the postwar world.

Poetry and the Politics of the Subject

Perhaps not surprisingly, the limits of esoteric analogies between capital and language were readily apparent even to most partisans by the late 1980s. Many formerly staunch proponents of the politics of the referent, including McCaffery, walked back the strong form of arguments for the anticapitalist poetics of Language Writing as acts of sabotage somehow squeezing the rate of profit. Yet the stridency of such claims in the late 1970s and early 1980s leant considerable force to the often more measured if less well defined function of exoteric analogies between poetic forms and class position in the Poetry Wars. Mediation has never been the strong suit of partisan claims for the politics of this or that kind of poetry. Nor has parsing the ins and outs of the forms of politics in question beyond keying their concerns to the generic categories of class, gender, and race.  Consequently, the logic of a politics of form that imputes the implicitly uniform political values of homogenous social groups to certain kinds of poetry has exerted enormous influence over North American poetics since 1970.

Nowhere is that logic more clearly on display than in Silliman's much-debated "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject." Published in the anti-Maoist pages of Socialist Review in 1988, Silliman's essay crystallized the critical terms in which anticapitalist poetics, on the one hand, and feminist and antiracist poetics, on the other, were once routinely opposed:

Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history many white male heterosexuals, for example are apt to challenge all that is supposedly "natural" about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of this spectrum are poets who do not identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the "marginal" have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to whom is the subject of these conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience.55

Read charitably, this schema espouses a diversity of literary tactics. As others have noted, however, this schema also readily lends itself to familiar narratives of progress in which "the entire spectrum of the 'marginal'" has yet to catch up to the poetic practice of "white male heterosexuals."56 A new generation of literary critics has unequivocally demonstrated, meanwhile, that the division of literary labors by social identity described here is as historically false as it is politically retrograde.57 Fewer have noted that the tacit association of "white male heterosexuals" with the historically white male industrial workers of the traditional working class is just as imprecise. Yet that view was both in tune with the venue and partly out of step with the times. Aligned with the New American Movement that fed into the Democratic Socialists of America organization Michael Harrington helped found in 1982, Socialist Review kept faith with the classical working class of the historical workers' movement contra the racialized lumpenproletariat championed by the New Communist Movement as the leading edge of class struggle amid the pluralist cross-currents of progressive politics in the 1980s.58 Even a charitable reading of the passage in terms of a diversity of literary tactics, in other words, depends on a minority view of the agents and forms of class struggle on offer in the postwar world. Simply put, Silliman's carefully unnamed "subject of history" in the pages of the Socialist Review bears no resemblance to the revolutionary subjects championed by the New Communist Movement or operaismo in the 1970s, much less the composition of the proletariat in the US today.

Here, then, is the crux of my argument: Forms don't have politics. People do. How certain kinds of poetry came to bear particular political values imputed to generic social groups abstracted from New Left social movements is, thus, one question "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject" begs of literary historians. In the case of Language Writing, proponents and opponents alike repeatedly aligned the aims of the collective poetics with those of historical workers' movements. Those movements were a minority tendency in the communist currents of the 1970s, however. Cultural revolution, not shopfloor organizing, was the global battle cry of the anticapitalist New Left. One of the most consequential accounts of Movimento del '77, for instance, is Sergio Bologna's Tribe of Moles. There Bologna laments the "suicidal retreat from the factory" on the part of militants associated with the cultural currents of Maoist-Dadaism as well as the armed cells of the Red Brigades amid the riots, rent strikes, and squats of autonomia.59 At the same time, in Bologna's account, women struggling for abortion rights and wages for housework, racialized peasants displaced from the agrarian South, militant intellectuals, the unemployed, and self-described 'young proletarians' (proletariato giovanile) facing a future of under- and unemployment were pivotal actors in the proletarian ferment.60 For Bologna, therefore, the limit Movimento del '77 encountered was not determined by who did or did not participate how. The limit Movimento del '77 reached was a result of the growing disarticulation of increasingly sectoral struggles. Workers, housewives, peasants, the unemployed, and students were not engaged in separate struggles with discrete political values, in Bologna's view, even if they ultimately struggled to support one another when a brutal wave of state repression was unleashed after the autumn of 1977.61 In spite of considerable internal differences within Movimento del '77, for Bologna, capital and the state divided militants far more than opposing political values derived from incommensurate social identities.62 Common enemies, not identitarian differences, split the anticapitalist New Left in Italy.

Similarly, we might say, the difficulty literary historians face in the wake of the Poetry Wars concerns the disarticulation of literary from social history in debates about the politics of form routed through social identity at a significant remove from the forms of politics current in the postwar world. That disarticulation is everywhere apparent in the annals of Language Writing. In spite of the dual decline of historical workers' movements and manufacturing profits in the US after 1970, the image of a generic workers' identity in theoretical analogies between poetic form and social politics went entirely unremarked during the Poetry Wars of the late 1970s and 1980s. So, too, did the global Maoism of the New Communist Movement and theories of class composition associated with operaismo. In hindsight, therefore, the shortcomings of the generic politics of form attributed to Language Writing are as clear as they are unavoidable. To say this or that poetic mode is feminist, antiracist, or anticapitalist is to say little about politics and less about poetry in the wake of the New Left. The paratactic techné of OperaWorks is a case in point. Seen by the canonical light of Language Writing, a poem such as "Factors" is a scrimmage against reference in the name of a generic anticapitalist politics. Read by the light of political and economic history, however, "Factors" clearly points toward the decline of the historical workers' movement, even as that movement continued to ground anachronistic analogies between poetic form and social class during the pivotal decade of deindustrialization.

Yet if "Factors" is a footnote to the Poetry Wars that suggests how far those debates were removed from new readings of Marx and forms of social struggle in the postwar world, it also suggests that we might profitably re-read canonical and less well-known works of Language Writing alike without resorting to generic equations between poetic form and forms of social politics. Consider "For She," the poem by Carla Harryman that typifies the "new sentence" in Silliman's programmatic essay.63 While Silliman's essay is a staple of contemporary poetics, virtually no one has pointed out that for all the semantic pyrotechnics and syntactical jump-cuts between sentences in play, Harryman's poem also unequivocally states "Nevertheless, I could pay my rent and provide for him" (UB 57). Given the title and benefit of hindsight, it is hard not to notice what Silliman's grammatical focus on the poem's evasion of narrative reification obscures: The poem names the way compulsory heterosexuality helped secure rent reductions amid declining family wages in the 1970s. By the same token, "For She"'s inversion of gender roles traditionally propped up by breadwinner wages takes stock of the obvious fact that the proletariat of the 1970s was not the proletariat of 1861 and is not the proletariat of 2018. In doing so, the poem also points toward second-wave feminist struggles against unpaid domestic labor and contemporaneous debates concerning the role of gender and race in capital accumulation. Indeed, the poem's title is a scathing allusion to Rider Haggard's 1886 colonial fantasy She: A History of Adventure. That reference unambiguously positions the final line's ambiguous, pronominal shifter within a cutting lament for the longue durée of gendered and racialized forms of violence as well as the shortsightedness of American exceptionalism. In hindsight, therefore, "I might have been in a more simple schoolyard" (UB 58) offers something of an ironic epitaph for the rote equation of poetic form with social politics bequeathed to cultural critics by the Poetry Wars. Generic equations between formalist techné and political values, that is to say, have obscured far more than they have revealed of poetic practice and social contest at the height of deindustrialization in the US.

By the same token, we might consider Mullen's experimental work in the wake of the Poetry Wars with an eye on its careful attunement to the ways capital unevenly subsumes women and racialized populations beneath the wage. Published a year after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect and a year before her lament for the double marginalization of formally innovative poets of color, for instance, Muse & Drudge has since been celebrated for its formally innovative mining of racialized linguistic materials. Fewer critics note Mullen's keen observations of the contemporary terrain of social struggle, however. Yet the following poem repeatedly and incisively alludes to the shifting coordinates of that terrain in the immediate aftermath of NAFTA:

my skin but not my kin
my race but not my taste
my state but not my fate
my country not my kunk

how a border orders disorder
how the children looked
whose mothers worked
in the maquiladora

where to sleep in stormy weather
Patel hotel with swell hot plate
women's shelter under a sweater
friends don't even recognize my face

tombstone disposition
is to graveyard mind
as buzzard luck
to beer pocketbook64

Maquiladora refers, of course, to the low wage factories that proliferated along the post-NAFTA US-Mexico border. Located in free trade zones, where manufacturers are able to import raw material and machinery duty-free, maquiladora are among the cheapest ways of bringing labor and capital together. Born of the Border Industrialization Program launched by Mexico in 1965, the maquiladora were designed to deal with massive unemployment along the US-Mexico border in the wake of the Bracero Program, which had permitted Mexican agricultural workers to work legally in the US on a seasonal basis. Conditions are predictably brutal; in order to compete with other export centers, wages are often depressed below subsistence level. Consequently workers tend to live in slums surrounding the factory. Women are particularly susceptible, as high turnover rates combine with discriminatory hiring practices to make it relatively easy for women to gain employment. Labor laws are rarely enforced. Similarly, "Patel hotel" popularly refers to the phenomenon of Indian motel owners dominating the mid-size hotel industry in the US, as many immigrants during the 1960s and '70s found that advanced degrees did not, in their case, translate to professional jobs. Many Indian immigrants consequently purchased devalued properties and converted them to businesses, including motels. While Muse & Drudge may owe much to the formal techniques championed by Language Writers, "how a border orders disorder" pointedly queries the re-composition of social antagonisms at the height of the anti-globalization movement that followed hard on the heels of deindustrialization.

To read work such as Harryman's "For She" or Mullen's Muse & Drudge by the light "Factors" sheds on the postwar re-composition of social classes, even in so cursory a fashion, is not only to see that the politics of form associated with Language Writing misses much of what those works have to offer. It is also to see how complex the mediations between cultural production and social politics were in the wake of the New Left. In the eyes of its most vocal proponents, Language Writing was part and parcel of renewed social struggles typically organized outside the workplace and beneath the banner of deracinated notions of cultural revolution. At the same time, accounts of Language Writing as an anticapitalist project frequently associated the poetics of that project with traditional workers' movements everywhere in retreat by the mid-1970s. Picked up by academic literary critics in the 1980s, that association was enshrined in the canonical politics of form for which Language Writing is best known today. While the emergence of Language Writing in the 1970s helped bring the politics of cultural production to the fore of literary studies in the 1980s, therefore, the political vocabulary and coordinates Language Writing bequeathed literary historians derive from a partial and peculiarly anachronistic view of the anticapitalist New Left. Among other things, the divisive legacy of that view licensed familiar oppositions pitting anticapitalist poetics against political concerns with race and gender in ways that were at odds with the complexity of both political practice and poetic production in the postwar decades.

Today, therefore, we may well wonder how our grasp upon postwar poetry in the US differs when we view the field with clear eyes. The 1970s were, by all accounts, a period of profound cultural, political, and economic transformations. Few literary formations met them head-on with greater resolve than Language Writing. Yet the terms of art with which Language Writing was measured during the 1980s re-organized the field of North American poetics in accord with the generic politics of form that animated the Poetry Wars. Those terms continue to haunt North American poetics, often in ways that draw on thin analogies between kinds of poetry and generic forms of social politics.65 What if, instead of considering poetic form an index of the political values of particular social groups, we view the 1970s as a decade of missed connections between poets and militants of various stripes? How might our sense of postwar literary history differ if we read Lyn Hejinian, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Bernadette Mayer, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Mitsuye Yamada together against the backdrop of radical- as well as cultural- and Marxist-feminisms? What if we read Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Nikki Giovanni, Erica Hunt, N. H. Pritchard, Sonia Sanchez, and Lorenzo Thomas together with the roiling currents of global Maoism and the New Communist Movement as well as revolutionary and cultural nationalism? Might we find that poetry is something people with political commitments honed elsewhere sometimes write without poems, much less kinds of poetry, ipso facto bearing the political values of particular individuals? What if, in fact, literary history is just as messy as social history, and no more susceptible to the generic logic of a politics of form than operaismo, the New Communist Movement, and historical workers' movements were identical forms of politics?


Tim Kreiner is a Lecturer in the Department of English at Yale University. He is completing a book of literary history titled The Long Downturn and its Discontents: Poetry, Culture Wars, and the New Left. His writing on poetry and politics has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Routledge Companion to Literature and EconomicsContemporary Literature, Los Angeles Review of BooksViewpoint Magazine, and Lana Turner.



  1. Barrett Watten et al., The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975-1980, vol. 6 (Detroit: Mode A, 2008), 75.[]
  2. The collective project went by many names throughout the 1970s before being canonized as "Language Poetry" during the 1980s. In recent years its most prominent practitioners and interpreters have belatedly settled on "Language Writing" as the preferred name for the body of literary and theoretical work in question. I follow their usage throughout this essay. The best introductions to that work remain the flagship anthology as well as collections from the eponymous journal of poetics and a formative series of talks. See, respectively, Ron Silliman, ed., In the American Tree (Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1986); Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, eds., The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984); Bob Perelman, ed., Writing/Talks (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985).[]
  3. See Harryette Mullen, "Poetry and Identity," reprinted in The Cracks between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be: Essays and Interviews (Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press, 2012), 10; and Marjorie Perloff, "Poetry on the Brink," Boston Review, May 18, 2012. For an account of the debates concerning Goldsmith and Place in relation to the Poetry Wars, see Chris Chen and Tim Kreiner, "Free Speech, Minstrelsy, and the Avant-Garde," The Los Angeles Review of Books[]
  4. The differences between these dueling narratives are telling. For Jackson, the historical collapse of various kinds of writing into a singular, purportedly transhistorical genre during the rise of New Criticism in the 1930s makes lyric "a creature of modern interpretation and its shift toward personal and cultural abstraction" (71-4). Pointedly re-working Paul de Man's notion of "lyrical reading," Jackson's account of lyricization describes the New Critical identification of poetry tout court with the fictive genre of lyric, and lyric reading with the practice of literary criticism writ large, as the historical origin of the critical commonplace that literature is the speech of a persona (in poetry) or narrator (in fiction) overheard by its readers. As convincing as Jackson's history of literary studies is, however, that disciplinary history tells us little about the anti-lyrical poetic practices that stretch from Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein through New American Poetry and the Black Arts Movement to Language Writing and their heirs, and has still less to say about why lyric reading took the form it did in the 1930s and remained hegemonic into the 1970s. In contrast, Ron Silliman's influential "Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World" tells a tale of commodification. For Silliman, capital provides the motive force behind the historical triumph of contemplative lyrics describing the interior experience of a first-person persona. Such poems are, on this view, the reified mark of a particular class position, a cultural form of bourgeois consciousness characterized by "the overwhelming of the signifier by the signified" (16) against which the anti-lyric tradition that includes Language Writing offers a temporary stay. The political charge of that view was perfectly clear to observers at the time, and that charge exerted enormous influence over North American poetics, but how, precisely, capitalist social relations gave rise to such cultural abstractions was never convincingly worked out. Nor was the makeup of postwar US social classes ever explored. If Jackson's narrative provides too much literary mediation and too little historical causality, in other words, Silliman's narrative provides too much causality and too little mediation. One aim of the present essay is to ask why, by the 1970s, literary institutions were caught up in a cultural re-imagining of social politics that, in turn, gave theoretical currency to conceptions of poetic modes and social movements at odds with the complexity of both poetic and political practice in the postwar world. See Virginia Jackson, Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 68-117; and Ron Silliman, "Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World," in The New Sentence (New York: Roof, 1987), 7-18.[]
  5. Ron Silliman et al., "Aesthetic Tendency and the Politics of Poetry: A Manifesto," Social Text 19/20 (1988): 261, 273. While the signatories were at pains to insist that the variegated projects of their cohort "do not, as yet, add up to a single, stable position" (270), the subtitle "A Manifesto" appended by the editors (against the wishes of the authors) cast the essay as a definitive position statement. So, too, did the fact that the authors point toward The Politics of the Referent and "analogies between the structure of language and social reality" as crucial concerns in ways that could not help but echo more overtly anticapitalist writings by many of the same writers elsewhere (269-70), even though here they are careful to eschew specifically anticapitalist claims while singling out Tom Clark's infamous diatribe "Stalin as Linguist" to remark upon the frequency with which their work was met with red-baiting (262-3).[]
  6. Silliman, In the American Tree, xxii.[]
  7. It would be difficult to overstate the force of those terms of art at the time. Even ardent champions of formalism for formalism's sake such as Marjorie Perloff and Charles Altieri were compelled to traffic in the politics of form when championing the poetics of Language Writing. See Marjorie Perloff, "The Word as Such: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry in the Eighties," American Poetry Review 13.3 (1984): 15-22; Lee Bartlett, "What Is 'Language Poetry'?," Critical Inquiry 12.4 (1986): 741-52; Jerome McGann, "Contemporary Poetry, Alternate Routes," Critical Inquiry 13.3 (1987): 624-47; Charles Altieri, "Without Consequences Is No Politics: A Response to Jerome McGann," in Politics & Poetic Value, ed. Robert Von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 301-7; Jed Rasula, "Politics In, Politics of," in Politics & Poetic Value, ed. Robert Von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987): 315-22; Andrew Ross, "The New Sentence and the Commodity Form: Recent American Writing," in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988): 361-80; Michael Greer, "Ideology and Theory in Recent Experimental Writing Or, the Naming of 'Language Poetry,'" boundary 2 16.2/3 (1989): 335-55; George Hartley, Textual Politics and the Language Poets (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); Rod Mengham, "Untitled Review-Essay on Andrews, Bernstein, Coolidge, McCaffery and Watten," Textual Practice 3.1 (1989): 115-24; Albert Gelpi, "The Genealogy of Postmodernism: Contemporary American Poetry," Southern Review 26.3 (Summer 1990): 517-41; Hank Lazer, "The Politics of Form and Poetry's Other Subjects: Reading Contemporary American Poetry," American Literary History 2.3 (1990): 503-27; Charles Bernstein, ed., The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy (New York: Roof, 1990); Peter Middleton, "Language Poetry and Linguistic Activism," Social Text 25/26 (1990): 242-53; Walter Kalaidjian, "Transpersonal Poetics: Language Writing and the Historical Avant-Gardes in Postmodern Culture," American Literary History 3.2 (July 1, 1991): 319-36; Michael Greer, "Language Poetry in America 1971-1991," Meanjin 50.1 (1991): 149-56.[]
  8. George Lakoff, "On Whose Authority?," Poetry Flash, 147 (June 1985): 5.[]
  9. Ron Silliman, ed., "The Dwelling Place: 9 Poets," Alcheringa 1, no. 2 (1975): 104-20.[]
  10. Robert Brenner, "The Political Economy of the Rank-and-File Rebellion," in Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from below during the Long 1970s, ed. Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Calvin Winslow (London: Verso, 2010): 37-74. For a concise summary of Brenner's epochal argument, see Robert Brenner, "What Is Good for Goldman Sachs Is Good for America: The Origins of the Current Crisis" (2009): 6-11.[]
  11. Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, The Deindustrialization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment, and the Dismantling of Basic Industry (New York: Basic Books, 1982); Michael Goldfield, The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Kim Moody, An Injury to All: The Decline of American Unionism (London: Verso, 1988); Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); Jefferson Cowie, Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: New Press, 2010).[]
  12. Endnotes, "A History of Separation: The Rise and Fall of the Workers' Movement, 1883-1982," Endnotes 4 (October 2015): 158.[]
  13. Christopher Leigh Connery, "The World Sixties," in The Worlding Project: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization, eds. Rob Wilson and Christopher Leigh Connery (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2007), 96.[]
  14. Liu Kang, "Maoism: Revolutionary Globalism for the Third World Revisited," Comparative Literature Studies 52.1 (2015): 17. On the oft-forgotten sway Mao held over Western Marxists during the 1960-70s and, in turn, the part those theorists played in popularizing global Maoism, see esp. Arif Dirlik, "The Predicament of Marxist Revolutionary Consciousness: Mao Zedong, Antonio Gramsci, and the Reformulation of Marxist Revolutionary Theory," Modern China 9.2 (1983): 182-211; Sebastian Gehrig, "(Re-)Configuring Mao: Trajectories of a Culturo-Political Trend in West Germany," Transcultural Studies 2 (December 22, 2011): 189-231; Richard Wolin, The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); Camille Robcis, "'China in Our Heads:' Althusser, Maoism, and Structuralism," Social Text 30.1 (2012): 51-69; and Wang Ning, "Global Maoism and Cultural Revolutions in the Global Context," Comparative Literature Studies 52.1 (2015): 1-11.[]
  15. Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London: Verso, 2002), 41-58.[]
  16. Ibid., 137-9, 167-70. Non-partisan histories of the wars of position that pitted the anti-revisionist, Marxist-Leninist line of Mao Zedong Thought against the deviance of Trotskyist revisions, to recall the muddled idiom of the times, are few and far between not least because the incredible array of organizations within the New Communist Movement were equally bellicose with one another. But see also A. Belden Fields, Trotskyism and Maoism: Theory and Practice in France and the United States (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1988), 131-230; Robert Jackson Alexander, Maoism in the Developed World (Westwood: Praeger Publishers, 2001), 1-50.[]
  17. It is important to remember that the influence ran in both directions. People forget how many antiracist militants including Gloria Arellanes, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Cesar Chavez, Peggy Myo-Young Choy, Stokely Carmichael, Fred Hampton, José Jiménez, Maulana Karenga, Huey Newton, David Sanchez, Assata Shakur, Ray Tasaki, Dolly Veale, Robert F. Williams, Richard K. Wong, Steve Yip, and, of particular import for US poetry, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Rodolfo Gonzales, and Sonia Sanchez were profoundly influenced by global Maoism and active participants in the roiling currents of the New Communist Movement during the 1970s. See Robin D. G. Kelley and Betsy Esch, "Black like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution," Souls 1.4 (September 1, 1999): 6-41; Bill V. Mullen, "By the Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao and the Making of Afro-American Radicalism, 1966-1975," in Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History, ed. Alexander C. Cook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 245-65; and Colleen Lye, "Asian American 1960s," in The Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature, ed. Rachel Lee (London: Routledge, 2014), 213-23.[]
  18. Paul M. Ryscavage, "Changes in Occupational Employment over the Past Decade," Monthly Labor Review 90.8 (August 1967): 27.[]
  19. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "The Decline of Manufacturing," The FRED Blog, April 21, 2014. Manufacturing employment in the US did not peak until 1979 in absolute terms, but it began to decline precipitously as a percentage of the workforce while the tertiary sector expanded after 1970. Between 1970 and 2012, employment in manufacturing fell by 16% while employment in services grew by 19%; see Bureau of Labor Statistics, "International Comparisons of Annual Labor Force Statistics, 1970-2012," International Labor Comparisons, 2013. "Pink collar" was popularized as a descriptor for the occupational segregation of women in low-wage service sector jobs in the 1970s by Louise Kapp Howe, Pink Collar Workers: Inside the World of Women's Work (New York: Putnam, 1977). The best account of the global dynamics behind historical transformations of the labor force is Aaron Benanav, A Global History of Unemployment Since 1949 (Verso, forthcoming).[]
  20. See esp. Claudia Goldin, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Julia Kirk Blackwelder, Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997); Susan Thistle, From Marriage to the Market: The Transformation of Women's Lives and Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).[]
  21. Sociologists regularly note the difficulty of measuring who does what in the home, but the available data confirms the gendered "double day" of paid and unpaid labor feminists began to theorize variously in the 1970s. See Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, The Female Labor Force in the United States: Demographic and Economic Factors Governing Its Growth and Changing Composition (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, 1970); Sarah Fenstermaker Berk, The Gender Factory: The Apportionment of Work in American Households (New York: Plenum Press, 1985); Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (New York, N.Y: Viking, 1989); Beth Anne Shelton and Daphne John, "The Division of Household Labor," Annual Review of Sociology 22.1 (1996): 299-322; Melissa A. Milkie, Sara B. Raley, and Suzanne M. Bianchi, "Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocations and Time Pressures of U.S. Parents with Preschoolers," Social Forces 88. 2 (December 1, 2009): 487-517; UNDP, ed., Human Development Report 2015 (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2015): 107-27. On the increase of unwaged labor in the home in spite of the growth of formerly unpaid household activities as forms of wage-labor, especially for unmarried proletarian women of color, see, respectively, Nona Y. Glazer, Women's Paid and Unpaid Labor: The Work Transfer in Health Care and Retailing (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993); and Philip N. Cohen, "Replacing Housework in the Service Economy: Gender, Class, and Race-Ethnicity in Service Spending," Gender & Society 12.2 (April 1998): 219-31.[]
  22. For official unemployment rates, see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Unemployment Rates by Race and Ethnicity, 2010," The Economics Daily, October 5, 2011. On the real rate of black unemployment, including proletarians behind bars, see Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality in America (New York: Russell Sage, 2006), 90.[]
  23. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 1. Elsewhere Jameson himself notes the rhyme between deracinated notions of "cultural revolution" and New Left praxis as well as Western Marxist cum post-structuralist cultural theory; see Fredric Jameson, "Periodizing the 60s," Social Text 9/10 (1984): 184-8.[]
  24. Barrett Watten, OperaWorks (Bolinas: Big Sky, 1975), 19-20. Reprinted from this with minimal changes in OperaWorks, the poem's single line stanzas were re-organized as quatrains in Watten's 1997 collection Frame (1971-1990). All quotations are from OperaWorks (hereafter OW).[]
  25. Charles J. Fillmore, "Frame Semantics and the Nature of Language," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 280.1 (October 1976): 20-32; Charles J. Fillmore, "Frame Semantics," in Linguistics in the Morning Calm, ed. The Linguistic Society of Korea (Seoul: Hanshin Publishing Co., 1982); George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).[]
  26. Michael Reddy, "The Conduit Metaphor: A Case of Frame Conflict in Our Language about Language," in Metaphor and Thought, ed. Andrew Ortony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 284-324. On the antagonisms at the heart of the linguistics wars in the early 1970s, see Randy Allen Harris, The Linguistics Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 135-97.[]
  27. For a defense of Chomskian linguistics in face of the challenge posed to generative grammar by several major theorist-practitioners of Language Writing, including Watten, see Oren Izenberg, Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 155-63. In spite of the pride of place granted to language in the project's several names, among literary critics Izenberg is virtually alone in placing Language Writing in conversation with contemporaneous debates in linguistics, yet even his provocation does not position the Poetry Wars in relation to the Linguistics Wars.[]
  28. Steve McCaffery, ed., "Politics of the Referent," Open Letter, no. 7 (1977): 60-99. The Politics of the Referent gained coterie fame when it was re-issued as a special supplement to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E in 1980. The "politics of the referent" subsequently acquired academic cachet as a catch-all slogan for the politics of form associated with Language Writing, and is now one of two or three canonical shorthands for the collective aims of the project; see, for example, Jed Rasula, The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990 (Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996), 390-406; Tim Woods, The Poetics of the Limit: Ethics and Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 235-55; Jeff Derksen, "Where Have All the Equals Signs Gone? Inside/Outside the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Site," in Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally, ed. Romana Huk (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003), 41-65; Marjorie Perloff, Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004), 155-74; David Arnold, Poetry and Language Writing: Objective and Surreal (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), 3-10; Steve McCaffery, "Language Writing," in The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry since 1945, ed. Jennifer Ashton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 143-57; Ben Hickman, Crisis and the US Avant-Garde: Poetry and Real Politics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 140-59.[]
  29. McCaffery, "Politics of the Referent," 60.[]
  30. Steve McCaffery, "The Death of the Subject: The Implications of Counter-Communication in Recent Language-Centered Writing," Open Letter, no. 7 (1977): 67.[]
  31. Bruce Andrews, "Text and Context," Open Letter, no. 7 (1977): 82, 83.[]
  32. Ross, "The New Sentence and the Commodity Form: Recent American Writing," 366.[]
  33. Ibid., 368; Hartley, Textual Politics and the Language Poets, 34.[]
  34. Steve McCaffery, "From the Notebooks," L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, no. 9/10 (1979): 32.[]
  35. Hartley, Textual Politics and the Language Poets, 33.[]
  36. How convincing those analogies are is a separate issue. As McCaffery would later acknowledge in a revised version of his contribution to The Politics of the Referent, coercion arguably enters through the back door of the dereifying logic he helped formulate, since poetic techniques of radical fragmentation and agrammaticality compel readers to perform the labor of making connections between alienated linguistic data; see Steve McCaffery, North of Intention: Critical Writings, 1973-1986 (New York: Roof Books, 1986), 27-9. Similarly, as others have pointed out, all specimens of Language Writing are fungible, on this view, since individual differences in form and content are subsumed to the uniform operation of making readers producers. Paradoxically, if less charitably, that is to say, when taking such statements by theorist-practitioners at face value, we might just as easily read this or that work of Language Writing as reproducing the dark magic of reification against which its avowed opposition to the commodity-form was leveraged. Put this way, formal artifice becomes just another vanishing mediator producing identical effects regardless of the particulars of the literary work in question; see, for example, David Marriott, "Signs Taken for Signifiers: Language Writing, Fetishism, Disavowal," in Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally, ed. Romana Huk (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003), 338-46. The aim of the present essay is not to remit the claims made for or against Language Writing, however. My aim here is, instead, to remit the hold those claims have upon our sense of the mediations between poetic practice and social politics in the postwar world. Regardless of the positions taken, that is to say, everyone agreed while vociferously disagreeing at the time that the politics of form associated with Language Writing revolved around the identification of meaning with capital and readers with workers.[]
  37. Ron Silliman, The New Sentence (New York: Roof, 1987), 93. Originally a talk in the series Bob Perelman curated at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1979, "The New Sentence" was first published in the little magazine Hills in 1980 but substantially revised for the 1987 volume of the same title. See Carla Harryman, et al., The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco 1975-1980, vol. 4 (Detroit: This Press, 2007), 134-5; Ron Silliman, "The New Sentence," Hills 6/7 (1980): 190-217.[]
  38. Silliman, The New Sentence, 1987, 92.[]
  39. Debates over the status of Language Writing as a mute symptom or heroic negation of the cultural machinations of late capital are legion. The canonical version of "The New Sentence" itself responds to Jameson's diagnosis, and intra-Marxian debate over the minutiae thereof grew into a cottage industry in the late 1980s. See Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capital," New Left Review I.146 (1984): 73-5; Silliman, The New Sentence, 76, 92; Ross, "The New Sentence and the Commodity Form: Recent American Writing;" Hartley, Textual Politics and the Language Poets, 42-52; Bob Perelman, The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 59-78; Rob Halpern, "Restoring 'China,'" Jacket, no. 39 (2010).[]
  40. On the coterie antagonisms that saturated the academic surround of the Poetry Wars in which individual Language Writers were regularly subjected to ad hominem attacks, and the collective project of Language Writing was routinely cast as an assault on American individualism by coastal elites in openly anti-intellectual defenses of the New Critical status quo see Eleana Kim, "Language Poetry: Dissident Practices and the Makings of a Movement," Readme, no. 4 (2000); De Villo Sloan, "'Crude Mechanical Access' or 'Crude Personism:' A Chronicle of One San Francisco Bay Area Poetry War," Sagetrieb 4.2-3 (1985): 241-54. For exemplary conservative attacks see David Levi Strauss, "On Duncan & Zukofsky on Film: Traces Then and Now," Poetry Flash, no. 135 (1984): 1, 5, 10; Tom Clark, "Stalin as Linguist," Poetry Flash 148 (1985): 5, 11; Howard McCord, "Contentions," Mid-American Review 7.2 (1987): 57-63; Tom Clark, "Stalin as Linguist," Partisan Review 54.2 (1987): 299-304; Pat Nolan and Steven P LaVoie, Life of Crime: Documents in the Guerrilla War against Language Poetry (Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 2010).[]
  41. Canonical elaborations of the politics of form associated with Language Writing by prominent theorist-practitioners include Barrett Watten, Total Syntax (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984); Charles Bernstein, Contentʼs Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1986); McCaffery, North of Intention; Silliman, The New Sentence; Charles Bernstein, A Poetics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992); Bruce Andrews, Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996); Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).[]
  42. The emergence of Maoist-dadaism during Movimento del '77 represents one of the most explicit cross-pollinations of global Maoism and the historical avant-garde during the 1970s; see Patrick Gun Cuninghame, "'A Laughter That Will Bury You All': Irony as Protest and Language as Struggle in the Italian 1977 Movement," International Review of Social History 52 (2007): 153-68.[]
  43. On Italy's "creeping May" and its culmination in Movimento del '77, see esp. Sidney G. Tarrow, Democracy and Disorder: Protest and Politics in Italy, 1965-1975 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); Robert Lumley, States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978 (London: Verso, 1990); Phil Edwards, More Work! Less Pay! Rebellion and Repression in Italy, 1972 - 7 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009); Patrick Gun Cuninghame, "Autonomia: A Movement of Refusal: Social Movements and Social Conflict in Italy in the 1970's," (PhD diss., Middlesex University, 2002).[]
  44. Steve Benson et al., The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975-1980., vol. 3 (Detroit: Mode A, 2006), 81.[]
  45. Mario Tronti, "Workers and Capital," Telos 14 (1972): 25-62; Mario Tronti, "Social Capital," Telos 17 (1973): 98-121; Guido Baldi, "Theses on Mass Worker and Social Capital," Radical America 6.3 (1972): 5-21. On the centrality of Alquati's conception of class composition to the cross-currents of operaismo and autonomia, see Steve Wright, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism (London: Pluto Press, 2002), 32-106; Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi, "Worker's Inquiry: A Genealogy," Viewpoint Magazine  3 (2013).[]
  46. See Steve Wright, "The Limits of Negri's Class Analysis: Italian Autonomist Theory in the Seventies," Reconstruction 8 (1996); Finn Bowring, "From the Mass Worker to the Multitude: A Theoretical Contextualisation of Hardt and Negri's Empire," Capital & Class 28.2 (July 2004): 101-32; Maria Turchetto, "From 'Mass Worker' to 'Empire': The Disconcerting Trajectory of Italian Operaismo," in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism, ed. Jacques Bidet (Leiden: BRILL, 2008), 285-308.[]
  47. Romano Alquati, "Organic Composition of Capital and Labor Power at Olivetti," trans. Steve Wright, Viewpoint,3 (1961).[]
  48. Both, Marx notes, borrow the turn of phrase from Henri Storch; see Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes and David Fernbach, vol. 1 (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 484n42. For Marx's definitive account of the organic composition of capital, see p. 762.[]
  49. Romano Alquati, "Outline of a Pamplet on FIAT," Viewpoint,3 (1967).[]
  50. Romano Alquati, "Struggle at FIAT," Viewpoint 3 (1964).[]
  51. Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: The Advanced Capitalist Economies from Long Boom to Long Downturn, 1945-2005 (New York: Verso, 2006), 27-40.[]
  52. Lotta Continua, "Cultural Revolution," (1970), available at[]
  53. The rank-and-file rebellion at the Standard Oil refinery in Richmond was not immune to the racial chauvinism and economism typical of traditional workers' movements. Striking workers nonetheless forged a Mutual Aid Pact with the Third World Liberation Front after students and workers jointly defended the strike against assaults by shop foremen and the police. As one worker summed up his feelings vis-à-vis police brutality in Richmond's racial ghetto, "Last time there was a riot in North Richmond I was afraid to come to work; next time I'll be right there in the riot;" quoted in Robert Avakian, "The People vs. Standard Oil," The Movement 5.2 (March 1969): 22. See also Robert Avakian, "Strike Against Imperialism," New Left Review, no. 56/I (1969): 35-40; Bob Avakian, "Internationals Lay Oil Slick on Chevron Strike," The Movement 5.4 (May 1969): 6-7, 18; "1969 Richmond Oil Strike: An Analysis," Progressive Labor 7.6 (September 1970); Steve Hamilton, "On the History of the Revolutionary Union (Part One)," Theoretical Review 13 (December 1979); Martin Nicolaus, "S.F. State: History Takes a Leap," New Left Review, no. 54/I (1969): 17-31.[]
  54. George N. Katsiaficas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 (South End Press, 1987), 193.[]
  55. Ron Silliman, "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject," Socialist Review, no. 18 (1988): 63.[]
  56. See, for example, Leslie Scalapino and Ron Silliman, "What/Person: From an Exchange," Poetics Journal 9 (1991): 51-68. Silliman's argument clearly rests on a developmental logic. While crediting Aaron Shurin with first posing the relationship between writer and audience in terms of social identity ("Poetry and the Politics of the Subject," 63-4), for instance, Silliman lauds Shurin's development from expressive poetics to experimental formalism as a narrative of progress: "Shurin has gradually evolved from the gay liberationist essentialism of his early book, The Night Sun, to the more constructionist prose poetry included here" (67). As Eleana Kim notes, this formalist teleology was a veritable staple of the Poetry Wars; see Kim, "Language Poetry: Dissident Practices and the Makings of a Movement."[]
  57. See, for example, Elisabeth A. Frost, The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003); Linda A. Kinnahan, Lyric Interventions: Feminism, Experimental Poetry, and Contemporary Discourse (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004); Lynn Keller, Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women's Exploratory Poetics (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010); Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing, 2009; Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004); Timothy Yu, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); Evie Shockley, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011); Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, Racial Things, Racial Forms: Objecthood in Avant-Garde Asian American Poetry (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2012); Anthony Reed, Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014); Dorothy Wang, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).[]
  58. Less in spite than because of the project's embrace of an iconoclastic pluralism, social democracy with a Gramscian bent remains the horizon of a communism primarily theorized alongside rather than as part and parcel of feminist and antiracist struggle in the pages of Socialist Review. See Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 120; Socialist Review Collectives, ed., Unfinished Business: Twenty Years of Socialist Review, The Haymarket Series (London: Verso, 1991).[]
  59. Sergio Bologna, "Tribe of Moles," in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis: Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement, 1964-79, ed. Red Notes (London: Red Notes, 1979), 71.[]
  60. Ibid., 79-91.[]
  61. Ibid., 85-6.[]
  62. Ibid., 74-6 and 88-90.[]
  63. Carla Harryman, Under the Bridge (Berkeley: This Press, 1980), 57-8; hereafter UB. The poem appears in Ron Silliman, The New Sentence (New York: Roof, 1985), 91-3.[]
  64. Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 2006), 108.[]
  65. Watten, for his part, continues to double down on the position Silliman articulated in "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject;" see, for example, Barrett Watten, Questions of Poetics: Language Writing and Consequences (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2016), 23.[]