Sean Pears interviews Jill Magi
Feb 08, 2016
Last year Colorado Review published a review of Jill Magi’s 2014 LABOR. In early 2016, Magi and the reviewer, Sean Pears, continued the conversation on the emerging role of the university in an era of neoliberal reform, the value of humanities instruction in the twenty-first century, and the possible terms of solidarity between and across different forms of exploitation. Their exchange—which happened over email and on three different continents—is reproduced in an edited form here.
Jill Magi: I wanted to open up, perhaps, a little bit of dialogue on what you wrote about the book’s inclusion of the story of Seneca Village, a mixed-race community of landowners whose property was expropriated for the building of Central Park in the late 1850s. You put pressure on a discussion of the exploitation of African-Americans and other urban ethnic landowners in this context, writing that there is “no neat way that the historical fact of Seneca Village maps onto the professional anxieties of a white artist 150 years later.” I very much like that you question the comparison—many people seem to kind of skip over this storyline and the possible problematics of that.
What I was hoping for was that the idea of “progress” could be made more complex by Seneca Village as J.’s (the tenured archeologist in the book) academic work. That the “progress” of ground-penetrating radar instead of traditional “digs” in order to find/see history makes the possibility for power brokers to render history invisible and leave the ground “settled” (or should I say “re-settled” or “still covered up”).
I was hoping that this aspect of the Seneca Village story would throw the presence of the labor archive into some more complex light: that there are documents of struggle, and those boxes and hundreds of thousands of “linear feet” may make labor’s struggles “visible,” “knowable”—and this is the dubious promise of the documentary impulse also: to know and consume knowledge as an enlightenment promise of betterment. Yet this knowing may also reinforce some of labor history’s hegemonies (like what counts as “labor activism” and what doesn’t [and this is often racialized] and so on.)
So that was the toggling back and forth—visible/invisible and knowing/not knowing—that I had hoped the comparison would bring. Some of these ideas are also articulated in an interview that I did recently with Andy Fitch.
Sean Pears: What you say here in your email and in the interview is incredibly revealing. There is so little, ultimately, that can be said in 1,000 words of a book review, and so mostly one just gestures, which can be both fun and also painfully reductive. But my (albeit superficial) critique of the way Seneca Village functions in the book does get at something that I grappled with when reading the book and also have since in discussions about the book that I’ve had with various people here at Buffalo.
What I couldn’t quite shake is the sense that there is something categorically different about the kind of exploitation that is happening to adjunct faculty in universities and the kind that happened to the residents of Seneca Village. This has to do with race, but race doesn’t even tell the whole story.
The word “labor” gets used a lot here in the English department at Buffalo, particularly in relation to work that students are asked to do that isn’t part of the regular course of study or teaching assignments (so, this includes things like writing introductions for poets who visit and organizing events, etc). It’s not that I don’t feel solidarity with workers/laborers broadly. And, indeed, coming to Buffalo as a TA, for the first time I joined a union, and enjoy the benefits that their labor negotiations have earned me. I wouldn’t want to give any of this back, nor diminish its significance.
Still, I feel there is a fundamental difference between me and my upstairs neighbor who works in a high heat ceramic factory just outside of the city. The difference has to do with choice. I would say that maybe by definition adjuncts once had options, even if they may get to a point where they don’t. Involved in getting an advanced degree in the humanities (or the arts) is the privilege of putting aside other concerns (primarily financial responsibilities) and spending time aiming at a different target. Of course I think this target is valuable! But it nevertheless at times makes me uncomfortable when folks in English departments use the word “labor.” Is this fair? Am I ultimately drawing lines that reinforce neoliberal definitions of value?
JM: It is difficult to discuss the exploitation of adjuncts alongside the historical exploitation of the residents of Seneca Village who were mixed race and mostly working class. Absolutely, there are important differences.
But in the book, J. chose that project, in part, because she sees, all around her, the erosion of the institution of education (supposedly at the service of the public good but in truth tied up with the preservation of a certain class structure), just as she knows full well that the creation of a public park (Central Park) was supposed to be for a public good (and property values)—so she is responding to the fairly recent historical shift to contingent labor, witnessing the erosion of good jobs, and then, neurotically, she plays with “acts of accelerating” that erosion by using her trowel to pry off all the new logo-enhanced signage the university has recently put up. They’re spending money on branding and not paying people. Then she watches the “no-signage” confusion ensue, a kind of theater for the confusion about the history of Central Park that she would like people to feel, to experience.
She understands the truth that adjuncts are not categorically inferior—and neither were the residents of Seneca Village—that both suffered from a similar attitude of Social Darwinism, which is at the service of power and greed. J. peeks in on Miranda’s class on “public art” because she has a hunch she can learn something from her, the artist who is processing, physically, economic precarity, an artist not necessarily a victim of a smear campaign, but an institutional assumption: “who is she that she should want a decent living?” These are more of some of the comparisons between ideologies at work in higher ed and ideologies at work against the residents of Seneca Village that I was hoping to bring to light—
I appreciate your thoughts on choice. I’ve lately been unpacking this word “choice” and “freedom” in a manuscript entitled SPEECH. I feel strongly that the choice to enter the arts and/or humanities has to be preserved as a wider choice—or restored to the status of a wider choice. I think about some of the most influential thinkers and artists of our times and had they not had some GI bill or other govt’ sponsored support, or strong local public schools, or some mentors who believed that they should pursue a life of the mind, where would we be? Where would we be without James Baldwin and Alice Coltrane? And many of my own mentors whose parents were working class or barely middle class? I think about all those jazz musicians who came up through Detroit when the public school system there believed in music education. Many of them learned to read music and master an instrument but not because their parents could pay for music lessons! I think about an art department colleague who experienced a drawing class in high school and knew he should be an artist and so he went and did it despite his family asking “wha?”
It blows me away and strikes me as a very stealth tragedy that we have to rely on what I call “lurking affluence” for a person to decide to pursue the arts and humanities. It is a trend that may already impacting the nature of curricula, critique, “taste,” and publishing.
I also think about the word “solidarity” and that working to make whatever situation I am in more fair, more equitable, usually has the result of building alliances with others who are also resisting the greed and skewed values enacted by the managers of institutions of higher ed. In my experience, trade unionism builds more alliances across class than folks will make if left to their own group self-interests. And the best unions I know fight against poverty–and that fight is so desperately needed and has everything to do with underfunded public schools, redrawing school districts on tax income lines, cutting arts programming, stagnant minimum wages, the lack of campaign finance reform, and so on.
Hoping that poets and future poets and academics can have a wide-angle view to know that persisting toward equality in their own milieu, no matter how specific or reified or leisurely or pleasurable, will likely have the effect of fighting the greed that hurts others in cohorts they do not necessarily belong to. Does that make sense? Don’t know if LABOR made any of this argument well—anyway, I’ll probably keep trying to say this!
SP: What you write here about “effort that persists toward equality” (“no matter how specific or reified or leisurely or pleasurable”) reminds me of a conversation I had recently with my brother on a long car ride home from western upstate New York to Boston for the holidays with my parents. My brother (a wonderful dude who I admire deeply) is at an interesting moment in his life. He’s about to graduate from a small liberal arts college, a place where he has flourished, made lots of friends, gotten involved in the various arts happening there. But now he’s facing graduation and the job market. I think he feels some pressure to reject the political and aesthetic ideals that characterize the “liberal arts” as part of a project of “getting serious” and getting ready for the “real world,” but also—and I think this is more important—as a way of not contradicting himself. For example, how could he on the one hand say that he supports the rights of the Palestinian people, and on the other hand work a job in real estate finance whose basic money-making premise involves displacing communities in ways that resemble very closely the activities of the Israeli people and government?
It struck me as I talked with my brother that there is something very insidious about American culture’s valorization of non-contradiction. Life in developed Western countries presents us with circumstances in which it feels almost impossible to live strictly by any ideal (I believe that climate change will cause suffering and death for billions of people, and at the same time, I commute many miles to teach at SUNY Buffalo). But then the “rational man” tells us: don’t contradict yourself! The only option, it seems, is to abandon all ideals, to prostrate oneself before the world as it is (&, as it goes, the logic of the market).
Anyway, excuse the paean to ideals. But it does seem to me that this is a major problem that this generation faces in thinking their way out of neoliberal ideology, and it strikes me that it might be useful for thinking through LABOR and its meditations.
All of this being said, I think I would still like to better understand your view of the value of the humanities, and of their place in the university. I’m particularly interested in the idea that the erosion of the humanities in the university is “supposedly at the service of the public good but in truth tied up with the preservation of a certain class structure.” This is interesting to me because I always feel a certain queasiness in defending the humanities, but for precisely the opposite reason. The current university system, with its humanities department, is a relatively recent invention, coming out of the rise of the university system as part of the German enlightenment. The idea was that reading books and thinking about “the state of man” and what man might be was something that helped to make “great men.” But this was never something that was meant to be universal, democratic, or equal. Rather, the rise of the humanities as part of university education was wrapped up in the emergence of a class defined by individual talent/skill and accumulation of wealth through the market, rather than through inheritance. A great man could now be built (not just born), and part of that bildung involved an education in the classics, in reading great books and appreciating great works of art.
It seems to me that what American students for the most part want out of their education is an assurance of financial stability: they want the credentials to get a good job. Their perception (which is not far off, I don’t think) is that the humanities don’t offer that. And so they choose something else. As much as I love very deeply the humanities, and specifically poetry, and believe that the study of the humanities and the study of poetry can offer a more enriched experience of the world (something much more valuable than an extra $10K/year), it’s very hard for me to extend that belief into a universal rule, into something that other people should believe. Because I’m not sure that the humanities matter, in some ultimate sense. And, also, I’m not sure that the extra $10K doesn’t.
I feel like I’ve led myself fairly precipitously down a dark hole and I’m hoping that you can pull us back out of it. Again, I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on how the erosion of education is tied to the preservation of a particular class structure. Maybe I’ve misunderstood some of your terms there.
JM: Many of your thoughts make me wish I had developed LABOR‘s ending a bit more—I put all those women in a room while the “institution” was consumed by fire—but there is more to the rest of their lives, for sure—
And thanks so much for relaying the story of your brother.
Yes, on one hand “the west” seems to want consistency in terms of “who are you?” and a singular subjectivity that is predictable and consistent = good citizen. But then it jams up opportunities and nearly forces people into paths they may not have chosen under another more kind and reasonable economic structure. And on top of it, those who follow a pragmatic route are then told they are not allowed to have any radical politics. I’ve found students here seem much less depressed about balancing the need to make money and the possibility to espouse radical politics. In fact, some of them come from political families where these two things have always gone hand in hand. Back home, it seems like the powers that be have us coming and going—(and, living here has taught me that “the west” is most famous for hypocrisy in international relations and their views on who is allowed to have “democracy” and choice.)
And this gets me back to the story about your brother, and then the idea of the humanities—
I didn’t mean that the erosion of the humanities was locking a particular class structure into place. I mean to say that yes—and I think this is what you believe too—the idea of the humanities and its history is indeed a project of “civilizing” and “taste” and “citizenship” which most often means compliance, or innovation within certain boundaries. And it certainly is about individuality.
But what I love about the humanities is twofold, and this is why I think we need to preserve access to the liberal arts; the arts are present and there is no telling what that wildness and futurity will do, and the humanities is very much about reading and that is a practice in subtext—detecting it, and making alternative texts.
It’s similar to this: my parents brought me up in a very strict religion, and I left it, but what I took from it they never expected: an abiding belief in the power of words—a training in poetry and art! I love that the official Humanities means to do one thing, but you can count on it spawning much needed interventions. Think Gayatyri C. Spivak! Just one example!
So I see myself as a kind of two-fold person: I work within the institution, but what happens in my classroom is unabashedly toward a criticality, and whatever a student ends up doing, I am hoping that at some point they will listen to some bull shit at a meeting and decide, because they’ve practiced argument in many forms, to speak out and clarify the very terms of the issues. That’s also what poetry can do, I believe. It’s evolutionary—and because the academy has agreed that we poets should be present, we have the potential to really help people play with language and I believe this leads to brand new concepts, actions, ways of being. I’m thinking here of what Robert Kocik writes of: poets needing to believe in their contribution and create institutions where poetry is at the heart of the work being done.
It’s never either/or—there’s no purity of goodness or evil in the humanities. It’s a field of play.
Speaking of play, I think that the humanities, more so than science and social science as they are now deployed, seem to me to be answerable, mostly, to money interests, can keep the evolutionary power of beauty alive. That’s totally important to me and I think it’s politically radical, though immeasurable. And that’s fine with me. Even the cynicism of the visual art market can’t quell the sheer volume of invented new beauty every year by artists who blow me away and are absolutely not selling their work. I find it one of the most amazing things that art persists despite . . . despite nearly everything!
You wrote about “generations”—and it really occurred to me that my husband and I are Gen-Xers all the way: so our parents were children of the Great Depression, of WWII, and my own parents were part immigrant/refugee, and part ethnic working class New Yorkers. So for us, we responded to their “what are you going to do with an English degree?” with a sense of “I’ll prove to you that someone is allowed to follow their passion.” Now I think this current generation was quite frightened by the new precarity of the white middle class. So maybe, growing up pre-2008, they were encouraged to “do whatever you want” because I think that was the ethos of parenting and then all of the sudden, as they were making their way to college, it was like “oh shit, things are not so stable”—does this make sense to you? Curious about your thoughts on this.
For more than a decade I taught at CCNY’s worker education program for adults returning to get their bachelors and what was interesting is that they were already in the workforce and many of those students I worked with wanted to go to school to think, to be satisfied intellectually, and to be able to have a part of their lives untouched by workplace drudgery, deference, detachment.
And I try to help students and even earnest people in their 30s by supporting their risks. I took so many! And I have no regrets at all. But my husband and I never thought we could have it all. We got super creative with our choices and we were deliberate at every turn. I also think that being a young adult New Yorker (I was 33 then) during 9/11 made us say “no way are we going to die at the workplace doing a job we hate” so there is that reality as well—
But I never ever want anyone to feel condemned or pigeon-holed for a job they decide to take. Sometimes I see some pretty judgmental attitudes in my cohort and as Martin Carter wrote (I quote him at the beginning of LABOR) “a mouth is always muzzled/by the food it needs to live” and if we can’t understand that, there’s no hope for solidarity anywhere, anytime—
SP: The tension that you point to, between form and play, I think is central to what the humanities have to offer in this moment. The humanities offer the idea of form (the well-crafted essay, the sestina, etc), but then also the space and habits of mind to deconstruct, repeat, and reconstruct those forms. It’s play in both senses of the word—with the naïveté and the “young eyes” of the child (I think of Nietzsche here) and also with the intense concentration and virtuosity of the musician. As you say, this kind of thinking can engender a skill set that is incredibly valuable—this is what lies behind the “critical thinking” that English departments all over the US (world?) are trying to sell to the neoliberal university administrators. There is nothing wrong, as such, with attention to the fact that this kind of critical thinking (this “formal play”) is a “real-world skill.” But I think that argument has effectively backed the humanities into a corner, possibly even defined them into imminent irrelevance, because this “skill” of critical thinking then gets whittled down into a discrete unit. It becomes entirely transactional . . . humanities instructors just need to “give their students some critical thinking” and be done with it. So you get the rise of Composition courses, and then the replacement of tenure faculty with adjunct faculty, and then everything else—the poetry, the novels, the Great Works of Literature—this all feels like dressing or decoration, not the meat
But this is why that other concept you bring in—Beauty—is essential, and this is the bit that I think gets left out of conversations about the role of the humanities in the university. I really appreciate what you say in your interview with Andy Fitch about the students in your classroom at the end of the semester looking more beautiful. I think that (unfortunately) the pervasive fear of “inappropriate” student/teacher relationships has clouded the importance of Eros in teaching in the humanities. South African novelist J.M. Coetzee has written some interesting things on this subject, but of course it starts with Plato’s Symposium: the idea that the student recognizes in the teacher a knowledge of Beauty, the teacher sees in the student this Beauty and this recognition, and together each brings the other closer to Beauty. The idea would give university administrators (and probably many students’ parents) the heebie-jeebies, but to me it seems central to that vision of the humanities that is threatened by the “great rationalization” of neoliberal university reform.
Can you imagine a “course goal” of a Gen Ed English course at a major state university being “Presenting the knowledge of Beauty”? It’s laughable. But it can’t be, right? This is what the humanities have to offer, and without it, I think it’s an evacuated project. And this is where my pessimism (unfortunately) returns…because it seems so unimaginable to me that the humanities would buy back their claim to the Beautiful when it comes time for the Dean of Arts and Sciences to face down the other Deans and answer for the sin of decreased enrollment in the English department.
I also think that you are exactly right that after 2008, the ethos of “follow your passion” began to be viewed even more fervently as a luxury only available to the upper sliver of American society. In a world where defined benefit retirement plans are a thing of the past, where health care is becoming more (not less) privatized, there is no longer even a fiction of a safety net (this is the “new precarity of the middle class” that you reference). Unless you are independently wealthy or you’re at Harvard and so your future is guaranteed, then it is somehow irresponsible/inappropriate to indulge intellectual/creative pursuits. I remember a young man came to Buffalo last semester and gave a career talk about working at community colleges. His antagonism towards intellectual conversations happening in the Composition classroom was apparent. He kept emphasizing that at community colleges, you had to really teach writing (which meant, for him, instruction in grammar and mechanics).
All of this being said, I do see my undergraduate students continuing to be excited about the terms that the humanities courses I teach offer them. These students may not be in the class if they didn’t have to be (if it wasn’t a Gen Ed requirement), but nevertheless, there is a genuine enthusiasm when I give students an assignment and tell them, “I don’t know the best way to complete this assignment. We will discover it together.” They don’t seem to get that kind of instruction in high school or in the STEM classes in the university. When I see that enthusiasm, it gives me hope that the humanities might not be reformed entirely out of existence…that the tide might even turn at some point, and we may see some sort of rebirth of a new form of humanities instruction.
JM: Yes to rebirth! And I think a course on “Beauty”—its problems and promises, cultural and scientific and historical forms, its links to perpetuating power and subversion, beauty as painful and liberating, its discourse in the arts—would be a fantastic interdisciplinary investigation.
On critical thinking, I agree. One way out of this problem is to accept that all students come, already, with critical thinking, and there is pedagogy that can help them refine this, or pedagogy that will train them to suppress it and learn a way of being that is about non-intervention. I hope all academic disciplines can teach the courage to intervene, to be critical. Why it seems to sit in the humanities at the moment, I’m not sure. Maybe I don’t really know what’s happening a couple buildings over in the social sciences and sciences, but one thing might be true is, as I’ve said, there may be external grant forces at work that may coax those practitioners into conclusions and data that are “external client” driven. Maybe that curbs criticality? Perhaps. Maybe we poets know we have no chance to get the grant, so we operate in a free zone where our capital is the satisfaction of thinking broadly, critically. But if we’re not supported by market forces—drug companies, political consulting firms—then we need some protection from institutions who are committed to what we do but are not dependent on us making money for them.
And there is so much to unpack around grammar and standard English anxieties. I would like to hear the narratives of what gets triggered in professors when they come across a paper from a student where the ideas might be spot on, but let’s say they’re making home language “transfer” mistakes. What does the teacher, reading this paper, actually read? What narrative are they, the teacher, creating as they see these mistakes? Do they not have faith that with practice and engagement the grammar pattern will likely change? Do they not think it’s their role to explain to the student that there’s a pattern change needed and the ideas are great? I have this untested hypothesis that grammar anxieties are rooted, very deeply, in academics’ own anxieties around language and power and our collective fears about writing and representation. As a teacher of freshman writing seminars, I ask this all the time: isn’t the instruction we would offer an ESL student the best instruction for everyone? Wouldn’t it include overt discussions of language, grammar patterns, power, and representation? I think so.
SP: I think you are exactly right about grammar anxieties being rooted in anxieties about language and power. Unfortunately, I think that the jokey appellation “Grammar Nazi” actually contains a disturbingly precise critique.
One final thing I wanted to bring up—something that has been ringing through my head throughout this conversation—is Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s idea of the undercommons. I love this bit from their “Seven Theses”: “the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings. And on top of all that, she disappears. She disappears into the underground, the down-low lowdown maroon community of the university, into the Undercommons of Enlightenment, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.” For me, that seems to express so much of what I’m realizing LABOR is pursuing, and its also been a heartening concept as I continue to work as a TA at a large state institution. What do you think?
JM: What a fantastic and frightening quote. The book’s characters J. and Sadie share an office that is in the basement. That’s not a coincidence: the subterranean is quite present. Sadie and J. pass by each other once as Sadie is coming up from the underground, the subway, but it is at night. Sadie still has the cover of night. There’s a part in the book where Miranda collapses on the floor, in the institution’s hallway, and spills the contents of her bookbag, her portable adjunct’s office, on the ground. She doesn’t get up; the narrator and Miranda just lie down together on the ground. And the dean, “the big boss,” also decides to lie down next to them. Not in any kind of desire for sexual intimacy, but because he, too, doesn’t like the system. They are all tired.
But Miranda and adjuncts have some power. When I was an adjunct in three places, I took tremendous pride in the relatively un-surveilled spaces of the classroom where I felt great alliances with students; we were allies in critical thought, and it seemed no one could inhibit this generative relation. When I think about how many students came in and out of my classrooms, I felt great power in that circulatory system. I nourished and got nourishment. It seems to me that those in administration are often removed from that health-inducing role. Yet I knew, then, that I couldn’t go into middle age with all that economic precarity. And of course my students couldn’t solve that for me or us.
“Doesn’t like the system”—that’s how I think we could extend this quotation from Moten and Harney. Here, perhaps, is the mandate:
Those of us who are, at least some of the time, able to be “above” need to look very closely at the supposedly well-lit rooms of our situation. This is what Césaire does in his Discourse on Colonialism, which is to make an argument that a situation of power imbalance, and injustice, has a negative impact on all, including those who occupy power or privilege. Robin D. G. Kelley points this out in his intro to the book: “Césaire demonstrates how colonialism works to ‘decivilize’ the colonizer […] pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism.” So in a structural power imbalance, it’s about how the structures of violence impact all. I think we need documents that investigate this situation—the situation of “the above” and what it’s like to be there—very closely and with kindness. This could actually be a document of tremendous advocacy for those in the “undercommons.”
The task is to not romanticize the subjectivity those doing “necessary” but invisible work. And maybe here is where trade unionism comes in. Unions have figured out a structure—and Rodrigo Toscano alludes to this in his blurb of LABOR when he writes that the “vital core” of trade unionism is its “communicative apparatus”—whereby all who constitute the workplace are allowed to be who they are, and they are constituents with agency. They bring to the table, to the contract, equality in their positions, and come together toward the betterment of all. These kinds of structures are possible!
Lately I’ve been reading Thomas Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice on the economic justice work Dr. King engaged and how this was always part of his rhetoric, his mission. We need to recover those messages and circulate them widely, I think, in order to respect and truly see many subject positions while working for change.
But in higher education we have that grave problem of the proliferation of contingency combined with greed and corporate logic; tuitions go up astronomically, and yet contingency is on the rise. I think it’s not enough that adjuncts should be unionized, though that is certainly a step in the right direction. We need to envision some kind of link between the full-time tenured faculty senate and the adjunct union. We need structures that keep greed in check and provide pathways to good jobs for adjuncts and everyone—so how to move out of that union position into a good job without weakening that union. And those at upper levels need to think of a good job as one that’s within the boundaries of reasonable pay equity. I would love to meet a board of trustees insisting on a pay equity study and scale that brings top salaries in reasonable relation to the lowest paid worker in the organism. Creative minds could work this out, but it would take the participation of full-timers.
I did that project with Essay Press and asked for a fact sheet from my sister, Trina Magi, who is a librarian and union activist at the University of Vermont, about the situation of adjuncts higher education for two reasons: I didn’t include these stats in a clear enough way in LABOR and I wasn’t sure that a poet who would read LABOR would understand the whole context. In other words, LABOR pulled up short. And so that leads me to thank you, Sean, for engaging in this dialogue. I really hope others will think about these things too and have the courage to claim their worth and advocate for others—realizing it’s not a zero-sum game. Gently—and without guilt or a philanthropy ethics that can eclipse listening, systems thinking, and can further push privilege into invisibility—gently, if we come into this awareness and really own it, explore it, my hope is that we’ll see shifts, actions we haven’t even imagined, and that the good work that is already being done will be amplified. I keep looking for pockets of true freedom and innovation. Actually, despite how shitty everything seems to have become (and Fred Wilson, an artist I quoted from in SLOT, assures us that things have always been shitty: it just depends on who you are!), these zones of alternative thinking and being exist and with long traditions even as they pop up in new forms! Without hubris, I want to say that us poets know something about “the new” and we absolutely contribute.