Notes to Poetry: Or, defending freedom for the future

Simon Elmer

Der Zauberlehrling (1797) is the title of a famous ballad by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a re-telling of an ancient Egyptian myth that was later put to music by the French composer, Paul Dukas, in his orchestral scherzo L’Apprenti sorcier (1897). The latter was chosen for the title of a text published in 1938 by the French writer, critic and philosopher, Georges Bataille, who adopted it to describe a lineage to which he saw himself heir, and which comprised the poets, writers and artists who, in both their lives and their works, sought what he called ‘the totality of existence’. As the names that carry this lineage testify, such an existence can only be reached through a violent loss of self.

The Marquis de Sade was incarcerated by the French state for half his life; Francisco Goya was imprisoned by deafness for half of his; William Blake was dismissed by English society as a madman; Charles Baudelaire was prosecuted for his writings; Fyodor Dostoevsky was exiled to Siberia for his reading; Emily Brontë, Edgar Allan Poe, Isidore Ducasse and Arthur Rimbaud all lived brief lives of wild desperation; Friedrich Hölderlin, Gérard de Nerval, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent van Gogh and Antonin Artaud paid the ultimate price of their sanity. As a destiny, this is as far from the lures and rewards of art and literature as it is from the aims and influence of scientific or political practice.

In opposition to which, Bataille advocated a return to the world of myth, in whose cyclical time he saw the plenitude of a total existence beyond the linear time of history. As distinct from the man of science, who comprehends a world of objects abstracted from the totality of the real, the man of fiction, who creates a dream world in its place, and the man of action, who seeks to transform the world on the basis of this comprehension and in accordance with dreams that invariably become the nightmare of history, this is the sovereign attitude of what Bataille, in this text, called ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’.

It was with these lines that, in January 2008, I announced the publication of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a monthly periodical which explored the relationship between poetry and community. The format of each issue varied: an anthology of texts on a single theme; a new translation or contextualisation of a work by a single author; an extended reflection on different aspects of community; or the preparation for an event in which the theme of community would be explored in practice.

These events typically took the form of a collective reading of texts, but also engaged in more complex activity we called ‘encounters’ — a walk through Epping or Ashdown forests, across Greater London, to the sites of Berlin Dada, around Greenwich Peninsula, in the terrain vague of the Thames Estuary, along various shores of the British Isles, to the Chateaux of the Marquis de Sade in the South of France, at exhibitions to which we had and hadn’t been invited, in pubs or simply at a house party convened for the occasion — all centred around these readings. In exploring the relationships these events brought into focus, this periodical aimed to be not only a site of reflection but itself an occasion for the formation of community.

Published monthly in slim booklets distributed to a small and limited number of sometimes reluctant readers, a wide readership was never their intention, and certainly not at the initiation of this project. Instead, the booklets, each of which included a short essay on their contents, were always understood as instrumental to the readings they were made to facilitate. There was almost no limit to where these readings were held, or who could participate in them, or what would determine their setting, other than that they engaged with the values of poetry. The basis to this practice was the belief — which the readings would explore and reaffirm — that poetry is a spoken art in which we best participate collectively, and that only in this way could its values be first discovered and then conjured back into the alienation and interiority of contemporary life. Well, perhaps not the only way, for most of us encountered or will encounter poetry for the first time as it is presented here, within the pages of a book, and read silently in our heads; and without that first, private and often overwhelming meeting with the ‘goddess’ we would not be able to pass from a silent to an audible reading, from listening with our inner ear to hearing the voices of ourselves and others in the vibrating air between us.

It was one of the aims and purposes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to encourage and enable as many people as possible to cross that line, and in doing so to join what I called, in issue no. 47, ‘The Community of Readers’. And in this respect, at least, it was successful. By the time the project came to an end in December 2014, it had produced 77 issues over seven series in as many years, and involved maybe a hundred readers in dozens of readings that have not ceased with its publication.

So why publish these Notes to Poetry now, nine years since the conclusion of this project? The answer is that, while these texts were written immediately after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the decade of fiscal austerity and social uprising that followed, they didn’t anticipate the dark pit into which the West has fallen since March 2020. Now, more than ever, the values of poetry need remembering, defending and keeping alive through the new Dark Age we have entered.

In a New Normal in which we are told that our biological existence is a threat to others, our bonds of community are more crucial than ever. When woman is being erased in our laws and culture by the enforced orthodoxies of so-called ‘trans rights’, it has never been more important to recognise the unique inspiration of the goddess. When desire has been all but criminalised by ever more intrusive legislation into human relations, the origin of eroticism in the transgression of the law is a lesson we must remember. When every expenditure is counted in the balance of profit and loss, the economy of sacrifice can restore us to a morality of giving. When our bodies are the object of new technologies of biopower, the freedom of the dance reminds us of the corporeality of our being in the world. When our human rights are being removed on the justification of saving us from numerous manufactured crises, we must show courage and even joy in the face of death, rather than cower in fear before the risk of being human. When art and poetry have been reduced to entertainment, advertising and propaganda, recognising beauty in its increasingly brief appearances is more urgent than ever if the phenomenal world of our five senses isn’t to be entirely replaced by a digital and virtual reality. When our children are being trained to servitude and unquestioning obedience as the highest civic and political virtues, man’s unending quest for sovereignty must not be abandoned. When we are ruled by a combination of public displays of compliance and state terrorism, we must not be afraid to look into the night in wonder at a universe vaster than the rapidly shrinking world in which we are being imprisoned. And when our freedom of speech, expression, conscience and thought itself are being erased in both law and custom, poetry must reclaim its always contentious but pre-eminent role in asserting that freedom — as the French poet, André Breton, wrote a hundred years ago — is still the ‘colour of man’.

These are the primary, although by no means exhaustive, ‘Themes’ of poetry, which I discuss in the first section of this book, and to which I return and try to elucidate throughout these texts.

As for the ‘Readings’ themselves, which comprise the second section, there is no particular unity to their selection. They include the authors of the Gospels, William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, Friedrich von Schiller, Ludwig van Beethoven, Novalis, John Clare, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Rimbaud, William Butler Yeats, Edward Thomas, Dada, Kurt Schwitters, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Robert Graves, Georges Bataille, Concrete Poetry, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Kate Tempest.

Some of these would meet Bataille’s definition of a ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’, but others clearly do not. Rather, they were selected either from what I was reading during these years or, drawing on past readings, what I had selected as capable of galvanising a collective reading. It was these readings that my ‘Notes to Poetry’ — the title of the second issue of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — prefaced. Since they accompanied the read text, they are generally short, written to be read aloud prior to the commencement of the reading, and much of their concern was with contextualising the individual work or oeuvre of the poet or poets for those unfamiliar with their writing. They are, therefore, notes and not essays, and what insights they have are proposed rather than explored at length.

If I were to revive this project now, I would add other poets about whose work I would like to try writing, including San Juan de la Cruz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Isidore Ducasse, Rainer Maria Rilke, André Breton, Bertolt Brecht, Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Arseny Tarkovsky — whose presence in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was limited to my translations of individual poems and texts — as well as contemporary poets like Tony Harrison, Jorie Graham and Alice Oswald. Indeed, there is another volume of Notes to Poetry to be written about these authors.

Until I write it, however, and partly in order to bring my thoughts on the situation of poetry up to date with the world in which we live today, I have chosen to end this book with a new and more extended essay on the last of these poets, ‘An Open Letter to Nobody’. Since it is different not only in length and date of composition but also in its purpose, I have included this text not among the other ‘Readings’ but in the final section, ‘Manifestos’. These collect my occasional attempts, over the seven years of publication, to articulate both what I understand by poetry and its place in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

But what it this situation? In her 1968 book, Men in Dark Times, the German political theorist, Hannah Arendt, reflected on the ways in which philosophers, writers and poets had survived and continued to write while living under authoritarian and even totalitarian regimes, and her book is a series of portraits of both their lives and works.

That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth — this conviction is the inarticulate background against which these profiles were drawn.

Arendt’s examples — which included Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Jaspers, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht — were mostly drawn from those who lived through and in some instances died in the horrors that engulfed Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century, and from which she herself had escaped to the USA. But her words have as much bearing on our own survival now, when a new form of totalitarianism is stretching out its digital fingers to enclose the entire globe in its grasp.

The profiles I have drawn in this book — which I have limited to the poets who did not constitute the only authors about which I wrote in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — are offered not as a guide (for poetry’s power is never instrumental) but as a form of defence against the architects, financiers, administrators and commandants of this digital prison. It is increasingly clear that the primary target of the new totalitarianism is our children, who are being molded into a generation for whom freedom, human rights, democracy, community and even beauty no longer have any value — are, indeed, perceived as threats to their safety and that of the state.

Like the authors and publishers of the samizdat ‘self-publications’ that were circulated in the Eastern Bloc states between the 1950s and 1980s, my intention and hope in publishing this book, therefore, is that it will help to retain the values of poetry in a world in which poetry no longer has any accepted role, it would appear, other than creating the illusion of individual freedom within the mirrored cell of identity politics in which art and culture have been imprisoned today.

All the poems about which I write in this book contain some, many or all of these values, and my notes to them have no greater goal than to illuminate a space in which they can more clearly be read in the darkness of the present time, when the future of all art is in doubt. I do not claim that these values are universal, and the readings offered here are restricted to those authors and works in which I was and still am interested; but what is universal is the contempt in which these values are held today, and not only because of the threat they represent to our uniform adherence to the principles of biosecurity: surveillance, censorship and unquestioning obedience to the state, all of which have been uncritically adopted by our culture industry and most of its practitioners under the corporate-manufactured blanket of diversity, inclusivity and sustainability. Poetry, whose history is the never-ending struggle between freedom and power that today is experiencing one of its most crushing defeats, is a repository of these values. If we are to survive this nightmare of digital totalitarianism, state authoritarianism and corporate anarchism, these values must be defended from permanent erasure and kept alive for the future — if not in the books we are no longer permitted to publish or read then at least in our memories, in our hearts and in the hushed voices of our collective reading.

But it is not only a matter of survival. Our greatest weapon in the struggle against the enemies of humanity is the dystopian nature of the future they are constructing for us. Indeed, only a generation raised on a succession of manufactured civilisation-ending ‘crises’ could possibly view this dystopia as something desirable. It is up to those of us who remember a different past, therefore, and who are not cowered into obedience by the state terrorism of the present, to paint a more desirable and hopeful picture of our future. That means, among other things, defending the values of poetry against their erasure — not only from our present but also from our past.

As George Orwell prophetically saw, those who control the present control the past, and it is from the rewritten past that the future is being made to order today. When I wrote these Notes to Poetry, I never dreamed that I would live to see the texts of dead authors — even if, so far, it is mostly of children’s books — rewritten in accordance with the ideological dictates of the present.

On the trajectory of blind obedience we are taking, the works of many of the poets in this book will soon be censored or, worse, rewritten to comply with the new orthodoxies of thought and expression being enforced on Western society and culture. Under these orthodoxies, a dignified death is denied to those kept alive under even the most undignified of conditions; sacrifice is declared unsustainable in the dearth that apparently awaits us all; sovereignty has been recast as a servant of the state; the goddess of inspiration has been dismissed as a construct of patriarchy; the intoxication of dancing denounced as ableist by the self-elected priesthood of equity; any attempt to create community is now condemned as an attack on our diversity; beauty is no longer anything more than a form of discrimination; the realm of eroticism is policed as a site of potential crime; love is a duty we owe exclusively to an abstract humanity; woman is an empty cipher waiting to be defined by men; and poetry, for some time now, has been a two-way mirror onto this trans-human ideology.

In ‘The Apprentice Sorcerer’, which opened the second series of booklets in February 2009, I wrote:

Is it not indicative of just how far we have strayed from an existence worthy of our genius that the man who represents the model of modern citizenship — the aptly named ‘businessman’ — will happily relate the most contemptuous details of his business, and proudly exhibit, like some idiot child, the rewards for his servility; while another, in order to earn the eternal contempt of his peers, has only to confess an interest in, never mind a commitment to, those values of poetry, beauty and community without which human life is little more than the brawling of dogs for scraps from their master’s table?

Some fourteen years later, when the scraps have been reduced to a bowl of maggots, the brawling for them has never been so loud with threats, and our masters demand not just our obedient service but our willing compliance in the forging of our own chains, the values of poetry are more important, perhaps, than they have ever been. Amid the systematic cretinisation of the population by our education and culture industries and with it the impoverishment of our hopes for this world, there are, still, glimpses of beauty to be found, and nowhere more so than in our refusal to bow to what appears to be the inevitable. Poetry is both that refusal and the possibilities that can only be seen when we raise our eyes above this looking-glass world.

Simon Elmer, from the preface to his new book, Notes to Poetry, which is available in paperback. Please click on the link for the contents page and purchase options.


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Who D. Who
Who D. Who
May 31, 2023 3:13 PM

A little odd, invoking Georges Bataille in an encomium to poetry. Bataille, to my mind, is by definition antipoetic. Indeed his quest for ‘the totality of existence’ involved a rather morbid fascination with violence and torture. His philosophical essays, particularly “La Part Maudite” (translated as “The Accursed Share”) are of some interest in explaining this position. His fiction is terrible and formulaic (a bit a la Sade, and I’ve given him more than a fair shake, reading three of his novels) and his poetry fairly rare and not worthy of consideration. He is not considered an important poet by French literary historians by any means. Not a poet at all, though he did write some verse. Significantly, he did not consider “literature” an end in itself, but a means to “extreme experiences.”

As for Elmer’s naive “poetry will save our humanity” position, there is poetry and poetry. Elmer seems to think that all that falls under the rubric of “poetry” will fit the bill. So much of it, nowadays, isn’t poetry at all. At least he has the good sense to rely mostly on time-tested figures (with exception made for Bataille).

Elmer also throws Andre’ Breton into the mix, apparently unaware that Breton, after some initial association, despised Bataille and considered him a fraud. (Bataille, ever the opportunist, had at first associated with the Surrealists to advance himself.)

Curious to note, too, that, after spending a good part of his life re-enacting the by-then hackneyed French trope of the anti-Catholic Catholic Bad Boy (long after it had been worn out by Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautreamont, Huysmans and so many others), Bataille ultimately ended back up in the warm embrace of the Mother Church.

Literarily inclined Brits and Murcans still don’t seem to realize that just because modern France has produced so much literary sophistry doesn’t mean that it’s worthwhile writing. So much of it is simple quantity, not quality.

And poetry, broadly conceived, especially as professionally conceived nowadays, will not save us. I personally know many poets (mostly American, but also French, Italian, Spanish, British) and the vast majority of them are liberal capitalists worried mostly about their careers and little else, while engaging of course in the usual virtue-signaling about “climate change,” “Trump,” “Ukrainian independence,” “women,” and all the rest.

No, it won’t save us. And, anyway, even if it could, there’s not enough of the real stuff around to carry the load all by itself.

Simon Elmer
Simon Elmer
Jun 1, 2023 10:18 AM
Reply to  Who D. Who

I don’t usually respond to comments on my articles: having had my say, I believe it fair that readers have theirs; and if you were simply trying to show off I would overlook the overload of inaccuracies in your comment here. But it also appears, for whatever reason, that you’re trying to undermine the basis of my book with your recycled opinions about Georges Bataille; so I’m going to break my rule and reply to them.

My book is not an ‘encomium’ to poetry, which is a public school-boy’s way of saying ‘praise’: it is a defence of the values of poetry at a time when they are under attack from the new orthodoxies of woke, as evidenced, for example, by the recent revelations that the Government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ Prevent programme has identified reading Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson and Kipling as signs of ‘right-wing extremism’.

If I had written that ‘poetry will save our humanity’ you would be within your rights to describe me as ‘naive’; however, once again I say nothing of the kind. What I wrote is that painting a more hopeful and positive picture of the future than the one with which we, and particularly our children, are being terrified into compliance means, ‘among other things’, defending the values of poetry against their current erasure. I know it’s de rigeur to attribute stupid thoughts to a writer and then ridicule him for them, but I take considerable care with what I write, and you might at least take the care to read what I do before criticising it.

As for your comments on Bataille, he unfortunately attracts this kind of response, like his fellow sorcerer’s apprentices. I wrote my PhD on Bataille, which I later turned into a book, The Colour of the Sacred: Georges Bataille and the Image of Sacrifice, so I can say with some certainty that pretty much everything you say here is either factually wrong or critically unsupported.

Far from being ‘anti-poetic’, Bataille attributed at least as great an importance to poetry as did the Surrealists, and described it as one of the ‘sovereign operations’. The Accursed Share is not a book of philosophical essays but a work of political economy. If you’re looking for what Bataille wrote about poetry, it is scattered throughout his writings of the 1930s (e.g. in his article on ‘The Sacred’) and his war-time trilogy (Inner Experience, Guilty and On Nietszche). Like Edgar Allan Poe, his writings about poetry, rather than the few verses of poetry he wrote, are why I have drawn on him in my own book.

And why I agree with you that Bataille was not much of a poet, he was a hell of a writer. The Story of the Eye, his 1928 novella, was already influential in his own time, inspiring, for example, the work of Hans Bellmer; and Roland Barthes wrote one of his most influential and endlessly-cited articles about it. The Blue of Noon is another masterpiece, around which Denis Hollier – who has the dubious honour of introducing US academics and students to Bataille – has written for years. And my favourite, Madame Edwarda, was described by Maurice Blanchot, probably the most important French critic of his day, as the most beautiful of recits. Unfortunately, its published translation into English is almost as inattentive as your own comments, but I have translated it myself so highly do I regard it.

Your assertion that Bataille considered literature not as and end in itself but as a ‘means’ to what you call ‘extreme experiences’ (which is a term Bataille never used) shows that you do not understand, and in fact have inverted, Bataille’s attempt to describe the economy of sovereignty as an end in itself and not as a means. This, in fact, is what he does discuss in The Acccursed Share.

Of course, your opinion that Bataille’s novels are ‘boring and formulaic’ is your own, and you are welcome to hold it; but they do not accord with the reception they have received from less dismissive readers. You rightly compare Bataille’s novels to those of the Marquis de Sade, but declaring that you share the literary critique and morals of those who imprisoned the latter for 27 years for his writings leads me to conclude that you and I do not share common opinions about the role, duties or ethics of writing.

What next? Bataille made a bad impression on Breton at their first meeting, and after Bataille became what he described as Surrealism’s ‘enemy within’, Breton devoted a section of the Second Surrealist Manifesto to disparaging him. However, after the war Breton wrote that Bataille was ‘one of the few men it has been worth the while getting to know’; so like your description of Bataille’s view of literature and poetry, the trajectory of their relationship was the exact opposite of what you’ve described here.

I don’t know where you got the phrase ‘anti-Catholic Catholic Bad Boy’, which sounds like the sort of teenage slur popular in US academic feminist circles; but although Bataille was fascinated with the history of religion and drew much of his theory of transgression from the division between the sacred and the profane to which sociologists like Marcel Mauss drew attention, he did not, as you write, end up in the ’embrace of Mother Church’, warm or otherwise.

But there is something with which I do agree with you, and that is your low opinion of contemporary poets, and their willing and cowardly collusion with the orthodoxies of woke, environmental fundamentlaism, covid compliance and now Zelenskyy hero-worship. As I write at the end of a list of how the new ideology is trying to erase the values of poetry it is the purpose of my book to defend, ‘poetry, for some time now, has been a two-way mirror onto this trans-human ideology’.

I hope that anyone reading this will not be put off by this attempt to misrepresent not only what I have written but the writers I have drawn on to write it, and will purchase a copy of my book, so they can find out themselves what I have written and why.

Simon Elmer

Who D. Who
Who D. Who
Jun 2, 2023 12:23 AM
Reply to  Simon Elmer

Well, à chacun son goût, as they say. L’histoire de l’oeil, and L’abbé C in particular, are, to my tastes, simply terrible and pretentious. If, of course, you chose to write your PhD dissertation on him, I can hardly expect you to agree with that assessment, but neither can you be expected to have a disinterested aesthetic assessment of his work. Those two novels, as I said, are of Sadian inspiration, and share much of what i can’t stand about Sade: cold narrative formula, flat style, scatalogical obsessions, reduction of the human being to object, and so on (I hardly need list more). That you cite the equally creepy Hans Bellmer as somehow proof of Bataille’s brilliance also indicates that we clearly differ on these two figures. They do share morbid sadistic tastes, but that could hardly be called a convincing illustration of Bataille’s merit.

As for saying that I have “declared” that I “share” somehow “the literary critique and morals of those who imprisoned [Sade] for 27 years for his writings,” which leads you “to conclude that you and I do not share common opinions about the role, duties or ethics of writing” is an utterly preposterous surmise that is almost too ridiculous to comment on. The “ethics of writing” in Sade??? Please. No. And you mustn’t impute motive, which you can’t know, to what is simply a difference of opinion. Mine is an above all an aesthetic judgment, but also one in which aesthetics includes the moral, as in Baudelaire’s notion of le beau moral.

And calling La part maudite simply “political” is reductive and perhaps disingenuous on your part. It’s far more than that. Political essays, as far as I know, don’t venture into the metaphysical.

As for the “Catholic bad boy” qualification, the phrase is my own, thank you very much. You may not like it, but his oeuvre is bursting with examples thereof. (That is, until he changed his mind.) And I didn’t even cite his dreadfully mediocre essay collection, La littérature et le mal, which rehashes the same tired, late 19th-century themes as if he’d discovered the wheel.

As for Breton’s reconciliation with him, I’ve never set much store by it, since his star had fallen drastically in France after the War, and while he can thereby be credited with open-mindedness, it is my humble opinion that he was mostly hedging his bets.

Finally, I’m sorry if you think my critique will hurt sales, Mr Elmer, but if you go out into the public forum, you’d better expect some brickbats to come your way, especially from people who’ve read the same material.

Which reminds me: Your essay on the coronation and its implications, which I found to be an excellent in-depth socioeconomic and historical analysis, and with which I wholeheatedly agreed, did nevertheless contain a few imprecisions, which I detailed on a different website that had picked up your piece.

As I said, I liked the piece very much, but I had this to say about two of your points. First, you write:

“What, then, are the possibilities and threat of the working class being joined by elements of homogeneous society alienated from it by the crises arising from the contradictions in capitalism? As the history of revolutions has shown, it is only as such that the heterogeneous classes can form a potentially subversive force of change in society. This possibility, however — which seems so distant in the UK today compared with France — is determined by the existing and historical political structures of a given society, and above all by its imperious and sovereign forms of heterogeneous authority.”

In response to this I wrote:

“I wish Mr Elmer were correct, but in my direct experience of present-day French society, I would say this is a pipe dream. [I have been living in France for the past 20 years and have frequented the country a great deal for the past 45.] Oh, in a longshot some combination of unionized labor (a small part of the workforce) and the still very much present Gilets Jaunes contingent and their France Insoumise supporters, may succeed in pulling down the Macron regime, but that, despite its symbolic relevance, would still change nothing in any fundamental sense, and it is quite a long shot. And I say this because from my observation, the French middle classes are hopelessly brainwashed and conformistic, as we saw with the vaccine mandates. They will not accept any profound structural changes, at least not yet. The once formidable French intellectual class is almost entirely AWOL, and what few remain have generally tepid critiques of the “new dispensation,” if any. In fact, I find that there is more high-level dissident intellectualism and independent journalism emanating from the UK and the US than here on French soil, where the authorities have a tendency to squash free speech and even jail dissidents (such as ex-communist cum “nationalist Alain Soral, an unsavory but nevertheless highly intelligent man.) Where France differs from England is that slightly more dissident opinions are given MSM airtime. But that’s all. I suspect Elmer is relying too much here wishful thinking and mainstream British views of France.”

My other quibble concerned this statement of yours:

“In both countries, therefore, which only attained national unity several decades before forming fascist governments, and which had emerged from the Great War humiliated and defeated, an imperious heterogeneous authority was lacking, making both nations susceptible to the militarism of fascist sovereignty.”

My response:

“As a matter of simple fact, Italy fought the Great War on the side of the Allies. Thus they emerged victorious, not ‘defeated’ from the fray. The humiliation came afterwards, when the self-appointed “Great Powers” decided to divvy up the spoils and decided that Italy was too chickenshit to have a say, let alone a place at the negotiating table, despite being on the winning side. And then, lo and behold, they gave away (mostly to Yugoslavia) more than a few Venetian cities on the Croatian and Illyrian coasts, with majority Italian populations (though associated hinterlands and peasantries of such towns were majority Slav) which had been under Austro-Hungarian rule for over a century and had constituted one of Italy’s primary motivations for fighting in the war. It was this treachery by UK-France-US that led to the nationalist “irredentist” movement in Italy, which hoped to recover at least some of the lost cities. It proved all for naught, of course, and meant the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Italians from their historic homes, because the Yugoslavs no longer wanted them, as they tended to constitute the urban middle and mercantile classes. Tens of thousands died during the transfer of population.
“In compensation, they gave Italy most of the German-speaking South Tyrol, which they arguably didn’t even want, just to shit on Austria.
 “The eminent poet Gabriele D’Annunzio was perhaps the first major public figure to whip up nationalist frenzy around this issue, but he was soon followed by former Socialist Benito Mussolini, who organized many of the disaffected former WWI soldiers still in possession of their firearms into what would become the first Fascist militias. And the rest is history.”

You may want to correct that last error, should you decide to republish the essay, since it undermines what is in fact a solid piece of analysis.

May 29, 2023 6:06 PM

It is not very often the mention of George Bataille is made these days; so this made for very interesting reading on a Bank Holiday – as a well-earned coitus interruptus – when the average person will be at rest, play, or “dance” from working ~90,000hrs across an economically dominated lifetime; a work that involves the supermajority of the species on a daily basis, and a large portion of the earth’s finite resources across time.

Only why? Why do we work for ~50 years…. To meet physiologic necessity, for personal integrity, to feed and clothe ourselves?

It was the more cogent part of Bataille’s thesis that we work far in excess of physiologic necessity, and rather than in an exuberant or joyous life-affirmation the excessive non-productive accumulation of wealth and energy will be reinvested not productively, but destructively; in that which he called the “Accursed Share.”

A “General Economy” of excessive non-productive expenditure re-invested in excessive non-productive expenditure across time – becoming exponential at 3% per annum; doubling economically every ~25 years – this is why everybody has to work excessively for the economic sovereign; just to keep up with the demand for more efficiency, more productivity, more work.

So who is the sovereign? To paraphrase Monty Python:

“How d’ya know ‘e’s a sovereign?”;
“’Cause ‘e ain’t all covered in shit.”

Sovereigns do not work, they get everybody else to work for them and live off the unearned income and privative rentier property; a ‘free lunch’ whichever gets re-invested in their sovereignty…. A fact that nobody could have been in any grave doubt about long before the advent of any event horizon circa “March 2020”.

We worked so hard for their sovereignty and gave them the unearned economic right and political freedom to act as absolute sovereigns as a financial libertarian freedom such is political liberty; for millennia before recent history. Thus, my favourite quote from Acéphale (Bataille’s literary mag):

Vous travaillez pour le fascisme!”

We who work or worked hard across a lifetime laboured for ~90,000hrs to empower the sovereign contemplation of more ways to make us work even harder for them; facilitating investment in self-destructive waste; when no amount of hours would ever suffice without the enormous technology we have amassed to do the bulk of the work, the enormous amounts of energy we have tapped as a 19TW civilisation, and no amount of material would or will suffice to satisfy the human capacity for us to work for them.

La pensée souveraine est la tragédie illimitée”;

The harder we work the more time, the more power, the more energy they have: “sovereign thinking” is therefore an “illimitable tragedy” of passivity and servility up to the maximum empowerment of the sovereign; whichever turns out to be the limit of the resource base of maximal energy-transformation as illiberal docility as a maximal power principle.

Bataille’s solution (not that he dealt in cogent solution-thinking) – read through the readings of Agamben and Kallis et al – was an “opération souveraine” – a communal sovereignty without a sovereign – whichever can be translated in Giorgio Kallis’ reading as degrowth to an operable community that produces sufficient for itself as a proportional mode of production without significant surplus or excessively non-productive expenditure/investment cycles of unlimited tragedy and nihilism.

Acéphale means “headless” as a form of aesthetic anarchy or autonomous and autarkic self-determination; self-sufficiency with surplus, but without excess (ecological minarchy); as opposed to perpetual growth as absolute autocracy and sovereignty whichever is actual authoritarian anarchy or modern fascism (which incidentally is the principle of all economics, including ‘capitalism’ – productive re-investment with no free rent); that which was bastardised long before “March 2020.”

We worked so hard for fascism before, and when the destructive capacity of two world wars created sufficient carnage; we worked harder for the next wave of surplus that will be invested increasingly destructively ad finitum. Until we get tired of making the “accursed share”.

For what it is worth, Bataille was also ardently Nietzschian; so the aesthetic anarchy would be here on earth (Dionysian, not Apollonian) and that is where Bataille’s excessive perversion becomes problematic (does anyone actually read De Sade or Bataille’s execrable poetry?) We could choose to rule ourselves productively with minimum excess or empower ‘them’ to rule with maximum excess that we provide for them for a mort-gage (death wage), up to the earthly capacity to constrain our power has always been the real political choice we did not make.

Nevertheless, whatever ‘they’ do (as Das Man: Heidegger’s “the They” ….whoever ‘they’ may be); ‘we’ empowered ‘them’ to do in a reciprocal sovereign relationship that has been theorised about for centuries; therefore the “new form of totalitarianism” is whatever everybody has dedicated their whole life-affirmation to (at ~90,000 hrs) across the centuries, ignoring all the warnings that it would end this way. The harder we worked the more powerful they became, unless or until we want to work for ourselves at a steady-state rate without excess.

The degrowth poetry of an aesthetic bound by the senses as an embodiment immanent to the earth is yet to be fully written. Contemplation of the sublime and the power of the sovereign come from that same excessive imaginabilty unbound from sentience and sensitivity that Nietzsche and Bataille failed realise. I’d prefer my earthly community as a poetry without the excesses of power and perversion; a poetry of peace and peaceful ecological co-existence. Are we not yet tired enough of the illimitable tragedy and nihilism we worked so hard and so tirelessly for?

Time to at least think about breaking the cycle with degrowth? Or back hard to work tomorrow to grow the accursed and illimitable power of the sovereign; whichever is tragic poète maudit?

May 31, 2023 8:37 AM
Reply to  Bryan

“Acéphale means “headless” as a form of aesthetic anarchy or autonomous and autarkic self-determination; self-sufficiency with surplus, but without excess (ecological minarchy);”

My mentor, Prof.Robert Harkness, was delighted when he discovered 2 unexpected traits in the ants that he studied while on holiday at a Greek beach:

Le swanning: They worked in the morning before the sun got too hot, but in the cool of the evening they “just went swanning around” and did not work to collect food or throw out trash. Societe des Insectes Sociaux.Acéphale: Each worker was autonomous, choosing its own search path. Harkness joyfully quoted the Bible: “Go to the ant and learn; she needs no boss”.

dom irritant
dom irritant
May 29, 2023 12:57 PM

og pending thank you

May 29, 2023 8:44 AM

“As for the ‘Readings’ … they include the Gospels, William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, Friedrich von Schiller, Ludwig van Beethoven, Novalis, John Clare, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Rimbaud, William Butler Yeats, Edward Thomas, Dada, Kurt Schwitters, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Robert Graves, Georges Bataille, Concrete Poetry, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Kate Tempest.
“I would add San Juan de la Cruz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Isidore Ducasse, Rainer Maria Rilke, André Breton, Bertolt Brecht, Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Arseny Tarkovsky … — as well as contemporary poets like Tony Harrison, Jorie Graham and Alice Oswald.

“Arendt’s examples — which included Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Jaspers, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht — were mostly drawn from those who lived through and in some instances died in the horrors that engulfed Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century…. But her words have as much bearing on our own survival now, when a new form of totalitarianism is stretching out its digital fingers to enclose the entire globe.”

For what it’s worth, my short selection from the author’s selection:
“the Gospels, William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, Friedrich von Schiller, Ludwig van Beethoven, Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, Karl Jaspers”

to which Reading List I would add selections from:

Sappho, Aeschyles, Sophocles, Plato, Epicurus, Hippocrates, Augustine, Confucius, Buddha, Bacon, Montaigne, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Kant, Darwin, Einstein, Schroedinger, Wilczek, Joyce, Proust, TS.Eliot, Chekov, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn.

“These fragments have I shored against my ruins” — Eliot, The Waste Land.

May 29, 2023 3:23 AM

Sadly, Art has always been seen as entertainment – if not first and foremost then certainly as an afterthought.

Which, sadder still, makes a smooth transition to seeing entertainment as Art.

May 29, 2023 8:46 AM
Reply to  Howard

“Poetry is a superior entertainment” — TS.Eliot

May 29, 2023 3:22 AM

2023-05-14 Dr. David Martin – EU Parliament COVID Conference

Clive Williams
Clive Williams
May 29, 2023 2:54 AM

I’ve read about Rosa Luxemburg. Only if you are European will you understand it’s totally in retrospect going back in time singularly. You have to theoretically journey back as You are. a Mother and Father, with your own ethical issues on hold., as an Adult… back from the day she was murdered, or forget offering your own unamed unethical investment standards.
I guarantee it will be totally lost on the ww1, ww2 in our communities whom have consisted lied about themselves, covering their own present coloured faculty. Of which they have been washed into over previously in the past century.

May 29, 2023 2:24 AM

The human race either wakes up and smells the coffee that all this chemical synthetic crap we are consuming is evil in nature, and does the right thing and changes the direction of travel away from the gene edited Satanic crop nightmare/synthetic mRNA medical poison the GOVUK tricksters and their criminal corporate traitor partners are steering us in……(are we going to allow them to buy up every last square inch of land via criminal takeovers and land theft, which they have already started doing in the Netherlands – which has a lot of primo fertile land – as does Ukraine). Or we understand that by far the cleanest and most sound way to produce our food, medicine and lots of our consumables is via organic natural farming and re-cycling of compostable products (free energy and food)

One of the answers to this is HEMPWORLD – a world where the cannabis plant is free and grows freely everywhere, as it used to before the scum went around destroying all the natural land raised plants as part of the “war on drugs” (ironically one way to bring this system down is to legalise all drugs and take the black market drugs market out of government/corporate criminal (same thing) hands. Hemp and cannabis – a miracle plant and certifiable gift from God – can provide mankind with so much of what he needs in a way that is clean and sustainable and perpetually regenerative. Food, fibre, fuel and medicine are all products of the cannabis plant.

The problem is always the same – we are led by criminals who are intentionally misleading us in to a world of their choosing – a world built on evil and lies.


“Medical, spiritual, recreational or environmental, our need for cannabis is essential, and its prohibition is totally criminal”.

dom irritant
dom irritant
May 29, 2023 12:56 PM
Reply to  Mucho

10 upvotes mucho nail on the head

May 29, 2023 3:36 PM
Reply to  Mucho

It was precisely because hemp presents an alternative to much of industrial America’s profits that it was targeted for removal from the picture.

The cabal (Rockefeller, Carnegie, DuPont, and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon) dredged up the Mexican term marijuana because it sounded more menacing and had a better chance of arousing public hatred.

And, of course, the public fell for it hook, line and sinker.

May 29, 2023 4:40 PM
Reply to  Mucho

What will be legalized is not the same plant that was prohibited.
It’s a mutant and does not produce the same effects that the original plant did. No more laughing,no more crazy ideas.Now it’s just stinky confusion and a never ending need for more.

May 29, 2023 2:10 AM

“That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth — this conviction is the inarticulate background against which these profiles were drawn.”

Fine words indeed. Somethings we 🌱 Seed, knowing the essence of wisdom is knowing,
We know nothing, other than nature… defines the Soulful attention to detail.

Needs some illumination,
Quite honestly speaking…
Bugger protocol,

Jim McDonagh
Jim McDonagh
May 29, 2023 12:29 AM

Interesting read until the author disputes the obvious , our biological existence is indeed a real threat to all other , now dwindling ,species still alive on this planet . To claim otherwise is to embrace dogma , a form of wish thinking similar to the notion of unlimited growth promised by capitalism at a cost of all personal freedoms. The hive has arrived speaking Chinese no doubt !

May 29, 2023 9:12 AM
Reply to  Jim McDonagh

Was the twist at the end, blaming China, for greater acceptance?

Paul Prichard
Paul Prichard
May 28, 2023 10:47 PM

Your alternative update on #COVID19 for 2023-05-27. Govt practice lying why they’re doing something is hopelessly & forever exposed. Fluoride’s specific harms https://twitter.com/paulrprichard/status/1662566832790728704

Paul Prichard
Paul Prichard
May 28, 2023 10:44 PM

Your alternative update on #COVID19 for 2023-05-27. Govt practice lying why they’re doing something is hopelessly & forever exposed. Fluoride’s specific harms (blog, gab, tweet).

May 28, 2023 9:51 PM

Ivan Goncharov explored the contrast between the romantic, poetic, artistic type and the worldly business type in his novel “The Same old Story (1847)“, where a young romantic man goes to learn the ways of the world from a business type.


His view was a little pessimistic, since the former romantic ultimately turns into what he most despises (as, I suppose, also happens at the ending of ‘1984’). Nevertheless it acts as a good warning of pitfalls to avoid

May 28, 2023 8:49 PM

Shout Out (Sekou Sundiata, The Blue Oneness of Dreams):

Shout Out

Human values
Human values
May 28, 2023 8:02 PM

Darkness can’t stand in light and wisdom. Human spirit will stand up.

May 29, 2023 12:44 AM
Reply to  Human values

A Tribal intuition oft’ largely abused.

Even in Ubuntu & computing Terminology ,

We can evidence the denial of sharing
& Knowledge within, that prevails . . .
Talk about pride.
Soulful musical,

Who D. Who
Who D. Who
May 31, 2023 3:17 PM
Reply to  Human values

That was pretty bad. A kind of updated, all-Black “We are the World” sort of nonsense. American narcissism at its finest.

George Mc
George Mc
May 28, 2023 7:46 PM

I never dreamed that I would live to see ….

That could be the new catch phrase, endlessly repeated. After which, it’s hard to know where to start and where to stop.

-I never dreamed that I would live to see women – as in actual and previously undeniable women – described as “cis-women”. Thus being an actual woman now obliges a pre-fix as if it’s some kind of weird peculiarity.

-I never dreamed I would live to see drag queens reading to schoolkids with the aim of promoting “gender fluidity”. And anyone who objects is accused of being “hateful”.
-I never dreamed I would live to see the aforementioned schoolkids being encouraged to question their own gender and enthusiastically supported if they want to “change” – with all the chemicals and surgery that would require.

-I never dreamed I would live to see people masking, distancing, and imprisoned because they were afraid of the common cold.

-I never dreamed I would live to see everyone coerced into an experimental and frequently lethal injection under threat of being social pariahs if they refuse.

-I never dreamed I would live to see everyone interpreting hot weather as the end of the world.

-I never dreamed I would live to see insects being marketed as food whilst meat was abhorred.

-I never dreamed I would live to see the putative Left enthusiastically supporting all this crap.

There’s more – but you have to stop somewhere.

May 28, 2023 10:46 PM
Reply to  George Mc

I found more poetry in that than the article.

Veri Tas
Veri Tas
May 29, 2023 12:42 AM
Reply to  NixonScraypes

And more relevance.

May 29, 2023 2:15 AM
Reply to  NixonScraypes

Talk about consumed…

May 29, 2023 8:51 AM
Reply to  George Mc

Pedant’s corner: “I never dreamed I would live to see insects being marketed as food whilst [other] meat was abhorred.

You forget how often we have seen mutton marketed as food while pork or beef was abhorred.

May 28, 2023 7:27 PM

It’s true, but let’s not shove our experience into a book.

The past informs, but too many are already hiding from the present, burying their head wherever they can find. Those who have undergone the most schooling delve the deepest.

We need our own version of socialist realism to counter this novo-Maoism, this relativist vacuum.

Few seem to know what’s at stake, even in something as mundane as the high street/main street.

Staring into their computer screen, how many recall the foot patter between family-owned enterprises and what that represents… let alone the disappearing chains – no the chains are enveloping us – I mean the accelerating death of the brand name stores.

May 28, 2023 7:43 PM
Reply to  moneycircus

It would seem odd to mourn the loss of something so banal – until one realises what is at stake.

As an exile I view even the article’s thumbnail with reverence. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.