Review of The Disparities by Rodrigo Toscano | Louis Cabri

"Whose year? Clock?": "Retro-Reds" in the Era of Finance Capital

(As appeared in Tripwire Journal of Poetics)

Rodrigo Toscano's long-awaited The Disparities (Sun & Moon) demonstrates that it's time to get reacquainted with the social referent: complex of relations (i.e., post eidetic imagism <1>) registered in an instant of time <2>. Fredric Jameson
summarizes in an article published this year that in contrast to previous decades the "motivations behind ideology no longer seem to need an elaborate machinery of decoding and hermeneutic reinterpretation; and the guiding thread of all contemporary politics seems much easier to grasp: namely, that the rich want their taxes lowered" (137). By definition, the social referent avoids poetical tropes of "mere technical facility and hollow formalism" (in Steve Evans's phrase). Yet, of course, such a referent is prone to other, equally familiar, traps -- of vulgar realism. How avoid?

With words of a Protestant theologian, for whom time would have peculiar philosophical resonance, the obvious: "Not everything is possible at every time, not everything is true at every time, nor is everything demanded at every moment" (Paul Tillich <3>). From this comes timeliness, that quality of subjective time of knowing when is "the right time" (and for what), kairos, which the ancient Greek language differentiates from chronos (objective, formal -- clock -- time that is neither "right" nor "wrong"). Qualities of subjective time combine to produce "social times" for the sociological method of Immanuel Wallerstein; and he follows Fernand Braudel who famously distinguishes their three durations: longue duree (e.g., capitalist mode of production), conjunctural or cyclical (e.g., supply- demand crises), and current time (opinions of the day).

For poetics, Steve Evans recently reconceptualized the kairos of social time as "social tense": "A grasp of the way in which artistic materials are socially tensed -- storing certain potentialities, lacking others, with still others momentarily exhausted as some awaken again from dormancy -- is what keeps the artist (if it can) from sinking into mere technical facility and hollow formalism" (43). Toscano's poetry investigates the problematic of "social tense": how does one address the longue duree with and on the terms of what one is given to hand in the moment?

Once, various poets' structuralisms helped with this, homologizing capitalism and language. The "social" retains currency, if only because the mysterious commodity-form still conjures it as exchange-value: despite how virtually all space is now privatized, we must live in it. In the opening three poems of the book, Toscano retains aspects of what might loosely be called the west coast walking poem (for flaneur, Situationist, activist, townie) since, on one hand, "The bureaucrats of wills (some young) have set their snares," and on the other, at least
the prospect of an alternative economy still urges images of an ideal polis.

Is it possible that the message of the kairos is an error? <4> ("McCaffery, Andrews, put down your mowers". . . . <5>) Tillich, again, replies: "The message is always an error; for it sees something immediately imminent which, considered in its ideal aspect, will never become a reality and which, considered in its real aspect, will be fulfilled only in long periods of time. And yet the message of the kairos is never an error; for where the kairos is proclaimed as a prophetic message, it is already present; it is impossible for it to be proclaimed in power without its having grasped those who proclaim it" (Wallerstein 282). While Wallerstein securalizes and historicizes Tillich's philosophical paradox, Toscano assumes the paradox as a given. From "Circular No. 7":

And at arms length (what keeps, who's kept) from it, this date.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Statistical gloom, chaotic (strict) exchange, lend
To what'd speak there, swiped seconds of bardic stupor.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Roof / crew tarringtime, decades since barred from coupling
Frame / crew nailingtime. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Some way within this time beyond these sands in spring
Crash, then the posturing (rush) then the caring (crush)
Then Consequence. . . . .

The message of "the right time" -- the kairos -- is always and never an error: truth beyond the realist's truth, error beyond the formalist's error. An allegorist searches capitalism's runes. When is the right time? There is one answer to this question.

<1> One of a number of fascinating exceptions is William Fuller, whose images are animate commodities; see The Sugar Borders (O Books), Aether (Gaz).
<2> Alan Gilbert writes of pedagogical implications for the social referent. See PhillyTalks newsletter #5 (4331 Pine St., #1R, Philadelphia, PA, 19104).
<3> Tillich is quoted by Wallerstein, p. 271.
<4> Tillich asks this question (Wallerstein, p. 282).
<5> Charles Bernstein, The Nude Formalism.


Works Cited

Bernstein, Charles. The Nude Formalism.
Evans, Steve. The Dynamics of Literary Change. "Four Excurses in Lieu of a Lecture." The Impercipient Lecture Series. 1: 1. Feb. 1997.
Jameson, Fredric. "Culture and Finance Capital." The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998 (London: Verso, 1998). 136-161.
Toscano, Rodrigo. The Disparities. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, forthcoming.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. "An historical perspective on the emergence of the new international order: economic, political, cultural aspects." The capitalist world-economy (Cambridge, England