Commodification Central

A few days back, AT posted about the possibility of a Boston poet laureate, a King-of-the-Hub, so to speak. (You can read the article here.) The writer of the editorial rightly points out that any such appointment would give rise to ideological conflicts. The article frames "literature" with a thoroughly nineteenth century logic, which is predictable, but the hint of a post-Capitalist rhetoric that moves past the commodification of information gives me pause: "In addition to being news, poetry's words and images can be storage facilities, saving personal details and that often perishable commodity, feelings." The metaphor here equates contemporary technology with a romanticized "vessel" motif, which is troubling, but expected. To speak of the affective as both "perishable" and as a "commodity," however, seems absurdly wrong. The question of how to manage desire isn't news, but to speak of emotion as though it were petroleum strikes me as a problem that we can differentiate from those of the information age writ large.

Within the globalizing framework of capital, information was the answer to the often historically literalized alchemical question of creating gold. Between WWII and the early 70s, American society became post-industrial due to its realization that the production of information was a fundamentally infinite activity and, according to the logic of post-Capitalism, a resource without telos or end. In terms of contemporary poetics, the affective theorized as salable is one problem with mainstream verse culture, but the affective theorized as perishable and salable—as a depleting resource—is absurdly paradoxical.

The massive postmodern project of standardizing individuality—the generalization of modes or masks of identity—makes the loss of affectivity thinkable. As the dominant mode of contemporary poetic discourse, a mode explicitly complicit in the project of standardization and, thus, the thinkable telos of affectivity, mainstream verse culture not only reproduces post-Capitalist logic, but also reproduces its own perceived necessity. With one hand such a dominant mode of discourse inscribes the telos of affectivity, and with the other hand that discourse inscribes the "storage facilities" that will heroically and authoritatively save our "often perishable commodity, feelings." The moral imperative here is clear. To survive, one must create one's need. And, of course, such a need is naturalized.