We are capitalists so that our children can be capitalists and their children can be capitalists.
—Michael Leong, “(Be)Labored Posterities”
There are two theories, both rather over-elaborated: the one that the Negro did nothing but faithfully serve his master until emancipation was thrust upon him; the other that the Negro immediately, just as quickly as the presence of Northern soldiers made it possible, left serfdom and took his stand with the army of freedom.
It must be borne in mind that nine-tenths of the four million black slaves could neither read nor write, and that the overwhelming majority of them were isolated on country plantations. Any mass movement under such circumstances must materialize slowly and painfully. What the Negro did was to wait, look and listen and try to see where his interest lay. There was no use in seeking refuge in an army which was not an army of freedom; and there was no use revolting against armed masters who were conquering the world. As soon, however, as it became clear that the Union armies would not or could not return fugitive slaves, and that the masters with all their fume and fury were uncertain of victory, the slave entered upon a general strike against slavery by the same methods that he had used during the period of the fugitive slave. He ran away to the first place of safety and offered his services to the Federal Army. So that in this way it was really true that he served his former master and served the emancipating army; and it is was also true that this withdrawal and bestowal of his labor decided the war. — W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America
As a form, the salutation appears innocuous enough: Dear Miss Manners.
And then again, Dear John, “Dear Angel of Dust,” Dear Master, or,
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”
There is no such thing as “to be hailed” innocuously, without intent to bring the person in question into question, into a position. When we are called by our names, we are insinuated into particularity, on purpose.
I address you each and all by our chosen name.
This section of The Recluse comes out of hearing poets read here at The Poetry Project and my own response to the work I hear and read and the desire to share that work more widely. Capital P is, in a small way, an attempt to distribute an energy that seemed, this season, to keep coming and coming into the Parish Hall. I wanted to share and print what is “in the wind.”
I asked contributors (roughly) for work “involving matters of capital and class,” and I was — I am — surprised and thrilled by the various ways in which the work collected here “involves” thinking poetically about how and why humanness is violently stripped of its particularity, and by what structures, how those structures change and are changing. (Involve: this is a word that covers all ways of relating and is a vestige from legal writing, the writing of interrogatories, itself a very low form of legal writing, the writing at the barest bone of fact gathering. “Involve” implies a lowest common denominator of relation and therefore tends to strategically blanket a category or idea so as to cover everything from a certain perspective. Involve is a false clue.) That is what I mean by “capital and class”: systematic dehumanization of the human into laboring factions.
I was thrilled to receive for The Recluse each of these thoughtful and moving anti-manifestos. By which I mean thanks to Commune Editions, francine j. harris, Fanny Howe, Blunt Research Group, Michael Leong, Robert Kocik, Keston Sutherland for answering this call in the spirit of the work in poetry that they are doing, different work; work that, nonetheless, seems to share a longing for comradeship and an end to exploitation where it is found.
When I think about what class is, I think about the famous passage, quoted above, from Black Reconstruction in America where the “good Dr.,” so-called by Amiri Baraka, is so shockingly clear about a the quality of being between a rock and a hard place. I never don’t think about this passage when I hear the word “class.” I’m consistently unsettled by Du Bois’ mastery of thinking and writing — at once — in metaphysical and unsentimentally material terms (what is an ‘army of freedom’?), but here, especially, I’m struck by how this passage teaches strategy as a practice of waiting. Class as strategy performed by way of waiting. “What the Negro did was to wait, look and listen and try to see where his interest lay.” The “Negro Apocalypse” is what Du Bois ironically calls emancipation, supposed to be freedom. So, I don’t know, from his tone, whether the good Dr. thought the waiting right or wrong. He’s just saying, that’s what it was. In the waiting, a new subject was made, a class was seen to emerge.
I’m wondering whether we are for particularity when we sound for the minute, for the imperfect choices that remain after a great destruction.