Read a very interesting poem yesterday – “Tocqueville,” by Khaled Mattawa. I don’t know that it’s the Great Poem of the Era of Globalization, but it’s definitely a draft of part of that poem (which we are all writing, whether we leave a record of it or not). It is mostly a collage, drawn from materials as disparate as Franz Fanon, Robert Pinsky, and first-person accounts from Somali refugees. The work is composed of verse, found prose, and imagined dialogues. Mattawa manages to bring together the quotidian and the Big Events, the masses and the players, in a way that evokes the nature of neoliberal globalization – in particular, neo-colonialism and the global politics/psychology of race.
It also attempts to “get at” the psychology of the folks in the metropole – not least of all via Tocqueville himself:
“Such a government does not break men’s will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much from being born; it is not at all tyrannical but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies.”
It also puts into place tyrannical, destructive, will-breaking governments in subject territories. And sets those territories against each other. Just before the passage above:
“If you talk to the Chinese about cheap labor, they begin to complain about Vietnamese competitiveness.
“And who are the Vietnamese complaining about?
“Bangladesh. And the Bangladeshis are pissed at the Burmese.” (36)
A lot of the passages are deadpan accounts of unimaginable cynicism and cruelty, often recounted in an elliptical, allusive manner – along with the surreal, nightmarish mode one often finds in poetry dealing with the postcolonial condition:
“The wonder of it she’d sung,
the wonder she’s spring into the world singing,
and you say bless this goodness
wrung of amnesia, of the whips’ hieroglyphs,
this song rattling the creaking church,
this gale of cool air washing away the savannah’s moss.
Hearth in winter, Abel’s
blood streaming endless from your veins.” (40)
There are several voices, themes and sources that recur over the 25 pp. of the poem, which links the general and the particular, as well as different parts of the world to one another, via the principle of montage. To his credit, Mattawa doesn’t exempt those who live in seeming “safe havens” (like Ann Arbor, Michigan) from scrutiny. Then there is the rest of the eponymous book, in which Mattawa presents some fascinating and disconcerting experimental work.
“And these idiots still think we lost Vietnam.”
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