Shielded Engagement: Danny Hayward’s ‘Two Essays’
‘Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness,’ wrote John Milton in Areopagitica. How then is an essence changed? Hayward begins with the recognition of ‘class fantasies’. A consciousness which reflects on its fantasies as socially and historically refracted begins to follow otherwise denied possibilities for living and organising. Hayward then applies the idea to a close reading of Keats. Consciousness has an essence and it can be changed by reflection, and by working towards the conditions by which a ‘break’ into reflection can occur. His chosen Keats poem is ‘When I have fears’ where the line “unreflecting love;- then on the shore” presents just such a break. The semi-colon and dash bring the cycle of fantasy to an end – primarily the bourgeois fantasy of transcendence. Certain lines from Wordsworth’s Prelude similarly move over the line of reflection – to choose just one example: “my brain / worked with a dim and undetermined sense / Of unknown modes of being” (1799, i.120-2). If the essence of consciousness is not reached, and is not open to revision, then stasis occurs, and there is no dialectic and only a faulty ethics based on illusions: “and for us, now, this might be the more important moment of the dialectic.”
Hayward attempts to clear away other accounts of consciousness and ideology, in particular Žižek’s idea of fantasies as a part of objective reality: “I think that committing to a theory that just assumes the perfected impoverishment of consciousness is a gross abdication of critical vigilance.” Why? “[B]ecause the renunciation of consciousness as a field of contest involves the renunciation of the full scale of the experience of the dynamics of fantasised pleasure... across the turbulent fields of collective human practice”. Those turbulent fields are problematic in that we can’t certainly distinguish universal from contingent elements. Without recourse to a problematic structural view, Hayward’s ‘class fantasies’ only go so far down into the formative routines of human life before they lose explanatory power in the face of looser and more singular contexts. These appear and make the obliteration of particular desires only partial. Hayward’s singular-universal example: You find yourself outside an apartment on a wet street in the early evening, looking up at a lit window, and “what desires do you feel; but also, and in the current connection more importantly, how can those desires be obliterated and made anew?” The reference to obliteration pulls away from the open struggle to close the gap between structure-reproducing and structure-challenging moments of consciousness, that is, between routine and innovation. Closing this gap would otherwise suggest a gradualist, fragmentary radicalism. Instead a whole dialectic is impatiently posited, run out and superseded within the question. Hayward seeks to override the structural problem by presenting a singular-universal moment which carries a potential for radical change, dividing stasis from radical newness. With the more fragmentary, anti-structural view restored, this would map to a dividing of revolutionary aims: the difference between reshaping social institutions towards a radical polyarchy (a process in which ideas and practise feed back in a constant critical process, which again is very different from pessimistic ‘reformist tinkering’ resigned to softening damage it can’t think beyond), and the destruction of existing institutions as hopelessly contaminated by capitalism.
For Hayward’s argument, class positions have to become more explicit or more present, as we can read in the words “at last” at the end of Hayward’s essay on the UK university struggles between Nov 2010 and July 2011: access to education is “distributed across institutions whose ‘diversity of missions’ at last promotes nothing besides a diversity of class positions.” (‘Adventures in the Sausage Factory’, January 2012, Mute Magazine). At a linguistic level, we can see the implications of a class-based analysis of single-universal contents more clearly. Vološinov gives an analogous linguistic example to Hayward’s street and window scenario: “The utterance ‘What time is it?’ has a different meaning each time it is used, and hence, in accordance with our terminology, has a different theme, depending on the concrete historical situation (“historical” here in microscopic dimensions) during which it is enunciated and of which, in essence, it is a part.” (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Harvard University Press 1986, p 100.) Vološinov’s theoretical formulation of a class-based linguistics incorporates an understanding of utterance in a properly historical dimension – the “extra-verbal” of language which Hayward (in a footnote to ‘Perfect Capitalism’) castigates Anglo-American philosophers for failing to canvas. Dialectics within language clearly run as partial structures; building a Marxist poetics from Vološinov’s linguistics of historically changing social classes would bring back the fragmentary revolution of social artefacts revised piecemeal in a wave of continual difference, as first suggested by Hayward’s example of standing in the street. What happens to Hayward’s revolutionary ‘obliteration’ when it is placed within language, or if it is attached to the idea of writing a poem? The second essay attempts an answer.
‘Perfect Capitalism’ takes us into the moment of obliteration, offering a critique of reactionary, backward movements. Hayward argues that a poetry which follows the reactionary movement of capital as its best disciple, moving towards the lyric of “perfect capitalism”, will in fact send out a “grotesque challenge” to the democratic economic system at large. For Hayward, this “may be yet” a political function in language; it is also akin to the idea of constructing a god in God’s image in order to negate Him and free the world of divinity. The variety of the reactionary movements which Hayward identifies opens his argument almost to the point of dissipation: he is imagining a poetry which ”attempts to make splintered, partial, luddist, stupefied or reactionary politics into something more than itself.” Thus far, this is a kind of negative capability of poetry – a stripping of false necessities by pretending to express the false necessity itself as actually necessary. If capitalism carries the idea of its own inevitability, the argument runs, let’s write like we believe it to be really inevitable, and also perfectible (our very hope will be our secret, subverting the expectation of a Marxist negative image of society worked out in cryptic detail by a writer secretly despairing of any practical application other than through the creativity of idealised revolutionary moments). To do this would be “to sing out as a wish what that system would wish us to believe; to be, in short, its best and most perfect representative; and to say in the armor of rapture exactly what it needs.” The armor of rapture is the final turn by which Hayward leaves any kind of dialectical materialism behind – I understand it to be a form of secret hope, mentioned above. Hayward wants a poetry which coils around in social practise, pursuing its perfect vision of capitalism round and round until it transcends that practise completely. To desire this resonant perfection is to “wade towards” the corruption of perfectible capitalism, and to express the value non-equivalence of these opposites, in song. Given that money-as-capital is self-reproducing – constantly circulating, expanding and creating value in an asymmetric form – its perfect image pursued on paper might at first resolve into a long, mystical description of a ten pound note.
As such, Hayward is negotiating a long reversal through the nineteenth century’s multiple splintering between the senses of moral and market value – the history of literature’s fitful engagement with vast economic ‘engines’ replete with their own genres of writing, which is one of the strands of Mary Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy (2008). In action, such a poetry would try to throw itself into the M-C-M’ process, moving across the gaps where capital’s potentiality lies, that is, between buying and selling, selling and paying, speaking to and for ideological contexts – the “armor of rapture” just needs to be very strong. If money-as-capital could speak, it would say: You must love me above all else, to be worthy of me. Hayward seems to suggest that poetry can repeat capital’s command, “I love you”, while embedding this statement with the best and most obliterating expression of hatred possible. This is based on Hayward’s diagnosis: “Capital is retrograde, non-progressive; or if it continues to be dialectical then the dialectic now attains a considerable axial tilt.” This misalignment is “illuminated” by the materialism of a lyric addressed to capitalism – it is the asymmetry of the value-form which, in Marx’s account, can never be sublated because it carries a possibility or potentiality which jumps into the future – and the result is the credit system. Hayward’s backward-leaping revolutionary Romanticism recognises this deferral, addressing the axial tilt in order to force its contradiction in reactionary fervour. Hayward goes on to align two contemporary works with this exemplary reaction. Both desire “backwardness with a special hotness and singularity”: Kevin Davies’ The Golden Age of Paraphernalia and Justin Katko’s Rhyme Against the Internet. Katko’s formal patterns carry their theme against ‘the internet’ – a target so diffuse that it begins to exemplify the lyric addressed to capital itself, expressing its own unsuitability for the task. Hayward reads in Kevin Davies’ work a series of broken steps (gained through a pugilistic “combat with its own vocabulary of despair”) which lead to “a precipice from which can be observed in dark panorama the whole history of engaged art, from the period of the bourgeois revolutions until the immediate aftermath of WWII, a whole world, itself despairing, cut off from us, so that we stand before it at a sheer ledge and know that we can reach it only by way of a jump.” These steps and this ledge are the crystallisation of Hayward’s thinking of a backwards-leap (actualising the merely backwards-looking anti-capitalist Romanticism theorised by Löwy and Sayre in Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity, 2001). Hayward looks for a poetry positioned on the ledge, trying to work out where and how to leap, and when. The “hotness and singularity” of these works sets them up as personal records of the attempt to write the lyric of capital – records which we can read and take back with us to the street where we look up at the lit window to see if our desires can be obliterated and made anew.
What if, looking up at the window, we found ourselves feeling the presence of other possible desires? And this multiplicity helped us to reflect back more clearly on the desires we did feel? The micro-history of the moment would be expanded, and the price of our subjugation to fantasies might be lessened (is there any collective life which doesn’t require a minimum of subjugation?). This would be my scenario for the revision of formative contexts through a making present of denied possibilities, but Hayward’s ‘Perfect Capitalism’ seeks to put these revisions into circulation, pinning its hopes on an origin to come – a new dialectic in language pointed towards nothing less than the out-stripping of credit capital. In my view, Hayward is imagining poetry as a kind of anti-currency – a poem could be a coin which destroyed all other coins it touched, reinstating subjectivity (“hotness and singularity”) and social relations which are not abstracted. Describing how this poem-currency would work in a final description of his origin myth to come, Hayward argues for an increasing value of poetry which would culminate when “fidelity to a life lived without the exchange of abstract equivalents is audible even in the deepest, most perfect silence” – at which point an echo would be heard.
To return to the simplest starting point, Hayward’s critique is founded on Marx’s argument that crisis exposes capital’s ideology: “In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and their value-form, money, is raised to the level of an absolute contradiction.” (Capital, Vol 1, p 237, Penguin, 1976) Unlike the economic crises which have succeeded Marx’s observation (after which depression follows and capital emerges to grow in a new way, newly calibrated to changing conditions), the crisis which Hayward’s modern Romanticism would hasten on towards would be a crisis of human consciousness itself – and its contradiction would also be absolute. In the present moment, Hayward’s pragmatic strength is that he thinks with money and follows it, theorizing a poetry which would work as the very diagram of a counter-movement – one which would show the effacement of itself as its strongest hope: money-capital’s purification of poetry.