Poetry Against Neoliberal Capitalism in Ali Alizadeh and Melinda Bufton

By | 1 October 2020

As such, Zilcosky sees Adorno and Celan as fighting the same battle for formal revolution in poetry as the ‘impossible articulation of suffering’ (Zilcosky 673, 691). We see this directly reflected in Alizadeh’s own poetics when he explains, ‘I guess I’m trying to understand a genuinely radical poetics that is not only formally but also discursively and philosophically progressive and challenging’ (Brennan). Unusually, Alizadeh views radical poetry as formally challenging first and philosophically challenging second, indicating how his poetics has been influenced by theorists like Adorno to shape an encompassing poetic radicalism.

Further, in the same interview with Michael Brennan, Alizadeh touches on his poetic subjectivity in relation to contemporary catastrophe:

When I write about my macabre discovery of the Real of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, for example, I’m not being autobiographical, but remaining loyal to the terrible realisations that I made as a result of witnessing or hearing about the missile attacks, aerial bombings, use of children in the Iranian army’s ‘human waves’, chemical bombs and so on. So, my subjectivity is only possible for as long as I remain true to the (often, but not always, horrible) truths procured as a result of unsettling events. These things make me the subject/writer that I am (Brennan).

Even in the poems that appear as more personal reflections on his memories, Alizadeh resists the late capitalist subject as ‘individual consumer’ (Brennan) but instead agrees with Alain Badiou that subjectivity is the product of ‘fidelity to the truth produced by an event’ (Brennan). In ‘The Point’, Alizadeh pictures the relationship between poetry and tragedy as ‘The angel   &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp of history [who] sees only / the concatenation of corpses’ (45). Rather than the ‘documents / of barbarity’ (46), poetry must ‘Record[] and surpass[] / the unbeatable darkness of being’ (46).

Concluding, Alizadeh does away with conceptualisations of poetry housed in capital and commodity terms, rejecting the aestheticisation of brutality and fetishisation of experience to say:

So let’s paraphrase Marx:
The point of poetry
                                                      is not to
represent/replicate/interpret/converse/communicate/play/experiment with

                                                      the world, but

                                                      to change it. (46—47)

In this construction, poetry does not exist outside of experience, as a separate artistic rendering of the world, but it is a vital voice within the conversation, engaged in a relationship with and of history.

Melinda Bufton’s collection engages with capitalism through a feminist lens, layering contemporary experiences of femininity with postfeminist and neoliberal conceptions of individual responsibility and personal growth. Her previous work, including two collections Girlery and Superette, have been summarised as ‘subvert[ing] the charges of superficiality and irrelevance that are often levelled at the popular culture of girls’ (Pender) for the way that her poetry fully immerses itself in the language and visual culture of contemporary media. The pop culture references, and frequent evocations of internet or visual media culture is in-keeping with a complex and nuanced feminism that recognises the challenges and contradictions of contemporary femininity. For Shelley Budgeon, a defining characteristic of third-wave feminism as a movement spanning the 1990s and into the 2000s is the proliferation of media images and representations of femininity which has made pop culture a source of pleasure and critique simultaneously (Budgeon 280). With her third collection, though, Bufton moves into the workforce and approaches postfeminism as a burgeoning social orientation towards individual responsibility and the prioritising of personal improvement. In particular, Moxie dives into corporate office culture to draw connections between concepts of gendered labour and capitalism that plays into the interpretation of postfeminism as gendered neoliberalism (Elias, Gill, and Scharff 24). By borrowing the language of the neoliberal entrepreneur and corporate culture, Bufton is able to criticise the power structures of sexism and capitalism with their own terms and subvert the ideologies that underpin them. Like Alizadeh, Bufton positions language as a primary tool for exploring the degrading effect of capitalism but her particular focus on gendered labour and experiences addresses the intertwining relationship between neoliberalism and (post)feminism through the 2010s.

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