In the nineties, I-I began translating Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry and prose and, of course, there I-I found that meaningful word that appears constantly in his work and maybe sums it up: ethnopoetics /// The term is not precise—and there’s no reason for it to be precise—it allows its own rethinking /// One afternoon I-I was working on the translation and I-I kept making a mistake—a typo I-I think Americans call that and I-I like writing “typo” by the way /// Instead of writing etnopoética (ethnopoetics) I-I repeatedly wrote etopoética /// The word was odd and at that time I-I didn’t realized it existed, though in a curious way the mistake meant—at least meant something that afternoon and also means something today—and I-I took it as a clue—and it stuck on my mind for a long time—in my journal I-I made a note: “etopoética, ¿qué es?”—Ethopoetics, what is it?
. . . . . . .
(ETHOPOETICS NOT JUST A LAPSUS)
Ethnopoetics has been centered on the techniques on how to produce new kinds of poetry. Its own consciousness of that involves, of course, how to transform the poet, thought that hasn’t been its emphasis and I-I think Rothenberg himself would agree on that.
Some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work—and I-I don’t teach anymore in a text-based traditional way, but more in a way that I-I can only describe as more on the spot, using ‘academic’ subject matters as pre-texts to invite students to work on themselves inside and outside class, to make books come alive, and without being preoccupied with making products such as ‘books’, ‘ideas’ or ‘works’, all of that driven by Mexican and American dreams of success, career, competition, originality, cleverness, reputation, copyright, control, and all the other things we all know are insane but we keep alive in the same degree that we still depend on them to ‘survive’.
I-I was saying, “some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work”, I-I started using Foucault’s later work as a perfect excuse to invite ‘theory’-driven students—mostly afraid of their own bodies—to really understand the nature (change) of philosophy. And for that purpose I-I used Foucault’ seminars about the hermeneutics of subjectitivy. (I-I could use some other authors, but I-I’ve found Foucault make things easier. They trust Foucault. I-I use him as a fishhook).
I-I use, let’s say, his discussion on how Greeks philosophers—though in his view mostly post-Socratic—which shows how Aristotelian Foucault still was—taught philosophy and how philosophy meant then a series of techniques to transform the individual so he is able to relate himself to the truth. For example—this is not the place to explain in detail Foucault’s late research—how parrhesia was obtained, that is, how to develop a complete freedom of speech, a capacity to “say everything”, based on the work on oneself, the care of oneself (epimeleia) in order to ABANDON SELF-DECEIPT and thus, boldly speak the truth in a world based on lies, that is, fears. (In spite of Foucault own fears of stating his position more clearly, because he was afraid of leaving ‘academia’, ‘philosophy’, ‘university’ and so he said all of this as if it only was what he found out in “scholarly” ways, in “scientific” ways, not what he personally, as a wise man in becoming, believed, no... Foucault in that sense died afraid of abandoning his past identity as a theoretical French-American post-modern academic and writerly figure. He couldn’t take the ridicule of attempting to overcome himself.
But what he unearthed (again) was how to rethink philosophy not a discourse-based discipline but as something else: the re-making of man. A re-making in which parrhesia for us in the poetics community is a key value, which consists in the cleansing of the mind of false idols and then and only then, producing language in unexpected and not always welcomed ways. Or to explain it a very simple way, how to produce spontaneous truth.
I-I’m not innocent of the resonances I-I’m trying to bring here. Not only in Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s Buddhist sense but also in earlier visions of what poetry meant (surrealism’s attempts to remove everything that blocked—aesthetics, morals and logic—the subject from understanding reality and also, again, in Situationism, which is mostly a spiritual discipline, though I-t don’t think Debord fully realized that). In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy—not only based on Pierre Hadot incredible research but also, I-I heavily suspect though Foucault tries to hide it, in non-Western shamanism and Buddhism itself and, of very evidently in Marxism (philosophy defined not as ‘theory’ but as ‘the transformation of the world’) and psychoanalysis—In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy, I-I was saying, philosophy is anthropoeisis, so called it somehow. Anthropoiesis = the making of man.
Of course, Foucault’s late work (less known still today than this earlier books) resonates with what I-I learnt from Matthai and from reading (enjoying, translating) Rothenberg’s work and with my own personal experiences with counter-psychotherapy, that is, not how to ‘normalize’ individuals but how to learn how to liberate oneself from hegemonic “one”self/constructs and also how to get free from society’s methods of control at all levels, with which we get caught up in the same degree we still (mostly in hidden ways) identify with those control-values, even if (or specially if) we believe we “fight” them.
What I-I am saying in these last words is that I-I have found out that writers, artists and intellectuals start as defectors of control but somehow during the way we generally don’t understood we were supposed to center our work on curing all our lies, fears, and then (or during that process) making our work (written or not), because the aesthetics mostly follows Ethics.
Understanding ethics as self-construction.
And so, without curing ourselves, we are now spreading in different ways the same methods of control that we believe we fight against…
Rimbaud couldn’t manage the forces he himself unleashed. He gave up and became himself a slave(rer).
Baudelaire knew he had to jump into the abyss, but the remained in love of hate.
Artaud didn’t cure himself and so he ended destroying all that was profound in him through drugs, lies, ego, foolish frenzy, fantasies, misogyny and even crazy christianism at the end.
Kerouac had the potential to fulfill his dream of becoming a new kind of sage, but he never got rid of his childish Catholic dream of being a perfect saint for mommy and at the same time a big macho American cowboy-Superman, and so he drown out in alcohol, the only situation at the end in which he fantasized he was a free and open-up Western male.
Kathy Acker knew she had to blow up and in many ways she did, but there’s was a final step she didn’t take. She loved violence too much.
Debord knew all but stuck with paranoia and general control, so he projected all his authoritarian spectacle onto the ‘society’ and couldn’t manage to work on himself to really get ride of everything he rightly accused the world.
Foucault knew in public theory everything he ended up unfulfilling in his spiritual self.
And I-I am naming just a few of those more brave than us!
We idolize them so what’s similar in us is idolized by others.
Writers, thinkers, intellectuals, artists, ¡poets! Need to heal themselves (from themselves) in order to become true visionaries.
We haven’t done that—that’s the only task that completely matters right now.
But what is happening now? In Latin America, in Spain, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in America, in Russia, in everyplace the human mind is afraid of being an animal still evolving—and after the big upheaval we are living a return to the old models of poet as man-of-letters, and ‘artists’ as man-of-walls, though by way of post-modern disguises! Deceit yourselves! Or use all your irony or all your critical theory you can to hide from what you deeply know! Poets have to become knowers.
In this time of total warfare against the planet and humanity—which is not something we own but something we create—aren’t we suppose to lead the path into something beyond this cruel order of despair, poverty and neo-totalitarian control?
Arcaic traditions, from shamanism to Eastern religions, were not perfect or worked at all—we are the inheritors of their collective failures—but they knew the end is not to produce things, but to produce subjects.
All the great poets have known poetry resides beyond writing, but in Modern Western cultures such as ours this knowledge is kept bookish, utopical, dream-like, and romantic, so we can play the game that consists in not fully accepting everything we do is really based on the persecution of truth.
And I-I mean it in two ways, because that’s how (for us) it is.
Poets will be considered in the future only the ambivalent forerunners of now unexpected liberated women and men.
They will understand how afraid we were.
I-I’m not saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with poetry, what I-I’m saying is poetry can always be more!
[Heriberto Yépez is a native of Tijuana, Baja California, who teaches philosophy at the Autonomous University of Baja California (AUBC). His poetry, fiction, & translations, as well as his critical & theoretical writings, are not easily confined within generic boundaries, & his collaborations with other artists & academics reveal an intellecutal & creative fluency in multiple artistic languages. Already a prolific & accomplished author of several books in Spanish (most recently El matasellos and A.B.U.R.T.O, both published by Random House-Mondadori-Sudamericana in Mexico), Yépez’s English work has appeared in American journals such as Chain, Tripwire, Shark, & XCP. His Babellebab: Non-Poetry on the End of Translation was published in the U.S. by Duration Press in 2003, & Wars. Threesomes. Drafts. & Mothers. appeared from Factory School in 2007. A second installment of “Ethopoetics, What Is It?” will appear shortly on Poems & Poetics.]