I wrote these poems to submit to an anarchist journal whose theme for their next issue was “Occupy”. They were rejected. Wah. Maybe because they don’t really seem to have anything to do with the Occupy movement. Well, exactly. Neither does the occupy movement have much to do with any kind of meaningful movement towards liberation (except where anarchists took hold of the opportunity to make a public and sometimes riotous appearance, piggybacking as usual). Especially now, when the remaining groups of Occupiers have mostly given up on taking public space as a spontaneous communal living experiment and decided instead to focus on things that won’t bother the authorities quite so much, it’s achingly clear that no amount of consensus is going to turn this failed, reformist movement into anything remotely fun or liberating.
In ye old early days of Occupy, when it seemed to have some promise (apart from being an outdoor movement with winter on the way), I started saying, “Occupy the universe.” Why? Because in order to go somewhere you have to get to where you are. Trying to begin a revolution in autumn is probably the first indication that the Occupiers were still living in the realm of phantoms that is modern politics, where the spectacle of a revolution is nothing more than that–an image among images whose unreality begs negation in a revolution of sensibility. Anyone occupying their own two eyes can see that everything’s got to go if we want out of the nightmare, and yet the slogan “Occupy Everything” doesn’t seem to inhabit the same planet that is ruthlessly occupied by empire, civilization, and consensus oppression.
Here are the poems. They aren’t very good. Good bye.
Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching has the distinction of being the most venerated anarchist text in history. And ironically so, since it is written as a guide for rulers. The Tao Te Ching’s graceful, simple philosophy takes its power from the careful observation of natural harmony. The author of the text, Lao Tzu, applies his understanding of primal consciousness and natural phenomena to the spiritual, social, and psychological ills that result from authoritarian rule.
I have only reprinted verses I find to particularly resonate with anarchist dialogue, but I assure you the entire text is precious and reading this article alone is like trying to play a piano with so many missing keyes. I suggest you read the text whole and then dive into the limited comments below.
I hope you enjoy these wise words as though they were spoken by an old friend who left long ago and never returned; that’s exactly what they are.
Chuang Tzu was a Daoist madman, and he loved madmen. He loved hermits and cripples, those deformed and unruly characters who defy the straightening “carpenter’s square.” It’s a recurring theme in his writings (or, more accurately, the writings attributed to him) that those things which are flawed are blessed, for humanity can find no excuse to plunder them. A gnarled tree won’t provide a worthy plank to hew; a deformed man was considered unlucky to sacrifice to the Yellow River. Thus, being different, they escaped the deluded contrivances of the more civilized, and were allowed, “their years allotted by Heaven.” Defying the tendency of advancing civilization to homogenize and hegemonize, Chuang Tzu saw in these misfits a relief from the increasingly strict and standardized social order. Borrowing from the Tao te Ching,
When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.