Channeling Anarchy Through Walt Whitman
Specimen 5: Re-materialism or, Pirates know things more sublimely.
“I moisten the roots of all that has grown” Song of Myself, 22
Watching me, glorious, bite into a soppy peach, the lysol-shined floor under my shoes, you wouldn’t know the green I got into earlier—slicing the stems off each bunch of kale, spinach edard, and radish. Examining each leaf, tossing the dark slimy shrouds. Running my fingers against their skin them with vegetable wash, rinsing them, and shaking them dry. You also wouldn’t see how my perception of this ‘produce’ (funny name for it) were fundamentally different given that I had scavenged it and hadn’t paid for it. But given the pristine ripe juices falling to the floor, neither would you have suspected that.
It was Libby’s brilliant enthusiasm which turned our philosophical forays into radical action, and her husband, Sam stepped . Sooner than I’d ever imagined, myself, two Orthodox Christians and one creative-minded caring soul were careering down King blaring intense electric bulbs of sound, hard on the pedal towards plunder. We hit the Vegetable Bin. The shaft from behind the hinges came out with a groan and I tossed it like a cattle prod, because that’s what we are–branded like cattle. From there, I removed the lid, and shone the cave with my headlamp. Unfortunately, because the employees at the ‘Bin’ don’t think twice about meeting their ‘quality standards’, they left my lots of produce that would’ve been pristine had they disposed of it more discriminantly. Instead this ‘food’ was simply tossed in with the rank stuff. But we rode out with some clementines and a brilliant ripe tomato. That peach I introduced this piece with, that came from the bin as well.
Soon we were headed over the James Island Connector and found ourselves behind Earth Fare. I went in like it was business, quickly assessing the possibilities. These dumpsters were tall and dark green, and had quasi-windows from which protruded all kinds of in determinant lumpy bags of waste (plastic, styrocups, café refuse, nothing legit). The second one had its ‘window’ closed so I slid it open and slashes of blood streaked my left arm as the resident feral cat bolted into the surreal empty parking lot fluorescent night. I was so focused that it didn’t phase me. Something about this action transcended my ‘self-conscious middle class, shop-like-a-domesticated-animal persona’. What I was doing was a fantasy embodied in action and projected on the tame capitalist world in which I lived. My comrades, on the other hand, were having a fit of cackles. I wasn’t finding any goods, so I stepped up to ledges on the dumpster and flipped up the enormous floppy lids. Finally the green was under my hands, crate-loads of robust, organic, water-tight kale lit up under my lamp. I jumped in parcour style, hanging like an ape with one hand to the inside edge and tossing produce into the box Clifton was holding on the street. Our eyes grew wide at the gold rush.
What sort of lesson could I possibly learn from such a hedonistic act? Indeed, an entire manifesto channeled itself through me, fragments of which I heard whispered in Days of War, Nights of Love. Because capitalism must by necessity subvert the object: into the product, the ‘body image’, the ‘convenience’, the ‘utilitarian purpose’, the ‘brand’. “Today, everything that can’t be bought, sold, or faked is crimethinc.” Many cliche critiques of our society come in the form of one argument: we live in a culture increasingly infatuated with material things. This has prevented us from seeing the spiritual meaning or idea behind the object. I want to turn that argument on its heels. Actually, we live in a society that increasingly ignores the objects: they pass through our fingers like sand, and the landscape: that spreads down the horizon like so many gas stations. Objects are actually subverted: 1 into brands then sold back to consumers at a higher price (see No Logo, Naomi Klein), 2 for utilitarian use only, 3 into a status symbol (see Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord), 4 into waste (scarcity is a lie-the problem lies in distrubution. See Food Not Bombs). It is only when we escape the herd and break the brand that we recover objects from their matrix context. When we disbrand clothing, we return the image to denim, created by hard labor in third world countries–a denim identical to all other denim regardless of the corporation selling it. Thus anarchy is the first seed of pleasure in objects, and poetry is the daydream the object calls forth. As Whitman says, “nature without check with original energy” (Song of Myself, 1). Again, we see this rebirth of the object in his movement from passively enjoying perfume to actively reveling in the odor of his body. Likewise, when we examine grass, subverted for use in suburbs for ‘greening the lawn’, Whitman restores the neutrality of grass, starting with an admittance that “I do not know what it is” and moving to “the beautiful uncut hair of graves”. As a poet or an activist, you can reclaim words too, like ‘grass’, like ‘propaganda’. In Reclaiming Cunt, Eve Ensler attempts to do just that. She enjoys the smooth sound of the word. She also knows that ‘vagina’ only refers to a specific part of the whole organ. Plus, she’s a radical, so of course she would take back that word.