Eric Kluitenberg on Sun, 27 Jul 2008 15:43:47 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Between Tracking and Formulating

dear nettimers, Brian,

I was planning to respond briefly to Brian's post "50 ways to leave  
your lover" and before even being able to do so he posted something  
else that struck me as interesting and in need of a short comment -  
the use of "we" as a comprehensive claim, ironic or not. It seemed to  
me that the use of "we" was always suspect, already for a much longer  
time, and I try to avoid it as much as possible when writing, though  
it slips in from time to time...
(all too human)

As a student (in the 80s) I came across this startling remark by no  
one else than Ezra Pound - now here we have a artist whose involvement  
with politics could truly be called "catastrophic" - which he made as  
a preface to a collection of "Selected Prose 1909 - 1965". And his  
succinct words reflect devastatingly his insight into the fallacy of  
his own undertakings (anti-American radio broadcasts during WWII with  
anti-Semitic overtones (fuelled by his hatred against the banking  
system and a bogus self-fashioned economic theory), his imprisonment  
for high-treason and almost execution by the allied forces after the  
war, and his final years in seclusion, the failure of his totalising  
poetic project "The Cantos", and subsequent self-imposed near absolute  
silence after the disaster of his excessive tale 'full of sound and  

The sentence reads:

"The substitution of "I" by a comprehensive claim in which 'we' or  
'one' is used to indicate a general law may be a pretentious attempt  
to expand a merely personal view into a universal law"

- Ezra Pound, Venice, 4th July, 1972.

Hence, uttered seven years after he stopped writing and speaking  
altogether. Now, put these dry words together with the biography of  
this impossible man (possibly the greatest poet and avantgardist of  
the 20th century and a bloody fascist at the same time!), then for me  
these words have always signalled the enormous danger of using  
comprehensive claims in public writing.


On Jul 26, 2008, at 3:52, Brian Holmes wrote:

> But there is one massive question: What impels the use of this "we," when
> the time for suspensive irony is over and it is all too clear  where the
> willingness to conform is leading? Namely, toward imperial aggression for
> the possession of basic resources that comfort the anxious middle classes
> and empower the obscenely rich. Now, of  course I understand the
> strategy, please spare me the lesson: the "we" is much more
> uncomfortable, much more subversive, it addresses you where you  are
> unconscious of what you do, it joins your proud egotistic self-mastery to
> the real social flow of which you take part. The "we" is critique from
> which there is no escape: it is the linguistic performance of belonging
> whether you like it or not, the illocutionary truth of our participation
> in the social order.
> After two generations of this kind of performance in academia, it also
> verges on total hypocrisy.

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