Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Josef Kaplan's Kill List

Doesn't feel good, does it?
Josef Kaplan’s Kill List, which has recently sparked a bit of controversy, is designed to make a point. Because a list of names coupled with economic statuses (limited to “rich” or “comfortable”) certainly isn’t a stylistic masterpiece. Joyelle McSweeney gives a reading that is appreciative of the poem’s formal strategies, and I can go along with it it, but on the other hand, once you come up with the concept, it’s a matter of copying and pasting, and there you go. It’s a conceptual poem — it is what it is in that regard.

But on the level of meaning, such as that is, is the notion that poets too are imbricated in the capitalist system in which we all live really so shocking? This should be obvious. Given the perplexed reaction to this book from some quarters, however, maybe it isn’t obvious for everybody. So, point taken; it’s a good reminder.

What defines “rich” or “comfortable,” though?  Clearly, Kaplan’s judgments are arbitrary. And what about the poets who truly are “poor” or “struggling”? — because they certainly exist too.  They are not on a kill list; only the relatively well-off are — the author thus positions himself as anti-bourgeois. So it’s not about poets per se so much as it is about class. Kaplan seems on one level to suggest that the middle and upper classes deserve to be offed. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek — he doesn’t literally believe this — and so there is a degree of parody of class warfare being iterated here, and probably a comment on “kill lists” in general, with reference to covert government operations in a time of war (something McSweeney also notes).

So, poets are part of the system, just like everybody is. And in the bigger picture, our conceptions of class and empire need to be continually questioned. Got it. Here’s the thing, though. You would think that anybody on this “list,” as affable and accepting and willing to take a joke as he or she may be, or as willing to be fodder for a valid rhetorical point, etc. — you would think that any person is going to resent being on a “kill list,” no matter how conceptual or satiric it’s supposed to be. I’m not on it of course, as I’m not on Kaplan’s radar, which is fine with me. But speaking as a living human being, I think anyone on anybody’s kill list, real or fake, is probably going to think, Fuck You.

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