On Psycho-Materialist Poetics
Psycho-materialism is a poetics attentive to the interpenetration of psyche and matter. As a theory, it grounds itself in a Marxist approach to history and materiality, and then works to take seriously Jung’s statement that it is probable that “psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing.” Accordingly, it recalls also André Breton, who sought a “modern materialism” which would “reconcile Engels and Freud”—that is, a materialism that accounts for psyche.
Psycho-materialism is not Surrealism, per se, but neither is it “against” Surrealism. It orients itself by seeing that the momentary, theoretical conjunction of Surrealism and Marxism—of the psycho-poetic and the historical-material—remains an open question. In this, it takes a cue from Sean Bonney’s “Notes on Militant Poetics,” where he writes, “André Breton’s insistence on the need to work out a combination of the insights of Rimbaud and Marx continues to be one of the most important ideas in the history of modernist poetics. It has yet to be satisfactorily achieved.” Psycho-materialism stands in the light of Bonney’s fundamental disappointment here while also (quixotically) working toward that elusive combination.
In what follows, I approach the subject from two angles: first, by defining psycho-materialism as a concept, largely through a clarification of what precisely is meant by "psyche,” and through positioning it historically; and secondly, by describing it as a poetics, or at least an attitude toward the production of poetry. Ultimately, my position is that the work of psyche is an urgent concern within 21st century political art. This is an age defined not only by what Bernard Stiegler and Byung-Chul Han have called, respectively, psycho-power and psychopolitics; this is also the age of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, when psyche itself becomes open to extraction by capitalists through technological interface. To create an art adequate to the assault of 21st century psycho-politics, the psycho-materialist poem turns not toward spiritualism, symbols, and archetypes, but toward a field in which psyche and materiality interpenetrate. It brings the deforming and transforming powers of imagination into contact with historical conditions while exploding the restricted, commodified forms of expression that continually reduce poetry and enable its assimilation by capital.
[to read the full essay, you may purchase the chapbook here.]