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from "Revolt and Divination: Notes on Sean Bonney’s "Letters Against the Firmament"

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

The invisible, whatever that is.

As if it didn’t hover above us.

Announce itself with blue fire.*

The invisible is not nothing. There must be something there which one cannot see. Attempts to see or comprehend the invisible go by many names: divination, mysticism, theology, metaphysics, spiritualisms of various kinds. For some, the desire is "to see through the veil" into the numinous realm and thereby discover (depending on the seer) the mind of God, the laws of the cosmos, eternal truth, et al. This is the doctrine of transcendence. For others, an inverse desire—the doctrine of immanence—is to see the visible world anew so that it begins to disclose the essence of an invisible, eternal nature rooted in the here and now: "To See a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” The Sun, the Eye. The interpenetration of visible and invisible. Creation as a window, or as a divine garment.

Excrements of consumption are the natural discharges of human beings, remains of clothing in the form of rags, etc.

-- Marx, Capital

Strange, among mystics, poets, and diviners, to invoke Karl Marx. And yet he also read the invisible. With this difference: the visible, material operations of industry were bluntly apparent, but the underlying logic of value and of capital itself were effectively invisible to all. Marx's materialism, then, sought to bring an invisible order that had emerged from the visible, material relations of capitalist society back into plainly material terms. And forever, this ghostly dialectic of the visible and invisible exert pressures which, in one way or another, we are here to read.

A hundred million people use electricity and sill believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms, in the nightmare of their lives as slaves to the rich.


It is impossible to fully grasp Rimbaud’s work, and especially Une Saison en Enfer, if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Marx’s Capital.

To read the forces of the invisible is to divine. And Sean Bonney’s poetry is rife with divinatory language. Scrying, augury, numerology, astrology. Psychogeography. Communion with the dead. All these figure into his work. And this is not idiosyncrasy or affectation. It’s not his private interest, a perverse challenge to Marxist materialism and atheism. It is essential to what he is doing. The poet takes up divinatory logic precisely when the psychic violence of class consciousness forces the subject out of itself, into and against matter, such that the material world becomes interfused with psyche, and psyche with matter...

[To read the full essay, please pre-order the chapbook, Three Essays, found here.]

*All quotes are from Sean Bonney's LETTERS AGAINST THE FIRMAMENT (Enitharmon Press, 2015). Only exceptions are the Blake in paragraph one and the Marx excerpt, which is indicated.

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