Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Peter Dale Scott, a Colleague of Noam Chomsky

Emeritus Prof. of English at Berkeley, Scott seems like a good foil for Chomsky acolytes. Rather: in an effort to broaden the (political) Chomskyan's view, read Peter Dale Scott. Just a suggestion. Let me elaborate.

As I write, Scott is still writing poetry and (probably) fat non-fiction books on what he calls "deep politics," a term I unpack as something akin to the conspiriology of the academic. Scott appeared alongside Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky at very many anti-war rallies and talks and teach-ins against Unistat state power, sit-ins and consciousness raisers. And in Scott's poetry he doesn't hesitate to reveal his differences with his highbrow colleagues on the Left, whether neo-Marxist or non-Marxist Left, or anarchistic Left.

In Minding The Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000, we read:

          In his important book

    A People's History
                  (for the 99 percent
        whose commonality

    the Founding Fathers 
                  tried their best to prevent
          sharers of leftovers

     in a battle for resources
                   made scarce by elite control)     Zinn '80 571
          Zinn writes of the Indian Removal

[Scott cites his sources in his poetry and always includes a bibliography at the end of his books. - O.G.]

Scott says that other prominent American historians skipped over the Indian Removal, and names names, but then, a few lines down:

   but by depicting Jackson
               as slaveholder speculator
        exterminator of Indians

   Zinn lost sight of the Bank War
                in much talk of tariffs
       banking political parties

   political rhetoric                                   Zinn '80 129
                 along with Jefferson's warnings
         about an aristocracy

   founded on banking institutions
                   and monied incorporations   Sellers 106
        and Adams' Every bank of discount

   is downright corruption
                  taxing the public
        for private individuals' gain               Adams '62 9.638

   (which Pound made his slogan            Cantos 71/416, 74/437, etc
                      as the problem of issue           Cantos 87/569
          drew him step by step

   into singing perpetual war)                   Cantos 86/568; cf. Williams 180

-pp. 167-169, and if anyone wants the titles cited, ask in the comments...

Here Scott reveals a sympathy with Ezra Pound over banking, where Zinn and Chomsky won't touch Mad Ez. This has always seemed to me an honorable mode of intellectual conservatism: if someone's political action or stance or even character was seen as mostly distasteful, we know that political and social reality  are far more complex than choosing who is One of Us or...not. So sure: Andrew Jackson is not exactly a hero of progressive 21st century leftish thought, but his stance on banks is noteworthy. Let us give Jackson his due for this. Similarly, as vile and abhorrent I found the George W. Bush administration, there seems something laudable in their effort to combat AIDS in Africa...

"It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." - Einstein

Scott's poetry is deeply cerebral but I think quite beautiful also. He's always grappling with his privilege as an academic/intellectual, his Buddhism, his personal flaws. But he writes evocatively of love and the deep riches of the natural world too.

For me, the most distinctive feature of his poetry is his Stephen Dedalus-like problem of how to escape the nightmare of history. Can we right our wrongs? Can we make amends for untold atrocities and assaults on the human spirit, conducted in our names? Once we are have knowledge of this darkness, what to do with it, morally? These nightmares! And Peter Dale Scott's reading of history is filled with nightmares. Garishly footnoted nightmares of imperial power's abuses of humans. I would think the bright Young Person deeply committed to Chomsky's readings would want to challenge themselves with the works of Peter Dale Scott. Here, check this out; Scott seems to echo Noam's criticisms of the social sciences:

   behind the Soviet philanthropy
                which sought to eradicate faith
         by use of an Inquisition

   and also that of the West
                and its priesthoods of social science
         who after decades of pressing

   unwanted dams and military
                torturers on the Third World
       have helped liberate the Soviet Union

   for a new world order
                of Schumpeterian destructiveness
         whose outcome is not yet

And then later in the long poem, Scott is having a bad day and recalls a cutting remark made by Chomsky that must have felt directed at himself, and Scott's willingness to delve extremely deep into CIA drug running, JFK's assassination, assassinations of Third World figures, mind control operations, etc:

   Once again! Insight
                beckons down the long corridors
        of my insomnia

   as to why I have been depressed
                since flying back from Europe
       the sense of impotence

   not just from losing my glasses
               or even a week ago
         tripping over a sprinkler head

   to fall flat on the pavement
                and fracture my zygomatic arch
        not even Noam's crack

   about those who do microanalysis
                about things that don't matter               Chomsky '94 163
        No! I have learned from my inability

   last night to explain to Fred                               Frederick Crews
                what the unstoppable flow of drugs
        across the Mexican border

   has to do with the Kennedy assassination
               a world where what matters
         are not just the structural patterns

   but the patterns in chaos
                such as the DFS lies                               Direcion Federal de Seguridad, Mexican Secret Police
       about Oswald and Silvia Duran                      P.D. Scott '95 118-27
[Note: Frederick Crews was a Berkeley professor and friend of Scott's. Crews is mostly known for his ongoing attempts to dismantle Sigmund Freud.]

Peter Dale Scott is one of my favorite living poets. His non-fiction books are harrowing, dossier-like researches into what almost all Unistatian citizens would rather not know, or because of existing neural circuitry, are probably incapable of knowing, much less understanding. And yet he's always somehow poetic; it's this odd courageousness that I find so compelling in his writings.

The book from which I've quoted in this blog entry was the third of his Seculum trilogy of poetry. The first two volumes were Coming To Jakarta: A Poem About Terror, followed by Listening To The Candle: A Poem on Impulse. I read the trilogy and a few other of his books within a two month period a couple of years ago, and it proved a major hack into the deeps of my consciousness.

Here's a less-than 3 minute talk by Scott about JFK, and he disagrees with Chomsky about the assassination:


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Great post. So much to read. I liked the video clip, and I like that he says he doesn't know who killed JFK.

Anonymous said...

PDS is brilliant.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Patter Day Saints?

michael said...

The thing about PDS: he's probably still trying to figure out who killed JFK.

Among very many other areas of interest.

If Anonymous has any other poets who SEEM similar in mind, I'd like to hear it.

@Royal Academy: If/when you get to PDS, I'd be very interested to hear/read what you think.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

My local libraries have _9/11 and American Empire_, _Cocaine Politics_, _Drugs, Oil, and War_, Obstruction of Justice_, _"Dark Star" and Other Cosmic Jams_, _The War Conspiracy_, and _Deep Politics and the Death of JFK_. Which one do you recommend I start with?

michael said...

@Mr. 1132: I wd think you'd be innarested in the Seculum trilogy of poetry books (in the 811 section of the library), but if you want to get into the non-fic Deep Politics (in the 362 or 973s), check out The War Conspiracy first: it's older and he's built from there. That one gives you a good grounding re: his thinking style, his documentation, his voice. After that, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK. Cocaine Politics was written with Jonathan Marshall. IIRC. There were about five books roughly on that same subject that came out within a two-year period, all spooky, all seemingly indebted to McCoy's Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, and I think I dialectally perused four or five of those at one time, all of them stacked next to my reading chair, and I can't say what was distinctive about PDS/Marshall there, as they're all intertwingled in my mind.

After that, if you're still into it, fire away, Gridley. I did what I call a "deep skim" with The Road to 9/11 and found a predictably thick, seasoned, narrative about deep political reality. Honestly? It was at a moment in my life where I knew that if I sat down and read it cover-to-cover I might get all weirded-out, and I didn't want to do that to myself then, in one of my more fragile mindstates.

PDS gives ginormous help in triangulating, quadrangulating, quint- along these lines, and your readings of RAW, Fuller, Pound, Chomsky, Oglesby, et.al

People often compare me to General Douglas MacArthur, so I'll just go ahead and say it regarding PDS's 9-11 books: I shall return.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Alas, my libraries don't have the Seculum trilogy. Perhaps I will buy the first volume.

michael said...

Does your library have LINK +? If they do, no problem: no cost, just have the books sent over to your closest branch, and set up for an email confirmation for when they've arrived.

If you don't have LINK+, I've seen Coming To Jakarta: A Poem on Terror, the first in the trilogy, for .75 cents +$3.49 S/H via places like half.com

Poets get almost ZERO respect in Unistat. Can you imagine a society so healthy that weighty poetry books regularly filled 6 or 7 of the NYT top 10 best seller list?


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I don't like to use interlibrary loan except for books I can't buy cheaply. Books I order through interlibrary loan often seem to arrive when I don't have enough time to read them.

Some societies value poetry but have other problems. Ireland puts a high value on poetry, but has challenges with alcohol and the puritanical aspects of its Catholic heritage, as well as the Catholic/Protestant conflicts.

michael said...

Good point about Ireland.

LINK + is not interlibrary loan, per se. Although you are getting books from another library system, you don't have to fill out a form or pay extra. The books shd arrive within 3 or 4 days, and you can renew them once, so you should be able to keep them for up to 5 weeks.

This is all predicated on whether your local system has bought into the LINK+ system. Mine has, and I have access to something like 60 other libraries for "free" (local taxes pad for it).

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I will have to check it out. My first thought - perhaps I can get those nine David Thomson books I haven't read. Last time I checked the Corona Library and the Riverside Library charged for interlibrary loan. I hadn't heard of LINK+ before. Thanks for the info.

michael said...


I think I see your public library, but I'm not sure exactly which one you use.

I know well your David Thomson love. Have you looked at Castaways of the Image Planet by Geoffrey O'Brien?

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I followed the link at http://www.knowledgecenter.unr.edu/services/linkplusfaq.html , but it says I have to attend UNR to use it for free.

I haven't read G. O'Brien.

michael said...

Isn't Riverside Public Library near? I don't know your area very well, except it's spread out, not condensed. If you have to drive 15 miles to get a book maybe it's better shelling for interlibrary loans.

There are some fairly low prices on used Thomson books at half.com. Lately, whenever I buy a book frpm that site I usually pay twice for shipping what the book costs...and S/H is 3.49 bookrate last I looked.

michael said...

@person who reached my blog by typing into Google, "Peter Dale Scott a Marxist?"

I have seen ZERO evidence he's a Marxist. Rather, PDS would be considered part of the non-Marxist left-ish Unistat professors. But he seems to have some classically conservative views, too. By which I mean Edmund Burke-conservative.

But mostly he's in opposition to the military-industrial complex, the one Ike warned us about.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I just finished Coming to Jakarta, which I enjoyed. I can see where you relate Scott's vision to that of Stephen Dedalus. I also think of Pound's "The enemy is ignorance: our own." Reading this book made me feel very ignorant.

I don't think I've really understood the music of Scott's verse. The section's whose sound I liked best evoked the music of Pound's poetry when Scott discussed Ez.

Part of me wants to read more of Scott's poetry and prose, but at my back I hear Joyce's chariot, full of beer.

michael said...

I'm glad you got something out of PDS, but who can blame you if you hear the call of beerian Joyce?

PDS, as Buddhistic as he is, still feels like an academic poet, and I don't mean that disparagingly. He often talks about academic life, and I find that interesting. But he never reaches the wildness of Ez or JJ. Not for me he doesn't.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I would like to understand more of PDS's ideas about Watergate.

For now, I took Ulysses off the shelf this morning, and I just read a few lines of Dante and Finnegans Wake. My Dante group will finish the Paradiso around the end of January. The Catholic Church calls 2012 the Year of Grace. I don't think they mean Grace O'Malley, but I would like to finish my Wilson/Joyce book next year. Bob told me I should read Ulysses 40 times. I have a long way to go.

michael said...

For PDS's ideas on Watergate and its possible connections to Dallas - ala Oglesby and others - his big non-fiction books seem the place to delve. I can't tell you which book is the best for PDS on Watergate. Anyone here know?

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I put Coming to Jakarta in the poetry section of one of the bookshelves of my classroom, between Poems from the Sanskrit and Anne Sexton.

I keep changing my mind about what to read. I think I will try to finish Proust by the end of next May. We will see.