Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Prison Writings of Gramsci on Steam and Dust

Imperial Observation File:
Name:  [redacted]
AKA:  The Ecclesiast
March 1903

[The Ecclesiast] recently sent a pneumatic communication to [The Alpinist] and [The Magus].  Our agent with the Magus recently found that [The Ecclesiast] sent a subversive hymn from the Danish Lutheran Communist communities.  Archival thought that we had buried all disc-copies of this hymn when we had captured and imprisoned the Italian Communist writer Gramsci, whose notes on this hymn, written and confiscated from him while he was imprisoned in Brook-line, New Amsterdam in America, show the danger of this line of speculation.  All care must be taken to suppress this progressive ode.

Poetry and Hymn Division, Imperial Observation Corps
London, England

This hymn of unknown provenance in the Danish LutheranCommunist Youth Groups gives me comfort despite its regressive mythology and utopic pathology.  I can pen it from memory even after all my travails in the Americas.  I had hoped to make contact with the Alpinist in the heights of Colo-rado but he had already moved back to New York and New Amsterdam.

1. How blest are that people who have an ear for the sounds
Which comes from above,
Who already here echo the eternal song,
So all God's angels are astonished to hear
How heavenly the earthly bells sound
When the Spirit with the tongues of the heart of dust
Sings out the depths of its longing.

The first verse directs its signers to ascend to look above to interpret below.  While I would prefer, as Marx and Grundtvig did, not to juxtapose something that is above to the below but to seek the eternal song that echoes out of each and every thing, the last phrase that brings Geist back to dust and inscribes it in the depths of longing gives the proper orientation.  If James Watt’s reflections on the atom would only have been made known to Marx, he would not have ultimately rejected his partnership with Grundtvig.  Spirit is dust.  That the poet sees the Spirit as more seems speculative to me.

2. How blest is the dust, which in the creator's hand
Came so close to God,
Enlivened by him with a royal spirit
To heroic deeds,
Gifted in grace, with hand and mouth
To gain and to gladness at all times
To become like his God, at the best
And speak with him as with a neighbour.

The second verse points continues this ascending motif, which is regressive and suggests the hegemony of above-and-below, a hegemony that is always on my mind.  The opening occurs in the last phrase which seems to echo the long departed but mad Martin Luther Feuerbach, who took God to be inverted humanity.  Becoming like God is hopeful but not sufficient --- to become like God and to see God nowhere but in the neighbor, that is best.  I know no other way of breaking the hegemony of above-and-below and replacing it with the hegemony of freedom and love.  No choice but forward, as Nansen would say.  No more Empire, only friends.