How can textual cultures escape complicity? This question seems more pressing than ever, as the entanglement of language and politics takes on its 21st century shape. The search for the word that, as Dada poet Hugo Ball put it, is “outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness” is, of course, always one that is context-specific. Yet modernist poetics are uncannily relevant again, and not only in work such as Vanessa Place’s “Trumpist Manifesto,” a retake of the avant-garde that leaves the reader suspended in a subversive complicity with Trump’s agenda.
The texts that I find myself going back to are at the margins of the avant-garde canon despite being written by some of the big names of the time: they are “Denkbilder” (thought-images), so called because they capture the movement of thought as it arises from perceptions, sensations, and the tangible surroundings of urban life.
These short forms, therefore, turn writing into an act of subtle civil disobedience. For Ernst Bloch, writing these fragments is literally an act of punching back. Considering the prevalence of short forms in the digital media, they are precursors on the search for modes of thinking, reading, and writing that can disentangle our speech from the warped public discourse of these times and today.