45 Theses, Or Disputation on the Common Genealogy of Lyric and Liberalism, Pt. II: 16-30

Wendy Lotterman

45 Theses, Or Disputation on the Common Genealogy of Lyric and Liberalism Pt. II

16. Rights are fundamental units of U.S. jurisprudence and bespeak its rationalist, Enlightenment underpinnings. They function upon the assumption of autonomous individuals who possess rights as a matter of both nature and social contract, and such possession defines the importance and parameters of individual autonomy. Justice, within this economy, is derived by proclaiming a denial of rights that ‘‘ought’’ to be in one’s possession, by claiming standing as the implied, proper subject of the law. Only by claiming position as, or identity with, the legal norm can one achieve this version of justice.16

17. The homology between commodity form and legal form threatens to become identity when we encounter anthropomorphized enterprises, legal persons that are also negotiable property interests.17

18. [I]f you make individual freedom a function of possession, you must accept the full market society. If you insist that a man is human only as sole proprietor of himself, only in so far as he is free from all but market relations, you must convert all moral values into market values. 18

19. I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at all times. 19

20. Lyric poetry speaks for the first person, in the present tense. 20

21. The “I” whose voice is heard in the lyric is an “I” that defines and expresses itself as something opposed to the collective, to objectivity; it is not immediately at one with the nature to which its expression refers. It has lost it, as it were, and attempts to restore it through animation, through immersion in the “I” itself. 21

22. Modern poetics required the reconstruction of the lyric as something it had never been before: not a mode of enunciation but “a real genre” with its own thematic content, the expression of an essentially fictive individual subject. 22

23. The long-standing and intimate affiliation of liberty and bondage made it impossible to envision freedom independent of constraint and personhood and autonomy separate from the sanctity of property and proprietorial notions of the self. 23

24. Autobiography, as the narrative genre of liberal political subjectivity that affirms individual right, cannot resolve the persistent contradictions of colonial slavery. 24

25. The issues of personhood and property that slavery elaborates and the issues emanating from the emerging law on intellectual property are part of a fundamental historical continuity in the life of the United States in which the idea of personhood is increasingly subject to the domain of property. 25

26. What is at stake, then, in both the legal and the lyric texts is the question: What is a person? 26

27. In the course of the nineteenth century, genres of poems became less important than the genres of the persons represented in and by them. As that shift began to happen, American poetry was gradually lyricized [...] poems that depended on miscellaneous forms of address gradually and unevenly merged into one big genre of address associated with the genre of the person rather than with the genre of the poem. All poetry (or almost all poetry) became lyric poetry” 27

28. This commitment to personality, which is a recrudescence of the brutal forces of individuation that refused to black matrical ecology the capacity for those terrible incapacities of personality that black matrical ecology refused, remains the crisis of the negro intellectual. 28

29. I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth [...] the names by which I am called in the public place render an example of signifying property plus. In order for me to speak a truer word concerning myself, I must strip down through layers of attenuated meanings, made an excess in time, over time, assigned by a particular historical order, and there await whatever marvels of my own inventiveness. The personal pronouns are offered in the service of a collective function. 29

30. The minor figure yields to the chorus. 30

16. Kandace Chuh

17. Guyora Binder and Robert Weisberg

18. C.B. MacPherson

19. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

20. Roman Jakobson

21. Theodor Adorno

22. Virginia Jackson and Yopi Prins

23. Saidiya Hartman

24. Lisa Lowe

25. Stephen Best

26. Barbara Johnson

27. Virginia Jackson

28. Fred Moten

29. Hortense Spillers

30. Saidiya Hartman

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