Part One
in Beyond Ambiguity
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The relationship between issues of ambiguity in creating and reading literary texts, and making use of those texts in environmental and ‘rights’ activism, can seem incongruous, and frequently even adversarial, but in this section I try to reconcile matters of clarity in commitment with evasiveness in textual slippage. The chapter begins with a poem of unambiguous pro-environment activist intent that, nonetheless, carries its own ‘internal’ ambiguities. This section considers the nature and implications of such apparent contradictions. From considerations of ambiguities which refuse ‘definition’ and lead us to ‘push beyond ambiguity’ in an attempt to maintain clarity of purpose and the generative slippages of understanding/misreading, we read text outside the investments of institutions (academic / schooling / government etc.); we encounter the question of how we use these texts for activist purposes. Considering the making of adaptations and versions out of Hölderlin’s poetry, and inflecting through Ivan Illich’s ‘Deschooling Society’, I write, ‘I want textual analysis to lead to an articulation of defiance against forces of exclusion and oppression. The university might well have an official policy of supporting cultural, gender, ethnic, and even political diversity, but it will never support a position that resists the administrative bedrock upon which it is based.’ Concluding the section is ‘The truth should be in blurbs’, in which I argue that documents of support (blurbs, encomiums, reference letters etc.) should operate as an extension of textual activism and be documents of responsibility. I say: ‘All of the documents-of-support I have written over the last twenty-five years for others actually fit into a narrative of justice, environmentalism, and anti-aesthetics even when the work itself might seem far from these concerns.’ In this, one exchanges/interacts with the text – a sharing rather than a comment from an often (mis)perceived position of ‘authority’.

Beyond Ambiguity

Tracing literary sites of activism

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