Il Gruppo Speaks!

Patrick Dunagan’s ”Is This Olson” (CL Blog, Sept. 12, 2013 ) keenly  addresses  the recent attempt by members of Il Gruppo to respond to Heriberto Yépez’s misguided book on Charles Olson, The Empire of Neomemory.  As members of Il Gruppo, we were interested to see that the City Lights blog carried Dunagan’s piece, but wanted to provide a little further context.

Members of Il Gruppo  (for now, Amiri Baraka, Diane di Prima, Jack Hirschman, Ammiel Alcalay,  Kent Johnson, Benjamin Hollander, Ricardo Cázares, and Carlos b. Carlos Suarès) count among their allies, so far, poets and scholars and translators from the U.S. Mexico, Japan, and the UK. We first surfaced with an article on Yépez’s book.  As Patrick Dunagan accurately wrote, “around the time Yépez’s book appeared, Jacket2 ran a brief commentary featuring the book which included excerpts, primarily on Olson and Empire. {Then] Jacket2 ran a follow-up commentary, consisting of a response to Yépez’s book from a group [I and a few others] brought together” to address patterns of critiques against Olson.  Yépez’s distorted, imagined claims about Olson only received a part of our response, as we wrote:

“As with any response to a revisionist historian’s subject, it is not so much the subject — in this case, Olson — which needs to be defended: his poetry and the facts of his life will do just fine in speaking for themselves. This is why it is difficult for Il Gruppo to buy into defending Olson as if we were presenting just another perspective in order to have a fair and balanced counter to Yépez’s so-called history. This move would mock the facts of Olson’s life. Are astronomers in the name of ‘fairness and balance’ asked to present ‘the other side’ to those who believe the moon is made of green cheese?

Rather, Il Gruppo intends to directly address Yépez’s claims, most importantly why they are being made, why and by whom they are seriously being entertained, their purported basis, and how they fall into a pattern of attacks on Olson. The space and form where such issues will be forced into the open is still under discussion.”

It was then Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog kindly linked to our Jacket2 piece. They wrote that they were awaiting more information on Il Gruppo. So here is more information, a statement from Il Gruppo, to provide more context and to continue, as Dunagan writes, “the debate [which] is just beginning.”

We appreciate Harriet’s interest for “more information” about Il Gruppo, and will be glad to provide it in the near future. For now, and just to clarify: we  are not, as Harriet writes “really wrestling” with [Heriberto] Yépez’s work. There are much  larger stakes here.

Here is one brief analogy to highlight the stakes, which have more to do with how history is recorded and received than with Yépez’s so-called theories.

If someone came along and wrote a book called The Geographies of Undoing, for example, which stated: “I am not interested in Ammiel Alcalay but I am declaring that he is a Zionist, that, in fact, he is the prime example of a duplicitous, chameleon-like figure who, on the one hand, purports to examine cultural politics through geography while, on the other, dominates and collapses that geography into terms that serve his Zionist purposes: to turn time into space. While most of his readers may be unaware of this, his Zionism can only be discerned by a closer examination of his relationship to his father who, in fact, belonged to a Zionist youth group. Thus, we have the classic case of the child unable to slay the father: the return, as it were, of the repressed. Hence, Zionism.”

Were someone to write such a book or make such a statement, we would hope that a response might be forthcoming, a response from people who actually know Alcalay’s work and his long-standing political and cultural allegiances with Palestinian groups and issues. We would hope that a response would be forthcoming  from students, former students, writers, peers, friends, family or, in fact, any parties with more than a passing interest in verifying the historical record. We would also hope that a response pointing out the simplistic, pseudo-psychological and quasi-theoretical tone, totally devoid of any instances pointing to actual political events or positions, might be forthcoming. We realize this may be a lot, even too much, to ask. But at least one can strive–and in this case Il Gruppo is striving– towards a more collective intelligence that serves to expose baseless assertions, distortions, blather, and outright lies before they gain momentum.
As is known, Il Gruppo is looking for the space and form where such issues as we are raising will be forced into the open, perhaps in the shape of a small book, if anyone wants to contact us about publishing one.

Benjamin Hollander for ll Gruppo

Benjamin’s Hollander’s most recent books are In The House Un-American (Clockroot Books) and Memoir American (Punctum Books). A review of the former can be found in Ana Castillo’s online mag, La Tolteca.  Scroll across to pages 22-23).

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