The question I face is “what is radical?” In the February issues of The Believer (issue 60) there is an interview between Christian Hawkey, poet, and David Levine, artist/director, (43-49, 77), which yielded this gem(?):
One thought that kept me going when I first started writing was the notion that to be a so-called ‘failed’ artist was the most radical thing I could possibly do. Even if the poems and manuscripts get rejected by magazines and publishers, you at least know that your work is not in danger of being instrumentalized by institutional gatekeepers. (italics mine, Christopher Hawkey speaking, p. 45)
Seriously? Congratulations, your work is instead of being instrumentalized by the system being tossed into the trash. Is the trashheap not an instrumentalization of the system, just a different mechanism? Radical for Hawkey seems merely to be an escape from institutional gatekeepers. What about the institutions and not just the gatekeepers? He would answer that, of course, that is part of the problem to be escaped. A silly hair-splitting question on my part except that it demonstrates my first argument: Hawkey is myopic. He isolates only a small facet of the system as that which is to be resisted. His myopia causes him to underestimate the foe. It also allows him to commit the greatest sin of the radical: buy into the system in other ways all the while believing in her own radical-ness. If a writer is failed then is she not forced to sell her labor somewhere else. At least as a writer (read: cultural manager) she has the ability to make some reforms or speak to others, whereas as a waiter that affective-ness is probably significantly mitigated.
Is radicalness also just merely escaping? What about trying to change things for better? Of course this opens up room for cooptation, but why is reform necessarily bad? Especially in a world where it now appears the system will never collapse under its own weight (the reform-stymies-true-change argument.)