Yesterday on Ron Silliman's blog he called Gjertrud Schackenberg's aesthetic program "fascist," or at least concurred with Bill Knott's characterization of it as such. On his web log, Knott made this characterization in the course of asserting that the claim "that good poetry must be difficult" is fascist. I find it odd that Silliman should agree with such an assertion, since his poetry and that of most of the poets he admires would certainly be considered "difficult" by most standards, and quite deliberately so: he is after all trying to undermine the capitalist economy of reference as a commodity delivered to the reader as consumer. Silliman seems to be saying, "My difficult poetry is progressive and transgressive; your difficult poetry is reactionary and fascist." That Schnackenberg's poetry isn't particularly "difficult" is, I suppose, beside the point, since actual poems don't seem to be up for discussion.
Knott at least is consistent, since he says that "in theory" he supports "accessible" poets like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, and Ted Kooser. Silliman, however, completely misses, or deliberately ignores, that Knott considers "avant-garde" poets to be "fascist" as well: "What's worse is when fascist poets write verse which is difficult, accessible only to the educated few--and then issue loud manifestos proclaiming the opposite, boasting that their autotelic/ostranenic pomemics will overthrow the hegemony of bourgeois discourse and rouse up revolution (langpo will lead up to utopesville [sic])..." Knott goes on later in the post to explicitly equate his "fascist/populist" dichotomy (is that the only possible choice?) with Charles Bernstein's "anti-absorptive/absorptive" binary. Silliman is very selective in his reading; he chooses simply not to notice that he's being condemned as "fascist" as much as Gjertrud Schnackenberg is.
There may be a place for the phrase "fascist aesthetics," if one is referring to the aesthetics associated with fascism as a political movement. But fascism is a particular thing, a specific if occasionally amorphous phenomenon, not just a catchall pejorative for anything one doesn't like. Specifically, however much it served the interests of the socio-economic elite (the only meaningful sense of the word “elite”), fascism as a mass movement was in fact populist and anti-elitist—certainly its “culture” was anti-elitist. Fascism built much of its appeal on misdirected resentments of elites and elitism.
This is a further example of the conflation/confusion of politics and culture that so many "cultural activists" engage in as an excuse for retreat from real political action or even real political thought. I would think, or at least hope, that a writer would have more care for the meanings of words, especially given the semantic slipperiness and obfuscation of official and commercial discourse in our culture, the cheapening and emptying out of language. Or is such a belief just obeisance to the tyranny of referentiality?
Silliman is clearly a very intelligent man, but he frequently engages in such pseudo-politicization of poetry. In an earlier post on Mayakovsky (I don't recall the exact date), he wrote that Joseph Brodsky, who "abstained from collaborating with the aesthetic bureaucrats of his time, easily fell into the hands of the same sort of apparatchiks once he was able to come west," which shows no sense of proportion whatsoever and is just offensive to those who actually suffered under Soviet repression. The apparatchiks of the Soviet Ministry of Culture had actual, concrete, and unmediated power. They were able to keep those of whom they disapproved from teaching, translating, or working in their field at all; from being published or performed at all, as happened to Anna Akhmatova for many years; from getting decent housing (as also happened to Akhmatova); and of course in the worst cases those they disapproved of were killed or exiled to Siberia or (during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras) sent to mental asylums. To claim that any American cultural gatekeepers--editors, curators, publishers, etc.—have that kind of power is to lose all sense of proportion, engaging in the worst kind of melodrama to inflate one's own sense of victimhood (of what or whom is Ron Silliman the victim?), cheapening the real suffering of others to aggrandize one's own inflated sense of grievance.
No American poet has ever been sent to a Gulag because of his or her writing. The closest we have come to such a thing was the blacklisting of some writers (mostly in Hollywood) during the red scares of the 1950s, and even in that period explicitly oppositional material was openly published, distributed, and read. The editor of Poetry is no "cultural commissar." He has the power to accept or reject poems for the journal. Neglect or rejection is hardly the same thing as repression or oppression. No one has the duty or obligation to read anyone or anything, and though there are many writers I think should be read more widely (and even more I think should be read less widely), no one has a "right" to be read. Not even me.