October 28th, 2011 / 11:25 am
Power Quote


i remember my father crying at the dinner table during thanksgiving in the year 2006. he was telling me the world was fucked, telling me i had to sell my soul to make money. it was the only way, he said.
we were sitting together at the end of the large table, both with large glasses of scotch whisky. i’m not making this up. the glasses are in my parent’s house, in a display case above the painted italian dishes. they have sailboats on them.i don’t know exactly what he was feeling. i’m not sure why he told me what i thought i already knew. he was tired maybe. i do know his work had taken a lot from his body. his company had given him life and taken life away. maybe that’s why he was feeling that day.

now i’m in manhattan. 2300 miles away from that table. im working carefully and well, at job where i can turn poetry against people.

why did i come here? only because my father gave me no other option?

no. it’s more political than that.

i’m open to the option of selling my soul, but i want real human things in return. i want money i can spend on my life, i want time i can use for sex and food and natural pursuits. in a sense – i want to sell my soul to a devil, not a corporation. i want to go into a furnace, not a void.

i want to meet the dark mistress of old-world evil. i want to go into my senses and fail to make moral judgements. i want things easy and wide and narcotic. where is there better place to look for the devil than new york city?

i’m trying to occupy the soul of the free market. i’m trying to go inside the bad things america has done to itself, to see inside and make an honest guess about what can be done.


“It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.”

– Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, chapter 1 section 4

the commodity fetish is all around us and constantly draining the meaning from our lives, pushing away from us and into the products we become, through work.

advertising is about shape and color and movement; it is about animation. to be sold, products must dance on their own like people, like the table in marx’s example.

when i work i am moving my soul from my body into the products i help sell. this is the evil poetry. this is the doom literature of capitalism.

at work, i try to make things sing. i make bad products shine and glow. i add sex to things that are sexless. i give a voice to packaging and hollow houses of capital function. the job of a copywriter is to make everything feel slick and consequential, to make god talk through companies, to leverage mythology.

this is how fortunes are made from the consumption of the average american. this is how a modern values system is recycled, publicly, through media and purchase. a product is sold when it seems to achieve a value higher than is inherent it its physical properties. a product is sold when we give it a good story, when we give it a soul. when i write a product a soul. when i give a product my soul, through writing.


if we continue to legally believe that a corporation is a person, we may get closer to a reality where the an object can contain as much meaning as a human life – where a sum of money can contain all the beauty and grace of a woman or man.

we need to consider other options. we need to consider opportunities to value life relative to life. is there an alternative to digital fetish capitalism? if there are no other options, maybe we need to stop trying to be human. maybe we need to give up, to sell out completely, to fully invest in the emptying spiritual markets of this latest civilization.

desk 6003G
6th foor
200 5th avenue
new york city

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  1. c2k

      Single malt, I presume.

      Which brand (it’s important)?

  2. Erik Stinson

      ed, a wealthy scottish engineer friend who is into single malts and small-barrel blends probably gave it to us. can’t remember the label / not sure. 

  3. deadgod

      i want things easy and wide and narcotic.

      Maybe you’re looking for libertarian ‘theory’.  Solid things will melt into air . . .

  4. !_!

      we have never been human

  5. Erik Stinson

      this is a good concept for a novella, i feel

  6. zz

      I like this Erik, Thanks, Could you say a little more about ‘other options’?

  7. Josie

      I am a bit worried that selling out and somehow affirming a sort of inhuman love and future would only be an option if there was still a kind of unlimited future in place that capital can just go on devouring. Like the idea that we we would need several planets or something to go on consuming American-style as we are. I’d love to see an article by you on ‘climate change’.

  8. wackomet

      blood money spendthrifts

  9. Stepan

      Cant remember THE BRAND? The age? Fail! Back to Old-World Evil 101.

  10. Jane Cope

      Who is the “we” you are addressing here? The “we” for whom “selling out” is and has been an option? Who actually has the luxury to “give up”? 

  11. Kent Johnson

      In other protest-related news (the laugh and weep variety), I thought I’d share the title of this post from yesterday at the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog.”Oakland writers denounce actions toward recent protestors”The Chicago Reader, the city’s mass, venerable weekly, carried a big feature article last week on the Croatoan Poetic Cell protests at the Poetry Foundation headquarters and the bizarre cop-calling/prosecuting reactions of the PF Board (you can read this at the CR site). The online version has a different title than the print one. The print headline reads (and you have to understand that about two million people in Chicago read this): “Don’t Fuck with the Poetry Foundation.”

  12. Really, Kent?

      So I get it: You’re going to hijack every tangentially related thread on the Internet in outrage because your son and his girlfriend behaved like idiots?

      It’s not a revolution when all you do is interrupt somebody’s poetry reading and roll on the floor like animals. It’s just sad.

  13. M. Kitchell

      a corporation is not an object, it is an idea.  you’re edging towards collapse without addressing the light at the end of the tunnel. an accelerationist bent is only worth pushing if you’re acknowledging it’s the quickest way to what comes after.

  14. Shelley

      I agree with Jane. The idea of “giving up” reminds me of a phrase I heard years ago from Chaplain William Sloane Coffin. He called the anomie of some well-to-do voters “perfumed apathy.”

      We can drink Coke and still try to pass an amendment that might gut Citizens United.

      Glad there’s no perfumed apathy here. ( I realize that sounds like a set-up for a joke.)

  15. Steppin

      really, kent, really. really.

  16. M. Kitchell


  17. Erik Stinson

      what is the light at the end of the tunnel? 

  18. M. Kitchell

      a post-capitalist utopia

  19. Guestagain

      We no longer have free market capitalism in this country, we have a plutocracy. The political system has been purchased by the banking/finance/corporate sector to run unfettered monopoly. This has happened before and has been fixed before with a handful of reforms. The occupy movement needs to focus on dry, boring, workable solutions such as reinstating regulations and changing how campaigns are financed, the monopolists do not care about anybody’s anger and will simply wait it out.

  20. Guilie Castillo

      Powerful, Erik.  And very very apropos for me.  A month ago I quit my corporate job in the financial industry, took the plunge you describe so well: “i’m open to the option of selling my soul, but i want real human things in return. i want money i can spend on my life, i want time i can use for sex and food and natural pursuits. in a sense – i want to sell my soul to a devil, not a corporation. i want to go into a furnace, not a void.”  

      Everyone around me thinks I’m mad–lost it, off her rocker.  But this month has given me hope that there’s more of us out there, more of us that want “opportunities to value life relative to life.”  We got ourselves into this mess of plutocracy and financial dictatorship, we created this world where nothing rules but the dollar (or Euro) sign.  But if we did this, we can also undo it.  Optimist?  Unrealistic?  Maybe.  But I like hope.  Life is about hope.

  21. Kent Johnson

      No one said it was a “revolution.” Not sure what you could mean. So far as I can tell, though, from the history books, anyway, a-g writers and artists have been “interrupting” high cultural doings for a good long time. Or “behaving like idiots,” and scandalizing the Institutions (Dada, Futurism, Situationism, CADA, etc, etc). And in the first CPC action, the hoity-toity PF Wine and Cheese gala, the activists actually participated in one of the readings. According to a few of the people in attendance, including one of the actual invited readers, the activists didn’t so much “interrupt” the reading, as turn a staid, comfy event into something rather more exciting, even memorable. Your own excited reaction here, eponymous one, is perhaps index of that… In the second CPC action, when the cops were once again called by the Poetry Foundation (the Raul Zurita reading), there was no interruption whatsoever–not during the reading and not during the question and answer period. The protest was perfectly appropriate, banners where hung and leaflets passed out–in HONOR of Zurita and the CADA.

  22. Lilzed

      “in a sense – i want to sell my soul to a devil, not a corporation. i want to go into a furnace, not a void.” 

      this is great

  23. Deez

      Is anyone NOT sick of Kent Johnson’s endless attempts to make every single conversation about poetry on the internet a conversation about himself (or his son)? Show of hands?