The Market Wonders
In The Market Wonders, the Market itself becomes a thinking person: lover, parent, poet, philosopher. The first section reads as if the Dow Jones and the Dao De Jing had been playfully conflated; like the latter work, this is a “Book of Changes” and a work of philosophy. The speaker of these poems focuses tightly on the developing consciousness of her infant daughter, and then broadly on world events, in what they call “total awareness, incessant recording.” While the timeline of the book’s contents almost numbly identifies days by the closing numbers of that day’s Dow, the mathematics at play are much wider than market measurements. They include theoretical physics—with the poet insisting the market penetrates all events—and brain physiology, as well as the purpose of poetry itself. Briante pushes the poetic domain beyond the lyric, beyond traditional subjects like nature (although the poet’s consciousness omits nothing: cardinals in a tree, for instance), and into enumeration as meditation, money movement as an overarching shared consciousness. Briante turns the expectations of poetry upside down when she explains “I wish more poets would write about money,” and a fairytale narrated in footnotes suddenly has exact measurement thrust into it. By the end of the book, we see how financial theories, rightly or wrongly applied can distort the ordinary acts of living, impoverish entire communities. There is nothing, however, impoverished about The Market Wonders, a work rich with marvels drawn from our ordinary world.
“Across the bottom of our imported flat-screen televisions race the names of the winners and the losers: NFL and NBA scores, Dow Jones Industrial Averages, news on the most recent school shooting or celebrity overdose. Amidst this incessant flagellation of news that is incapable of staying news, Susan Briante has imagined a remarkable poetics for our post-Occupy lives. Intimate yet public, The Market Wonders creates nothing short of a new linguistic bridge between revelation and awe.” —Mark Nowak
“Poetry’s conventions tend to assume that poetry does not need to bother itself with the economic machinations of something like the Dow. These conventions are wrong and Susan Briante’s The Market Wonders proves it. This is poetry that is only the richer for how it weaves the economics that shape our daily lives into it. This is one of the most beautiful and moving books I have read in recent years.” —Juliana Spahr
“An intimate almanac of family life, Susan Briante’s newest book also describes the collisions between an I and late capitalism. In this way, the market becomes a throat, a tree, a poet—it becomes the inorganic force Briante brushes and glances in her poems: ‘Always a story, no matter how avant-garde you live,’ a poet tells the speaker in a dream. The Market Wonders is a devastating meditation on value and love and economy, a book that asks its readers to pay careful heed of the markets’ inescapable trespass into our interior lives. This book is not just stunning, it’s also important, a clarion call.” —Carmen Giménez Smith
from Mother Is Marxist
The market scans my child, calculates pecuniary value.
Parents register and respond often seeking out the places (the “good” neighbor-
hood or private school) where a child’s value is high enough in relation to the
needs of others to make them relatively safe
or a parent may reaffirm existing market valuations.
And if the child is female or presents as female
And if the child is queer or presents as queer
And if the child is poor or presents as poor
And if the child is of color or ethnic or presents as of color or ethnic
a little spark of mica in a field of sand.
Pregnant women and new mothers have a heightened sense of smell and easily
disrupted pattern of sleep.
One night after a particularly loud series of gunshots heard from the bedroom
in our two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighbor-
hood in Dallas, Farid called the police. I don’t remember what he said, what kind
of injury we could have reported, what response we expected.
When we bought the house, we joined the neighborhood association. We also
had the option of paying an additional $180 for “an off-duty police officer to
patrol our neighborhood each week” as well as “answer our emails” and provide
“special patrols” while we were away.
Per day, per pupil, per square foot
many parents may want to register and respond to the values the market places
on their child, but a parent’s own depressed value may leave her with scant time
to challenge market valuations of her children, child, self.
“Girls are easier than boys,” my mother told me.
I feel my depressed value as a woman
as well as my surplus value as a white ethnic.
The consultant in the TED talk teaches me to stand bigger.
Copyright © 2016 by Susan Briante
“Part of this book’s dazzling accomplishment is in Briante’s rendering of the market as both figure and ground, and as simultaneous subject, object, and formal structure. The market is in the ticker tape running along the bottom of the page, anchoring and destabilizing, linking poem to poem, intimate domestic scene to public life, the image of a black walnut tree to the Dow industrial average. ‘The Market’ is a white kid just out of college traveling in Mexico that the speaker sleeps with, it ‘picks up your daughter from school in its teeth,’ and ‘he is an it is a we.’ The market intrudes upon and is inseparable from feeling, thought, practice—it wonders about worth, and, this book argues, is worth wondering about. In writing about economics, because there is no part of our lives that capital does not touch, Briante is also able to write about everything.‘Can I feel these numbers in my hands / like Whitman at the rail of a ferry?’ Briante wonders. I think I can.” —Ari Banias in On the Seawall
I graduated from college with a degree in journalism in 1990, the year of the 20th century’s last recession, which lasted from July 1990 until March 1991.
About a year after graduation, I left a job in journalism (paying $13,000 a year) to teach English in Costa Rica. I moved to Mexico City to work as a translator. The US and Mexican governments ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement. The peso crashed. I learned first hand the promiscuous nature of value. The contours of my own privilege and disadvantage became highlighted for me in the tightening fabric of complicity and interdependence woven by globalization.
In 1992, protestors took to Mexico City streets on the anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas with chants of “500 años de qué? (500 years of what?).” The Real World made its debut on MTV. Globalization forged and forced our connections, while the birth of reality TV tipped the pop-cultural balance a little further toward the expectation that individual stories matter. But individual stories can mask our place in a web of collusion and kinship.
In some ways this is the most autobiographical book I have written. In some ways this is the most procedurally driven book I have written.
I started writing The Market Wonders at the dawn of the second great economic crisis of the 21st century, which the National Bureau of Economic Research believes began in December 2007 and ended in December 2009, although, for many of us, the effects of such the downturn continue to felt.
Then came the Arab Spring, then came Citizens United, then the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, then Occupy, then Ferguson, then Black Lives Matter.
As the stock market rose and fell, as stimulus packages were mounted and defeated, I bought a house, learned about the death of a friend in Japan, had a miscarriage, had a child, got married, left Texas --- these poems became a way to keep my own accounting as well as to measure this force, this fate, this market that touched every aspect of my life.
The autobiographical here is not meant to be representative of some kind of “middle class,” median, or universal experience. The free-market, networked society is a groundless world of changing values. The market scans us, makes its calculations.
I await my net-worth, those liquid assets that I can/cannot pass on to my daughter like genes, a code that flickers with seasons, like a software program for survival, soft impression on an archive of prairie grass.
On May 29, 1969 a naked woman carrying a large white cross walked through the Copenhagen Stock Exchange.
In a black and white film (recorded by her collaborator Bjørn Nørgaard), we can watch the Danish performance artist Lene Adler Petersen step tentatively through heavy wooden doors. Then with increasing confidence like a priest entering high mass, she brandishes the cross (an admonition, a warning) as if she were exorcising demons.
A naked women’s body creates a disruption.
The film (a text in process like a body) records muted shouts and turned heads, as white men with hands in their suit pockets divert their attention towards the white woman with the cross. Some follow her. Some smile at the sight of a beautiful young woman’s body—often, inevitably received as for you, for you, for you.
A body can be read by society in ways that do not correspond with one’s own experience of their body.
No one approaches her.
In the performance piece, “The Expulsion from the Temple/Female Christ,” the dangerous volatility of a women’s body with its potential for menstruation, reproduction, lactation, with its potential to be and serve more than one, creates a stark contrast with the gray suits and wide shoulders of an economic system operating without empathy or compassion.
In a Los Angeles backyard over tequila next to an unlit fire pit, the poet says: the alternative is always there.
In the early stages of the financial crisis, I began stitching together poems from the events of my daily life as well as the daily closing numbers for Dow Jones Industrial Average. Procedural and lyric. Networked and domestic. I recorded hailstorms and a friend’s death, a miscarriage and birth, my anemia and Buddhism, tents in public parks and my daughter’s first steps. The market crashed and rallied, unemployment rose to 7.2 percent. My body replicated market forces. In breastfeeding demand eventually regulates supply, my doula told me, as I stuffed another bag of frozen peas into my shirt.
The market made little sense, made of algorithms, manipulations. I made tinctures of fennel and chamomile, ran the closing number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average through search engines, worry rung through my hands like a rag.
In their writing on Marxism and the public sphere, critics Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge argue that a market economy depends upon the denial of “lived experience.”
When I saw the calculations written in pencil on the inside of the cigar box in which Farid’s mother kept her porcelain nativity set from Peru, I could have cried.
Sometimes a ledger is a love note, a record of what was attempted, a protest against dominant narratives.
As the market rallied and fell, as stimulus packages were mounted, my text and my body were in process. All mothers carry a little bit of their child’s DNA in their brains, microchimerism, and challenge our notion of the individual subject.
The maternal became a site from which to theorize another kind of sociality, a way to challenge an essentially nationalistic myth of prosperity grounded in individual achievement and profit.
“You can’t count how much we owe one another,” write Stefano Harvey and Fred Moten. “It’s not countable. It doesn’t even work that way. Matter of fact, it’s so radical that it probably destabilizes the very social form or idea of ‘one another.’ But, that’s what Édouard Glissant is leading us towards when he talks about what it is ‘to consent not to be a single being.’ And if you think about it, it is a sort of filial and essentially a maternal relation.”
I do not mean to favor a reproductive or embodied position that for some is privilege, and others a source of oppression. However, like a naked woman walking through a stock exchange, the “sociality” of the maternal might be placed in disruptive opposition to capitalism with its dependence on personal profit and greed, with its Darwinism, with its insistence on the countable.
On March 17, 2010, Eryka Badu parks a 1965 Lincoln Continental near Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, steps out in trench coat and sunglasses, the purple hood of a sweatshirt pulled tight around her face. A 1963 radiobroadcast describing Kennedy's motorcade turning onto Elm Street (seconds before his assassination) provides the opening soundtrack to the video.
Then Badu’s song “Window Seat” can be heard as she steps out of the car, puts coins in a parking meter, begins walking. She drops the black trench coat on the sidewalk behind her, tosses her flip flops. She starts to run, stops, looks around, worry scrawled across her forehead. She peels off layer after layer of clothing: sweater, sweat pants, bra, underwear. She slows. The video blurs her nakedness. She walks into the street, flinches —as if she’s been shot—and falls down to the asphalt.
In an interview Badu explains: “I don’t love my body . . . I am mother of 3, I am 40 years old.”
Our skin is our first ledger.
Erykah Badu runs through a crowd, marking the possible violence that might be done to her, holds no icon, hair pulled back. She lays her maternal body, over a history of black bodies, of racially motivated assassinations, of mothers as protesters.
And under a sky of numbers, the ordinary waits for something to slip beyond our expectation, a (holy) possibility, the ordinary offers its alternative, a porcelain figure of an infant, inside a cigar box upon which penciled calculations can be read.
“The Expulsion from the Temple/Female Christ”: http://www.smk.dk/en/visit-the-museum/exhibitions/whats-happening/the-stock-exchange-happening/
“Window Seat”: http://www.vevo.com/watch/erykah-badu/window-seat/USUV71000170