Altermodernities: A Traveller's Notes
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Now also in beautifully presented paperback versions.
A note on the Trilogy's Poetic Form
What could possibly possess a social scientist to create a poetic trilogy on the crises faced by humanity and the natural environment? Why not stick to their tried methods of analysis, which are suitable for particular audiences, educated to (more or less) understand jargon? My objectives were not to write another social scientific book, or to ‘educate’ students into difficult concepts. I wanted to provide an alternative way to reflect on society, culture and the environment by using a more blended vocabulary, which is understood differently by different audiences. The idea of creating ‘accessible’ poetry borders on the absurd, when it refers to making meaning clear: rhymes are not theorems. Poems are a gateway to unleashing one’s imagination from the constraints of everyday rules. This is the reason the trilogy’s subtitle refers to a traveller’s notes. It is not common among social scientists to facilitate such cognitive and emotional journeys that favour different interpretations. But poetry is not policymaking, nor should it be treated as such.
Poetry is not social science, nor does it achieve the same objectives as a ‘module’ in a particular discipline. For some it is past time, whereas for others it is a vocation. Poets may also object to using the knowledge one attains from engaging with social science to construct worlds of imagination. However, finding my language or style puzzling is not dissimilar to the common poetic habit of deliberately creating an atmosphere of uncertainty with regards to textual meaning, so that it ‘opens up’ to different readers in different ways. The only valid criticism a poet can proffer to such a project may focus on aesthetics: they do not like how the poems are written. But even this can open a can of worms: whose aesthetic sensibilities do we use to judge when a poem is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? I would therefore orientate this objection to questions of communication: is a poem effective – i.e. does it ‘speak’ to its readers? Do they ‘fall in love’ with the meanings they, as readers, produce while reading it?
So, to be clear: this trilogy is written by a sociologist (or, rather, a writer with a blended social science/humanities trajectory). But it is not written for those who want to solve the big puzzles of racism, sexism, disablism, climate change, alienation and so forth through it (I would be delighted to hear this was achieved because of them, but any activist poet claiming they engage this kind of activity they should be treated with great suspicion). So, I will go as far as claiming that the trilogy gives voice to perspectives on such social and cultural issues. Which is why I framed its thesis on the idea of ‘snapshots’: images of experience and action that humanity produces and stores in its ever-growing repository of existence in contexts of late modernity. I give you my perspective – or, rather, I reconstruct a plethora of perspectives - but distance my articulation of them from routinised forms of speech, while drawing on the great philosophical traditions of the social sciences. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is worth trying it.