Parallax Views w/ J.G. Michael

Poetry & Terror: Politics and Poetics in Coming to Jakarta w/ Peter Dale Scott & Freeman Ng

October 11, 2019

On this edition of Parallax Views, the American poet Louis Untermeyer once wrote that, "Poetry is the power of defining the indefinable in terms of the unforgettable." In the case Peter Dale Scott, however,  that quote may be worth modifying "the unforgettable" in that quote to "the unspeakable". Scott, a Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, is perhaps best known for his non-fiction prose which conceptualizes a parapolitics or deep politics that occurs alongside and parallel to everyday politics. For many decades now Scott has tirelessly investigated the nature of U.S. power as it relates to drugs, oil, and war. This has led him to write a number of thought-provoking articles and books that cast a critical eye on intelligence agencies, the American defense industry, and Wall Street among others. For some this may sound like an intellectualization of conspiracy theory and, indeed, Scott has played a pivotal role popularizing the now common parlance idea of the "deep state" for American audiences. Scott's approach to these matters, however, prove to be much more hard-nosed than the American right and Donald Trump's crude appropriations of these concepts.

Scott's interest in history and deep politics has not just been limited to his prose writing though. These issues also greatly inform his poetry, particularly Coming to Jakarta: A Poem About Terror which deals with the Indonesian massacres and U.S. involvement in said atrocities. What sets Scott's political poetry apart from his political prose is quite simple: the personal element. In a great number of ways Scott's work, in both poetry and prose, have been committed to what the Catholic theologian and social activist Thomas Merton referred to as "raids on the unspeakable". What does it mean to investigate the unsettling aspects of U.S. policy, particularly in relation to war? What kind of trauma does it incur to bear witness to history in its fullness? And how are we, as citizens living in the U.S., implicated in these matters? Scott's poetry, and especially Coming to Jakarta, may provide a few answers or at least the clues to them.

In this conversation, Professor Scott joins us, alongside Freeman Ng, to discuss their new book Poetry and Terror: Politics and Poetics in Coming to Jakarta. Peter discusses his family life, thoughts on deep politics, experiencing a dark night of the soul, and more in this thoughtful conversation.

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