Naropa University 2019 Summer Writing Program

Against Atrocity

With the title Against Atrocity we mean to signal both a committed antagonism, and a fact of relation: we live, and think, and write in an era of unrelenting ecological and political atrocity; it is the situation, the context, the defining field we’re up against. Examples of its many violences come too readily to mind, to screen, to our communities of care and concern––a vampiric regime of extraction and extinction, of cages, borders, and (surplus) populations all the more on the move, on the lam from lawless law. And as a first principle we’ll try to stand with Amié Césaire, and reject the “sterile attitude of the spectator” as the terrible array of devastations wrought through the history of racialized capitalism hurtles on and on; as artists, thinkers, and language-workers we’ll try and press our imaginations forward and against atrocity.


As a first image for what this counter-urgency might be, we’ve taken inspiration from Ana Mendieta’s 1974 “body tracks” performance (and its photographic documentation); which is also to say we’ve taken inspiration from the archive, that site & source of beginning(s) (again). Inspired by how Mendieta’s performance quickens with the refusal of the stance of the spectator, we’ll try to take a leading from how manifestly her own body is implicated in the struggle against atrocity––if we can take the field of blood as holding space for the unspeakable, for that which can never be justly represented, a kind of anti-sublime. Crucial to note also how Mendieta’s own work took inspiration from the long archive of artistic practices, making a unique vocabulary out of Neolithic gestures, performance art (and the temporal layering of documentary media), and an ethos we might now see as beginning a decolonial, feminist criticality.              


What other leadings and principles will help us to gather and embody the counter and insurrectionary forms needed to be a bulwark against the violent confusions, against the syndicates of Samsara, against and through the crises that increasingly define political life; how can writing, performance, theory, music, and critical thought be brought bear against the forces that seek to control life, to narrow it down to the pure extraction of profit; how can art be a catalyst for abolition. As a start to these questions (and myriad others) we invoke the necessary and alchemical possibilities of coming together in community; and we invite writers, and students, and thinkers, and performers to continue the lines of critical voicing, creative work, and spiritual sensibility that have defined the Summer Writing Program since 1974.


Summer Writing Program Staff:
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997); Beloved Spirit, Co-Founder
Anne Waldman; Artistic Director, Co-Founder
Jeffrey Pethybridge, Managing Director
Caroline 'Swanee' Swanson, SWP Coordinator

Design: Monika Edgar