Injustices, by Srečko Kosovel

30 January 2012

Everyone commits injustice. When we condemn and when we praise, when we lead and when we follow, always injustice committed. Each step is a great injustice.
Each step is a great injustice and injustice revolt and revolt injustice. So life is one big chain of injustices that avenge one another and never end, ever.

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Pretty thorough, like a pasteurised version of the opening of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal – the first two stanzas of ‘Au Lecteur’, beginning ‘La sottise, l’erreur, le péché, la lessine, / Occupent nos esprits et travaillent nos corps…’* (before Baudelaire gets on to Satan Trismégiste, and all that).

But thinking back to such astounding angst isn’t the only way of thinking about Kosovel’s poem. Last week I read an article in the Financial Times by Robert Reich, US secretary of labour under Clinton, on the extent to which our role as consumers makes us complicit in the present economic crisis, rather than being able to pin the blame entirely on the super-rich. It’s an interesting article, and an idea that has interested me for a while – from an environmental perspective, or in terms of our (i.e. the West’s) prosperity having much of its foundation in colonial exploitation, do we have the modern equivalent of blood guilt, as individuals who are members of a certain civilisation?

Such ideas require subtle analysis, whereas Kosovel’s poem is all about force. But it is distilled, and as such makes clear an idea that can be pursued more subtly for a long, long time.

[‘Injustices’, from Look Back, Look Ahead: The Selected Poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated from the Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar and Barbara Siegel Carlson]

* ‘Stupidity, error, sin, meanness / fill up our minds and work upon our bodies,’ in the translation of Carol Clark for Penguin.

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