This month, Sebastian invites Brian Ang to tell us about his favorite books. Brian wrote The Totality Cantos (Atelos, 2022). totalitycantos.net includes the complete text, links to buy copies, and a generator that randomizes assemblages of its one thousand sections. More on the project can be found in a recent interview for Eastwind Books of Berkeley, as well as in the following readings: The Totality Cantos: Brian Ang and Alex Abalos on the Avant-Garde and with Caleb Beckwith at Woolsey Heights. He is currently working on A Thousand Records, a poetic project open to the totality of music. Below are his favorite books.
Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis and Lip Service by Bruce Andrews
Andrews’ poetics and writing are among the most totalizing. “[The Totality Cantos is] open to the totality of discourses in one hundred cantos of one hundred lines each…. Every canto [is] differently constituted by fifteen vocabularies from the totality of discourses” (The Totality Cantos). “From the point of view of trying to explain things, and thus orient praxis, scale looks like the issue here. The problem is total. Meaning = totality. Or at least it’s performed on the stage of totality. And by totality here, I’m talking about the internal organization of a society, a historically constituted social formation and its organizing principles, the way it defines itself in discourse and in social sense, as well as the apparatus of domination (or of power/knowledge) that holds it together. Totality, in that sense, would suggest the roots of discourse and the system of meaning within a national social order—some overall organization of ideology or ways of making sense that underpin the variety of signifying practices or cognitive forms” (“Total Equals What: Poetics & Praxis”).
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Assemblage theory. “Assemblage poetics, constructive verse, writing adequate to apprehending totality” (The Totality Cantos). “One side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” (“Introduction: Rhizome”).
Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas by Martin Jay
Introduction to totality. “The 2008 economic crisis and global backdrop of struggles by 2011 renewed possibilities for thinking totality, materializing it for apprehension” (The Totality Cantos). “Totality is to be opposed by convicting it of nonidentity with itself—of the nonidentity it denies, according to its own concept” (Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics).
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe
Overdetermination, articulation, discourse. “Writing is constructive articulation, articulating lines and assembling sections in order to subjectivate sense against totality’s limiting of it, thinking extendable in all directions. Words draw attention, are considered for their meanings and the discourses they are parts of, and are connected by resonances and rhythms. Through disarticulating discourses and constructing assemblages, traces of discourses are preserved and new connections from different combinations are made possible, every word connectable with all others, projecting every discourse it is part of. Discursive fields overdetermine words and lines, sense extendable through all fields” (The Totality Cantos). “For [the logic of overdetermination], the sense of every identity is overdetermined inasmuch as all literality appears as constitutively subverted and exceeded; far from there being an essentialist totalization, or a no less essentialist separation among objects, the presence of some objects in the others prevents any of their identities from being fixed…. [W]e will call articulation any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice. The structured totality resulting from the articulatory practice, we will call discourse” (“Beyond the Positivity of the Social: Antagonisms and Hegemony”).
Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-reality of Creative Music by Graham Lock
Constructive music. My current poetic project is A Thousand Records, open to the totality of music. “The challenge of creativity, as far as I'm concerned, is to move towards the greatest thought that you can think of” (Anthony Braxton).
The Cantos of Ezra Pound by Ezra Pound
The Cantos and long poems influenced by it are among the most totalizing poetry works, including Paterson, “A”, The Maximus Poems, ARK, The Alphabet, The Iovis Trilogy, Drafts, and AXIS. “I wrote The Totality Cantos from the desire to be interested in everything, sampling from discourses of history, philosophy, religion, science, and the humanities, knowledges of what constitute totality” (The Totality Cantos). “The problem is then not to argue some seminal and liberating enablement of the first Cantos as a predecessor of everything from Eliot to Olson and Zukofsky, taking in The Bridge and McAdams in passing, but rather, first to understand how it was the formal idea of the Cantos that played this fundamental role as detonator, rather than anything in the lines of the poem, or even its content, let alone Pound’s own idiosyncratic style and tastes–although to be sure the more literal responses to the Idea involved an unconscious or slavish mimicry of all those things” (Fredric Jameson, “The Poetics of Totality,” The Modernist Papers).
"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach Mag are invited to share the works of literature that have made the biggest impacts on their reading and writing lives. Sebastian is the author of Not I and 49 Venezuelan Novels. Read previous installments of Favorite Books here.