Review of Partisans by Rodrigo Toscano | Greg Fuchs

(as appeared in The Washington Review)


Rodrigo Toscano's Partisans investigates agency in a world intent on making us all patients by commemorating, exhibiting, and instigating resistance to the ideologies created within the language of capital's culture. The book is divided into twelve lean ego-less lyrics. Each title refers to an English verb mood, tense, and voice, for example, PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE, reinforcing the determinacy of language while simultaneously evoking a history of political struggle.

After struggling with Partisans for several weeks I asked Michael Scharf and Brian Kim Stefans, as we walked down 2nd Avenue one night, what they thought of Rodrigo Toscano's work. They both agreed that the sparse unsentimental directness of Partisans is its strength. Scharf compared Toscano to Oppen. Stefans rallied back describing the poems as "muscular Oppen."

I find the work muscular in that it forces the reader to read beyond the poems into the historical and social conditions that informs them. The impulse in much experimental poetry to create resistance to destructive ideologies by jamming the frequencies is no longer enough to really instigate change. One now must turn readers into producers and carve an entrance into the material world were these readers/producers can create change.

The real strength of Partisans is that it resists the will of all work in capital's culture, even politically revolutionary work, to become entertainment by working as pedagogical tool. After "it balked/ it revulsed/ it said pretty please//but no cigar//So back to irony-ville/petty bourgeois-ville//round and round," I went straight to my bookshelf and pulled out Benjamin's Reflections to read my favorite essay, "The Author As Producer." Benjamin's investigation into a poet's revolutionary intentions reinforces the questions raised in Partisans. "For we are faced with the fact...that the bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes, indeed, can propagate them without calling its own existence, and the existence of the class that owns it, seriously into question." (Benjamin, "The Author As Producer")

Throughout Partisans Toscano juxtaposes documentary and theoretical observations with rhetorical questions and ironic declarations. He argues "for the ability of individuals to instigate change" while also "acknowledging the ideological constraints on their ability to take direct action." (Alan Gilbert, Philly Talks 5) FUTURE PROGRESSIVE, his most often quoted poem, is also the best example of this tension.


he'll or she'll
meet up with you

at twos only
by threes ending
only on tuesdays
the second one of each month
during the fall
but call twice or thrice
to confirm...


Not only does the above passage illustrate Toscano's questioning of agency, an individual's potential to gain power, create change, and to be responsible but it perfectly exemplifies the muscular sparseness that Scharf and Stefans find in his work.

That Partisans is only 55 pages allows the reader to read it often and to use it as an entrance to and from the material world. I suggest listening to the news then read Partisans, reading the newspaper then read Partisans, pick up another book then read Partisans, walk away then read Partisans, read a historical text, and then read Partisans again. The week I finished reading Partisans thousands of activists arrived in Washington, D.C. with the intention of closing down the World Bank and the I.M.F. proving that there is still access available to change the material world. I listened to speakers on Pacifica Radio talk about Western nations taking responsibility for slavery, how the World Bank encourages violence, and death on the installment plan. The perfect context to engage with the struggles extant in Partisans.