Friday, December 04, 2009

Paterson Pageant!

I've been meaning to do something about this historical curiosity from Paterson for a long while, but then was tempted to just post it as an unsung piece of data (a la Williams), because what else can you do but reflect on the oddness of the event, and the abyss of history that separates us from the idea of a radical political "pageant" that the proletariat would take seriously as a means of action. Indeed, while we usually think of 1968 as one of those rare moments where art was taken seriously as part of political change, here we had a much earlier moment when the New York avant-garde and the strikers of Paterson came together to mount an entirely new form of political "representation." In fact, this experiment in the summer of 1913 would turn the distinction between representation/propaganda and presentation on its head by having the very strikers as actors. As the New York Tribune wrote at the time:
"There was a startling touch of ultra modernity—or rather of futurism—in the Paterson strike pageant in Madison Square Garden. Certainly nothing like it had been known before in the history of labor agitation. The I.W.W. has not been highly regarded hereabouts as an organization endowed with brains or imagination. Yet the very effective appeal to public interest made by the spectacle at the Garden stamps the I.W.W. leaders as agitators of large resources and original talent. Lesser geniuses might have hired a hall and exhibited moving pictures of the Paterson strike. Saturday night’s pageant transported the strike itself bodily to New York. . . ."

Indeed, the spectacle of 1200 workers walking from Paterson to Madison Square Garden to perform challenges the very notion of "spectacle;" we perhaps instead enter the realm of the simulacrum (without the cold video eye, or the potentiality for the anesthetizing rewind).
The one reference to this event happens in Book III of Paterson, an excerpt from a letter to Williams from a friend who had participated in the event: "Rose and I didn't know each other when we both went to the Paterson strike around the first war and worked in the Pagent. She went regularly to feed Jack Reed in jail and I listened to Big Bill Haywood, Gurley Flynn and the rest of the big hearts and helping hands in Union Hall. And look at the damned thing now."
While the last sentence seems to comment upon the loss of energy and "pagentry" [sic] of the I.W.W. or American labor politics in general, there is a comment in the MacGowan footnotes that makes me think that this statement is Williams ventriloquizing. And yes, he is perhaps reflecting ruefully on the failure of labor politics, but maybe also making a meta-comment about his own labor of "page-entry." "And look at the damned thing now" seems to have been a comment this friend made--not ruefully but enthusiastically--when he finally saw how Williams had progressed with Book III.
Some of the many documents on the web about the Paterson Pageant include archival documents collected in an issue of TDR (summer 1971, pp.61-71), a book on the impact of this show on emergent modernism, and a lot more to explore.

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Anonymous Raquel A. Foote said...

Interesting! So many thing I am unaware of about the City... Gonna see if I can check that book out at the library! Thanks for sharing that!

1:28 PM, January 01, 2010  

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