Jennifer Scappettone
Poetry, Gossip, Infrastructure

Having been asked to participate in a conversation, last June, at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program on “gossip and infrastructure” without having been inside devising it, I found the yoking together of such substance mysterious and compelling. At first thought, one imagines these concepts as counters to one another: gossip addresses itself to private matters and circulates through channels of intimacy that appear opposed to the broad scale and assumption of publicity linked to the word “infrastructure.” But of course, gossip can address itself to infrastructural matters, producing uncomfortable repercussions for rulers or the management. Gossip reintroduces the messy details of private life—sex, disease, corruption—into the supposedly sterile infrastructure of public life. Gossip is talk that forces public and private to cohabit, or to be more precise, it sutures them back together after they have been cleaved away from one another by the decorum of official discourse. It reminds us that upstanding politicians and squeaky-clean golf stars have desires and depravities, that infrastructure has lurid blind spots and leaks. The result can only resound ethically, where the personal meets the social. While gossip is an obsolete term for godparent, or spiritual sponsor, it has actually come to index unregulated, unsponsored knowledge—knowledge that’s faulty, that takes the risk of being horribly wrong even as it risks being horribly right about unwanted truths. In this way it’s like poetry, for the fault lines of poetry are also the fault lines of possible knowledges—like doubt, they are inventive, damaging, erotic.

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