DE BEAUVOIR AND ADRIENNE RICH DANCE IN FIRST ROUND ACTION

DE BEAUVOIR:

A sentiment cannot be supposed to be anything. “In the domain of sentiments,” writes Gide, “the real is not distinguished from the imaginary. And if to imagine one loves is enough to be in love, then also to tell oneself that one imagines oneself to be in love when one is in love is enough to make one forthwith love a little less.” Discrimination between the imaginary and the real can be made only through behavior. Since man occupies a privileged situation in this world, he is in a position to show his love actively; very often he supports the woman or at least helps her; in marrying her he gives her social standing; he makes her presents; his independent economic and social position allows him to take the initiative and think up contrivances: it was M. de Norpois who, when separated from Mme de Villeparisis, made twenty-four trips to visit her. Very often the man is busy, the woman idle: he gives her the time he passes with her; she takes it: is it with pleasure, passionately, or only for amusement? Does she accept these benefits through love or through self-interest? Does she love her husband or her marriage? Of course, even the man’s evidence is ambiguous: is such and such a gift granted through love or out of pity? But while normally a woman finds numerous advantages in her relations with a man, his relations with a woman are profitable to a man only in so far as he loves her. And so one can almost judge the degree of his affection by the total picture of his attitude.

But a woman hardly has means for sounding her own heart; according to her moods she will view her own sentiments in different lights, and as she submits to them passively, one interpretation will be no truer than another. In those rare instances in which she holds the position of economic and social privilege, the mystery is reversed, showing that it does not pertain to one sex rather than the other, but to the situation. For a great many women the roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question. If man fails to discover that secret essence of femininity, it is simply because it does not exist. Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world, and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness.

 

RICH:

 

It is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less “natural” phenomenon, as mere “sexual preference,” or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of “lesbianism” as an “alternative life style” or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue.

I do not assume that mothering by women is a “sufficient cause” of lesbian existence. I believe large numbers of men could, in fact, undertake child care on a large scale without radically altering the balance of male power in a male-identified society.

Pornography does not simply create a climate in which sex and violence are interchangeable; it widens the range of behavior considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse—behavior which reiteratively strips women of their autonomy, dignity, and sexual potential, including the potential of loving and being loved by women in mutuality and integrity.

Lesbians have historically been deprived of a political existence through “inclusion” as female versions of male homosexuality. To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to erase female reality once again.Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lacking a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life and common cause with homosexual men. But there are differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships— for example, the patterns of anonymous sex among male homosexuals, and the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness. I perceive the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience.

 

Who can navigate the maze of ‘women’s issues’ touched on above by De Beauvoir from 1949, and Rich from 1981?

Simone de Beauvoir’s personal issues are well-known: intending to be a nun until she was 14, she had a devout Catholic mother and a free-thinking father; she was suspended from her teaching job for seducing a female student; she seduced girls and passed them on to the existentialist Sartre; one of these girls, who rejected Sartre, eventually married de Beauvoir’s male lover.

As for Rich, we have the suicide of Rich’s Harvard professor husband, father to her three children, in 1970, just as she was separating from him in Rich’s radical Black Panther days; also her shared National Book Award prize in 1976 with Allen Ginsberg, rejected by Rich, and instead ‘accepted’ with the two other woman nominees, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, on behalf of all women.

Arnold Rice Rich, Adrienne Rich’s father, was Chairman of Pathology at Johns Hopkins Medical School.  John B. Watson, the father of Behaviorism, was fired from John Hopkins in 1920 for having an affair with his student.

Behaviorism is the philosophical component of Simone de Beauvoir (b. 1908)  and Adrianne Rich (b. 1929)

Personal crisis and Behaviorism seem to go hand and hand, and we would not be a good behaviorist philosopher if we did not point this out.  Perhaps the philosophy should be called Bad Behaviorism.  Remove the ‘bad’ and it is no philosophy at all.  It fades into custom. We anticipate a certain amount of objection to bringing in personal issues; but without the personal issues, have the philosophical issues any basis?  Behaviorism is a bold response to crisis—the “bad” behavior is owned and accepted—as behaviorism—putting aside intellectual reasons, in the spirit of either existentialism or its mirror-reverse, moralistic and religious fanaticism.

De Beauvoir says, “a sentiment cannot be supposed to be anything.”  This is the door to behaviorism.  According to some views, “a sentiment” is not to be rejected—our feelings about an issue are of paramount importance, and not to be dismissed, no matter how authoritative the radical social science branch of learning is, which attempts to dismiss it.

The door is opened and de Beauvoir walks through: “Discrimination between the imaginary and the real can be made only through behavior.”

Any philosophical system which makes “behavior” the primary tool for discriminating between “the imaginary and the real” cripples thought, and hinders philosophy itself.

What is love?  What is gender?  What is sex?  If we turn these questions into mere descriptions of discrete patterns of particular behaviors, the ‘things anyone, at any time, might feel compelled to do’ becomes the ruling animus of philosophical investigation, and we strip ‘making sense of the universe in terms of both pleasure and reason’ from the whole process; we destroy science, ideality, happiness, morality, and reason, and replace it with experience—experience which justifies itself, no matter what. 

Behaviorism is used to justify behavior, any behavior—but philosophy is the way to determine reality above and beyond behavior.

In ordinary human experience, behavior creates our reality; in philosophy, our understanding of reality determines how we behave.  The two are radically different.

It begins innocently enough, with de Beauvoir, who, as we see in the example above, takes love away from its sentiments and attaches it instead to specific forms of behavior—love becomes utilitarian, in the name of making things better for women, even though, as de Beauvoir points out, it is not the utilitarian aspect which makes things worse for women; what de Beauvoir seems interested in is erasing the differences between men and women.  Turn the tables, she says; make the woman wealthy and the man poor, and the ‘mystery’ of the woman for the man disappears; in other words, there is no ‘sentiment,’ there is no ‘intangible’ factor; put the man’s dress on the woman and she is, in fact, a man. 

If a woman behaves like a man, she is a man.  Judith Butler already exists in de Beauvoir.

The ‘radical’ nature of de Beauvoir’s argument is based on simple equivalence.

Rich, though she might be considered more radical than de Beauvoir, a radical “advancement,” to some, actually travels backwards; Rich argues for lesbianism as a sentiment, not simply as behavior; in her pornography statement, for instance, Rich pleads for a woman’s “dignity,” which is not a behaviorist (or existentialist) term at all—Rich is more traditional and conservative than de Beauvoir.

We see “radical” philosophy developing in a “step-forward, step-back” fashion: a step forward with de Beauvoir, a step back with Rich, even though, as a whole, it moves forward in the same behaviorist fashion.

What is this “compulsory heterosexual orientation” which Rich mentions, but, in her view, philosophy at odds with reality, old philosophy at odds with behaviorism?

Rich wants more than an “acceptance” of lesbianism; she believes there is an unquestioned, mysterious core value to it  (beyond behavior) worth cultivating. Rich doesn’t want to look at the issue scientifically; she is not interested in cause-and-effect. “I do not assume that mothering by women is a “sufficient cause” of lesbian existence.” The philosopher would ask, “Scientifically speaking, what is lesbianism exactly?” Rich, like de Beauvoir, is hunkered down in behaviorism—there is no interest in a philosophy standing above the behavior; but unlike de Beauvoir, Rich invests a mystery and sentiment to the lesbian existence, precisely as de Beauvoir dismantled the mystery and sentiment of the woman’s existence.

Who wins, here?  The one who began the job.

 

WINNER: DE BEAUVOIR

 

 

 

 

THE BEAUTIFUL DO NOT LIKE POETRY

The beautiful face has nothing to say,
It communicates with looks;
Poetry can talk for hours;
That’s how it gets into books.

A beautiful face is called beautiful
And that is the end of that;
If poetry attempts to be beautiful,
It no longer wants to chat.

Beauty makes everything silent:
Tower, sun, thought, snow.
Poetry talks on and on,
And doesn’t really know.

The beautiful do not like poetry,
For poetry is ugly and fat;
Poetry is intellectually beautiful
And the merely beautiful do not like that.

The beautiful do not like poetry,
For poetry is needy and thin.
Poetry is sadly beautiful
But the beautiful, beautiful to win.

MY CONFIDENCE GREW

My confidence grew
As I received praise from you,
And now, at last
I am free of the past.
My poetry moves
Even as you love.
Formerly, my line
Reflected what was mine;
Now it holds your symbol
And your sign.

I am free of sadness:
The sad madness
Held in the vast
Vacancy, where broken hearts,
Called me on the phone,
Sometimes in company,
Sometimes alone.
I am free of old wine,
And its old poetry
That reflected what was mine.
Now your symbol is my love
And my sign.

 

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

1. John Ashbery –Still the most respected living U.S. poet
2. Billy Collins    –Still the most entertaining living U.S. poet
3. Kenneth Goldsmith  –Does the avant-garde still exist?
4. Stephen Burt  –Is Criticism respected anymore?
5. Marjorie Perloff   –Has avant-garde criticism any controversies left?
6. Helen Vendler  –the 21st century Pater
7. Harold Bloom  –the 21st century Emerson
8. Frank Bidart  –cooked until raw
9. Sharon Olds  –the honesty of woman
10. Robert Pinsky  –the 21st century Untermeyer
11. Paul Muldoon  –New Yorker poetry editor
12. David Lehman –Best American Poetry editor
13. Don Share  –Poetry magazine editor
14. Al Filreis  –Video Education Guru
15. Garrison Keillor  –Folksy Poetry Lives!
16. William Logan  –Knife Wielding Critic
17. Anne Carson –Brainy School
18. Ron Silliman –avant-fustian, necessary
19. Natasha Trethewey –Second term U.S. Poet Laureate
20. Kay Ryan –Cute School
21. Jorie Graham –Sky-Is-Falling School
22. Mary Oliver –21st century Wordsworth
23. Derek Walcott –21st century Southey
24. W.S. Merwin –21st century W.S. Merwin
25. Tony Hoagland –plain-talking hipster poetry
26. Philip Nikolayev –Fulcrum editor, Russian translation
27. Franz Wright –21st century John Clare
28. D.A. Powell –the quite good gay poet
29. Marilyn Chin –de Stael of Asian chick poetry
30. Charles Bernstein –Langwhich
31. David Orr –NYTimes Poetry reviewer
32. Rita Dove –anthologist who freaked out Vendler and Perloff
33. Erin Belieu –VIDA
34. Michael Robbins –”Where competency ends,” Ange Mlinko “begins”
35. Kevin  Young –Studied with Heaney
36. Ben Mazer  –Studied with Heaney
37. Ron Padget  –LA Times Book Prize
38. Lucie Brock-Broido –rococo
39. Louise Gluck –quiet confessionalism
40. Rosanna Warren  –Robert Penn Warren’s little girl
41. Christopher Ricks –professor at B.U.
42. Anis Shivani  –MFA smasher
43. Amy King –twist and shout
44. John Koethe –a philosopher poet
45. Carl Phillips  –teaches at the college founded by TS Eliot’s grandad.
46. Charles Simic –compares elegant checkmates in chess to elegant endings of poems…
47. Robert Bly –at Harvard with Rich, Koch, O’Hara, Hall, Ashbery…
48. Vanessa Place –avant-garde book of dollar bills
49. Dana Gioia –the essay that shamed us all…
50. Robert Hass –has a book, “20th century pleasures”
51. Simon Armitage –leading Brit
52. Frederick Seidel –controversial, 1962, first book prize
53. Cole Swensen –post-Language school
54. Matthew Dickman –works as a baker
55. James Tate –teaches at Amherst
56. Lyn Hejinian –”it is not imperfect to have died”
57. Eileen Myles –diary poetry
58. Geoffrey Hill –gnarled syntax
59. Paul Hoover –institutional ‘new’
60. Alfred Corn –Harold Bloom called him ‘visionary’
61. Rae Armantrout  –avant-garde, in brief
62. Terrance Hayes –began as a visual artist
63. Henri Cole –a Thom Gunn award winner
64. Seth Abramson –pro-MFA lawyer poet
65. Peter Gizzi –tenuous lyric
66. Mark McGurl –Program Era author
67. Janet Holmes –we can never remember how to spell Ahsahta…
68. George Bilgere –Billy Collins in waiting…
69. Matthew Zapruder –editor of Wave books
70. Ange Mlinko –see #34
71. Cate Marvin –VIDA, too
72. Maya Angelou –remember her?
73. Brenda Hillman –”Allow form.”
74. Galway Kinnell –why don’t these legends write tell-alls?
75. Dorothea Lasky –teaches at Columbia
76. Nikki Finney –”us giving us away”
77. Noah Eli Gordon –#34 called his work “simply dead.”
78. K. Silem Mohammed –was a featured writer for Blog Harriet
79. Ariana Reines –”I know that really beautiful women are never alone.”
80. Richard Wilbur –Old Man Rhyme
81. Rowan Ricardo Phillips –When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness
82. Garrick Davis –editor, Critical Flame
83. Alan Cordle –the foetry revolution!
84. J.D. McClatchy –Yale Review editor
85. Philip Levine –’Whitman of the industrial heartland’
86. Clive James –from down under
87. Robert Archambeau –his blog is Samizdat
88. Matthea Harvey –skittery queen?
89. Laura Kasischke –”not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly”
90. Paul Legault –The Emily Dickinson “translations.”
91. Lynn Xu –Waste Land’s child
92. Laura Jensen –Donald Justice-era Iowa Workshop grad
93. CA Conrad –pop-inflected Bukowski
94. Jynne Martin –”Draw any beast by starting with a circle!”
95. Traci Brimhall –believes in The Next Big Thing
96. Adam Fitzgerald –amour de soi
97. Cyrus Cassells –Lambda Literary award winner
98. Richard Siken –”no one will ever want to sleep with you
99. Naomi Shihab Nye  –fights terrorism & prejudice
100. U.S. Dhuga –Battersea, baby!

 

SARTRE TAKES ON DERRIDA

Sartre wanted to marry her.  de Beauvoir said, no.

SARTRE:

 

Each of our perceptions is accompanied by the consciousness that human reality is a ‘revealer,’ that is, it is through human reality that ‘there is’ being, or, to put it differently, that man is the means by which things are manifested. It is our presence in the world which multiplies relations. It is we who set up a relationship between this tree and that bit of sky. Thanks to us, that star which has been dead for millennia, that quarter moon, and that dark river are disclosed in the unity of a landscape. It is the speed of our car and our airplane which organizes the great masses of the earth. With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face. But, if we know that we are directors of our being, we also know that we are not its producers. If we turn away from this landscape, it will sink back into its dark permanence. At least, it will sink back; there is no one mad enough to think that it is going to be annihilated. It is we who shall be annihilated, and the earth will remain in its lethargy until another consciousness comes along to awaken it. Thus, to our inner certainty of being ‘revealers’ is added that of being inessential in relation to the thing revealed.

If I fix on canvas or in writing a certain aspect of the fields or the sea or a look on someone’s face which I have disclosed, I am conscious of having produced them by condensing relationships, by introducing order where there was none, by imposing the unity of mind on the diversity of things. That is, I feel myself essential in relation to my creation. But this time it is the created object which escapes me; I cannot reveal and produce at the same time. The creation becomes inessential in relation to the creative activity. First of all, even if it appears finished to others, the created object always seems to us in a state of suspension; we can always change this line, that shade, that word. Thus, it never forces itself. A novice painter asked his teacher, ‘When should I consider my painting finished?’ And the teacher answered, ‘When you can look at it in amazement and say to yourself, “I’m the one who did that!”

Which amounts to saying ‘never.’ For that would be to consider one’s work with someone else’s eyes and to reveal what one has created.

 

DERRIDA:

 

A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception.

And hence, perpetually and essentially, they run the risk of being definitely lost. Who will ever know of such disappearances?

The dissimulation of the woven texture can in any case take centuries to undo its web: a web that envelops a web, undoing the web for centuries; reconstituting it too as an organism, indefinitely regenerating its own tissue behind the cutting trace, the decision of each reading. There is always a surprise in store for the anatomy or physiology of any criticism that might think it has mastered the game, surveyed all the threads at once, deluding itself, too, in wanting to look at the text without touching it, without laying a hand on the “object,” without risking—which is the only chance of entering into the game, by getting a few fingers caught—the addition of some new thread.  Adding, here, is nothing other than giving to read. One must manage to think this out: that it is not a question of embroidering upon a text, unless one considers that to know how to embroider still means to have the ability to follow the given thread. That is, if you follow me, the hidden thread.

 

Modern philosophy’s obsession with absence, lack, impotence, estrangement seems to spring from this little poem by Poe:

…I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand—
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—while I weep!
Oh God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all the we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Beauty, to be truly beautiful, needs to be partially obscured, or veiled, and Truth cannot be looked at directly either, and needs to be wrapped in riddles—the Divine Mysteries, from Oracles, Prophecy, and Fate, through Christian Exegesis and Parables, lands in the 20th century as Philosophy which Teases and Deceives—but the Ancient Philosophies and Religions which propounded their stories, their sciences and their devotions attended by actual spirits in actual settings, covered in mists of ignorance and beauty as they might have been, can be contrasted to 20th century Philosophy, which seems to tease us for no end; or, simply out of despair, or vanity, or some philosopher’s ambition.

Sartre (b. 1905), in his excerpt, evinces the Man-centered universe inherited from the Renaissance: “man is the means by which things are manifested” and, invoking the “speed of our car and our airplane,” he revels in “we know we are directors of our being,” but with it, also, comes the sad recognition that, “we also know that we are not [our being's] producers” and we are “inessential to the thing revealed.” This is unfortunate, but why, philosophically, does Sartre need to assert this gulf between “directing” and “producing?”

Sartre does so for no other reason, it seems, than to produce a kind of balance: being and non-being.

But it doesn’t feel motivated by anything beyond a kind of philosophical or mathematical attempt at a tidy formula, and we see how it manifests itself in Sartre’s discussion of art: “I cannot reveal and produce at the same time; the creation becomes inessential in relation to the creative activity.”

Why this pessimism?  How is it true, for instance, that the painter or poet’s “creation” is “inessential” to his or her “creative activity?”  It is mere pedantry to fret whether a work of art is “finished,” or not, and Sartre’s explanation is an empty piece of cleverness.  Sure, we can always tweak our poem, but the gist, and the excellence of its entirety is not some illusion. Sartre had a political and a real world existence, as his fame will testify, but we should not therefore miss what is in front of us here: Sartre’s overly fastidious, overly academic, and feeble complaint, passed off as scary existentialism.  It brings to mind the famous anecdote in which Sartre finished first in his examinations to become an instructor, with de Beauvoir, second. Much was made of the “open relationship” between these two public intellectuals, but few bothered to point out that de Beauvoir did not want to marry him, or live with him.  Sartre’s philosophical fretting is merely academic, or perhaps just as bad, personal.

Sartre eventually argued that anyone making art was reactionary and hopelessly bourgeois—a political position almost inevitable, considering the major philosophical qualms he first lays out.

As for Derrida, as time passes after his death, and his reputation fades, his audacious hiding appears more and more as insufferable cuteness.

 

WINNER: SARTRE

 

 

POST-MODERN BATTLE: LACAN VERSUS SAID

The great post-Freudian psycho-analyst, Jacques Lacan.

LACAN:

 

This passion of the signifier now becomes a new dimension of the human condition in that it is not only man who speaks, but that in man and through man it speaks, that his nature is woven by effects in which is to be found the structure of language, of which he becomes the material, and that therefore resounds in him, beyond what could be conceived of by a psychology of ideas, the relation of speech.

It speaks in the Other, I say, designating by the Other the very locus evoked by the recourse to speech in any relation in which the Other intervenes.

The phallus reveals its function here. In Freudian doctrine, the phallus is not a phantasy, if by that we mean an imaginary effect. Nor is it such an object (part-, internal, good, bad, etc.) in the sense that this term tends to accentuate the reality pertaining in a relation. It is even less the organ, penis or clitoris, that it symbolizes. And it is not without reason that Freud used the reference to the simulacrum that it represented for the Ancients.

For the phallus is a signifier, a signifier whose function, in the intra-subjective economy of the analysis, lifts the veil perhaps from the function it performed in the mysteries. For it is the signifier intended to designate as a whole the effect of the signified, in that the signifier conditions them by its presence as a signifier.

 

SAID:

 

We must take seriously Vico’s great observation that men make their own history; that what they can know is what they have made.

The Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be “Oriental” in all those ways considered commonplace by an average nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be—that is, submitted to being—made Oriental. There is very little consent to be found, for example, in the fact that Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him not only to possess Kuchuk Hanem physically but to speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was “typically Oriental.” My argument is that Flaubert’s situation of strength in relation to Kuchuk Hanem was not an isolated instance.

It is very easy to argue that knowledge about Shakespeare or Wordsworth is not political whereas knowledge about contemporary China or the Soviet Union is.

The determining impingement on most knowledge produced in the contemporary West (and here I speak mainly about the United States) is that it be nonpolitical, that is, scholarly, academic, impartial, above partisan or small-minded doctrinal belief. One can have no quarrel with such an ambition in theory, perhaps, but in practice the reality is much more problematic. No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life.

 

We may as well face it: 20th century scholarship and intellectualism is mostly pure horror.  Is this the way of literature?  Has it always—must it always—be this way?  Writing happens when something is wrong.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist: who needs ink if all of us are eating melons in the garden? Who needs letters sent—when no one is absent?  But the trials and tribulations of the 20th century were so complex, massive, and malicious, scholarship seemed to lose its mind.  Everything became hidden—words were used to hide.

We see the two poles above:

Jacques Lacan (b: 1901): A rhetoric obsessed with absence: so absent it is present, ad infinitum. The rhetoric of psychology and language—we do not speak language, language speaks us, etc.— as opposed to politics.

Edward Said (b:1935): The rhetoric of massively present political inequality, colonial, imperial, racist, gendered, tallied up in the plainest way possible, but finally done in such a general way, that it becomes a rhetoric of insult which insults no one, the inequality so staggering that no complaint has any effect.

The reader witnesses a kind of atom bomb explosion, but learns nothing specific or useful—nothing to make their life happier or easier.

Morality, overly poetic because of religion, becomes not more accessible and scientific, but is simply abandoned.

Philosophy is given over to impotence in the face of oppressive, material power.

It makes no difference who we choose here: the hopelessly obscure (Lacan) or the self-evidently obvious (Said).

WINNER: SAID

 

 

SCHILLER BATTLES EMERSON IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

SCHILLER:

 

I would not wish to live in a century other than my own, or to have worked for any other. We are citizens of our own Age no less than of our own State. And if it is deemed unseemly, or even inadmissible, to exempt ourselves from the morals and customs of the circle in which we live, why should it be less of a duty to allow the needs and taste of our own epoch some voice in our choice of activity?

But the verdict of this epoch does not, by any means, seem to be going in favor of art, not the least of the kind of art to which alone my inquiry will be directed. The course of events has given the spirit of the age a direction which threatens to remove it ever further from the art of the Ideal. This kind of art must abandon actuality, and soar with becoming boldness above our wants and needs; for Art is a daughter of Freedom, and takes her orders from the necessity inherent in minds, not from the exigencies of matter. But at the present time material needs reign supreme and bend a degraded humanity beneath their tyrannical yoke. Utility is the great idol of our age, to which all powers are in thrall and to which all talent must pay homage. Weighed in this crude balance, the insubstantial merits of Art scarce tip the scale, and, bereft of all encouragement, she shuns the noisy market-place of our century.

If man is ever to solve the problem of politics in practice he will have to approach it through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom.

 

EMERSON:

 

It is the secret which every intellectual man quickly learns, that beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect he is capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself) , by abandonment to the nature of things; that beside his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power on which he can draw, by unlocking, at all risks, his human doors, and suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him; then he is caught up into the life of the Universe, his speech is thunder, his thought is law, and his words are universally intelligible as the plants and animals. The poet knows that he speaks adequately then only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or “with the flower of the mind;” not with the intellect used as an organ, but with the intellect released from all service and suffered to take its direction from its celestial life; or as the ancients were wont to express themselves, not with intellect alone but with the intellect inebriated by nectar.

This is the reason why bards love wine, mead, narcotics, coffee, tea, opium, the fumes of sandalwood and tobacco, or whatever other procurers of animal exhilaration. All men avail themselves of such means as they can, to add this extraordinary power to their normal powers; and to this end they prize conversation, music, pictures, sculpture, dancing, theaters, traveling, war, mobs, fires, gaming, politics, or love, or science, or animal intoxication,—which are several coarser or finer quasi-mechanical substitutes for the true nectar, which is the ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer to the fact. These are auxiliaries to the centrifugal tendency of man, to his passage out into free space, and they help him to escape the custody of that body in which he is pent up, and of that jail-yard of individual relations in which he is enclosed. Hence a great number of such as were professionally expressers of Beauty, as painters, poets, musicians and actors, have been more than others wont to lead a life of pleasure and indulgence; all but the few who received the true nectar; and, as it was a spurious mode of attaining freedom, as it was an emancipation not into the heavens but into the freedom of baser places, they were punished for that advantage they won, by a dissipation and deterioration. But never can any advantage be taken of nature by a trick. The spirit of the world, the great calm presence of the Creator, comes not forth to the sorceries of opium or of wine. The sublime vision comes to the pure and simple soul in a clean and chaste body.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s voluble sermonizing says so many things at once in such an impressive manner that one can simply believe Ralph Waldo Emerson is saying whatever one wants him to be saying; this might explain his high reputation to this day among both radicals and conservatives. Whitman discovered his poetry in Emerson’s prose, and here then is how America avoided the precision of Poe and embraced the effulgence of the Anything Goes school in the last century. It is hard to believe that, in the passage above, Emerson is sternly cautioning the poet to be sober.  The “nectar” Emerson is selling is clearly not sold anywhere, and his “the ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer to the fact” and his “abandonment to the nature of things” exist nowhere except in Emerson’s fact-mind and in the thing-minds of those who want to play along with Mr. Emerson—which, as we look over American Letters today, are quite a few.  Beware opium, wine, fires, and mobs.

Schiller (b. 1759), sounding very modern, says things we agree with.

But Emerson is so much more fun.

 

WINNER: EMERSON

 

 

WAS THAT YOU

IMG_20140218_113143_915

 

It’s nice to have a nice physique,

But face it, a face is what’s unique;

We fall in love with one of those,

Not with the hands, or somebody’s toes.

If you love a voice or verses

You might as well love shouts and curses,

And to fall in love with naughty parts

Is like falling in love with farts—

No, the face, the window to the soul

Is how we know the person as a whole,

For it’s as if the face were a thought

That can never be known and never be bought.

Come, let me look in your eyes again—

Was that you, with another, in the rain?


 

 

POE VERSUS LESSING!

Gotthold Lessing (b. 1729) elucidated the great differences between painting and poetry.

 

LESSING:

The first person who compared Poetry and Painting with each other was a man of fine feeling, who perceived that both these arts produced upon him a similar effect. Both, he felt, placed before us things absent as present, appearance as reality. Both deceived and the deceit of both was pleasing.

A second person sought to penetrate into the inner nature of this pleasure and discovered that in both it flowed from one and the same source. The beautiful, the notion of which we first derive from corporeal objects, has general rules applicable to various things; to actions, to thoughts, as well as to forms.

A third person, who reflected upon the value and upon the distribution of these general rules, remarked that some of them had prevailed more in Painting and others more in Poetry, and that with respect to the latter rules, Poetry could be aided by the illustrations and examples supplied by Painting; with respect to the former rules, Painting could be aided by the illustrations and examples supplied by Poetry.

The first was an amateur; the second was a philosopher; the third was a critic.

It was not easy for the two first to make a wrong use either of their feeling or of their reasoning. On the other hand, the principle force of the remarks of the critic depends upon the correctness of their application to the particular case, and it would be astonishing, inasmuch as for one really acute, you will find fifty merely witty critics, if this application had always been made with all the caution requisite to hold the scales equal between the two Arts. Apelles and Protogenes, in their lost writings upon Painting confirmed and illustrated the rules relating to it by the rules of Poetry, which had been already established; so that we may be assured that in them the same moderation and accuracy prevailed, which at the present day we see in the works of Aristotle, Cicero, Horace and Quintilian, when they apply the principles and experience of Painting to Eloquence and to Poetry.

It is the privilege of the Ancients in no one thing to do too much or too little.

But we moderns have often believed that in many of our works we have surpassed them, because we have changed their little byways of pleasure into highways, even at the risk of being led by these safer and shorter highways into paths which end in a wilderness.

 

 

POE:

 

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections— at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders, and demon-traps—the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

The initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression—for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed. But since, ceteris paribus, no poet can afford to dispense with anything that may advance his design, it but remains to be seen whether there is, in extent, any advantage to counterbalance the loss of unity which attends it. Here I say no, at once. What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones—that is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least, one-half of the “Paradise Lost” is essentially prose—a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with corresponding depressions—the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity of effect.

And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected in versification is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are absolutely infinite, and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse, has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing. The fact is that originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.

 

Edgar Poe is, of course, the greatest literary theorist next to Plato; Poe’s inventiveness is always a grounded and timeless effort—one never finds Poe qualifying his rhetoric by appealing to old or new ways; Poe never abased himself before the past or the future.

Lessing’s Laocoon belongs to the past, certainly, but his observations in that work on the relationship, and essential differences between Painting and Poetry are invaluable. Modernism and Post-Modernism have blurred the two Arts and nearly destroyed both in the process. When the two Arts blend, the waxing of the conceptual destroys everything human and actual in its path until we reach the Modern Art pathology of Tom Wolfe’s the “Painted Word.”

Poetry has not been immune to the toxic blur, either, though it is less easy to quantify the damage: Abstract Art cripples and shrinks what Painting can depict; that is easy to see, but hasn’t free verse simply expanded what verse can do?

Lessing and Poe (it is a shame one has to lose) would both remind us that material particulars trump freedom when it comes to art and poetry.

Lessing and Poe would both agree on this: the crippling logic of free verse works in the following way: we create poetry by taking prose and turning it into a visual product.  Read aloud, free verse is prose—only by seeing line breaks on the page are we alerted to the ostensible nature of the product. Can we take prose, make it a visual product, and thereby create poetry? Of course we cannot. But this is what happens when Moderns run amok. Poe would quickly point out that it does not help to blame “Moderns.” The term is meaningless. Error is error, no matter in what Age it occurs, and error belongs as much to the past as it does to the present.

Just listen to Poe. Using specific examples, he will fix it now.

 

WINNER: POE

HOW MUCH KISSING IS TOO MUCH

 

How much kissing is too much
When the mouth is beautiful?
How do we know when beauty is full?
How much divinity lives in the tongue
When the tongue does not speak?
Neither love, nor bodies mild and meek
Can measure kissing’s soft ecstasy.
Beauty and sublimity are silent,

So why don’t we shut up?
It is good that you were silent;
I learned to love thought
Which washes over the world.
Behind my words, a riddle sits on a throne.
Speaking is not enough,
No, speaking is never enough
When kisses are set upon by your moan.

THOMAS AQUINAS DUELS APHRA BEHN

Aphra Behn: worthy opponent of Thomas Aquinas

 

AQUINAS:

 

It seems that the Holy Scripture should not use metaphors. For that which is proper to the lowest science seems not to befit this science, which holds the highest place of all. But to proceed by the aid of various similitudes and figures is proper to poetry, the least of all the sciences. Therefore it is not fitting this science should make use of such similitudes.

Further, this doctrine seems to be intended to make truth clear. Hence a reward is held out to those who manifest it: They that explain me shall have life everlasting. But by such similitudes truth is obscured. Therefore to put forward divine truths by likening them to corporeal things does not befit this science.

Further, the higher creatures are, the nearer they approach to the divine likeness. If therefore any creature be taken to represent God, this representation ought chiefly to be taken from the higher creatures, and not from the lower; yet this is often found in the Scriptures.

On the contrary, It is written: I have multiplied visions, and I have used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets. But to put forward anything by means of similitudes is to use metaphors. Therefore this sacred science may use metaphors.

It is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparison with material things. For God provides for everything according to the capacity of nature. Now it is natural to Man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things. This is what Dionysius says: We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except that they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils. It is also befitting Holy Writ, which is proposed to all without distinction of persons—To the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor—that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it.

 

APHRA BEHN:

 

I think the Tragedies not worth a farthing; for Plays were certainly intended for the exercising of men’s passions, not their understandings, and he is infinitely far from wise, that will bestow one moments private meditation on such things: And for Comedie, the finest folks you meet there, are still unfitter for your imitation, for though within a leaf or two of the Prologue, you are told that they are people of Wit, good Humour, good Manners, and all that: yet if the Authors did not kindly add their proper names, you’d never know them by their characters; for whatsoever’s the matter, it hath happened so spitefully in several Plays, which have been pretty well received of late, that even those persons that were meant to be the ingenious Censors of the Play, have either proved the most debauched, or most witless people in the Companie: nor is this error very lamentable, since I take it Comedie was never meant, either for a converting or confirming authoratative direction: in short, I think a Play the best entertainment that wise men have; but I do also think them nothing so, who do discourse as formally about the rules of it, as if it were the grand affair of human life. This being my opinion of Plays, I studied only to make this Play as entertaining as I could, which whether I have been successful in, my gentle Reader, my Good, Sweet, Honey, Sugar-candied Reader (which I think is more than any one has called you yet) you may for your shilling judge.

 

When Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225) writes “all our knowledge originates from sense,” we are surprised to find a Church Father from the Middle Ages opining thus; Enlightenment philosophes are better known for this opinion.  Every Platonic “form” is grounded in the senses, as well; thus ideality is, especially in the modern age, greatly misunderstood.

Aphra Behn is delightful, but an Aristotle she is not.

 

WINNER: AQUINAS

 

 

 

KENNETH BURKE DANCES WITH HELENE CIXOUS

Helene Cixous. A pretty good business: I write woman.

BURKE:

 

All the kinds of criticism we have been considering lead back to an ultimate kind, the Criticism of Criticism, which should provide the logical and procedural grounds for them. Here belongs all systematic statements involving discrimination, classification, methodology, possibility and standards of evaluation, and the like. And ideally, here should be a terminology whose logic could be carried systematically into the most minute observation of Poetic and Textual Analysis.

However, there must always be a discrepancy between the object of our observation and the medium by which we observe, even though, as in this case, the object (the poem) and the medium (the critique) are both verbal. The relation between poetry and criticism is here somewhat analogous to the relation between “revelation” and “reason” in theology. The poem, as the given, is something extra, something by nature beyond the reach of a purely critical rationale; hence, in the intuiting of it, there is always something which the critical treatment cannot equal (just as there is, in a physical object, something which a poem about it could not equal). The poem, as the object of the critic’s intuition, thus forever sets an obligation, that can never be wholly met, to bring the facts of the poem wholly within the orbit of the critic’s terms. A criticism of the poem is not the poem (though at times a critic does seem to be asking of other critics that they do somehow contrive to write the poem over again, giving exactly the same quality of experience as the poem itself gives, in an idiom that simultaneously both is and is not a replica of the original.)

Though the Criticism of Criticism should, in its ideal perfection, provide the events out of which all other kinds of criticism could be drawn, often the discrepancy between the poem and the critique is widened to the point where the Criticism of Criticism becomes antithetical to specific analysis. It is then given to kinds of analysis that serve as “statements of policy” about literature, and provide no leads at all into the areas of the intrinsic.

 

CIXOUS:

 

Woman must write her self; must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies—for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text—as into the world and into history—by her own movement.

The future must no longer be determined by the past. I do not deny that the effects of the past are still with us. But I refuse to strengthen them by repeating them.

I have been amazed more than once by a description a woman gave me of a world all her own which she had been secretly haunting since early childhood. A world of searching, the elaboration of a knowledge, on the basis of a systematic experimentation with the bodily functions, a passionate and precise interrogation of her erotogeneity. This practice, extraordinarily rich and inventive, in particular as concerns masturbation, is prolonged or accompanied by a production of forms, a veritable aesthetic activity, each stage of rapture inscribing a resonant vision, a composition, something beautiful. Beauty will no longer be forbidden.

Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs.

I write woman: woman must write woman. And man, man.

Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with the phallocentric tradition. It is indeed that same self-admiring, self-stimulating, self-congratulatory phallocentrism.

Only the poets can defy tradition—not the novelists, allies of representation. Because poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is the place where the repressed manage to survive: women, or as E.T.A. Hoffman would say, fairies.

 

Kenneth Burke belonged to the 1920s Dial magazine Modernist priesthood which presented itself annual Dial Award prizes with large cash awards: Eliot,  Pound, Williams, Moore; Burke received his in 1928.

Burke’s analogy: poetry as “revelation” and criticism as “reason” may sound like it is grounded in classical studies, but it is the clever Emersonian line of Modernism: the secular poet as mystical priest.

Burke encourages criticism—exegesis—to stand apart from the poem and support the poem’s “revelation” with its “reason.”

This ‘New Criticism’ formula champions “the poem” as a kind of critic-proof, sacred object.

In this Burkean formula, the “reviewer” becomes irrelevant; honest criticism becomes a nuisance, in contrast to the formula of Plato/Pope/Poe/Wilde, in which the critical consciousness is just as important as the creative consciousness, nay, is really the same thing as the creative consciousness, but in reverse, so that the mind of the artist ‘reveals’ itself equally in poetry and criticism.

These are the two approaches to poetry:  1) New Critical/mystical/Modernist and 2) Critical/Creative.  We like the latter.

Cixous is a primitive, dancing against the “phallus” and “capitalist machinery” in her war makeup.

We like her Romantic energy, her innocence.  She finally offers more excitement than Burke.

 

WINNER: CIXOUS

 

 

WILDE VERSUS WOOLF

Virginia Woolf: a beauty with an audacious mind. A supreme opponent in Oscar.

WILDE:

 

I should have said that great artists worked unconsciously, that they were “wiser than they knew,” as, I think, Emerson remarks somewhere, but it is really not so.

All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must sing. At least, no great poet does.  A great poet sings because he chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind.

 

WOOLF:

 

It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.

No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own. The Suffrage campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged.

The blame for all this rests no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are responsible. All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare, then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Coleridge. Shelley was perhaps sexless. Milton and Ben Johnson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoy.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat and the undergraduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man and the woman who came together across the street, and the current swept them away, as I heard far off the roar of London’s traffic, into that tremendous stream.

 

Modern literature and the sexes; modern life and the sexes; life and the sexes; the sexes.  Rather inescapable, isn’t it?

The unhappy marriage is at the heart of all literature.

Literature is perhaps the invention of the unhappy marriage.

Wilde, in the Madness passage quoted, sounds like he would have admired Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition,” and it’s perfect, for at the top he rebukes Emerson, the anti-Poe.

Woolf strives towards some aesthetic reconciliation between man and woman: is it doomed to failure?  Is it a mere abstraction, this sexual intercourse of the spirit? We think we know what she means, this hankering after the “androgynous” mind of the genius; it’s an attempt to reconcile all unhappy marriages, and what’s so bad about that?

Woolf wants two sexes for the mind. Wilde wants one mind: the self-conscious, critical artist.  One versus two.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

HOW CAN WE HATE WHEN LOVE SINGS FROM EVERY TREE?

The bird species in most cases
Picks a mate for life.
A life can be filled with songs and kisses,
Joy as far as the eye can see.
How can we hate when love sings from every tree?

Humans and crawling mammals
Tend to move from wife to wife.
There is a life of tunnels,
Of secrecy and sad satiety,
But you were like the lark singing above the strife.

You remembered for hours
Words of a beautiful song
That told of songs bedecked in flowers
With birds singing from every tree.
How can we hate when things like these agree?

Tell me what you are thinking
Of love and life.
Meteors and stars in the vast sky are blinking
As far as the eye can see.
But not for long.

 

 

MAIMONIDES AND VICO, OH YEA!

Giambattista Vico (b. 1668) seeks to advance against Maimonides (b. 1138)

MAIMONIDES:

You should not think that these great secrets are fully and completely known to anyone among us. They are not. But sometimes truth flashes out to us so that we think that it is day, and then matter and habit in their various forms conceal it so that we find ourselves again in an obscure night, almost as we were at first. We are like someone in a very dark night over whom lightning flashes time and time again. Among us there is one for whom the lightning flashes time and time again, so that he is always, as it were, in unceasing light. Thus night appears to him as day. That is the degree of the great one among the prophets, to whom it was said: But as for thee, stand thou here by Me, and of whom it was said: that the skin of his face sent forth beams, and so on. Among them there is one to whom the lightning flashes only once in the whole of his night; that is the rank of those of whom it is said: they prophesied, but they did so no more. There are others between whose lightning flashes there are greater or shorter intervals. Thereafter comes he who does not attain a degree in which his darkness is illumined by any lightning flash. It is illumined, however, by a polished body or something of that kind, stones or something else that give light in the darkness of the night. And even this small light that shines over us is not always there, but flashes and is hidden again, as if it were the flaming sword which turned every way. It is in accord with these states that the degrees of the perfect vary. As for those who never even once see a light, but grope about in their night, of them it is said: They know not, neither do they understand; They go about in darkness. The truth, in spite of the strength of its manifestation, is entirely hidden from them, as is said of them: And now men see not the light which is bright in the skies. They are the vulgar among people. There is then no occasion to mention them.

Know that whenever one of the perfect wishes to mention, either orally or in writing, something that he understands of these secrets, according to the degree of his perfection, he is unable to explain with complete clarity and coherence even the portion that he has apprehended, as he could do with the other sciences whose teaching is generally recognized. Rather there will befall him when teaching another that which he had undergone when learning himself. I mean to say that the subject matter will appear, flash, and then be hidden again, as though this were the nature of this subject matter, be there much or little of it. For this reason, all the Sages possessing knowledge of God the Lord, knowers of the truth, when they aimed at teaching something of this subject matter, spoke of it only in parables and riddles.

Do you not see the following fact? God, may His mention be exalted, wished us to be perfected and the state of our societies to be improved by His laws regarding actions. Now this can come about only after the adoption of intellectual beliefs, the first of which being His apprehension, may He be exalted, according to our capacity. This, in its turn, cannot come about except through divine science, and this divine science cannot become actual except after a study of natural science. This is so since natural science borders on divine science, and its study precedes that of divine science in time as has been made clear to whoever has engaged in speculation on these matters. Hence God, may He be exalted, caused his book to open with the Account of the Beginning, which, as we have made clear, is natural science. And because of the greatness and importance of the subject and because our capacity falls short of apprehending the greatest of subjects as it really is, we are told about those profound matters—which divine wisdom has deemed necessary to convey to us—in parables and riddles and in very obscure words.

 

VICO:

 

Now, before discussing poetic wisdom, it is necessary for us to see what wisdom in general is. Wisdom is the faculty which commands all the disciplines by which we acquire all the sciences and arts that make up humanity. Plato defines wisdom as “the perfecter of man.” Man, in his proper being as man, consists of mind and spirit, or, if we prefer, of intellect and will. It is the function of wisdom to fulfill both these parts in man, the second by way of the first, to the end that by a mind illuminated by knowledge of the highest institutions, the spirit may be led to choose the best. The highest institutions in this universe are those turned toward and conversant with God; the best are those which look to the good of all mankind. The former are called divine institutions, the latter human. True wisdom, then, should teach the knowledge of divine institutions in order to conduct human institutions to the highest good. We believe this was the plan upon which Marcus Terentius Varro, who earned the title “most learned of the Romans,” erected his great work, Divine and Human Institutions, of which the injustice of time has unhappily bereft us.

Wisdom among the gentiles began with the Muse, defined by Homer in a golden passage of the Odyssey as “knowledge of good and evil,” and later called divination. It was on the natural prohibition of this practice, as something naturally denied to man, that God founded the true religion of the Hebrews, from which our Christian religion arose.  The Muse must thus have been properly at first the science of divining by auspices, and this was the vulgar wisdom of all nations. It consisted in contemplating God under the attribute of his providence, so that from divinari his essence came to be called divinity. The theological poets, who certainly founded the humanity of Greece, were versed in this wisdom, and this explains why the Latins called the judicial astrologers “professors of wisdom.” Wisdom was later attributed to men renowned for useful counsels given to mankind, as in the case of the Seven Sages of Greece. The attribution was then extended to men who for the good of peoples and nations wisely ordered and governed commonwealths. Still later the word “wisdom” came to mean knowledge of natural divine things; that is, metaphysics, called for that reason divine science, which, seeking knowledge of man’s mind in God, and recognizing God as the source of truth, must recognize him as the regulator of all good. So that metaphysics must essentially work for the good of the human race, whose preservation depends on the universal belief in a provident divinity. It is perhaps for having demonstrated this providence that Plato deserved to be called divine.

Maimonides occupies a key place among the world’s thinkers; he takes for granted his sublime mission without forgetting that the reader’s ability to find access to what he calls the “secrets” is as important as the “secrets” themselves.  Maimonides transcends the secular v. religious debate; such is the delightful nature of his rhetoric, which often borders on poetry: “even this small light that shines over us is not always there, but flashes and is hidden again, as if it were the flaming sword which turned every way.” Vico here is more historical than poetic.

 

WINNER: MAIMONIDES

 

AUGUSTINE AND ADDISON BRING ARGUMENTS TO THE MADNESS

The dashing Joseph Addison, Man of Letters

AUGUSTINE:

 

Hence, the word which sounds without is a sign of the word that shines within, to which the name of word more properly belongs. For that which is produced by the mouth of the flesh is the sound of the word, and is itself also called the word, because that inner word assumed it in order that it might appear outwardly.

Whoever, then, desires to arrive at some kind of a likeness to the Word of God, although unlike it in many things, let him not behold our word which sounds in the ears, either when it is brought forth in sound, or when it is thought in silence. For all words, no matter in what language they may sound, are also thought in silence; and hymns run through our mind, even when the mouth of the body is silent; not only the numbers of the syllables, but also the melodies of the hymns, since they are corporeal and belong to that sense of the body called hearing, are present by their own kind of incorporeal images to those who think of them, and silently turn all of them over in their minds.

 

ADDISON:

 

Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed. We are, indeed, so often conversant with one set of  objects, and tired out with so many repeated shows of the same things, that whatever is new or uncommon contributes a little to vary human life, and to divert our minds, for a while, with the strangeness of its appearance; it serves us for a kind of refreshment, and takes off from that satiety we are apt to complain of in our usual and ordinary entertainments. It is this that bestows charms on a monster, and makes even the imperfections of nature please us.

 

The weighty thoughts of our philosophical predecessors are sometimes more accessible in small doses—the imagination of the reader fills in, as with a poem, the wider philosophical implications—or not.

Every philosopher, like every poet, trembles before the flighty mind of the reader.  A tower of philosophical strength before the frailest ignorance may fall.

The philosophy of Faith certainly has scientific elements, and if God is a metaphor, poetic elements as well, even for the most faithless—if we are allowed to use that word.

Augustine, the preacher, seems to want to say more, but the Madness format forces him to hold his tongue; we are left to wonder how a silent song may reside corporeally within the human frame.

Team Addison seeks to please with a simple idea, perhaps the most profound of all: what pleases us?  “It is this that bestows charms on a monster” has to fill a hearer with the greatest wonder.

No real winner, here, but for reasons of the merest secularist practicality…

 

WINNER: ADDISON

NIETZSCHE VERSUS T.S. ELIOT!

NIETZSCHE:

In some remote corner of the universe, flickering in the light of the countless solar systems into which it had been poured, there was once a planet on which clever animals invented cognition. It was the most arrogant and most mendacious minute in the ‘history of the world;’ but a minute was all it was. After nature had drawn just a few more breaths the planet froze and the clever animals had to die. Someone could invent a fable like this and yet they would still not have given a satisfactory illustration of just how pitiful, how insubstantial and transitory, how purposeless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature; there were eternities during which it did not exist; and when it disappeared again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that might extend beyond the bounds of human life. Rather, the intellect is human, and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved. But if we could communicate with a gnat we would hear that it too floats through the air with the very same pathos, feeling that it too contains within itself the flying center of this world. There is nothing in nature so despicable and mean that would not immediately swell up like a balloon from just one little puff of that force of cognition; and just as every bearer of burdens wants to be admired, so the proudest man of all, the philosopher, wants to see, on all sides, the eyes of the universe trained, as through telescopes, on his thoughts and deeds.

It is odd that the intellect can produce this effect, since it is nothing other than an aid supplied to the most unfortunate, most delicate and most transient of beings so as to detain them for a minute within existence; otherwise, without this supplement, they would have every reason to flee existence as quickly as did Lessing’s infant son.

As a means for the preservation of the individual, the intellect shows its greatest strengths in dissimulation, since this is the means to preserve those weaker, less robust individuals who, by nature, are denied horns or the sharp fangs of a beast of prey with which to wage the struggle for existence. This art of dissimulation reaches its peak in humankind, where deception, flattery, lying and cheating, speaking behind the backs of others, keeping up appearances, living in borrowed finery, wearing masks, the drapery of convention, play-acting for the benefit of others and oneself—in short, the constant fluttering of human beings around the one flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that there is virtually nothing which defies understanding so much as the fact that an honest and pure drive towards the truth should ever have emerged in them.

Insofar as the individual wishes to preserve himself in relation to other individuals, in the state of nature he mostly uses his intellect for concealment and dissimulation; however, because necessity and boredom also lead men to want to live in societies and herds, they need a peace treaty, and so they endeavor to eliminate from their world at least the crudest forms of the bellum omnium contra omnes. [War of all against all] In the wake of this peace treaty, however, comes something which looks like the first step towards the acquisition of that mysterious drive for truth. For that which is to count as ‘truth’ from this point onwards now becomes fixed, i.e. a way of designating things is invented which has the same validity and force everywhere, and the legislation of language also produces the first laws of truth, for the contrast between truth and lying comes into existence here for the first time: the liar uses the valid tokens of designation—words—to make the unreal appear to be real; he says for example,  ‘I am rich,’ whereas the correct designation for this condition would be, precisely, ‘poor.’ He misuses the established conventions by arbitrarily switching or even inverting the names for things. If he does this in a manner that is selfish and otherwise harmful, society will no longer trust him and therefore exclude him from its ranks. Human beings do not so much flee from being tricked as from being harmed by being tricked.

What is a word? The copy of a nervous stimulation in sounds. To infer from the fact of the nervous stimulation that there exists a cause outside us is already the result of applying the principle of sufficient reason wrongly.

We believe that when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers, we have knowledge of the things themselves, and yet we possess only metaphors of things which in no way correspond to the original entities.

Every concept comes into being by making equivalent that which is non-equivalent.

Like form, a concept is produced by overlooking what is individual and real, whereas nature knows neither forms nor concepts and hence no species, but only an ‘X’ which is inaccessible to us and indefinable by us.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation and decoration, and which, after they have been in use for a long time, strike a people as firmly established, canonical, and binding; truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigor, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer coins.

Human beings have an unconquerable urge to let themselves be deceived, and they are as if enchanted with happiness when the bard recites epic fairy-tales as if they were true, or when the actor in a play acts the king more regally than reality shows him to be. The intellect, that master of pretense, is free and absolved of its usual slavery for as long as it can deceive without doing harm, and it celebrates its Saturnalian festivals when it does so; at no time is it richer, more luxuriant, more proud, skillful, and bold.

 

T.S. ELIOT:

 

One of the facts that might come to light in this process is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects or parts of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity.

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, ‘tradition’ should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

Someone said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.

 

Friedrich Nietzsche’s wave after wave of pessimism exhilarates if it fails to drown; perhaps it is only the exhilaration of a gnat, but it is exhilaration.

The unsentimental Nietzsche appears to see through all illusion to bravely penetrate beyond words to the truth that lies in the abyss, but in actuality his pessimism is the merest and shallowest verbosity. Life is mere vibration, he says, but he never penetrates the miraculous nature of what he condemns.  Yes, life is a mere ‘vibration,’ but what a ‘vibration!’  Yes, we are only ‘gnats,’ but what extraordinary gnats we are!  His pessimism is easily reversed.

Eliot’s well-known formulation from “Tradition and the Individual Talent” may be his greatest piece of sustained writing.

Rhetoric, like painting and poetry, can have three dimensions, can have that “perspective” which Shakespeare, in his Sonnets, said was “greatest painter’s art,” and with which that other Renaissance titan, Leonardo, agreed. By invoking “dead poets,” Eliot achieves more than Nietzsche who, by comparison, two-dimensionally paints with words, and with all that bitterness which usually attends mere shows of learning. Not that Nietzsche does not present insights; he does; but they are largely Kant and Hegel’s pessimism exaggerated; Hegel turned into a cartoon.

 

WINNER: ELIOT

STEPHANE MALLARME AND JOHN CROWE RANSOM CLASH IN THE MODERN BRACKET!

A 19th century Frenchman of pure Modernism tries to win against a 20th century American university reformer.

MALLARME:


French readers, their habits disrupted by the death of Victor Hugo, cannot fail to be disconcerted. Hugo, in his mysterious task, turned all prose, philosophy, eloquence, history, to verse, and as he was verse personified, he confiscated from any thinking person, anyone who talked or told stories, all but the right to speak. Poetry, I believe, waited respectfully until the giant who identified it with his tenacious hand, a hand stronger than that of a blacksmith, ceased to exist; waited until then before breaking up.

Does the need to write poetry, in response to a variety of circumstances now mean, after one of those periodical orgiastic excesses of almost a century comparable only to the Renaissance, that the time has come for shadows and cooler temperatures? Not at all! It means the gleam continues, though changed.

That prosody, with its very brief rules, is nevertheless untouchable: it is what points to acts of prudence, such as the hemistich, and what regulates the slightest effort at stimulating versification, like codes according to which abstention from stealing through the air is for instance a necessary condition for standing upright. Exactly what one does not need to learn; because if you haven’t guessed it yourself beforehand, then you’ve proved the uselessness of constraining yourself to it.

The faithful supporters of the alexandrine, our hexameter, are loosening from within the rigid and puerile mechanism of its beat; the ear, set free from an artificial counting, discovers delight in discerning on its own all the possible combinations that twelve timbres can make among themselves.

It’s taste we should consider very modern.

The poet who possesses acute tact and who always considers this alexandrine as the difinitive jewel, but one you bring out as you would a sword or a flower only rarely and only when there is some premeditated motive for doing so, touches it modestly and plays around it, lending it neighboring chords, before bringing it out superb and unadorned; on many occasions he lets his fingering falter on the eleventh syllable or continues it to the thirteenth. M. Henri de Regnier excels in these accompaniments of his own invention as discrete and proud as the genius he instills into it, and revelatory of the fleeting disquiet felt by the performers faced with the instrument they have inherited. Something else, which could simply be the opposite, reveals itself as a deliberate rebellion in the absence of the old mold, grown weary, when Jules Laforgue, from the outset, initiated us into the unquestionable charm of the incorrect line.

Speech has no connection with the reality of things except in matters commercial; where literature is concerned, speech is content merely to make allusions or distill the quality contained in some idea.

Contrary to the facile numerical and representative functions as the crowd at first treats it, speech which is above all dream and song, finds again in the Poet, by a necessity that is part of an art consecrated to fictions, its virtuality.

 

 

 

RANSOM:

 

There are three sorts of trained performers who would appear to have some of the competence that the critic needs. The artist himself. The philosopher. The university teacher of literature.

Professors of literature are learned but not critical men. The professional morale of this part of the university staff is evidently low. Nevertheless it is from the professors of literature, in this country the professors of English for the most part, that I should hope eventually for the erection of intelligent standards of criticism. It is their business.

Criticism will never be a very exact science, or even a nearly exact one. But neither will psychology.

Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals. Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism Ltd.

The principal resistance to such an idea will come from the present incumbents of the professorial chairs. But its adoption must come from them too. The idea of course is not a private one of my own. If it should be adopted before long, the credit would probably belong to Professor Ronald S. Crane, of the University of Chicago, more than to any other man.

Crane argues that historical scholarship has been overplayed heavily in English studies.

The students of the future must be permitted to study literature, and not merely about literature.

At the University of Chicago, I believe that Professor Crane, with some others is putting the revolution into effect in his own teaching, though for the time being perhaps with a limited program, mainly the application of Aristotle’s critical views.

This is not the first time that English professors have tilted against the historians, or “scholars,” in the dull sense which that word has acquired.

The most important recent diversion from the orthodox course of literary studies was undertaken by the New Humanists.  The New Humanists were, and are, moralists.  Mr. Babbitt could make war on romanticism for purely moral reasons.  But this is certainly not the charge that Mr. T.S. Eliot, a literary critic, brings against romanticism. His, if I am not mistaken, is aesthetic, though he may not ever care to define it very sharply.

Following the excitement produced by the Humanist diversion, there is now one due to the Leftists, or Proletarians, who are also diversionists. Their diversion is likewise moral. Debate could never occur between a Humanist and a Leftist on aesthetic grounds, for they are equally intent on ethical values. But the debate on ethical grounds would be very spirited, and it might create such a stir in a department conducting English studies that the conventional scholars there would find themselves slipping, and their pupils deriving from literature new and seductive excitements which would entice them away from their scheduled English exercises.

On the whole, however, the moralists, distinguished as they may be, are like those who have quarreled with the ordinary historical studies on purer or more aesthetic grounds: they have not occupied in English studies the positions of professional importance. In a department of English, as in any ongoing business, the proprietary interest becomes vested, and in old and reputable departments the vestees have uniformly been gentlemen who have gone through the historical mill. Their laborious Ph.D.’s and historical publications are their patents. Naturally, quite spontaneously, they would tend to perpetuate a system in which the power and the glory belonged to them. But English scholars in this country can rarely have better credentials than those which Professor Crane has earned.

It is really atrocious policy for a department to abdicate its own self-respecting identity. The department of  English is charged with the understanding and the communication of literature, an art, yet it has usually forgotten to inquire into the peculiar constitution and structure of its product.

 

Mallarme (b. 1842) and Ransom (b. 1888) each represent the two primary modes of attack with which Modernism effected its gains against Philosophical and Literary Tradition in the last century and a half.

Mallarme is insouciant candlelight, the tremulous ecstasy of the “incorrect line,” fitting the informal student, or guest, with the intoxicating mask of “poet,” imbued historically with all that term signifies, so he or she, so fitted, might be invited to the masque.

That most of Mallarme is nothing but glittering surface, moustache-pedantry, and name-dropping does little to diminish the charm of its eleven-fingered poetic style, but how much more really intoxicating when elevated to a position of money and respect by the pedagogical behemoth of the American university system. This is what the Program era did, starting with a muddy patch called the University of Iowa, aided by ‘power point’ efforts of New Critics like John Crowe Ransom.

One can hear Ezra Pound’s faux aesthetics in the accents of Mallarme and recognize the excitable Ezra’s ‘outsider’ sneering at the old English professors in Ransom’s calmer approach.  The motives and goals were the same: Gates. Barbarians. Storm.  Pound, Eliot, Williams and the New Critics were the barbarians, and all were on the same page—not the silly aesthetic one, but the one that counted. They won. Mallarme’s masque now walks the quiet carpets of the university. English students, as Ransom wanted, no longer know anything “about literature.”  They do literature. And according to the Creative Writing Program poets who teach them, they do it well.

 

WINNER: RANSOM

 

 

PATER AND HEIDEGGER CLASH IN MORE ROUND ONE MADNESS ACTION

Heidegger: Man is the speaking creature.

 

PATER:

 

To define beauty, not in the most abstract but in the most concrete terms possible, to find, not its universal formula, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.

“To see the object as in itself it really is,” has been justly said to be the aim of all true criticism whatever; and in aesthetic criticism the first step towards seeing one’s object as it really is, is to know one’s own impression as it really is.  What is this song or picture to me? The abstract question, the exact relation to truth or experience is of no interest.

What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.  To him all periods, types, schools of taste, are in themselves equal. “The ages are all equal, ” says William Blake, “but genius is always above its age.”

The Renaissance may be traced far into the middle age itself, with its motives already clearly pronounced, the care for physical beauty, the worship of the body, the breaking down of those limits which the religious system of the middle age imposed on the heart and the imagination.

To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes or fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought. Let us begin with that which is without—our physical life. Fix upon it in one of its more exquisite intervals, the moment, for instance, of delicious recoil from the flood of water in summer heat. What is the whole physical life in that moment but a combination of natural elements to which science gives their names?

And if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind.

To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.

Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only to be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire for beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

 

HEIDEGGER:

 

Man speaks. We speak when we are awake and we speak in our dreams. We are always speaking, even when we do not utter a single word aloud, but merely listen or read, and even when we are not particularly listening or speaking but are attending to some work or taking a rest. We are continually speaking in one way or another. We speak because speaking is natural to us. It does not first arise out of some special volition. Man is said to have language by nature. It is held that man, in distinction from plant and animal, is the living being capable of speech. This statement does not mean only that, along with other faculties, man also possesses the faculty of speech. It means to say that only speech enables man to be the living being he is as man. It is as one who speaks that man is—man. These are Wilhelm von Humboldt’s words. Yet it remains to consider what it is to be called—man.

We encounter language everywhere. Hence it cannot surprise us that as soon as man looks thoughtfully about himself at what is, he quickly hits upon language too, so as to define it by a standard reference to its overt aspects. Reflection tries to obtain an idea of what language is universally. The universal that holds for each thing is called its essence or nature. To represent universally what holds universally is, according to prevalent views, the basic feature of thought.

To talk about language is presumably even worse than to write about silence. We do not wish to assault language in order force it into the grip of ideas already fixed beforehand. We do not wish to reduce the nature of language to a concept, so that this concept may provide a generally useful view of language that will lay to rest all further notions about it.

To discuss language, to place it, means to bring to its place of being not so much language as ourselves: our own gathering into the appropriation.

We would reflect on language itself, and on language only. Language itself is—language and nothing else besides. Language itself is language. The calculation and hence usually overbearing, call this proposition an empty tautology. Merely to say the identical thing twice—language is language—how is that supposed to get us anywhere? But we do not want to get anywhere. We would like only, for once, to get to just where we are already.

This is why we ponder the question. “What about language itself?” This is why we ask. “In what way does language occur as language?” We answer: Language speaks. Is this, seriously, an answer? Presumably—that is, when it becomes clear what speaking is.

To reflect on language thus demands that we enter into the speaking of language in order to take up our stay with language, i.e., within its speaking, not within our own. Only in that way do we arrive at the region within which it may happen—or also fail to happen—that language will call to us from there and grant us its nature. We leave the speaking to language. We do not wish to ground language in something else that is not language itself, nor do we wish to explain other things by means of language.

What does it mean to speak?

First and foremost, speaking is expression. Secondly, speech is an activity of man. Finally, human expression is always a presentation and representation of the real and the unreal.

It has long been known that the characteristics we have advanced do not suffice to circumscribe the nature of language. No one would dare to declare incorrect, let alone reject as useless, the identification of language as audible utterance of inner emotions, as human activity, as a representation by image and by concept. We still give too little consideration, however, to the singular role of these correct ideas about language. They hold sway, as if unshakeable, over the whole field of the varied scientific perspectives on language. Yet they never bring us to language as language.

If we must seek the speaking of language in what is spoken, we shall do well to find something that is spoken purely rather than to pick just any spoken material at random. What is spoken purely is the poem.

The primal calling, which bids the intimacy of world and thing to come, is the authentic bidding. This bidding is the nature of speaking. Speaking occurs in what is spoken in the poem. It is the speaking of language. Language speaks. It speaks by bidding the bidden, thing-world and world-thing, to come to the between of the dif-ference.

 

Pater is a wimpier version of Gautier; Pater has a much larger reputation as an art for art’s sake critic in the English-speaking world, however. Gautier presented art for art’s sake with meat on its bones; Pater is a ghost, by comparison, a bloodless spirit who speaks of art for art’s sake famously as subjectively felt “moments.” The Englishman’s modesty, however, in comparison to the Frenchman’s verbose honesty (I like the naked chicks!) makes Pater more useful for all sorts of post-modern politics.  The flamboyant, cigar-smoking Gautier sings the praises of the “naked woman,” while Pater praises, in passing, “the worship of the body,” which one can quickly see, implies more than Gautier’s good-humored, nonchalant heterosexuality.  Buttoned-up and abstract passion ends up presenting a canvas with more radical possibilities.

Heidegger fell into the post-modern abyss, with his theoretical “language is language,” a repetitive kind of poetry; one can find a certain sort of inspiration in Heidegger’s madness, unless one reads him too deeply, and then one becomes hopelessly lost.  Too much “knowledge” is a dangerous thing.

 

WINNER: PATER

 

 

 

 

THE NOBLE EDMUND BURKE TAKES ON THE WILY THEOPHILE GAUTIER!

 Gautier.  Loves the useless because the beautiful is useless.

BURKE:

 

Mr. Locke very justly and finely observes of wit, that it is chiefly conversant in tracing resemblances; he remarks at the same time, that the business of judgment is rather in finding differences. It may perhaps appear, on this supposition, that there is no material distinction between the wit and the judgment, as they both seem to result from different operations of the faculty of comparing. But in reality, whether  they are or are not dependent on the same power of mind, they differ so very materially in many respects, that a perfect union of wit and judgment is one of the rarest things in the world. When two distinct objects are unlike to each other, it is only what we expect; things are in their common way; and therefore they make no impression on the imagination: but when two distinct objects have a resemblance, we are struck, we attend to them, and we are pleased. The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.

Now as the pleasure of resemblance is that which principally flatters the imagination, all men are nearly equal in this point, as far as their knowledge of the things represented or compared extends. The principle of this knowledge is very much accidental, as it depends upon experience and observation, and not on the strength or weakness of any natural faculty; and it is from this difference in knowledge that we commonly, though with no great exactness, call a difference in Taste proceeds.

So long as we are conversant with the sensible qualities of things, hardly any more than the imagination seems concerned; little more also than the imagination seems concerned when the passions are represented, because by the force of natural sympathy they are felt in all men without any recourse to reasoning, and their justness recognized in every breast. Love, grief, fear, anger, joy, all these passions have in their turns affected every mind; and they do not affect it in an arbitrary or casual manner, but upon certain, natural and uniform principles. But as many of the works of the imagination are not confined to the representation of sensible objects, nor to efforts upon the passions, but extend themselves to the manners, the characters, the actions, and designs of men, their relations, their virtues and vices, they come within the province of the judgment, which is improved by attention and by the habit of reasoning. All these make a very considerable part of what are considered as the objects of Taste; and Horace sends us to the schools of philosophy and the world for our instruction in them.

Whatever certainty is to be acquired in morality and the science of life; just the same degree of certainty have we in what relates to them in works of imagination. Indeed it is for the most part in our skill in manners, and in the observations of time and place, and of decency in general, which is only to be learned in those schools to which Horace recommends us, that what is called Taste by way of distinction, consists; and which is in reality no other than a more refined judgment. On the whole it appears to me, that what is called Taste, in its most general acceptation, is not a simple idea, but is partly made up of a perception of the primary pleasures of sense, of the secondary pleasures of the imagination, and of the conclusions of the reasoning faculty, concerning the various relations of these, and concerning the human passions, manners and actions. All this is requisite to form Taste, and the groundwork of all these is the same in the human mind; for as the senses are the great originals of all our ideas, and consequently of all our pleasures, if they are not uncertain and arbitrary, the whole groundwork of Taste is common to all, and therefore there is a sufficient foundation for a conclusive reasoning on these matters.

 

GAUTIER:

 

It is as ridiculous to say that a man is a drunkard because he describes an orgy, a rake because he describes a debauchery, as to claim that a man is virtuous because he writes a moral book.

It is one of the manias of these little scribblers with tiny minds, always to substitute the author for the work and to turn to the personality, to give some poor scandalous interest to their wretched rhapsodies. They know quite well that nobody would read them if they just contained their personal opinion.

Books follow manners and manners don’t follow books. Pictures are done from models, and not models from pictures. Someone or other said somewhere or other that literature and the arts had an influence on manners. Whoever it was, he was certainly a great fool. It is as if one said: green peas make the spring grow; green peas grow, on the contrary, because it is spring.

There are two kinds of utility, and the meaning of the term is always relative. What is useful for one is not useful for another. You are a cobbler, I am a poet. It is useful for me that my first line rhymes with my second. I have no wish to disparage the illustrious profession of cobbler, which I honor as much as the profession of constitutional monarch, but I humbly admit that I should rather have my shoe unsewn than my line ill-rhymed, and that I’d rather do without shoes than do without poetry.

Is there anything absolutely useful on this earth and in this life which we are living? To begin with, there is very little use in our being on earth and being alive. I defy the most learned of my company to say what purpose we serve, unless it is not to subscribe to Le Constitutionnel or to any kind of paper whatever.

Nothing beautiful is indispensable to life. If you suppressed the roses, the world would not materially suffer; yet who would wish there were an end of flowers? I would rather give up potatoes than roses, and I believe that there is only one utilitarian in the universe who could tear up a bed of tulips to plant cabbages.

What is the use of women’s beauty? Provided that a woman is physically well formed, and that she is capable of bearing children, she will always be enough for economists.

What is the use of music? What is the use of painting?

Nothing is really beautiful unless it is useless; everything useful is ugly, for it expresses a need, and the needs of man are ignoble and disgusting, like his poor weak nature. The most useful place in a house is the lavatory.

I am among those to whom the superfluous is necessary.

I prefer to a certain useful pot a Chinese pot which is sprinkled with mandarins and dragons, a pot which is no use to me at all.

I should most joyfully renounce my rights as a Frenchman and as a citizen to see an authentic picture by Raphael, or a beautiful woman naked.

The most becoming occupation for a civilized man seems to me to be inactivity, or cogitating as one smokes one’s pipe or cigar.

My God! What a stupid thing it is, this so-called perfectibility of the human race! I am sick and tired of hearing about it.

 

This is an epic battle between a sensible, dignified philosopher and a crazy, outrageous one.

Edmund Burke demands that we trace the connection between art and life; he trusts that we can measure Taste, that Taste is not merely the whim of an individual person.  Is this a truth, or a dream?

Gautier believes art is precisely that which is not connected to life, but is best when it is a mere dream.

Gautier, painter, poet, critic, (b. 1811) gives us Art for Art’s sake before Pater, before Wilde.

We prefer reading Gautier.  He is delightful.

We wonder though, if Gautier is aware that his simple love of a Chinese pot makes the art traders rich, and that his “inactivity” is impossible?

 

WINNER: BURKE

 

MATTHEW ARNOLD VERSUS WALTER BENJAMIN

Matthew Arnold: sentimental, dour, whiskered. Influenced T.S. Eliot.

ARNOLD:

 

Wordsworth says in one of his letters:—

“The writers in these publications, (the Reviews) while they prosecute their inglorious employment, can not be supposed to be in a state of mind very favorable for being affected by the finer influences of a thing so pure as genuine poetry.”

But is it true that criticism is really, in itself, a baneful and injurious employment; is it true that all time given to writing critiques on the works of others would be much better employed if it were given to original composition, of whatever kind this may be? Is it true that Johnson had better have gone on producing more Irenes instead of writing his Lives of the Poets; nay is it certain that Wordsworth  himself was better employed in making his Ecclesiastical Sonnets than when he made his celebrated Preface, so full of criticism, and criticism of the works of others? Wordsworth was himself a great critic, and it is to be sincerely regretted that he has not left us more criticism; Goethe was one of the greatest critics, and we may sincerely congratulate ourselves that he has left us so much criticism.

The critical power is of lower rank than the creative. True; but in assenting to this proposition, one or two thing are to be kept in mind. It is undeniable that the exercise of a creative power, that a free creative activity, is the highest function of man; it is proved to be so by man’s finding in it his true happiness. But it is undeniable, also, that men may have the sense of exercising this free creative activity in other ways than in producing great works of literature or art; if it were not so, all but a very few men would be shut out from the true happiness of all men. They may have it in well-doing, they may have it in learning, they may have it in criticising. This is one thing to be kept in mind. Another is, that the exercise of the creative power in the production of great works of literature or art, however high this exercise of it may rank, is not at all epochs and under all conditions possible; and that therefore labor may be vainly spent in attempting it, which might with more fruit be used in preparing for it, in rendering it possible.

For the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment; the creative power has, for its happy exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own control.

 

BENJAMIN:

 

Lithography enabled graphic art to illustrate everyday life, and it began to keep pace with printing. But only a few decades after its invention, lithography was surpassed by photography. For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech. A film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images at the speed of an actor’s speech. Just as lithography virtually implied the illustrated newspaper, so did photography foreshadow the sound film.

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.

The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.

 

It seems to us that Arnold is merely speculating to no purpose, while Benjamin really has something to say.

 

WINNER: BENJAMIN

 

 

EDMUND WILSON SEEKS TO ADVANCE OVER JUDITH BUTLER IN POST-MODERN BRACKET CLASH

Wilson. Knew everybody: Edna Millay, Hemingway, Nabokov, LBJ; a blue blood Harold Bloom, he called Lord of the Rings “trash.”

WILSON:

 

We are not accustomed, in our quarter of the world, either to having the government attempt to control literature and art or to having literary and artistic movements try to identify themselves with the government. Yet Russia, since the Revolution, has had a whole series of cultural groups which have attempted to dominate literature either with or without the authority of the government; and Trotsky himself, in his official position, even in combating these tendencies, cannot avoid passing censure and pinning ribbons. Sympathizers with the Soviet regime used to assume that this state of affairs was inseparable from the realization of socialism: that its evils would be easily outgrown and that in any case it was a great thing to have the government take so lively an interest in culture. I believe that this view was mistaken.

Under the Tsar, imaginative literature in Russia played a role which was probably different from any role it had ever played in the life of any other nation. Political and social criticism, pursued and driven underground by the censorship, was forced to incorporate itself in the dramatic imagery of fiction. This was certainly one of the principal reasons for the greatness during the nineteenth century of the Russian theater and novel, for the mastery by the Russian writers—from Pushkin’s time to Tolstoy’s—of the art of implication.  The stories of Turgenev, which seem mild enough to us today, were capable of exciting the most passionate controversies—and even, in the case of A Sportsman’s Sketches, causing the dismissal of the censor who had passed it—because each was regarded as a political message. Ever since the Revolution, literature and politics in Russia have remained inextricable.

But after the Revolution, the intelligentsia themselves were in power; and it became plain that in the altered situation the identification of literature and politics was liable to terrible abuses.

Lenin and Trotsky, Lunacharsky and Gorky, worked sincerely to keep literature free; but they had at the same time, from the years of Tsardom, a keen sense of the possibility of art as an instrument of propaganda. Lenin took a special interest in the moving pictures from the propaganda point of view; and the first Soviet films, by Eisenstein and Pudovkin, were masterpieces of implication, as the old novels and plays had been. But Lenin died; Trotsky was exiled; Lunacharsky died.

Friedrich Engels, in the letter to Margaret Harkness, warning her that the more the novelist allows his political ideas to ‘remain hidden, the better it is for the work of art,’ says that Balzac, with his reactionary opinions, is worth a thousand of Zola, with all his democratic ones. (Balzac was one of the great literary admirations of Engels and Marx, the latter of whom had planned to write a book on him.)

The recent damning of the music of  Shostakovich on the ground that the commissars were unable to hum it seems a withdrawal from the liberal position.

The truth is that the talk in Soviet Russia about proletarian literature and art has resulted from the persistence of the same situation which led Tolstoy under the old regime to put on the muzhik’s blouse and to go in for carpentry, cobbling and plowing: the difficulty experienced by an educated minority, who were only about 20 percent of the people, in getting in touch with the illiterate majority. In American the situation is quite different. The percentage of illiterates in this country is only something like 4 percent; and there is relatively little difficulty of communication between different social groups. Our development away from England, and from the old world generally, in this respect—in the direction of the democratization of our idiom—is demonstrated clearly in H.L. Mencken’s The American Language; and if it is a question of either the use for high literature of the language of the people or the expression of the dignity and importance of the ordinary man, the country which produced Leaves of Grass and Huckleberry Finn has certainly nothing to learn from Russia.

 

BUTLER:

 

Contemporary feminist debates over the meanings of gender lead time and again to a certain sense of trouble, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism.  Perhaps trouble need not carry such a negative valence. To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble. The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble. Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.

I read Beauvoir who explained that to be a woman within the terms of a masculinist culture is to be a source of mystery and unknowability for men, and this seemed confirmed somehow when I read Sartre for whom all desire, problematically presumed as heterosexual and masculine, was defined as trouble. For that masculine subject of desire, trouble became a scandal with the sudden intrusion, the unanticipated agency, of a female “object” who inexplicably returns the glance, reverses the gaze, and contests the place and authority of the masculine position. The radical dependency of the masculine subject on the female “Other” suddenly exposes his autonomy as illusory. That particular dialectical reversal of power, however, couldn’t quite hold my attention—although others surely did.

Power seemed to be more than an exchange between subjects or a relation of constant inversion between subject and an Other; indeed, power appeared to operate in the production of that very binary frame for thinking about gender. I asked, what configuration of power constructs the subject and the Other, that binary relation between “men” and “women,” and the internal stability of those terms? Are those terms untroubling only to the extent that they conform to a heterosexual matrix for conceptualizing gender and desire?

Female Trouble is also the title of the John Waters film that features Divine, the hero/heroine of Hairspray as well, whose impersonation of women implicitly suggests that gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real.

To expose the foundational categories of sex, gender, and desire as effects of a specific formation of power requires a form of critical inquiry that Foucault, reformulating Nietzsche, designates as “genealogy.” A genealogical critique refuses to search for the origins of gender, the inner truth of female desire, a genuine or authentic sexual identity that repression has kept from view; rather, genealogy investigates the political stakes in designating as an origin and cause those identity categories that are in fact the effects of institutions, practices, discourses with multiple and diffuse points of origin. The task of this inquiry is to center on—and decenter—such defining institutions: phallogocentrism and compulsory heterosexuality.

Is “the body” or “the sexed body” the firm foundation on which gender and systems of compulsory sexuality operate? Or is “the body” itself shaped by political forces with strategic interests in keeping that body bounded and constituted by the markers of sex?

In what senses, then, is gender an act? As in other ritual social dramas, the action of a gender requires a performance that is repeated. This repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation.

Genders can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived.

 

It is a truism that in any contest, success depends on unity and cooperation (including “healthy competition”) while division and strife leads to failure.  A whole is comprised of parts, but here’s the question: what are the parts doing to make the whole a healthy one? But how do we know this “whole,” in its context, is a good thing, unless we see it, in turn, as a part behaving to make a larger whole healthy, the health of everything eventually sweeping up all in its global good?  All philosophical investigation must be concerned not with parts, nor with their combination into something greater, but with the largest possible cooperative assemblage: here is where the lone philosophical genius seeks philosophical truth and the philosophical good—everything else is mere power-grabbing, strife and lies.

Edmund Wilson, a Critic more historian than theorist, a Modernist speaking of male Russians, faces off against Judith Butler, a Post-Modernist gender theorist, of French and German influence.  If the differences are profound, profound, perhaps, the match.

Wilson speaks from, and during a time of great American influence and power; confidently he asserts the 96% literary rate of the U.S., how in his country “there is relatively little difficulty of communication between different social groups,” and that “the country which produced Leaves of Grass and Huckleberry Finn has certainly nothing to learn from Russia.”

Today, the remark about Leaves of Grass and Huckleberry Finn sounds naive; Wilson, the historical critic, is interesting only as a look back into history.

Butler, meanwhile, belongs to those who would change history as she speaks not for “communication between different social groups,” but rather exploding “social groups.”

Gender as a new, fluid identity within the realm of bodily desire is Butler’s focus—politics, history and aesthetics are thus, in Butler, replaced by psychology, a rather narrow psychology—the psychology of the drag queen.  Butler conspicuously fails to mention children as she comes to grips with gender.  The larger world is puzzlingly absent.  If desire is at the heart of heterosexuality, other kinds of desire can never be proven to be anything but a variation of heterosexual desire, and sexual desire can never be proven to be anything but a breeding device, unless we add aesthetics to the equation, and this, too, leads away from Butler.

 

WINNER: EDMUND WILSON

 

 

BAUDELAIRE BATTLES ADORNO IN THE MODERN BRACKET!

Is the photograph modernity’s face?

 

BAUDELAIRE:

 

The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or a Raphael—one of those that have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.’ Just as there are people who, having once read Bossuet and Racine, fancy that they have mastered the history of literature.

Fortunately from time to time there come forward righters of wrong, critics, amateurs, curious enquirers, to declare that Raphael, or Racine, does not contain the whole secret, and that the minor poets too have something good, solid and delightful to offer; and finally that however much we love general beauty, as it is expressed by classical poets and artists, we are no less wrong to neglect particular beauty, the beauty of circumstance and the sketch of manners.

The child sees everything in a state of newness; he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and color. I am prepared to go even further and assert that inspiration has something in common with a convulsion, and that every sublime thought is accompanied by a more or less violent nervous shock. The man of genius has sound nerves, while those of the child are weak. With the one, Reason has taken up a considerable position; with the other, Sensibility is almost the whole being. But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.

 

ADORNO (and MAX HORKHEIMER):

 

A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself.  Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.

The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same.

Real life is  becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for the imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality.

Those very art forms which are known as classical, such as Mozart’s music, contain objective trends which represent something different to the style which they incarnate. Instead of exposing itself to this failure in which the style of the great work of art has always achieved self-negation, the inferior work has always relied on its similarity with others—on a surrogate identity.  In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute.

No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged.

 

Adorno is nothing but Marx for the film age.  The pessimism is a necessary intellectual stimulation—how can we not love, “the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality?” But how can anyone resist the revery of Baudelaire’s more optimistic, “genius is…childhood recovered…?”  Baudelaire’s pull is greater, even as we feel the dismay of being a “victim” of a film, or of—childhood?

Adorno’s fear that art which pulls us in will kill us probably goes back to the idea that hunting deer should take priority over drawing them on the cave wall.  It is always interesting, but finally tedious to mingle primitive fears with technological, economic, and reproductive sophistication.  Adorno’s distinction between telephone (active) and radio (passive) has merits in light of where technology is going today.

Philosophically, we find self-conscious modernism a big fat bore, and it can be downright malevolent sometimes, too.  The pathology of self-consciously modern philosophy is the primary manifestation to any real philosopher.  We see it in Baudelaire’s small-minded attack on the bourgeois love of Titian and Raphael.  My God, what is wrong with people loving Titian and Raphael?

Joni Mitchell recalled to an interviewer that her parents “each owned three records” when she was growing up (and she grew up in the age Adorno is writing about): her father owned three jazz trumpet records (Harry James, etc) and her mother, three classical piano records (Claire de Lune, etc).  People did not have huge record collections back then, but Mitchell found inspiration in her parents’ tiny collection.  Baudelaire looks forward to our over-saturated era with his recommendation that we seek “particular” beauty in numerous “minor” artists, but Baudelaire’s (childhood?) logic is flawed: great artists like Raphael give us more “particular” beauty than any given “minor” artist, and looking at a lot of minor artists does not give us more “particular” beauty—that would be to confuse substance with number.  It is tempting to say, and it’s often said: bring on the particular and give the ‘minor’ artists a chance, too, but when looked at soberly, this is nothing but crass, minor ambition.  We must always beware Raphael-hating.

The whole philosophical aesthetic of modern technology can be summed up by the despair generated when photography, which gives us so much to look at, gives us too much to look at, and instead of celebrating the variety seen and felt, we mourn the fact that everything now looks, and feels, the same.

 

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

KANT TAKES ON MARX IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

KANT:

Suppose someone asks me whether I consider the palace I see before me beautiful. I might reply that I am not fond of things of that sort, made merely to be gaped at. Or I might reply like that Iroquois sachem who said that he liked nothing better in Paris than the eating-houses. I might even go on, as Rousseau would, to rebuke the vanity of the great who spend the people’s sweat on such superfluous things. I might, finally, quite easily convince myself that, if I were on some uninhabited island with no hope of ever again coming among people, and could conjure up such a splendid edifice by a mere wish, I would not even take that much trouble for it, if I already had a sufficiently comfortable hut. The questioner may grant all this and approve of it; but it is not to the point. All he wants to know is whether my mere presentation of the object is accompanied by a liking, no matter how indifferent I may be about the existence of the object of this presentation. We can easily see that, in order for me say that an object is beautiful, and to prove that I have taste, what matters is what I do with this presentation within myself, and not the respect in which I depend on the object’s existence. Everyone has to admit that if a judgment about beauty is mingled with the least interest then it is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste. In order to play the judge in matters of taste, we must not be in the least biased in favor of the thing’s existence but must be wholly indifferent about it.

 

MARX:

 

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production. Then begins the epoch of social revolution.

In considering such transformations a distinction should be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the productive social forces and the relations of production.

Man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent.

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to products of labor, so soon as they are produced as commodities.

The capitalistic mode of production ( essentially the production of surplus-value) produces thus, with the extension of the working-day, not only the deterioration of human labor-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical conditions of development and function. It produces also the premature exhaustion and death of this labor-power itself.

 

Kant is all reflection and Marx is all fight, but both exhibit the modern tendency to split the world into two forever divided camps; Kant, its use and its beauty, Marx, its use and its use-value—the latter of which Marx maintains, is experienced by mankind religiously and aesthetically; so finally Kant and Marx are very much the same, ushering in fantastically devised estrangement.

Though Kant might be considered ‘conservative’ and Marx, ‘radical,’ the lynx-eye of true philosophy notes the profound similarity between these two philosophers, both, in many respects, brilliant but deranged producers of woe.

It is difficult to pick a winner between these two deep and similar types of conflict.

 

WINNER: MARX

 

 

 

HORACE VS. POPE, AS THE MADNESS CONTINUES

HORACE:

Study Greek models night and day.

Whatever advice you give, be brief, so that the teachable mind can take in your words quickly and retain them faithfully.

Whatever you invent for pleasure, let it be near to truth. We don’t want a play to ask credence for anything. The elder citizens chase things off the stage if there’s no substance in them, and the high-spirited youngsters won’t vote for dry poetry.  Combine pleasure with usefulness.

There are some mistakes we forgive. The string doesn’t always give the note that the hand and the mind intended: it often returns a high note when you ask for a low. The bow won’t always hit what it threatens to hit. But when most features of a poem are brilliant, I shan’t be offended by a few blemishes thrown around by carelessness or human negligence. But what then?  If a copyist goes on making the same mistake however much he is warned, he is not forgiven; if a lyre-player always gets the same note wrong, people laugh at him. I’m even angry when Homer nods, though a doze is OK in a long work.

Poetry is like painting. Some attracts you more if you stand near, some if you’re further off.

POPE:

Horace still charms with graceful Negligence,
And without Method talks us into Sense,
Will like a Friend familiarly convey
The truest Notions in the easiest way.

Tis not enough your Counsel still be true,
Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And Things unknown propos’d as Things forgot:
Without Good Breeding, Truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes Superior Sense belov’d.

Some positive persisting Fops we know,
Who if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with Pleasure own your Errors past,
And make each Day a Critic on the last.

Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
In every Work regard the Writer’s End,
Since none can compass more than they Intend.

Music resembles Poetry; in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.

Pope (b. 1688) was keenly aware of Psychology before it became a ubiquitous and pedantic school subject in the early 20th century: “Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehoods do; Men must be Taught as if you Taught them Not” is Psychology in a nutshell. Nothing more needs to be understood, for coming at Psychology directly always fails; if great authors teach anything, it is that all Wisdom is profoundly indirect. And yet intention is all—as flexible as Pope is, you will be held to that.

Alexander Pope also earns points by praising Horace, his opponent.

Team Pope really wants to win this thing.

We moderns like to flatter ourselves that we are more easy-going and flexible than our predecessors, but it depends on who one reads; Pope and Horace are not rigid pedants: stand back from this poem/painting, you’ll like it better; don’t hanker after perfection; there are some beauties no method can reach—Pope learned from Horace’s nonchalant wit. And yet the easy-going can have high standards, too, and intimidating terms Genius, Master, and God in Pope’s context serve, with gentleness and suavity, beauties which continue to please.

WINNER: POPE

LET ME PAINT YOU—NEW SCARRIET POEM

“Invade your privacy?  I will give you your privacy forever!” –Portrait painter’s plea

Let me paint you.
The valley doesn’t know itself.
You have listened by flowers
When I, bold, told you the dozen
Goings of the sun, and the soreness
In my mind when you are gone.
Both of us are offended by ourselves
In photographs, and when mirrors
Map our sublime faces they fail;
The glass plate destroys the significance
Of longing that stretches in many
Directions far away.
Only my mastery in the painting art,
The valley laying out its perspective
In the singular sun, can allow the mystery
To go home at last, the multiple sufferings
Seeing what is happy and one.
I quickly sketched your nose and told you it was
The best nose, but you would have none of it,
Though there was a moment when your modesty dropped
And I thought perhaps you knew.
Is it possible for you to know how
I saw you once without me being specifically in the picture?
Let the painter satisfy the life no longer here,
And the living, too—vaguely sad, vaguely near.

ARISTOTLE VERSUS SAMUEL JOHNSON

ARISTOTLE:

TRAGEDY is a REPRESENTATION of a COMPLETE ACTION, which has MAGNITUDE, by people ACTING, and not by narration, accomplishing by means of PITY and TERROR the CATHARSIS of such emotions.

Since TRAGEDY is a representation of an action and is enacted by people acting, these people are NECESSARILY OF A CERTAIN SORT according to their CHARACTER and their REASONING. For it is because of these that we say that actions are of a certain sort.

WITHOUT ACTION a TRAGEDY cannot exist, but WITHOUT CHARACTERS IT MAY.

SAMUEL JOHNSON:

Almost all the FICTIONS OF THE LAST AGE will VANISH, if you DEPRIVE them of a HERMIT and a WOOD, a BATTLE and a SHIPWRECK.

WHY this wild strain of imagination FOUND RECEPTION SO LONG in polite and learned ages, it is not easy to conceive; but we cannot wonder that, while READERS could be procured, the AUTHORS were willing to continue it: for when a man had by practice gained some fluency of LANGUAGE, he had no further care than to RETIRE TO HIS CLOSET, LET LOOSE his invention, and HEAT HIS MIND with incredibilities; a book was thus produced WITHOUT fear of criticism, without the toil of study, without knowledge of nature, or acquaintance with LIFE.

The task of our PRESENT writers is very DIFFERENT; it requires, together with that learning which is to be gained from books, that EXPERIENCE which can never be attained by solitary diligence, but must arise from general converse, and ACCURATE OBSERVATION of the LIVING world.

Team Johnson, fearing the disaster suffered by Hume against Plato, picks the strategy of brevity, but really, what chance does Johnson, even with the clever, “Hermit and a Wood, a Battle and a Shipwreck,” have against the banner Aristotle, massing with its “COMPLETE ACTION” and its “CATHARSIS?”

Johnson (b 1709) demonstrates how early the ‘self-consciously-modern’ virus dragged down Letters; this Lament has been around a long, long time: previous ages lacked “accuracy,”  “experience” and “real, observed life,” etc.  We don’t believe a word of it.

WINNER: ARISTOTLE

FIRST MARCH MADNESS CONTEST: PLATO VERSUS HUME

PLATO:

The manufacture of the ITEMS OF FURNITURE involves the CRAFTSMAN looking to the TYPE and then making the beds or tables WE USE. The type itself is NOT manufactured by any craftsman. How could it be?

To get hold of A MIRROR and carry it around with you everywhere, you’ll soon be CREATING EVERYTHING.

PAINTER, CARPENTER, and GOD are responsible for THREE different kinds of beds.  God has produced only that ONE REAL BED.

The SAME goes for TRAGIC PLAYWRIGHTS.  REPRESENTATION and TRUTH are a considerable distance apart.

Does HISTORY record that there was any war fought in HOMER’S time whose success depended on his leadership or advice?  No.

HUME:

The SENTIMENTS of men often DIFFER with regard to BEAUTY, even while their general DISCOURSE is the SAME. There are certain terms in every language, which impart blame, and others praise; and all men, who use the SAME TONGUE, MUST AGREE. But when critics come to PARTICULARS, this seeming UNANIMITY VANISHES.

In SCIENCE, the case is OPPOSITE: the difference among men is there oftener found to lie in GENERALS than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance.

It is natural for us to SEEK a STANDARD OF TASTE, a rule by which various sentiments may be reconciled.

The difference, it is said, is very wide between judgement and sentiment. ALL SENTIMENT IS CORRECT; sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, whenever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the UNDERSTANDING are NOT CORRECT; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard.

One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the REAL BEAUTY, or real deformity, is as FRUITLESS an inquiry as to pretend to ascertain the REAL SWEET OR REAL BITTER.

BUT whoever would assert an equality of genius between OGILBY and MILTON would be thought to defend no less an extravagance than if he maintained a pond as extensive as the ocean.

It is evident that NONE of the rules of composition are fixed by reasoning a priori, or can be esteemed abstract conclusions of the understanding, from comparing these habits and relations of ideas, which are eternal and immutable. Their foundation is the same with that of all the practical sciences, EXPERIENCE; nor are they any thing but general observations, concerning what has been universally found to please all countries and in all ages.

Many of the BEAUTIES OF POETRY and even of eloquence are founded on FALSEHOOD and fiction, on hyperboles, metaphors, and an abuse or perversion of terms from their natural meaning. To check the sallies of the imagination, and to reduce every expression to geometrical truth and EXACTNESS, would be the most contrary to the laws of criticism; because it would produce a work, which by universal experience, has been found the most insipid and DISAGREEABLE.

But though poetry can never submit to exact truth, it must be confined by rules of art, discovered to the author either by GENIUS or OBSERVATION.

The same HOMER who pleased at Athens and Rome, 2,000 years ago, is STILL ADMIRED at Paris and at London. All the changes of climate, government, religion, and language, have not been able to obscure his glory.

Though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if not entirely the same in all men; yet FEW ARE QUALIFIED to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty.

We choose our favorite AUTHOR as we do our FRIEND, from a conformity of humor and disposition.

The WANT OF HUMANITY and decency, so conspicuous in the characters drawn by several of the ancient poets, even sometimes by HOMER and the Greek tragedians, diminishes considerably the merit of their noble performances, and gives MODERN authors an advantage over them.

Team Plato decided to be iconic and brief from Book X of the Republic.

Team Hume went with a more discursive strategy from On the Standard of Taste, but we see how this backfires, as Hume, trying to play every side of each argument, ends up contradicting himself.

WINNER: PLATO

MARCH MADNESS! POETRY! THEORY! MADNESS! HOLY MADNESS! REAL, ACTUAL MADNESS!

“Philosophy is the true Muse” —Thomas Brady

THE BRACKETS

CLASSICAL

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Horace
4. Augustine
5. Maimonides
6. Aquinas
7. Dante
8. Boccaccio
9. Sidney
10. Dryden
11. Aphra Behn
12. Vico
13. Addison
14. Pope
15. Johnson
16. Hume

ROMANTIC

1. Kant
2. Burke
3. Lessing
4. Schiller
5. Wollstonecraft
6. De Stael
7. Schliermacher
8. Hegel
9. Wordsworth
10. Coleridge
11. Peacock
12. Shelley
13. Emerson
14. Poe
15. Gautier
16. Marx

MODERN

1. Baudelaire
2. Arnold
3. Pater
4. Mallarme
5. Nietzsche
6. Wilde
7. Freud
8. Saussure
9. Jung
10. Trotsky
11. Woolf
12. Eliot
13. Ransom
14. Heidegger
15. Benjamin
16. Adorno

POST-MODERN

1. Wilson
2. Burke
3. Lacan
4. Sartre
5. Brooks
6. De Bouvoir
7. Austin
8. Frye
9. Barthes
10. Fanon
11. Rich
12. Bloom
13. Derrida
14. Said
15. Cixous
16. Butler

“YOUR AVANT-GARDE IS NOT AVANT-GARDE” MAZER, ARCHAMBEAU, AND BURT AT THE GROLIER

“In  speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either thorough or profound.” —Edgar Poe

Last Friday evening at the Grolier poetry bookshop, Robert Archambeau, Stephen Burt, and Ben Mazer each read a paper on ‘Poetry: What’s Next?’ Wise man Henry Gould, up from RI, was in the audience, as was Philip Nikolayev, extraordinary poet and translator. Scarriet, fortunate the Grolier is in our own backyard, attended out of mere curiosity and a certain low motive pertaining to literary friendship.

Archambeau, Burt, and Mazer are powerhouses of Letters: they are scholars and authors we need to know about.

Mazer is a scowler; Archambeau, a smiler; and Burt simply harangues, mouth perpetually open. But do not be fooled by these superficial observations, which we make with affection; all three, when one moves into their personal orbit, are as sweet as can be, civilized by poetry in that conspiracy which outsiders must feel is the purpose of poetry: to strive to make manners and politeness supreme. Those educated by Letters are nice. The poet with low morals belongs to another era, and something tells us the lacking morals part was always a myth. With poets, a handshake is never a handshake; or it may be one, or less of one, or more of one, and one never knows this, and that is the whole point, and the joy, or the despair, of the poet and their poetry. But they do, finally, shake hands like everyone else, even the most philosophical of them.

But to the presentation itself: the three papers stuck to poetry, and thus were not about poetry.

To properly discuss a thing, one must discuss its parts. The parts, however, because they are parts, do not resemble the thing, and discussing parts is to stray from the thing, like being in the ocean away from the island (it can be scary), and none of the speakers, as witty as they were, had the intellectual courage to do this. They were all very much aware that they were to speak on poetry—poetry as it is always generally discussed by their contemporaries, and this is what they did.

Or at least Mazer and Burt did so.

Archambeau pointed out the post-modern marketing phenomenon of naming an electronic device a Blackberry, saying this was an act of Symbolist Poetry, and here this author and critic, a brilliant man of substance with a shy smile, was, in his cleverness, feeling his way towards the principle.

But alas, the tendency to discuss actual parts, so we might better familiarize ourselves with the actual thing comes up against that which most hinders it: poetry—in this case, Symbolist Poetry, one of many self-contained stars in a modernist firmament with astronomers obsessed with “what’s next?” and leaving “what is it?” to the old-fashioned, like Aristotle, Plato, and Shelley, who knew that “what’s next” cannot be discussed if we don’t wonder “what is it?” and that we should never take the latter for granted.

We are always discussing newly “what is it?”

“What’s next?” belongs only to Modernism’s sleight-of-hand.

But back to Blackberry. Archambeau gave us the wonderful counter-example, “Murphy’s Oil,” the old way of naming before Mallarme’s allusiveness fired up the imagination of the market; yet weren’t they calling baseball teams Giants back in the 19th century?

Archambeau also claimed that in the near future poets were going to rhyme like they had never rhymed before. A rhyme would become like a dare-devil “stunt,” Archambeau happily assured us, quoting some Jay-Z, and as we were swept up in this prophecy of euphoria, we still managed to wonder: where were the edifying examples? What makes a good rhyme and a bad rhyme? For to ask, “what is it?” implies the good: What is good poetry? What is good rhyme? We don’t want the bad, whether it’s behind us or before us.

The three gentlemen unconsciously pursued this course, as well: it was assumed all that was coming was good. Mazer, perhaps, escaped this, for he spoke on what poetry should be, in general; his was more an ought than a prophecy: Burt and Archambeau hewed to ‘this is a particular thing that is actually going to happen if it is not sort of happening already,’ predictions without much daring, saying only: we will see more of this already fully developed type of poetry.

None seemed conscious of it, but all three, we were rather pleased to hear, struck a concerted blow against the “what’s next?” trope.

Mazer fought the good fight with his scornful, “your avant-garde is not avant-garde.”

Burt, blurting “if I see one more book on Conceptualism or Flarf, I will…refuse to read it!” was another sign that there is a rebellion brewing against the whole blind, played-out, modernist, “what’s next?” syndrome, and a desire to get off the ‘what’s new’ treadmill for a moment.

But what did they say was coming?

We already mentioned that Archambeau sees a revival of rhyme, together with a counter movement of Symbolist “nuance,” and spent the rest of his twenty minutes naming familiar poetries in recent history: the Fireside Poets, featuring Longfellow, and their poetry of “middle class values” (and thus deserving, we assume, oblivion), Gertrude Stein foregrounding language for its own sake, with a ‘poetry only’ sub-culture of magazines and bookstores growing in the wake of poetry detaching itself from middle class values, giving rise to Vanessa Place and Conceptualism, as poetry against middle class values (and capitalism) replaces poetry for middle class values. And then we come full circle as Archambeau reminds us the modernist Frost is a poet of middle class values and really, so are the current poets of the Ethnic, Gender, Racial, Regional, Disability, micro-communities.

Archambeau ended with the epigrammatic observation that ‘what’s next’ is a revival of the past and it is “hard to predict the past.”

It is even harder to say what the past is, and what poetry is. This we did not get. “Rhyme” and “middle class values” satisfy a superficial hunger; the salted popcorn we eat forever without getting close to what poetry is, exactly.

Burt came next, and Burt, who has read more than anyone else, seemed determined to give us not only the forest and the trees, but a command to protect both: the big thing on the horizon for Burt is a big thing: poems of “area study,” which are “reported facts of a place,” grounding the poet in geographical reality, and one has to admire the ambition and the practicality, not to mention the many neo-classical, Romantic, and Modernist precedents. Williams’ Patterson and Olson’s Gloucester, as Burt quickly concedes, may fail in the “elegance and concision” departments, but what better way to talk about Climate Change?

Burt, a Harvard professor, pays homage, consciously, or not, to his institution’s illustrious poetic tradition: Emerson through Jorie Graham (her recent acute concern for the planet is her expansive-lyric trump card) champion America’s and the World’s Wilderness; this was explicit in Burt’s talk: “Area Study” poetry ought not to be “a cultural center,” Burt warned, like “Brooklyn or San Francisco;” a poet like Ammons should record planetary destruction where the public might not notice.

The other vital development for Burt will be poetry that, unlike “Area Study,” does embrace “ornament,” in poetry that is “uselessly beautiful.” And again, Stephen Burt makes sure his political sensitivity is on display: women are doing this kind of poetry, he tells us.

Burt is mad for the Eternal Feminine, embracing the earth in Area Study and, in his counter trend, women’s work that is “elaborate without worrying about the past,” and “not efficient or war-like.” This is the passive, receptive Muse of Shelley; this is Archambeau’s New Rhyme movement, but Burt is completely female, and so no dead white male “revivalist” interest is allowed; he mentions Angie Estes, “not a New Formalist of the 80s” and quotes her in perhaps the best example offered in an evening with few examples: “scent of a sentence which is ready to speak.” Note the absence of rhyme’s muscle, and instead the liquid alliteration.

Burt is ready for the pastoral and the pretty, the rustic and the raw. Burt is the female sprawl to Archambeau’s male all. Burt cannot abide the gallery and its Conceptual, urbane cleverness and really seems to want to leave the past behind; the closest he comes to cultural centrality is a nod to what he sees as a “smarter performance poetry” on the horizon, a “de-centered, tweetable, slam poetry, far from the literary past.” The poets Burt cites in this third movement are women, too: Ariana Reines, Patricia Lockwood, and Daniella Pafunda.

Mazer followed, and he was the rock rising above the fire and the water, rather glum compared to the first two, arguing for abiding truths like “empathic imagination” and “divine oracularity,” quoting early 20th century figures not to signal revolutionary beginnings, but to eulogize trends fizzling out in the “de-radicalization” and ahistorical “creative writing boon” and “awards” obsessed present. Mazer was playing the real poet in the room, intoning a dark warning to the glib critics. He did not mention any contemporary poets. Archambeau pointed to the fire in the sky, Burt showed us the chuckling streams hidden around the mountain. Mazer, by implication, was the mountain.

No one spoke on the anthology; and what possible role that would play in the future of poetry.

There were a few questions from the audience afterwards: Henry Gould wondered about the Balkanization of poetry; obsessed with movements and trends, aren’t we watering down what should be a poetry of the best combination of all possible parts?

Gould is right, of course. If Burt, for instance, is unwilling to clear a space where even Global Warming Deniers can participate, then, rightly or wrongly, the whole thing is finally about Global Warming, not poetry.

Poetry should have one, and only one, political rule: inclusivity.  The inclusivity should be radical; that is, we should all be included right now; a participatory government may say: your candidate lost—work, work, work, and come back in four years; poetry is more inclusive, still.  No subject gets special treatment in poetry. Will certain political beliefs lend themselves better to the poetic enterprisePerhaps. But we need to find out only when the example is before us, and cooly examined.

We have a feeling only Mazer, standing aloof from contemporary clamor, would really judge a new poem solely on its poetic merit. Brilliant Burt and artful Archambeau, immersed as they are in pluralistic poetics, would pigeon-hole first, and then judge. This we feel, even as we confess to being more entertained by Burt and Archambeau’s presentations.

HOW THE LEFT HURTS POETRY

Uhhh…excuse me…ahem….can I ask just one more question?

As enlightened as we know ourselves to be, we may as well admit it: the Left hurts poetry.  (Doesn’t perfectionism always let us down?)

But does the Left really hurt poetry?

Let’s begin with ideology.

Ideology turns poetry into rhetoric, but this is really not the issue, for if ideology presents bias, so does love, and the lyric and love can walk hand in hand.

We might say Modernism has been unkind to romantic love and Romantic poetry, (when is the last time you heard a contemporary poet praise Byron?) that hard-headed Modernism has sought to escape the feverish, the romantic, the emotionality of bias, and this might be true, but rhetoric and ideology of all kinds has not only persisted, but expanded, in poetic expression in the modern era.

The great drawback, one might say, is that ideology requires explanation, and poetry has less time than prose for explanations.

But this, too, is a thin objection, for poetry, and art in general, is perfectly capable of explaining things; we just expect it to do so with greater art or greater concision.

If Marxism, or Leftism, is a legitimate subject, or a legitimate philosophy, for mankind, and for the poet, why shouldn’t it work as material for poetry?

Before the whole matter is settled, however, we turn back, almost nonchalantly, like Columbo, for one more small clarification.

Poetry is no longer a popular art form; it merely breathes on life support in college, and even then, in its fragile state, in forms most people no longer recognize as poetry.

And this couldn’t make the Marxist poet, or critic, any happier.

The reason for this is quite simple: The Leftist equates the good of popularity with the evil of “market forces,” and so any chance for poetry’s mass appeal is killed in the cradle by those who believe bohemian martyrdom is preferable to bourgeois triumph: obscurity is preferable even to democracy, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of Marxism therefore, condemns poetry to appeal to the few.

Leftism hurts poetry, but it has nothing to do with ideology.  It has nothing to do with Leftism as a set of ideas or beliefs.

The problem lies in the Left’s tendency to apply the term “market” (a bad) to what is basically poetry’s audience (a necessity).

Poetry has been a Leftist activity ever since “make it new” (ironically popularized by a fascist).  Modernism, or as it was once called, Futurism, makes change paramount, and since the progressive (in terms of politics) also makes change paramount—for different reasons, perhaps—change, whether driven by right-wing Futurism or left-wing Progressive-ism has become the ruling animus of poetry.

Poetry has defaulted heavily to Leftism ever since WW II found the “make it new” poet disgraced, and on the losing side.  But almost as proof that change is the real issue, (not Left or Right) Pound is still worshiped as a Modernist poet—since change for its own sake is the true high god.

The market won, Pound lost, and poetry, progressive not only in politics, but in everything, forces change as the constant issue.

Desire for change inevitably finds opposition in whatever resists change, even if what resists change is democratic, or is grounded in common sense.

Poetry itself has no opinion, one way or the other, on change, nor do poetry’s origins have anything to do with change, per se.

The war for change being fought by progressives takes place outside of poetry’s walls—and this is not an anti-progressive statement, but merely a matter-of-fact one.

When the market becomes the enemy, all that is democratic and popular also, in quiet and hidden ways, then becomes the enemy, too.

Poetry can be anything it wants, and it can be a shouting match if it wants to be, and it can be a hectoring force ushering in change for all the standard and visible causes: race, women, gays, the poor, and the environment.  As we pointed out above, the issues themselves are not the issue.

But just as Marxism hinders poetry by making popular appeal a bad thing, so do all sorts of ideological issues—which feature ‘struggle for change,’ for these have the tendency to make poetry renounce pleasure, immediacy, and accessibility for things so complex that rhetoric itself breaks apart in attempting to comprehend it.

Again, it is not the issues, nor the ideology, nor the complexities themselves which are a bad thing; the damage to poetry is done indirectly by forces or circumstances which inherently foster obscurity—that makes a democratic art (whatever kind of art that might be) impossible.

There is no going back.  We don’t think poetry can simply drop these issues, or should.  Poets will just have to figure out ways to be true to their ideals while working harder to be popular.

But just to give one example of how complex the problem has become:

Eileen Myles, the lesbian poet, on twitter, attacked the film about two young lesbian lovers, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” calling it a “hate crime” against lesbians, and the resulting conversation by lesbian poets, mostly supporting Myles’ remarks, featured a great deal of graphic sexuality, along with how a lesbian relationship does or does not resemble, favorably or unfavorably, a heterosexual relationship.  Eileen Myles is politically astute, if nothing else, and one could easily call a discussion like this political, and most poets writing on this subject, no matter how sexually frank, would still think of themselves as making “progressive” contributions of a political nature to society at large.  But it was really difficult to tell, for example, what Myles’ political objections to the movie were, besides a feeling she had that it did not depict the lesbian lifestyle as a universally happy one.  But what “lifestyle” is universally happy?

The question here is not that ‘lesbian sex’ will never be a popular, or a popular topic for poetry; the only case we are making here is that we should not, on Marxist principles, or any other principles, condemn popularity for its own sake; for a democracy, after all, resides in the popular will.

But homosexuality, as a “progressive” topic, does have its pitfalls; it will lead us into obscurity and away from the popular taste, and will have a great deal of trouble in making itself accessible and meaningful, in either a political or an aesthetic manner.  Homosexuality, looked at aesthetically, inevitably becomes Rabelaisian, as any sexuality would, whether or not the topic is “progressive,” or not.

And now Columbo needs to make one more little point of clarification, if possible…

What sort of political influence does poetry have?  It has none. 

Pound’s broadcasts from Italy in support of the Axis powers during the war were of little consequence, according to Pound apologists.

The right-wing character of Eliot/Pound Modernism and Southern Agrarian/New Critic Modernism dominated poetry in the first half of the century; some like to point to Robert Lowell, who was influenced by Ransom and Tate, as an important Leftist: Lowell opposed the Vietnam War—and Lowell also, in a personal way, reconciled highbrow, “cooked” poetry with the “raw” poetry of the Beats, but this was not seriously on the nation’s radar screen, and truly, the confessional-ism of poets like Lowell and Ginsberg was more Modernism swerving back toward the excitement of Romanticism than anything political.

So there you have it.  Poetry, as a study and a practice, right now in the United States, may be Leftist, but Leftism in poetry is actually of very little consequence, except in the manner outlined above, and from that very important standpoint, Leftism has hurt poetry.

Perhaps the whole question lies closer to the issue of the sacred versus the secular, and poetry finally residing closer to the former as an art form—but that discussion is for a future time.

We point out this issue with Leftism, not as any form of censorship—but only as a warning, and a challenge.

POE AND THE BIG BANG: “THE BODY AND THE SOUL WALK HAND IN HAND”

We quote at some length, in this Scarriet piece, the last major work of America’s major author, Edgar Poe; like the Commedia of Dante or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Poe’s Eureka presents genius on a scale that cannot be glimpsed at once, but reveals itself to patient wonder. But the wonder is that even in glimpses the genius is apparent.

Poe, the inventor of science fiction, detective fiction and code-breaking that helped the allies win World War Two, gives us, in Eureka, a work of science: the universe of stars explained. The author of Eureka reasons in a manner admirable for its unprecedented resourcefulness: the lock will come undone, no matter what, is the chief dynamic on display.

We present this portion of Poe’s Eureka not as a piece for passive admiration (even though our admiration is extreme) but as an exercise for the mind, and as a question: regarding the universe, does Poe get away with too much, or has he solved the secret?

Poe bumps up against three absolutes, which few would dare to touch, and destroys them all—and only because, as his poetic sense recognizes, he is talking about the origin and behavior of the universe.

1. Infinity

2. Newton’s First Law of Motion

3. Axiomatic principle

To most, simply reading the excerpt of Poe’s Eureka below will be sufficient to comprehend the profundity of Poe’s extraordinary gambit in dealing with 1, 2, and 3 above.

We shall briefly explain for  others the inevitable path Poe takes in his remarkably simple, yet profound thesis, so that the powerful force of his genius, applied to the problem of understanding the universe, may be truly felt.

For Poe, the universe is finite, and begins as one particle, and because it is one, it has no relation.

When this one universe splits as the ‘big bang,’ it creates matter (relation) and all the subsequent “principles,” the chief and overriding principle the law of gravity, the force of all matter attempting to return to its original perfection (with light, the resistant friction of this return).

The universe, in its original perfect state, features no relation, therefore all principles and axioms at this point are in abeyance.

As Poe points out, an axiom is nothing more than “obviousness of relation” and so here Poe’s original unparticled particle trumps, in its true unity of existence, all principles and axioms—which are subsequent realities growing out of the one axiomatic principle, superior to all others—the ultimate beginning, the one particle with no relation.  Does this allow Poe ‘to get away with shit,’ or, as Poe himself argues, does this guide him, inductively and deductively, to the secret of the universe?

Poe was not the first to posit the universe as “one,” but in Eureka, Poe scrutinized the idea of one universe intensely and radically, so that one, in a material, and not merely an abstract sense, really is one, that is, blind to all axiomatic thought (and incapable of being infinite) so that the scientist, if not the poet, is absolutely startled as Poe’s actual, finite universe emerges into the light of day as a product of an inevitable ‘big bang,’ Poe having, in fact, discovered the ‘big bang.” Since Einstein admitted to having read and admired Eureka, we may possibly infer that Edgar Allan Poe, the poet, (a few copies of Eureka having quietly fallen into the right hands) invented modern physics itself.

Now we present Poe in his own words, from the middle portion of Eureka.  The force and clarity of his rhetoric will be felt at once by all:

Now, Rëaction, as far as we know anything of it, is Action conversed. The general principle of Gravity being, in the first place, understood as the rëaction of an act — as the expression of a desire on the part of Matter, while existing in a state of diffusion, to return into the Unity whence it was diffused; and, in the second place, the mind being called on to determine the character of the desire — the manner in which it would, naturally, be manifested; in other words, being called on to conceive a probable law, or modus operandi, for the return; could not well help arriving at the conclusion that this law of return would be precisely the converse of the law of departure. That such would be the case, any one, at least, would be abundantly justified in taking for granted, until such time as some person should suggest something like a plausible reason why it should not be the case — until such period as a law of return shall be imagined which the intellect can consider as preferable.

Matter, then, radiated into space with a force varying as the squares of the distances, might, à priori, be supposed to return towards its centre of radiation with a force varying inversely as the squares of the distances: and I have already shown* that any principle which will explain why the atoms should tend, according to any law, to the general centre, must be admitted as satisfactorily explaining, at the same time, why, according to the same law, they should tend each to each. For, in fact, the tendency to the general centre is not to a centre as such, but because of its being a point in tending towards which each atom tends ­ most directly to its real and essential centre, Unity — the absolute and final Union of all.

The consideration here involved presents to my own mind no embarrassment whatever — but this fact does not blind me to the possibility of its being obscure to those who may have been less in the habit of dealing with abstractions: — and, on the whole, it may be as well to look at the matter from one or two other points of view.

The absolute, irrelative particle primarily created by the Volition of God, must have been in a condition of positive normality, or rightfulness — for wrongfulness implies relation. Right is positive; wrong is negative — is merely the negation of right; as cold is the negation of heat — darkness of light. That a thing may be wrong, it is necessary that there be some other thing in relation to which it is wrong — some condition which it fails to satisfy; some law which it violates; some being whom it aggrieves. If there be no such being, law, or condition, in respect to which the thing is wrong — and, still more especially, if no beings, laws, or conditions exist at all — then the thing cannot be wrong and consequently must be right.

Any deviation from normality involves a tendency to return into it. A difference from the normal — from the right — from the just — can be understood as effected only by the overcoming a difficulty; and if the force which overcomes the difficulty be not infinitely continued, the ineradicable tendency to return will at length be permitted to act for its own satisfaction. On withdrawal of the force, the tendency acts. This is the principle of rëaction as the inevitable consequence of finite action. Employing a phraseology of which the seeming ­ affectation will be pardoned for its expressiveness, we may say that Rëaction is the return from the condition of as it is and ought not to be into the condition of as it was, originally, and therefore ought to be; — and let me add here that the absolute force of Rëaction would no doubt be always found in direct proportion with the reality — the truth — the absoluteness — of the originality — if ever it were possible to measure this latter: — and, consequently, the greatest of all conceivable rëactions must be that manifested in the tendency which we now discuss — the tendency to return into the absolutely original — into the supremely primitive. Gravity, then, must be the strongest of forces — an idea reached à priori and abundantly confirmed by induction. What use I make of the idea, will be seen in the sequel.

The atoms, now, having been diffused from their normal condition of Unity, seek to return to — what? Not to any particular point, certainly; for it is clear that if, on the diffusion, the whole Universe of matter had been projected, collectively, to a distance from the point of radiation, the atomic tendency to the general centre of the sphere would not have been disturbed in the least; the atoms would not have sought the point in absolute space from which they were originally impelled. It is merely the condition, and not the point or locality at which this condition took its rise, that these atoms seek to re-establish; — it is merely that condition which is their normality, that they desire. “But they seek a centre,” it will be said, “and a centre is a point.” True; but they seek this point not in its character of point — (for, were the whole sphere moved from its position, they would seek, equally, the centre; ­ and the centre then would be a new point) — but because it so happens, on account of the form in which they collectively exist — (that of the sphere) — that only through the point in question — the sphere’s centre — they can attain their true object, Unity. In the direction of the centre each atom perceives more atoms than in any other direction. Each atom is impelled towards the centre because along the straight line joining it and the centre and passing on to the surface beyond, there lie a greater number of atoms than along any other straight line joining it, the atom, with any point of the sphere — a greater number of objects that seek it, the individual atom — a greater number of tendencies to Unity — a greater number of satisfactions for its own tendency to Unity — in a word, because in the direction of the centre lies the utmost possibility of satisfaction, generally, for its own individual appetite. To be brief, the condition, Unity, is all that is really sought; and if the atoms seem to seek the centre of the sphere, it is only impliedly — through implication — because such centre happens to imply, to include, or to involve, the only essential centre, Unity. But on account of this implication or involution, there is no possibility of practically separating the tendency to Unity in the abstract, from the tendency to the concrete centre. Thus the tendency of the atoms to the general centre is, to all practical intents and for all logical purposes, the tendency each to each; and the tendency each to each is the tendency to the centre; and the one tendency may be assumed as the other; whatever will apply to the one must be thoroughly applicable to the other; and, in conclusion, whatever principle will satisfactorily explain the one, cannot be questioned as an explanation of the other. ­

In looking carefully around me for rational objection to what I have advanced, I am able to discover nothing; — but of that class of objections usually urged by the doubters for Doubt’s sake, I very readily perceive three; and proceed to dispose of them in order.

It may be said, first: “That the proof that the force of radiation (in the case described) is directly proportional with the squares of the distances, depends on an unwarranted assumption — that of the number of atoms in each stratum being the measure of the force with which they are emitted.”

I reply, not only that I am warranted in such assumption, but that I should be utterly unwarranted in any other. What I assume is, simply, that an effect is the measure of its cause — that every exercise of the Divine Will will be proportional with that which demands the exertion — that the means of Omnipotence, or of Omniscience, will be exactly adapted to its purposes. Neither can a deficiency nor an excess of cause bring to pass any effect. Had the force which radiated any stratum to its position, been either more or less than was needed for the purpose — that is to say, not directly proportional with the purpose — then to its position that stratum could not have been radiated. Had the force which, with a view to general equability of distribution, emitted the proper number of atoms for each stratum, been not directly proportional with the number, then the number would not have been the number demanded for the equable distribution.

The second supposable objection is somewhat better entitled to an answer. ­

It is an admitted principle in Dynamics that every body, on receiving an impulse, or disposition to move, will move onward in a straight line, in the direction imparted by the impelling force, until deflected, or stopped, by some other force. How then, it may be asked, is my first or external stratum of atoms to be understood as discontinuing their movement at the surface of the imaginary glass sphere, when no second force, of more than an imaginary character, appears, to account for the discontinuance?

I reply that the objection, in this case, actually does arise out of “an unwarranted assumption” — on the part of the objector — the assumption of a principle, in Dynamics, at an epoch when no “principles,” in anything, exist: — I use the word “principle,” of course, in the objector’s understanding of the word.

“In the beginning” we can admit — indeed we can comprehend — but one First Cause — the truly ultimate Principle — the Volition of God. The primary act — that of Radiation from Unity — must have been independent of all that which the world now calls “principle” — because all that we so designate is but a consequence of the rëaction of that primary act: — I say “primary” act; for the creation of the absolute material Particle is more properly to be regarded as a conception than as an “act” in the ordinary meaning of the term. Thus, we must regard the primary act as an act for the establishment of what we now call “principles.” But this primary act itself is to be considered as continuous Volition. The Thought of God is to be understood as originating the Diffusion — as proceeding with it — as regulating it — and, finally, as being ­ withdrawn from it on its completion. Then commences Rëaction, and through Rëaction, “Principle,” as we employ the word. It will be advisable, however, to limit the application of this word to the two immediate results of the discontinuance of the Divine Volition — that is, to the two agents, Attraction and Repulsion. Every other Natural agent depends, either more or less immediately, on these two, and therefore would be more conveniently designated as sub-principle.

It may be objected, thirdly, that, in general, the peculiar mode of distribution which I have suggested for the atoms, is “an hypothesis and nothing more.”

Now, I am aware that the word “hypothesis” is a ponderous sledge-hammer, grasped immediately, if not lifted, by all very diminutive thinkers, on the first appearance of any proposition wearing, in any particular, the garb of a theory. But “hypothesis” cannot be wielded here to any good purpose, even by those who succeed in lifting it — little men or great.

I maintain, first, that only in the mode described is it conceivable that Matter could have been diffused so as to fulfil at once the conditions of radiation and of generally equable distribution. I maintain, secondly, that these conditions themselves have been imposed upon me, as necessities, in a train of ratiocination as rigorously logical as that which establishes any demonstration in Euclid; and I maintain, thirdly, that even if the charge of “hypothesis” were as fully sustained as it is, in fact, unsustained and untenable, still the validity and indisputability of my result would not, even in the slightest particular, be disturbed.

To explain: — The Newtonian Gravity — a law of Nature — a law whose existence as such no one out of Bedlam questions — a law whose admission as such enables us to account for nine-tenths of the Universal phænomena — a law which, merely because it does so enable us to account for these phænomena, we are perfectly willing, without reference to any other considerations, to admit, and cannot help admitting, as a law — a law, nevertheless, of which neither the principle nor the modus operandi of the principle, has ever yet been traced by the human analysis — a law, in short, which, neither in its detail nor in its generality, has been found susceptible of explanation at all — is at length seen to be at every point thoroughly explicable, provided we only yield our assent to —— what? To an hypothesis? Why, if an hypothesis — if the merest hypothesis — if an hypothesis for whose assumption — as in the case of that pure hypothesis the Newtonian law itself — no shadow of à priori reason could be assigned — if an hypothesis, even so absolute as all this implies, would enable us to perceive a principle for the Newtonian law — would enable us to understand as satisfied, conditions so miraculously — so ineffably complex and seemingly irreconcileable as those involved in the relations of which Gravity tells us, — what rational being could so expose his fatuity as to call even this absolute hypothesis an hypothesis any longer — unless, indeed, he were to persist in so calling it, with the understanding that he did so, simply for the sake of consistency in words?

But what is the true state of our present case? What is the fact? Not only that it is not an hypothesis which ­ we are required to adopt, in order to admit the principle at issue explained, but that it is a logical conclusion which we are requested not to adopt if we can avoid it — which we are simply invited to deny if we can: — a conclusion of so accurate a logicality that to dispute it would be the effort — to doubt its validity beyond our power: — a conclusion from which we see no mode of escape, turn as we will; a result which confronts us either at the end of an inductive journey from the phænomena of the very Law discussed, or at the close of a deductive career from the most rigorously simple of all conceivable assumptions — the assumption, in a word, of Simplicity itself.

And if here, it be urged, that although my starting-point is, as I assert, the assumption of absolute Simplicity, yet Simplicity, considered merely in itself, is no axiom; and that only deductions from axioms are indisputable — it is thus that I reply:

Every other science than Logic is the science of certain concrete relations. Arithmetic, for example, is the science of the relations of number — Geometry, of the relations of form — Mathematics in general, of the relations of quantity in general — of whatever can be increased or diminished. Logic, however, is the science of Relation in the abstract — of absolute Relation — of Relation considered solely in itself. An axiom in any particular science other than Logic is, thus, merely a proposition announcing certain concrete relations which seem to be too obvious for dispute — as when we say, for instance, that the whole is greater than its part: — and, thus again, the principle of the Logical axiom — in other words, of an axiom in the abstract — is, ­ simply, obviousness of relation. Now, it is clear, not only that what is obvious to one mind may not be obvious to another, but that what is obvious to one mind at one epoch, may be anything but obvious, at another epoch, to the same mind. It is clear, moreover, that what, to-day, is obvious even to the majority of mankind, or to the majority of the best intellects of mankind, may to-morrow be, to either majority, more or less obvious, or in no respect obvious at all. It is seen, then, that the axiomatic principle itself is susceptible of variation, and of course that axioms are susceptible of similar change. Being mutable, the “truths” which grow out of them are necessarily mutable too; or, in other words, are never to be positively depended on as truths at all — since Truth and Immutability are one.

It will now be readily understood that no axiomatic idea — no idea founded in the fluctuating principle, obviousness of relation — can possibly be so secure — so reliable a basis for any structure erected by the Reason, as that idea — (whatever it is, wherever we can find it, or if it be practicable to find it anywhere) — which is irrelative altogether — which not only presents to the understanding no obviousness of relation, either greater or less, to be considered, but subjects the intellect, not in the slightest degree, to the necessity of even looking at any relation at all. If such an idea be not what we too heedlessly term “an axiom,” it is at least preferable, as a logical basis, to any axiom ever propounded, or to all imaginable axioms combined: — and such, precisely, is the idea with which my deductive process, so thoroughly corroborated by induction, commences. My Particle Proper is but Absolute Irrelation.

To sum up ­ what has been here advanced: — As a starting point I have taken it for granted, simply, that the Beginning had nothing behind it or before it — that it was a Beginning in fact — that it was a Beginning and nothing different from a Beginning — in short that this Beginning was —— that which it was. If this be a “mere assumption,” then a “mere assumption” let it be.

To conclude this branch of the subject: — I am fully warranted in announcing that the Law which call Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having been irradiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited* sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it was possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, radiation and equable distribution throughout the sphere — that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the Radiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Radiation.

I have already given my reasons for presuming Matter to have been diffused by a determinate rather than by a continuous or infinitely continued force. Supposing a continuous force, we should be unable, in the first place, to comprehend a rëaction at all; and we should be required, in the second place, to entertain the impossible conception of an infinite extension of Matter. Not to dwell upon the impossibility of the conception, the infinite extension of Matter is an idea which, if not positively disproved, ­ is at least not in any respect warranted by telescopic observation of the stars — a point to be explained more fully hereafter; and this empirical reason for believing in the original finity of Matter is unempirically confirmed. For example: — Admitting, for the moment, the possibility of understanding Space as filled with the radiated atoms — that is to say, admitting, as well as we can, for argument’s sake, that the succession of the atoms had absolutely no end — then it is clear, that, even when the Volition of God had been withdrawn from them, and thus the tendency to return into Unity permitted (abstractly) to be satisfied, this permission would have been nugatory and invalid — practically valueless and of no effect whatever. No Rëaction could have taken place; no movement toward Unity could have been made; no Law of Gravity could have obtained.

To explain: — Grant the abstract tendency of any one atom to any one other as the inevitable result of diffusion from the normal Unity: — or, what is the same thing, admit any given atom as proposing to move in any given direction — it is clear that, since there is an infinity of atoms on all sides of the atom proposing to move, it never can actually move toward the satisfaction of its tendency in the direction given, on account of a precisely equal and counter-balancing tendency in the direction diametrically opposite. In other words, exactly as many tendencies to Unity are behind the hesitating atom as before it; for it is mere folly to say that one infinite line is longer or shorter than another infinite line, or that one infinite number is greater or less than another number that is infinite. Thus ­ the atom in question must remain stationary forever. Under the impossible circumstances which we have been merely endeavoring to conceive for argument’s sake, there could have been no aggregation of Matter — no stars — no worlds — nothing but a perpetually atomic and inconsequential Universe. In fact, view it as we will, the whole idea of unlimited Matter is not only untenable, but impossible and preposterous.

With the understanding of a sphere of atoms, however, we perceive, at once, a satisfiable tendency to union. The general result of the tendency each to each, being a tendency of all to the centre, the general process of condensation, or approximation, commences immediately, by a common and simultaneous movement, on withdrawal of the Divine Volition; the individual approximations, or cöalescences — of atom with atom, being subject to almost infinite variations of time, degree, and condition, on account of the excessive multiplicity of relation, arising from the differences of form assumed as characterizing the atoms at the moment of their quitting the Particle Proper; as well as from the subsequent particular inequidistance, each from each.

What I wish to impress upon the reader is the certainty of there arising, at once, (on withdrawal of the diffusive force, or Divine Volition,) out of the condition of the atoms as described, at innumerable points throughout the Universal sphere, innumerable agglomerations, characterized by innumerable specific differences of form, size, essential nature, and distance each from each. The development of Repulsion (Electricity) must have commenced, of course, ­ with the very earliest particular efforts at Unity, and must have proceeded constantly in the ratio of Cöalescence — that is to say, in that of Condensation, or, again, of Heterogeneity.

Thus the two Principles Proper, Attraction and Repulsion — the Material and the Spiritual — accompany each other, in the strictest fellowship, forever. Thus The Body and The Soul walk hand in hand.

WHERE DOES IT GO?

Where is your sighing lullaby?
Last night strings
Played the mystic tune.
Usually desire sings
The words beneath the mystic moon.

The tempo is usually slow,
Like flames running across a stream,
The flames not certain which way to go,
Like perfume drifting through a dream,
A dream with dreams by you and I.

The words were immediate, not a test;
We listened and listened, and got no rest;
You were stranger, lover, and guest,
Someone I dreamed to know
Even as I moved by your elbow
And heard the sigh in your sigh.

The earthly tones conveyed unearthliness;
This perfume was one of your own;
A love was melodiously confessed—
You and I roaming to a mystic home
Where dripping love is welcome
And love in love is best.

FICTION: LIE OR ART?

Doesn’t it all finally come down to this?

Is your fiction a lie, or is it art?

If fiction is a mere lie,  you have no right to call it art, and if you do, you and your art are a sham.  Sorry.

If your fiction is not a lie, then it is not fiction, but truth, and even here, your art, your fiction, is a lie and a sham—because all you are doing is telling the truth, or, not lying, not producing fiction, producing fact, not art.  Sorry, again.

So art must be a lie, but when does that lie stop being a sham?

When does a lie become what we have come to praise as art?

First we must ask: why is a lie a bad thing?  Because it deceives.  So the fiction writer (or poet) does not lie, even though he lies, because the reader knows he is lying.  There is no deception.

Unless, unless…we cry when we read a poem: then our feelings have been deceived.  We talk of honest feeling, sincere feeling, as a good.

So here we see art deceiving our feelings.  But if feelings respond to a sentimental message, has deception really occurred?  Who, or what, has been deceived, when a poem or a movie makes us cry?  Our feelings have been deceived, but have we been deceived?  We still know the poem is a lie, even as it makes us cry.  So no real deception has occurred.

Let’s look at it this way: if the poet tells the truth, and the reader believes it is a lie, the truth is a lie, for the reader, not just the reader’s feelings, has been deceived.

So it isn’t an issue at all of truth or lies, but deception.

We, as readers of fiction, do not—cannot—know the lies of fiction as truth; what really happens is that all fiction is a mixture of lies and truth, and the truth is what we truly understand.

If we are not deceived, there is no lie.

No reader can be deceived by the truth, for truth, by its nature, cannot deceive; and therefore no reader ever believes, or can believe, that fiction worth reading is a lie.  Fiction always moves us with its truth; it moves us when it does not deceive us; and therefore when fiction is art, when fiction is valid and good and successful, it succeeds entirely as truth.

And yet…we all know that an explanation, leaving out one small detail, can serve an entirely different purpose, that one detail taken away can turn a truth into a lie.  How then, can the mixture of lies and truth, then, equal truth for the reader of fiction?

The answer to this dilemma lies in the difference between life and fiction.  Life contains lies and truth.  Fiction contains nothing that can be called either lies or truth.

Life is open-ended and interested.   Fiction is closed and disinterested.  A lie in life has real consequences.  A lie in fiction has none.  If a lie in fiction has no consequences, it does not deceive. If it does not deceive, it must be true, or, at least have no lies.  The mixture of lies and truth in fiction produces something which cannot deceive the reader, because the reader is assuming the fiction is not true.  But we care only about truth and are able to extract it from the fiction.  The truth-within-the-fiction is what the reader is actually reading, actually knowing.  Life presents truth and lies as either-or.  Fiction presents truth and lies as one-within-the-other.

In fiction, it is not that it doesn’t matter if it’s a lie, or a truth.  It’s just that lies or truth, as an either-or, cannot exist in fiction.  Fiction, as fiction, does not deceive. The feeling that life is constantly deceiving us makes us run to fiction—which cannot deceive us.  If fiction affects our feelings, we rejoice in feeling superior to our mere feelings, which are deceived, for the failure of the feelings to detect the truth only reaffirms that we are not deceived.

The extraction of truth from lies is where the “art” of fiction is truly located.

The “art” of a good detective is the same as the “art” of good fiction—as it’s read, or written.    The “art” of a “good” detective is necessary—when the criminal is “good.”  The writing and reading of good fiction, likewise, depend on one another.

Detection is the key.

Plato was correct.  We argue with Socrates in vain.

Fiction is bad, and is always bad.  Good fiction does not succeed because of its fiction, but because of its truth.  And the extraction or detection of that truth is the art of fiction.

The great writer of fiction disrupts the fictional reading of fiction by the reader who is helplessly running away from life and its deceptions to the drug of fiction, and makes the detection and the extraction of truth the attribute that matters.

We may extract the truth by our response to beauty.  We may extract the truth by looking beyond the work to ourselves, or to implications outside the work.  It is not for us to say how the truth is extracted, only that the chief importance lies in the faculty of detection itself.

The American author who elevated Criticism, discovered the Big Bang, was a short fiction master, a code-breaker, invented the unreliable narrator, detective fiction, science fiction, and invented modern humor, besides, made it a paramount concern of his to imply that his fiction was not fiction at all.  The “inventor of modern humor” may seem a stretch, since we are talking of Edgar Allan Poe, but let us quote from one of his more obscure tales, “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade.”  We make an example of this tale for the way it presents the relationship between truth and fiction.

The premise is simple: Poe makes use of the narrative device which frames the Arabian Nights:

It will be remembered, that, in the usual version of the tales, a certain monarch, having good cause to be jealous of his queen, not only puts her to death, but makes a vow, by his beard and the prophet, to espouse each night the most beautiful maiden in his dominions, and the next morning to deliver her up to the executioner.

Having fulfilled this vow for many years to the letter, and with a religious punctuality and method that conferred great credit upon him as a man of devout feelings and excellent sense, he was interrupted one afternoon (no doubt at his prayers) by a visit from his grand vizier, to whose daughter, it appears, there had occurred an idea.

Her name was Scheherazade, and her idea was, that she would either redeem the land from the depopulating tax upon its beauty, or perish, after the approved fashion of all heroines, in the attempt.

The twist Poe adds is equally simple: after her life is saved, he has Scheherazade tell one more tale, based on amazing facts of real life; the king, finding the truth too absurd to believe, has her killed, then, after all.

Scheherazade merely refers to modern scientists and engineers as “magicians” and the king, listening to it as a story, simply cannot swallow it.

“ ‘Another of these magicians, by means of a fluid that nobody ever yet saw, could make the corpses of his friends brandish their arms, kick out their legs, fight, or even get up and dance at his will. Another had cultivated his voice to so great an extent that he could have made himself heard from one end of the earth to the other. Another had so long an arm that he could sit down in Damascus and indite a letter at Bagdad — or indeed at any distance whatsoever. Another commanded the lightning to come down to him out of the heavens, and it came at his call; and served him for a plaything when it came. Another took two loud sounds and out of them made a silence. Another constructed a deep darkness out of two brilliant lights. Another made ice in a red-hot furnace. Another directed the sun to paint his portrait, and the sun did. Another took this luminary with the moon and the planets, and having first weighed them with scrupulous accuracy, probed into their depths and found out the solidity of the substance of which they were made…

“Preposterous!” said the king.

We love this reference to photography: “Another directed the sun to paint his portrait, and the sun did.”

Aristotle: “Not to know that a hind has no horns is a less serious matter than to paint it inartistically.”

Poe affixes the old saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction” to the head of his Scheherezade tale.

Again, from Aristotle’s Poetics: “With respect to the requirement of art, the probable impossible is always preferable to the improbable possible.”

When it comes to truth being “stranger,” in the Aristotelian formula, “strange” is “improbable possible.”   But “directed the sun to paint his portrait, and the sun did” seems “probable impossible,” too.

Science would make it clear to the ancient caliph how photography works, how the “sun can paint a portrait.”

But in the fiction, the “magician” directs the sun to paint his portrait, which is a “probable impossible,” a “requirement of art” for Aristotle.   But it fails for Poe’s Scheherezade; the king finds it “improbable,” and thus rejects it.  The joke, of course, is that Poe knows—and the reader may know—or does know, when he consults the footnotes—that the science exists, and therefore it is not only probable and possible; it is. 

AS WE LIE IN THAT BED OF PLEASURE: MORE WISDOM FROM THE SCARRIET EDITORS

As we lie in that bed of pleasure,
With you and your curiosity nearby,
We offer you, with a limp, extended arm, the treasure
That fell from our brain—a brain that thinks like a thinking eye,
Bringing the warm philosophy, which courses
Through our blood, as if butterflies gave birth to horses.

Relax by the vortex of the infinite,

Under its shady walls, come here and sit,
Let’s focus on our reveries…never mind the rest of it…

Dodge every debate, controversy, and sorrow.
Before you awoke, no science or art could compete with your dream.
Each lazy drop, sliding on vines, is lost in the lazy stream.
Our indulgent today will not be better tomorrow.

The question is not God, but infinity;
All—with enough time and space—will happen—
So Epicurus, two thousand years ago,
Trampled Aristotle, Plato, and all religion—
A drunken universe pours infinite wine,
Indifference to humans stamps the divine,
A tickling feather is better than wisdom,
There is nothing to do and nothing to know,
Worlds and worlds, a wind of infinite atoms, no sign
Of God, law, love, purpose, knowledge, design
More than shapes glimpsed in a melting snow.

But alas, infinity was disproved by Edgar Allan Poe,
Who claimed it was only a word. Infinite space,
Infinite time, infinite stars, would make the night’s face
Blazing white with the light of infinite stars—
Further: orbs, gravity, relation, movement, could not exist
If the process of attraction stretched on forever.
Infinity is not the wall, but our mind, on infinity, thinking.
Few venture into infinity’s sea without sinking
A little sadly, into that Epicurean nap:
The One World ignored, even as we sleep in its lap.

Infinity, that false God, that false Epicurean dream,
Hides our fate and purpose, hides the true, one God,
Volition: big bang, gravity’s return to all,
From which none can hide, no matter how clever, or small.
It’s true that belief in simplicity is odd,
But faith in infinity takes a leap that’s greater—
One world, simply made, tempts, sooner, or later.

Some object to simple certainty, fearing tyrants
Are those who feel certain.  But the rants
And cruelties of tyrants
Spring from uncertainty and confusion.
Certainty of tyrants, like the Epicurean dream, is certainty based on illusion.

This bed is no accident, and neither you, nor I,
No accident beneath the one sky
That we can plant our flag in; if we die,
The moment and the reason were planned
By a soul that lives on, even if unmanned.

Every pleasure and pain we feel
Is by the will of our soul already willed, already real.

We played the trick on our soul already
Even as we drift, doubtful, unsteady,
Pushed by what seems indifferent chance,
Intoxicated in the intoxicated dance,
Flying through a universe alone,
Hurt by little particles of stone,
Electro-magnetic light in our eye,
Softened beneath a softening sky.

This is what you always knew
Would happen, just as it happens to you,
And if beauty is your last resort,
Or a tangle of oddities, or sport,
Drift above the dance all the while.
Two souls above one world can smile.

The world is self-punishing; ache not for justice.
Seek to find, not find advice.
Things are mostly OK now.
Be patient. Don’t try to wow.
Don’t be a sheep.
Argue to make your listeners weep.
Let the science tell you: trees are fed by CO2.
The sky is big—big enough for me and you.
Heterosexuals made the world, so why are they afraid of gays?
Writing is good, like food or gym, so why resent the MFAs?
The trouble isn’t what the trouble is, but that it stays,
Work isn’t real work, unless it’s work that plays.

Give me your hand, this poem is almost done.

We’ll watch the end of everything in this disappearing sun.

VIDA!

The latest VIDA numbers are out.

If you haven’t heard about this, it’s pretty simple: two poet-professors, Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, for the past few years, have counted men and women published in magazines like the The Paris Review, New York Review of Books, NY Times Book Review,  The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic—to the growing embarrassment of progressive, literary America: males out-publish women 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, sometimes 10-1.

The numbers are plain, stark and have people talking, including the magazine editors, vowing to improve their numbers; one journal, The Paris Review, has achieved parity, for the time being.

Scarriet wrote about VIDA last year: https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/vida-shocker-are-women-to-blame/

Not many people are asking of these numbers: Why?

Most talk is indignation on one hand, surly defensiveness on the other, with some guilty apologies in-between.

It’s a good thing the numbers are out there and people are talking about it.

VIDA is certainly not a bad thing.

But the backlash against VIDA is growing; their critics are saying:

1. VIDA does not give us the larger picture: More women work in publishing than men.

2. The picture they give us is incomplete: gender is great, but what of class, race, sexual persuasion, etc?

3. I will publish the best, thank you; I refuse to publish anyone based on gender.

But again, it’s good that people are talking about this, and all sorts of provocative comments are bubbling up:

On the Guardian blog, under a piece, “Why the LRB should stop cooking up excuses over lack of women reviewers,” a commenter claimed she would rather read women than “ivory tower” males, and that “only women” should be allowed to write on “prostitution and abortion.”

Behind the pure numbers dwell opinions such as these, which, despite being anecdotal and crazy-sounding, flesh out what is behind the numbers.

If the whole question—of gender in literary magazine publishing—is more about “ivory tower” than gender, VIDA numbers could be nothing more than an indication that men are more “ivory tower” than women are.

After all, journalists know that a good anecdote is worth a pile of statistics, or that a good anecdote can explain a pile of statistics.

In the Guardian piece mentioned above, the 2001 quote from a female LRB editor “that most enraged” VIDA sensibilities was: “I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces. They just can’t get it all done.”

Is this sort of remark realistic, or outrageous?

It really isn’t that far from the “ivory tower” remark.

What if it’s true that cooking, or looking after children, is far more important than publishing “ivory tower” pieces in magazines?

Not than anyone would say the VIDA numbers are encouraging the neglect of children, but perhaps rather than being an objective truth, the VIDA numbers are only a piece of a larger puzzle.

There is always something bigger lurking behind numbers: life.

HELPLESS IN YOUR BEAUTIFUL FACE

Helpless in your beautiful face,
Helpless to triumph over the body,
To secure a new life in a different place,
To say the words sounding like the sea,
Eating your fame insatiably.

Helpless in your beautiful face,
Helpless to love a face less beautiful than your own,
Helpless to put yourself in someone’s place—
They do what they want, and do it alone.
They sail the seas, like you, the surface, the tone…

Helpless in your beautiful face
To make mirrors with soundtrack and plot;
You see only the beauty of your race
And never what the race sees not.
In your country beautiful faces are rounded up and shot.

Helpless in your beautiful face
To continue the beauty in a different sphere;
You will be erased, and there will be no trace
That you once reigned down here,
Where loves and the sea and the moon were near.

ANN COULTER, BARACK OBAMA, RACISM, AND PARTICLE/WAVE PHYSICS: A GUIDE

The one thing that unites us all these days is political controversy: gays, race, gender, abortion, climate, congress, the courts, the president, the media, and it seems to be getting more divisive every day, family members and potential friends divided in all walks of life, almost as if there were a great negative force operating in direct ratio to the new unifying force of computers and communications technology.

Now maybe there isn’t a problem at all: there’s just more to argue about, more buzz words attached to arguments, and more advanced communication vehicles to carry on those arguments.

Argument, and even controversy, is healthy in a democracy: imagine if there were no debates, and instead, police state silence.

So maybe this is all a good thing, and the uniting quality of controversy is the great non-controversial thing we should expect in a vast, technologically advanced democracy.

But there’s also a nagging sense that all this controversy is a symptom of ignorance and oppression, that all the political controversy is from heat and not light, and the elevated temperature is not due to healthy argument, but rather resistance by reactionary forces to progress.

If you believe this,  you may still be a part of the healthy debate outlined above, or you may have correctly anticipated why the debates are generally not healthy, or the debates may not be healthy and you are the problem, by assuming you belong to progress, and, because of this assuming you are always right.

The counter-position is, of course, the conservative one, arguing political controversies are damaging storms by progressives pushing divisive, self-interested, agendas, masked as moral crusades.

But the existence of these two positions (that political controversy is unhealthy because of the other side) merely reinforces the idea of a healthy democracy.

Unless one of these two positions is correct.

Controversy always leaves itself open to speculation that it is not healthy, and yet, if debate is healthy in a democracy, even unhealthy debate is healthy.

If this sounds contradictory, it should, for it makes sense that the whole nature of political controversy should be contradictory, and, as we move in closer to examine the controversial issues themselves, we may see that the political controversy of the day is not due to the nature of the questions involving the issue itself.  The issue is controversial only because it is first contradictory. The paradox creates the two sides of the argument; the motives and reasonings of each side are not authentic in themselves, for they exist only because the paradox exists.

It will help us to see how the particular controversy plays out along a particle/wave nexus: neither side is right or wrong; they merely exist within the context of the irresolvable conflict itself, a conflict better understood if we view its argumentative sides expressing themselves in terms of: particle or wave?

The “particle” argument is scientific, verbal, and common sense, while the “wave” argument is religious, moral and non-verbal.

Take this example.

Why shouldn’t Republicans oppose mass immigration on the grounds that immigrants will vote Democratic? The only reason the Democrats want mass immigration is because they know immigrants will vote Democratic.

If this country were the same demographically today as it was in 1980, Romney would have won a bigger victory in 2012 than Reagan did against Carter.

This is Ann Coulter in a recent column, and it is stupido.

Ann Coulter’s position is the height of common sense, argued from the practical, strategic standpoint of the Republican party.

This is a classic “particle” argument, logical and easily articulated: Immigrants vote Democratic, so Republicans should oppose mass immigration. One can see Coulter counting each Democratic immigrant particle as bad, completely oblivious to the moral, “wave” repercussions of her argument.

Just as Newton’s laws of particle physics are applicable, and make sense up to a certain point—but fail to apply everywhere, so the “particle” argument falls short in a wider context: how can the Republicans be seen as a viable party choice in a democracy if they openly court exclusion?  If immigrants are not voting for you, you ought to wonder why this is so—instead of barring them.

The “practical” argument is too “practical;” it is not really practical at all; the attempt to define reality only in terms of particles destroys the coherence of even that definition of reality.

Another classic “particle” argument (to choose one on the Left, now) is the one which jokingly equates sperm to “life” which is “sacred,” to imply (oh so cleverly) that prenatal life is not viable.

Morally, conception is life; in the “wave” view of reality, which is moral, rather than practical, there is a certain non-verbal understanding that life is that which has a future, and will become life; detecting the “particle” as that which is life, or not, makes the concrete, scientific decision for the time being, and rejects the moral plea of the Pro-Lifer. On the flip side, defining life as a tiny thing with a heartbeat could be seen as a “particle” argument, and the moral counter-argument, the “wave” argument ( life coming into the world needs a context), is the pro-abortion one.

Advocates of either side will attempt to make it seem their argument applies to reality as both “particle” and “wave;” but this crashes and burns against the whole concept of wave/particle and it is why these controversies will not, and cannot, be resolved.

It is important to understand here that by advocating the particle/wave principle, we seek to explain the contradictory nature of the controversy itself, not the arguments themselves, or the paths of argumentation which applies to each case; to any advocate of any particular case, the arguments are added up, pro and con, or a principle is found (you shall not judge a man by the color of his skin) which is so irrefutable, that it resolves the case as an argument to their satisfaction.

Many controversies are not, in fact, verbal arguments alone; the arguments spring from behavior, behavior based on power, let’s say, or custom—moral persuasion or logical argument had no part of the controversy before it became a verbal argument.   And here, too: original behavior versus subsequent verbal refutation, particle and wave, apply, in the same irresolvable manner.

The universe, at its very core, is divided, and argument participates in this division, ironically, as an attempt to resolve division; but argument is divided right down to the bone against its own argumentative, problem-solving will, and what it attempts to loosen, by the law of division itself, becomes tangled even tighter. Argument, by its very nature, argues against itself.

We should be scientists and make ourselves examine this scientifically, if we can.

Is every controversy dual? If all political debates persist in existing as two-sided, no matter how much a third point of view attempts to enter the picture, we will be in a better position to conclude that the contradictory nature of the political controversy problem is binary in a profound sense. I think if we examine actual controversies, we do find duality putting everything else in chains.

Let’s look at two common and popular controversies:

A classic argument is: if you dislike president Obama, you are racist. This automatically sets up the duality: I like Obama because he’s black versus I dislike Obama because he’s black. Everyone would agree that this is the core debate and it’s a stupid, shameful debate and the person who genuinely judges Obama simply on his performance as president is not allowed anywhere near this argument. And further, if the third, neutral point enters the picture, it will become tainted by the ugliness of the debate and forced into its irresolvable duality merely on account of whether it is perceived to be pro or anti Obama. It does not matter if 99% of the American population belongs to the third position—it doesn’t fit the duality and therefore it doesn’t exist as an alternative, third position. The 99% cannot, no matter how kind and reasonable, quell the controversy, which casts its lunacy over all.

The gay debate is just as absurd. We have the three basic views of homosexuality: 1. Ewww 2. Gay rights! Gay rights! 3. I couldn’t care less whether someone is gay or not, and the less I hear about it, the better.

Inevitably, the third view collapses into the first two. It doesn’t matter how hard it resists the pull of the universe’s dual nature. Number 3 is either a homophobic bigot or a Sadean pervert; the neutral, non-controversial, “third” position becomes the truly monstrous position, on a vast, all-encompassing scale of horror and evil, which dwarfs the first two in its dishonesty and the intensity of its passion, so much so, that it falls off the radar and ceases to exist, the binary the only argumentative reality which can possibly be official. It’s like an evil thought experiment: if you don’t think about the problem, you are safe, but the moment the issue confronts your mind, you must choose. The enlightened are forced to cover their ears.

What is ironic is that gender itself is a duality and gender is defined by its duality and this is the awful truth which nature—always dual, like passionate controversy itself—presses upon even the most modest and austere and chaste of souls, no matter how much they tenderly resist the lewdness of the thrusting universe.

Lewd, but necessary, despite the protests of holy and virginal hearts. For the duality of gender is responsible for the whole world. Heterosexuality is why we exist. Homosexuality is why the drapes match the couch—though even this is dubious.

To throw oneself into the duality of the debate in earnest, and champion heterosexuality and to cry out, “No gender is an island!” is to succumb to the “wave,” and miss the “particle,” the actual homosexual who feels the sting of the heterosexual’s remarks.

WHY LOVE SHOULD NOT BE

Because I belong to myself, not you.
Galleries of paintings on love only prove
Painters should have had something better to do.
They preach in their paint that love’s elusive,
And most of the time untrue.

Because I belong to the new, not you.
Libraries of books on love prove
Only the old is possibly true.
The pleasing poems I read are few
And nothing that’s written or read is new.

Because I belong to the past, not you,
A past you can never know,
And the more you try, the more I’ll lie,
The more I’ll know
My past is me and will never die.

Because I hate beauty—
Beauty that dies.
I hate the tears in hopeful eyes.
Songs of love the singers sing prove
Lies are sung and loves’ truths
Are falsehoods fed by lies.

Because even when I love, I do not love.
I am merely sickened, I ache;
I am anxious to prove
To myself you aren’t sick for my sake—
And therefore cannot love.

I will not, by any means, abandon you,
Only love—and the question whether love is true.

Let’s study love no more.
Love just leads to war.

NEW SCARRIET POEM: THERE WAS ENOUGH

There was enough in these words,
There was enough in this face,
Enough danger surrounding
This safe and secret place
To make his lips on hers
A pleasure inside a pleasure,
A life within a life
No measurement can measure.
A focus and a will,
A purpose and a want,
A love in love with love,
As loves forever taunt.

YOU ALREADY KNOW (NEW SCARRIET POEM)

How is it going?
How should it go?
There’s something I want to tell you,
But you already know.
How can I say it
In a new sort of way
That makes a difference
Among the things I say?
I hope you want to hear it,
I understand if you don’t.
Love too often speaks—
Okay then, I won’t.
New information
Is not what poets tell.
The heart of the buyer,
The advertisers sell.
This is even simpler:
The poet must find
A word for a love already on the mind.
You didn’t see this coming
As simple as this was—
The halves keep dividing,
That’s what it always does.
The purpose of division?
The One is a prison
From which you must flee,
Set theory’s two parts already are three.
My heart that loves your heart
Is expected, although,
You don’t quite believe it.
How does my poem grow?
How does it say the things
You already know?

EVERYTHING LOVING CAN FIT INTO A CARTOON

File:Pierre Mignard (1610-1695) - Time Clipping Cupid's Wings (1694).jpg

Everything loving can fit into a cartoon,
The history of love is contained by the moon:
A lover’s mind is a cave, bathed in moonlight,
The eye not seeing, but feeling the stare of its eyesight,
As the lover looks at Mona and cries, “I cared for Mona a lot,
But it ended the one time—the one time—I forgot.”
The moon, a cold stone, shows organic rot
How to be eternal; above the ruminations and the plot,
Phases of root and branch and flower are the phases we forgot.

Cupid drawn by a cartoonist with a dirty mind
Has no sound or smell and makes you almost blind.

The look of what this man is doing
Is not okay for viewing.
The hot sun white at noon.
The dark contrast.  The cartoon.

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST HIPPIE SONGS OF ALL TIME

If Mick Jagger’s hair had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have changed.

When we mentioned to the poet Marcus Bales we were putting this list together, he immediately assumed a pejorative intent; yes, “hippie” has come to mean a term of censor, even in music—but we assured him our research was sincere.

Categories are safe, even when they dissolve into others.  We know what “hippie songs” are, even as they expand like a stain.  And what is amazing is how great and various and popular this list of hippie songs is.  In a thousand years from now, when we look back at this era, all of our popular music will be seen for what it really is: hippie music.

The 1960s, as one would expect, features prominently, a time which, artistically, happily resembled the great Romantic era in poetry: sensual, but not overly so, intellectual, but not overly so, and perhaps because indulgence was miraculously tempered by a certain unstated restraint, popular.  It sounds crazy to say the 1960s featured conservatism and restraint, but it did. Now that we’ve traveled through post-modernism, we know how conservative the lyric is, and the 60s were lyric.  Tradition had yet to be toppled.

Only a few really like chaos, and when chaos threatens, lyric structure and common sense fight back in all sorts of hidden, wonderful ways. Shelley’s spring is never far behind. Tender, conservative feelings survive in the frenzy, even as rebellion gets the headlines.  In an early interview, the Beatles made the astute observation that in England, kids hated what their parents symbolized, but not their parents, whereas in America, it was the other way around.  The cliches of the 60s are just that: cliches, and should not be used to bash what was a spectacular confluence of events and sensibilities.  There are movements which are self-consciously internationalist: one country fawns over another nation’s art, like the rich American ladies who in 1905 suddenly hankered for Japanese vases and haiku.  But in the ’60s, England and America, two great nations, both gave and took, equally, appreciably, in a healthy, natural, intense, rivalry of shouting, stomping, feeling, and sharing.

So how is it that “hippie,” a demeaned, belittled, mocked, obsolete, term, symbolized by long, unwashed hair, drug derangement, and artsy-fartsy, pie-in-the-sky ideals, translates into such significant and wonderful music, as seen in this list of undeniably great songs—greater than any similar list of popular songs one might compile?  Who knows?  But there must be a lesson here, somewhere.  Perhaps it’s this: art responds to popular focus, popular sincerity, popular desire and material accident (length of hair, for instance); art cannot be intellectualized into greatness.

Two more observations before we present the list: John Lennon wrote more good ‘hippie songs’ than anyone, and yet, in person, he was the opposite of a ‘hippie’ in so many ways: a bully as a kid who routinely made fun of ‘spastics,’ John was too sarcastic and mean to care for anything ‘hippie.’  John was recruited into the ‘hippie movement’ almost against his will by various forces, and, proving how complex and powerful the whole ‘hippie’ sensibility is, John’s extremely complex working-class/art school/inner turmoil/ life became a fountain of ‘hippie music.’

There were divisions and fears in the 60s, as well as money to be made, and this surely fueled music being made in the safety of recording studios.  The quality of songs on this list does not translate into a ‘hippie’ era that was nice.  When George Harrison first met his producer, he told him he didn’t like his tie.  George famously had a bad experience when he visited hippies in California. In the words of his sister-in-law:

We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible – full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned – even mothers and babies – and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly – as if George was some kind of Messiah.

Laugh—along with John—or sneer—along with George—as you will, but all these very different songs are very much ‘hippie,’ (in feel, as well as idea) and, improbably, are many of the loveliest, most significant, and most enjoyable songs ever recorded.

1. Imagine -John Lennon
2. Here Comes the Sun  -The Beatles
3. Woodstock -Joni Mitchell
4. Going Up the Country -Canned Heat
5. I’d Love to Change the World   -Ten Years After
6. If I Had A Hammer  -The Weavers
7. Live For Today -Grass Roots
8. Suzanne  -Leonard Cohen
9. Hurdy Gurdy Man  -Donovan
10. In a gadda da vida  -Iron Butterfly
11. That’s The Way  -Led Zeppelin
12. Tiny Dancer  -Elton John
13. Heart of Gold  -Neil Young
14. All You Need Is Love  -The Beatles
15. Mr. Tambourine Man  -Bob Dylan
16. Knights in White Satin  -Moody Blues
17. At Seventeen  -Janis Ian
18. We Are Young  -Fun
19. Ohio  -Crosby Stills Nash & Young
20. Wild World  -Cat Stevens
21. Feelin’ Groovy  -Simon and Garfunkle
22. The Wind Cries Mary  -Jimi Hendrix
23. This Land Is Your Land  -Woody Guthrie
24. Alice’s Restaurant  -Arlo Guthrie
25. Eve of Destruction  -Barry McGuire
26. Creeque Valley  -Mamas & Papas
27. What Have They Done To My Song, Ma   -Melanie
28. Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In   -The Fifth Dimension
29. White Rabbit   -The Jefferson Airplane
30. Walk Right In   -The Rooftop Singers
31. I Love The Flower Girl  -The Cowsills
32. Crimson and Clover   -Tommy James and the Shondells
33. Incense and Peppermints  -Strawberry Alarm Clock
34. She’s Not There  -The Zombies
35. Eight Miles High   -The Byrds
36. Light My Fire   -The Doors
37. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?   -The Beatles
38. Mr. Bojangles  -Jerry Jeff Walker
39. Do You Believe In Magic?  -The Lovin Spoonful
40. Green Tambourine   -The Lemon Pipers
41. I’m Free (from Tommy)  -The Who
42. San Francisco   -Scott McKenzie
43. Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)  -John Prine
44. Us and Them  -Pink Floyd
45. Pleasant Valley Sunday   -The Monkees
46. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place  -The Animals
47. For What It’s Worth  -Buffalo Springfield
48. Strawberry Fields Forever  -The Beatles
49. The Sound of Silence  -Simon & Garfunkle
50. I Gave My Love A Cherry  -Doc Watson
51. Georgy Girl  -The Seekers
52. Space Oddity   -David Bowie
53. 99 Red Balloons  -Nena
54. Norwegian Wood  -The Beatles
55. When The Music’s Over  -The Doors
56. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35  -Bob Dylan
57. Instant Karma  -John Lennon
58. Hey Jude  -The Beatles
59. Truckin’   -The Grateful Dead
60. Me and Bobbi McGee  -Janis Joplin
61. Hotel California  -The Eagles
62. Sympathy for the Devil   -The Rolling Stones
63. Almost Cut My Hair   -Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
64. I Feel Just Like A Child  -Devendra Banhart
65. Fortunate Son  -Creedence Clearwater Revival
66. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)  -White Stripes
67. American Pie  -Don McLean
68. Good Vibrations   -The Beach Boys
69. What The World Needs Now Is Love  -Jackie DeShannon
70. People Are Strange  -The Doors
71. Melissa  -The Allman Brothers Band
72. The Times They Are A Changin’  -Bob Dylan
73. Buffalo Gals  -John Hodges
74. Wonderful World  -Louis Armstrong
75. Lola  -The Kinks
76. Universal Soldier  -Buffy St. Marie
77. Freaker’s Ball  -Dr. Hook
78. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)  -The Electric Prunes
79. Melody Fair  -The Bee Gees
80. Old Man   -Love
81. Brand New Key  -Melanie
82. Stoney End  -Laura Nyro
83. Vincent  -Don McLean
84. Tom’s Diner  -Suzanne Vega
85. We’re Only in It for the Money  -Frank Zappa
86. Eleanor Rigby  -The Beatles
87. Hey Ya!   -Outkast
88. Born To Be Wild  -Steppenwolf
89. Rocky Mountain High  -John Denver
90. Young Folks  -Peter Bjorn and John
91. Smells Like Teen Spirit  -Nirvana
92. If There Is Something  -Roxy Music
93. Lucky Man  -Emerson Lake & Palmer
94. In the Summertime  -Mungo Jerry
95. Piggies  -The Beatles
96. Sunshine of Your Love  -Cream
97. Hesitation Blues  -The Holy Modal Rounders
98. Mother Nature’s Son  -The Beatles
99. A Horse With No Name  -America
100. 21st Century Schizoid Man  -King Crimson

LEAN IN

Wonderful job, Sheryl Sandberg.  But we have some more advice…

The new feminism is pragmatic and career-oriented.

“Having it all” is out.  Setting realistic, community-oriented goals is in.

No gender is an island.

Working together, anything can happen.

In the pragmatic “Lean In,” spirit, here’s more practical advice for women:

STAY ON

We refer to the following clever scenario, but  “Stay On” can mean any ‘working’ of a system to your advantage:  You are commuting by train.  Maybe you are taking the train to that big interview. You are dressed solidly but not flamboyantly.  You are researched and prepared. You buy a ticket for the next stop, and then you pretend to miss your stop.  You stay on. The result?  You get a free ride (pretending sleepiness or distress) to the next stop, or even to the end of the line.  This might be a small advantage, but every advantage counts. You need to always be thinking this way! Working the system (and boldly in public) like this, it must be emphasized, works as well for women as it does for men.  Men tend to work this way more often, but there’s no reason why women can’t profit in ways like this, too!

MARRY UP

This is a great pile of advice: Women, there’s no shame in this! First, there’s plenty you can bring to the table, and it doesn’t have to be money! Marrying up doesn’t have to be an ‘end’ strategy; it can be the beginning of a new, independent, productive life.

DIG IN

Women, stop being weak, fat and frumpy!  Women eat less fat and protein than men, but why shouldn’t women build muscle, too?  The word is slowly getting out that “fat is the new fiber.”  Animal fat is necessary: 30% of calories should come from fat—says the American Heart Association!  Non-fat milk and non-fat yogurt and all sorts of “lean cuisine” is not healthy! Never mind the ‘baking/eating cookies syndrome,’ which is only part of this issue. Women are starving—from misinformation.  If you avoid fat in your diet, your body stores it!  Women who avoid fat and protein are starving themselves—and then they guiltily fix it by snacking on sugar and carbs—which leads to obesity, low energy, disease, and failure.  This is real simple: Meat-eaters are winners, and meat-eaters tend to be men.

KNOW WHY

The chief reason for unhappiness and intellectual confusion of all kinds, according to a new study by Scarriet, is not looking for the why behind the what in attempting to figure out the world.  The what is the essence of what your peers are saying, the accepted wisdom of the social sphere, the “best-seller” knowledge, the buzz, had for free, which most people go by.  You find it in all those insightful little articles you read and the pretty pictures you look at. Dig deeper, and find out why something is the way it is—and you will have an infinite advantage over everyone else.  This is especially useful advice for women, who tend to rely more on social information and fixate on the what of injustice, rather than the often nuanced, or hidden, or even missed-because-too-obvious why.  Knowing the true cause of something will not only make you smarter, it will make you happier: less traumatized, less victimized/obsessed.

LEAN BACK

For every successful ‘lean in’ strategy, there are thousands of successful ‘lean back’ strategies, which really means: saving valuable time and energy. This strategy may be the most important one of all. It’s the understanding that happiness is the end of existence, and any effort is wasteful if it puts off happiness.  You may not want to do all the things necessary for material success—and think of the sorrow involved if you may not need to do all those things but wasted your life doing them anyway.  If you love something enough, you will do anything to get it, and you will be happy while you are going after it—and that’s OK.  There’s no need to apologize for not sacrificing your life for something you don’t really want.  Whenever “sacrifice” is involved, you need to stop and think: why am I doing this?  Another advantage to the ‘lean back’ strategy:  it permits one to look around and assess a situation before one gets embroiled in it. It would be a terrible mistake to equate the ‘lean back’ strategy to laziness and hedonism: this is to miss the whole point.  Women are more likely to be guilt-tripped out of this strategy, which men, watching and learning as they lean back, do all the time.  Women, don’t be guilted!  You can do this, too!

Lean In may be helping women, but we guarantee Lean Back, Know Why, Dig In, Marry Up, and Stay On will help women more.  (OK, maybe “Stay On” is a bit of a joke, but it reminds women to think outside the box a little, too.)

Women, this is real life, and it is your life.  Lean anyway you need to lean.

THE MOVIE IS ABOUT YOU, THE POEM IS ABOUT SOMEBODY ELSE

The movie is about you, the poem is about somebody else.
Lessing says paintings furnish bodies in space,
Poetry actions in time; the interesting, talking face
Is neither a painting nor a poem; it’s myself.

I am acting as myself because this is how the movie is cast,
The best acting is not acting— it’s you being real.
A movie, like a painting or a poem, makes you feel
You are living in the present, not trapped in the past.

Since life is worth watching
Even when it’s not worth living,
We go into someone else’s past.
We escape our own, not great because it will not last.

This art object describes you,
But it also describes your neighbor, too.
Poems are for your neighbors.
Paintings and movies are multiple, but not true.
Your life is fine, but interesting to only a few.

Watching the poem, I felt
I wanted to be somewhere else,
Because I am never myself
Unless I know I will last,
Even though it is easy to think nothing will last.
The only alternative? the horror
That this will last and last and last.

Someone wants to cast  you in their play.
You are going to fulfill a dream,
Even if it’s a dream
Dull in a dull day.

WORLD PREMIERE WILLIAM KULIK POEM!!

THE WONDER OF SCIENCE

 “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

                                                                                    -Satchel Paige

So far it’s been a pretty smooth day for an old guy tooling along a winding country road trying to ease the pain of watching another year die in the brown and orange wind-whipped leaves glittering in gold October sunlight and just as I’m in danger of continuing to wax poetic a la Hallmark I realize there’s a cream-faced kid riding my ass in a tomato-red Camaro slouched way down in the seat baseball cap turned sideways and though I’m a little pissed cause he’s screwed up my mood with his ridiculous gangsta thing there’s no way I can stay mad cause I remember being like most every guy I ever knew drenched in lust so powerful it bordered on myth and I figure he wants me to move over and let him roll, that hot car the emblem of a tom-cat need to spray. You’ve got to understand, though I’m trying to be big about this the truth is I’m jealous of his generation’s luck as by the time he’s fifty those hormone treatments I hear they’re working on now will be an everyday thing and ten times more powerful than any of our ED drugs. And I’m thinking it’s possible we might sneak in and get a piece of this action. It goes like this: they’ll have to have subjects to run their trials on, right? Now you tell me who’d be more sensitive to new-found pleasure than a bunch of old folks with their fun pretty much done. Better yet: can you imagine as I can that it’s not impossible with all this testing going on one of them will discover you can be shocked open and have all the wild passion of teenage hormones rush back in? Hell! if they could do that I’d let them strap me to a table open the roof and raise me up into the heart of the baddest storm in storm history to get the jolt I need and I’m just realizing this fantasy has me so juiced I’ve got the pedal to the floor coming out of a twisty patch of road with Junior in his hot-shit red Camaro sucking my fumes and I’m headed for that quarter-mile stretch of Forgedale Road with the two scary dips one right after the other where in the old days I’d push my battered truck up to seventy, scare the shit out of the kids their friends pale, asking Is your dad OK? feeling my testicles swoop and rise like they did when I was a boy riding an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. And wouldn’t I buy me a lifetime supply of whatever they come up with and a brand-new 400 horsepower truck get that baby up to 90 show you how I’d use those dips to get airborne clear the highest branch of the big sycamore by the cow pond—eighty years old, I hear!—and not even scrape my new-born butt

SHE ONCE EXISTED AND SHE WILL EXIST

She once existed, and she will exist,
As a scent from trees, as a twilight mist,
But here I look at her mouth, just kissed
By so many kisses, kisses to replace
The first kisses that kissed her face—
Desire approving this death, time approving this place.

She exists, as romance strives romantically to be
Her face kissing the part of the face she is able to see.
Is there another reason for poetry?

She forgets the beginning, and doesn’t know how life ends
But feels the moment and how it tends
Not to be momentary, but is like the mist that gradually blends

With poetry always written for her,
Where those who belong to analysis were
Ignorant of why and when poetry shall occur.

IS GAY SMARTER THAN STRAIGHT?

Poet Edward Field, 89 years old, and the most entertaining guest in Our Deep Gossip.

Really stupid people, we say, cannot grasp any sort of complexity.

But then there’s another kind of smart, good, or educated person who errs by making things too complex.

Then we have the truly smart person who knows complexity, but also knows when not to be complex.

The three (crude) types mentioned above might be categorized as the one cared for by the system, the one of the system, and the rebel who breaks the system’s rules.

The system, in this case, is American poetry and the general puritan American culture surrounding it. We have just finished reading, on a beautiful afternoon, Our Deep Gossip, Conversations with Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire by Christopher Hennessy, foreward by Christopher Bram, and instead of finding the “deep,” we found the simplicity of the intelligent rebel.

The rebel is not beholden to a lot of systemic obligations. The rebel speaks what might be called a queer truth, true not because it is queer, but true because its desire is of that immediate kind not trapped by any system. The rebellion can be expressed in a number of very simple ways: I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to rhyme, I don’t want to be polite, I don’t want to conform, I don’t want to have children, I don’t want to do what others expect me to do, I don’t want to make sense, I don’t want to be complex if I can be simple, I don’t want to put off pleasure. And all of these things might be called queer. But what they really are is actually anything but queer; they are manifestations of simple common sense. And this expediency makes the queer what every queer secretly knows itself to be: smart.

Our Deep Gossip is uncannily smart—right from the beginning of Bram’s foreward:

I’ve never understood why more people don’t love poetry. The best poetry is short, succinct, highly quotable, and very portable. It can take five minutes to read a poem that you will ponder for the rest of your life. Poetry should be as popular as song lyrics or stand-up comedy. Nevertheless, I often hear otherwise well-read people say, without embarrassment, “I don’t read poetry. It’s too difficult—” or strange or obscure or elusive. They will slog through hundreds of pages of so-so prose about a computer geek in Sweden or a made-up medieval land populated with princes and dwarves but freeze like frightened deer when confronted by a simple sonnet.

I cannot think of a better defense of poetry. This needs to be said over and over again. This is the sort of simple truth that is so simple that it rarely gets said. And why? Because inevitably poets feel the need to defend difficulty. Or the Creative Writing Director needs to not offend his fiction students. The system will not allow the simple truth to be spoken in quite the way Bram has expressed it. But when has a system ever cared for simple truth?

Edward Field is the first poet interviewed by Hennessy, and “deep,” again, is not what we get— we get something more to the point, more truthful:

…the cant idea is that [poetry] is about language. That’s one of two pernicious ideas about poetry. The second is the stricture against sentimentality. That is so evil! Every feeling you have is, of course, sentimental.

Field, and the other seven interviewees, don’t give us any “deep gossip” about lovers and friends; they make simple observations that make you realize that being gay is not some great mystery with all kinds of deep secrets any more than being straight is. Since heterosexuality is more invested (just generally) with the system of breeding, one might assume the gay sensibility is closer to pursuing pleasure without this massive system’s strictures and obligations; but no, not really; this assumption (by straights) is just one more reason the gay sensibility tends to have more common sense: it knows it is not as secretive and complex as it is thought to be, and this contributes to clearer thinking. Look at Field’s brilliant but simple take on Ashbery:

I think John Ashbery is beyond criticism. His work is nothing I’m interested in, but he says things in the exact words, and it’s beyond criticism. It’s like a cat meowing. A cat meows, that’s what it does. John Ashbery writes that way; there’s no way to criticize it.

Ashbery is famous for writing poetry that makes no sense, and all sorts of complex reasons (including the fact he’s gay) have been offered up, but as Ashbery himself airily observes in the second interview of the book, he had crushes on women when he first wrote poetry in his signature style; he did not think of himself as gay when first writing as Ashbery. And if there was any doubt whether his obscurity is intentional or not, Ashbery himself makes no effort to be mysterious about it: “I don’t think I ever know where my poetry is going when I’m writing.”  And one finds Ashbery simple to the point of naivety responding to Frost’s famous epigram.  Ashbery: “it [is] harder to play tennis without the net.”

The prolific Ashbery merely practices the extreme simplicity of the rebel Beats. As Field (is this “deep?”) puts it:

When I started writing, the more revisions you made on a poem, the better it was. Poets bragged that they’d made 125 versions of a poem. John Crowe Ransom wrote about one poem a year. Philip Larkin too. But Allen Ginsberg said, “First thought, best thought.” And it’s really a very good idea. And Frank O’Hara had the same idea.

Surely Richard Howard will give us some “deep gossip.” But no, the third to be interviewed only says things like: “My students: They don’t read.” Writing poetry, teaching, and translating for him is “one activity.” He has “many selves.” And, “I’ve never really had a father.”

Edward Field—we keep coming back to him because this elder poet sets the tone—discusses one of his poems in which his penis is a girl. Ah, so that’s the secret of how gays are gay! How sweetly simple!

Field revels in being a simple outsider bohemian— he strips the fancy from everything. The gay Andy Warhol, for instance, is not an elaborate example of camp or Conceptualism; in Field’s eyes Warhol’s just a “prole:”

if you see poetry as ‘high class,’ you’re not going to write about Campbell’s soup. …prole Andy Warhol never put on any airs…

Aaron Shurin is next, and he calls himself “unromantic” because coming out as gay he was “another person.” Which makes perfect sense. One can’t be a Romantic if one is two people. Byron thought of himself as Byron—not a as a million different people; sure, Byron had different roles and moods, but that’s not quite the same as being “another person.” Nor does Shurin, we are sure, think of himself as really being “another person,” and yet Byron he is not, and so we understand why he calls himself “unromantic.” But heterosexuals distance themselves from Byron as well: John Crowe Ransom did.

Wayne Koestenbaum is the seventh poet to be interviewed in Our Deep Gossip and he, too, keeps it simple. To wit:

Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, and Gertrude Stein—three of my idols and stylistic models—were profoundly matter-of-fact in their relation to weirdness…

Making God the subject of a sentence whose predicate is simply a ski bunny fills me with a sense of a deed well done, a day well spent. I get a Benjamin Franklin pleasure (the counting house of the affections) from writing a sentence like “God is a ski bunny.”

…poets who come up through the MFA route have a falsely idealized intellectuality, because they think intellectuality is the magic serum that they’re going to inject into poetry to lift it…

I’ll admit it: I have a baby fetish. I turn to jello when I see a baby. When I “finish” a poem…I get a “baby” sensation surrounding it.

The last “baby” quote from Koestenbaum is not queer at all. Or is it? Or does it matter?

Field’s ‘penis as a girl’ poem, “Post Masturbatum,” states simply, “Afterwards, the penis/is like a girl who has been ‘had’/and is ashamed…foolish one who gave in…” And this is echoed by Koestenbaum’s moral “With engorgement comes delusion. When you’re in that state, you’re not making good decisions.”

We flash back to Bram’s foreward, where he wrote, “people say, without embarrassment, ‘I don’t read poetry…”

Is “embarrassment” the key word here? If only people were ashamed to say they don’t read poetry! But they’re not. The non-poetry readers are not embarrassed. But Christopher Hennesy and the eight poets he interviews are not embarrassed, either, as Bram makes clear:

Neither Christopher Hennessy nor any of his eight genial, highly articulate guests express the slightest embarrassment over their love of poetry.

Perhaps there needs to be more tension between the two camps— some embarrassment, perhaps, on both sides.

When Hennessy approvingly quotes a Koestenbaum poem

My butt, at its best, resembles Faust’s dog.
It has an affectionate relationship to condiments.

he chortles, “Such loony lines!”

And this reminds us of Ashbery’s joke earlier: the simple use of a line Ashbery heard from the Antiques Road Show in one of his poems: “There’s a tremendous interest in dog-related items.” Both Ashbery and Hennessy laugh.

Is this what Bram means when he says “neither Christopher Hennessy nor any of his eight genial, highly articulate guests express the slightest embarrassment over their love of poetry?”

But doesn’t laughter depend on embarrassment? Field says funny poetry is a good thing, and that Auden changed everything for the better by elevating Light Verse to a higher place in the canon. Surely the humorous is a big part of modern and post-modern poetry.

But this is just one more piece of the whole common sense approach to Our Deep Gossip. Gay is embarrassing. And we laugh. But just as we would laugh at any number of things, sexual or otherwise, that are not gay.

Exactly the same.

IF YOU WAIT (ANOTHER NEW SCARRIET POEM)

Can too much loving make us weep?
When we get more loving than we can keep?
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

Great love means great worry.
Great fear means great hurry.
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

Who will look at the moon alone
From the prison of their frozen throne?
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

Love, that makes us love the same things,
Has lost a rose in Saturn’s rings.
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

Sorrow, who wrote the poems of old,
Scorned the warrior, bedecked and bold.
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

God, who sees all things slain,
Painted us from shadows small and vain.
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

There is a path we are on,
But the path we are is gone.
I will be there, soon, love, I will be there, soon.

21 REASONS FOR 21 REASONS

21. Because this reason goes along with the other reasons.

20. You know very well why.

19.  Okay, maybe this one doesn’t fit.

18. After #19, this had to be good.

17. This one makes you think a little, doesn’t it?

16. Yes, yes, your hunch was correct, this is how others see it!

15. Yup. We’re not kidding.

14. Google if you don’t believe.

13. Doesn’t apply to you, but it certainly applies to them.

12. This is so lame, instead of “21 reasons for 21 reasons,” it should be “20 reasons for 20 reasons.” I mean, really.

11. We are—exactly—half way through the reasons.

10. Don’t look away! The really good reasons are coming.

9. Told you. And you thought it was France!

8. Did we make your day?

7. Nailed it.

6. A great reason because it subtly undermines all the others.

5. Are you excited for the top 4?

4. Maybe this should have been number one.

3. Ha. Bet you didn’t see this coming.

2. Boo ya.

1. The most important reason:  you read them.

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