Seth Abramson was corrected by notevensuperficial when he (Seth) wrote: “The greatest divide in poetry, by far, of the past hundred years has been between poets who treat language as a locus for imminent meaning and those who treat it as a locus for transcendent meaning.”

Surely Seth meant immanence, not imminence.   Immanence is the opposite of transcendence, right?

Not so fast.

In the sense that Seth uses immanence, a pun is divine.

The Latin root of immanence is ‘within.’    This, of course, implies a duality: within/without.   Immanence itself implies transcendence.  That’s only the first of many difficulites which Seth has brought upon himself.

In theological terms, immanence features a mere earthly object glowing with transcendent radiance; in philosophical terms, immanence means self-defined, but neither of these meanings works in Mr. Abramson’s schema.

The issue here is a metaphysical conundrum for those who enjoy that sort of thing, or for those who waste their philosophy on philosophy, or for those post-avants who occasionaly fool themselves into thinking they know what they are talking about.

For the religious, immanence does imply a holy radiance like the halo around Christ’s head, because, theologically, it is God shining within and through the created world, shining outward from the center of the world, as it were, as if the divine were here and now, and we experience the divine here and now, and yet, it can also be interpreted as ‘within,’ as in the sense of being inside and not radiating its divinity, but hidden— just to put it in stark theological terms.

But Seth was positing two uses of language:

1)  we read a word as referring to something else: red, meaning ‘the color red’ and thus the word red is transcendent, pointing to its referent, the actual color red.

2)  we read ‘red’ as a pun on ‘read’ or we use ‘red’ to rhyme with ‘bed,’ and thus ‘the word itself’ has an immanence in the sense that is has a significance in itself.

However, ‘red’ used as a rhyme or as a pun has no interiority.  The word in this case is not significant in itself, but significant as itself, as mere ‘surface effect’ —so we could say imminence is more correct, for imminent implies here it is about to happen, which is closer to what Seth actually means than interiority (which is the Latin root of immanence).

The pun is imminent.  And I am afraid.



  1. notevensuperficial said,

    July 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    The Latin root of immanence is ‘within’.

    That’s not well said, Tom. The Latin “root” of “immanence” is maneo, ‘I remain, wait’. The prefix in- is what you’re pointing out – the prefixed locative/directional preposition in meaning ‘inside, towards’.

    (Pedantic self-correction: I was wrong, wrong, wrong etymologically to translate “immanence” as ‘not-waiting; here-and-now’ – I mistook the ‘in-‘ prefix as the privative in-, meaning ‘not’, like the Greek a-, ‘alpha-privative’.

    This mistake is the same one as that made by people who think “flammable” and “inflammable” shouldn’t mean the same thing. The prefix ‘in-‘ here is not the privative ‘in-‘ of “inexpressible, impossible, illegal, irresponsible, ignoble”, but rather the prefixed preposition ‘in’: “inflammable” meaning ‘flame is already inside this substance’ – or ‘within it’, if Tom prefers.)

    Immanence itself implies transcendence.

    Not sure what you mean by “implies” here.

    The ‘implication’ is certainly not logically necessary, in the sense that the premise of “immanence” necessarily lead to the conclusion “transcendence”. They’re easily contrasted absolutely.

    A famous example of this contrast is Spinoza’s Deus siva natura, which is how he comprehends the ubiquity and oneness of substantia. There’s no Spinozan god anywhere except everywhere there is something ‘here’ (which is everywhere real) – his idea is that there’s no ‘personal’ god, no god ‘to talk to’. That is, Spinoza’s immanence admits absolutely of no transcendence.

    Sure, there’s a theological argument about whether the creator-god per-sists in irradiating creation with his (its?) divinity, or whether that god must be considered by created beings to retain an essential separateness from creation in addition to his (its) teleological attachment to them and to it.

    But to say that the antonymy of “immanence” and “transcendence” requires that immanence can’t be argued for without ‘implying’ the reality of transcendence is, to me, a trifling sophistry – one that Abramson works carefully to avoid in his linguistic use of those words in the blogicle that you’ve linked us to.

    imminent implies here it is- about to happen

    Again, not sure what you mean by “implies”.

    “Imminent” does not mean ‘here it is’ – it means ‘about to happen, but not here, not yet‘. “Imminent” is a kind of ‘threatening’ posture, meaning that, while there might be a crisis now, there’s still time to avoid the disaster, to transform the here-and-now and produce a non-disastrous outcome.

    Sometimes “imminent” is used to indicate ‘a process that’s already started happening’, but, to me, that’s a mistake.

    An egg might be an imminent chicken, but a one-egg omelet is no longer an imminent chicken, and a chicken is no longer an imminent chicken, but rather is a hatched hatchling. (Excluding, for the sake of discussion, frankenchickens ‘hatched’ from lab equipment.)

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 13, 2010 at 7:21 pm


      Thanks for the input on etymology and definition.

      Do you think the terms, immanence and transcendence, fit Seth’s two types of poetry?

      How, exactly, can language be immanent?

      I guess that’s the rub for me.


  2. notevensuperficial said,

    July 14, 2010 at 4:43 am

    [C]an language be immanent?

    Yes, “the rub”, Tom – though I’d ask ‘can language be only “immanent”?’

    I think Abramson’s distinction – and vocabulary, to a lesser extent – is quite traditional, almost a cliche. (I’d guess he’d agree with this perspective – it’s no insult!)

    Immanence: Language usage “[to] unlock the potential of [words] to serve as markers of what language is and how it functions […] only unpredictably and imperfectly as a vehicle for thought and communication”.

    Transcendence: Language usage “[to] focus on the objects to which the poem’s words refer”.

    Well, there’s a lot of ways to go forward – or in circles – here, but let me look at two.

    First, put the way I have (I think: pretty accurately (?)), “immanent” intentions can be understood as kinds of “transcendent” intentions. The “objects” to which an immanently intended poem refers are itself and something called ‘language’.

    This wording might sound like a sophistry, but I don’t think it is; language usage that foregrounds itself as a piece of language (or foregrounds language as a “vehicle for thought or communication”) participates in reference. The reflexivity of poems that ‘try’ to lay bare the engines and digestive traction of language might be viciously circular, but that circularity is not a self-throwing-away-from ‘reference to an object’ — which referring – or signifying – you partake of when the poem has enabled you to talk about its meaning, intentions, and processes.

    Secondly, and what you might have been talking about with respect to ‘implication’, a poem’s reference to an object and its attending itself as ‘language usage’ entail each other – especially, though it’s not always as easy to show, in the case of foregrounding “immanence” (as I’ve just said).

    I think this entwinement is what Abramson was getting at with his rehabilitation of “rhetoric”.

    By the way, I don’t think there is such a thing as word-qua-word except insofar as they do ‘refer’. If a “word” doesn’t signify or refer or indicate, why call it a “word” as opposed to, say, a ‘sound’ or a ‘blot’?

    Words, letters, punctuation marks – signs – have the two characteristics: they appear in a particular way (“immanently”) and their appearance signifies (“transcendently”). Sure, Ashbery (say) uses signs to challenge economies of signification, and, I guess, the possibility of signification – but if you ‘get it’, then he’s succeeded at ‘signifying’, right?

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

      Yea, thanks, that is pretty “traditional and almost a cliche,” I agree.

      Perhaps not a “sophistry,” well, almost, especially because

      1. Poetry has always, by definition, blended these two functions.
      2. This act of cutting poetry in two and making a stormy fuss about the one half, ‘immanence,’ for instance, as if one were doing something new and significant, when one is just murdering poetry with a cowardly act of over-intellctualizing in an avant-guru sort of way: I think this ultimately does more harm than good—even pedagogically.
      3. Good point re: word v. sound/blot. Precisely. The same issue presents itself with abstract painting, and abstract painting is really what the language poets are trending: a blot on the canvas, whether it participates in Da Vinci’s “Last Supper’ or Pollock’s No. 15 is still a blot and no amount of avant theorizing can make this a ‘new’ or ‘significant’ fact.

      The avants take things which are truly interesting and ignore them or make them boring, and take things which are cliches and wave them around, saying ‘look at this! isn’t it fascinating?’ Then they add a lot of obfuscating rhetoric. This is what avants do. This defines them.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        July 15, 2010 at 2:07 am

        Tom, 1. and 2. were just what I was getting at – and perhaps you as well, earlier, with ‘immanence implying transcendence’.

        I’d add that the ‘blending’ in poetry is infrequently thematized, but it’s always there – I agree with the Frenchie theorists that the blending of the material fact of a sign and its signifying – a sign’s phenomenal “immanence” and its functioning “transcendently” – is always there in language usage, even in the cases of things like a welcome mat and nautical semaphore message.

        (What I mean by ‘thematizing’ the unity – which term indicates an inherence that “blend” doesn’t – is best illustrated by What’s-his-name, the dramatic poet who loved to have actors astage saying:

        […] – the play’s the thing
        Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

        All the world’s a stage,
        And all the men and women merely players[.]

        […] – life is but a walking shadow,
        A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
        Then is heard no more.)

        cutting poetry in two

        Well, I’m with Aristotle in recommending this kind of un’natural’ ana-luein – so long as the analyst realizes – and brings into the analysis at some point! – the fact of the unity in reality of what’s been ‘divided’ in thought.

        For example, form and matter ontologically always mutually implicate each other: there is no ‘matter’ without formal characterization, and no ‘form’ without something material taking that form (Aristotle’s criticism of his Platonic enemies). But when we speak in everyday language of ‘human beings’, and of ‘Socrates’ and ‘Callicles’, we need a logically rigorous way to say that a) Socrates and Callicles are formally identical in both being ‘human’, but b) materially distinct in being two (different) guys.

        So, we (I think: comfortably) talk of the dialectical entwinement of form and matter, that is, how they work together (and with privation) ‘to compose’ (suntit[h]hmi) actual people, without needing to claim that there’s a couple of real raw-material stockpiles, called Form and Matter, from which actual people are ‘put together’.

        It’s likewise when a high-school teacher explains that the ‘form’ and ‘content’ of some particular poem are undisentangleable aspects of that poem in reality, but that, in thought and speech, we talk of that poem’s form (it’s a sonnet) and its content (it’s about springtime) separately.

        (In your taking up of Abramson’s terms, we talk transcendently of an unreal separation of what immanently can’t be separated.)

        I think this “cutting”, this dialectic, is unavoidable — as we can see with Aristotle, doing it ham-fistedly is not unavoidable.

        abstract painting

        I mostly can’t stand Tom Wolfe’s smug contempt for his contemporaries’ attempts to explore things they’re told not to mess with, but I think his book The Painted Word was perfectly apposite: much “abstract” painting seems to me to be mere illustration of ideas.

        I’d easily stand in front of a Poussin for half an hour and, without caring all that much about the mythic ‘story’ it depicts (for which I much prefer literature and, well, this kind of blah blah), simply luxuriate in the play of color and shape. But in front of a Pollock or Rothko?? Not me.

        I have to say, though, that, in the case of someone who claims to be somehow nourished by the same in-forming that I get from Poussin, only from a Pollock — well, how can anyone deny – or, with logical necessity, assert the charlatanry of – the reality of that inner experience? The light went on for me with Cezanne; I’d thought, and argued rancorously, that he’s just a clumsy articulator of images – a bad painter -, until, inexplicably (by me), I realized how ‘inwardly structuring’ of perception (thence feeling and thought) Cezanne’s paintings are. Maybe someday I’ll get it with Pollock – counterthough, until then, his paintings are, to me, absurdly praised.

  3. Marcus Bales said,

    July 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm


    The three of us took another few steps back,
    Examining the massive white on white
    On white design that two small dots of black
    Were standing starkly out of in the right
    Hand bottom corner. “Leo,” said the guy
    Who’d bought a prior work for more than I
    Had made that year, “Leo”, he says, “you know
    I love the one I’ve got, with one black dot,”
    And then he made a face, “but this one, though …”
    His head tilted, he was lost in thought,
    “He’s looking harder than even you and I did,”
    I murmured “He’s not going to buy it, is he.”
    As Leo shook his head. The man decided:
    “I’m sorry, Leo, this one’s just too busy.”

  4. thomasbrady said,

    July 15, 2010 at 1:54 pm


    You’re on the slippery slope, my friend. Today, Cezanne. Tomorrow, Pollock. The day after that, heroin. You’ll need a stronger fix. Just watch. The toothache begins with a tiny itch and then the pain becomes overwhelming and then at last, Mrs. Guggenheim and Mrs. Rockefeller will not even be able to save you, as you roil in your own Pollock-vomit. I know, I know, the more sternly moral my warning, the more quickly you will fall…

    I’m glad you brought up Shakespeare’s ‘play-within-a-play,’ for the converse is the avant taking-the-play-away-from-the-play, taking the story and the picture away from the color, taking poetry away from the poem, and such thievery always takes place below a Pollock picture in Manhattan, where the wealthy dine at the Four Seasons well into the night…


  5. notevensuperficial said,

    July 19, 2010 at 3:06 am

    Agree that it’s a slippery slope, Tom. I think the clambering/backsliding starts with perception itself, though.

    A sense organ is already a means of discernment, but it seems to me that the necessary precondition for telling this from that is a reason for preferring one to the other. In this basic way, taste is the guide of perception, even as sensations are constantly structuring taste inwardly – in-forming it..

    I guess it sounds downward-facing, but I don’t think there’s a methodologically compelling way of stating – really, of enforcing – a preference for Poussin to Pollock.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    July 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm


    I’m not an art connoisseur, but in my most recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I noticed a distinct line in art history somewhere in the 19th century. Remarkable artists (especially historical and landscape artists from aprox. 1499-1899) who actually turn paint into reality give way to artists who turn reality into paint. A standard was set by painters of imaginative depiction, that was so remarkable, that when you look at a painting of some mountains in Wyoming, for instance, the untrained eye doesn’t notice the paint—the viewer is transported by the subject itself (Wyoming as seen by an artist). And I am not talking about photographic realism—the painting has an eye that a camera’s eye could never have. The standard set was such that slightly inferior 18th or 19th century landscape painters of the American West are betrayed by their paint getting in the way of the painting. Again, the standard here is not photo-realism, for the artistry was more than that. The Masters of the Renaissance, north and south, produced subjects, shadows and themes that used paint—but the paint was always subservient to the vision.

    Furthermore, what I noticed was that paint begins to become its own subject BEFORE the theoretical applications of impressionism and subsequent experiments in abstraction. Painters like Sargent, and I could even include Monet and Manet, were not theoretically breaking new ground; they were very talented; two of them became famous for scandalous paintings (which had nothing to do with the ‘new’ style of painting) and yet Sargent painted the bored rich, Monet as a student preferred painting what he saw out the window of the Louvre than copying the masters, and these sorts of predilections had nothing to do with theory or experimentation; it was almost an accident that ‘painterly illustrators,’ men of talent but not genius, used color in such a way that paint was no longer changed into reality, but reality was changed into paint. So a ‘revolution’ happened.


  7. notevensuperficial said,

    July 20, 2010 at 1:03 am

    turn reality into paint

    Tom, if I thought Pollock achieved this transformation, I’d be infinitely more interested in looking at his drippy canvases than I am.

    paint begins to become its own subject

    There’s an anecdote – perhaps both famous and true – about one of Turner’s seascapes: He’d mounted an exhibition and people, or someone, anyway, were/was puzzled by one of the mostly-bright canvases. ‘But what is it?’ etc. Turner snuck into the gallery after-hours and added – voila! – a small cross-beamed mast to the image.

    One of the extreme abstraction arguments is that all marks are about ‘materials/tools/media becoming their subjects’. I think this is an excellent argument, but being informed and delighted by the idea just doesn’t make abstract paintings worth more than a glance – to me.

    Have you read many remarks about painting by – what – painters of abstraction (? painters of painting?)? Pollock, Newman, Rothko, de Kooning – what these (and many of their comrades) say about painting (and so on) is WAY more compelling than their paintings are or, I think, are likely to become. In fact, what these 20th c. ‘revolutionaries’ have to say (I mean: in words) is more interesting than most of what poets have to say about art, language, life, and so on.

  8. July 20, 2010 at 1:46 am


    Jackson Pollock was a Cubist

    Jackson Pollock was a Cubist,
    Picasso painted pears,
    oranges and apples,
    bananas and pears.
    Some once wrote in rhyme.

    Picasso found a new dimension,
    Pollock the dance the organic shares.
    Poets touched the meaning
    of the unstructured now,
    Picasso the structure of time.
    Pollock found the Tao.

    a poet never wrote,
    forsaking poetry.
    Like Pollock and Picasso found
    the finite boundary,
    and then, too, went beyond,
    beyond the page and ink to sky,
    to wind and clouds and breath
    and birds,
    to perfect symmetry.
    He wrote new poems every day
    without the need for words.

    His life was poetry.

    Copyright 2005 – Evolving – Poems 1965-2005, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  9. Noochinator said,

    September 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Here’s an example
    Of here-and-now transcendence;
    The immanent suffused
    With a character’s religious sense.

    An excerpt from the novel ‘Bullet Park’ by John Cheever

    [Nailles’] sense of the church calendar was much more closely associated with the weather than with the revelations and strictures in Holy Gospel. St. Paul meant blizzards. St. Mathias meant a thaw. For the marriage at Cana and the cleansing of the leper the oil furnace would still be running although the vents in the stained-glass windows were sometimes open to the raw spring air. Abstain from fornication. Possess your vessel in honor. Jesus departs from the coast of Tyre and Sidon as the skiing ends. For the crucifixion a bobsled stands stranded in a flowerbed, its painter coiled among the early violets. The trout streams open for the resurrection. The crimson cloths at Pentecost and the miracle of the tongues meant swimming. St. James and Revelations fell on the first warm days of summer when you could smell the climbing roses by the window and when an occasional stray bee would buzz into the house of God and buzz out again. Trinity carried one into summer, the dog days and the drought, and the parable of the Samaritan was spoken as the season changed and the gentle sounds of the night garden turned as harsh as hardware. The flesh lusteth against the spirit to the smoke of leaf fires as did the raising of the dead. Then one was back again with St. Andrew and the snows of Advent.

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