MODERNISM AND THE EXPERIMENTAL FALLACY

…the process of improvement will be cumulative…let them stay with the system of education and see that no deterioration creeps in…and avoid at all costs any innovation in the established physical or academic curriculum. When they hear someone saying that men pay most attention ‘to the latest song on the singer’s lips’ (Homer) they must be afraid that people will think that the poet means not new songs, but a new kind of song, but such innovation should not be recommended, nor should the poet be so understood. You should hesitate to change the style of your literature, because you risk everything if you do; the music and literature of a country cannot be altered without major political and social changes.  …It is in education that disorder can most easily creep in unobserved because people treat it as child’s-play, and think no harm can come of it.  It only does harm because it gradually undermines morals and manners…

—The Republic, Book 4

What is the real difference between the literate sensibilities of the old 19th century and the slightly less old 20th century?   The latter was more acutely aware of the island-reality. 

To be clearer:  In the 19th century, and every century prior, those who were fortunate enough to be literate were acutely so, and to them it was natural that illiterate brutes were everywhere—the educated few just didn’t worry a lot about them, or write very much for them.  Those on the ‘literate island’ wrote for those who were on the ‘literate island’ like themselves; this fostered an even more intense literary acumen among the literate, because they wrote unabashedly for, and to, each other.

In the 20th century, however, the literate became hyper-aware they were on an island, cut off from those who noisily lived, if not an illiterate existence, then one not given over to poetry and intellectuality.  A sea change occured in terms of how those ‘on literate island’ viewed the others.

Roughly 100 years ago we observe two things: an increasing number of those who are somewhat literate, and aspiring to be literate, and secondly, an increasingly large class of those literate enough to express mockery and disdain at the refined sensibilites of the more literate. 

In the 19th century, those off the island, for the most part, were entirely illiterate, and thus of no consequence at all.  This gradually changed with universal education, the rise of the middle class, class consciousness itself, the increase of social concern for the lower classes, and so on.   So, by the 20th century, those on the island are no longer at ease with their literate existence, no longer able to develop refinements and literate powers guilt-free, by interacting only with those on the island like themselves.

Two crucial things occur:  First, increasing numbers of those ‘off-the-island’ clamor to be ‘on-the-island,’ even though they are largely misfits.  Second: Increasing numbers of those ‘on-the-island’ champion those ‘off-the-island,’ preferring to write to those ‘off-the-island’ than to their more literate brethren ‘on-the-island.’

It is a good for the on-the-island literates to care for the semi-literates and illiterates off-the-island—politically, but it only makes writing worse.  What possible good comes of wanting to leave ‘literate island?’

So now, we see what happens: a new combination of confused, anxious, divisive, privileged, elitist, clashing emotions brutalize the literate class who are ‘on the island.’

In the 19th century, those ‘on the island’ are literates who are natural elites: great writers without any distractions; when we read name authors of the 19th century, such as Mary Shelley, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or Jane Austen, we are struck by the natural power of their writing: they write extremely well, in a free, uninhibited, graceful, firm, luxurious yet precise manner.  Shelley wrote the rich, striking Frankenstein, a classic of world literaturewhen she was a teenager.

The 20th century island produces a far more anxious and uncomfortable and divided writer. 

One might say this was due to experimentation, but whatever we call it, there is a little voice in the back of our heads saying, Ernest Hemingway is not really that good! or, I know I am always told that Pound is a magnificent writer, but why do I suspect the self-consciously Greek-translated style that starts The Cantos is dangerously close to hack work?  Or, to be honest, I really don’t enjoy reading James Joyce, though I would die if I dared to admit such a thing to my friends?

Writing tells, writing tells of every glory that comes from real experiments with real and actual results, but since when did we buy into the dubious notion that writing itself had to be experimental?  Since when was it necessary that writing had to cease relating the specific and vast wonders of novelty—and that novelty itself would be so enfeebled—by being forced to exist only in writing’s own narrow existence?

How long do we have to wait before the experimental produces actual results?

The twentieth century is over and we are still waiting.

Prior centuries produced novelty; in fact, one man in the 19th century (Poe: detective fiction, science fiction, verse innovations) produced more of it than all the touted experimentalism of the 20th century literature put together; even stream-of-consciousness belongs to the 19th century; the real results of the 19th century break like the Atlantic ocean over the trivial e.e.cummings-experimentalism of the 20th. 

The experimental.  How long shall we moderns bray and boast and brag and crow as we hide behind that word?

Historically sublime writing, which uses the perfected tools of sentence order, vocabulary, language, the perfected poetry of sound and sense, developed and perfected over centuries, allowing for infinite combinations of painting, emotion, drama, philosophy, and scientific formula—should it  be trifled with by the pick-up-stick scatterings of an e.e.cummings or a tseliot or an ezrapound or a williamcarloswilliams or a wsmerwin, and can this produce real results or the true good?

62 Comments

  1. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Oh I see – so it was the invasion into literacy, nothing to do with the radical shifts in religious, espitomological, philosphical, scientific, technlogical, global, instustrial, social, cultural, psychic transformations between from Luther to the 19th century and then the crisis in subjectivity, poltics and the world order of the early 20th c – are all these somehow bracketed in the shifts in literature? Has there been no shifts in the organization of psychic life over the period? This is inane. Please tell me your some posh 12 year old using lawrence lewellen bowens photo? Please don’t tell me this is your genuine argument.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Aaron,

    The whole problem is a bit of an insane one.

    Let’s examine your outrage for a moment: You, with all the certainty in the world, believe that every shudder in the scientific community has an immediate and corresponding response in the poetic one. You think because e.e. cummngs drops caps, it is because of Martin Luther and the invention of the lightbulb. I agree that this view is insane, and this is why my unveiling of this insanity seems “insane” to you. I am making you recognize your own insanity.

  3. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I shouldn’t have replied; there are so many problems in first principles – but I wonder; are you afraid of late modernity? I think it sucks – but I’m not afraid of it. I feel pain at what has been lost – but you seem to have a profound cultural fear of the ‘lower types’. The thing is, the ‘lower types’ have infinately more critical accumine then you because they have experienced the disjuncture between the rediculous, anachronistic world you live in, the reified and stupifying social order, and themselves. Much of life for working class families still has social content. It’s been snatched away from you who want’s to plunge back into the womb. Thing is there’s a rich subaltern world that would accept you and dissolve yr rigidities and neurotic formations. Come down – and then you’ll be able to see ‘upwards’. You’ll never go back.

  4. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Hey, please, I recognised my own insanity some time ago. You’re clinging on to yours like its still 1856. Perhaps you were wise – I can’t imagine you making it over the sticky 1888 point. A teacher who you should have spent some time with looked a horse in the eye that day, and the blackbirds in his head got frightened and flew away, other reaches made you an elephant coat, black black blowing of the storm sky way over, black smoke choking the black black birds of the black sky, black black black birds – the moon has an eye, the moon has an eye amigdalas the world over spasms jolt through fabric pulls the fabric of the world way over jagged knots connecting guts, sculls, pull the cords of the world way over the baby’s going wrong, the moon is an eye, the killing lines, killing lines, the world over

    black
    heart flows nausiously in
    ghost white
    sheets of cloud

    stringly veins enclose sun now a pumping factory heart

    I’m afraid you’ll have to look that horse in the face, Lawrence.

  5. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    .p.r.o.v.e. .t.h.e. .h/u/m/a/n. .h.a.s. .a. .f.a.c.e./.c.u.t.t.i.n.g. .t.h.r.o.u.g.h. .l.i.k.e. .h/e/a/d/l/i/n/e/s. .d.e.a.d.l.i.n.e.s.

  6. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Actually I admit yr fit compared to Loz

  7. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Can a real human being, with a real heart, not love this untitled poem by ee commings? About 3 different words set a magic that would have sent Heraclitus and Sena in ratpures; fuck Plato and Aristotle-throttle-the intellectual tradition;

    these children singing in stone a
    silence of stone these
    little children wound with stone
    flowers opening for

    ever these silently lit
    tle chidren are petals
    their song is a flower of
    always their flowers

    of stone are
    silently singing
    a song more silent
    than silence these always

    children forever
    singing wreathed with singing
    blossoms children of
    stone blossoming

    eyes
    know if a
    lit tle
    tree listens

    forever to always children singing forever
    a song made
    of silent as stone silence of
    song

    …Now that’s beatiful. Anyway, my dopamine and cortisol levels have almost returned to normal so I’m going to have a bottle of wine, do a chicken dance and jump out the window.

    You ARE logos frightened of agnsky; good bye!

  8. thomasbrady said,

    November 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Aaron,

    Wow. Looks like I struck a chord.

    It’s not your insanity; it belongs to the age.

    That e.e. cummings is pretty weak.

    Try a real poet: Propertius.

    He plows over Cummings’ trite dribblings, even in translation, even dragged out, two-thousand years dead, in a heap, from some cheap internet copy which I fling at you, like old bones:

    Cynthia: From Beyond the Grave

    There are spirits, of a kind: death does not end it all, and the pale ghost escapes the ruined pyre. For Cynthia, lately buried beside the roadway’s murmur, seemed to lean above my couch, when sleep was denied me after love’s interment, and I grieved at the cold kingdom of my bed. The same hair she had, that was borne to the grave, the same eyes: her garment charred against her side: the fire had eaten the beryl ring from her finger, and Lethe’s waters had worn away her lips. She sighed out living breath and speech, but her brittle hands rattled their finger-bones.

    ‘Faithless man, of whom no girl can hope for better, does sleep already have power over you? Are the tricks of sleepless Subura now forgotten, and my windowsill, worn by nocturnal guile? From which I so often hung on a rope dropped to you, and came to your shoulders, hand over hand. Often we made love at the crossroads, and breast to breast our cloaks made the roadways warm. Alas for the silent pact whose false words the uncaring South-West Wind has swept away!

    None cried out at the dying light of my eyes: I’d have won another day if you’d recalled me. No watchman shook his split reeds for me: but, jostled, a broken tile cut my face. Who, at the end, saw you bowed at my graveside: who saw your funeral robe hot with tears? If you disliked going beyond the gate, you could have ordered my bier to travel there more slowly. Ungrateful man, why couldn’t you pray for a wind to fan my pyre? Why weren’t my flames redolent of nard? Was it such an effort, indeed, to scatter cheap hyacinths, or honour my tomb with a shattered jar?

    Let Lygdamus be branded: let the iron be white-hot for the slave of the house: I knew him when I drank the pale and doctored wine. And crafty Nomas, let her destroy her secret poisons: the burning potsherd will show her guilty hands. She who was open to the common gaze, those worthless nights, now leaves the track of her golden hem on the ground: and, if a talkative girl speaks of my beauty unjustly, she repays with heavier spinning tasks. Old Petale’s chained to a foul block of wood, for carrying garlands to my tomb: Lalage is whipped, hung by her entwined hair, since she dared to offer a plea in my name.

    You’ve let the woman melt down my golden image, so she might have her dowry from my fierce pyre. Still, though you deserve it, I’ll not criticise you, Propertius, my reign has been a long one in your books. I swear by the incantation of the Fates none may revoke, and may three-headed Cerberus bark gently for me, that I’ve been faithful, and if I lie, may the vipers hiss on my mound, and lie entwined about my bones.

    There are two places assigned beyond the foul stream, and the whole crowd of the dead row on opposing currents. One carries Clytemnestra’s faithlessness, another the monstrous framework of the lying Cretan cow: see, others swept onwards in a garlanded boat, where sweet airs caress Elysian roses, where tuneful lutes, where Cybele’s cymbals sound, and turbaned choirs to the Lydian lyre.

    Andromeda and Hypermestre, blameless wives, tell their story, with accustomed feeling: the first complains her arms are bruised, with the chains of her mother’s pride, that her hands were un-deserving of the icy rock. Hypermestre tells of her sisters daring, her mind incapable of committing such a crime. So with the tears of death we heal life’s passions: I conceal the many crimes of your unfaithfulness.

    But now I give this command to you, if perhaps you’re moved, if Chloris’ magic herbs have not quite entranced you: don’t let Parthenie, my nurse, lack in her years of weakness: she was known to you, was never greedy with you. And don’t let my lovely Latris, named for her serving role, hold up the mirror to some fresh mistress.

    Then burn whatever verses you made about my name: and cease now to sing my praises.

    Drive the ivy from my mound that with grasping clusters, and tangled leaves, binds my fragile bones; where fruitful Anio broods over fields of apple-branches, and ivory is unfading, because of Hercules’ power.

    Write, on a column’s midst, this verse, worthy of me but brief, so the traveller, hurrying, from the city, might read:

    HERE IN TIBUR’S EARTH LIES CYNTHIA THE GOLDEN:

    ANIO FRESH PRAISE IS ADDED TO YOUR SHORES.

    And don’t deny the dreams that come through sacred gateways: when sacred dreams come, they carry weight. By night we suffer, wandering; night frees the imprisoned spirits, and from his cage abandoned Cerberus himself strays. At dawn the law demands return to the pools of Lethe: we are borne across, and the ferryman counts the load he’s carried.

    Now, let others have you: soon I alone will hold you: you’ll be with me, I’ll wear away the bone joined with bone.’

    After she’d ended in complaint her quarrel with me, her shadow swiftly slipped from my embrace.

  9. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Haha – I like that! OK I like you know. Bye!

  10. T. Erickson said,

    November 16, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    This is your prime criteria for greatness? NOVELTY?? Hilarious. Talk about limited aspirations for the art…

    Is this the post that was inspired by our exchange, Tom? I would really prefer not to be associated with this. I see nothing here that remotely addresses what we were discussing. I was new to this site and hoping for an actual exchange with someone who had read the works he’s denigrating. It’s clear to me this is not the case, as I’ve found nothing but invective and diversionary childish snarkiness. Not even a whiff of thoughtful debate. Just bad ideas, faulty reasoning, bad assumptions spewed forth like my toddler who throws the food he doesn’t like.

    In the comment stream of your post “Is Beauty the New Taboo?” I saw your comments wither and wither from the silly grand pronouncements like the one above to something resembling genuine interest in the exchange of ideas. I still have no idea who, exactly, you’re railing against (and wonder if you do, yourself), other than the really childish “e.e.cummings, ezrapound, tseliot” bit (for which I felt for you a tinge of empathic embarrassment). I suppose I could find previous posts to find out who you’re talking about, but I’m unwilling to further waste my time. You called them, in the other post, “a small clique,” I believe. I was hopeful that you meant it. But clearly you mean to write off thousands of people whose art you haven’t experienced, and of whom you have no real understanding, having not studied it any further than to say it’s icky. The ol’ inductive fallacy.

    It’s clear by your stated nostalgia for an illiterate public–who would be of course unable to challenge just these sorts of (i’ll use the word again) spurious assertions–that your tastes are hopelessly narrow and retrograde. I am (a) sad for you, and (b) glad you don’t run the world–I prefer the good work I find even among the careerist drivel we have today to being stuck solely in a horse and buggy. Seems like we could enjoy Propertius and Pound. But it requires, indeed, sanity and a mind open to exploring different modes of expression. That I don’t find here, and the thing that really, honestly made me laugh was the realization that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Nor do I find civilization here, let alone manners–is this the only thing you allow the 20th century to teach you? Bad manners in print?

    I see no need to comment further. I’m not sure I’ve ever wasted my time quite as blindly as I have here. I’m embarrassed, should have looked to see what I was stepping in.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm

      T.

      I’m glad you’re leaving; I want nothing to do with bullies who spew: “But clearly you mean to write off thousands of people whose art you haven’t experienced, and of whom you have no real understanding, having not studied it…”

      This is the lowest form of debate: You, sir, have not read as much as I have… Really? How are you to know? How am I to know how much you have read? You throw an unprovoked tantrum—and then say you are embarrassed for me. Here’s a mirror. Look into it. I want nothing to do with rhetoric such as yours. You’re obviously incapable of hearing a general thesis with an open mind; you follow immediately with low blows and personal insult.

      Farewell, my dear T.

      Tom

      • T. Erickson said,

        November 16, 2010 at 10:01 pm

        Oh no, no. I listened patiently, asked questions, waited through several comments for an answer, got none (still have none), tried to find common ground, and then had my tantrum.

        I never said I’d read more than you. How silly (but perhaps telling of some discomfort) that you’d jump to that conclusion. Just that it’s quite clear you’ve not studied any of those poets you so wistfully decry, beyond, that is, noting that some use a drop case and some lack of punctuation.

    • Noochness said,

      November 17, 2010 at 9:47 am

      I’m sorry you’re leaving—
      Your comments threw sparks—
      And your style’s so incisive
      It e’en left bite marks!

  11. Marcus Bales said,

    November 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    T Erickson said: “I prefer the good work I find even among the careerist drivel we have today to being stuck solely in a horse and buggy.”

    The horse and buggy metaphor demands we agree with you that art is a field where there is measurable progress along a definable path, as from horse and buggy to … what? the automobile? the jetliner? — it’s a path that requires agreement that that progression is an unqualified good. Do you really hold this view about art, that there is a progression in art as from horse and buggy to, say, a family economy car, that we can as clearly agree has been beneficial to the user?

    • T. Erickson said,

      November 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm

      If I may speak for myself, then leave you all to this place:

      My modifier was “solely.” I like horse and buggy rides at times. Sometimes a new method is in order. Both can be used with profit. But we don’t find those new methods except through experimentation. And experiment ( by definition, any action the result of which we do not know ahead of time) is more than likely bound to fail.

      Agreed “progress,” an sich, is not an unqualified good. But it’d be mighty boring around here without it.

      That is all.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        November 18, 2010 at 2:09 am

        But T Erickson this still advocates the position that there is progress in art — that art is like sport or science, and that therefore the newer is automatically better.

        But where is the ‘unit of art’ and the scale on which to measure ‘units of art’ in any given piece of art that you need to support such a view?

        Your dismissive ‘horse and buggy’ metaphor is nothing but nonsense without a ‘unit of art’ and a scale on which to measure those units. So, since we both know there is no such unit and no such scale, and you haven’t offered to show anything of the sort in your reply, it’s pretty clear your whole view of art as a field in which progress is both possible and necessary is just nonsense.

      • T. Erickson said,

        November 18, 2010 at 6:47 pm

        But Marcus, you keep having the argument YOU want to have. Please look at your first sentence again. Your conclusion is a non sequitur. No one is talking about progress being a quality except you.

        I grant, hereby (and again), that progress is neither good nor bad; it just happens, whether or not you or I would like it to. Not in units of qualitative measurement, but in the quantitative units of time, as artists (in this case) respond to philosophical, technological, and scientific changes across time. Sometimes these shifts are major and artists make a major shift in their art.

        You seem to have seized upon the horse and buggy as a negative; it is not. It is the mode of conveyance belonging to a certain time in history. Allow me to rephrase the sentence you seem to be having trouble with:

        I would rather search through the mainly (by law of probability) bad stuff that I see today to find good stuff (and enjoy the new good stuff alongside the old good stuff) than write off all stuff written today and in the recent past as bad and look only to the distant and near-distant past for good stuff.

        I think this is the debate I’m having on this site, but then I wouldn’t know because I can’t figure out what we’re arguing about. It’s some kind of absurd shell game. The argument, under one shell, shifts; I think I find it, it shifts again; I finally locate it and it’s been swallowed and replaced with a gumball. Futile.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        November 19, 2010 at 4:03 am

        T Erickson said: “… No one is talking about progress being a quality except you.”

        Your metaphor is clearly meant to be dismissive – and the phrase “horse and buggy” means in the context in which you use it “obsolete”. That’s an implicit claim that you think there’s progress in art.

        T Erickson said; ‘I grant, hereby (and again), that progress is neither good nor bad; it just happens, …”

        And here is your claim made explicit. You say directly there is progress in art. Well, then, what’s the scale on which you measure progress in art? What’s the unit of art you use to evaluate where on that scale you can place any piece of art, so that you can classify some art as “horse and buggy” and, presumably, other art as “up to date”?

        T Erickson said: “You seem to have seized upon the horse and buggy as a negative; it is not.”

        This is simply postmodernist bland denial of the plain meaning of the phrase you use and how you use it. It’s disingenuous in the teeth of your own words and your own context! Do you really expect to get away with such bald-facedness?

        T Erickson said: “I would rather search through the mainly (by law of probability) bad stuff that I see today to find good stuff (and enjoy the new good stuff alongside the old good stuff) than write off all stuff written today and in the recent past as bad and look only to the distant and near-distant past for good stuff.”

        You’re still asserting that you can tell the good stuff from the bad stuff, and those who say all the new stuff is bad can’t. But what can be asserted without evidence can be denied without evidence. Your belief that you can tell the good from the bad is without evidence, so my denial that you can do it needs no evidence, either. On the other hand, my assertion that the new stuff is all bad is at least, by your own admission, at least “mainly” right, and has a 90% chance to be right, according to Sturgeon’s Law.

      • Noochness said,

        November 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm

        Sturgeon’s Law—
        I’d never heard of it before.
        Thanks, Mr. Bales
        (And Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales).

        Sturgeon’s Law is the name given to two different adages derived from quotes by American science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, one of which is also known as Sturgeon’s Revelation.

        The first is: “Nothing is always absolutely so”.

        The second, and more famous, of these adages is: “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” (The last word is frequently misquoted as “crap”.)

        Sturgeon himself commented that it was originally the first of these that was known as “Sturgeon’s Law”; the second adage was originally known as “Sturgeon’s Revelation”, formulated as such in his book review column. However, almost all modern uses of the term “Sturgeon’s Law” actually refer to the second, including the definition currently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

  12. thomasbrady said,

    November 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    T. didn’t even attack my piece from a progressive political view…I thought I would catch some flak for that…but even though I mingled social concern with writing in my island analogy, it was strictly about writing…T. seems offended because I don’t like Pound and Williams and Cummings. Of course I wasn’t attacking ALL their works so much, or even those poets, exactly, but the whole lame idea that we MUST like all these sorts of poets because they are EXPERIMENTAL, a term she expressly used in our previous discussions…the gist of the post went right over her head…

    • T. Erickson said,

      November 16, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      That’s just it, right? I have no idea who you’re attacking. Been trying to find out.

      And I don’t like Cummings, either.

    • T. Erickson said,

      November 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      And you misrepresent me. I’d invite those with interest to read the comment on his “Beauty/Taboo” post so that I might speak for myself.

  13. thomasbrady said,

    November 17, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Yes, please read all of T. Erickson’s remarks, and you’ll see the same petulant cry over and over: ‘what’s wrong with experiment?’ When I ask for specifics, there’s no reply. In both posts, “is beauty the new taboo?” and “the experimental fallacy” I raise general questions regarding fundamental assumptions of 20th century thought; in a comment replying to Erickson, I mentioned Rorty and Nietzsche and Fish and the shift away from truth-seeking philosophy towards ‘power & contingency’ rhetoric, but all I get from Erickson is ‘what’s wrong with experiment? what’s wrong with experiment?’ Does Erickson want me to sing a lullaby and say, ‘everything’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with experiment?’ What I said to Aaron, I’ll say to Erickson: you can’t just mention scientific breakthroughs throughout history and just vaguely assume there’s a corresponding effect in this or that ‘experimental’ 20th century poem. You have to show a real connection. The burden of proof is on you. To say, ‘hurray for experiment!’ is an empty answer.

    • T. Erickson said,

      November 17, 2010 at 4:42 am

      As I wrote, I’d prefer to speak for myself, Tom, without your attempts to frame my comments for your readers. I think the arguments present themselves fairly clearly without your rather embarrassingly feckless attempts to color them.

      You know, or perhaps I’m just now teaching you, that modernism was initially a response to Einstein’s (completely revolutionary in the course of human knowledge) notion that time is relative. And therefore time stacks, enabling Joyce and Pound, among others, to pull from many different traditions and eras at once in an attempt to reclaim human truths in an age where civilization seemed on the brink of utter destruction (16 million dead in WWI, plus 40+ million in the flu pandemic that followed shortly after). A paltry thing like 5% of the earth’s population, or 350,000,000 people by today’s population (the entirety of the population of the USA), gone. And these artists wanted to reclaim civilization from the madmen. That reclamation came via the Greeks, in fact. From the Provencal troubadours, from your Propertius, from automobiles, from theories of magnetism (“hast’ou seen the rose in the steel dust / or swansdown ever?” clearly in your case, not ( “swansdown” of course coming from Ben Johnson)), from skyscrapers. Come on. To plug your ears and assume that there weren’t huge forces at work that artists of all media were responding to is inane (not insane; inane).

      So there’s your example. Not trifling. I have more, come to think of it, regarding postmodernism’s respondents to the atomic age and to the notion of the biological underpinnings of language (much of the artistic products of which I can’t recommend), but I’m wary that I’m teaching things to someone who has no interest in real exchange, only in gathering ammo for the next strident post of inanities.

      I love Rorty, by the way. His connections, apropos my comments, of poets and scientists as being fellow metaphor makers, both with interest in telling humanity’s story in a given time and place, are truly fascinating. The way he presents them as responding to one another. Fish, not so interesting, and Nietzsche never realized any real cohesive philosophy because he went mad, though his notions of the Dionysian arts are very instrucive to me. I prefer Kant and Spinoza and Hegel. But that’s me. You’re a Plato man, I take it. Deeply important, foundational, but not, alas, the end of human knowledge.

      • thomasbrady said,

        November 17, 2010 at 2:54 pm

        Erickson,

        Good; nice to see you are speaking civilly again, and you’ve dropped the insults; I’m not sure what that was all about: somebody disagreed with you and you went nuts? That’s fine. I forgive you.

        I see. Pound was to able pull from many different traditions, and Einstein gave him permission to do so. Have you read Pound? For every ‘tradition’ he pulled from, he belittled or ignored a dozen. The Renaissance and the Romantics pulled from many traditions. How does Einstein make that happen? You’re not being clear. Have you read Poe’s “Eureka” (1849)? There’s Einstein in there for you. Oh, but Poe was a “tradition” Pound and Eliot didn’t use, except when Eliot and his friends were abusing Poe. And when Pound was broadcasting for the Axis powers in World War Two (killed a few people, too, didn’t it?) he was “saving” civilization? Or his “Cantos,” which no one beyond a few professors reads, that “saved” us from the flu epidemic? Or when Pound stole translations from others, this was also “saving” civilization? Got it.

        You have to do a better job in proving Pound and his modernist friends “saved” civilization. A much better job. Nice try, though.

        Plato has not been refuted by people like Nietzsche, Rorty and Fish; Rorty, like Emerson, flatters the poets by telling them they’re ‘scientists’ because they use ‘metaphor.’ This is mushy thinking. It’s crap, really, but it makes a certain kind of intellectual feel good about themselves. Who am I to question ‘feel good’ stuff like that? Aristotle was wrong; Metaphor is not the key to poetry. There. I disagreed with you again. Please, please, don’t be upset!

        Tom

      • Noochness said,

        November 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

        “Ode for a Special Relative”

        (from the novel The Last Best Hope by Peter Tauber (1977))

        The Universe, to Newton’s mind,
        Was like a clock in perfect time,
        With changeless fundamental rules,
        And Newton’s Laws the perfect tools.

        But Albert Einstein found some flaws
        In Isaac Newton’s cosmic laws.
        For Einstein said, “It seems to me
        That Mass is really Energy!

        “And photons act as if they wanta
        Show us that they’re really quanta.
        Now space is curved, to Euclid’s woe
        And Time speeds up as you go slow.

        “Time slows again, and Mass grows great,
        When Mass speeds near Light’s Constant Rate.
        For all these things are just to say
        That Mass behaves a Special Way.

        “So too, Length, Time, and Energy.
        In Gen’ral: Relativity.
        For if through dark and lonely night
        There sped a beam of stellar Light

        “And near the light there cruised a Mass
        Trying hard to go as fast
        (Like, say, a suitor pressing hard
        Against a maiden’s constant guard),

        “Reports about the Mass’s rate
        Would differ, causing hot debate.
        For all who look are moving, too,
        With different speeds and points of view.

        “Now if we helped that Mass to chase
        The Light beam through the pitch of Space,
        We’d still fail by a little bit
        For want of force near-infinite.

        “But Light’s speed, on the other hand,
        Won’t change no matter where we stand.
        Despite how fast its source may go—
        —or you!—Light won’t speed up or slow.

        “And only Gravitation’s force
        Can bend Light from its steadfast course.
        While Mass, by neither work nor trick,
        Can ever hope to go as quick.

        “The Speed of Light is Absolute.
        So, you’d be vain, like King Canute
        (Who ordered earthly seas to ‘hold!’
        But seas will not do what they’re told),

        “If you desired starlight’s rate:
        You’d need push infinitely great.
        By definition, then, your Mass
        Would soon be infinitely vast!

        “Now back upon that speedy beam
        The clocks go slowly, like a dream.
        While on the laggard Mass, the clocks
        Have quicker ticks, and quicker tocks.

        “Though Time (and Tides) won’t stop, it’s true,
        All Time, and Speed, relate to you.
        Nor can you move as fast as Light.
        Thus one man’s year’s another’s night.

        “So King Canute could slow the tides
        By sending seas on spaceship rides!
        But try to stop them, and he’d get
        His royal slippers soaking wet!

        “Now here’s a gem that I’ve prepared:
        E is really mc-squared.
        For Mass possesses Energy
        As times the second pow’r of ‘c.’

        “And all you need are neutron beams
        To split an atom at the seams.
        But after you’ve achieved that fission
        Note the puzzled math’matician

        “Counting up the Mass that’s left.
        He’s come up short! Was there a theft?
        The Mass that’s gone’s no mystery:
        It’s now Atomic Energy!

        “My great lament is that these rules
        Are seized upon by fighting fools
        Who’d rather than for Peace, employ
        The Laws of Nature to destroy.

        “So take my theories, prosper, grow.
        But mind, you’ll reap the crops you sow.
        The Knowledge Fruit is bittersweet:
        Both good and dangerous to eat.

        “For long ago, ‘twas said to Man:
        ‘Get all the learning that you can.
        But lest your Knowledge be your Fall,
        Get Wisdom first, and most of all!’

        “Our Father made the Heavens move
        And Mother Nature added Love
        In Peace these laws and gifts they give
        To Man, their Special Relative.”

        So in the dark and starry night
        At speeds approaching that of Light
        As like a choir of angel-song
        The mind of Einstein swept along

        Universal in its scope
        Racing at the speed of Hope
        And only this was greater still:
        Unending Love, Eternal Will.

      • Noochinator said,

        November 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm

        Einstein’s Bathrobe

        by Howard Moss

        I wove myself of many delicious strands
        Of violet islands and sugar-balls of thread
        So faintly green a small white check between
        Balanced the field’s wide lawn, a plaid
        Gathering in loose folds shaped around him
        Those Princeton mornings, slowly stage-lit, when
        The dawn took the horizon by surprise
        And from the marsh long, crayoned birds
        Rose up, ravens, maybe crows, or raw-voiced,
        Spiteful grackles with their clothespin legs,
        Black-winged gossips rising out of mud
        And clattering into sleep. They woke my master
        While, in the dark, I waited, knowing
        Sooner or later he’d reach for me
        And, half asleep, wriggle into my arms.
        Then it seemed a moonish, oblique light
        Would gradually illuminate the room,
        The world turn on its axis at a different slant,
        The furniture a shipwreck, the floor askew,
        And, in old slippers, he’d bumble down the stairs.
        Genius is human and wants its coffee hot—
        I remember mornings when he’d sit
        For hours at breakfast, dawdling over notes,
        Juice and toast at hand, the world awake
        To spring, the smell of honeysuckle
        Filling the kitchen. A silent man,
        Silence became him most. How gently
        He softened the edges of a guessed-at impact
        So no one would keel over from the blow—
        A blow like soft snow falling on a lamb.
        He’d fly down from the heights to tie his shoes
        And cross the seas to get a glass of milk,
        Bismarck with a harp, who’d doff his hat
        (As if he ever wore one!) and softly land
        On nimble feet so not to startle. He walked
        In grandeur much too visible to be seen—
        And how many versions crawled out of the Press!
        A small pre-Raphaelite with too much hair;
        A Frankenstein of test tubes; a “refugee”—
        A shaman full of secrets who could touch
        Physics with a wand and body forth
        The universe’s baby wrapped in stars.
        From signs Phoenicians scratched into the sand
        With sticks he drew the contraries of space:
        Whirlwind Nothing and Volume in its rage
        Of matter racing to undermine itself,
        And when the planets sang, why, he sang back
        The lieder black holes secretly adore.

        At tea at Mercer Street every afternoon
        His manners went beyond civility,
        Kindness not having anything to learn;
        I was completely charmed. And fooled.
        What a false view of the universe I had!
        The horsehair sofa, the sagging chairs,
        A fire roaring behind the firescreen—
        Imagine thinking Princeton was the world!
        Yet I wore prescience like a second skin:
        When Greenwich and Palomar saw eye to eye,
        Time and space having found their rabbi,
        I felt the dawn’s black augurs gather force,
        As if I knew in the New Jersey night
        The downcast sky that was to clamp on Europe,
        That Asia had its future in my pocket.

  14. MHansen said,

    November 17, 2010 at 5:57 am

    Whoever Thomas Brady is, god bless him. He needs it. Let him retire to the drawing room to turn the leaves of his historically sublime writing, which uses the “perfected tools of sentence order, vocabulary, language, the perfected poetry of sound and sense,” and so on. Boswell, have you my snuff box? I do hate that Milton fellow so.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

      Hansen,

      So I take it you didn’t type your comment from a “drawing room?” Were you in your smelly kitchen? Or your MFA dorm? Or maybe you’re on “the street?”

      “I do hate that Milton fellow so.” Johnson? Try T.S. Eliot.

      Tom

  15. MHansen said,

    November 18, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Nobody has a fucking clue what the point of your replies are, Tom. What does this even mean? It *sounds* pointed, with no content. Just like everything you said to T above. So much bile, so little intelligence. I think this might be the most boring blog I’ve happened on in a year or so, which is saying a lot. You aren’t even an interesting ass, which you be worth *something.*

    With love, M

  16. MHansen said,

    November 18, 2010 at 5:43 am

    “Which would be worth something,” I mean, not “which you be worth something.” I hate to offend someone who values the integrity of perfected word order so highly.

    I am departing now. Sorry to all to get so upset and be a jerk. It’s tough to overhear people like TB holding forth over the chatter without responding, but it ain’t worth it.

  17. thomasbrady said,

    November 18, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    “Nobody has a fucking clue what the point of your replies are, Tom.”

    What a bitter fellow you are, Hansen.

    Nice to know you speak for “nobody.”

    Is this the best we get from the ‘New Chicago School?’

    Tom

  18. thomasbrady said,

    November 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Ed Park, on the Poetry Foundation site, published a pleasant review yesterday on a Wave Books pamphlet by Garret Caples called “Quintessence of the Minor: Symbolist Poetry in English.”

    In that review Park innocently quotes Caples on Pound:

    Two lines in a poem by Trumbull Stickney, dead at 30 and a near contemporary of Wallace Stevens at Harvard, provoke Caples to declare them of “a simplicity, clarity, and directness that look forward to Pound’s efforts to clear American poetry of rhetorical debris.”

    —Ed Park

    Park is repeating Caples, who is no doubt merely repeating someone else (Hugh Kenner?).

    Pound’s efforts to clear American poetry of rhetorical debris???

    Can someone please point to ONE EXAMPLE where Pound CLEARS debris, rather than STIRS IT UP?

    How do these falsehoods take root, and why do we lie out under their shade and sleep?

  19. thomasbrady said,

    November 18, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Here’s the Book of Erickson:

    Good and bad poetry exists then—and now;
    Poetry reacts to changes wrought by Science;
    There’s no proven method, no sacred cow,
    Except one: T. Erickson demands compliance!

    • Noochness said,

      November 18, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      Methinks, my friend,
      You’ve made a gaffe—
      The phrase, pace Bernstein
      Is “sacred giraffe”.

      • thomasbrady said,

        November 18, 2010 at 9:16 pm

        Ignore hipsters at your peril, Brady;
        First, don’t offend that Erickson lady,
        And for God’s sake, keep up with Armantrout,
        And know your Bernstein! And Silliman! You lout!

  20. T. Erickson said,

    November 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    And Mr. Brady comes in with the gumball.

    I recommend none of the poets you mention. But I’ve read enough of them to formulate a cogent analysis explaining why I don’t like them. That is, other than they’re new and kinda weird and I know their names.

    But really. Your baiting me back into this cesspit is at an end. I finally figured out how to stop getting the emails telling me there’s been another diversionary, ad hominem inanity added to the growing list at inconsequence.com.

    Now boys, it’s impolite to talk about a lady when her back is turned.

    • Noochinator said,

      November 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

      A Lady, yes, a Lady true!
      Ms. Erickson’s gone and I feel so blue.

    • Noochness said,

      November 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

      An important piece in the Scarriet mosaic,
      Her books can be purchased from Omsk to Passaic.

      http://tinyurl.com/39jm6jf

      • thomasbrady said,

        November 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm

        She called us “cesspit,”
        But surely we’re worse:
        Hell’s flames devouring
        Our kind by her curse.
        But, you know, T. Erickson I’ll miss,
        Like a puppy, or my little sis…

  21. November 20, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Whoever dislikes Cummings can not claim to be a genuine poet.

    For the record!

    Gary B. Fitzgerald

  22. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 20, 2010 at 12:48 am

    AA fucking men Fitz!

  23. thomasbrady said,

    November 20, 2010 at 1:23 am

    these children singing in stone a
    silence of stone these
    little children wound with stone
    flowers opening for

    ever these silently lit
    tle chidren are petals
    their song is a flower of
    always their flowers

    of stone are
    silently singing
    a song more silent
    than silence these always

    children forever
    singing wreathed with singing
    blossoms children of
    stone blossoming

    eyes
    know if a
    lit tle
    tree listens

    forever to always children singing forever
    a song made
    of silent as stone silence of
    song

    Good grief!

    eyes
    know if a
    lit tle
    tree listens

    LOL

  24. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 20, 2010 at 1:51 am

    I’m not sure ‘good grief’ and ‘lol’ are very intelligent arguments. Can I challenge you to a) locate what it is that captures the intellect and imagination of many millions of students, academics and readers and b) how you see deeper and further then this. I’m suspecting, if you thought ‘lol’ constitutes a reasonable argument you must have thought it was a gaggle of meaningless phrases. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read this poem; its never finished; every time is different and indescribabl beautiful. Your missing a world here. You should feel self-conscious about that if you cannot see it at all.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 20, 2010 at 3:44 am

      Aaron,

      It’s not really that unusual for two people to disagree on something like the Cummings poem, which, to be perfectly objective about it, is a random grouping of words: ‘children,’ ‘stone,’ ‘flower, ‘silence,’ ‘song.’

      The pattern of the poem is not at all interesting, because you could stir those words up into different combinations and still get the same result. That’s the first thing.

      Secondly, invoking “children” as a sentimental trigger is highly dubious. The simple-minded ‘poetic’ juxtaposition of opposites: ‘stone’ and ‘flower’ and ‘stone’ and ‘song’ is again, not interesting. The notion of a ‘song more silent than silence’ is not only an impossibility, it is trite in the extreme. The message is simple: despite the silence of these children’s graves, the spirit of the children never dies, just as flowers derive from rock, etc

      The poem is simple, so we obviously ‘see’ the same things in it; we just don’t ‘feel’ the same thing when we ‘see’ it. When a work of art fails to be interesting in terms of its form, apart from what it is ‘saying,’ or ‘hinting,’ it will fail.

      It fails in terms of its form for me, and obviously it does not fail in terms of its form for you. I’m sure you don’t ‘see’ more than I do, but what you ‘see’ is making you ‘feel’ something, whereas what I ‘see’ does not make me ‘feel’ anything. You are letting the words of the poem suggest things to you, without bothering to understand that it’s like someone holding up a card with ‘child’ written on it in a psychiatrist’s office and you react in a sentimental manner to the word ‘child.’ Is this a valid experience? Perhaps. Is it poetry? Perhaps. Is it great poetry? No. Certainly we react to random words. But when we move from that stage to the more complex one of experiencing the greatest poetry, different reactions and choices and judgments and pleasures present themselves, and steps on the ladder are part of that process, just as some experiences are inevitably better than others.

      The less definite the poem, the more disagreement will attend its appreciation. It makes no difference to me that you like this Cummings poem, but a person’s taste is how they express who they are, and so it matters to me only in that sense; I must express my opinion of the Cummings, even if I disagree with everyone, and my agreement, or not, has nothing to do with the truth of my perception. It is nice when people agree on a poem, but it’s certainly not necessary, and, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, perhaps it’s not even a good.

      Tom

  25. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 20, 2010 at 9:17 am

    “to be perfectly objective about it, is a random grouping of words: ‘children,’ ‘stone,’ ‘flower, ‘silence,’ ‘song.’ ”

    You twat! a) what poet gives a shit about the ‘objective’ and b) TELL ME< WHAT POEM COULD NOT BE DESCRIBED THUS? The difference is it is nakedly powerful with these minimal words (to those with whom it resonates) hence the poetic acheivement is so much more. It took me a long time to figure that your christmas card nausea was actually serious poetry; though I woudn't imagine that anyone who liked your writing was somehow 'wrong' or 'deluded'. This is just imature, intellectually vaccuous and infantile. I can barely describe the poem experience; it completely takes me beyond the words and one NEVER 'reads' the words of such a poem but feel them; and you are quite right in identifying it is not somehing in the 'writing' but in the reader which is triggered; so talk of the 'objective' in poetry is utterly meaningless and you thus anihilate the basis of your prejudice. I would feel very uncomfortable personally if my sense of cultural superiority was based on nothing but early 20th C opinion.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      Aaron,

      You want to have your cake and eat it. You feel something from that Cummings poem which has NOTHING to do with READING THE WORDS, as you say, and become hotly indignant that I dare to make objective remarks re: the WORDS in that Cummings poem. Who is the ‘twat’ here? YOU ARE. You are having some experience which doesn’t exist for me? That’s ‘objective,’ sorry. You have the experience, and I don’t. That’s an objective fact. My subjective experience is just as real as yours is. You didn’t even objectively read what I said, because even when you read someone’s simple prose, you HAVE YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE which has nothing to do with the words; i.e, you are untrustworthy and you have feelings which are primitive and stupid. The Cummings poem is a list of words, that could be arranged completely differently, with words added, or left out, and it would still make the same impression, and thus its pattern is weak and inferior, and thus the poem is weak and inferior as a material, existing thing. And a year from now, when you’ve read a bit more, and you’ve lived a bit more, and that silly Cummings poem leaves you cold, and, in fact, you come to hate it, because it duped you, and made you look like a clown in front of the world, that will also be an objective fact, you silly, brain-washed, solipsistic twit, who, for the time being, thinks e.e. cummings is neat-o.

      Tom

  26. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I’m so sorry Tom; I ought to have been considerate enough to have taken my level of argument down a notch or too as you seem to be struggling with the first principles of what I was saying. How challenging life must be for you!

    “You feel something from that Cummings poem which has NOTHING to do with READING THE WORDS”

    Incorrect. It has something to do with reading the words – it is the ‘symphony’ effect. Words are notes and we love the tune; now here’s a good lesson for you Tom. With poetry, WE READ THE WORDS AND LOVE THE POEM! They are two different things!

    Now for your home work, try spelling “WORD” and “POEM”.

    Have you not yet struggled out of the superficial paradox of subjective and objective? The following would be a tiresom read if it came up in a 17 year old’s A-level paper;

    “You are having some experience which doesn’t exist for me? That’s ‘objective,’ sorry. You have the experience, and I don’t. That’s an objective fact. My subjective experience is just as real as yours is.”

    Oh my goodness – you have many pieces missing!

    “The Cummings poem is a list of words, that could be arranged completely”

    Wow – now that’s a surprise! Poems are words! However, a POEM has associations that run THROUGH the reading experience whereas LISTS are IDENTITARY, ITEMISED like your (OK, people’s) whole INTELLECT. However, poetry is not like MATHEMATICS. If you want to get a gold star try spelling “MATHEMATICS”. (Handy tip – you can cut and paste!)

    The following is a hillarious histryonic outburst; you sound like a six year old using words like “silly” and cliche’s like “leaves you cold”, “look like a clown in front of the world” – am dram language, the return of playground traumas “you silly, brain-washed, solipsistic twit, who, for the time being, thinks e.e. cummings is neat-o.”

    Hahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And you have hair like Lawrence Lewellen-Bowen! YOUR PRICELESS!!!! (for an extra star, tell me what “PRICELESS” means.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Aaron,

      I’m not sure what your latest rant is all about: something about how the little Cummings poem has words which combine into a ‘symphony’ which moves you.

      Cummings is not really worth getting all hot and bothered about. I have no problem with you loving Cummings. The best and the worst have all been ridiculed, from Poe to Cummings, so, really, my ridiculing Cummings is not worth your effort, is it?

      Perhaps you’re having a problem with the concept of ‘relative worth.’ Most post-moderns run and hide from this term, so much that it distorts all their judgments; ‘relative worth’ is universal; we all have to choose between this and that option—we do it all day long; my judgement of the Cummings is merely like that; the Cummings is on a scale, and on that scale, not worth much as a poem, but since you have obviously been taught to fear the notion of ‘relative worth,’ you conceived my dismissal of the Cummings as a personal affront and stooped to personal insult; like Gary B. Fitzgerald, you don’t believe in ‘relative worth,’ but, nobly, in ‘worth.’ This leads to extreme views such as “Whoever dislikes Cummings cannot claim to be a genuine poet,'” to which you replied, “Amen!” Hate to ruin a good revival meeting, fellas, but this idea of the “genuine” is immature and trivial. It is not based on love or reason, but on reductionist, herd-mentality cheer-leading and puffery. Again, the term I would use for you would be “untrustworthy.” Poetry isn’t just about poems, but about the poets and the judges. You are too excitable right now to be a judge.

      Tom

  27. Aaron Asphar said,

    November 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    “herd-mentality cheer-leading and puffery” belongs to words like ‘lazy’, ‘speculation’ and ‘noble’ in that the terms have no intelligent content what so every. They are dumping grounds for political or intellectual opponents but I’ll leave you to throw from the dump.

    How ironic that you should lecture me on issues of relative worth. I think you’ll note that I granted the legitimacy of the alteria view – its above in black and white. It is also clear that ou were the one evoking the issue of the ‘objective’ (and then becoming embroiled in adolescent hysteria about the conceptual pothole of the objective/subjective antimonies. I am yet to discover what YOU are actually FOR, beyond a windpipe for a gaggle of hopelessly anachronistic, idiosyncratic self-contradictory worldviews. Like many of us do, you take a swipe at postmoderns but you suffer all their contradictions and intellectual flatuance without any of their critical self-insight. I didn’t know there even was a shallowness shallower then postmodernism. You do not ‘think’; you are a mixture of illiterate libido and reified social/intellectual tautologies. And you probably had a very poor journey through your oedipus complex – I suspect you were an upper class twat who countered class room bullies by an over-identification with your mother, hence an inability to make the heroic brake from the womb causing a hopless, compulsive life long searching for that which preceded any searching. You.

  28. Aaron said,

    November 20, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    So tell me – do you think it was a bad thing, the rise of literacy? You ought to put your politics on the table. You’ve alread blamed the decline of cultural life on rising literacy – would you like to expand that into a coherent world view for us? Or are your politics so ugly you woudn’t dare?

  29. thomasbrady said,

    November 21, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Aaron,

    Cool your jets. There’s no ‘ugly politics’ here. My post describes, very straight-forwardly, the parodoxical progress of Letters during a unique 200 year period in our history. Progress, as you probably know, is never simply linear; all sorts of counter-factors limit, impede, and derail, various kinds of progress. One of the chief tropes of Modernism is the belief that industrial progress and population growth have spawned all sorts of ills. It is perfectly OK to denigrate industrial growth and population growth; it’s been fashionable to fault these two types of progress for generations, now. I don’t know if you would call this “ugly politics,” or not. Industrial growth is, without a doubt, linked to the rise of literacy. Religious faith, for centuries, can be linked to literacy in the poor and midde class, when education was less universal. How much literacy is there, now? How much quality literacy is there, now? How much progress has there been? If there has been progress, what gave rise to it? How much of the rise in literacy is due to science, and how much to literature? Do great poets need great audiences, and how large, and how much literacy do those audiences need? How many gradations of literacy are there, and what level is necessary before literacy becomes literary; how really literate should an informed citizen be? How much poetry does an informed citizen need? These questions are not for the faint of heart; they are not for sound-bites; they require thought and honesty.
    So, no, I didn’t “blame the decline of cultural life on rising literacy.” If you would read my essay again, you’ll see the whole thing is much more complicated. But I imagine you’re too busy being sweet on e.e.cummings.

    Tom

  30. November 21, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    The first signals transmitted by Marconi’s original radio were little more than static. When Ford’s Model T first hit the roads, they were passed by by two-horse wagons. To take something out of its cultural and chronological context is to render it meaningless. Would Shakespeare be on Broadway today? Would Poe be on YouTube? I doubt it.

    Where would poetry be today without E.E. Cummings?

    A sonnet:

    when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
    and the sun strikes to gain a living wage-
    when thorns regard their roses with alarm
    and rainbows are insured against old age

    when every thrush may sing no new moon in
    if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
    -and any wave signs on the dotted line
    or else an ocean is compelled to close

    when the oak begs permission of the birch
    to make an acorn-valleys accuse their
    mountains of having altitude-and march
    denounces april as a saboteur

    then we’ll believe in that incredible
    unanimal mankind(and not until)

    E.E. Cummings – First published 1950

    Please note that this poem was written over sixty years ago, before any of us were even born. Compare it to Ginsberg’s politics in the 1960s. It is a beautiful sonnet filled with political, cultural and ontological observations, and significance! If any of you can do better, then put up or shut up.

    As I said:

    “Whoever dislikes Cummings can not claim to be a genuine poet.

    For the record!

    Gary B. Fitzgerald”

    .

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 21, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      Gary,

      I do appreciate you stepping into the debate and helping out Aaron and e.e. cummings. Most don’t dare tangle with Brady.

      Now, to the debate:

      That poem you quoted is pedantic and trite, the worst sort of beginner’s poetry; Cummings merely substitutes aspects of nature for human actions, in order to simple-mindedly belittle those human actions.

      “when serpents bargain for the right to squirm” is comical. It is the farthest thing from poetry.

      “Where would poetry be today without E.E. Cummings?” This is a statement of no meaning.

      Tom

      • Noochness said,

        November 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm

        The poem at the link below got my pulse a-racing.
        Didn’t paste it in ’cause t’would mess up the spacing.

        http://www.gvsu.edu/english/cummings/Miller6.htm

      • thomasbrady said,

        November 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm

        Nooch,

        The professor’s reading of that poem is racier than the poem itself—which wastes a lot of verbiage re: reverse and putting on the brakes; like most of cummings, the poem is cute, and nothing more.

        The professor plays up Cummings’ rebellion against his dad and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s racy life in the jazz age in talking of sex life in cars in the 1920s. But Scott Fitzgerald only slept with his wife, Zelda, as reported by Hemingway in his memoir, “A Moveable Feast.” “maiden gardens” from Shakespeare’s sonnet 16 is mentioned in a racy context, as well, but this completely misreads Shakespeare’s poem.

        Also, Cummings was very close to his father and Cummings’ father was killed instantly in an automobile in 1926, and his mother was severely injured in the same accident. This fact puts a tiny dent in the ribald commentary, I suppose, and this is why it’s not mentioned.

        Cummings required the president of the United States to get him out of prison when he was arrested for espionage in France in 1917.

        Cummings, a Harvard boy, eloped with the wife of Scofield Thayer—owner of ‘the Dial’ magazine and T.S. Eliot’s rich school chum—who published “The Waste Land” in ‘the Dial’ and gave Eliot the Dial Prize and a substantial amount of money in 1922, equal to Eliot’s salary at Lloyd’s. The prize for Eliot was agreed to before Pound had even finished editing the poem, through negotiations involving John Quinn, lawyer, modern art collector, British intelligence agent, and friend of Aleister Crowley; and also, Pound. Also getting annual Dial prizes in the 1920s were Pound, Williams, and, oh yea…Cummings.
        Give it some juice, baby!

        Tom

  31. November 23, 2010 at 12:51 am

    maggie and milly and molly and may
    went down to the beach(to play one day)

    and maggie discovered a shell that sang
    so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

    milly befriended a stranded star
    whose rays five languid fingers were;

    and molly was chased by a horrible thing
    which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

    may came home with a smooth round stone
    as small as a world and as large as alone.

    For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
    it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

    E.E. Cummings

    .

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 24, 2010 at 2:49 am

      One of these days, E.E. Cummings will be considered the Edward Bulwer-Lytton of poetry; they’ll award ‘e.e. cummings awards’ for ‘worst poem ever’…give it about 50 years, or so…maybe 25…

      ‘maggie and milly and molly and may’ has to be one of the worst poems I’ve ever read…

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm

      Let’s begin a ‘Scarriet e.e. cummings worst poem of the year award.’

      The motto will be:

      and maggie discovered a shell that sang
      so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

    • Noochness said,

      November 25, 2010 at 10:46 am

      “next to of course god america i
      love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
      say can you see by the dawn’s early my
      country ’tis of centuries come and go
      and are no more what of it we should worry
      in every language even deafanddumb
      thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
      by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
      why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
      iful than these heroic happy dead
      who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
      they did not stop to think they died instead
      then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

      He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

      E.E. Cummings

    • Noochness said,

      November 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

      my sweet old etcetera
      aunt lucy during the recent

      war could and what
      is more did tell you just
      what everybody was fighting

      for,
      my sister

      isabel created hundreds
      (and
      hundreds)of socks not to
      mention fleaproof earwarmers

      etcetera wristers etcetera,my
      mother hoped that

      i would die etcetera
      bravely of course my father used
      to become hoarse talking about how it was
      a privilege and if only he
      could meanwhile my

      self etcetera lay quietly
      in the deep mud et

      cetera
      (dreaming,
      et
      cetera,of
      Your smile
      eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

      E.E. Cummings


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