JOHN GALLAHER: NOTHING TO SAY AND UNFORTUNATELY SAYING IT

The following is transcript of John Gallaher’s Dec. 4 blog post, lyrically entitled, 20th century-Ashbery-Armantrout-My Philosophy of Life,  in its entirety, with Thomas Brady’s comments.

John,

“BEING and TOTALITY were mid-20th Century master narratives, and we’ve come away from them shaken. What is art to aspire to after that? (The same things as it always has.)”

Do you teach this in the classroom? 

What sort of pedagogy takes universals like “being” and “totality” and vaguely applies them to the “mid-20th Century?” 

“we’ve come away shaken?” 

Who is “we” in this statement?  What exactly has been “shaken?” 

“What is art to aspire to after that?” 

Is this a real question? 

“(The same things as it always has)” 

The “same things”?  Do you mean “being” and “totality?” 

Is your tautology intentional?

“If our time is ‘in the shadow of’ 20th Century art and philosophy it’s because the art and philosophy of the 20th Century were totalizing, and our time is one of contraction, of a counter movement rather than a redirection or revision.”

First,”contraction” is not necessarily “counter” to “totalizing;” secondly, I think most would find this too general to mean anything.

“The error of our age is when we treat occurrences as instances. Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history. Usually it’s just junk mail.”

This is grandiose: “The error of our age is when we treat occurances as intances.” 

But it’s countered with insight:  “Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history.”

Really?

Usually it’s just Ashbery?

“If 20th Century master narratives are cages, 21st Century competing narratives are shadowboxing. Either can yield great as well as forgettable art.”

Well, as long as “cages” and “shadowboxing” can “both yield great as well as forgettable art…”

“There are some things we do not want to say so we remain silent. We are social.”

Are you still talking about “being” and “totality?”  Or “cages” and “shadowboxing?”  Anyway, yes, we are “social” and for fear of offending, we don’t always speak…OK…

“Because in the artwork the instance must emerge, the experience of time is disrupted by attention.”

Because…?  I’m afraid I’ve lost you.  “the experience of time is disrupted by attention”?  “in the artwork the instance must emerge”?

“In art, time is less sequentially monadic and more prismatically nomadic. Obvious examples: think of the structure of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Terrantino’s Pulp Fiction. You can even find this tension in Wordsworth, if you must. It’s always been this way. But it gains currency in the early 20th Century.”

“Prismatic” time in art has been commonplace for centuries.  20th century art has no monopoly on this at all; in fact, it could easily be argued that in both high brow and popular 20th century art, (abstract art, movies, imagism, Hemingway-ism) things actually became simpler in that regard.

“It will be a long time before we’re done dealing with the early 20th Century.”

I don’t know what this means.  It’s far too general, especially in the context of what’s been said so far, to mean anything.

Now we leap to the purpose:

“And we have the idea of time layered in Ashbery”

Excuse me?

“And we have the idea of time layered…”

Instead of specifics, we continue to be put off by the vaguest sort of rhetoric, the same which characterized the whole introduction: how, exactly is “the idea of time layered…?”
“where the poem often advances by shifting horizontally, geographically, one time to another—an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurrences.”

But the most ordinary sort of narratives “shift horizontally, geographically,” feature more than “one time,” feature “an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurances.”  Terms such as “previous,” and “visual representation” and “occurances” are not unique to Ashbery.

“Armantrout, my other go-to example from our time achieves a similar effect by shifting time not across individuals and instances, but down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness. Where Ashbery can appear as montage, clustered instances, Armantrout uses montaged, sequential absences.”

So Armantrout “shifts time” not using “across instances” but “down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness?” 

And Ashbery’s poems are organized by more than one consciousness?  But Armantrout by only one? And Ashbery “shifts time horizontally” and Armantrout “shifts time vertically?”  And further, Armantrout writes with “sequenced absences?”  And Ashbery only uses… “instances,” and not… “absences?”  I see…

“The art object exists as an encounter its perceiver constructs alone. It is less a presence than a prompt. It is difficult, therefore, to agree to criteria for excellence, for whatever excellence one sees in art is really an encounter one is having with oneself.”

Ah, yes! “difficult to agree to criteria for excellence…” Of course…

“How can one succeed, then, in convincing someone that a poem is worthy of praise? (When all parties are being honest and not cynical, we’re like the priest, the rabbi, and the Imam on a lifeboat comparing mythologies.)”

One cannot, obviously.  Unless one is “honest and not cynical.”  And, in that case, if you are “cynical” you won’t agree with my poetic judgments, but if you are “honest,” you will.

“Arguments about art, necessary as they are (or appear to be), are necessarily beside the point.”

Right-o!

“When one is saying a poem fails, one is saying that it has failed to prompt that person into an encounter with her/him/self. The operation of that failure doesn’t necessarily reside with the poem in question just as it doesn’t necessarily reside with the perceiver. None of these are givens.”

Who, exactly, is saying the poem fails?  Is the “self” encountering the poem always the same?  Has this self-encountering “self” anything to do with “being” and “totality?”
 

“It’s always as much about form as it is about content. Form is about content.”

Well, sure.

“Art need not be a representation to be an ecstatic presence.”

Agreed.

“Art is not social. In this way, art contends that every wedding you attend is a wedding of people you don’t know. Call it a philosophy of life . . .”

What does it mean to “know” a “person?”  Again, are we talking in terms of “totality” and “being” with this example?  Do pre-20th century notions apply to this “wedding?”  Who, exactly, is at this wedding?  Poets?  Teachers?  Members of a drug cartel?  Does it matter?

Reading the Asbhery poem itself, I find the narrative easy to follow.  I don’t see any spectacular “time shifts.”

I found your entire post full of very questionable rhetoric. This is why I asked if you taught this stuff, John.  With all due respect, I hope you don’t! 

Posting rude bumper stickers and academic rants on a blog is one thing, but the classroom…now that’s different.

Thomas Brady

P.S. Here, for our readers, is the Ashbery poem, which to my mind, just reads like a slightly kidding, ruminative letter to a friend; there are no multiple points of view or time shifts.  To my mind it’s a clever, slightly drunk guy, reasonably happy, sort of bored, writing a letter to someone who knows his friend Ashbery and his sense of humor well enough, that the letter wouldn’t warrant a: “John, are you okay?  You’re not losing it, are you?”  Read the following as if you know John well, and he’s writing you a letter; I think you’ll discover that ‘a friendly, goofy letter’ is just what it is…

My Philosophy of Life
John Ashbery

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea—
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude. I wouldn’t be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I’d sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I’d stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him—not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between. He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle’s Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush
is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It’s enough
to disgust you with thought. But then you remember something William James
wrote in some book of his you never read—it was fine, it had the fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone.

It’s fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler. Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they’d do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought—
something’s blocking it. Something I’m
not big enough to see over. Or maybe I’m frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise—I’ll let
things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn I’ll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won’t be embarrassed by my friends’ dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that’s the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn’t even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he’s
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him—
this thing works both ways, you know. You can’t always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time. That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don’t know.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one . . .

25 Comments

  1. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    BEING and TOTALITY were mid-20th Century master narratives, and we’ve come away from them shaken. What is art to aspire to after that? (The same things as it always has.)”

    Do you teach this in the classroom?

    What sort of pedagogy takes universals like “being” and “totality” and vaguely applies them to the “mid-20th Century?”

    The continental philosophical tradition you twat. OK, I’d have said early to mid 20th C but with regards totality there’s Lukacs, Adorno and Horkheimer and other members the Frankfurt School who dominated the European intellectual climate up to the seventies and with regards being there’s the existentialists – Satre, Heidigger and in critical reactions Benjamine and Adorno and the situationists. Yr myopic – yr so bent to the Anglo-Amercan tradition. That’s probably why yr poetry sucks too.

    All that follows this proceeds on the basis and further compounds this error so basically I suppliment anything he says with reading of someone who knows roughly what they are talking about.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm

      You’re content to throw out names. Good for you. So “being” and “totality” are just catch-phrases for those who like to pontificate but find thinking kind of a bore… OK, thanks.

  2. aaron said,

    December 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    People who think this way should turn to property development.

  3. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I see, sorry, I didn’t realise you struggled with these things. The emphasis on being is opposed to that on thinking. Being is the quality, contours, textures of being and reality – which we should not presupposed are existentially divided or all people. Reified toffs like you probably can’t think in this way owing to an over-developed ego and strangulated emotional life.

    The shift to an emphasis on being clearly indicates (to people who are learned and intelligent) that being becomes problematic at this time – and with the social, geopolitical and artistic milue of the period one wound have to be stupid not to recognise that the emphasis on being is more then a schollarly fashion.

    Totality is the refinement of the Marxian and Hegelian views of history, which recognised that the distinction between psyche, reality, society, materiality and history was thoroughly anthropomorphic and bore no causal significance what soever. They are not distinct; they are a continuum which we conceive at certain strategic points.

    You may struggle to understand how the poem, commodity, psyche, reality, materiality and concept are all one and the same social-historical-somatic manifestation differentiated in socially and historically relative ways – completely non-essential ways – ‘arbitrary’ it is often said but this is rediculous; it serves a social function and is not arbitrary.

    The problem is I get waves of existential dispare when I respond to you because I feel this bucket will always have a hole in it.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      aeoi,

      I appreciate the lesson, I do.

      The problem here is that philosophy isn’t a dress that goes out of fashion. You can’t be concerned with “totality” one day and then, whoops! that’s ‘out of fashion’ now! That’s the first thing.

      The second thing, is: how, in good faith, do you go from neo-Marxism, for instance, to John Ashbery and Rae Armantrout? Well, you don’t. That’s an insincere move, and just because it carries the sheen of scholarship doesn’t excuse it.

      That was what I was questioning. How can you posit the Totality of the Frankfurt School and the Being of existentialism, and say, ‘oh, we’re done with that now…’ but, look! we have Ashbery and Armantrout to fix the big holes in our thinking…

      I appreciate your wanting to see ‘it all connect,’ but that impulse is not going to work just because you want it to; it certainly isn’t going to work by dropping buzz-words and listing names.

      Tom

  4. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    PS – observe; thinking. What you wrote; struggling – as always.

  5. Marcus Bales said,

    December 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Postmodernism’s Rituals

    aeoi:
    I am the very model of postmodernism’s rituals
    My world is made of language reinforced by strong habituals —
    There’s nothing really out there, and there’s no one who exists for me –
    And any people hearing this are other solipsists for me.
    The world is in my head, I don’t believe in physicality;
    I brilliantly create it all with magical reality,
    Rejecting all experience with mystical depravity –
    Ignoring Alan Sokal’s twenty-storey test of gravity.

    Chic Chorus:
    Ignoring Alan Sokal’s twenty-storey test of gravity.
    Ignoring Alan Sokal’s twenty-storey test of gravity.
    Ignoring Alan Sokal’s twenty-storey test of gravity.

    aeoi:
    It used to be that science was the tool for every liberal
    To use to show that kings and priests were selling mystic gibberal,
    But now we want our new-age crystal-gazing fuddy-duddying
    Not lectures, labs, experiments, or — goddess save us! — studying.

    Chic Chorus:
    But now we want our new-age crystal-gazing fuddy-duddying
    Not lectures, labs, experiments, or — goddess save us! — studying.

    aeoi:
    Postmodern art is anything an artist may assert it is;
    It isn’t hard to see what kind of formless blowhard blurt it is.
    Where nothing’s good or bad there’s only infinite variety:
    Your deepest held belief is someone else’s impropriety.
    And even that’s not really real, our brains are just achieving it
    Through language, fear, and habit, and believing in believing it —
    Which means respect the rules of which each local god has sent a list:
    You cannot be postmodern if you’re not a fundamentalist.

    Chic Chorus:
    You cannot be postmodern if you’re not a fundamentalist.
    You cannot be postmodern if you’re not a fundamentalist.
    You cannot be postmodern if you’re not a fundamentalist.

    aeoi:
    We don’t distinguish good from bad – we can’t be preferentialist —
    We sneer at beauty, justice, truth, and balance as essentialist.
    Reality is all made up, and truth’s a triviality,
    And science isn’t anything but jumped-up mysticality.

    Chic Chorus:
    Reality is all made up, and truth’s a triviality,
    And science isn’t anything but jumped-up mysticality.

    aeoi:
    When I can claim there’s no there there, it isn’t verifiable –
    Which means that any claim that I put forward’s undeniable;
    When I can claim that making claims is meaningless is meaningless —
    As if to try to sanitize a hospital by cleaning less;
    When all I need to do is spout some double talk for victory
    By claiming contradiction is itself a contradictory,
    When all that science claims is that it’s merely hypothetical
    Then heresy is always truth and every truth’s heretical!

    Chic Chorus:
    Then heresy is always truth and every truth’s heretical!
    Then heresy is always truth and every truth’s heretical!
    Then heresy is always truth and every truth’s heretical!

    aeoi:
    And so therefore we’ve cleared away the sciences’ dementedness,
    And we are left to celebrate our contentless contentedness:
    Our world is made of language reinforced by strong habituals —
    We are the very models of postmodernism’s rituals.

    Chic Chorus:
    Our world is made of language reinforced by strong habituals —
    We are the very models of postmodernism’s rituals.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 6, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      Marcus,

      Brilliant and hilarious, as usual.

      Thanks,

      Tom

  6. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Marcus I think this is in the ‘genre’ humour perhaps – and it is creative; a creative way of avoiding the demand to make an intelligent argument.

    Thom, it is too much to wade through your all yr poor reasoning so I will stop at the first gaping hole in what you say.

    “The problem here is that philosophy isn’t a dress that goes out of fashion. You can’t be concerned with “totality” one day and then, whoops! that’s ‘out of fashion’ now! That’s the first thing.”

    This is naked, indisputible, utter stupidity. Reality, like, the intellectual and ontological structure of reality, has not just changed but is never the same one moment to the next. We live in a perpetually shifting and changling social, psychological and material order. If theory and philosophy remains static it instantly becomes empty – an ideology, an episode of judge judy, the finest of your utterances.

    The second thing, is: how, in good faith, do you go from neo-Marxism, for instance, to John Ashbery and Rae Armantrout? Well, you don’t. That’s an insincere move, and just because it carries the sheen of scholarship doesn’t excuse it.

    That was what I was questioning. How can you posit the Totality of the Frankfurt School and the Being of existentialism, and say, ‘oh, we’re done with that now…’ but, look! we have Ashbery and Armantrout to fix the big holes in our thinking…

    I appreciate your wanting to see ‘it all connect,’ but that impulse is not going to work just because you want it to; it certainly isn’t going to work by dropping buzz-words and listing names.

    Tom

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 7, 2010 at 1:02 am

      aeoi,

      You quoted me saying, “The problem here is that philosophy isn’t a dress that goes out of fashion. You can’t be concerned with “totality” one day and then, whoops! that’s ‘out of fashion’ now! That’s the first thing.”

      To which you responded:

      “This is naked, indisputible, utter stupidity. Reality, like, the intellectual and ontological structure of reality, has not just changed but is never the same one moment to the next. We live in a perpetually shifting and changling social, psychological and material order. If theory and philosophy remains static it instantly becomes empty – an ideology, an episode of judge judy, the finest of your utterances.”

      Let’s grant your thesis: “Reality, like, the intellectual and ontological structure of reality, has not just changed but is never the same one moment to the next. We live in a perpetually shifting and changing social, psychological and material order. If theory and philosophy remains static it instantly becomes empty…”

      But given this, are you then saying that “totality” and “being” really belong to mid-20th century philosophy, as Gallaher claimed, and that we have moved on from these fundamental philosophical concepts? How can one talk of “perpetually shifting” on one hand, and “totality” and “being,” on the other? And do you then reconcile “change, which, according to you, is so radical, that it is never the same from one moment to the next,”—do you reconcile this change of yours with “totality” and “being” by saying: “totality” and “being” arrived in the mid-20th century (before the mid-20th century “totality” and “being” did not exist) and now, because of continual change, “totality” and “being” have been altered, and thus have no further application, philosophically, or materially, or psychologically? Because if you agree with Gallaher, and you are saying this—and I don’t how you can avoid saying this, since when I questioned Gallaher’s throwing around these fundametal concepts so glibly, you pointed out how “being” and “totality” did correspond with actual strands of mid-20th century thought—then you are making a silly and bogus claim. You want to have your cake and eat it. You want to use words like “order” and “totality” and “being” as real concepts with real meaning, and when you use these words you want to be understood by all, on one hand, and then, on the other, you want to slide into your fashionable ‘things are changing every minute’ discourse, on the other hand; and since change every moment is your mantra, you never have to define anything; you can keep using words in any way you please, however it suits you. Your kind of discourse, which you are demonstrating for us here, and the discourse of Gallaher’s, are identical: such discourse exists only for itself, not to discover truth.

      Tom

  7. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    PS – I’m a critic of post-modernism; but I’m on the ‘through’ side. You’re in the ever retracting air fin de ciecle culture. I’m not sure whether I beleive this is a blog at all, or some virtual virsion of Candid Camera.

  8. Marcus Bales said,

    December 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    aeoi: I had predicted you wouldn’t get it, that you wouldn’t understand the argument that it does indeed make. I’d also predicted that you’d claim to be a critic of the postmodernism you espouse.

    Aeoi said: “The continental philosophical tradition you twat.”

    And you call yourself a critic of postmodernism? That’s a postmodernist response right down to the “you twat”, since name-calling is just about all the continental philosophical tradition and its associated postmodernist art has going for it in the first place.

    Aeoi said: “… there’s Lukacs, Adorno and Horkheimer and other members the Frankfurt School who dominated the European intellectual climate up to the seventies and with regards being[;] there’s the existentialists – Satre, Heidigger and in critical reactions Benjamine and Adorno and the situationists. Yr myopic – yr so bent to the Anglo-Amercan tradition. That’s probably why yr poetry sucks too.”

    Ah, more name-calling – and from an anonymous poster, too, so there’s no danger of anyone saying YOUR poetry sucks, is there? No one knows what your poetry is like, do they Aeoi? Feel safe?

    Aeoi said: “… The emphasis on being is opposed to that on thinking. Being is the quality, contours, textures of being and reality – which we should not presupposed are existentially divided or all people.Reified toffs like you probably can’t think in this way owing to an over-developed ego and strangulated emotional life.”

    Ah, more of that charming name-calling! You must be pretty sure no one knows who you are, or can find out, or you wouldn’t be name-calling a bunch of satirists whose claim to fame is that they found stuff out! A dangerous game you’re playing here, Mr or Ms Aeoi!

    Aeoi said: “The shift to an emphasis on being clearly indicates (to people who are learned and intelligent)…”

    As we, you imply, clearly are not – more name-calling! Do you know any other tricks?

  9. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    On this occasion this is all I was able to read of your post;

    “aeoi: I had predicted you wouldn’t get it, that you wouldn’t understand the argument that it does indeed make. I’d also predicted that you’d claim to be a critic of the postmodernism you espouse.”

    I didn’t read past the point I criticised earlier. I’m not going to spend time trying to disentagle yr own stupities for you. Why should I labour through slippy thinking?

  10. Marcus Bales said,

    December 6, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    aeoi: It doesn’t surprise me to find out you can’t read very much or very well. Too bad. I guess the way to hide the truth from people like you is to put it in writing. I hope that was short enough.

  11. aeoi said,

    December 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    short’ll do me

  12. John Gallaher said,

    December 7, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I like your description of “My Philosophy of Life” as a letter from a friend. That’s a very humane and, well, friendly way to read Ashbery.

  13. thomasbrady said,

    December 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you, John.

    I do think it’s helpful to read Ashbery this way.

    During all those pronoun shifts in “My Philosophy of Life,” from “I” to “he” (when the bookcase slides open) to “you” (when the big rush is on and William James, who taught Gertrude Stein, is brought up) to “they” (when the “traveler” is “welcomed” and public toilet thoughts are contemplated) and then back to “you,” I always hear John A., throughout, the friendly letter-writer: “I want you to go out there and enjoy yourself…”

    Ashbery occupies that middle ground of ‘civilization as friendship and letter-writing,’ never rising to the classically philosophical, or stooping to the dionysian, the dramatic, the painful, or the distressful.

    I think Ashbery really is writing a letter to a friend (and not thinking about writing a poem) on his ‘philosophy of life,’ and the idea that this ‘philosophy of life’ will follow you into the bathroom, is about as far as he gets (existentialism). This is why Ashbery never feels pretentious, and why you have to drop all pretense, I think, to understand him without being puzzled by his approach, or working him up into some tortured, post-modernist theoretical monstrosity. He lives in that middle realm of conversation and friendship, and he’ll not be budged from that.

    It’s as if Ashbery’s writing for an Enlightenment salon—after the Enlightenment is over, or writing a Romantic confession—after Romanticism has passed; I’m also reminded of Hemingway’s Moveable Feast: the through-a-glass-darkly descriptions of his famous associates, friends, ex-wives, as Hemingway, who was Gertrude Stein’s secretary, meanders existentially through Paris, mistrusting of most, saying less than he knows, keeping his feelings under wraps.

    As Horace, quoted by Dante is his Vita Nuova, says: ‘Dic mihi, Musa, virum: Tell me, Muse, about the man.’

    Tom

  14. John Gallaher said,

    December 7, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    One of the things I like most about Ashbery’s poetry is that it yields interesting things to several approaches. I think Ashbery would like the description of his poetry as “letters to friends,” as one of his favorite things in the work of others is delight, and I think letters from witty and erudite people are delightful. But I will say that Ashbery, himself, is quite conscious of writing poems, whether the speaker (or a shifting-perspective speaker) seems to be so or not.

    Your approach is close to my favorite way of reading his poetry, and I’ve talked about it on my blog that way (or close to it) many times. What I’m reacting to here is people who complain about his disjunctive quality. I’m trying to work them through the negative capability.

    As for if one can read as “some tortured, post-modernist theoretical monstrosity,” well, that’s your phrase for it, I would describe it differently. Why deny people who enjoy doing that from doing it? There are many ways to find pleasure in Ashbery’s work.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 8, 2010 at 2:02 am

      John,

      Who am I to deny “many pleasures” found in anything?

      As long as the theories make sense, I’m all for them.

      Tom

  15. aeoi said,

    December 7, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Reading list for guys;

    Castoriadis – Imaginary Institution of Society
    Adorno and Horkheier – you know it, you read it and you pretended to
    understand it
    Anything by Nietzsche ”
    Hegel and Heidigger – you didn’t even fucking read it beyond the ‘very short guide’ series

    Now I’m going to preserve my sanity and vow never to return.

    Goodbye

  16. aeoi said,

    December 7, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    PS

    it’s CURTAINS U.S.A America
    silver race granddaddy con/demed
    grandaddy is my granddad
    CUNT CUNT CUNT
    left wing journalist ‘72
    CUNT
    now grandaddy is a republican
    grandaddy is a republican oh
    grandaddy did a pooh pooh
    in my CUNT CUNT CUNT
    and
    daddies daddy did a faeces
    beefy CURTAINS
    CURTAINS CURTAINS

    • Noochness said,

      December 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      A Non-Christian on Sunday

      Now we heathens have the town to ourselves.
      We lie around, munching award-winning pickles
      and hunks of coarse, seeded bread smeared
      with soft, sweet cheese. The streets seem
      evacuated, as if Godzilla had been sighted
      on the horizon, kicking down skyscrapers
      and flattening cabs. Only two people
      are lined up to see a popular movie
      in which the good guy and the bad guy trade
      faces. Churches burst into song. Trees wish
      for a big wind. Burnt bacon and domestic tension
      scent the air. So do whiffs of lawnmower exhaust
      mixed with the colorless blood of clipped hedges.
      For whatever’s about to come crashing down
      on our heads, be it bliss-filled or heinous,
      make us grateful, OK? Hints of the savior’s
      flavor buzz on our tongues, like crumbs
      of a sleeping pill shaped like a snowflake.

      Amy Gerstler

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 8, 2010 at 12:59 am

      y’okay there, aeoi?

    • Noochness said,

      December 8, 2010 at 10:07 am

      The imagination has been so debased that imagination—being imaginative—rather than being the lynchpin of our existence now stands as a synonym for something outside ourselves like science fiction or some new use for tangerine slices on raw pork chops—what an imaginative summer recipe—and Star Wars ! So imaginative! And Star Trek—so imaginative! And Lord of the Rings—all those dwarves—so imaginative—

      The imagination has moved out of the realm of being our link, our most personal link, with our inner lives and the world outside that world—this world we share. What is schizophrenia but a horrifying state where what’s in here doesn’t match up with what’s out there?

      Why has imagination become a synonym for style?

      I believe that the imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.

      I believe the imagination is another phrase for what is most uniquely us.

      — from the play Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare

  17. thomasbrady said,

    December 8, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I reply to John Ashbery’s “letter:”

    You have a lot of great ideas, though I lost you
    at the sliding bookcase with the green light at the bottom
    of the winding staircase, Joe Hardy,
    though perhaps you’re dark-haired Frank,
    and not the impetuous blonde, so there you are, bread crumbs,
    in the kitchen, the butter left out, you in the bathroom
    washing your hands looking out the window at another poem.
    I don’t know which principles of
    life I would use, but I know beauty and morality
    would both be up there, doing each other favors,
    and friendly to each other. When you take your
    walk by the beach on your day off, or perhaps you are called
    for jury duty,—do you known even superior court judges
    are called?—and perhaps they don’t choose you,
    so you’re free for the rest of the afternoon,
    and you’re walking along, the weather, raw,
    with long drifting, dark clouds on the horizon,
    the grass, and the boardwalk, and even your shoes, a dull color
    but later in the classroom there you are at the blackboard
    singing beauty, or perhaps the students are sitting
    around you with their laptops open and you hope
    Mallarme is on the screen, or maybe you don’t care
    since it’s their education and their life, but we can’t
    expect all these principles, even if we know what they
    are, to apply at all times; the thing is, I’m a nice
    person, but also selfish, and my kindness
    will facilitate selfishness; I suppose one could be amoral at the core
    and appear otherwise—or not? That might be something
    to wrestle with in terms of philosophy of life principles.

    It must be terrific to have a poem always running
    in your head; with me, I’ll occasionally
    clasp a rhymed couplet which floats along when
    I’m not able to record it, and if I forget later what
    it was, it’s lost forever, though if I remember a tiny piece,
    that’s usually enough to get it back,
    or sometimes I’ll recover it by writing as much as I can,
    since I’ll probably be pondering some knot
    of philosophy, which will translate to the page
    and the poem will manifest itself;
    for two and three day stretches I’ll be obsessed
    with some idea, and the rhyme appears
    as a way of saying, “you can stop thinking
    about this principle, now!” or, “let me sum up what
    you’re wrestling with, thusly.”

    So how have you been? We haven’t talked much lately.
    Are we still going out for a drink tonight?
    You didn’t mention that in your letter, but I hope we’re still on,
    because you’re a hell of a nice guy. But to go onward,
    haven’t you noticed how, when you are pooped,
    and feeling sluggish, along comes a friend and you feel
    propped up as if the propping were done at the behest
    of something smaller than anything you’d known before,
    and you’re a little bit surprised and glad? Like traveling
    to a whole new place and finding charm in
    the streets you glimpse, but know you will never
    travel down? And then you might know a familiar place
    and glimpse the same thing?
    Oh, they always find it in themselves to be
    in a situation with this as its basis! You can
    make this your own, and I always would; but
    that’s a different ball of wax, obviously.


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