Ben Mazer’s “Poetry Mathematics” and the 30 Best Poetry Essays of All Time

First, the List:

1. REPUBLIC (BKS, 3, 10)- PLATO
A truism, but agree or not, every poet must come to terms with Plato.

2. THE FOUR AGES OF POETRY- THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK 
This essay rocks.  A genuinely great work of sweeping, historical criticism.

3. POETS WITHOUT LAURELS- JOHN CROWE RANSOM
Short essay, but historically explains Modernism…Ransom was more than just a New Critic…

4. PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION- EDGAR A. POE
Wrote a poem, then added a philosophy: cheap!  Uhh…no, that misses the point. Close writing trumps close reading…

5. POETICS- ARISTOTLE
Groundwork.

6. VITA NUOVA- DANTE
Practical document of poetry as mixture of Aristotle, romance, and religion. 

7. A DEFENSE OF POETRY- SHELLEY
Wide-ranging idealism.

8. LAOCOON: ESSAY ON THE LIMITS OF POETRY & PAINTING- G.E. LESSING
18th Century Work of Classical Rigor. A keeper.

9. AN APOLOGY FOR POETRY- SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
“Now for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.”

10. PHAEDRUS- PLATO
Tale of rhetoric and inspiration by the poet-hating poet.

11. PURE AND IMPURE POETRY- ROBERT PENN WARREN
Smash-mouth modernism from the 1930s—lots of Poe and Shelley-hating.

12. SYSTEM OF TRANSCENDENTAL IDEALISM- F.W. SCHELLING
“All knowledge rests on the agreement of something objective with something subjective.”

13. ON THE SUBLIME- LONGINUS
The sublime, baby!

14. TRADITION AND THE INDIVIDUAL TALENT- T.S. ELIOT
The avant-garde reigned in by humdrum?

15. PREFACE, 2ND ED., LYRICAL BALLADS- WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
Speaking like real men!

16. LETTERS- KEATS
Selfless excess.

17. THE POET- EMERSON
Walt Whitman, Inc.

18. WELL-WROUGHT URN- CLEANTH BROOKS
A Defense of Close-Reading New Criticism: Poetry As Paradox and Non-Paraphrasable Ambiguity

19. THE ARCHETYPES OF LITERATURE- NORTHRUP FRYE
Jungian rebuke of the New Criticism…

20. CAN POETRY MATTER?- DANA GIOIA
Yes, believe it or not, this one belongs to the ages…

21. ESSAY ON CRITICISM- POPE
Iconic, metrical…

22. THE STUDY OF POETRY- MATTHEW ARNOLD
High seriousness, dude…

23. ON NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL POETRY- FRIEDRICH SCHILLER
Supremely Romantic criticism

24. THE ION- PLATO
A curt and elegant reminder for the poetic blowhard…

25. PREFACE TO SHAKESPEARE- SAMUEL JOHNSON
Always a place for the moral conservative…

26. CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT- KANT
“An aesthetical judgment is not an objective cognitive judgment.”

27. RATIONALE OF VERSE- POE
The best user guide for the craft of verse, period.

28. PERFORMATIVE UTTERANCES- J.L. AUSTIN
This clever-ass essay blows everything to hell, making Language Poetry possible…

29. THE ENGLISH POET AND THE BURDEN OF THE PAST- W. JACKSON BATE
Published prior to, and is more cogent than, Harold Bloom’s more famous work…

30. FOUNDATIONS OF POETRY MATHEMATICS- BEN MAZER
A useful look at what the cool kids are saying…

Tedious, unscientific, hare-brained manifesto-ism (Pound, Charles Olson, etc) did not make the list.

We found Mazer’s “Mathematics” eccentric and odd at points, yet despite its uncanny moments, sincere and earnest throughout.  The work, just recently published, seems the natural outcome of an “end of the line,” “uncertainty principle” post-modernism looping back to classical German Romantic idealism, which is exactly what we take the dual “incomprehensible and incontrovertible” (2.1 b) to mean.

We like the sly rebuff of “The classics are static. They do not change.” (2.3)  This could be censor or praise, and Mazer’s ambiguity is a good thing.  It seems to solve something.

Here is the Romantic Mazer: “A greater amount of emotion is the effect of a greater work of art.” (2.4)  “There is no poetry higher than the music of Beethoven.” (2.11)

Here is the Mazer of J.L. Austin: “Poetry differs from nonsense in being incontrovertible. It cannot be proved to be nonsense, that nothing is being said.” (2.2)

Here is the great puzzle.  We are not sure, but it seems Mazer implicitly agrees with Austin—who said (to the satisfaction of some) that “nonsense” cannot be proved to exist since language is a “performance,” not an “imitation.” 

If art is essentially imitative, reality, within the frame of the picture, is boiled down to essense, order, and beauty. If poetic language is imitative (the default belief for thousands of years) there needs to be correspondence between subject and object, between understanding and nature; this is the basis of science, society, and art.  Keats’ “Beauty is Truth” formula is that supreme correlation, which, in a mere 100 years, has fallen into its opposite—because the imitative function of art has been rejected.

In poetry, J.L. Austin provided the reason. Language, Austin said, is a “performance,” and not just performative in obvious ways (“I now pronounce you man and wife” or “Move your ass, bud!”) but in every way.  “Truth is Beauty” is not verifiable, because all language-use is an action, and acts in a specific context.

No one who is honest, however, buys Austin’s rhetoric, and we think Mazer only buys it against his better judgement.  Mazer’s example of Beethoven is telling; Mazer’s “Mathematics” has great merit in saying a lot in a few words. What says more than ‘Beethoven?’  Genius often surprises, not with its complexity, but with its simplicity, and we cannot think of another poetry critic who would casually toss Beethoven on the table—and yet why not?  What artistic work is more “incomprehensible and incontrovertible” than Beethoven’s?  Beethoven is “incomprehensible” in a very real sense: listening to Beethoven’s music, we have no idea what he is saying, or what he means.  Yet the artistic impact of Beethoven’s music is “incontrovertible.”  No one would say Beethoven’s music is “nonsense,” a word Austin specifically uses in his argument (“Performative Utterances” no. 28 above).

And since Beethoven is a Romantic era figure and belongs to the classical Romantic tradition—one which seeks correspondence between understanding and nature, it is useful to examine Beethoven (as poet) in light of Austin’s explicit attempt to invalidate correspondence, with the result that every linguistic trope is controvertible.  But even if we take every utterance to be performative, this does not mean that we as speakers and writers do not still seek correspondence between understanding and nature.  Speech (poetry, art) without correspondence is still nonsense. 

The metaphoric nature of poetry attempts to stretch correspondence; but stretching is not breaking.

The Language Poetry school, the unfortunate result of Austin’s philosophy, is what happens when anything breaks instead of stretches.

Mazer, trapped in a post-J.L. Austin universe, longs to reunite with Romanticism, a shameful act in today’s Letters—burdened by the nonsensical spasms of modernism, as the bodily correspondences come apart—but this only makes Mazer’s yearning that much more profound and leads to the success of his poetry.  As any good Romantic knows, the longing for correspondence is more important than the correspondence itself.  The Language poet is inevitably too self-pleased.

When Mazer says, “Beauty is characterized by being indefinable,” (2.9) we read between the lines and find Romantic longing.

WAS EDGAR ALLAN POE MURDERED?

It is October, the anniversary month of Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious end.

Re-reading international best-selling author Albert Jack’s piece on Poe’s death got us thinking again: the crucial facts of Poe’s demise are so far just that, a collection of random facts, and much of these facts come from unreliable witnesses.  In terms of public awareness, an understanding of Poe’s death is exactly where it was the day after Poe’s death in 1849.  There’s a laundry list of theories, but all are mere guesses.  Nothing in the case has “come together” with any specificity or causal certainty.

Poe scholar John Walsh (Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death Of Edgar Poe, 1998) did the world a great service by demolishing the “cooping theory” and putting Poe’s contemporary, author Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s, published claim that Poe was physically assaulted, back on the table.  Unfortunately Oakes Smith didn’t tell us enough, and Walsh’s own theory that Poe was murdered by Poe’s fiance Elmira Shelton’s brothers requires too much “filling-in,” relying on too many things that might have happened.

To see Poe’s death as foul play, we need to do two things: first, separate what might have happened from what actually did happen. Secondly—and Poe’s own fictional detective, Dupin, provided his readers with this advice: seek out elements joined by a cause, by what cannot be mere coincidence or accident. In other words, we add coincidence to coincidence until it can no longer be a coincidence.  Applying these two principles to the widest possible field of factual evidence of Poe’s recorded, social existence, we find the following:

Dr. Joseph Snodgrass.  He is crucial for the following reasons:

1. Location, location, location.

Poe was found near-death, at an unplanned stop in Baltimore, on a 240 mile journey from Richmond to Philadelphia.  Poe’s 240 mile journey ended—for a reason no one has ever ascertaineda couple of blocks from Snodgrass’ home.   For this single fact alone, Snodgrass should be a “person of interest.”   This is the first coincidence.

2. Joseph Walker and the Sun

Poe left Richmond on September 27 and his whereabouts are unknown until October 3.  We know that a man named Joseph Walker found Poe, because on October 3rd, Walker wrote a note to Dr. Joseph Snodgrass: 

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.

Walker, like Snodgrass, worked for the Baltimore Sun.

For seven days, upon leaving Richmond, Poe is off the radar, until two employees of the Baltimore Sun (Snodgrass the writer, Walker, a typesetter) discover him, the world-renowned author, in a life-threatening condition on October 3, and here is the only thing the Sun has to say about the whole matter, on October 7:

We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it.

3. Snodgrass and the “Bestial Intoxicatin” alteration

Joseph Walker, the Baltimore Sun mechancial who wrote the note to Dr. Snodgrass, disappears and is never heard from again. Of that crucial window on October 3rd—when Poe turns up, “rather the worse for wear”— Snodgrass’s published remembrance is all we have to go on.  In one of his published reflections, Snodgrass informed his reading public that Walker’s note did not say “worse for wear,” but instead, according to Snodgrass,”bestial intoxication.” Snodgrass, a Temperance Man, changed the note in public view in order to libel Poe in a manner commonly used by Poe’s enemies.

4. The sole witnesses are…

There are no other witnesses to Poe’s discovery on October 3, even though Ryan’s, a tavern and polling place on that election day on October 3, was crowded.  According to Snodgrass, when he arrives at Ryan’s on the afternoon of October 3, Henry Herring, a uncle-by-marriage of Poe’s, is there.  Herring, who doesn’t like Poe, refuses to take him into his home.

Snodgrass and Herring give Poe to the care of a lunatic physician at a decrepit hospital—Dr. Moran later publishes unreliable and melodramatic reports of Poe’s death.

No other witnesses recognized Poe; except for the bedside ravings of Moran, it is only Snodgrass himself, armed with Walker’s (convenient?) note, who informs the public of Poe’s demise.  Only the testimony of Dr. Snodgrass (and the typsetter Walker’s note) places Poe at Ryan’s Tavern at all.

5. As Poe dies at the hands of a “friend” and Baltimore Sun journalist, the whole world is kept in the dark

From October 3rd to the 7th, when Poe’s death is briefly announced in the Sun, no other members of Poe’s family, nor any of his friends, are told anything—except for Neilson Poe, Poe’s cousin.

6. Hasty burial without an autopsy overseen by…

Neilson Poe and Joseph Snodgrass oversee Poe’s hasty burial—without an autopsy.

7. And the final coincidence…

Several years prior to Poe’s death, there is a window of many months in which Poe and Snodgrass corresponded, and in that correspondance Poe confesses to Snodgrass how much he hates his cousin, Neilson Poe.

In summary: No autopsy, hasty burial, and “found” by Baltimore Sun libeler 2 blocks from detour on a 240 mile journey, who was sole witness to the “finding,” and teamed with hated family members to keep everything as murky as possible.

Coincidence?

DETERMINED TO BE A FALCON (–a new scarriet poem–)

Determined to be a falcon, I flew
Somewhere into midnight—
The happiness of my days were few—
But saw death and flames’ lurid light
Stretching skyward, embarrassing a night
I always found quiet,
With moon exhaling a fragrance—there was never any riot—
But now night-flames harried me as I flew
Into the dark, my falcon-eyes looking for you.

Determined to be a falcon, I flew
In search of my symbol, my line beginning
This, the guitar, the sorrow, the poem seeking the new,
Making as much as I could of the falcon’s wing
As a symbol in a song that forgot to sing
Except that its music
Forced its way into symbols that couldn’t use it,
Sad that self-consciousness was the poet’s due
And sad my sad desire could not describe you.

Yet I’m happy I was a falcon back there,
Fashioned in a fuliginous dome—
Maybe nothing was real, maybe not even the air—
Yet I count this symbol dear as any home,
As dear as the familiar place after you sorrowfully roam,
Not because it impresses anyone
To say one is a falcon,
But only because determined to be a falcon, I flew
Symbolically—knowing the real thing was you.

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

ORIGINAL HALLOWEEN POEM FROM THE SCARRIET EDITORS

My love dressed as a witch
And she was beautiful.
Her smile gave me a crazy itch,
And the moon was full.

My love dressed as a black cat
And she was beautiful.
Her smile—could I resist that?
And the moon was full.

My love dressed as an old house
And she was beautiful.
I went inside her house
And the moon was full.

I looked inside every room
And they were beautiful.
Her pillow wore a look of gloom
And the moon was full.

I lay in bed and called to her,
“Come to me, beautiful!”
Her bed was made of gold and fur
And the moon was full.

And what had I been wearing?
A simple, ebon gown.
And she covered me in kisses
As the moon went down.

IF POLITICS WERE POETRY

If Joe Biden laughed at me, I’d punch him in the face,
Civility the first requirement of the human race.

Thank the sun, the rain, the bounty which even on the undeserving pours,
Thank your country and democracy and the opinion that’s different than yours.

Print money and give it to the poor that you might buy their vote,
Love animals, but little humans in the womb smote.

Pander to those who want to get paid
But speak honestly to those who want to get laid.

If we don’t arm ourselves, others will invade;
Don’t you figure this out in first grade?

I like sports, guns, dogs, cigars and cigarettes,
I love pretty women as long as they are pets;
Please vote for the party that best supports the vets.

I have a Volvo.  I barely escaped my birth.
The natural planet is the best way to measure worth,
And there’s a hole for the corporate rich in my dear mother Earth.

Hard work and science. All the rest is crap:
A crucifix on the wall.  A little nap.

“From fairest creatures we desire increase…”
—That sounds so right-wing, I just want some peace…

I have a bathtub, and that is all I got.
Why tax my tub and not tax that yacht?

Redistribute wealth!  Justice is our cry!
But that impulse turns ugly with a shrinking pie…

The birds in the trees make a pretty sound
But Man’s life is this: taking coal out of the ground.

Division of labor will always be unjust;
Things that people want turn into a must,
And every ideal and dream crumbles into dust.

If the Queen laughed at me, I’d punch her in the face,
Civility the first requirement of the human race.

PROGRESS AND THE NEW ‘WEIRD’ LITERARY MOVEMENT

Philip Larkin: is this poet just too weird for Horror/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Weird?

Since the French Revolution, the radical has become the default setting of  the intellectual, especially in Arts and Letters.

The “conservative social order” has religion, but the “far more complex liberal worldview” has poetry and art.   The early 19th century Romantics were “radical” individualists,” in mid-19th century France  “radical” art and poetry were born, and then, in the early 20th century, after a Victorian detour, all hell broke loose.

The New Radical Order has been around for more than a hundred years now, and the Radical Artist institutionalized in academia since the mid-20th century and accepted as the norm, and quite frankly, the whole “Radical” thing has become tiresome—and cries out for a new definition.

No one wants to be called “reactionary” or “Far Right,” and neither do we.  God forbid we bring down the Radical edifice for any but the best and most sincere motives!

Arts & Letters has become so Left-wing these days, that American intellectuals can call “American corporate liberalism” fascist and no one blinks an eye.

It isn’t so much that art has been beaten to a pulp by radical politics, but that art and politics have become indistinguishable.  In art, a standard of beauty has been replaced by a standard of progress.  The very word “aesthetics” comes from the word, beauty, but art is no longer concerned with beauty, but with an idea that belongs to practical and moral improvements.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with progress.  But the issue for the arts and for intellectuality is more complex than that—which even members of the far left must confront.

The lion, politics, has consumed the gazelle (art).  This is going to happen when you put them in the same cage.  Politics is immense, and is constantly seeking to consolidate its gains.  The more advanced and progressive a society becomes, the more its political order consolidates and purifies its message, feeding on everything else in society, until everyone from the housewife to the college professor to the mathematician to the poet to the architecht to the supermarket manager gets swept up in the democratic ideals of progress: let’s all improve ourselves together.  This phrase may seem rather banal, but it’s a “shock of the new” idea, because it wasn’t that long ago that improvements came from afar, and citizens were morally isolated from each other.

But what are the vectors of progress?  Do they always move forward, even in the world of hard, practical reality?

We have today possibly what many might call, “reverse-racism,” but even more prevalent is what we might call reverse-progress.

The wish to “save the planet” is a new and wild frontier piece of radical group-think that has one understandable goal: to reverse Man’s previous progress in subduing nature “red in tooth and claw.”

Depending on how large an historical time-line one uses, all sorts of “progressive” points of view are actually “reverse-progressive.”

In politics: Abolishing or weakening the nation state can be seen as reverse-progressive, since the modern nation state is historically the recent vehicle of human progress from feudalism to modern democracy.

In art: Alexander Pope’s triumph in meter/rhyme was the result of progress in poetry away from prose, but a little more than a century later, “progress” assumed that poetry should travel from Pope back again to the looseness of prose—even when prose was making progress in other genres at the same time.

In the interest of novelty, fashions and taste will change, and all sorts of arguments can be made for this or that type of  “progress,” but we can see that progress does not always move forward—and yet we assume that the “progressive” left always does.

We do not know if certain desired goals of “progressive movements” in politics will amount to real improvements: universal voting does not necessarily improve government, since pandering to mass ignorance becomes the rule.   Laws of equal opportunity are vital, but groups are different within themselves and, if we are honest, impossible to define.

How, then, can we say that political progress will match up with artistic progress at all, when the progress of both are so complex and do not line up?  We radically err in assuming this relationship is simple.

Given these questions, we noted with interest a recent article in the Guardian: “The Weird Deserves Recognition As A Major Literary Movement,” especially this passage:

The weird is characterized by a willingness to play fast and loose with reality. And its emergence in the early 1900s coincides with a radical shift in our perception of what reality is. Science at the time was busy revealing not just that our universe was much, much bigger than we had guessed, but also far less certain, with the principles of quantum mechanics suggesting that God did indeed “play dice with the universe.” We were also becoming aware that many things we accepted as real—ideas of nationality, race, gender, sexuality, and many more—were in fact socially constructed. The conservative social order in which people knew their place was about to be replaced with a far more complex and less certain liberal worldview.

The weird became both a part of these radical changes, and a reaction against them. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a paean for the return of a king and a social order that was undergoing radical and irrevocable change. As becomes apparent in his racist poetry, HP Lovecraft’s stories articulated a very deep anxiety and fear of social change. The commercial genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror that commoditise the weird are often reactionary in nature. Faced with a rift in reality, they encourage the reader to dive for cover.

When it comes to the Weird genre, here is a typical strategy by the leftist intellectual: grab land for the empire of “social change.”  Call out the reactionary authors: Tolkien and Lovecraft, equate “fear of social change” with the freaky fear-factor of the genre itself, take a swipe at the “commercial” aspect of the genre.

Bingo.  The flag of “social change” is planted on Horror/Fantasy/SciFi and the Weird.

The person who is simply homosexual is different from the political homosexual; the political homosexual is opposed by an ‘other’ and the opposition and the fear of this other is at the heart of all Weird literature, if not all literature.

Yet gender and sexuality have had oppositon at their heart since before the rape of Helen.

The Guardian author, then, is not really saying anything new.  The leftist intellectual argument for progress is not wrong.  It is merely empty. The leftist is not wrong: the racist is bad. “The racist is bad,” however, does not fit neatly into p.c. formulae for literary or scientific use.

We do not wish harmony between Right and Left.  Let us leave the Right to wallow in its backwardness and prejudice. But let us recognize that the Left assumes too much by inserting one dimensional moral principles into everything.  The default setting of avant-leftism has long lost its way.  We suggest no mingling within the Right/Left oppositon.  We suggest the whole opposition’s hard shell be exploded.  Let us look for new ways (taking into account the old) of expressing the whole problem.

The Guardian author says that “God does not always play with dice,” but if this is true, how does a random universe support the idea of bedrock leftist principles?  And if “social construction” is imposed on chaos, which is more true, the chaos, or the social construction; or is the truth the competition between various social constructions?

And here we are back at primitive “opposition,” again.  “Social change” is not simple. We should always be suspicious of “new politics.”

The Guardian author says “the Weird deserves recognition as a major literary movement.”  First, this plea sounds suspiciously (ironically?) Market-driven.  Secondly, the Weird “movement” is already “major” and has always existed, though perhaps not in the narrow manner the Guardian author would like.

Fantasy/Weird author Edgar Poe, who perished mysteriously this week back in 1849, has often been called “reactionary” by agents of “social change.” Poe invented and transcended so many genres that he resists easy definitions, and the scholarly animosty towards him in many quarters may be chiefly for that reason alone.  Poe, the “reactionary,” makes the radical Language Poet, for instance, seems narrow and small.

We close with a right-wing poet’s poem which brilliantly does what Wordsworth and Coleridge separately attempted in Lyrical Ballads: make the plain fantastic and make the fantastic plain.  No horror/fantasy poem, this.  Yet the poet’s simple, honest observation makes this poem as Weird as any.  The category-busting poet is Philip Larkin. The poem is “The Old Fools.”

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there’s really been no change,
And they’ve always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don’t (and they can’t), it’s strange;
Why aren’t they screaming?

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines –
How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
We shall find out.

AS WE LOOKED EACH OTHER OVER: NEW SCARRIET POEM

As we looked each other over,
Looking for poems in the eyes,
Poems moving in the eyes,
Intellectuality the worst disguise,
Or, what is hidden, what all seek—
The feeling we get when the answer is near—
I cannot tell you why I love you, never could—
A pictured memory with several voices,
Described as if science and beauty were one,
But that’s not it, either—
Demonstrative love, something out of the movies,
Or, in this case, at the movies—do you remember?
You getting up suddenly to leave?
Life is a falling?  There’s nothing in it we can stop?
And what am I doing but pondering the plural movies in that idiomatic phrase,
“Something out of the movies,”
Instead of leaving to find you,
Getting you, telling you about what I was trying to say
In the whole poem.

%d bloggers like this: