MADNESS IN THE FAMILY: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT VERSUS PERCY SHELLEY!

Hey. It’s Wollstonecraft. Don’t mess with her. 

 

WOLLSTONECRAFT:

 

Milton describes our first frail mother, though when he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in the true Mahometan strain, he meant to deprive us of souls.

Soldiers, as well as women, practice the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. The great misfortune is they both acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. Officers are particularly attentive to their persons, fond of dancing, crowded rooms, adventures, and ridicule. Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry—they were taught to please, and they only live to please. Yet they do not lose their rank in the distinction of sexes, for they are still reckoned superior to women, though in what their superiority consists it is difficult to discover.

Let it not be concluded that I wish to invert the order of things; from the constitution of their bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a greater degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex; but I see not the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should differ in respect to their nature. In fact, how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard? I must therefore, if I reason consequentially, as strenuously maintain that they have the same simple direction, as that there is a God.

It follows then that cunning should not be opposed to wisdom, little cares to greater exertions, or inspired softness, varnished over with the name of gentleness, to that fortitude which grand views alone can inspire.

 

SHELLEY:

 

The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses were awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector and Ulysses: the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations: the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined and enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovely impersonations, until from admiring they imitated, and from imitation they identified themselves with the objects of their admiration.

The whole objection to the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. But Poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar: it reproduces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it coexists. The great secret of morals is Love: or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person not our own.

 

Here we go. Percy Shelley, his iconic “Defense of Poetry” in hand, faces his mother-in-law, the great feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to Percy’s future wife—Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

Wollstonecraft indicts gentleness as a damaging piece of flattery to women, while Shelley, a man, glories in it.  Feminism is correct even as it enslaves the female mind, for complaint breeds complaint; women, to improve themselves, imprison themselves in a better nature, or a search for a better nature, even as old and new conspire to make it impossible, while men—in this case, Shelley—slip out of their nature and identify with beauty not their own, making exalted poetry, while feminism festers in combativeness.

Wollstonecraft steels herself—to die. Shelley swoons—to live.

The contest is stacked against the woman, not because she is a woman, but because she attempts to argue as one in the first place. All feminist thought contains the seed of its own destruction. If women could only leap over themselves, they would be exalted and discover freedom on the other side. They would find gentle Shelley, poetry, wisdom. They would find bodies in a mist, sexless streams, and paradise.

This is not to say that Mary does not get it.  She does.    “…if virtue has only one eternal standard…”   Yes.

 

WINNER: SHELLEY

THOMAS BRADY: MUSICIAN OR POET?

CLEANTH BROOKS LOCKS HORNS WITH HAROLD BLOOM

The owlish Cleanth Brooks.  In his eyes, the “process of composition” has nothing to do with “the thing composed.”

 

BROOKS:

 

To make the poem or the novel the central concern of criticism has appeared to mean cutting it loose from its author and from his life as a man, with his own particular hopes, fears, interests, conflicts, etc. A criticism so limited may seem bloodless and hollow. It will seem so to the typical professor of literature in the graduate school, where the study of literature is still primarily a study of the ideas and personality of the author as revealed in his letters, his diaries, and the recorded conversations of his friends. It will certainly seem so to the young poet or novelist, beset with his own problems of composition and with his struggles to find a subject and a style and to get a hearing for himself.

And to emphasize the work seems to involve severing it from those who actually read it, and this severance may seem drastic and therefore disastrous. After all, literature is written to be read. Wordsworth’s poet was a man speaking to men. In each Sunday Times, Mr. J. Donald Adams points out that the hungry sheep look up and are not fed; and less strenuous moralists than Mr. Adams are bound to feel a proper revulsion against “mere aestheticism.” Moreover, if we neglect the audience which reads the work, including that for which it was presumably written, the literary historian is prompt to point out that the kind of audience that Pope had did condition the kind of poetry that he wrote. The poem has its roots in history, past or present. Its place in the historical context simply cannot be ignored.

I have stated these objections as sharply as I can because I am sympathetic with the state of mind which is prone to them. Man’s experience is indeed a seamless garment, no part of which can be separated from the rest. Yet if we urge this fact of inseparability against the drawing of distinctions, then there is no point in talking about criticism at all. I am assuming that distinctions are necessary and useful and indeed inevitable.

The formalist critic knows as well as anyone that poems and plays and novels are written by men—that they do not somehow happen—and that they are written as expressions of particular personalities and are written from all sorts of motives—for money, from a desire to express oneself, for the sake of a cause, etc. Moreover, the formalist critic knows as well as anyone that literary works are merely potential until they are read—that is, that they are re-created in the minds of actual readers, who vary enormously in their capabilities, their interests, their prejudices, their ideas. But the formalist critic is concerned primarily with the work itself. Speculation on the mental processes of the author takes the critic away from the work into biography and psychology. Such explorations are very much worth making. But they should not be confused with an account of the work. Such studies describe the process of composition, not the structure of the thing composed, and they may be performed quite as validly for any kind of expression—non-literary as well as literary.

 

BLOOM:

 

The best critics of our time remain Empson and Wilson Knight, for they have misinterpreted more antithetically than all others.

When we say that the meaning of a poem can only be another poem, we may mean a range of poems:

The precursor poem or poems.

The poem we write as our reading.

A rival poem, son or grandson of the same precursor.

A poem that never got written—that is—the poem that should have been written by the poet in question.

A composite poem, made up of these in some combination.

A poem is a poet’s melancholy at his lack of priority. The failure to have begotten oneself is not the cause of the poem, for poems arise out of the illusion of freedom, out of a sense of priority being possible. But the poem—unlike the mind in creation—is a made thing, and as such is an achieved anxiety.

How do we understand an anxiety? By ourselves being anxious. Every deep reader is an Idiot Questioner. He asks, “Who wrote my poem?” Hence Emerson’s insistence that: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts—they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Criticism is the discourse of the deep tautology—of the solipsist who knows that what he means is right, and yet that what he says is wrong. Criticism is the art of knowing the hidden roads that go from poem to poem.

 

The New Critics were not new. They belonged to the band of revolutionary Modernists determined to remove from the Academy, in Brooks’ words, the “typical professor of literature in the graduate school, where the study of literature is still primarily a study of the ideas and personality of the author as revealed in his letters, his diaries, and the recorded conversations of his friends.”

This early 20th century enemy, the “typical professor,” which Pound and Ransom likewise attacked in their writings (see “How To Read” and “Criticism, Inc”) was in the way, not because they took no “account of the work” (a pure straw man argument) but because they took “account” of Milton, Shakespeare, and Keats, rather than Pound, Eliot, and their New Critic friends. The New Critic’s approach had nothing to do with theory, criticism, or pedagogy.  Brooks’ back-pedaling apology above rings hollow—because it is.  (God forbid “biography” or “psychology” be in the mix!) The New Critics’ plea to look at “the work” instead of “the ideas and personality” of the author was secret code for: get the famous authors like Keats and Milton out of the Academy; let us in.  It was really that simple. Where is the proof that “the work” was not studied in the cases of Keats and Shakespeare? The New Critics merely said it was so, and it was so. The Creative Writing push by the New Critics (Allen Tate) and their allies (from Paul Engle to Ford Maddox Ford) soon followed, the ultimate example of: “focus on the work” and never mind those “famous authors” and their “diaries.”  The “new” wasn’t ideological.  It was personal.   The “new” wasn’t philosophy.  It was ambition. This was the great secret of Modernism.

As for Harold Bloom, (who later on in his career became more mainstream in his populist writings: Shakespeare-worship, etc) the agenda in his Anxiety of Influence is basically the same: focus on “the work” in an effort to overthrow the larger, more sane view currently in place.

Bloom’s “The meaning of a poem can only be another poem” is just a more crackpot focus on “the work” than even the New Critics offered.  A writer like Edgar Poe (excoriated by both Brooks and Bloom) can no longer be regarded as standing for sane, or wise, philosophical principles. Everything has to be yanked down to a Alice-in-Wonderland universe of  ‘close-reading,’ in which poems mean each other, etc.  Tunnels (“hidden roads”) wind about. Scholarship becomes mystical, hermeneutical, claustrophobic. Criticism becomes its own ‘poem.’ The fresh air of the heavens, in which philosophy takes the broadest view possible, is refused for the swamp of intra-textual hermeneutics. Obscurity is rewarded. Only those who can breathe for long periods underground will be worthy to effect the revolution from within.

 

 

WINNER: BLOOM

THIRTY TOP MASS APPEAL POETRY MOMENTS IN U.S. HISTORY

 

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1. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is published in the New York Evening Mirror, January 29, 1845

2.  Robert Frost reads “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, January 20, 1961

3.  Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

4. Dead Poets  Society, starring Robin Williams, released, June 9, 1989

5. Neil Armstrong’s moon landing speech, July 20, 1969

6. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” first played at flag-raising ceremony on Fort Warren, May 12, 1861

7. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg address,” November 19, 1863

8. Cassius Clay, boxer and poet, defeats Sonny Liston,  heavyweight champion, February 25, 1964

9. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus recited at the Statue of Liberty’s Dedication, October 28, 1886

10. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released, May 27, 1963

11. “The Star-Spangled Banner” first published, in Baltimore, September 20, 1814

12. Sylvia Plath’s suicide in England, February 11, 1963

13. Japan wins Russo-Japanese War, starting Haiku rage in the West, September 5, 1905

14. “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes published in Boston Daily Advertiser, September 16, 1830

15. Jack Kerouac reads his poetry on Steven Allen show (with Allen on piano), November 16, 1959

16. James Russell Lowell delivers “Ode” at Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865

17. Mick Jagger reads Shelley’s “Adonais” at Brian Jones’ memorial in England, July 5, 1969

18. Ella Wheeler Wilcox publishes her most famous poem in New York Sun, the year she publishes controversial Poems of Passion, February 25, 1883

19. Dana Gioia publishes his essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic, May, 1991

20. “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by Sarah Josepha Hale published, May 24, 1830

21. Actor Jimmy Stewart reads poem “I’ll Never Forget A Dog Named Beau” on the Tonight Show, making Johnny Carson cry, July 28, 1981

22. Ronald Regan’s Challenger Disaster Speech, January 28, 1986

23. Maya Angelou reads “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton inaugural, January 20, 1993

24. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” published, November 10, 1855

25. Ezra Pound wins Bollingen Prize with NY Times headline: “Pound In Mental Clinic Wins Prize for Poetry Penned In Treason Cell,” February 20, 1949

26. “Rapture” by Blondie released, January 12, 1981

27. “The Music Man” by Meredith Wilson opens, December 19, 1957

28. Elizabeth Alexander reads “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s inaugural, January 20, 2009

29. Publisher Horace Liveright makes offers for works by Pound, Eliot, and Joyce, January 3, 1922.

30. Favorite Poem Project launched by poet laureate Robert Pinsky, April 1, 1997

 

DE BEAUVOIR AND ADRIENNE RICH DANCE IN FIRST ROUND ACTION

DE BEAUVOIR:

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

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

RICH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: DE BEAUVOIR

THE BEAUTIFUL DO NOT LIKE POETRY

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

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

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

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

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

MY CONFIDENCE GREW

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

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

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

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

SARTRE TAKES ON DERRIDA

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

SARTRE:

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

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

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

DERRIDA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: SARTRE

POST-MODERN BATTLE: LACAN VERSUS SAID

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

LACAN:

 

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

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

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

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

 

SAID:

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

We see the two poles above:

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: SAID

 

 

SCHILLER BATTLES EMERSON IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

SCHILLER:

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

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

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

EMERSON:

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

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

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

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

But Emerson is so much more fun.

WINNER: EMERSON

WAS THAT YOU

IMG_20140218_113143_915

It’s nice to have a nice physique,

But face it, a face is what’s unique;

We fall in love with one of those,

Not with the hands, or somebody’s toes.

If you love a voice or verses

You might as well love shouts and curses,

And to fall in love with naughty parts

Is like falling in love with farts—

No, the face, the window to the soul

Is how we know the person as a whole,

For it’s as if the face were a thought

That can never be known and never be bought.

Come, let me look in your eyes again—

Was that you, with another, in the rain?


POE VERSUS LESSING!

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

 

LESSING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

POE:

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: POE

HOW MUCH KISSING IS TOO MUCH

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

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

THOMAS AQUINAS DUELS APHRA BEHN

Aphra Behn: worthy opponent of Thomas Aquinas

 

AQUINAS:

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

APHRA BEHN:

 

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

 

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

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

 

WINNER: AQUINAS

 

 

 

KENNETH BURKE DANCES WITH HELENE CIXOUS

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

BURKE:

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

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

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

CIXOUS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: CIXOUS

WILDE VERSUS WOOLF

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

WILDE:

 

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

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

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

 

WOOLF:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The unhappy marriage is at the heart of all literature.

Literature is perhaps the invention of the unhappy marriage.

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

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

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

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

HOW CAN WE HATE WHEN LOVE SINGS FROM EVERY TREE?

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

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

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

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

MAIMONIDES AND VICO, OH YEA!

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

MAIMONIDES:

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

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

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

 

VICO:

 

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

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

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

 

WINNER: MAIMONIDES

 

AUGUSTINE AND ADDISON BRING ARGUMENTS TO THE MADNESS

The dashing Joseph Addison, Man of Letters

AUGUSTINE:

 

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

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

 

ADDISON:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: ADDISON

NIETZSCHE VERSUS T.S. ELIOT!

NIETZSCHE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

T.S. ELIOT:

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: ELIOT

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

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

MALLARME:


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

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

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

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

It’s taste we should consider very modern.

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

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

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

 

 

 

RANSOM:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: RANSOM

 

 

PATER AND HEIDEGGER CLASH IN MORE ROUND ONE MADNESS ACTION

Heidegger: Man is the speaking creature.

PATER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEIDEGGER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean to speak?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: PATER

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