BADASS, FUNNY, BUT ALAS, NOT CRITIC-PROOF

David Kirby: Makes a good salary. Doesn’t go to Olive Garden.

Philip Sidney, back in the 16th century, defended poetry against the charge that poetry is nothing but a pack of damn lies rather snarkily: “The poet never affirmith and therefore never lieth.”

Call this the Smart-Ass Defense: Poetry can be as naughty and lying as it wants to be because it’s only playin.

So Plato’s objection is put to rest, if we just don’t take poetry seriously.

But the rub here is that Sidney—who wasn’t “playin” when he died fighting Spain for Queen Elizabeth—was a secret Platonist.

The Shadow of Plato covers all: between science, religion, censorship and Ezra Pound, no one takes poetry seriously these days.

In the 19th century, poetry found its place as an expression of love, and this worked for awhile: you express love, but affirm nothing; love in its pure, unrequited state: OK, not bad.

But hubris struck hard in the 20th century as the poets suddenly wanted to be taken seriously again.  Poets woke up to the fact that Plato had won.  They didn’t like that, really.

Yes. Taken seriously.  Not as a way to learn Latin. Not as a way to learn to Greek. Not as a way to express love.  But seriously.  We are Modernist!  We are serious! We are interesting!  We are historically significant!

Seriously?

Ezra Pound and a few friends began an Imagiste movement.  They made a manifesto.  But no one took them seriously.  You’re just doing haiku, they said.

But haiku is pretty serious stuff.  It affirms the natural fact, anyway.

Some kind of serious progress, in the name of “serious,” was being made.

But no one read these Modernists, printing their little poems in their little magazines. Yet something was happening in the world, something weird.  Everyone was getting very serious.  The Nazis. Modern art. It was all very, very weird.  And serious.

And international.  Ah, here was something.  For Plato’s moral objection to art was based on making the state a strong, defensible entity.  Morality is defense. The good is a wall.

But Internationalism has no walls. 

Nazism was internationalist. Communism was internationalist. Modernism was internationalist.

Eliot in London, Pound in Axis Italy, Stein in Paris, Auden and Isherwood in Berlin and China, Bauhaus and Duchamp in New York.

But World War II defeated internationalism.   The USA—and nationalism—emerged as strong as ever.   Would the poets ever beat Plato?

Then came poetry—serious, international poetry’s—big chance: the university.

The Creative Writing Program model replaced the English Major model: living poets replaced dead poets.

Affirmation was back. You don’t pay tuition fees to poets unless you take them a little bit seriously.

Pedagogy in a university is nothing if not affirming and serious, and this pedagogy—we see it in Understanding Poetry, the New Critic’s textbook (the New Critics, allied with Pound and Williams)—brought Modernism into the Academy.

Game changer.

Poetry is serious again.  Poets are now professors.  They collect salaries.  And their students now choose Creative Writing over Study of the Past.

So here we are in the present, and now we turn to our sordid tale of Professor Kirby, poet and fun-loving bad-ass known affectionately to his friends as “The Kirb.”

Since poets are affirming again, they are no longer critic-proof; for critics may now call them out—and, to put it bluntly, accuse them of lying.

This is what happened to David Kirby—depicted above in a photo gracing the cover of his latest book of poems, A Wilderness of Monkeys.

In a review of A Wilderness of Monkeys, here’s what a critic said:

 

I have an issue with David Kirby’s A Wilderness of Monkeys. I have a problem with this poetry!

But first, consider this: Kirby’s poems are fun, crazy, free-fall, a tumbling of words, a stream of whatever. Is he going somewhere? Is this random? Is it okay to be random? What does it all mean? Who really was the fattest president? Is Kirby simply being funny? Can a book of poetry be a series of jokes?

In “Legion, For We are Many,” he writes:

I’m doing a couple of yoga stretches in
a quiet corner
of the Atlanta airport because my
flight’s delayed,
though having said “Atlanta airport,”
I realize
that I don’t have to say “my flight’s
delayed.”

I love that! Poetry can be so self serious! As with Alexie, it’s nice to see some humor!

“Massages by Blind Masseurs” starts off:

My tree guy and I are watching as the
man with the chipper
arrives, and I say, “Mr. Pumphrey,
every once in a while
I read that somebody gets tired of his
wife and knocks her
on the head and passes her through
one of these chippers,”
and he says, “I know, Mr. Kirby—
terrible isn’t it?” and then
he says, “And it doesn’t do the chipper
any good either.”

Hilarious. A number of the poems in this collection are just as strange and funny.

But still, I have an issue. It lies in the poem “Good Old Boys,” where David Kirby mentions people who got take-out from the Olive Garden and left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab. He derides them, saying,

Besides who gets
take-out from the Olive Garden?
You miss out on the endless
breadsticks and salad that way.

Here, here is the rub. Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant. But in the author’s photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet’s uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080. All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.

If this is true, clearly it undermines his credibility as a poet who can write authentically about Olive Garden! Even if he has gone there recently, we may guess that he went with irony, with a “slumming” self-awareness that he was going someplace faux-classy like Olive Garden.

So tell us Kirby: what is the deal with Olive Garden? We want to give you a fair shake. We’d like to give you credit. Author photos and biographies can be deceiving. People are different ways. But we just don’t know. This anti-review may just have to leave off with a brocade of doubt stitched into its David Kirby section.

(Then again, that may be the point of an anti-review.)

The whole review, by Joe Hoover, which looks at a number of poets, can be found here.

Ever since Ezra Pound settled in fascist Italy, began his fascist Broadcasts, and was lauded in the influential New Critics’ textbook, Understanding Poetry, and the Program Era began in earnest, poetry is serious business.

Sure, here we have Olive Garden in this instance, as opposed to Mussolini and the Cantos in the other, but here’s the real issue: the poet now affirms, and is meant to be taken seriously.

John Ashbery is critic-proof, because no one quite knows what he is talking about.  Ashbery “never affirmith,” sly devil.  He belongs to Sidney’s world.  Poetry as a waking dream, perhaps.

Not Kirby.  He, with his professor’s six figure salary, belongs to the new poetry of affirmation. He writes truthfully of real things: Olive Garden.

Or, and perhaps this is what annoyed the reviewer: “Good Old Boys.”

Working class people from the South.  People who don’t make 127,080 a year. People like the orphaned newspaper reviewer, Edgar Poe, slammed for his “pure poetry” in the same textbook that praised Ezra Pound and his friend William Carlos Williams, poets of real things and natural facts.

Kirby, as a poet, has a great sense of humor, as Mr. Hoover—who seems like a pretty good reviewer—points out; but wit can hide a sting, and in this case, Mr. Hoover finds Kirby’s sting offensive: professor Kirby uses Olive Garden to “deride” the “good old boys” of his poem.

When your poem contains the following information, “good old boys who got take-out from Olive Garden left their puppy nearly to die in an overheated truck cab,” you are affirming. 

When you affirm, you make the mistake of not listening to Philip Sidney.  As a poet, you open yourself up to a world of hurt.

The critic, like a pickerel waiting in the reeds, strikes: “Mr. Kirby writes about Olive Garden as if he actually goes to that restaurant.”

Uh oh.

“But in the author’s photo on the back of the book, Mr. David Kirby sits on a porch next to a black wrought iron fence, wearing a smart haircut and a splendid poet’s uniform of black sport coats and (I believe) dark jeans, with a Robert O. Lawton Professor of English at Florida State University annual salary of $127,080.”

Ouch.

Does he really make that much money? 

Affirmative, captain.

“All of which leads me to believe he has not set one foot inside an Olive Garden for the past 15 years.”

The stinger has been stung.

The reviewer has strayed from the poem to the poet.

But remember that Sidney said, “the poet never affirmith.”

Once you affirm, not only is your poetry fair game for the Platonist critique, but so are you.

Rumor has it that Kirby is incensed, but the whole thing can, perhaps, be laughed off as a tempest in a teacup.

But we see Kirby v. Hoover as a significant skirmish in the endless campaign by the poets to 1) be taken seriously and 2) defeat Plato—who would never pay a poet 127,080 a year.

 

 

 

NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS HERE (New Scarriet poem)

Nothing much happens here after four.
Five will show up, in his usual place,
always looking suspiciously
ready to make a disclaimer regarding his appearance,
but we’re used to that. Five becomes quiet when Six arrives.

We’re getting rather tired of him, too.
What does Six talk about?  The usual stuff about what happens
between five and six, but we suspect he has no idea what he’s talking about.
He doesn’t talk much about what happens between six and seven,
and becomes very depressed when he does, almost like his time is running out.

Once, he began crying softly for ten minutes. Only when Seven came did he shut up.
Seven is a somber character and she becomes more somber as the evening goes on.
She keeps asking where the others went. Isn’t that obvious?
You and I sit here because we like to be with each other; we’re in love, and we talk almost as an afterthought,
because it’s what people do— they talk, and we hold each other, less shyly as evening comes on.

Eight arrives. In the summer, it’s day, and we see him, dressed like sundown, a brilliant shadow of
A third world person, obsessed with clouds; he chirps more like a cricket than a bird.
Nine shows up, has given up looking for work, given up on a lot of things, but likes to read
And will carefully sing to us about what he’s read. We would love
to have a really interesting conversation, but we can’t. We are falling asleep.

We keep thinking someone else is arriving. Even when I hold you, you look at your watch,
But I am happy to be with you, on an island, in the shadows, for a short hour.

SINCE THE WOMAN IS SUPERIOR SHE SAYS NO

Since the woman is superior, she says no;
Because she is the jewel
To have, she makes
The man, sad, come and go.

Since the man is inferior, he says yes;
Because she is the jewel
To have, she makes
The man run and stop and guess.

Because she is everything, she says no.
Because he is nothing, he whispers
Beatrice! Beatrice! I love you so!

PAINTERS AND ARTISTS NEED TO SHUT UP

We hate the heartbreak and pain and ugliness of actual madness. Are we hypocrites to celebrate it in art?

Scarriet is a “Poetry & Culture” site, but we are highly indebted to art and painting, the glory of depiction and soul. Poetry ain’t got no soul; we know that: writing in complete sentences belongs to the reason and the intellect, and part of the falling off of poetry since Modernism has been that the poets have stopped writing in complete sentences, in the attempt to be like hip painters. But writing will never be hip painting, and when writing attempts this it ends up being a crappy, pretentious, ungrammatical horror show. Okay for texting, but not for literature.

But today we want to lecture the painters and tell them how stupid they have been.

Painting, unlike poetry, and like certain kinds of music and dance, does have soul. Precisely because it can say what it needs to say immediately and without any blah blah blah.

But just as education is ruining literature and just about everything else—including education—as well as destroying the life of a great nation with 1.1 trillion dollars of school debt, education is also destroying the painters.

Painters now feel compelled to support their “artistic mission” with writing, with words, with explanations, those teachable explanations good for the education biz, but destructive of art and soul.

You know what we are talking about: the ubiquitous “artist statements” which accompany every work of art: “My art reflects society’s oppression of women/blacks/gays/the environment.” Or my art “celebrates” blacks/gays/the environment. Or “my art explores ordinary objects/ animals/clothing/sports/erotica/poverty/fashion/families and what they mean in our contemporary society,” etc etc.  (There is nothing wrong with these topics, per se.  We question only the crippling effects of the pedantry.)

We look from the apology for the art to the art itself—and, honestly, we see nothing but weak apology and weak art.

Inevitably, what this whole poisonous attitude has done, an attitude which is tailor-made for the sociological babbling of earnest truisms in schools and colleges and institutes and academies, is force art into a pedantic hell of feeble and abstracted ‘topic & thing-ism’ (sometimes flattered with the misnomers ‘Expressionism’ and ‘Impressionism’).

The art work no longer stands on its own in a purposeful and beautiful manner.

The artistic term Impressionism has nothing to do with “we are impressed!” Or “to make a memorable impression.” It means “fleeting impression.” Or, in other words, we painters have given up. All we are good for is the trivial and the fleeting. That teenager in the 1400s? Durer? We can’t do as well as he can.

Art history must share a great deal of the blame, too; and nowhere else but in art history do we see words whored out to ‘explain’ why the ugly and the unexceptional and the unskilled is worthy.

Even good explanations should not be trusted, for as soon as words begin to convince us of the worth of painting, we should close our ears for our own protection. Painting should never need words. Isn’t that the whole point, after all?

So when we read that Van Gogh’s distorted interiors are distortions of a mind illuminating the inherent complexity of reality, a reality which challenges the artist to see beyond dualities of ‘chaos and order’ and ‘ugliness and beauty’ and make art that is both of that reality and inside it, such that this ‘inside’ is the artist’s whole being, imaginatively and empathetically co-creating the viewer’s ‘outside’ experience, making the viewer an artist, too, we should laugh and scorn these words, for no painting needs it— and as much as it does, the painting fails.

It is heretical to challenge the primacy of Van Gogh, obviously, whose underdog status and value—more monetarily secure than a dollar bill—makes him absolutely untouchable; but perhaps more than with any other artist, here we learned what Expressionism really means: the artist is crazy— and therefore judge the art through the lens of psychology and not art— and here the ugly entered the tent where once only beauty was allowed. ‘Crazy’ eclipsed beauty, and every danger imaginable has followed from that.

We hate what is actually and nastily crazy but we hypocritically adore it in painting.

A great artist with effort and sensitivity can portray crazy. Van Gogh didn’t portray crazy. He was crazy. And there’s the chasmatic difference.

The art historian’s words elevated the ‘bad painting’ of Van Gogh to a status which has nothing to do with Van Gogh, per se, and everything to do with the door it opened.

Words, not painting, opened the Crazy door, and only great painting can close that door again.

Painters, stop trusting words—now.

Art schools: stop teaching art history. Art history, especially modern art history, is poison. Eliminate it and forget it. Teach the craft of painting, the skills of drawing; teach the techniques of art—and leave “artist statements” to the wind which blows the dead leaves around your academy.

The poor painters today now have to compete not only with Nature (who always paints better and has always been the painter’s greatest rival) and other painters, but also the blah blah blah of the art historian and art critic. The rise of abstract painting, if the secret reason for that fashion might now be told, was not to escape “representative painting,” but to escape words: for the “perfection” of the purely abstract is that it is free of blah blah blah. The viewer just has to look. But Abstract Painting was a dead-end and a false escape, for those who love painting will never shut up about it. Words will always feed like ravens upon the corpse.

Painters will just have to suck it up and transcend fleeting impressions and crazy expressions and make art that is actually good: see Albrecht Durer’s teenage work.

Paint crazy.

Being crazy will no longer cut it.

Nor will: “Before you can appreciate my painting, I must inform you blah blah blah…”

POET

Poet! Ungrateful child!
Lover of beauty for its own sake!

Did you expect the moon, your mother,
To give and give, and never take?
To always be a light for you?
In this day, where there is no poetry,
You long for a night that will never return,
When night held you, before the sun rose
And son was the pun too bright to learn.
Listen to me: there is no beauty
For its own sake. Do your duty.
Look inside yourself. You are a dark, indifferent tune.
You need to be a mother.  You need to make another moon.

 

THE CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHERS DESIRE THE SWEET 16!

Plato of The Republic matches up in Round Two with Philip Sidney, poet and author of “A Defense of Poetry,” who died fighting for Queen Elizabeth against Catholic Spain.

Plato was the greatest pro-poetry philosopher, despite those who think the opposite is true.

Sidney, in his Defense, praises Plato, and well, of course. The poet never affirms, and therefore he does not lie, says the clever Sidney, and this is true of The Republic, too, an invented place. In the ideality of its invention, a poem is going to kick the poets out, for only one poet belongs to the true poem. The poet is not in the Republic. The poet authors it. And only then do we begin to understand.

As poets, we each carry around our own Republic, in which no other poet is admitted.  And this is how Plato shows the way to the true—Republic.  There are many heavens inside of heaven.

Plato defeats Sidney in Round Two. PLATO IS IN THE SWEET 16!

***

Aristotle must get past Dante to advance in the tournament: another philosopher battles his student—Dante lived in the dark ages before Plato was widely translated, when Aristotle was “the Philosopher” among scholars and poets.

Dante’s mission, like that of Thomas Aquinas, was to reconcile Aristotle’s scholarship with Christianity, and, clever Dante puts Aristotle’s moral divisions (from Aristotle’s Ethics) in hell, and Christianity reigns in heaven. Reconciliation, indeed!  It is similar to how poets like Sidney reconciled “defenses” of poetry with Plato: the Poem, the Republic, Heaven, the Ideal, is true, self-justifying, and knowledge-seeking.

Dante upsets the mighty Aristotle and advances to the Sweet 16.

***

Is it some accident of fate that places Aquinas against…Pope?  The latter is a poet of such remarkable dexterity and reasoning on all things human, poetic and divine, that what chance does a mere 13th century theologian, dividing up reality to serve Aristotle—the body—the soul—and virtue, in the name of eternal salvation, have?

Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldst thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind!
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!
Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?
Or ask of yonder argent fields above,
Why JOVE’S Satellites are less than JOVE?
Of Systems possible, if ’tis confest
That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
Where all must full or not coherent be,
And all that rises, rise in due degree;
Then, in the scale of reas’ning life, ’tis plain
There must be, somewhere, such rank as Man;
And all the question (wrangle e’er so long)
Is only this, if God has plac’d him wrong?
Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
Nay, must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, tho’ labour’d on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God’s, one single can its end produce;
Yet serves to second too some other use.
So Man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains;
When the dull Ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God:
Then shall Man’s pride and dullness comprehend
His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end;
Why doing, suff’ring, check’d, impell’d; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity.
Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault;
Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought;
His knowledge measur’d to his state and place,
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest today is as completely so,
As who began a thousand years ago.

Alexander Pope

It is absolutely true that God is not a body; and this can be shown in three ways. First, because no body is in motion unless it be put in motion, as is evident from induction. Now it has been already proved (Q. 2, A. 3), that God is the First Mover, and is Himself unmoved. Therefore it is clear that God is not a body. Secondly, because the first being must of necessity be in act, and in no way in potentiality. For although in any single thing that passes from potentiality to actuality, the potentiality is prior in time to the actuality; nevertheless, absolutely speaking, actuality is prior to potentiality; for whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality. Now it has been already proved that God is the First Being. It is therefore impossible that in God there should be any potentiality. But every body is in potentiality because the continuous, as such, is divisible to infinity; it is therefore impossible that God should be a body. Thirdly, because God is the most noble of beings. Now it is impossible for a body to be the most noble of beings; for a body must be either animate or inanimate; and an animate body is manifestly nobler than any inanimate body. But an animate body is not animate precisely as body; otherwise all bodies would be animate. Therefore its animation depends upon some other thing, as our body depends for its animation on the soul. Hence that by which a body becomes animated must be nobler than the body. Therefore it is impossible that God should be a body.

Thomas Aquinas

This is what invisible reason looks like: in verse, colored by a hectoring poet; in theology, manifested by a theologian logical to a fault.

Pope and Aquinas both belong to that long line of thinkers (dead white males) who justify the ways of God to Man and believe the world made by God is “the best of all possible worlds.”

This sort of thinking cannot be justified by the modern mind or the modern temper, which fixes on known imperfections and slides along with its morality based on that.  The perfection does not translate into what the moderns understand, and Pope: “Of course it’s not going to look like perfection to you, you worm!” doesn’t make the modern feel much better.

The issue is really one of: what is the universe? And how much of the universe can we trace downward to particulars and upward to abstraction at the same time?  Those who contemplate this are philosophers and worthy of the name.  Poets, and all who involve themselves in Letters, ought to pursue this question, as well.

Pope’s poetry propels him to victory.   Alexander Pope is in the Sweet 16!

***

In the last Classical Bracket contest, Addison duels Maimonides.

We shall look, very much at random, at a sample of writing, and therein determine the winner on the basis of this. Addison wrote an exemplary play and both men wrote so much; we can only look at moments.

 

I mentioned several characters which want explanation to the generality of readers: among others, I spoke of a Pretty Fellow; but I have received a kind admonition in a letter, to take care that I do not omit to show also what is meant by a Very Pretty Fellow, which is to be allowed as a character by itself, and a person exalted above the other by a peculiar sprightliness, as one who, by a distinguishing vigour, outstrips his companions, and has thereby deserved and obtained a particular appellation, or nickname of familiarity. Some have this distinction from the fair sex, who are so generous as to take into their protection those who are laughed at by the men, and place them for that reason in degrees of favour. The chief of this sort is Colonel Brunett, who is a man of fashion, because he will be so; and practices a very jaunty way of behaviour, because he is too careless to know when he offends, and too sanguine to be mortified if he did know it. Thus the colonel has met with a town ready to receive him, and cannot possibly see why he should not make use of their favour, and set himself in the first degree of conversation. Therefore he is very successfully loud among the wits, familiar among the ladies, and dissolute among the rakes. Thus he is admitted in one place, because he is so in another; and every man treats Brunett well, not out of his particular esteem for him, but in respect to the opinion of others. It is to me a solid pleasure to see the world thus mistaken on the good-natured side; for it is ten to one but the colonel mounts into a general officer, marries a fine lady, and is master of a good estate, before they come to explain upon him. What gives most delight to me in this observation, is, that all this arises from pure nature, and the colonel can account for his success no more than those by whom he succeeds. For these causes and considerations, I pronounce him a true woman’s man, and in the first degree, “a very pretty fellow.” The next to a man of this universal genius, is one who is peculiarly formed for the service of the ladies, and his merit chiefly is to be of no consequence. I am indeed a little in doubt, whether he ought not rather to be called a “very happy,” than a “very pretty” fellow? For he is admitted at all hours: all he says or does, which would offend in another, are passed over in him; and all actions and speeches which please, doubly please if they come from him: no one wonders or takes notice when he is wrong; but all admire him when he is in the right. By the way it is fit to remark, that there are people of better sense than these, who endeavour at this character; but they are out of nature; and though, with some industry, they get the characters of fools, they cannot arrive to be “very,” seldom to be merely “pretty fellows.” But where nature has formed a person for this station amongst men, he is gifted with a peculiar genius for success, and his very errors and absurdities contribute to it; this felicity attending him to his life’s end. For it being in a manner necessary that he should be of no consequence, he is as well in old age as youth; and I know a man, whose son has been some years a pretty fellow, who is himself at this hour a “very” pretty fellow.

Joseph Addison

 

Some years ago a learned man asked me a question of great importance; the problem and the solution which we gave in our reply deserve the closest attention. Before, however, entering upon this problem and its solution I must premise that every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, and that Onkelos the proselyte explained it in the true and correct manner by taking Elohim in the sentence, “and ye shall be like Elohim” (Gen. iii. 5) in the last-mentioned meaning, and rendering the sentence “and ye shall be like princes.”

Having pointed out the homonymity of the term “Elohim” we return to the question under consideration. “It would at first sight,” said the objector, “appear from Scripture that man was originally intended to be perfectly equal to the rest of the animal creation, which is not endowed with intellect, reason, or power of distinguishing between good and evil: but that Adam’s disobedience to the command of God procured him that great perfectionwhich is the peculiarity of man, viz., the power of distinguishing between good and evil-the noblest of all the faculties of our nature, the essential characteristic of the human race. It thus appears strange that the punishment for rebelliousness should be the means of elevating man to a pinnacle of perfection to which he had not attained previously. This is equivalent to saying that a certain man was rebellious and extremely wicked, wherefore his nature was changed for the better, and he was made to shine as a star in the heavens.” Such was the purport and subject of the question, though not in the exact words of the inquirer.

Now mark our reply, which was as follows:–“You appear to have studied the matter superficially, and nevertheless you imagine that you can understand a book which has been the guide of past and present generations, when you for a moment withdraw from your lusts and appetites, and glance over its contents as if you were reading a historical work or some poetical composition. Collect your thoughts and examine the matter carefully, for it is not to be understood as you at first sight think, but as you will find after due deliberation; namely, the intellect which was granted to man as the highest endowment, was bestowed on him before his disobedience. With reference to this gift the Bible states that “man was created in the form and likeness of God.” On account of this gift of intellect man was addressed by God, and received His commandments, as it is said: “And the Lord God commanded Adam” (Gen. ii. 16)–for no commandments are given to the brute creation or to those who are devoid of understanding. Through the intellect man distinguishes between the true and the false. This faculty Adam possessed perfectly and completely. The right and the wrong are terms employed in the science of apparent truths (morals), not in that of necessary truths, as, e.g., it is not correct to say, in reference to the proposition “the heavens are spherical,” it is “good” or to declare the assertion that “the earth is flat” to be “bad”: but we say of the one it is true, of the other it is false. Similarly our language expresses the idea of true and false by the terms emet and sheker, of the morally right and the morally wrong, by tob and ra’. Thus it is the function of the intellect to discriminate between the true and the false–a distinction which is applicable to all objects of intellectual perception. When Adam was yet in a state of innocence, and was guided solely by reflection and reason–on account of which it is said: “Thou hast made him (man) little lower than the angels” (Ps. viii. 6)–he was not at all able to follow or to understand the principles of apparent truths; the most manifest impropriety, viz., to appear in a state of nudity, was nothing unbecoming according to his idea: he could not comprehend why it should be so. After man’s disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said, “And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes” (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the apparent truths, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper. Then he fully understood the magnitude of the loss he had sustained, what he had forfeited, and in what situation he was thereby placed. Hence we read, “And ye shall be likeelohim, knowing good and evil,” and not “knowing” or “discerning the true and the false”: while in necessary truths we can only apply the words “true and false,” not “good and evil.” Further observe the passage, “And the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. iii. 7): it is not said, “And the eyes of both were opened, and they saw”; for what the man had seen previously and what he saw after this circumstance was precisely the same: there had been no blindness which was now removed, but he received a new faculty whereby he found things wrong which previously he had not regarded as wrong. Besides, you must know that the Hebrew word pakaḥ used in this passage is exclusively employed in the figurative sense of receiving new sources of knowledge, not in that of regaining the sense of sight. Comp., “God opened her eyes” (Gen. xxi. 19). “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened” (Isaiah xxxviii. 8). “Open ears, he heareth not” (ibid. Xlii. 20), similar in sense to the verse, “Which have eyes to see, and see not” (Ezek. xii. 2). When, however, Scripture says of Adam, “He changed his face (panav) and thou sentest him forth” Job xiv. 20), it must be understood in the following way: On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away. For panim, the Hebrew equivalent of face, is derived from the verb panah, “he turned,” and signifies also “aim,” because man generally turns his face towards the thing he desires. In accordance with this interpretation, our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food, such as he never tasted before, and this even only after exertion and labour, as it is said, “Thorns and thistles shall grow up for thee” (Gen. iii. 18), “By the sweat of thy brow,” etc., and in explanation of this the text continues, “And the Lord God drove him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground whence he was taken.” He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals: comp., “Thou shalt eat the grass of the field” (Gen. iii. 18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, “Adam unable to dwell in dignity, was brought to the level of the dumb beast. May the Almighty be praised, whose design and wisdom cannot be fathomed.”

-Moses Maimonides

Maimonides reasons like a champion when he discourses on the punishment of Adam, pointing out that truth and falsehood are not the same as (moral) good and bad—the “apparent” truths.  But we are thoroughly charmed by Addison’s “Very Pretty Fellow,” a wonderful observation of human nature—who reminds us of the Adam of Maimonides.  It is true: humans are obsessed with good and bad—with morality, to the degree they do not discern pure truth from falsehood, and this is our “curse.” It is not that morality is not important, but it is a step down from the reasoning power of the intellect.  The contestants compliment one another, even as they fight to eliminate the other, and in this case, the more modern moment of example-citing triumphs, though we hate to say goodbye to the Jewish scholar.

Joseph Addison wins, and advances to the Sweet 16!

IN THE MORNING–SONG

Cargo pants,
I’ll take you to the dance,
And we’ll have fun
In the morning, in the morning

Take my hand
In the military band
And we’ll have fun
In the morning, in the morning

I am free.
No one needs me,
And watch me pee
In the morning, in the morning

A golden ring,
And the markets sing;
I am lingering
In the morning, in the morning

RAPE JOKE BY PATRICIA LOCKWOOD: A RESPONSE

RAPE JOKE II

The rape joke is that I could never have seen it coming.

The rape joke is that I was 7 years old.

The rape joke is that there wasn’t a wine cooler in sight.  I was a boy alone with a strange man in an elevator which made a soft whoosh as it passed each floor.

The rape joke is it was New York City and I normally walked home from school alone.

But maybe this isn’t a rape joke because it was years ago and life was safer then.

The rape joke is the only thing I could think was: “Oh please don’t bite it off.”

The rape joke is there were no women, only a boy and a man who preferred dick to pussy, apparently.

“Dick to pussy” almost sounds like a dirty joke.

Doesn’t it?

How much does it matter if you don’t get the rape joke? Even if you were “there?”

Wait, it gets funnier.

Don’t worry, Miss Geography!  It gets funnier!

Why is celebrating being a victim good?

OK, the rape joke understands that.

But why is celebrating not being a victim bad?

Let them enjoy rape jokes.

Let them admit as they laugh it’s great not to be raped.

Give them that much, will you?

Can you?

The rape joke is my mother opened the apartment door after he ran down the stairs and I was never happier to see her, before or since. Four years before, she had lost a child.  She asked me questions and then it was forgotten. Was it pre-internet stoicism? Today a word makes the news. The rape joke is my innocence (soul) remained untouched.

The rape joke is in the elevator he began to fondle me and not knowing it was wrong I continued to speak as politely as I could to the grownup whose wishes were superior to mine.

The rape joke is I didn’t know it was wrong and I felt nothing afterwards.

Is this wrong?

The rape joke is how matter-of-fact it all was.

The rape joke is that sexual attraction is always the beginning of love.

The rape joke is that sexual attraction is not the beginning of friendship.

The rape joke is the Rape Joke is linguistic only.

I know the story.

The Rape Joke author went to a comedy club and thought:

Jokes about rape?  Really?

The deeper story is that Edgar Poe in his “Philosophy of Composition” said length is crucial for popularity and “Rape Joke” is the same length as “The Raven.” Lockwood doesn’t have a college degree. Poe didn’t have a college degree. (Wait there’s more. More more more) The “Rape Joke” went viral after appearing on Facebook.  “The Raven” went viral after appearing in a daily newspaper.

The rape joke is the raven enters and tells a joke that is not funny over and over again. How can painting compete with nature?  Poetry is not found in nature, but painting reproduces nature, so how can painting possibly compete with the world? How can painting compete with nature?  Because of interiority.  Because we need pictures inside.

Remember the bouncer part of the Rape Joke?

Are jokes poems?  Are jokes deep?

The Rape Joke is funny/no it isn’t.

Have your cake and eat it.

Funny—but not funny.

Slimy and clean.

Have empathy for the victim but the victim’s poem is smoking hot.

Let’s see how the rapist feels—not!  

“Smoking hot” is actually quite complex.

Patricia Lockwood knows this: the worst thing is when your enemy has better jokes.

Does she know: the Joke insults the Poem, the Poem insults the Joke?

Does she know how it feels when someone says please stop joking. Please. I love you.

I know she knows that nothing disturbs us more than a joke we don’t get.

And she knows this: whether a joke hurts or heals, they laugh.

This rape joke is bullshit!

The rape joke is I don’t want to blame or pass judgment.

The rape joke is I would have pleasurable flying dreams, flying down the stair landings of the thirteen story building, the stairs where my rapist ran down, after trying to give me a blow job.

The rape joke is it feels stupid to say “my rapist” since I was only 7 years old.

The rape joke is that language doesn’t seem like the right choice for an event such as this.

The rape joke is I am guilty of exploiting my rape.

The rape joke is that when I look in my heart I am only writing this to get attention.

The rape joke is that even as I say sorry I get a thrill because I will seem sensitive as I confess my selfishness to the rape joke.

Where will it end?

The rape joke is that years later I was trapped alone in an elevator and it was far more terrifying.  I think.

The rape joke is loneliness seems unlimited and sympathy has limits.

The rape joke is you’ll never look away.

Admit it.

THE 2014 MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND WINNERS!

CLASSICAL

Painter, Carpenter, God (3 beds) PLATO def. HUME

Tragedy is a complete action ARISTOTLE def. SAMUEL JOHNSON

In every work regard the writer’s end POPE def. HORACE

Novelty bestows charms on a monster ADDISON def. AUGUSTINE

The flaming sword which turned every way MAIMONIDES def. VICO

All our knowledge originates from sense  AQUINAS def. BEHN

The four senses of writing DANTE def. DRYDEN

Poet never affirms and so never lies  SIDNEY def. BOCCACCIO

 

ROMANTIC

Religion & Commodities = Fetishism MARX def. KANT

Taste can be measured EDMUND BURKE def. GAUTIER

A long poem does not exist POE def. LESSING

Pure and simple soul in a chaste body EMERSON def. SCHILLER

Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind SHELLEY def. WOLLSTONECRAFT

Four ages of poetry PEACOCK def. DE STAEL

Nothing pleases permanently not containing the reason COLERIDGE def. SCHLEIERMACHER

Language really used by men WORDSWORTH def. HEGEL

 

MODERN

Genius is childhood recovered BAUDELAIRE def. ADORNO

Art is not unique but caught in time BENJAMIN def. ARNOLD

Hard, gem-like flame PATER def. HEIDEGGER

Criticism, Inc RANSOM def. MALLARME

No poet has his complete meaning alone ELIOT def. NIETZSCHE

Not the moment makes the man, man creates the age WILDE def. WOOLF

The first stirrings of sexuality FREUD def. TROTSKY

In language there are only differences SAUSSURE def. JUNG

 

POST-MODERN

Leaves & Huck Finn show U.S. to be like Russia EDMUND WILSON def. JUDITH BUTLER

Beauty will no longer be forbidden CIXOUS def. KENNETH BURKE

What they can know is what they have made SAID def. LACAN

We are directors of our being, not producers SARTRE def. DERRIDA

A poem is a poet’s melancholy at his lack of priority HAROLD BLOOM def. CLEANTH BROOKS

The secret essence of femininity does not exist DE BEAUVOIR def. RICH

All speech is performance AUSTIN def. FANON

Criticism of literature is all that can be directly taught FRYE def. BARTHES

 

It was a genuine pleasure these past three months (March to June) to explore 64 of the world’s greatest philosophical literary critics; look back over the past 3 months at 32 Scarriet articles (called “March Madness”) which re-evaluates these iconic points of view—and feel the excitement!

The rest of the play will quickly follow, as we move into the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and the greatest Aesthetic Philosopher of them all.

If we might be allowed to summarize the four Brackets:

The Classical determines WHAT POETRY IS.

The Romantic determines WHAT POETRY IS TO PEOPLE.

The Modern determines WHAT PEOPLE ARE  TO PEOPLE IN TERMS OF  POETRY

The Post-Modern determines WHAT POETRY IS TO LANGUAGE

 

Congratulations to all the winners!

MISANTHROPE’S DELIGHT: A TOP TWENTY FIVE

25. Suddenly realizing someone is incredibly stupid.

24. Rolling your eyes when they are not looking.

23. Rolling your eyes when they are.

22. Finding out someone’s taste in film and music is really lame.

21. Reading their poems and being completely unmoved.

20. Realizing you have no interest in what they are saying.

19. Discovering the truth that people who laugh all the time are really unhappy.

18. Knowing every ‘life of the party’ person is secretly depressed and alone.

17. Knowing everyone is secretly depressed and alone.

16. Knowing life will never get better.

15. Knowing the young will one day be old.

14. Finding out the richer they are, the more worried and secretly miserable they are.

13. Discovering that having children makes people less happy.

12. Finding out everyone secretly hates everything.

11. At the home team stadium when the home team loses.

10. When the smiling bitch lets a nasty word slip out.

9. When the ‘one-in-control’ is exposed as a coward.

8. When the ‘wise’ one completely fucks up.

7. When feelings of love suddenly vanish.

6. Summer that brings skin cancer.

5. Spring that brings allergies.

6. Fall that brings student debt.

5. Winter that brings winter.

4. People having a ‘good time’ not really having a good time at all but trying hard to pretend they are, and failing at it.

3. The proud misanthrope trying to be more misanthropic than you, and ending up as the most miserable of all.

2. An environmentalist eaten by a bear.

1. Stars Without Makeup.

 

NORTHROP FRYE VERSUS ROLAND BARTHES IN FINAL FIRST ROUND ACTION!

Barthes: the tenacious theoreticalism of the French is always good for a little hilarity

FRYE:

Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature, and a student of it says that he is learning physics, not that he is learning nature.

Art, like nature, is the subject of a systematic study, and has to be distinguished from the study itself, which is criticism. It is therefore impossible to “learn literature:” one learns about it in a certain way, but what one learns, transitively, is the criticism of literature.

Similarly, the difficulty often felt in “teaching literature” arises from the fact that it cannot be done: the criticism of literature is all that can be directly taught.

So while no one expects literature itself to behave like a science, there is surely no reason why criticism, as a systematic and organized study, should not be, at least partly, a science.

Certainly criticism as we find it in learned journals has every characteristic of a science. Evidence is examined scientifically; previous authorities are used scientifically; fields are investigated scientifically; texts are edited scientifically. Prosody is scientific in structure; so is phonetics; so is philology.

And yet in studying this kind of critical science the student becomes aware of a centrifugal movement carrying him away from literature. He finds that literature is the central division of the “humanities,” flanked on one side by history and on the other by philosophy.

Criticism so far ranks only as a subdivision of literature; and hence, for the systematic mental organization of the subject, the student has to turn to the conceptual framework of the historian for events, and to that of the philosopher for ideas.

The literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange is pseudo-criticism. That wealthy investor, Mr. Eliot, after dumping Milton on the market, is now buying him again; Donne has probably reached his peak and will begin to taper off; Tennyson may be in for a slight flutter but the Shelley stocks are still bearish.

This sort of thing cannot be part of a systematic study. The texture of any great work is complex and ambiguous, and in unravelling the complexities we may take in as much history and philosophy as we please, if the subject of our study remains at the center.

The only weakness in this approach is that it is conceived primarily as the antithesis of centrifugal or “background” criticism. Antitheses are usually resolved, not by picking one side and refuting the other, but by trying to get past the antithetical way of stating the problem.

I suggest that what is at present missing from literary criticism is a co-ordinating principle, a central hypothesis which, like the theory of evolution in biology, will see the phenomenon it deals with as parts of a whole.

We speak of the rhythm of music and the pattern of painting; but later, to show off our sophistication, we may begin to speak of the rhythm of painting and the pattern of music.

Rhythm, or recurrent movement, is deeply founded on the natural cycle, and everything in nature that we think of as having some analogy with works of art, like the flower or the bird’s song, grows out of a profound synchronization between an organism and the rhythms of its environment, especially that of the solar year. With animals some expressions of synchronization, like the mating dances of birds, could almost be called rituals. But in human life a ritual seems to be something of a voluntary effort (hence the magical element in it) to recapture  a lost rapport with the natural cycle.

Patterns of imagery, on the other hand, or fragments of significance, are oracular in origin, and derive from the epiphanic moment, the flash of instantaneous comprehension with no direct reference to time, the importance of which is indicated by Cassirer in Myth and Language.

The myth is the central informing power that gives archetypal significance to the ritual and archetypal narrative to the oracle.

BARTHES:

In France, Mallarme was doubtless the first to see and to foresee in its full extent the necessity to substitute language itself for the person who until then had been supposed to be its owner. For him, for us, too, it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is, through a prerequisite impersonality (not at all the to be confused with the castrating objectivity of the realist novelist), to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’ Mallarme’s entire poetics consists in suppressing the author in the interests of writing (which is, as will be seen, to restore the place of the reader). Valery, encumbered by a psychology of the Ego, considerably diluted Mallarme’s theory but, his taste for classicism leading him to turn to the lessons of rhetoric, he never stopped calling into question and deriding the Author; he stressed the linguistic and, as it were, ‘hazardous’ nature of his activity, and throughout his prose-works he militated in favor of the essentially verbal condition of literature, in the face of which all recourse to the writer’s interiority seemed to him pure superstition.

Proust himself, despite the apparently psychological character of what are called his analyses, was visibly concerned with the task of inexorably blurring, by an extreme subtilization, the relation between the writer and his characters; by making of the narrator not he who has seen and felt nor even he who is writing, but he who is going to write (the young man in the novel—but, in fact, how old is he and who is he?—wants to write but cannot; the novel ends when writing at last becomes possible), Proust gave modern writing its epic.

I can delight in reading and re-reading Proust, Flaubert, Balzac, even—why not?—Alexandre Dumas. But this pleasure, no matter how keen and even when free from all prejudice, remains in part (unless by some exceptional critical effort) a pleasure of consumption; for if I can read these authors, I also know that I cannot re-write them (that it is impossible today to write ‘like that’) and this knowledge, depressing enough, suffices to cut me off from the production of these works, in the very moment their remoteness establishes my modernity (is not to be modern to know clearly what cannot be started over again?).

Is Frye correct when he says literature cannot be taught, only the criticism of literature can be taught?  We think he is right. What does this mean for Creative Writing?  Is this why Creative Writing has replaced the English major? Critical theory bores people, but criticism of your work and your peers’ work will always fascinate?

Barthes, the “Death of the Author” critic, belongs to the text-mad tradition, and was this the real goal, after all? when he says,  “Mallarme’s entire poetics consists in suppressing the author in the interests of writing (which is, as will be seen, to restore the place of the reader).” The reader?

What shall we do with the reader?

In Creative Writing, the reader and the writer become one, and the question is finally, does this hurt them both?

In Theory, the reader becomes a mole, burrowing into the text, as if to hide from the world.

The readers of popular works don’t count at all, of course.

Barthes is actually rather enjoyable to read, and we like his definition of Modern: to know that we cannot start over.

Frye attempts to bring readers back into the sunshine of a unified reality, but that’s perhaps the problem; in his unified myth, he simply bites off more than he can chew.  But we admire the attempt.

WINNER: FRYE

THIS FINISHES THE FIRST ROUND ACTION!

WE HAVE REDUCED THE FIELD OF GREAT LITERARY PHILOSOPHERS FROM SIXTY-FOUR TO THIRTY TWO!

NEXT: THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

SAUSSURE TAKES ON JUNG IN LAST MODERN BRACKET ROUND ONE CONTEST

Carl Jung: antidote to Freud?

SAUSSURE:

Every means of expression used in society is based, in principle, on collective behavior or—what amounts to the same thing—on convention. Polite formulas, for instance, though often imbued with a certain natural expressiveness ( as in the case of a Chinese who greets  his emperor by bowing down to the ground nine times), are nonetheless fixed by rule; it is the rule and not the intrinsic value of the gestures that obliges one to use them. Signs that are wholly arbitrary realize better than the others the ideal of the semiological process; that is why language, the most complex and universal of all systems of expression, is also the most characteristic; in this sense linguistics can become the master-pattern for all branches of semiology although language is only one particular semiological system.

Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula. There are no pre-existing ideas, and nothing is distinct before the appearance of language.

The characteristic role of language with respect to thought is not to create a material phonic means for expressing ideas but to serve as a link between thought and sound, under conditions that of necessity bring about the reciprocal delimitations of units. Thought, chaotic by nature, has to become ordered in the process of its decomposition. Neither are thoughts given material form nor are sounds transformed into mental entities; the somewhat mysterious fact is rather that “thought-sound” implies division, and that language works out its units while taking shape between two shapeless masses.

I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified and signifier; the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts.

To determine what a five-franc piece is worth one must therefore know: 1) that it can be exchanged for a fixed quantity of a different thing, e.g. bread; and  2) that it can be compared with a similar value of the same system, e.g. A one-franc piece.

In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only concepts and phonetic differences that have issued from the system.

JUNG:

Only that aspect of art which consists in the process of artistic creation can be a subject for psychological study, but not that which constitutes its essential nature. The question of what art is in itself can never be answered by the psychologist, but must be approached from the side of aesthetics.

If the essence of religion and art could be explained, then both of them would become mere subdivisions of psychology. This is not to say that such violations of their nature have not been attempted. But those who are guilty of them obviously forget that a similar fate might easily befall psychology, since its intrinsic value and specific quality would be destroyed if it were regarded as a mere activity of the brain, and were relegated along with the endocrine functions to a subdivision of physiology.

Art by its very nature is not science.

The fact that artistic, scientific, and religious propensities still slumber peacefully together in the small child, or that with primitives the beginnings of art, science, and religion coalesce in the undifferentiated chaos of the magical mentality, or that no trace of “mind” can be found in the natural instincts of animals—all this does nothing to prove the existence of a unifying principle which alone would justify a reduction of the one to the other. For if we go so far back into the history of the mind that the distinction between its various fields of activity become altogether invisible, we do not reach an underlying principle of their unity, but merely an earlier, undifferentiated state in which no separate activities yet exist. But the elementary state is not an explanatory principle that would allow us to draw conclusions as to the nature of later, more highly developed states, even though they must necessarily derive from it.

These theoretical reflections seem to me very much in place today, when we so often find that works of art, and particularly poetry, are interpreted precisely in this manner , by reducing them to more elementary states. Though the material he works with and its individual treatment can easily be traced back to the poet’s personal relations with his parents, this does not enable us to understand his poetry.

The school of medical psychology inaugurated by Freud has undoubtedly encouraged the literary historian to bring certain peculiarities of a work of art into relation with the intimate, personal life of the poet. But this is nothing new in principle, for it has long been known that the scientific treatment of art will reveal the personal threads that the artist, intentionally or unintentionally, has woven into his work. The Freudian approach may, however, make possible a more exhaustive demonstration of the influences that reach back into earliest childhood and may play their part in artistic creation. To this extent the psychoanalysis of art differs in no essential from the subtle psychological nuances of a penetrating literary analysis. The difference is at most a question of degree, though we may occasionally be surprised by indiscreet references to things which a rather more delicate touch might have passed over if only for reasons of tact. This lack of delicacy seems to be a professional peculiarity of the medical psychologist, and the temptation to draw daring conclusions easily leads to flagrant abuses. A slight whiff of scandal often lends spice to a biography, but a little more becomes a nasty inquisitiveness—bad taste masquerading as science.

This kind of analysis brings the work of art into the sphere of general human psychology, where many other things besides art have their origin. To explain art in these terms is just as great a platitude as the statement that “every artist is a narcissist.”

The reductive method of Freud is a purely medical one, and the treatment is directed at a pathological or otherwise unsuitable formation which has taken the place of normal functioning. It must therefore be broken down, and the way cleared for healthy adaptation. In this case, reduction to the common human foundation is altogether appropriate. But when applied to a work of art it leads to the results I have described.

Ferdinand Saussure, born in Geneva, Switzerland, 1857, brings the most rigor to the science of language, and this passage shows this most acutely.  What he laid down gave rise to a great deal of nonsense, for his views of thought and language seem radical and inescapable.  Is there no thought before language?  Is language only negation?  Reading Saussure, not Nietzsche, may be the true gaze into the abyss.

Jung, also born in Switzerland, 1875, in this passage, seems careful and rigorous, not at all the crazed, “New Age” figure of legend. His warning that Freud goes too far seems a necessary brake on analysis—but why should there ever be a brake on analysis?

WINNER: SAUSSURE

SPORTS AND POETRY: HOW CAN WE MAKE POETRY POPULAR AGAIN?

Can a public for poetry be revived by competition? What is competition, and why do so many feel that it violates the spirit of aesthetics, literature and art? Prizes for literature and art are numerous, and the top awards certainly help drive sales and popularity to a certain extent.

Let’s look at sports for a minute. Competition in professional sports exists solely as contest-–the selection process itself is what sport, by definition, is.

Book prizes, by contrast, downplay the selection effort itself—faceless judges quietly choose behind the scenes: the book is what matters, the contest, itself, a kind of embarrassing obligation.

Sport, which foregrounds competition itself, is immensely popular. What if the millions of sports viewers were not able to know who was winning or losing the games they were watching? What would happen to sports if games had no winners?

Sport, as a public event, would surely suffer a complete collapse in popularity. Who can deny this simple fact?

There is nothing intrinsically more interesting about a sports contest than a poem. But the popularity of sports hides this fact. For let us see how much interest a football game generates when no one keeps score.

Why shouldn’t poetry use what sports uses to be popular?

The intrinsic product (people running, words on a page) is an isolated entity in both sports and poetry; why should sports add a quality apart from its intrinsic nature which enhances interest, and poetry, not?

The event of a basketball going through a hoop is separate from counting baskets in order to keep score. What is a ball going through a hoop, or a man catching a football, without mathematics, without keeping score?

Now, fiction prizes do sell books. Poetry books win prizes—which helps sales, but poetry book sales are pitifully low.  One of the problems for poetry is that poetry’s true unit is the poem—a book of poetry loses its identity when placed beside the novel.  The true unit of fiction is the book.  The true unit of poetry is the poem.  This fact hurts poetry in the current publishing climate. Who buys a poem these days? What is there to buy?

No significant prize or contest of any kind exists for a poem, unless it happens to be a book-length poem, and long poems are not popular today. The poem, in terms of competition, even in the lesser terms of book-prize-competition, is invisible.

Let’s turn our attention to the origins of art and poetry.

According to Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy,” the two types of human expression, formal Apollo (history, rhetoric) and intoxicated Dionysus (dance, song), were in opposition until their union in Tragedy created the first real poetic art form in the West, the iconic Greek drama, and Greek drama first became popular in Athens during public festivals of drama competitions.

Even the early Dionysian performances of song, which led to the Drama, were competitions.

And think of the Top 40 of popular music in our era. What is this but competition?

Homer, roughly similar to Greek Drama in terms of chronology, was used to teach rhetoric: Homer, for the Greeks, was the equivalent of college.

Religion, or worship of the gods (Dionysus, etc) was in the mix—ancient poetry served many roles which it has since relinquished to popular recorded music, the cinema, philosophy, rhetoric, history, and religion; poetry will never be the center of society like that, again.

Yet the subject here: Competition and popularity is still relevant.

How, after all, does anything become known?

Through self-conscious selection—which is another word for the mechanism, in society, of competition.

Bird song, as Northrop Frye points out, is archetypal to the study of literature, and this ‘poetry’ of the birds establishes turf and furthers breeding in a competitive manner.

The whole notion we are arguing for, then, has roots in the utilitarian, the literary, the historical, and natural science.

Here are two recent commentators talking about popularity, poetry and sports:

Here’s an idea: Poetry should have the same kind of social acceptability and vernacular expertise as sports. After all, most American men, and many women, too, are not just sports fans but sports intellectuals, with personal experience playing the games, statistics and facts at the ready, deep historical knowledge—all without ever having taken a course in the subject. People adore sports not as therapy or middlebrow self-betterment but for sports’ own formalist sake: I hate to admit it, but l’art pour l’art is a jock construct.

–Chase Madar, Aljazeera America, “Poetry is Dead. Long Live Poetry”

 No, I am with Dana Gioia in that we should get back to poets being super important parts of American life but I do think we need someone who is willing to be the person who travels around showing poetry in America is very much alive.

And I am certainly not suggesting that poetry should be accessible for the sake of sales, etc. Poetry should be chaotic thought, but I do feel there should be a way into that chaotic thought. I do not think that the poetry community does anything for language/writing or any community by being more available to be popular to the general population, which is unlikely to happen, regardless. However, that does not mean that poetry should not have a way in and I believe [Richard] Blanco is a perfectly interesting way into the world of poetry.

Blanco feels he has a task in attempting to get poetry back out of the classroom and into the hands of ordinary citizens. I mentioned to him that Jackie Robinson took it upon himself, after his years in baseball, to become an ambassador of sorts for Civil Rights in his country. He felt he was in a unique position to help the movement by speaking his opinion.

—Amish Trivedi, The Trivedi Chronicles, “Some Thoughts On Richard Blanco”

We might have to ask ourselves at this point, how would we create a Poem Competition?

Why not a giant spectacle?  Words on a giant screen?  A giant venue?  All sorts of added attractions, common to any big arena event?

Make it happen, people.

THE FIRST SUN

The first sun will not look like the last:
Nothing seems new—except as we look back at the past.
Bright the sky, bright trying to look through the blue
Radiance—the radiance of a sun burning, and all dark things, too.

The dream you have when you wake up
Will look different in the evening,
And by tomorrow it will
Not be friendly at all.

The one you want most
You can’t have,
Not because you fail, or they fail you,
But because wanting is not having.
Amazement was left on the pavement
As the skyscrapers grew.

The worst, that will spoil all your fun:
You will love several;
You will not love one.

NOT EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL

Not everyone is beautiful
Because beauty has less to share
Than confusion, pity, deformity,
Fear, and the heaviness of what is simply sitting there.

Not everyone is beautiful
And this is beauty’s fame:
Beauty is what we desperately seek
If only in a name.

For beauty has lips and eyes,
And everyone has those,
And I once knew a lover
Who loved his beloved’s nose.

Why is beauty rare?
If everyone has eyes?
If everyone has ears
To listen to the wise?

MY LIPS HAVE BEEN WHERE HER LIPS WERE

My lips have been where her lips were
Because I sipped her tea,
But if my lips would touch her lips,
Lips with lips intentionally,
Oh! I would die like radar blips
Descending the dark cold sea.

Her lips have been where my lips were
Because she sipped my tea,
But if her lips would touch my lips
And she would drink of me,
I would die like shipwrecked ships
Drowned in the dark cold sea.

My lips are cold, like the cold sea;
There isn’t any poetry
More than sipping of hot tea,
The heat against the cold,
Youth’s fight against the old,
Some image of beauty we barely see
In the gruesome dark, as we
Trace in the shady portals, our love,
Chance light shifting in the paths of the hollows.

BOCCACCIO BATTLES SIDNEY

Philip Sidney: loved Christ, poetry and Plato

BOCCACCIO:

They say that poetry is absolutely of no account , and the making of poetry a useless and absurd craft; that poets are tale-mongers, or, in lower terms, liars; that they live in the country among the woods and mountains because they lack manners and polish. They say, besides, that their poems are false, obscure, lewd, and replete with absurd and silly tales of pagan gods, and that they make Jove, who was in point of fact, an obscene and adulterous man, now the father of the gods, now king of heaven, now fire, or air, or man, or bull, or eagle, or similar irrelevant things. They cry out that poets are seducers of the mind, prompters of crime, and, to make their foul charge fouler, if possible, they say they are philosophers’ apes, that it is a heinous crime to read or possess the books of poets; and then, without making any distinction, they prop themselves up with Plato’s authority to the effect that poets ought to be turned out-of-doors.

Poetry proceeds from the bosom of God, and few, I find, are the souls in whom this gift is born; so wonderful a gift it is that true poets have always been the rarest of men. This fervor of poetry is sublime in its effects: it impels the soul to a longing for utterance; it brings forth strange and unheard-of creations of the mind; it arranges these meditations in a fixed order, adores the whole composition with unusual interweaving of words and thoughts; and thus it veils truth in a fair and fitting garment of fiction. Further, if in any case the invention so requires, it can arm kings, marshal them for war, launch whole fleets from their docks, nay, counterfeit sky, land, sea, adorn young maidens with flowery gardens, portray human character in its various phases, awake the idle, stimulate the dull, restrain the rash, subdue the criminal, and distinguish excellent men with their proper meed of praise: these, and many other such, are the effects of poetry. Yet if any man who who has received the gift of poetic fervor shall imperfectly fulfill its function here described, he is not, in my opinion, a laudable poet. For, however deeply the poetic impulse stirs the mind to which it is granted, it very rarely accomplishes anything commendable if the instruments by which its concepts are to be wrought out are wanting—I mean, for example, the precepts of grammar and rhetoric.

 

SIDNEY:

 

Now for the poet, he doesn’t affirm, and therefore never lies.

The poet never makes any circles about your imagination to conjure you to believe for true what he writes. He cites not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calls the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in truth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be.

Shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious? Poetry may not only be abused, but that being abused, by the reason of its sweet charming force it can do more hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so far from concluding that the abuse should give reproach to the abused.

Now Plato his name is laid upon me, whom I must confess, of all the philosophers I have ever esteemed most worthy of reverence, and with great reason, since of all philosophers he is the most poetical. Yet if he will defile the fountain out of which his flowing streams have proceeded, let us boldly examine with what reasons he did it. First, truly a man might maliciously object that Plato, being a philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets: for indeed, after the philosopher had picked out of the sweet mysteries of poetry the right discerning true points of knowledge, they forthwith putting it in method, and making a school-art of that which the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn at their guides like ungrateful apprentices, were not content to set up shops for themselves but sought by all means to discredit their masters; which, by the force of delight being barred them, the less they could overthrow them, the more they hated them.

Plato hated the abuse, not the poetry. Plato found fault that the poets of his time filled the world with wrong opinions of the gods, making light tales of that unspotted essence, and therefore would not have the youth depraved with such opinions. The poets did not induce such opinions, but did imitate those opinions already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testify that the very religion of that time stood upon many and many-fashioned gods, not taught so by the poets, but followed according to their nature of imitation. One may read in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the cause why oracles ceased, of the divine providence, and see whether the theology of that nation stood not upon such dreams, which the poets indeed superstitiously observed, and truly (since they had not the light of Christ) did much better in it than the philosophers, who shaking off superstition, brought in atheism. Plato therefore (whose authority I had much rather justly construe than unjustly resist) meant not in general of poets to misuse, but only meant to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity (whereof now, without further law, Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful belief), perchance (as he thought) nourished by the then esteemed poets. And a man need go no further than to Plato himself to know his meaning: who, in his dialogue called Ion, gives high and rightly divine commendation to poetry. So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it, but giving due honor unto it, shall be our patron and not our adversary.

 

We love how Sidney understands that “Plato hated the abuse, not the poetry.”  Sidney is more subtle than Boccaccio, handling the same theme: poets are bad/good. If only poetry had a monopoly on “lewd;” it would be more popular: Boccaccio is right of course, as is Sidney, poetry can be naughty or nice; it isn’t poetry that is ever the problem—the question is, who is using it and what are they using it for? Today we don’t ask this question: we merely whine that no one reads it—without defining what it is.

 

WINNER: SIDNEY

TEN BEST REASONS TO RHYME

Would rhyme have saved them?

10. THE CHALLENGE FACTOR –Because it is very difficult to do well. Can YOUR ass do it?

9.  THE CAUSE AND EFFECT FACTOR–One cannot rhyme well without comprehending and skillfully organizing other aspects of speech, of which rhyme is the crowning emphasis: rhythm, syntax, stress, assonance, alliteration, movement, meaning.

8.  THE AGREEMENT FACTOR –We like things to agree.  We enjoy symmetry; it is why a crystal or a flower pleases us. Rhyme has this primitive quality.

7.  THE HARMONY FACTOR  –Since rhyme brings together different words in a purely musical way, it has the ability to harmonize.

6. THE MNEMONIC FACTOR –Rhyme is even utilitarian

5. THE LOVE FACTOR –The poem that rhymes beautifully and delicately is old-fashioned, but love today is old-fashioned. Poetry is traditionally associated with love—and rhyme is traditionally associated with poetry.  Leave no doubt in the beloved’s mind that poetry, the real article is your intent. Romeo and Juliet rhymes. Howl does not. Which one puts you in the mood for love?

4. THE PHYSICAL BEAUTY FACTOR –Rhymed speech has the potential to be more tangibly beautiful than speech which does not rhyme.  Speech, as speech, possesses neither color, melody, touch, nor scent.  Rhyme pleases, and does so physically; rhyme helps talk become a body.

3. THE DIVINE COMEDY FACTOR –Dante’s famous poem is the greatest poem ever written; this Italian work contains so many Italian rhymes that it cannot be translated into English.

2. THE OUT-OF-FASHION FACTOR –The critically acclaimed eschew rhyme–but what if fashion changes?  (Which slowly, it seems to be doing.) Knowing rhyme’s intrinsic worth, this is your chance.

1.  THE PRETENSE FACTOR –Imagine Dr. Seuss without rhyme.  How much of the appeal would be lost?  All.  How much gained?  Nothing.  It is not always better to rhyme. Yet the pretentious convince themselves that absence of rhyme, in itself, automatically confers superiority. But as we see from our Dr. Seuss example, the “sophisticated” rationale is baseless.  HERE, THEN IS THE NUMBER ONE REASON: faulting rhyme in principle is nothing but pretense.

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