The white guys of High Modernism

“Literary activism” has taken center stage recently among the chattering classes, those academics and journalists whose job it is to tell the working class how to live.

Is music a supplement to speech, or is it anti-speech?

Well, it depends on whether you hum or sing.

Mere humming is music which is anti-speech.

Singing music, however, (and that would include wordless Mozart) is clearly a supplement to speech.

Poetry, in the 20th century, went from anthologized, lyrical quietism by the fireside, to avant formalism in the classroom.

Poetry went from singing to humming.

It went from the musical wit of Byron to: red wheel barrow in the wastes of white space.

Lyrical quietism, so named today, was universal, personal, political, as well as…lyrical.

Avant formalism was apolitical, abstract, elitist, and just happened to be…white and male.

To put it simply: the crazyites (as Edgar Poe named them) won, even as Pound was put in a cage.

The recent surge of “literary activism” marked by ethnicity, with all its accompanying buzzwords (“struggle” and “voices” and “change”) is nothing more than a passionate reaction (or correction) to the white elitist character of the Modernism (the Men’s Club of Pound, Eliot, Williams) which destroyed the Universal Poetry of the People (dubbed ‘lyrical quietism’ by the avants).

The new “subversive” academics, the highly ethical and ethnic voices of “literary activism,” currently making headlines in the textbooks and Blog Harriet (The Poetry Foundation blog of Poetry magazine—famous because of the right wing Pound and Eliot) are semi-literate and reactionary, like their masters, the white “subversives” of 20th century Modernism, who shook off the highly literate and song-worthy revolutionary spirit of accessible 19th century poetry heroes such as Keats, Byron, and Poe.

Literary Activism does not sing, it hums.  It doesn’t speak, it produces a tune to which everyone must dance, an easily understood music—yawn in the face of the Odes of Keats because their author is white and male.

Keatsian Aesthetics is the enemy of the Ideological State—because the State is in a continual mode of “correction,” the on-going communist/fascist revolution which never ends; the war against whatever is old—running continually.

The reactionary nature of an Emerson or a Pound is hidden as long as these men are identified (and they are) with change.

Emerson’s imperialist, neo-liberal, racist “English Traits” is ignored in favor of his “The Poet,” which (subversively) attacks the aesthetics of Poe—the essence of whom, beauty, is not hidden: the subversion of Emerson leads straight to Pound and his white, male avant inheritors.

The soul-crushing politics of literary activism produces poorly written odes against “capitalism.”

God forbid we buy and sell. The ideological State does not approve of exchange. It does not approve of singing, of words, of speech, which create mutual influences: this is why dialogue is such a powerful tool and why the first clue to a bankrupt human being (crippled by ideology) is how difficult it is to have a conversation of discovery with them; they immediately quarrel and disagree the moment they are confronted with having to think as they talk. They can only talk about what they already think—they will not tolerate true dialogue, and the anger displayed always surprises the innocent lover of wisdom.

Exchange has one drawback. It is morally blind. Slavery is an instance of this, and the State which made the moral choice to end slavery is a good, not an evil.

But slavery has its origins in economic inequality—the slave trade persisted as long as it was profitable; the slave trade did not operate because it was a moral or an amoral practice; in the same way, thievery will always exist if there is economic inequality—morals mean nothing to the starving man.  If there is no honest exchange, it is due to one reason and one reason only: too much dishonest exchange: but the fault is not with exchange (capitalism) but with morals, and here we see by the very term, “honest exchange” that the two elements are really the same. The whole Marxist separation is false, and the intrusion of morals, per se, a mere Victorian illusion. The intrusion of morals becomes, in fact, capitalist competition by other means.

The good State wants good exchange. Exchange (song, thought, trade, capitalism) is a good, as long as it fosters further exchange. Slavery is an evil precisely because it prevents (by reducing a person to a commodity) further exchange. By faulting exchange itself, however, we actually perpetuate an evil, even as this anti-exchange folly is morally sugar-coated by the Marxist.

The State mind doesn’t like the music of singing; it prefers humming that pre-made tune.

The ethnic character of literacy activism innocently demolishes the ‘whole’ human being—who is forced into the prison of perceiving itself chiefly as black or gay or female. Instead of offering highly literate females, it offers illiterate females praising females—which is hurtful to females and does not advance their cause at all. Yet this reactionary practice is considered progressive.

In this instance it is easy to see why.

It is precisely because “literary activism” today is an unspoken correction against the embarrassingly white, male, elitist (and fascist/communist) character of avant Modernism: which destroyed the glory of lyrical quietism—the glory of Enlightenment Byron and Romantic Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The new literary activism is amending ‘old fogey John Crowe Ransom white male Modernism’—but is unfortunately at the same time an unwitting extension of the avant trampling of true poetry.

Caveat Emptor!


  1. August 30, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    I am a white male writing an epic poem in a series of straight-line narratives about the lives and ideas of philosophers and scientists because I want to present seekers for truth as the great heroes of history.

    I am not sure if I am subversive of the modernist anti-narrator anti-character poetics, or if the state will co-opt my epic for their purposes of propping up their principles, or if the social justice warriors and literary activists will come after me with the raging mob for being a white male writing about dead white males?

    I just want to tell stories about fascinating people searching for the truth about nature in elegant musical language.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 31, 2015 at 1:55 am

      You need a hook, Simon. We need to know why your work is subversive or controversial. “Lives of the Philosophers” is a perfectly legitimate topic, but readers need to know—in a few words—why they should read it. What’s the theme? Is there sex? Violence? Left or Right politics? Food? Morality? Is it like Plato’s dialogues? Dante’s Commedia? What’s the Argument?
      Is it Wikipedia rhymed? Or intricate tales? How much is fact and how much is your embellishment? Narrow the appeal for us.

      • August 31, 2015 at 10:11 am

        Short answer for now: Yes, all of that. The Hermead is currently 121,000 lines of blank verse, more than Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante, Milton, Homer, and Virgil put together. So it would take several books to answer yes to all your questions.

        I will say there is no Wikipedia article about it.

        • Surazeus said,

          August 31, 2015 at 8:12 pm

          A few lines of verse from my tale of Eratosthenes:

          Sun glows red as fire on high mountain peak
          and casts red sheen on temple, trees, and faces
          of people who gather to feast on grapes,
          sweet melons, olives, walnuts, and goat cheese.

      • August 31, 2015 at 8:37 pm

        The theme is the life of each philosopher, the events through which they lived, and what might have inspired them to express the brilliant concepts for which each is known. Every tale ends in the death of the philosopher.

        The Hermead is somewhat like the Canterbury Tales in being a series of stories about people, and it is more like the Mahabharata, the Shahnameh, and the Bible in being about the founders of a civilization. The Hermead presents the growth and development of philosophy and the Academy at the heart of western civilization.

        This is the opening invocation:

        Scientists researching nature and man,
        sing, Muse Kalliope, about arcane progress
        of inventive magicians, wizards, druids,
        philosophers, alchemists, and physicists,
        bright curious people who study our world
        and organize knowledge in holy books
        to record wisdom gleaned by supple minds
        as they experiment on sacred quest
        to discover truth and invent better ways
        we perform tasks to rule civilization
        that programs actions of each crafting hand.

        I researched the life of each philosopher and outlined the basic events that are known about them, then I fleshed out the details with imaginative writing, much like historical fiction. Events of their lives are interspersed with speeches on philosophical concepts.

        • thomasbrady said,

          August 31, 2015 at 9:26 pm

          Have you done Plato/Socrates yet?

          • September 1, 2015 at 1:04 am

            Yes, I published the tale of Platon, with Sokrates as a major character in volume 4 this month, along with Demokritos and Aristoteles.

        • September 1, 2015 at 1:09 am

          I mine gems and nuggets of information from books and articles, then melt them down and recast them into the jeweled tale in the polished shining gold of blank verse.

          But I am limited to a very small local college library in this small southern Georgia town. How I wish I lived in Cambridge and had access to the great libraries of Boston where I might mine the vast riches of books on philosophy, anthropology, and history, to craft richer tales of philosophers.

          • anthony rock said,

            October 26, 2015 at 3:38 pm

            I love blank verse, Mr. Seamount, especially Milton’s Paradise Lost. Your invocation sounds impressive. Where can I read what you have published so far (I also enjoy philosophy)?

            As far as access to libraries, archive.org is a good portal to public domain downloadable books–libraries from different cities and Universities.

            • thomasbrady said,

              October 26, 2015 at 7:02 pm

              Thank you, Anthony!

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    August 30, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    When I was a little girl at my first piano lesson the first piece we all learned to play was “March in Middle C” which you can guess is just the one note: middle C played alternately with the left, then the right thumb for a few bars. I think this is what poetry is humming now in making it all about activism and change and even then, it is humming slightly off-key, “flat” not even capable of holding the one note consistently.

    • Thomas West Graves, Sr. said,

      August 31, 2017 at 4:43 am

      I admire Simon’s energy and will-power and goodness knows what other powers are needed to do what he is doing. And I agree with his view that these scientists and philosophers are the heroes of history, in that they have presented arguments, and evidence, against the narrowly selfish emotions that determine so much of human activity. But I have been reading a lot of stuff from the Eastern religions – basically Buddhism and Yoga – and the focus there is not on what we know about the real world from using our five senses, but what we know internally when that information is absorbed. These writings do stress knowing the world as it truly is (which scientists strive to achieve), which is why they advise getting rid of the ego, which only tells us about the world as we would like it to be. But they say to me that the important thing is knowing that the Buddha nature is within each of us, and that when we see the world as it truly is, then we will know what to do – we will know how to live. The intelligence that created the universe is alive and active within each of us.

  3. August 31, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Well, if you like Siddhartha, you’ll love Lao tzu. Please read the Tao Te Ching. It is interesting that Lao figured out what Newton, Darwin and Einstein did about 2000 years before they showed up.

    He also figured out what the Buddha did about 100 years before he showed up.

    • August 31, 2017 at 7:36 am

      There are numerous stories about Jesus having been in India (the “missing years”) that suggest that he may have been influenced by the teachings of the Buddah. Likewise, it has been suggested that Siddhartha was inspired by the teachings of Lao tzu.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    September 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    God made us narrow and selfish, with egos. That’s “what the world is.” That’s what humans are. Why pretend we have the universe within us and all that crap? We don’t. Only an egoist, like the Buddha, would say that.

    • noochinator said,

      September 1, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Jung said that classical Indian thought conceived of thinking as the god within you speaking directly to you. Alas, we with our Western “silence of God” concept think that anyone who hears God’s voice is a schizophrenic, a certifiable loony, rather than one who is in tune with the Holy Ghost within. Sad!

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 2, 2017 at 12:11 am

        But how do we know it’s God or it’s lunacy? Easy. If God is talking to you, write it down for everyone to see. East or West, it doesn’t matter. Mozart was not a loon. He was hearing God. Or he was just hearing Mozart. Who finally cares? Looking within for God is really beside the point.

        • noochinator said,

          September 2, 2017 at 12:33 pm

          D.H. Lawrence wrote it all down—
          Some said crazy—some said profound.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    September 1, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Oligarchs want devotion based on ignorance. Devotion based on love should be the goal. I just read a NY Times article on Harvey— and Republicans and Democrats funding disaster relief. The Times was talking as if Republicans and Democrats owned the money. No. It’s the tax payer’s money. Simple facts are usually better than “wisdom.” Elites love to appear “wise.” Don’t trust the priesthood. Don’t trust elites and their wise buddha.

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