NEW SCARRIET ESSAY: EVERYTHING IS HARD TO SEE

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“…that we as one might separate the curtain.” –Ben Mazer, December Poems

Calling someone something never makes it true.

Truth itself is deaf to the facts of what we say.

What you put in your poetry is not your poetry.

It is best not to be certain of anything.

You might feel you are certain of race, but the massive mixing of the races is its most singular feature, so your eyes could not be racist even if they wanted to be. The more stupid a person is, the more abstractly and intellectually certain they are about things. To triumph in politically motivated libel and slander is the insidious achievement of a certain kind of neocon, anglophilic, intellectualism which dominates not only thinking in highbrow circles, but a great amount of the power brokerage of the world itself.

The pitch of rhetoric (as obvious as that moment when a clanging train roars past you) changed around 1900—this change is typically labeled “Modernism”—but the change really occurred when imperial Britain and imperial America joined hands in the Gilded Age of Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish American War.

The heroic America which burst upon the world in the 18th century was defined more than anything as a Quarrel With Empire Britain. When the American/British quarrel ended—its last gasp the Confederacy (secretly and tacitly) supported by Britain/France and opposed by Russia—America effectively became an English speaking extension of London.

America that had been the glory of the world disappeared; the new Anglo-American world leader—even as unprecedented technological innovation continued unabated in the booming, democratic, American colony—made sure food became “fast,” made sure the arts declined, the Middle East was crushed, and saw to it that insane war, secretive strong-arming, and shrill, controlling, divisive rhetoric became the norm.

Today, due to the hard work of Modernism since the mid-19th century, almost all highbrow, power brokering, rhetoric is aimed at this intellectual certainty: you are a hater, you are destroying the planet, what you put in your poetry is your poetry, and you must go broke educating yourself to know this.

This is the messed-up but beautiful world of the 21st century.

Philosophy once sought doubt, and ran from intellectual certainty.

Genius—da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Poe, Mozart—once received a certain amount of devotion.

Now this devotion is frowned upon, because in some abstract sort of way, insinuated by the intellectual management of the new world order, this devotion participates in “hating.”

Children are geniuses in the way they learn, because they do not learn one way. Crippling pedagogy harms them but little; unfortunately, when the student is older, and socialized fitting into society becomes pedagogically imperative, pedagogy does cripple and harm.

The genius resists mainstream intellectualization. The genius knows that what you put in your poetry is not the poetry. The genius doubts all the “hating” rhetoric. The genius—the genius in everyone—naturally feels alone.

When you experience confusion: is that a man or a woman? Casually, walking along the street, for a moment, innocently, we may not know. Or, is that my friend? Or someone else? Our eyes may play tricks on us. We are overjoyed when we know, for doubt is the opposite of happiness.

Imagine the horror of losing memory and peering with confusion at everything. Would beauty and love still be apparent if memory were gone, if pleasurable things were not attached to friends, or the familiar? Is this the thrill of the opium dream, when beautiful sensations exist purely on their own?

Is beautiful oblivion a bad thing?

It is a bad thing, for one reason only—the dreamer realizes that he or she is alone.

Loneliness is the aching burden of the genius, who tends to get from others only two things: malicious envy or vacuous praise.

Criticism is the flip side of, and just important as, poetry.

Nature, of course, is the Genius. All we think of as ‘human ingenuity’ is nothing more than observing and then pragmatically using nature’s gifts.

We see the reflection in the lake. Reflecting upon that reflection, the mirror is born, the camera is born, the cinema is born, and every technology pertaining to receiving, storing and using pictures.

Nerd-ball mathematics belongs to every insight, whether conscious, unconscious, draped in intellectuality, or not.

The refinement of science into the social sciences—business, advertising, arts, pedagogy, entertainment and administrative success–this refinement is the chief feature of Modernism (Anglo/Americanism) and probably has more to do with lying than truth. It is simply how Empire controls things: rule the seas, then lines of journalism, story and communication—in which divisive and libelous rhetoric is effected to divide and conquer, stir up, or pacify, depending on the situation.

The genius seeks to get out from under the cloud of social sciences and see reality as it really is.

The genius revels not in measurement chopped-up, but measurement.

The genius seeks the whole, not the partial.

Mathematics is how nature is largely understood, and old genius and new genius copy her mathematically—whether in architecture or sending a man to the moon.

Empire is what we read about in the paper. It is not life, which triumphs every day; poetry reflects the vibrations of this triumph.

They talk about “mindfulness” these days, but of course there is nothing new here; it is more of what the genius who copies nature has always known: be attentive; observe how nature does things.

Mathematics can be used frivolously as well: pie charts of marketing surveys, the observation that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly proficient at something. This is social refinement, the sort of semi-interesting thing people like Malcolm Gladwell traffic in, but this is a far cry from genius itself.

Geeky math is always a good place to start: why are ugly people smart? Because they desire the proportion denied to their looks and pursue it with a vengeance in their brains. Even beauty can be willed.

Mathematics is on the side of the good poets; good poetry has interesting (mathematical) rhythm—it supports what they say, so what they say sounds better, and this excites the brain in a way that inspires original thinking: how something is said impacts what is said—the counter-intuitive reality of this increases the efficiency of what-thinking, as how-thinking is concretely and intuitively felt.

Mathematics is the complete mind of nature: the genius is always listening to it.

When a woman sits at her dressing table before her mirror, she is not striving to be beautiful, but young. Youth is what the clock of nature gave her. Nature gave to her what her parents gave to her—once she passes the parenting age, nature’s beauty is gone—and there is no human substitute possible. Men decay quickly, too. This is never as tragic, since men are horrors no matter how they look. Most of the time men deserve to crumble.

Everything is manifest in mathematical nature. Nature is a clock.

As I write this, my home town of Salem is hosting, for the eighth year in a row, the Massachusetts Poetry festival, and throughout downtown every imaginable workshop on poetry is offered—it’s the Age of the Workshop—with the naivé but successful marketing belief that whatever hodgepodge thing you put into poetry becomes poetry.

But what you put into poetry is not poetry.

How you say what you are is poetry.

Poetry is hard to see.

The poetic genius travels into the valley of the clock alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Jj said,

    May 1, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Have you read The Neural Lyre? It’s been ages, but something about this essay puts me in mind of it: http://munnecke.com/papers/Turner-Neural-Lyre.pdf As I recall, I argued with it for a good while, then it became exceedingly interesting. Valley of the clock, to be sure.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 2, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Jj, Thank you, I had not seen it, but it amazes me how much it chimes in with my researches and thinking. Wow.

      Scarriet published a piece called “The Insane Introvert,” on March 5, which debunks Left Brain/Right Brain in a similar manner:

      “Left brain/Right brain “science” neglects the complexity of the brain and is about as accurate as phrenology. This “expertise” claims that left brain people are good at “math” and right brain people are good at “poetry.” Everyone knows that a good poet is good at math.” —The Insane Introvert, Scarriet March 5, 2016

      There is some truth to Left Brain/Right Brain, but the crucial point is that the two halves are both utilized by the poet/artist. I love when “The Neural Lyre” calls metered poetry “stereo” and free verse “mono.” That is absolutely brilliant.

      Just last week I had a discussion with Kent Johnson about his new blog, “Dispatches,” in which I said he and his colleagues at “Dispatches” were too enamored of Charles Olson and crank-Modernism. I have always thought poetry measured by breath was a silly idea—the time expressed by verse is far more rigorous and crucial: breath theory is just another Modernsist -ism excuse to be reductive and mystical. And the “Neural Lyre” explicitly agrees.

      “The Neural Lyre” is a godsend. Logically and philosophically astute. I’m overjoyed. Thanks so much for responding and linking it.

      Tom

  2. J said,

    May 2, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    So pleased you liked it! I am just now rereading it. Wonderful to get such strong validation from an unexpected quarter, isn’t it? I have been a staunch defender of traditional prosody precisely because I know I am a ‘technician of the sacred.’ And right/left brain is only useful when you know how to dance between hemispheres.


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