2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

Candace G. Wiley–My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Tim Seibles–That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Terrance Hayes–Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

MORE VERSES VERSUS VERSES: MAZER AND RANSOM

MAZER:

Sunlight rests like a package at the door.
Nothing sees. The rich interior is useless to persons and chronology.
Once when the spring came to our caravan I’d say the mountain streams ran in her hair.
Let these things rest without memory.

RANSOM:

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,   
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,   
Who cried in goose, Alas,
For the tireless heart within the little   
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

Now we get to see who is in the Final Four.

But how is this possible?

Look back on a few recent posts.

Michelangelo versus Teasdale: how can we declare a winner?  The very secret of Michelangelo’s soul in a newly translated sonnet. A heart-breaking lyric by the under appreciated Teasdale. How can there be a “winner?”

Oh God! Milton’s passionate paean to Virtue. Or Byron’s passionate paean to…passion. Oh God! Trembling are the knees of the judges!

Poe against Coleridge! Verses that drown the senses and tickle the smallest whiskers of the soul! How can a mortal decision be made?

Mazer, the contemporary representative! Contemporary poetry, generally, is flat, compared to great, old poetry. Ben Mazer, by a miracle, still in this tournament, among the greatest verse-makers of all time!  Against the Tennessean, Ransom, New Critic and T.S. Eliot of the American South, poet of old women and dead children.

The Final Four will appear in a cloud of tears

POE AND COLERIDGE PURSUE FINAL FOUR DREAM!

Poe:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace –reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This –all this –was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh –but smile no more.

 

Coleridge:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
  
 The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
  
A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

MILTON AND BYRON BATTLE FOR PLACE IN FINAL FOUR!

Byron: some nerd who wrote a few poems

Milton brings it (from Comus):

Mortals that would follow me,
Love virtue, she alone is free;
She can teach you how to climb
Higher than the sphery climb;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.

Byron:

Remember you! Remember you!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream,
Remorse and shame shall cling to you,
And haunt you. Like a fever dream.

Remember you! Oh doubt it not.
Your husband, too, shall think of thee,
By neither shall you be forgot,
You false to him. You fiend to me.

 

TO THE FINAL FOUR: MICHELANGELO (PREMIERE TRANSLATION) VERSUS TEASDALE!

Michelangelo:

Sonnet

Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto

For Vittoria Colonna

This block of marble will not, for long, hide
My idea that seeks to destroy the inside
That keeps my idea hidden, away from the light
So you can see it and say I’ve done it right.
But I’m an ass to feel any bit of pride
For my strenuous art that carves the shape,
Or the mere idea that is my guide.
You, the model for all dress and video tape,
Stand above every block and every block broken,
Reminding me that two things matter
Hidden by pieces, paint and spatter,
World-parts seen, heard or spoken:
These two your truth: mercy and death.
Death is all I carve, in love with you, and out of breath.

Teasdale:

I am alone, in spite of love,
In spite of all I take and give—
In spite of all your tenderness,
Sometimes I am not glad to live.

I am alone, as though I stood
On the highest peak of the tired gray world,
About me only swirling snow,
Above me, endless space unfurled;

With earth hidden and heaven hidden,
And only my own spirit’s pride
To keep me from the peace of those
Who are not lonely, having died.

MICHELANGELO, TEASDALE, MAZER AND RANSOM IN THE ELITE EIGHT!!

Here are the Winners of the Sweet Sixteen Contests:

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

Wow.  The upsets continue.

Michelangelo continues his amazing run, eliminating the best lyric poet of the 20th century, Tom Eliot (and his lovely, haunting ‘sea-girls wreathed with seaweed’ passage) with a remarkable, concise meditation on stony sleep!

The placid and beautiful verse of Teasdale runs roughshod over Wordsworth!

Coleridge versus Tennyson was a clash of titans, but the author of “Kubla Khan” prevailed!

Poe had his hands full with Keats, but that rhythm!  Poe’s got rhythm!

Milton easily dispatched Ashbery.

Byron knocked off Shelley, and deserves to be here!

Mazer may be the best poet of his generation; Mazer beat Chin in a Scarriet rematch between these two American poets.

Ransom, an underestimated lyric master (“Astonishes” astonishes rhythmically) advances over an icon, Alexander Pope!

The March Madness 2015 Poetry Tourney is now down to 8 poets!

Michelangelo versus Teasdale is next. One of these Cinderella teams will have to go! So sad.

THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

For T.S Eliot, the incense stained Moderinst, the road to the Elite Eight goes through Rome and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo has laid aside hammer and brush and pulled two upsets in a row in an elite English-speaking poetry tournament, the only one of its kind in the world. Rumors are the Pope will attend this contest.

Sarah Teasdale must conquer the iconic Wordsworth; so far she has aimed at the simple heart and won. How many more hearts can she break? Will Wordsworth counter with sentiment of his own? Or be cold and dignified?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred Tennyson. Enough said!

Poe battles Keats!  Half these battles for the Elite Eight feature a Brit versus an American, and this is one of them.  Poe admired Keats, but he was happy to knock down perceived English superiority which existed then.

Milton, who was not known for his sense of humor, plays Ashbery, who, one could argue, is never serious.

The two friends, Byron and Shelley, tangle by a crystal lake at midnight.

Mazer and Chin have met in a previous Scarriet March Madness, with Mazer winning a big one. Chin out for revenge. She is one of two women left in the tournament.

And, in an interesting twist, Ransom, the “The T.S. Eliot of the American South,” whose collected poetry Mazer just published, continues his underdog run against Alexander Pope.

Eliot v. Michelangelo

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown. —Eliot

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

Wordsworth v. Teasdale

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose, The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare, waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair. —Wordsworth

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

Coleridge v. Tennyson

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark. —Tennyson

Poe v. Keats

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.  —Keats

Milton v. Ashbery

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

Some departure from the norm Will occur as time grows more open about it. The consensus gradually changed; nobody Lies about it any more.  —Ashbery

Byron v. Shelley

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? —Shelley

Chin v. Mazer

My cousin calls him Allah my sister calls him Jesus my brother calls him Krishna my mother calls him Gautama I call him on his cell phone But he does not answer. —Chin

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

Pope v. Ransom

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, Thus unlamented, let me die, Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.  —Pope

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

SWEET SIXTEEN IN BRACKETS THREE AND FOUR

The Scarriet March Madness Poetry competition brings out the good times in everyone.

Spoiler: Results precede list of contests below.

When we judge poems we know them better than when we merely read them.

When we judge, we come face to face with the sea of meaning and are forced to entertain the following truth: meaning exists or it does not; since meaning is vast and misty to the ordinary understanding, and there is a tendency to equate poetry with mist, we assume in error that it is not this simple: but it is this simple; the poet who attempts to slyly evade meaning (like the painter who colorfully adorns and is merely abstract in an attempt to be mysterious) fails.

We either understand the poem (or a part of the poem) or we do not.

This of course does not mean that when we understand the poem, it succeeds. We may understand and reject. But to the wise judge it is easy to see when the poet is deliberately trying not to be understood in order not to be rejected. These efforts are the worst failures of all, even though they are sometimes considered successes—so do so many fear rejection.

When musical poetry supports a banality, at least we have the music—this was the 19th century view, or so it seems to us moderns, who, instead, scorn the music which sells itself to banality, and would rather put faith in unadorned speech which says something, and, even if it doesn’t really ‘say something,’ we like it anyway if it does so without condescending to musicality, which is considered the highest insult, so long was the musical error indulged in previously.

We start with music and fit in ‘saying something’ or we start with ‘saying something’ and hope it rises to music; the former is considered the 19th century way and the latter the new way, or, the currently accepted way. Then of course there is the third way, accepted today in some circles, that this ‘fit’ and ‘rise’ itself is false. And further, this third way can be even more radical and call ‘saying something’ false as a rule—in poetry, or, perhaps, altogether. And as we travel the circle towards ultimate skepticism we may end up back at pure music and the stern post-post modern conceptualist is suddenly transformed into the lisping Romantic heartsick tuneful dandy.

These considerations go into:

Pope toys with Williams, Mazer rips Rilke, Chin punishes Gluck, Ransom downs Dante, Sassoon and Ashbery in OT, Shelley nips Parker, Byron hammers Harper, and Milton murders Bernstein. The dictum, ‘it means something or it does not’ requires a focus, a narrowing, a simplicity, perhaps more than anything else. In poetry as in life, to be unduly mysterious is the sign of the pompously creepy.

BRACKET THREE

Milton: Virtue could see to do what Virtue would By her own radiant light, though sun and moon Were in the flat sea sunk. But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself is his own dungeon.

v.

Bernstein: What do you mean by rashes of ash? Is industry systematic work, assiduous activity, or ownership of factories? Is ripple agitate lightly? Are we tossed in tune when we write poems? And what or who emboss with gloss insignias of air?

***

Byron: She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

v.

Harper: We reconstruct lives in the intensive care unit, pieced together in a buffet dinner: two widows with cancerous breasts in their balled hands; a 30-year-old man in a three-month coma from a Buick and a brick wall; a woman who bleeds off and on from her gullet; a prominent socialite, our own nurse, shrieking for twins, “her bump gone”; the gallery of veterans, succored, awake, without valves, some lungs gone.

***

Shelley: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or near it, Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

v.

Parker: My love runs by like a day in June, And he makes no friends of sorrows. He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon In the pathway of the morrows. He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start, Nor could storm or wind uproot him. My own dear love, he is all my heart,—And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

***

Ashbery: The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

v.

Sassoon: I lived my days apart, Dreaming fair songs for God; By the glory in my heart Covered and crowned and shod.

BRACKET FOUR

Dante: There is a gentle thought that often springs to life in me, because it speaks of you. Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true, the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.

v.

Ransom: For I could tell you a story which is true; I know a woman with a terrible tongue, Blear eyes fallen from blue, All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long Since she was lovelier than any of you.

***

Chin: A flower and yet not a flower A dream and yet not a dream At midnight he comes to my bed At daylight he returns to the dead

v.

Gluck: Night covers the pond with its wing. Under the ringed moon I can make out your face swimming among minnows and the small echoing stars. In the night air the surface of the pond is metal.

***

Rilke: His gaze, from passing on the bars around him, has grown so weary, no more can it bear. It seems as if a thousand bars surround him. Beyond those thousand bars, there is nowhere.

v.

Mazer: I talked the universe out of my head, and you were my mirror. I was understood! The poetry we wrote was more than good, it was unreal and real. Now what we feel descends to that world which exists beyond the grave. Where no one sleeps, and language is our slave.

***

Williams: munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand They taste good to her They taste good to her They taste good to her

v.

Pope: But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d, Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d, So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d. Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools, And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools. In search of Wit these lose their common Sense, And then turn Criticks in their own Defense.

TEASDALE AND MICHELANGELO IN SWEET 16!

Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, does not belong to the English-speaking poetry canon.

Michelangelo’s success in this year’s Scarriet March Madness perhaps proves nothing—after all, this tournament features excerpted lines, not entire poems.

The experiment has nonetheless proved interesting. First, Michelangelo is an interesting discovery. His poetry is good. Even in the English translations available.

And secondly, with the assertion that “a long poem does not exist,” Edgar Poe, in the mid-19th century, ushered in a new criterion. It is really very simple, and Scarriet has followed Poe’s insight to its logical conclusion: poetry is poetry in as much as it pleases immediately, and in its smallest parts: prose can be unremarkable as it builds; poetry we define as that which is remarkable right away: it is poetry as much as it makes an impression right away—in one line, or a few.

Therefore, let’s be frank: the modern prose poem, which takes time to unfold and make its “poetic” impression on the reader, hasn’t got a chance in this tournament.

And let’s be even more frank: what is the advantage of writing poetry which is not poetry?

Or, to put it another way: is there anything wrong with the type of writing which makes a strong impression immediately?

We cannot think of any reason—touching on pleasure, usefulness, or pedagogy—why this type of writing does not deserve the highest acclaim, should not be considered an expression of the highest virtue.

And yet—who writes like this anymore:

Fate is a wind and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

Which poet today produces work like the above—to critical acclaim?

None.

And yet here is that type of writing which deserves notice—which moves, entertains, pleases on its own and also demonstrates what language itself can do.

And poetry—which is the very best at doing the most important human activity of all: expression—chooses another path, the same path which prose treads.

We find this whole state of affairs—and we love prose—just a little disconcerting.

So let us throw, a little sadly, rose petals at Sarah Teasdale, and congratulate her, with the rest.

Of course, Tennyson, won.  Is the following old, or good?  We say it may be old, but it is also very, very good—whatever else we call it.

My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; my dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

Tennyson probably asked for tea in the way any person would—and when writing poetry such as this, he was practicing to make poetry of the highest order—which it is.

It seems a little ridiculous to condemn verse such as this as “old-fashioned.”

This would be like calling the work which graces the Sistine Chapel “old-fashioned.”

The label “old-fashioned,” applied to Tennyson, and to great verse, should make a person of good taste wince, and cringe.

Here’s the Sweet Sixteen from Brackets one and two:

Michelangelo (d. Marlowe)

Teasdale (d. Dowson)

Eliot (d. Arnold)

Wordsworth (d. Merwin)

Coleridge (d. Wylie)

Poe (d. Frost)

Keats (d. Khayyam)

Tennyson (d. Marvell)

SECOND ROUND MARCH MADNESS ACTION!

BRACKET ONE

Marlowe: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips.

v.

Michelangelo: Thus thy sudden kindness shown to me Amid the gloom where only sad thoughts reign, With too much rapture bringing light again, Threatens my life more than that agony.

***

Dowson: I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire, Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine; And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.  

v.

Teasdale: Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

***

Eliot: With the other masquerades That time resumes, One thinks of all the hands That are raising dingy shades In a thousand furnished rooms.

v.

Arnold: The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.

***

Wordsworth: She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove, Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love.

v.

Merwin: Naturally it is night. Under the overturned lute with its One string I am going my way Which has a strange sound

 

BRACKET TWO

Coleridge: Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,’Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!

v.

Wylie: Avoid the reeking herd, Shun the polluted flock, Live like that stoic bird, the eagle of the rock.

***

Poe: I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that more than love—I and my Annabel Lee—

v.

Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun

***

Khayyam: Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your winter garment of repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.

v.

Keats: Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

***

Marvell: Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

v.

Tennyson: My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

 

 

MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND—PLENTY OF UPSETS!

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The biggest upset?

Bracket Two: Elinor Wylie (b 1885) 16th seed, knocks off number one seed Shakespeare! “Let Me Not Admit Impediments…” fell to “I was being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset. I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get.” Good for you, Elinor. Women everywhere are now wearing Wylie T-shirts.

Another shocker in Bracket Four thrilled poetry fans: No. 1 Seed Homer (“Sing in me Muse”) was edged out by John Crowe Ransom’s “Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail. And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, it is so frail.”

Lines of a highly developed music are the successful ones so far.

Translations are at a disadvantage, generally. Michelangelo, however, advanced past Blake in another upset in Bracket One. Michelangelo is ignored as a poet, perhaps, simply because he was such a great artist.

Michael S. Harper pulled off the only upset in Bracket Three, where every higher seed advanced except Wilfred Owen, who lost to Harper’s

“Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks, in a net, under water in Charleston harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you?”

A traditional sort of lyric beauty doesn’t always win.

But icons of yore did tend to prevail.

Milton, with his solemn music, for instance:

“The world was all before them, where to choose their Place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way.”

Did have trouble beating this by Patricia Lockwood:

“The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke.”

The Lockwood had a certain tragedy, strangeness, focus, and interest.

This by Byron, however:

“Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon.”

Had no trouble dispatching the following by Graham, which feels flat by comparison:

“On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself.”

We will not reveal the precise score of the game, as we do not wish to embarrass Ms. Graham.

Joining Wylie in another upset victory for women, Gluck, 14th seeded in the Fourth Bracket, outlasted Pound.

Plath and Sexton did not advance, however, as Wordsworth’s “No motion has she now” proved too much for Plath’s “a man in black with a Meinkampf look” and Sexton’s “her kind” lost in what must be considered an upset to Ben Mazer’s “Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere…”

The pure audaciousness and oddness of Mazer’s humor proved unique, and too much for Sexton to handle.

There is a certain lyric majesty and poignancy which sometimes can appear to take itself a little too seriously in a reader’s mind when it comes up against a certain clever type of opponent.

The momentary matchup means a great deal in terms of critical judgement.

And thus the thrill of Poetry March Madness.

Here are the 32 survivors after the first round of play:

Bracket One:

Marlowe (def. Auden), Michelangelo (def. Blake), Dowson (def. Von Duyn), Eliot (def. Swenson), Wordsworth (def. Plath), Merwin (def. Emerson), Arnold (def. Dunbar), Teasdale (def. Dickinson)

Bracket Two:

Wylie (def. Shakespeare), Coleridge (def. Stevens), Frost (def. Barrett), Keats (def. Raleigh), Poe (def. Whitman), Khayyam (def. Swinburne), Marvell (def. Seeger), Tennyson (def. Gray)

Bracket Three:

Milton (def. Lockwood), Byron (def. Graham), Shelley (def. Carson), Harper (def. Owen), Ashbery (def. Millay), Sassoon (def. Larkin), Parker (def. Rich), Bernstein (def. Reznikoff)

Bracket Four:

Ransom (def. Homer), Dante (def. Donne), Gluck (def. Pound), Chin (def. Longfellow), Mazer (def. Sexton), Pope (def. Pushkin), Rilke (def. Carroll), Williams (def. Ginsberg)

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

SCARRIET ROCKED 2014!

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Thomas Brady: the simpleton who writes it all

In the 365 days of 2014, Scarriet brought you half that many original items: poems of lyric poignancy, articles on the popular culture, essays of Literary Criticism, the occasional humor piece, and the Literary Philosophy March Madness Tournament—in which Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Baudelaire, Woolf, De Beauvoir, Marx, Maimonides, Wilde, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth, Pope, Wollstonecraft, Butler, Rich, Frye, Mallarme, Adorno, and 44 others sought immortality against one another in an orgy of wit and game.

Without further ado, here (with publication dates) are the most notable of the past year:

1. The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs 2/13.  This wins based on numbers. Over 15,000 views for this post alone in 2014, and it is averaging 120 views per day for the last 3 months, with views increasing, nearly a year after its publication. It’s always nice when an article has legs like this. We’re not sure what ‘search engine magic’ has made 100 Greatest Hippie Songs so popular. Prophetically, in the piece, we wrote, “All American music is hippie music.”

2. This Novel Has More Information Than You Need 9/18.  An essay provocative and charming at once.

3. No Boobs! 11/27. Hilarious (part two) satiric commentary on the December issue of Vanity Fair

4. The Problem With Rhetoric 5/1. Pushing the intellectual envelope is perhaps what we do best. In this essay we argue that reason does not exist.

5. Integration of Poetry and Life 11/3.  Another nice essay of essential Scarrietesque provocation smoothly rendered.

6. Marjorie Perloff, Adam Kirsch & Philip Nikolayev at the Grolier 9/15. Wearing a journalist’s hat, we meet Perloff, debate her, win her over, and demolish Concrete Poetry for our readers, as well.

7. Poe and the Big Bang: “The Body and the Soul Walk Hand in Hand” 3/10. Poe does most of the lifting here; a crucial addition to Scarriet’s campaign to lift the slander-fog hiding the world’s greatest mind.

8. Badass, Funny, But Alas Not Critic-Proof 6/27.  Tough love for the poet/professor David Kirby. And for those who fret Scarriet is too rancorous, relax; ‘The Kirb’ is still a FB friend. We don’t flatter—that’s the secret.

9. Is Gay Smarter Than Straight? 2/3. Only Scarriet would dare to ask—and really answer this question.

10. Rape Joke II 6/14.  We delivered a true poem; it offended one of our loyal readers for not being feminist enough; even though our poem was true, it was somehow supposed as an insult against Lockwood. We stand by our poem which is true, if imitative. We value originality, but since when was art that imitates a bad thing? We also admit we wrote the poem to become well-known. We played it up on twitter. So what? Scarriet believes everyone deserves to be famous.

11. Poe v. Wordsworth 8/18. March Madness contests are always excuses for brilliant essays. We made use of a wonderful book: Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective in Renaissance Art.

12. “I Still Do” 10/13 Nice poem.

13. Chin & Weaver at the Grolier 7/21. Meeting up with California-based Marilyn Chin at a reading becomes an excuse to write an essay on the laws of poetic fame.

14. Painters & Artists Need to Shut Up 6/23.  Usually we pick on the poets.

15. Rage In America 7/7.  A political corrective to Jim Sleeper’s Fourth of July essay.

16. Poetry Hot 100 10/8.  Scarriet releases these now-famous lists several times a year. Valerie Macon topped this one.

17. What Does The History of Poetry Look Like 12/2. We often bash T.S. Eliot and the Modernists; here we lay down a genuinely insightful appreciation of Eliot’s Tradition.

18. Valerie Macon! 10/6. The credentialing complex destroyed Macon. We did a radical thing. We looked at her poetry, after she graciously sent samples.  Memo to the arrogant: her poetry is good.

19. 100 Greatest Folk Songs 11/17.  Not just a list: an assessment aimed at revival. Don’t just reflect the world. Change it.

20. The Avant-Garde Is Looking For A New (Black) Boyfriend 11/8.  A popular zeitgeist post inspired by Cathy Hong, which got po-biz stirred up for a few days.

21. Religion Is More Scientific Than Science 12/15.  An interesting discussion of free-will. Yes, we take comments.

22. Poetry, Meta-Modernism, & Leonardo Da Vinci 1/6.  Da Vinci compares poetry and painting in fascinating ways.

23. De Beauvoir v. Rich 4/22.  Scarriet’s March Madness contest yields essay on Behaviorism and Feminism.

24. Sex, Sex, Sex! 10/19. An interesting essay (obviously) in typical Scarriet (Are you serious?? We are.) mode.

25. Philip Nikolayev 11/15.  An excuse to try out ideas while praising a poet and friend.

26. “Poetry Without Beauty Is Vanity” 10/17.  A lyric poem which ‘gets’ rap.

27. Harold Bloom v. Edmund Wilson 8/13. Wilson was a real force in March Madness and so is this essay.

28. Fame: Is It Really Hollow? 7/2.  An exciting essay using Scarriet standbys The Beatles and Poe.

29. 100 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time 5/9. The definitive list. Another constantly visited post.

30. 100 Essential Books of Poetry 5/21. People love lists. We get it now.

31. “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” 6/5.  A lovely little poem.

32. All Fiction Is Non-Fiction 5/19.  Scarriet makes the counter-intuitive simple.

33. The Good Economy 12/30.  We nail a simple but brain-teasing truth which rules us all.

34. Fag Hags, Cock Teases, and Richard Wagner 11/11. A bitter essay on a complex topic.

35. 100 Greatest Jazz Vocal Standards 10/14. And the Scarriet hits just keep on coming.

36. Hey Lao Tzu 10/27.  Scarriet takes down the wisest of the wise.

37. Ben Mazer At The Grolier 10/20.  The Neo-Romantic genius gets the Scarriet treatment.

38. “A Holiday Poem” 12/14.  An offensive poem written from a persona; it’s not our opinion.

39. Misanthrope’s Delight 6/11. An amusing list which makes light of misanthropy.

40. “What Could Be More Wrong Than A Poem Stolen From A Song?” A lyric gem.

And that’s our Scarriet top 40 for 2014!!

Be sure to read these if you missed them!

Scarriet thanks all our readers!

And especially the great comments! You know who you are! Always welcome and encouraged!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

WILDE AND BAUDELAIRE TANGLE FOR THE LAST FINAL FOUR SPOT!

 

WILDE:

All art is immoral. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of that practical organization of life that we call society. Society, which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly demands, of each of its citizens that she should contribute some form of productive labor to the common weal, and toil and travail that the day’s work must be done. Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at Private Views and other places that are open to the general public, and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any single civilized being should ever be allowed to whisper to another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest, beaming folk. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious. But someone should teach them that while, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper occupation of man.

It is far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy, also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of the medieval days.

It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits and ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.

BAUDELAIRE:

If I speak of love in connection with dandyism, this is because love is the natural occupation of the idle. The dandy does not, however, regard love as a special target to be aimed at. If I have spoken of money, this is because money is indispensable to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passion he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank. Dandyism does not even consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for the toilet and material elegance. For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity, which is the best way, in fact, of achieving the desired quality. What then is this passion, which, becoming doctrine, has produced such a school of tyrants? what this unofficial institution which has formed so haughty and exclusive a sect? It is first and foremost the burning need to create for oneself a personal originality, bounded only by the limits of the properties. It is a kind of cult of the self which can nevertheless survive the pursuit of a happiness to be found in someone else—in woman, for example; which can even survive all that goes by in the name of illusions. It is the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being astonished. A dandy may be blasé, he may even suffer; but in this case, he will smile like the Spartan boy under the fox’s tooth.

Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence; and the type of dandy discovered by our traveler in North America does nothing to invalidate this idea; for how can we be sure that those tribes which we call ‘savage’ may not in fact be the disjecta membra of great extinct civilizations? Dandyism is a sunset; like the declining daystar, it is glorious, without heat and full of melancholy. But alas, the rising tide of democracy, which invades and levels everything, is daily overwhelming these last representatives of human pride and pouring floods of oblivion upon the footprints of these stupendous warriors.

Wilde and Baudelaire!  Connoisseurs of the decadent! Pronounce the sweet success of the manque!  Hold in your hands the flower of bad poetry!

The Modern flips the Classical: all that is holy, energetic and good for the latter is sterile and stiff and empty for the former.

The flip is all that matters.  The elements themselves do not matter. The new mood is all.

I once loved all that you were. Time passed. I became bored. Now I hate all that you were. Ah, the history of art!

The Modern bracket had to come to this. Wilde. Baudelaire. My twin!  My double! — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

You are me.  And I hate you.  For the dandy must resent not only “the rising tide of democracy” but the rival dandy, as well.  Easy to identify, as Baudelaire does, a tribesman across the sea as a dandy: no chance they will rival you.

Wilde and Baudelaire both define the dandy beautifully—and of course the dandy is timeless, not merely modern—but we finally trust Wilde a little more.  Baudelaire slips, we believe, with his dying-ember praise of “warriors.”  Wilde wins by simply refusing to stir.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

J.L. AUSTIN AND EDMUND WILSON IN POST-MODERN BRACKET SEEK TO ADVANCE TO THE FINAL FOUR

J.L. Austin: Can this Englishman advance past Princeton’s Edmund Wilson to the  Final Four?

WILSON:

The old nineteenth-century criticism of Ruskin, Renan, Taine, Sainte-Beauve, was closely allied to history, and novel writing, and was also the vehicle for all sorts of ideas about the purpose and destiny of human life in general. The criticism of our own day examines literature, art, ideas, and specimens of human society in the past with a detached scientific interest or a detached aesthetic which seems in either case to lead nowhere. A critic like Herbert Read makes dull discriminations between different kinds of literature; a critic like Albert Thibaudet discovers dull resemblances between the ideas of philosophers and poets; a critic like I.A. Richards writes about poetry from the point of view of a scientist studying the psychological reactions of readers; and such a critic as Clive Bell writes about painting so exclusively and cloyingly  from the point of view of the varying degrees of pleasure to be derived from the pictures of different painters that we would willingly have Ruskin and his sermonizing back. And even Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey have this in common with Clive Bell that they seem to feel they have done enough when they have distinguished the kind of pleasure to be derived from one kind of book, the kind of interest to be felt in one kind of personality, from the kind to be found in another. One is supposed to have read everything and enjoyed everything and to understand exactly the reasons for one’s enjoyment, but not to enjoy anything excessively nor to raise an issue of one kind of thing against another. Each of the essays of Strachey or Mrs. Woolf, so compact yet so beautifully rounded out, is completely self-contained and does not lead to anything beyond itself; and finally, for all their brilliance, we begin to find them tiresome.

AUSTIN:

The more you think about truth and falsity the more you find that very few statements that we ever utter are just true or just false. Usually there is the question are they fair or are they not fair, are they adequate or not adequate, are they exaggerated or not exaggerated? Are they too rough, or are they perfectly precise, accurate, and so on? ‘True’ and ‘false’ are just general labels for a whole dimension of different appraisals which have something or other to do with the relation between what we say and the facts. If, then, we loosen up our ideas of truth and falsity we shall see that statements, when assessed in relation to the facts, are not so very different after all from pieces of advice, warnings, verdicts, and so on.

We see then that stating something is performing an act just as much as is giving an order or giving a warning; and we see, on the other hand, that, when we give an order or a warning or a piece of advice, there is a question about how this is related to fact which is not perhaps so very different from the kind of question that arises when we discuss how a statement is related to fact.  Well, this seems to mean in its original form our distinction between the performative and the statement is considerably weakened, and indeed breaks down. I will just make a suggestion as to how to handle this matter. We need to go very much farther back, to consider all the ways and senses in which saying anything at all is doing this or that—because of course it is always doing a good many different things. And one thing that emerges when we do do this is that, beside the question that has been very much studied in the past as to what a certain utterance means, there is a further question distinct from this as to what was the force, as we may call it, of the utterance. We may be quite clear what ‘Shut the door’ means, but not yet at all clear on the further point as to whether as uttered at a certain time it was an order, an entreaty or whatnot. What we need besides the old doctrine about meanings is a new doctrine about all the possible forces of utterances, towards the discovery of which our proposed list of explicit performative verbs would be a very great help; and then, going on from there, an investigation of the various terms of appraisal that we use in discussing speech-acts of this, that, or the other precise kind—orders, warnings, and the like.

The notions that we have considered then, are the performative, the infelicity, the explicit performative, and lastly, rather hurriedly, the notion of the forces of utterances. I dare say that all this seems a little unremunerative, and I suppose it ought to be remunerative. At least, though, I think that if we pay attention to these matters we can clear up some mistakes in philosophy; and after all philosophy is used as a scapegoat, it parades mistakes which are really the mistakes of everybody. We might even clear up some mistakes in grammar, which perhaps is a little more respectable.

And is it complicated? Well, it is complicated a bit; but life and truth and things do tend to be complicated. It’s not things , it’s philosophers that are simple. You will have heard it said, I expect, that over-simplification is the occupational disease of philosophers, and in a way one might agree with that. But for a sneaking suspicion that it’s their occupation.

Here we have two classic different types of Criticism: Austin (b. 1911) is asking what we are really doing when we say things, while Wilson (b. 1895) is asking what did those people over there say that gave us, or did not give us pleasure? The one is a philosopher, the other a critic.

Both these approaches do share a belief that meaning exists behind, not in, the text. We know what “shut the door” means, says Austin, but does it mean, “shut the door, or else!” or “oh I beg you, please, please shut the door”? Language, according to Austin, is the door, but there is something besides language which is coming through the door to potentially help us, or do us harm. The performative reality of ‘shut the door’ is precisely what fiction and poetry convey, by dramatizing expression.

So in that sense, a critic of literature like Wilson is following Austin’s philosophy by judging dramatic expression—literature.

Would Austin agree that literature is a “speech-act?” If so, it is interesting how Austin attempts to go beyond speech to something more real—and then runs smack into fiction. And does not literature make warnings and give advice?

On the other hand, a book could never order us to “shut the door.” But by replicating actions and showing intelligence, literature has that performative “force” which Austin is trying to get us to understand is always involved in even ordinary language.  Not just what an utterance means, Austin says, but its force. The question of charisma and force of personality arises; some individuals have forceful personalities even as they may not be big in stature or smart; but somehow their word is law. Then we have law itself, and its force.

There are complex forces of which words are merest shadows, and words’ attempt to describe the sun only enhances their shadowy nature. Between the thing and its representation there is something far more important: “I pronounce you man and wife” has a meaning, but more importantly, it is a performance, and it is with the performative that we escape the inexplicable sun and its shadow, “sun.”

Telling someone what to do is where language is clearest, and means the most.

Wilson prefers the 19th century novel of “life” to the exquisite vagueness of the modern literature; he thinks the novel is where the classical epic lives, not in contemporary poetry.

Austin seeks the performative “life” behind the meaning of language; Wilson, the “life” behind literature.

As Austin says, “it’s not things, it’s philosophers that are simple.” Wilson and Austin are really quite simple in what they say. Wilson and Austin are both asking us to read vertically, not horizontally—deeply more than widely. They are not New Critics. They are Old Critics. Throwbacks. They believe life is more important than speech.

Since philosophy of the kind Austin practices is mainly instinctual and steeped in common sense, in the long run it is probably less useful than Wilson’s, which is historical and more particular, and in many ways doing the same thing: criticism analyzing literature is like philosophy analyzing language—since it is finally what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ (Is this person good, or bad? What do they want? How are they trying to get it?) which is the object of our search, and there will never be one way to do this kind of search, given the complexity of human nature and human action.

WINNER: WILSON

COLERIDGE AND POE: TO THE FINAL FOUR ONLY ONE CAN GO

COLERIDGE:

What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts, and emotions of the poet’s own mind.

The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgment ever awake, and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry.

“Doubtless,” as Sir John Davies observes of the soul (and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the poetic imagination):

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
Which to her proper nature she transforms,
To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus doth she, when from individual states
She doth abstract the universal kinds;
Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through our senses to our minds.

Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its Drapery, Motion its Life, and Imagination the Soul that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

“The man that hath not music in his soul” can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery; affecting incidents; just thoughts; interesting personal or domestic feelings; and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem; may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talents and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the particular means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur non fit.”

 

POE:

Against the subtleties which would make poetry a study—not a passion—it becomes the metaphysician to reason—but the poet to protest. Yet Wordsworth and Coleridge are men in years; the one imbued in contemplation from his childhood, the other a giant in intellect and learning. The diffidence, then, with which I venture to dispute their authority, would be overwhelming, did I not feel, from the bottom of my heart, that learning has little to do with the imagination—intellect with the passions—or age with poetry.  “Trifles, like straws, upon the surface flow/He who would search for pearls must dive below,” are lines which have done much mischief. As regards the greater truths, men oftener err by seeking them at the bottom than at the top; the depth lies in the huge abysses where wisdom is sought—not in the palpable places where she is found. The ancients were not always right in hiding the goddess in a well: witness the light which Bacon has thrown upon philosophy; witness the principle of our divine faith—that moral mechanism by which the simplicity of a child may overbalance the wisdom of a man.

We see an instance of Coleridge’s liability to err, in his Biographia Literaria—professedly his literary life and opinions, but, in fact, a treatise de omni scibili et quibusdam aliis. He goes wrong by reason of his very profundity, and of his error we have a natural type in the contemplation of a star. He who regards it directly and intensely sees, it is true, the star, but it is the star without a ray—while he who surveys it less inquisitively is conscious of all for which the star is useful to us below—its brilliancy and its beauty.

Of Coleridge I cannot speak but with reverence. His towering intellect! his gigantic power! He is one more evidence of the fact “que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu’elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu’elles nient.” He has imprisoned his own conceptions by the barrier he has erected against those of others. It is lamentable to think that such a mind should be buried in metaphysics, and, like the Nyctanthes, waste its perfume upon the night alone. In reading his poetry, I tremble—like one who stands upon a volcano, conscious, from the very darkness bursting from the crater, of the fire and the light that are weltering below.

Because, in poetry, there is no end of lines of apparently incomprehensible music, Coleridge thought proper to invent his nonsensical system of what he calls “scanning by accents,”—as if “scanning by accents” were anything more than a phrase. Whenever “Christabel” is really not rough, it can be as readily scanned by the true laws (not the suppositious rules) of verse, as can the simplest pentameter of Pope; and where it is rough these same laws will enable anyone of common sense to show why it is rough and to point out, instantaneously, the remedy for the roughness.

A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false in rhythm—unmusical. B, however, reads it to A, and A is at once struck with the perfection of the rhythm, and wonders at his dullness in not “catching” it before. Henceforward he admits the line to be musical. B, triumphant, asserts that, to be sure, the line is musical—for it is the work of Coleridge—and that it is A who is not; the fault being in A’s false reading. Now here A is right and B wrong. That rhythm is erroneous , (at some point or other more or less obvious,) which any ordinary reader can, without design, read improperly. It is the business of the poet so to construct his line that the intention must be caught at once.

Is it not clear that, by tripping here and mouthing there, any sequence of words may be twisted into any species of rhythm? But are we thence to deduce that all sequences of words are rhythmical in a rational understanding of the term?—for this is the deduction, precisely to which the reductio ad absurdum will, in the end, bring all the propositions of Coleridge. Out of one hundred readers of “Christabel,” fifty will be able to make nothing of its rhythm, while forty-nine of the remaining fifty will, with some ado, fancy they comprehend it, after the fourth or fifth perusal. The one out of the whole hundred who shall both comprehend and admire it at first sight—must be an unaccountably clever person—and I am by far too modest to assume, for a moment, that that very clever person is myself.

And here the two titans, Poe and Coleridge, battle to win the Romantic Bracket and go to the Final Four—in the 2014 Scarriet March Madness Tournament of Literary Philosophy.  Plato, defeating Dante, has already made it to the Final Four; Wilde and Baudelaire, Austin and Wilson compete for the other two spots.

Coleridge is profound.

Poe laughs at Coleridge’s profundity.

Coleridge is clever by what he says: “The poet diffuses and fuses…” etc.

Poe is clever, not by what he says, but by what he points out—see his lesson: “A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false…”

With Coleridge, we have: Before you use language, be sure you are very good at it.

With Poe, we have: Before you use language, don’t trust it.

With Coleridge, we have: the Poem is the Poet and the Poet is the whole world!

With Poe, we have: the Poem is rhythmic law.

Coleridge uses metaphor.

Poe uses sarcasm.

Coleridge hears.

Poe sees.

WINNER: POE

 

 

WILDE AND FREUD MIX IT UP IN MODERN BRACKET

Can Oscar Wilde move on to the Elite Eight?

Oscar Wilde’s “Critic As Artist” (1891) predates Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” (1899, English translations soon followed) and comparing two key passages from these works suggests a similar world-spirit.

Wilde:

The difference between objective and subjective work is one of external form merely. It is accidental, not essential. All artistic creation is absolutely subjective. The very landscape that Corot looked at was, as he said himself, but a mood of his own mind; and those great figures of Greek or English drama that appear to us to possess an actual existence of their own, apart from the poets who shaped and fashioned them, are, in their ultimate analysis, simply the poets themselves, not as they thought they were, but as they thought they were not; and by such thinking came in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation what in the creator was not. In fact, I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guilderstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred so strongly within him that he had, as it were, perforce, to suffer them to realize their energy, not on the lower plane of actual life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where love can indeed find in death its rich fulfillment, where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new made grave, and make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one’s father’s spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete steel from misty wall to wall. Action, being limited, would have left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Hello. Is this not a precise metaphor for psychoanalysis?  “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”  Free association “covers” conscious, rational speech, allowing the speaker to speak from somewhere else in their soul. Wilde’s belief in subjectivity brings him right to the doorstep of Freudian psychology—before Freud. But more than that, Wilde reaches a passionate level of truth which turns his Criticism into poetry. The Creative Faculty of Shakespeare is not merely described by Wilde; he briefly inhabits it: “where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras…” We feel that Wilde is confessing what few dare: the poet who writes profoundly of murder does indeed entertain murderous thoughts as much, or more, than any actual murderer. The unconscious is real, but more so in the poet; poetry, or rather Criticism, invented psychology; it is no accident that Freud appears in the wake of the Romantics—who rediscovered Plato and Shakespeare—and in the Zeitgeist throes of Poe and Wilde.

Here’s the Freud passage:

Another of the great creations of tragic , Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has its roots in the same soil as Oedipus Rex. But the changed treatment of the same material reveals the whole difference in the mental life of these two widely separated epochs of civilization: the secular advance of repression in the emotional life of mankind. In the Oedipus the child’s wishful phantasy that underlies it is brought into the open and realized as it would be in a dream. In Hamlet it remains repressed; and—just as in the case of a neurosis—we only learn of its existence from its inhibiting consequences. Strangely enough, the overwhelming effect produced by the more modern tragedy has turned out to be compatible with the fact that people have remained completely in the dark as to the hero’s character. The play is built up on Hamlet’s hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations and an immense variety of attempts at interpreting them have failed to produce a result. According to the view which was originated by Goethe and is still the prevailing one today, Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect. The plot of the drama shows us, however, that Hamlet is far from being represented as a person incapable of taking any action. We see him doing so on two occasions: first in a sudden outburst of temper, when he runs his sword through the eavesdropper behind the arras, and secondly in a premeditated and even crafty fashion, when, with all the callousness of a Renaissance prince, he sends the two courtiers to the death that had been planned for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in fulfilling the task set him by his father’s ghost? The answer , once again, is that it is the peculiar nature of the task. Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized.

The real person—which is the highest and most important reality—is the chief topic for Wilde and Freud. By failing to act as a murderer, Shakespeare, nonetheless feeling within himself the reason and passion of murder, creates an “objective” document—the play, Hamlet, and the actions and speech of the character, Hamlet—which is, according to Wilde, a wholly subjective creation of the real person, Shakespeare. Reality, according to Wilde’s Romantic, artist-centered view, is a projection of a person’s soul, of Shakespeare’s soul: the passiveness of Hamlet is not the important thing, for Shakespeare has Hamlet wrestle in a new made grave and stab a royal official to death as he confronts his mother; and Freud agrees. Both Freud and Wilde reject the conventional wisdom that Hamlet doesn’t act—Hamlet very much does act, in a play that is an expression, not of history or convention or tradition or theme or playwright-method or language, but Shakespeare’s unique soul.

Freud, however, raises the stakes to a scientific level, whereas Wilde is content to let the unique art product be a sufficient reason for itself; the art creates criticism because criticism created the art in the first place; criticism for Wilde is not adversarial or analytic but creative; the objective is really subjective.

Freud, the doctor, is, as the critic, much different; Freud asserts that Hamlet refuses to kill his usurping uncle, the new king, because Shakespeare, like all men, has a repressed desire to murder his father and marry his mother.

Freud’s assertion is two-fold: the universal desire of patricide/mother-love with the repression of this desire: the repression creates a crucial objective/subjective split: but since the objective truth lurks within the repressed person, Freud’s “scientific” truth runs smack into Wilde’s literary one: the “objective truth” of Hamlet comes straight out of Shakespeare’s “subjective” soul. And this “subjective” soul, which meditates on murder so intensely that a famous play is the result, is by its very reason of meditating powerfully on murder, “repressed” in its nature and manner.

Wilde, then, can be said to prefigure Freud, for Wilde’s assertion, that objectivity is really subjectivity, intimates “repression” as that which necessitates Wilde’s assertion in the first place.

Freud posits “repression” or objectivity lurking in subjectivity as his thesis—it is the same as Wilde’s, generally. Freud, however, makes a wider assertion that objective reality itself is hiding another reality, beyond the subjective behavior of men, and therefore a certain kind of subjective behavior is determined by an objective truth in a universal (scientific) manner.

Two things must be said at this point, in favor of Wilde.  Freud’s Oedipal idea is subjectively Freud’s, firstly, and secondly, Freud’s Oedipal “truth,” which maintains that the objective is really subjective which is really objective is nothing but an endless binary sequence that demolishes, as it seeks to establish, the ‘subjective hiding the objective’ duality: Hamlet is Shakespeare’s subjective creation. This is a circular truism which spins due to the subjective/objective aspect of reality in the first place: the critic/doctor/psychoanalyst/scientist/lover/audience seeks “the truth” (objectivity) in a state of curious ignorance (subjectivity). Shakespeare plays his audience; Freud, in turn, plays Shakespeare, but Freud, like everyone else, is stuck in Shakespeare’s audience. The truth of the character Hamlet—why did he behave the way he did?—can never be known. The truth of Oedipus can likewise never be known, since the “repressed” loop of its subjectivity-becoming-objective is a “play” which blocks any attempt by an audience member to objectify it in a scientific manner.

According to Freud, Hamlet could not kill his uncle because he “knew” that he, Hamlet, was guilty in the same manner his uncle was, due to Hamlet’s own repressed desire to murder his father and sleep with his mother. And this, according to Freud’s startling critical analysis, is why Shakespeare, the author, portrayed Hamlet as he did. Freud ‘s “objective truth” necessarily travels through Shakespeare’s “subjective truth.” Hamlet cannot kill himself, or his subjectivity cannot kill his objectivity. So Freud repeats Wilde’s idea that the objective is really subjective, but Freud is attempting to “direct” the Subjective Shakespeare, which the very dynamic of ‘subjective versus objective’ as it has been examined here forbids him to do.

Where is the evidence that Shakespeare/Hamlet wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother? There is none. Hamlet expresses admiration for his father and disdain for his uncle before his mother; Hamlet champions his father, which is the very opposite of the Oedipal impulse. Freud’s analysis is subjective, then, and so for Wilde, becomes a kind of objective truth, if we follow his own reasoning. So we can almost say that Freud’s thesis is bunk, but it thrives in the atmosphere of Wilde’s half-agreement.

As an example, let us say the door to the men’s room in a restaurant somehow becomes shut, although the room is unoccupied, during restaurant hours. For a certain time, the assumption will be that the rest room is occupied. The objective truth is that the restroom is unoccupied. The (group) subjective perception is that the restroom is occupied. As long as men slip into the women’s restroom and a line does not form in front of the men’s room, the discovery of the locked men’s room door hides the truth; the closed door, whose message is “occupied” is hiding the truth: unoccupied. Hamlet does not attempt to enter the men’s room because he thinks it is occupied. The reason is very simple. It is because the door is shut. Hamlet does not attempt to kill his uncle. The door is shut on his attempt. The reason for Hamlet’s inaction and the fact of his inaction become one: the hidden or repressed fact of a closed door. Freud has found a trope as simple and profound as a closed door. But like the simple error which spread among the male patrons of the restaurant and became an “objective truth”, Freud’s theory caught on with its simple explanation, which turns out to be an error just as simple, and thus prone to be believed.

The restroom is not occupied. Hamlet’s hesitation in murdering his uncle is not due to Freud’s Oedipal theory.

The restroom is not occupied. Wilde opens the door and finds the objective truth. Now it is occupied. And you may not enter.

WINNER: WILDE

JOHN CROWE RANSOM TAKES ON BAUDELAIRE IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Ransom was the Southern American T.S. Eliot. He battles ‘the Father,’ Baudelaire.

Charles Baudelaire and John Crowe Ransom are icons of Modernism.

Ransom, the New Critic, defined Modernism explicitly, brilliantly, in his little known essay, “Poets Without Laurels, which he published in 1938. Baudelaire, closer to the origins of it, but just as self-consciously, in his Art criticism, defined Modernism, too.

Temperamentally, Ransom and Baudelaire are quite different: Baudelaire is the dandified Modernsist-rebel, Ransom, the stuffy Modernist-matter-of-fact. The arc of Modernism from Baudelaire to Ransom is highly instructive, though: the Modernist “rebel” of the 19th century is erased by Modernity’s 20th century “victory;” Baudelaire’s cry of “Join the Artificial Revolution!” is a tad redundant when it rings out in the 20th century surrounded by skyscrapers, airplanes, and TVs.

Baudelaire rebelled against nature: “Woe to him who, like Louis XV [died 1774] carries his degeneracy to the point of no longer having a taste for anything but nature unadorned.” The 18th century—which featured Pope saying Art is nothing but the Greeks and Nature, and which prepared the way for Romanticism’s humble embrace of the same—found itself attacked by Baudelaire:

We know that when [Louis XV’s mistress] wished to avoid receiving the king, she made a point of putting on rouge. It was quite enough, it was her way of closing the door. It was in fact by beautifying herself that she used to frighten away her royal disciple of nature.

But when we reach the 20th century, it is no longer possible to be a rebel by hating nature—for nature had been overthrown. Rousseau and his Nature worship becomes the hero of protest; Warhol’s Brillo Boxes are sarcastic, ironic: a joke at the expense of Baudelaire’s sacred artificiality. Post-modernism freed us from Modernism’s Futuristic and Artificial Pride by laughing at it—but unfortunately, or not, Modernism has had the last laugh: artificiality, like it or not, has won. Louis XV and Al Gore are both seen to love nature artificially, and what seems more artificial to us now than Alexander Pope? Cosmetics are all the rage, and nature poets are wise more than they are natural, just as natural and organic diet gurus are wise; American poetry, whether it is rap, Slam, Ashbery, or Collins, could not be more artificial or more removed from nature poetry: even Mary Oliver is wise rather than natural; we kill trees to publish books on saving trees. Baudelaire is an anti-Nature prophet, then, more than he is a rebel: he looked around at the teeming cities, the material improvements, the women making themselves lovely and available with their cosmetics and their freedom, and thought: here is the Future. As Baudelaire put it in his essay, “In Praise of Cosmetics:”

Nature teaches us nothing. I admit that she compels man to sleep, to eat, to drink, and to arm himself as well as he may against the inclemencies of the weather; but it is she too who incites man to murder his brother, to eat him, to lock him up and torture him; for no sooner do we take leave of the domain of needs and necessities to enter that of pleasures and luxury than we see that Nature can counsel nothing but crime. It is this infallible Mother Nature who has created patricide and cannibalism, and a thousand other abominations that both shame and modesty prevent us from naming. On the other hand it is philosophy (I speak of good philosophy) and religion which command us to look after our parents when they are poor and infirm. Nature, being none other than the voice of our self-interest, would have us slaughter them.

A prophet, indeed; for Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot were primitives who followed nature; they had no philosophy or religion. Philosophy and religion are means to fend off nature’s ultimate, all-encompassing self-interestedness—and find pleasure and sanity in a more subtle and piecemeal and laissez faire sort of way. Good philosophy listens to a host of small voices, and ignores the big ones. Communists and fascists are not philosophers and religious fanatics are not religious. Communists, fascists, and religious fanatics listen to the big voices. You would never find any of them speaking as Baudelaire does here:

Woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural; she has to astonish and charm us; as an idol, she is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored. Thus she has to lay all the arts under contribution for the means of lifting herself above Nature, the better to conquer hearts and rivet attention. It matters but little that the artifice and trickery are known to all, so long as their success is assured and their effect always irresistible. By reflecting in this way the philosopher-artist will find it easy to justify all the practices adopted by women at all times to consolidate and as it were to make divine their fragile beauty.

Whether this is sexist rot or women’s liberation brilliantly and empathetically imparted, we are sure this is not how the Ayatollahs or the Communists or the Nazis talk: it is a beautiful antidote to that. It is a small voice worth listening to.

Ransom, in his description of Modernsim, is equally trivial and modest; Modernism, as Ransom sees it, is simply a practical method in which expertise is fragmented to handle things compartmentally. This might not be ideal. But Ransom essentially agrees with Baudelaire; he is talking in the same way. Ransom sees Modernism as that which rejects nature and big schemes and listens to the individual and his or her small voice, even if this produces a certain amount of alienation and dullness. We’ll quote the beginning of Ransom’s essay, “Poets Without Laurels,”; note how Ransom uses fanaticism’s “red banner” jokingly and ironically. Ransom begins with poetry; he then moves into Modernism as it applies to all aspects of life:

The poets I refer to in the title are the “moderns:” those whom a small company of adept readers enjoys, perhaps enormously, but the general public detests; those in whose hands poetry as a living art has lost its public support.

Consequently I do not refer to such poets as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost, who are evidently influenced by modernism without caring to “go modern” in the sense of joining the revolution; which is very much as if they had stopped at a mild or parlor variety of socialism, when all about them the brave, or at least the doctrinaire, were marching under the red banner. Probably they are wise in their time; they have laurels deservedly and wear them gracefully. But they do not define the issue which I wish to discuss. And still less do I refer to poets like E.A Robin. son, Sturge Moore, and John Masefield, who are even less modern; though I have no intention of questioning their laurels either. I refer to poets with no laurels.

I do not wish to seem to hold the public responsible for their condition, as if it had suddenly become phlegmatic, cruel, and philistine. The poets have certainly for their part conducted themselves peculiarly. They could not have estranged the public more completely if they had tried; and smart fellows as they are, they know very well what they have been doing, and what they are still stubborn in doing, and what the consequences are.

For they have failed more and more flagrantly, more and more deliberately, to identify themselves with the public interests, as if expressly to renounce the kind affections which poets had courted for centuries.

Poets used to be bards and patriots, priests and prophets, keepers of the public conscience, and, naturally, men of public importance. Society crowned them with wreaths of laurel, according to the tradition which comes to us from the Greeks and is perpetuated by official custom in England—and in Oklahoma. Generally the favor must have been gratefully received. But modern poets are of another breed. It is as if all at once they had lost their prudence as well as their piety, and formed a compact to unclasp the chaplet from their brows, inflicting upon themselves the humility of delaureation, and retiring from public responsibility and honors. It is this phenomenon which has thrown critical theory into confusion.

Sir Philip Sidney made the orthodox defense of poetry on the ground of the poet’s service to patriotism and virtue.

“He doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, a will entice any man to enter into it”

And what was the technique of enticement?

“With a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner”

The poets, therefore, told entrancing tales, which had morals. But the fact was, also, that the poets were not always content to win to virtue by indirection, or enticement, but were prepared to preach with almost no disguise, and to become sententious and repetitious, and the literature which they created is crowded with precise maxims for the moralists. There it stands on the shelves now. Sometimes the so-called poet has been only a moralist with a poetic manner. And all the poets famous in our tradition, or very nearly all, have been poets of a powerful moral cast.

 

Ransom is trying to hide his bias in talking about the old poets; he is trying very hard not to show his hand—which is full of “moderns.” He succeeds, we think; I doubt even one in a hundred readers would be able to detect in Ransom’s carefully worded rhetoric his flagrant hatred of the old poet, together with his deep prejudice in favor of the “modern” poet.

First of all, who is Ransom talking about when he says, “the poets…were prepared to preach with almost no disguise?” The “poets famous in our tradition” are precisely those who transcend mere moralizing; further, Ransom writes of “precise maxims for the moralists” as if morality did not belong to him and you and me, but thrived in a shadowy group of inquisitorial persons to which the old poets like Sidney were slaves: “the moralists.” Who are these “moralists?” They are nobodies. They are the unnamed invention of Mr. Ransom, who intends to snatch autonomy away from the old poets and make them seem mere servants—as opposed to the “moderns,” who happen—who just happen—to be ambitious poets who are friends of the critic and poet Mr. Ransom. (Ransom examines “modern” poems by Mr. Stevens—“pure” and Mr. Tate —“obscure” in “Poets Without Laurels.”) Poe explicitly wrote on disguising one’s morals; did Poe, one of the “poets famous in our tradition” as referenced by Ransom, write only to invent “precise maxims for the moralists?” Or Baudelaire? Did Baudelaire busy himself in making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning? Did they all throw their souls into the task of making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Really, Mr. Ransom?

We felt it was only fair to expose, for our Scarriet readers, the grubby truth underlying Ransom’s effort, which we nevertheless consider brilliant (if crooked and corrupt) in its gloss on Modernism. Again, to pick up Ransom where he left us:

So I shall try a preliminary definition of the poet’s traditional function on behalf of society: he proposed to make virtue delicious. He compounded a moral effect with an aesthetic effect. The total effect was not a pure one, but it was rich, and relished highly. The name of the moral effect was goodness; the name of the aesthetic effect was beauty. Perhaps these did not have to coexist, but the planners of society saw to it that they should; they called upon the artists to reinforce morality with charm. The artists obliged.

Note how Ransom slyly implies the “planners of society” are telling Shakespeare and Poe what to do. But no one would call the New Critics, who worked with the U.S. Government as Education officials (poetry textbook writers) or Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, or any of the “moderns,” those laurel-less renegades, “planners of society.” Ransom, the non-planner, continues:

When they had done so , the public did not think of attempting to distinguish in its experience as reader the glow which was aesthetic from the glow which was moral. Most persons probably could not have done this; many persons cannot do it today. There is yet no general recognition of the possibility that an aesthetic effect may exist by itself, independent of morality or any other useful set of ideas. But the modern poet is intensely concerned with this possibility, and he has disclaimed social responsibility in order to secure this pure aesthetic effect. He cares nothing, professionally, about morals, or God, or native land. He has performed a work of dissociation and purified his art.

There are distinct styles of “modernity,” but I think their net results, psychologically, are about the same. I have in mind what might be called the “pure” style and what might be called the “obscure” style.

A good “pure” poem is Wallace Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds…”

Poetry of this sort, as it was practiced by some French poets of the nineteenth century, and as it is practiced by many British and American poets now, has been called pure poetry, and the name is accurate. It is nothing but poetry; it is poetry for poetry’s sake, and you cannot get a moral out of it. But it was expected it would never win the public at large. …

As an example of “obscure” poetry, I cite Allen Tate’s “Death of Little Boys.” …

Tate has an important subject, and his poem is a human document, with a contagious fury about it: Stevens, pursuing purity, does not care to risk such a subject. But Tate, as if conscious that he is close to moralizing and sententiousness, builds up deliberately, I imagine, an effect of obscurity; for example, he does not care to explain the private meaning of his windowpane and his Norwegian cliff; or else, by some feat, he permits these bright features to belong to his total image without permitting them to reveal any precise meaning, either for himself or for his reader. …

Pure or obscure, the modern poet manages not to slip into the old-fashioned moral-beautiful compound. …

Personally, I prefer the rich obscure poetry to the thin pure poetry. The deaths of little boys are more exciting than the sea surfaces. It may be that the public preference, however, is otherwise. The public is inclined simply to ignore the pure poetry, because it lacks practical usefulness; but, to hate the obscure poetry, because it looks important enough to attend to, and yet never yields up any specific fruit. Society, through its spokesmen the dozens of social-minded critics, who talk about the necessity of “communication,” is now raging with indignation, or it may be with scorn, against the obscure poetry which this particular generation of poets has deposited. Nevertheless, both types of poetry, obscure as well as pure, aim at poetic autonomy; that is, speaking roughly, at purity.

Modern poetry in this respect is like modern painting. European painting used to be nearly as social thing as poetry. It illustrated the sacred themes prescribed by the priests, whether popularly (Raphael) or esoterically and symbolically (Michelangelo)… But more or less suddenly it asserted its independence. So we find Cezanne, painting so many times and so lovingly his foolish little bowl of fruits. …

Apostate, illaureate, and doomed to outlawry the modern poet may be. I have the feeling that modernism is an unfortunate road for them to have taken. But it was an inevitable one. …

Poets have had to become modern because the age is modern. Its modernism envelops them like a sea, or an air. Nothing in their thought can escape it.

Modern poetry is pure poetry. The motive behind it cannot be substantially different from the motive behind the other modern activities, which is certainly the driving force of all our modernism. What is its name? “Purism” would be exact, except  that it does not have the zealous and contriving sound we want. “Puritanism” will describe this motive…

The development of modern civilization has been a grand progression in which Puritanism has invaded first one field and then another.

The first field was perhaps religion. The religious impulse used to join to itself and dominate and hold together nearly all the fields of human experience; politics, science, art, and even industry, and by all means moral conduct. But Puritanism came in the form of the Protestant Reformation and separated religion from all its partners. Perhaps the most important of these separations was that which lopped off from religion the aesthetic properties…the ceremonial became idolatry. …

Next, or perhaps at the same time, Puritanism applied itself to morality. Broad as the reach of morality may be, it is distinct enough as an experience to be capable of purification. We may say that its destiny was to become what we know as sociology, a body of positivistic science. …

Then Puritanism worked upon politics. … Progress in this direction meant constitutionalism, parliamentarianism, republicanism. The population, not being composed exclusively of politicians, is inclined to delegate statecraft to those who profess it. …

It was but one step that Puritanism had to go from there into the world of business, where the material sciences are systematically applied. The rise of the modern business world is a development attendant upon the freedom which it has enjoyed; upon business for business’s sake, or pure business, or “laissez faire,” with such unconditioned principles as efficiency, technological improvement, and maximum productivity. …

All these exclusions and specializations, and many more, have been making modern life what it is. …

Poets are now under the influence of a perfectly arbitrary theory which I have called Puritanism. They pursue A, an aesthetic element thought always to have the same taste and to be the one thing desirable for poets. They will not permit the presence near it of M, the moral element, because that will produce the lemonade MA, and they do not approve of lemonade. In lemonade the A gets weakened and neutralized by the M. …

Now some poetry, so-called, is not even lemonade, for the ingredients have not been mixed, much less compounded. Lumps of morality and image lie side by side, and are tasted in succession. T.S. Eliot thinks that this has been the character of a great deal of English poetry since the age of Dryden. … It is decidedly one of the causes of that revulsion of feeling on the part of the modern poet which drives him away from the poetic tradition.

And that is Ransom’s Modernist gambit, justifying Modern Poetry’s “independence” from “morality” on the historical “fact” that modern life is now more “pure” than ancient life. But does Ransom’s analogy work? Is a lobbyist-influenced politician in a modern democratic society more “pure” than a Feudal lord, or king? Is the poetry of Allen Tate more “pure” than Shelley’s? Is efficiency and improvement and productivity in a specific area something which only arose in France in the 19th Century? Was it Modern Poetry’s destiny to gain a certain ascendency in the 20th century for the very same reason that drove Martin Luther to question the sincerity of the Catholic Church?

We think not. We strongly suspect that “Modernism” is nothing but a fancy word, and that John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot are nothing but Highbrow Car Salesmen. Purely so, of course.

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

 

 

 

 

COLERIDGE AND SHELLEY BATTLE FOR ELITE EIGHT SPOT!

Coleridge. Not a happy life. But a happy mind.

William Wordsworth is not a Romantic Poet. In his heart, Wordsworth is a Park Ranger. At least compared to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge can make even Shelley look like a cold philosopher.  A Wild and Desperate Love is at the heart of Coleridge’s Romanticism. Wordsworth trusts in Nature’s God, Shelley in the One, but Coleridge, the Heart-Riven Atheist, trembles before the Unknown:

Reality’s Dark Dream

I know ’tis but a dream, yet feel more anguish
Than if it were ’twere truth. It has been often so:
Must I die under it? Is no one near?
Will no one hear these stifled groans and wake me?

It is not that Coleridge was simply a World of Hurt; he was a thinking man, and always reflecting; Coleridge, the Poet, is Pain Spoiled by Too Much Thought. The “I know ’tis but a dream” above only manages to deepen the gruesome “reality.” Coleridge knows the darkness and escapes the darkness with thought in such a way that manages in its workings to bring more darkness on. And since Coleridge is a genius, the fault seems never to be Coleridge’s but the world’s, the bad luck of a great man proving to be more melancholy than any human flaw or philosophical belief.

Coleridge is the Hamlet of Hamlets, the “sole unbusy thing:”

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

from “Work Without Hope”

As for love, as the quintessential Romantic Poet, Coleridge believes it to be all. From the poem, “Love:”

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love
And feed his sacred Flame.

“Sacred.” Of course. The orgy of the Romantic is always sacred, and this paradox is at the heart of that type of poetry’s beauty and wonder; to feel the sternly Modernist tainted and cynical profanation of Romanticism is to know truly what Romanticism is.

To be Romantic is to adore the Past in such a manner that one can, like Coleridge, reproduce Homer’s hexameter, but tragically, only in moments:

Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows,
Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the ocean.

The Romantic cannot be Classically heroic; the sad attempts break apart into the fragments of dream, and in the failure, a rich lyric beauty is born, as if the body of a strong animal were tenderized, cooked, and eaten. Appetite is born of ruin. Modernism, the mere cold leftovers of the sacred feast.

Coleridge was more optimistic when he was younger: he was capable, for instance, of this simple, stunning observation, as he writes of his infant son in “Frost at Midnight:”

But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! He shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

There you have it: Coleridge, bursting with faith and paternal care, with the magnificent ” by giving make it ask.”

In one of those strange accidents of history, Coleridge was friends with the steadier but less talented Wordsworth—calling him in “To William Wordsworth,” “Friend of the Wise! and Teacher of the Good!” Although Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge, compared to Mr. W., had superior minds, tougher hearts, were better verse writers, and were more in the spirit of Romanticism, the contrast of the hard-luck and dissipated Coleridge, and the early deaths of the other three, came to make Wordsworth seem, in the eyes of certain dull but well appointed critics (Matthew Arnold was one) the greater poet, and this peculiar state of things still exists today. Wordsworth’s best known poem, “Tintern Abbey,” is not even read correctly (the famous theme of the lost joys of childhood is nowhere in the poem. *Scarriet has written on this elsewhere)

The cold-hearted Modern, T.S. Eliot, he of the icicle breath, the various Orthodox trappings, strangely mixed with ingenious vulgarity and wise-acre irreverence, cut down the Romantics and elevated Donne and the Metaphysical School—(the term “metaphysical school” is actually Samuel Johnson’s.) The Romantics will have their revenge, sooner or later, and Coleridge will smite Donne. Speaking of which, here is Coleridge on Donne:

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme’s sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue,
Wit’s forge and fire-blast, meaning’s press and screw.

Here, Coleridge, the Romantic, has dashed off what dances with Donne and Eliot, and looks ahead to Plath.

Shelley was simply the most optimistic poet who ever lived:

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wreaks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.
Oh write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death’s scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
Another Athens shall arise
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendor of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven give.
Saturn and Love their long repose
Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.
Oh, cease! Must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past,
Oh, might it die or rest at last!

Shelley is almost too correct in his feelings of triumph, in his magnificent versification. We feel more sympathetic for the homely heart and playful mind of Coleridge today.

WINNER: COLERIDGE

Samuel Taylor Coleridge advances to the Elite Eight!!!

DANTE AND POPE BATTLE FOR CLASSICAL BRACKET FINAL

All poets are beautiful.  Is Alexander Pope not beautiful?

POPE:

It would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed on poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error?

This seems strange: Pope, author of “The Confederacy of Dunces,” himself a poet best known for using his poetry to criticize and excoriate lesser poets, who took sweet delight in crushing denser wits with his superior wit, in this piece of prose, defends poets against harsh criticism. What? Was Pope really soft? In any case, no Critics from the 18th century are even known today, even as one as mighty as Pope seems to fear them. The critics are all forgotten.

But Pope was prophetic: civilization means that poetry is not only read, it is discussed and criticized: but finally the poets prove too thin-skinned, and resolve “not to own themselves in any error,” which is precisely what happened with modern poetry: its desultory prose style simply cannot be measured as faulty; the loose address of an Ashbery is simply beyond criticism. So is every one happy? Would Pope, who rhymes, be?

Next, Pope puts his finger on another modern ailment: poetry is essentially trivial:

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.

Finally, Pope makes further modern remarks regarding the poet in society—the genius does not appear out of the blue; they must grow up to an audience; but how? Most likely even the genius—in the early stages of their career, especially—will be shot down, envied, and hated. Is Pope merely feeling sorry for himself? Critical reception is made of flawed and envious humans, and the best thing the genius can hope for is “self-amusement.” So we are back to “idle men in closets.” We are surprised to find Pope, in his prose, to be self-pitying, sensitive, and quaintly tragic. Pope was the first Romantic. He was Byron’s favorite poet, after all.

What we call a genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself—if his genius be ever so great, he cannot discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has is appealing to the judgments of others. The reputation of a writer generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.  A good poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with fear of being ridiculous. If praise be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so good, as ill-will does him harm. The largest part of mankind, of ordinary or indifferent capacities, will hate, or suspect him. Whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone, the privilege of being admitted into the best company…

DANTE:

The author of the Comedia, here in a prose section of his earlier, Beatrice-besotted Vita Nuova, speaks of several apparently unrelated things at once: the poet describing love as if it were a person, the use of high and low speech as it relates to rhyme and love, and how these uses should be understood in a prose manner.

Dante quotes examples in classical poetry (mostly figures of speech) to defend his own practice in his “little book” (the Vita Nuova) of personifying love.

The dramatizing license is all well and good, but Dante also makes the fascinating point that poets began to write in the common tongue (as opposed to literary Latin) in wooing (less educated) females, and that rhyme is best used for love. How does one get one’s head around this radical, grounded, democratic, proto-Romantic notion?

For Dante, poetry and love overlap in a corporeal manner in three ways: personification, rhyme, and wooing, the first belonging to rhetoric, the second, to music, and the third, practical romance. The whole thing is delightfully religious in a mysterious, trinitarian sort of way: Personified love, Christ, the son; Rhyme, the Holy Spirit; and Wooing, the Creative Love of God. Or, on a more pagan religious level, personified love can be any messenger; rhyme, the trappings of religion’s austere/populist articulation; and wooing, the conversion of the poor.

It might be that a person might object, one worthy of raising an objection, and their objection might be this, that I speak of Love as though it were a thing in itself, and not only an intelligent subject, but a bodily substance: which, demonstrably, is false: since Love is not in itself a substance, but an accident of substance.

And that I speak of him as if he were corporeal, moreover as though he were a man, is apparent from these three things I say of him. I say that I saw him approaching: and since to approach implies local movement, and local movement per se, following the Philosopher, exists only in a body, it is apparent that I make Love corporeal.

I also say of him that he smiles, and that he speaks: things which properly belong to man, and especially laughter: and therefore it is apparent that I make him human. To make this clear, in a way that is good for the present matter, it should first be understood that in ancient times there was no poetry of Love in the common tongue, but there was Love poetry by certain poets in the Latin tongue: amongst us, I say, and perhaps it happened amongst other peoples, and still happens, as in Greece, only literary, not vernacular poets treated of these things.

Not many years have passed since the first of these vernacular poets appeared: since to speak in rhyme in the common tongue is much the same as to speak in Latin verse, paying due regard to metre. And a sign that it is only a short time is that, if we choose to search in the language of oc [vulgar Latin S. France] and that of si, [vulgar Latin Italy] we will not find anything earlier than a hundred and fifty years ago.

And the reason why several crude rhymesters were famous for knowing how to write is that they were almost the first to write in the language of si. And the first who began to write as a poet of the common tongue was moved to do so because he wished to make his words understandable by a lady to whom verse in Latin was hard to understand. And this argues against those who rhyme on other matters than love, because it is a fact that this mode of speaking was first invented in order to speak of love.

From this it follows that since greater license is given to poets than prose writers, and since those who speak in rhyme are no other than the vernacular poets, it is apt and reasonable that greater license should be granted to them to speak than to other speakers in the common tongue: so that if any figure of speech or rhetorical flourish is conceded to the poets, it is conceded to the rhymesters. So if we see that the poets have spoken of inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and made them talk to each other, and not just with real but with imaginary things, having things which do not exist speak, and many accidental things speak, as if they were substantial and human, it is fitting for writers of rhymes to do the same, but not without reason, and with a reason that can later be shown in prose.

That the poets have spoken like this is can be evidenced by Virgil, who says that Juno, who was an enemy of the Trojans, spoke to Aeolus, god of the winds, in the first book of the Aeneid: ‘Aeole, namque tibi: Aeolus, it was you’, and that the god replied to her with: Tuus, o regina, quid optes, explorare labor: mihi jussa capessere fas est: It is for you, o queen, to decide what our labours are to achieve: it is my duty to carry out your orders’. In the same poet he makes an inanimate thing (Apollo’s oracle) talk with animate things, in the third book of the Aeneid, with: ‘Dardanidae duri: You rough Trojans’.

In Lucan an animate thing talks with an inanimate thing, with: ‘Multum. Roma, tamen debes civilibus armis: Rome, you have greatly benefited from the civil wars.’

In Horace a man speaks to his own learning as if to another person: and not only are they Horace’s words, but he gives them as if quoting the style of goodly Homer, in his Poetics saying: ‘Dic mihi, Musa, virum: Tell me, Muse, about the man.’

In Ovid, Love speaks as if it were a person, at the start of his book titled De Remediis Amoris: Of the Remedies for Love, where he says: ‘Bella mihi, video, bella parantur, ait: Some fine things I see, some fine things are being prepared, he said.’

These examples should serve to as explanation to anyone who has objections concerning any part of my little book. And in case any ignorant person should assume too much, I will add that the poets did not write in this mode without good reason, nor should those who compose in rhyme, if they cannot justify what they are saying, since it would be shameful if someone composing in rhyme put in a figure of speech or a rhetorical flourish, and then, being asked, could not rid his words of such ornamentation so as to show the true meaning. My best friend and I know many who compose rhymes in this foolish manner.

 

Pope, the great poet, already, in the 18th century, as a philosopher, has that Modernist smell of trivializing apology about him. Not so Dante, who is an ardent, mysterious flame burning on the candle of the Muse.

WINNER: DANTE

Dante will face Plato in the Classical Final for a spot in the Final Four!

POE AND WORDSWORTH IN ELITE EIGHT ROMANTIC BRACKET BATTLE!

Wordsworth, who recently defeated Marx, contemplates advancing past Poe to reach the Elite Eight

If one reads Scarriet one is not under the usual illusions about Edgar Poe; one understands he was a thousand times more than the “macabre” writer as perceived by those who have been sadly deluded, and we include here the editors of The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and the various busybodies of the ‘book world’ who are clueless in the typical snobbish manner of the helpless bookworm.

It is important that art does not get reduced to content; art’s medium is not simply a blind receptacle for politically-approved, fashionable rhetoric—the sort of ‘meaning’ which the dense and unphilosophical type is always searching for in order to have their uninspired world view confirmed.

The ‘medium is the message’ is not the point either; it is precisely the duality of medium and message, the way they interact, which is crucial.

Poe, by inventing genres, by being a master and inventor of so many mediums, is the most important literary figure America has produced. The rest is mostly content or ‘stream-of-consciousness’ fiction: the South as presented by Faulkner, the Cubist reality of Joyce, the junkyard collage of Pound, with the whole Modernist project the same: foster illusion by dismantling the medium. The illusion, or the fiction, in the common parlance, is the autobiographical content in which the writer’s guts unspool, as it were, and the Fiction Writing instructor urges the color of ephemeral detail fill up every line in the “realist” project.

The paradox of Fiction striving, at all costs, to be realistic, to break the rules of form in such a way that content (data, info, ‘what is said’) is all, so that the medium disappears in the sprawl of what is communicated—this paradox of The Attempt To Be Real dressing itself up and calling itself Fiction (or Poetry) seems to be lost on many, who don’t see it as a paradox at all. But it certainly is.

Defenders of paradoxical ‘Real Fiction’ may reply: the Real is paradoxical, the Real is always an attempt, and not realized, and Fiction just happens to be one flexible and very important way to reproduce or experience the Real.

This response will satisfy some, but we object to it for the following reason: the Real is always an attempt, true, but this defines Fiction as failure—either it reflects our failure to know Reality or it reflects Reality the Unknowable. In either case, such a project is bound to be haphazard. The Socratic admonition to know what we don’t know is not the same thing as celebrating ignorance, or not knowing. The medium is something we can know, and for this reason alone, it deserves our attention; if proportion and pleasure belong anywhere, they belong to the way the medium captures reality, for this is what art, by definition, is; this is all we mean when we refer to form—form, or, more accurately, the form in space and time—the form of form—which is what we as artists know; otherwise we have no way of distinguishing reality from art, and reality trumps all understanding and becomes experience—the kind of experience which is experienced, and for that reason has no public or social existence, no art. Without the medium, there is no science. The painter begins with a rectangle laid against reality, and through this “window” discovers what can be scientifically known—the artist becoming an artist only insofar as he is a scientist.

Back to Poe, America’s Daedalus. Poe was scientific, not fictional. Detective fiction is a template, and not in the least concerned with persons and cultures. The writing of the populist poem, “The Raven,” with every formal aspect contributing to a unified effect as of a framed painting, with the accompanying essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” was like the work of a Renaissance Master in the studio. The science of perspective was behind the advances of Renaissance painting; these profound advances occurred precisely because the artist made this question paramount: how is reality to be portrayed in my painting? For when the artist wrestles with perspective, with how every part of the painting is viewed in space and time by the human eye in time and space (when the viewer ‘walks by’ a portrait, do the painting’s “eyes” follow, etc) measurement comes to the rescue of mere seeing.

Art which abandons perspective destroys art’s scientific medium and gives it over to that realm of imitation in which the viewer is charmed by mere colors. Do the colors charm the viewer “in reality?” Yes—and no. Do we “see” the moon as larger than it normally appears—when the moon is near the horizon, with objects that are closer—“in reality?” Yes. But here we see what Plato and the Renaissance painter were onto, in becoming self-conscious of imitation and human weakness and measurement: the issue, if looked at in the right way, is not  about being anti-art, at all, but rather it is about creating, or exploring, standards (based on science) for great art.

The rediscovery of Plato fueled the Renaissance. Here is Plato (Book X, The Republic):

Has not imitation been shown by us to be concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth?

Certainly.

And what is the faculty in man to which imitation is addressed?

What do you mean?

I will explain: The body which is large when seen near, appears small when seen at a distance?

True.

And if the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water, and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colors to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the act of conjuring and of deceiving by light and shadow and other ingenious devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic.

True.

And the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to the rescue of the human understanding—there is the beauty of them—and the apparent greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer have the mastery over us, but give way before calculation and measure and weight?

Most true.

And this, surely, must be the work of the calculating and rationale principle in the soul?

Plato is not saying to ignore or eliminate human weakness with its merely imitative propensities; Plato only asks that we become aware of error as we make art; it is the triumph of Platonism to bring about this self-consciousness in the artist; Plato’s condemnation of imitative projects, in which the medium is played down or ignored, is only one superficial aspect of Plato the Republic-builder’s intent. And why is the medium, as medium, so important? Because the medium is precisely that measuring vessel which brings us closer to reality as we make art with the medium as our guide (not as an end). This is true for perspective in “illusionistic” painting as it is true for formalism in “idealistic” poetry, aspects which Modernism and its obsession with trashy/fragmented reality has intentionally destroyed, as it seeks to define ‘the medium’ as something artificial, which interferes with reality and needs eventually to be sloughed off, like a Futurist snake shedding its ancient skin. But how deluded! And here we see the error of modern art in a nutshell.

“Artistic illusion” is when the medium is dismantled and disappears; the illusion becomes, in fact, delusion, as when we think a painting is “real.”

Perspective in painting is not simply an imitation of perspective in life—it is an investigation of the visual system itself, which includes both the perceptive mechanism of the individual viewer and geometric or mathematical truth, which, together, navigates and attempts to know higher reality within various contexts.

Let us quote from Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art:

I do not think there ever is “false belief or conception” when we look at a work of art. Arthur C. Danto’s discussion of illusion (in the sense of false belief or conception) shows clearly why we should hold this view:

“If illusion is to occur, the viewer cannot be conscious of any properties that really belong to the medium, for to the degree that we perceive that it is a medium, illusion is effectively aborted. So the medium must, as it were, be invisible, and this requirement is perfectly symbolized by the plate of glass which is presumed transparent, something we cannot see but only see through (as consciousness is transparent in the sense that we are not conscious of it but only of its objects)…So conceived, it is the aim of imitation to conceal from the viewer the fact that it is an imitation, which is conspicuously at odds with Aristotle’s thought that the knowledge of imitation accounts for its pleasure. In Plato’s it evidently did, and it is this form of the theory I am working with now. Taken as a theory of art, what imitation theory amounts to is a reduction of the artwork to its content, everything else being supposedly invisible—or if visible, then an excrescence, to be overcome by further illusionistic technology.”

Art can be pro-Medium or anti-Medium; the Medium can be seen as a glory, or at least as a necessity, as it was for the Renaissance painter exploring perspective, as it was for Plato, in which the Medium equalled “measurement” which comes to the “rescue” of blind imitation, as it was for Shelley, who said the poet would be a fool not to use rhyme, and as it was for Poe, a Medium-based writer if there ever was one, frustrating the typical reader of autobiographical content. An important point here: the glory of the Medium is not something “artificial,” even as it escapes the “ephemeral fact” in the “scientific-how-to” of its Medium-ness. The rectangular window of the Renaissance painter pictures reality not artificially, so much as naturally and scientifically. Rhyme and meter belong to science; they are not artificialities getting  in the way of reality, so much as a concession to how vast and unknowable reality qua reality is, making measurement and limit necessary, not only for art, but for knowing reality at all. And further, the Medium works with Content; the Medium does not simply exist statically by itself.

And then we have the anti-Medium school, which really does believe in a Reality better known without the nuisance of the bullying, “old-fashioned” limitations of the Medium. This includes, really, the entire Modernist project of the last 200 years, which attempts to either fight free of the Medium’s limitations, or hold it up as a joke or a gimmick.

So here we are: Wordsworth is an early Modernist who is best known—even as he worked brilliantly in poetic forms—for praising poems which imitated the “real speech of real men:” the implication of this revolutionary project is that reality—the real speech of real men— can be conveyed “without poetry, or that cumbersome Medium known as “Verse,” which, the Reality-loving Modernist is quick to point out, is “artificial,” just as Renaissance perspective is “artificial.” To the Modernist, all art is “artificial,” and the quicker we get rid of this diversion, the better. We have already pointed out how wrong-headed this is; but we should point out here that indeed, if the Medium is too removed from Reality, if it is badly or ineptly wrought, then, yes, it will be artificial and inept, in the very sense of the Modernist critique. But the Modernist threw out the baby with the bath water. For the Modernist, the Medium itself, no matter how excellent, became a nuisance and an enemy.

Perhaps we are being unfair to Wordsworth; since he did work in the medium of poetic formalism, what he meant perhaps, with his explicit talk of the “the speech of real men” was only his way of saying that his medium was a vehicle for the real, and not a medium, only. Just as Plato called measure beautiful, Wordsworth, in the same vein, was insightful enough to intuit plain speech as poetry. But not so. Art either stoops or elevates. It either pretends to give us reality-without-medium or acknowledges that art is reality-through-medium. The gods of Keats are more artistically profound than the beggars of Wordsworth, or, more importantly, Keats’s gods are not further from reality than Wordsworth’s beggars, and are closer to reality, if Keats uses the Medium of Verse better. No one can claim an over-arching reality which is superior to medium and form. Ever.

Poe laughed at Wordsworth’s apology for his own poetry’s “awkwardness” in W.’s “Introduction to Lyrical Ballads;” the medium of music was necessary for poetry’s enjoyment, Poe felt, and in his little essay, “Letter to B.,” Poe quotes some awkward lines of pure doggerel from Wordsworth for the purpose of ridicule, and refers to the “doctrine” of the “Lake School” as overly “metaphysical.” By contrast, Poe had nothing but good things to say of Keats’ poetry. Pleasure. Idealism. Medium. Music. These are mandatory for the poet. If one wishes to be “wise” or “political” or “realistic” or “informative,” let the author use prose. This advice could not be more simple. Which is why, perhaps, the educated today ignore it.

WINNER:POE

 

 

 

THE ROAD TO CRITICISM’S FINAL FOUR

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Two more wins.  That’s all Harold Bloom or Edmund Wilson needs.  As the fate of the other philosophers in the Classical, Romantic and Modern brackets smashes on the rocks of wit and time, in the Post-Modern Bracket, Harold Bloom and Edmund Wilson prepare to advance to the cherished spot atop the Critical Parnassus.

What claims do these two professors have on us? Both are classic ‘old white guys’ defending a Canon of old white guy literature, if we might be crude and blunt about it. They are both ‘conservative’ in the way all English professors are generally conservative—and when they are not, students think “cool.” Bloom and Wilson are not cool. They both embody, “Hey kids! Get off my lawn!”

Were the giants of canonical literature ever cool? Or whatever is cool not canonical? Do we have two choices: the Great or the cool?

Yup, that’s it. And sometimes the cool is great (a great jazz musician) and the great is cool (Byron’s jokes, Homer’s mayhem).

The present is a tiny window. Those who study history belong to a much larger window, but the problem is: how do you fit the larger window into the smaller one? Sure, the brain can hold a lot of information, but the brain quickly forgets a lot of information, too; education for the sake of education tends to be a useless exercise of ‘info in, info out.’

Let’s say we feed the brain with ‘Homer to the Present’; how do we stop it from all just leaking out? Never mind those not interested in learning literature at all; even the earnest, the curious, the devoted may forget tomorrow what they learn today, especially if what they learn is just a massive pile of facts. What we need is a thread of learning, a kind of meaningful theology or creed which holds the facts in place and transforms them into a second language. The first language, our native tongue which we share with our peers, enables us to communicate with each other; few forget the first language, and even without formal literary study, many become quite adept at this first language, and use it to do all kinds of amazing things–after all, language itself, literary or not, is amazing. Who needs that second language, then? What is it?

Selection is the key term; literature is nothing more than the history of language, and selecting for the smaller window of the present from the larger window of the past is what it’s all about. The whole thing is quite simple. The critic, the professor, in this case Bloom and Wilson, succeed or fail in how well they select. In fact, we who use the first language (the language we all speak and share in order to communicate) succeed in the same way, pulling in from ‘our second language’ all which makes how we communicate in the first language interesting, drawing from the larger into the smaller, so that we are more than just a speaker of a language, more than the sum of our (speaking) parts.

This second language is like our soul which inhabits the first language (our body). Everyone has a body; the body is a common thing, but it is ultimately how we ‘do’ things, just as it is with this first language that we always speak, even as those rich in a ‘second’ language pour their second language into the first.

Speech that is very refined—and some would say ‘uncool’ and pretentious—is the Second Language glimpsed in its exposed existence as a Second Language: this, for some, is what Literature is. The simple act of emoting or singing might bring about this effect: the soul is ‘speaking!’ But if someone cannot sing, and if the emoting fails to move or amuse, we immediately sense that here no soul exists; the attempt was made to draw on the Second Language but apparently the person has no Second language, even as they may be perfectly adequate in expressing themselves with their First Language. We say they have no poetry, no drama, no flair; and if they persist in singing and emoting poorly, we call them a fool; and if they stick to their first language, we are satisfied, and finally judge them as not being a dramatic type; we would not go so far as to condemn them as really having no soul, however, even if perhaps we might find ourselves whispering behind their backs that they are a little dull.

We notice several things here. 1) The second language can disappear into the first; both are languages; 2) the second language can be seen in its naked state as something distinct from the first language—and here 3) it is immediately judged as something that annoys or amuses.

The whole of the Literary Canon, then, including the contemporary poet uttering their poem today, hoping to have an impact now, is subject to our judgment: does this amuse or annoy? We cannot escape this judgment, no more than we can taste food without subjecting ourselves to its tastiness or lack thereof.

The first language cannot, and is not, judged in this way: it merely tells us something; the first language is like the food’s nutrition; it is below the radar of our taste and conscious judgment. Learning the first language in our earliest days, we taste it not; we are fed it without being conscious of pleasure or annoy—the act of communication—putting pieces together to communicate—is all. But what is really happening at this stage is that we ourselves in our pre-literate animal state are the real first language, and what we have been calling the ‘first language’ is our ‘Second Language’ until gradually the real Second Language (the literary history and soul of the human race) falls upon us with its shadow, brightening our first two languages.

We become mature speakers when we can ‘taste’ nutrition; instead of merely being attracted to sugar and sweet taste, our taste and the good (what is good for us) coincide. Some, the non-literate, the soul-less, are forever split: they like what is sweet and bad for them and they  hate what has no sweet taste but is good for them. They are like children always annoyed by learning. Life has taken pity on them; they have learned their first language and forever benefit from it; and having a First Language guarantees the Second Language may visit them and carry them along with its pull.

The Second Language is the Good disguised as something Sweet; it is the large converting itself to the small so that the pitifully narrow present might be guided by the vast truth of the past. Again, selection is all; the sweet which can best cover the good is selected; the good is selected, the sweet which is sweet, but not too sweet, is selected; every necessary combination is selected, and then all those selections are selected. The poet selects an audience, selects selections for that audience; the audience selects from poetic selections, the critic selects from poetic selections and audience selections alike.

The critic—Bloom and Wilson—use the first language to describe the second language; both their first language and the first language of others, to judge the second.

The second language, literature, what we have called the history of language, is judged precisely as that, with a language which is purely useful and not itself up for judgment. Critics are those who wish to judge, and not be judged. They wish to admire, not be admired. They wish to teach, not be taught. They wish to select from the larger and convert it to the smaller; this is what they in fact must do.

Let us turn to Wilson, the conservative critic, doing exactly this.

Observe how he crushes the pretense of Valery:

It seems to me that a pretense to exactitude is here used to cover a number of ridiculously false assumptions, and to promote a kind of aesthetic mysticism rather than to effect a scientific analysis. In the first place, is it not absurd to assert that prose deals exclusively in “sense” as distinguished from suggestion, and that one has no right to expect from poetry, as Valery says in another passage, “any definite notion at all”? Is verse really an intellectual product absolutely different in kind from prose?  Has it really an absolutely different function? Are not both prose and verse, after all merely techniques of human intercommunication, and techniques which have played various roles, have been used for various purposes, in different periods and civilizations? The early Greeks used verse for histories, their romances and their laws—the Greeks and the Elizabethans used it for their dramas. If Valery’s definitions are correct, what becomes of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe? They all of them deal in sense as well as suggestion and aim to convey “definite notions.” These definitions have, however, obviously been framed to apply to the poetry of Valery himself and of Mallarme and the other Symbolists. Yet it does not really apply to even them. As we have seen, Valery’s poetry does make sense, it does deal with definite subjects, it does transmit to us “something intelligible that is going on inside his mind.” Even though in calling his book of poems “Charmes,” he has tried to emphasize its esoteric, magical, non-utilitarian character, we cannot admit that it is anything but an effort like another of articulate human speech. What happens when we communicate with each other, in literature as well as in curses and cries for help, and in verse as well as prose—what part is played by suggestion, and whether sense and suggestion are different and separable—are questions which take us far and deep: I shall return to them in a later chapter. But Valery has already let us see—it is even one of his favorite ideas—that he understands the basic similarity between the various forms of intellectual activity; he has taken pride in pointing out the kinship between poetry and mathematics. And if the function and methods of poetry are similar to those of mathematics, they must surely be similar to those of prose. If Valery resembles Descartes, as he seems willing to indulge himself in imagining, then it is impossible to make a true distinction between the philosophical or mathematical treatise and however Symbolistic a poem. Valery betrays himself here, it seems to me, as a thinker anything but “rigorous;” and he betrays also, I believe, a desire, defensive no doubt at the same time as snobbish, to make it appear that verse, a technique now no longer much used for history, story-telling or drama and consequently not much in popular demand, has some inherent superiority to prose. He has not hesitated even to assure us elsewhere that “poetry is the most difficult of the arts!”

Now Wilson on T.S. Eliot from the same work, Axel’s Castle:

It will be seen that Eliot differs from Valery in believing that poetry should make “sense.” And he elsewhere, in his essay on Dante in “The Sacred Wood,” remonstrates with Valery for asserting that philosophy has no place in poetry. Yet Eliot’s point of view, though more intelligently reasoned and expressed, comes down finally to the same sort of thing as Valery’s and seems to me open to the same sort of objection. Eliot’s conclusion in respect to the relation of philosophy to poetry is that, though philosophy has its place in poetry, it is only as something which we “see” among the other things with which the poet presents us, a set of ideas which penetrate his world, as in the case of the “Divina Commedia:” in the case of such a poet as Lucretius, the philosophy sometimes seems antagonistic to the poetry only because it happens to be a philosophy “not rich enough in feeling…incapable of complete expansion into pure vision.” Furthermore, “the original form of philosophy cannot be poetic”: the poet must use a philosophy already invented by somebody else. Now, though we admire the justice of Eliot’s judgments on the various degrees of artistic success achieved by Dante, Lucretius and others, it becomes plainer and plainer, as time goes on, that the real effect of Eliot’s, as of Valery’s, literary criticism, is to impose upon us a conception of poetry as some sort of pure and rare aesthetic essence with no relation to any of the practical human uses for which, for some reason never explained, only the technique of prose is appropriate.

Now this point of view, as I have already suggested in writing about Paul Valery, seems to me absolutely unhistorical…

Edmund Wilson, to put it simply, accuses the Modernists Valery and Eliot’s redefinition of poetry as something excessively pure, in the small window of their present day, as betraying the Second Language, the larger window of literary history which includes “Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe.” And Wilson is right. Call him “conservative,” but he actually speaks for a larger window—one that can easily fit into the smaller window of our time. Why “easily?” Precisely because of the nature of the geniuses Wilson lists: who are essential for their ability to say more with less. Eliot and Valery fret over the relationship of poetry to philosophy, worrying that the former cannot contain the latter. But as Wilson implies, this “unhistorical” position demeans poetry. Valery and Eliot might argue that verse is no longer a vehicle for prose-subjects as it once was, and the task now is to find ‘the poetry’ or the ‘poetic vision’ in writing which is neither quite verse nor quite prose, and to call this “unhistorical” is a grumpy attempt to stifle progress. But the Modernist position, which has prevailed—who reads Wilson anymore?—is abstractly and vaguely argued and has proved to be rather impotent.

Harold Bloom has spent his latter career championing Shakespeare’s dramas, and since Bloom is no poet, this activity is free of all “anxiety.”  Shakespeare invented Freudian psychology, Bloom asserts, but he never acknowledges how Plato’s dialogues influenced Shakespeare’s plays, though Bloom is full of “precursor” talk in general. Bloom favors Emerson over Poe to such an extreme degree that Bloom’s judgment cannot possibly be trusted anywhere else. Bloom believes “study” and “reading” are “holy,” and his attempt to see all of poetry as One Poem is admirable, but unfortunately with him, as with Eliot and the Modernists, this attempt is finally bookish and separated from the real world of love which lives behind the poem.

WINNER: WILSON

HERE’S THE SWEET 16 IN SCARRIET’S 2014 MARCH MADNESS POETRY PHILOSOPHER TOURNAMENT!

Johann Wenzel Peter , Fight of a lion with a tiger , 1809

Here are the Literary Critics worth reading: the Top 16 Who Have Prevailed So Far and Have Made It To the SWEET SIXTEEN!

Every year, Scarriet holds their version of March Madness, with 64 authors competing for the championship.

In 2010, the first year of the tournament, we used every Best American Poetry volume, David Lehman, editor, to determine the field.  Winner: Billy Collins

In 2011, Stephen Berg, David Bonnano, and Arthur Vogelsang’s Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review. Winner: Philip Larkin

In 2012, Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Winner: Ben Mazer

In 2013, casting about for players, we amassed 64 Romantic poets, including modern and contemporary poets fitting the Romantic mold. Winner: Shelley

This year, Scarriet used the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John McGowan, and Jeffrey J. Williams, which has produced a true clash of giants:

Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Sidney, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Marx, Freud, Pater, De Beauvoir, Saussure, T.S. Eliot, etc.

The earth actually shook as the combatants went toe to toe in this year’s March Madness.

The critc-philosophers who made it to the Sweet 16 are:

CLASSICAL

1. PLATO d. Sidney

2. DANTE d. Aristotle

3. POPE d. Aquinas

4. ADDISON d. Maimonides

ROMANTIC

5. WORDSWORTH d. Marx

6. COLERIDGE d. Burke

7. POE d. Peacock

8. SHELLEY d. Emerson

MODERN

9. BAUDELAIRE d. Saussure

10. FREUD d. Benjamin

11. WILDE d. Pater

12. (John Crowe) RANSOM d. T.S. Eliot

POST-MODERN

13. (Edmund) WILSON d. Northrup Frye

14. (J.L.) AUSTIN d. Cixous

15. (Edward) SAID d. De Beauvoir

16. (Harold) BLOOM d. Sartre

Scarriet would ask you not to try this at home: The winners are all white men.

We are really sorry, VIDA.  But when women—or the women presented in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism—only write on women, this narrowness itself contributes to a certain amount of self-marginalizing.

This is a universal problem: if the oppressed are thrown in an intellectual hole, how do they dig themselves out—in a truly broad intellectual fashion?

Perhaps this is why there’s a certain dislike for this kind of competition: the best rises to the top, producing an historical unfairness, given what human history has been.

We see the problem.  We make no apologies, however, for our experiment.

YEAUHHHHHH!!!! SWEET 16 IN THE POST-MODERN BRACKET!!!

Edmund Wilson, who bullied his way into the Sweet 16: Yea, I’m an asshole, what of it? he seems to be saying. In Letters, arrogance goes a long way.

EDMUND WILSON VERSUS NORTHROP FRYE

Wilson (d. 1972) was a magnificent snob, believing himself above government, morality, tact, and popular literature. He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years after World War Two and got off with a slap on the wrist. He served on the Dewey Commission in the 1930s, an elaborate effort by a few American intellectuals to clear Trotsky against the Soviet findings of the Moscow Trials. Trotsky wrote the following re: the Commission:

The Moscow trials are perpetrated under the banner of socialism. We will not concede this banner to the masters of falsehood! If our generation happens to be too weak to establish Socialism over the earth, we will hand the spotless banner down to our children. The struggle which is in the offing transcends by far the importance of individuals, factions and parties. It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be severe, it will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm let him step aside. In time of reaction it is more convenient to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But all those for whom the word ‘Socialism’ is not a hollow sound but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats nor persecutions nor violations can stop us! Be it even over our bleaching bones the truth will triumph! We will blaze the trail for it. It will conquer! Under all the severe blows of fate, I shall be happy as in the best days of my youth! Because, my friends, the highest human happiness is not the exploitation of the present but the preparation of the future.

“It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be a severe, it will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm let him step aside.”

These are indeed fighting words. “Give up physical comfort” to spread Socialism over the face of the earth. “It will conquer!” Etc. Here’s the world which Wilson, Princeton man, snobby blue blood and literary critic, swore by and lived in. One can say, “despite his pedigree, Wilson was fighting for the salt of the earth,” or, Wilson was a dangerous political lunatic, who thanks to his pedigree, was able to do as he pleased.” Take your pick.

Wilson dismissed J. R. Tolkien as “juvenile,” and asked Anais Nin to marry him, claiming he would teach her how to write. Wilson was interested in “Symbolist” literature, a genre which cannot be defined; those like Wilson, who were interested in it, claimed it was post-Romantic. Wilson, a typical Modernist, defined Romanticism as something silly which preceded Realism. Wilson’s opinion of Poe was that Americans were too “provincial” to appreciate him, unlike Wilson himself, who thought Poe “insane” and whose whole understanding of Poe was that Poe was a bridge between Romanticism and Symbolism—which is ignorant. We always hear that Wilson had “many wives and many affairs,” but why any woman would be interested in this pompous hack is hard to fathom. My guess is that he tried to have affairs and they came to eventually be reported as affairs. He could get literary women published, since he was a well-connected reviewer; perhaps he had personal charisma; perhaps his socialist opinions made him seem gallant with a certain set. His writing  is pedantic, dreary, worthless. A writer who believes in world socialism and makes Baudelaire his specialty has to be suspect. Wilson hung around Edna Millay a great deal; it calls to mind for us Yeats and Maude Gonne: great women harmed by politically motivated men who did more than admire them. Millay was a thousand times the genius Wilson—the more worldly—was.

Northrop Frye, unlike Edmund Wilson, was not worldly. He was merely a professor, and a very good one. He came under scrutiny from the Canadian government for his opposition to the Vietnam War, but Frye’s influence was chiefly literary.

Frye’s influence can be summed up this way: Harold Bloom. Criticism eclipses Reviewing. Useless and pretentious literature gets a free pass because it fits into the professor’s “scientific” view of literary “tradition.”  Frye, like Bloom, excuses all sorts of nuttiness in the name of Profound Scholarship. One doesn’t read a book. One takes a book and fits it into an ever-changing tradition that includes the Bible and various texts throughout recorded history, in a way that changes those texts: modernism, as invented by its godfather, T.S. Eliot. The one thing that is not allowed is common sense. The unstable and the ‘highly significant’ rule. Reality as understood in a populist context is forbidden.

Edmund Wilson falsely presented himself as an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, in order to “upset” theological authority. Frye/Bloom has the same ambition, a bold one. Confuse, and then attempt to be influential within that confusion. Literature as Fabricated Contemporary Religious Scholarship. Literature, for the Ambitious Modernist Critic, is not something which comes into the life of someone who peruses a story or a poem for a half an hour from its beginning to its end, the story or poem succeeding or failing on its own terms. Literature is rather a vast joint corporate enterprise which demands abstract expert-ism as far removed from the ordinary reading experience as possible. Welcome to John Crowe Ransom’s “Criticism, Inc.” Welcome to Harold Bloom’s “Anxiety.” Welcome to Edmund Wilson’s “Symbolism.” Welcome to Northrop Frye’s “Science.”

Words, words, words.

WINNER: EDMUND WILSON

*

HELENE CIXOUS VERSUS J.L. AUSTIN

Austin exists in the present, with his theory of performative language: language, in the most radical sense imaginable, does not mean; it does.

Cixous (pronounced seek-soo, or ‘looking for Sue’) exists in the past, since her work comes out of her academic success in the radical 60s and 70s in France, when French Writing (Ecriture) Theory exploded onto the scene, casting aside German Idealism and Anglo-American pragmatism as the sexiest thing around. Why sexy? Why the past? Because Western Tradition had repressed everything that was not Male and Ideal; and now Cixous was ‘writing’ the ‘female body’ in order to redeem the past—which clings to the effort.

Austin worked for British intelligence; in him, Anglo-American pragmatism, in its smug complacency, triumphs over the French Theory and the Freud and the Feminism and the Derrida and the Lacan of Cixous—who finally over-argues her case.

If the goal of the woman is to triumph over her mere flesh, while the man’s ambition is to reduce the woman to mere flesh for his pleasure, it is clear that feminist projects which rely on dualisms of past/present, A/not A, penis/no penis, male/female, light/darkness, many/one, speech/language, West/East, body/mind, beautiful/ugly, are doomed to fail, for even with conscious efforts to subvert these dualisms, the French Theorist either remains trapped in them, or drifts off into over-heated incoherence.

Austin, by showing that language is performance, brought flesh to language in a way the French Theorists, with their deferrals of meaning and their difference, could never quite pull off; non-gendered flesh, too, and thus deliciously feminist/not feminist.

WINNER: AUSTIN

*

EDWARD SAID VERSUS SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR

The one overwhelming thing which Modernism did, and here we include everything, whether it is the feminism of a De Beauvoir or the postcolonial historicism of a Said, was the squashing of sincerity.

Is sincerity a good in itself?

If it is naive, and based in ignorance, if it lacks irony or a sense of humor, they will say sincerity verges on stupidity.

We speak of a useful sincerity, however, free of pain, which, even within its “stupidity,” has the potential to abide and achieve and discover hidden good.

There is a kind of false and bitter “sincerity” which depends on a surrounding insincerity for its existence, an energy possessed by the socialist who needs to convert the world to its vision of simple good, for example. But such ‘save-the-world’ proselytizing is rarely sincere. It assumes too much insincerity in the other.

The kind of sincerity which Modernity has destroyed is the pure and simple kind, guided by love and hope and innocence, neither afflicted nor distracted by deep anxieties or doubts.

This type of sincerity, we imagine, is at the heart of Mozart’s music, and any sustained action of genius: naive, focused, splendid, unique, human, alone, happy.

At first blush, this good type of sincerity is described (and attacked) as sentimentality. The cynic dare not call it stupidity, for the cynic is well aware of how everything is stupid or ‘not what it seems,’ this knowledge characterizing the unsentimental cynic in the first place.

Simone De Beauvoir had to attack sentimentality to ‘free’ women from the dire effects of Victorian romance. For Said, the citizens of the West had to be made aware of the blood on their hands—not just employees of the East India Company—everyone is somehow guilty.

Sentimentality as it existed in the 19th century in the great writings of the Romantics and even in writers like Wilde, who used his wit to keep the spirit of the Romantics alive, was banished in the 20th century, and with it, the more important, and more beneficial, sincerity; the sincerity which stimulates people in a reciprocating atmosphere of cheerfulness and good withers, as churlish cynicism triumphs among the self-aware, chattering classes.

Stupidity of the brain is sometimes necessary for wisdom in the heart.

As De Beauvoir writes:

To recognize in woman a human being is not to impoverish man’s experience: this would lose none of its diversity, its richness, or its intensity if it were to occur between two subjectivities. To discard the myths is not to destroy all dramatic relation between the sexes, it is not to deny the significance authentically revealed to man through feminine reality; it is not to do away with poetry, love, adventure, happiness, dreaming. It is simply to ask, that behavior, sentiment, passion be founded upon the truth.

She protests too much.

Said, who spent his childhood in the British colony of Palestine, wrote:

Too often literature and culture are presumed to be politically, even historically innocent; it has regularly seemed otherwise to me, and certainly my study of Orientalism has convinced me (and I hope will convince my literary colleagues) that society and literary culture can only be understood and studied together. In addition, and by an almost inescapable logic, I have found myself writing the history of a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism and, as I have discussed it in its Islamic branch, Orientalism resemble each other very closely is a historical, cultural, and political truth that needs only to be mentioned to an Arab Palestinian for its irony to be be perfectly understood.

The genie is out of the bottle. Not only is war impossible, peace and reason are, too. Where the phrase “anti-Semitism” exists, sincerity cannot exist. Luckily, one can get back a certain amount of sincerity by stepping off the stage, putting aside certain books, and ignoring certain individuals. But the problem with the landscape remains.

WINNER: SAID

*

SARTRE VERSUS HAROLD BLOOM

We expect critics to be critical. As Northrop Frye has said, we can’t teach literature, only the criticism of literature, and this is why so many poets hate critics—precisely because critics are critical in Frye’s sense. And, since Frye is correct, Criticism dominates learning, our learning, whether we want it to, or not. And more than this, Criticism writes our poetry, as well. Wilde and Poe both explicitly stated the obvious: the critical sense is what writes the poetry; the so-called creative or imaginative faculty is merely the critical faculty reversed. Criticism does not create, it judges; exactly, and the creative faculty does not create either (only God does)—the creative faculty combines; and every moment of the combining process is effected by the judgment, by the critical intelligence of the artist.

Harold Bloom is a successful critic for the same reason Poe was a successful critic: a host of minor poets strongly dislike them. Bloom pursues the logic laid out here by vilifying Poe and championing Emerson; Poe’s test was more severe: one was less a critic if one was not a poet (Bloom is not) while Emerson’s test simply said that any strong argument was poetry. Poe’s rivalry is something Bloom cannot face. Bloom is therefore not critical, precisely because his critical choices are driven by the fact that he is not a poet himself—which fulfills the prophecy.

Sartre is too anti-Literature to be a poet or a critic; Sartre is like Bloom, then, but one who knocks over Bloom’s chess pieces, even as Sartre agrees with Emerson that argument is finally all.  Listen to Sartre here:

There is no ‘gloomy literature,’ since, however dark may be the colors in which one paints the world, one paints it only so that free men may feel their freedom as they face it. Thus, there are only good and bad novels. The bad novel aims to please by flattering, whereas the good one is an exigence and an act of faith. But above all, the unique point of view from which the author can present the world to those freedoms whose concurrence he wishes to bring about is that of a world to be impregnated always with more freedom.  One can imagine a good novel being written by an American negro even if hatred of the whites were spread all over it, because it is the freedom of his race that he demands through his hatred. But nobody can suppose for a moment that it is possible to write a good novel in praise of anti-Semitism. For, the moment I feel that my freedom is indissolubly linked with that of all other men, it cannot be demanded of me that I use it to approve the enslavement of a part of these men. Thus, whether he is an essayist, a pamphleteer, a satirist, or a novelist, whether he speaks of individual passions or whether he attacks the social order, the writer, a free man addressing free men, has only one subject—freedom.

Sartre is still playing chess, with white and black pieces, even though some have run away in an attempt to be “free.” Bloom plays a more elaborate game of chess, one that keeps the pieces upright, even as we have no idea how the game is proceeding, though we do know Shakespeare is Bloom’s king and Emerson, the queen, perhaps. Literature can be ‘too gloomy’ for Bloom—he accused Poe of precisely this, even as he praised Emerson’s health and clarity. But those who accuse Poe of playing too much in a minor key tend to be those who play in no key at all and instead do a lot of thumping: Sartre thumps very loudly in order to flatter a certain sensibility. Bloom sings fragmented medleys, flattering in a far more rarefied fashion.

WINNER: BLOOM

The last of the women—de Beauvoir and Cixous—have fallen!

The Post-Modern bracket is now Wilson, Austin, Said, and Bloom!

 

 

MODERN BRACKET HURTLES TOWARDS SWEET 16

Baudelaire versus Saussure

Baudelaire learned from Poe that melancholy is the most beautiful in art, but for everyone but the genius melancholy begins to hurt too much, and turns to pain, and the beautiful is lost and replaced with envy and despair. Poe was sober, chaste and truly loved the beautiful.  Not Baudelaire.  Baudelaire is the vermin song in the spot where Poe the angel was. In Baudelaire’s shadow we sink further from the master. In Baudelaire’s famous poem, “Au Lecteur,” Ennui, or Boredom, presides over the other devils. If Baudelaire had been honest, he would have written somewhere in Fleur du Mal of his own envy which gnawed at him (the real king of his demons) and ushered in Modernism—which envies the Classical.

Ferdinand Saussure was born in 1857, the year Fleur du Mal first appeared in Paris bookshops. Just as Romanticism was born in the 18th century—not the 19th, as traditionally taught, Modernism was born in the 19th century—but what we find interesting is that language-obsessed post-Modernism which owes so much to Saussure arrived later in the 20th century only because Saussure’s ideas were transmitted tardily.

Materially, the various eras follow each other in perfect order: cotton gin, camera, automobile, etc.

But in terms of art and ideas, eras exist in no order at all-–scholars simply assume that people ‘thought this way’ or ‘thought about these kinds of things’ during this or that era; the divisions are made based on convenience, or ideology; all is slippery and evasive—and because ideas are more important than things or technology, the truth, we can be sure, is lost.

Saussure made the incredible claim that all knowledge, all thought, all ideas, don’t exist until they are put into language.

He then posited that language is arbitrary and has no positive definition; it is a field of negatives: this is not this, etc.

Here is the dangerous Post-Modernism idea generated by Saussure: there is nothing real behind language.  Further, whatever we do, or speak, exists from a blind allegiance to social convention: we are hopelessly trapped in group-think from one end of our minds to the other. We may smile, we may shout, we can attempt to authenticate expression in any number of performances imbued with the highest feeling: no matter.  We are only robots exhibiting group behavior.

However: Can I not walk down the street and see someone walking towards me, observing how they grow increasingly larger as they approach?   I do not need language to note this principle.

Saussure is wrong. There is a world of thought which does not need a language to exist.  Saussure does not deny pre-linguistic thought; he only says it is a confused jumble.  But what is confused about perspective?

It is certainly more difficult to think without language; but is it thinking we are doing with language?—perhaps all the thought worthy of the name is precisely that which comes into existence before we try it out in mere words.

What does it mean for us if the Saussurean principle is rife with error?

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

Benjamin versus Freud

Freud was an old man when the Nazis came to power, escaping to London at the end of a distinguished life; Benjamin was middle-aged and a failed professor when the Nazis took over, killed trying to escape. Freud read Shakespeare in English. Benjamin translated Baudelaire into German.  Freud, intellectually free, grounded by studies of insanity and the science of human pathology, influenced by great masters, such as Schiller, willing to seek all paths and byways, changed sex into religion. Freud’s involvement with hypnosis, free association, transference, will make him forever significant from a literary standpoint. It could almost be said that Freud took literature and turned it into science.  Not literature-as-scientific-study. Science formed by literature.  Freud changed the world. Benjamin was crushed by it.

WINNER: FREUD

Pater versus Wilde

Pater narrowed Letters in a vague manner. Wilde expanded Letters in gem-like, aphoristic glee.

WINNER: WILDE

Ransom versus Eliot

This is an interesting match, since Ransom represents the American, and  Eliot, the European strain of conservative High Modernism.  Both men were born in 1888, Ransom in the spring, Eliot in the fall.

T.S. Eliot, which Scarriet never tires of pointing out, since it is highly significant and no one else ever points it out, traces his literary heritage back to Emerson through his distinguished grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, and grand uncle, Christopher P. Cranch, Dial poet, both friendly with Emerson—who made important pilgrimages to England: setting the groundwork for Eliot’s Anglo-American snobbery and Eliot’s hatred of the patriotic Irish-American, and enemy of Emerson, Edgar Poe. (Ransom’s New Critics, though Southern, disliked Poe, too.)

Modernism was the sickly, over-intellectual, internationalist reaction to American idealism—embodied by a writer like a Poe, who worshiped all sorts of ideals: Beauty, Country, Woman, Romance, Love, Verse etc, simple ideals easily mocked, distorted, and mangled by the morbid, cutting, intellectualizing of characters such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. 

Modernism wasn’t progress; it was rudeness elevated to art: a vast generalization, perhaps, but with a grain of truth, which we assert for that important grain. Rudeness is as old as the hills—there’s nothing ‘modern’ about it; but since Eliot and Pound are ‘of’ our time, we assume they are more ‘modern’ than Poe, or that Poe’s idealism must belong to the past.

John Crowe Ransom, Southern Agrarian and New Critic, was clever, wrong-headed, Modernist, and superficially conservative like Eliot, and worked with Paul Engle, Robert Lowell, and Robie Macauley (Iowa Writers Workshop, CIA, Playboy fiction editor) to get the Program Era rolling. Eliot went to Europe and moped over England’s loss of influence, etc. During the 30s, Eliot made his speech against the Jews, Ransom published the reactionary “I’ll Take My Stand.” But for the most part, these were highly intelligent men. Ransom enjoyed himself more, was more well-rounded, and actually got more done. Both Eliot and Ransom slammed the Romantics; Eliot, a kind of craven prude, attacked Shelley personally; Ransom dismissed Byron as old-fashioned. They were of their time and rode the time as Modernist scolds with a mandarin, reactionary fervor.  Loony Post-Modernism makes Eliot and Ransom seem sensible by comparison; however as brilliant as they were, they were not.

WINNER: RANSOM

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!

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

FREUD VERSUS TROTSKY IN THE MODERN BRACKET

 

FREUD:

It is never possible to be sure that a dream has been completely interpreted.

Dreams reproduce logical connection by simultaneity in time. Here they are acting like the painter who, in a picture of the School of Athens or of Parnassus, represents in one group all the philosophers or all the poets. It is true that they never were in fact assembled in a single hall or on a single mountain-top; but they certainly form a group in the conceptual sense.

Every attempt that has hitherto been made to solve the problem of dreams has dealt directly with their manifest content. We are alone in taking something else into account: their latent content.

Oedipus Rex is what is known as a tragedy of  destiny. Its tragic effect is said to lie in the contrast between the supreme will of the gods and the vain attempts of mankind to escape the evil that threatens them. The lesson which, it is said, the deeply moved spectator should learn from the tragedy is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence.

It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first murderous wish against our father.

There is an unmistakable indication in the text of Sophocles’ tragedy itself that the legend of Oedipus sprang from some primeval dream-material which had as its content the distressing disturbance of a child’s relation to his parents owing to the first stirrings of sexuality.

Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized. Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish. Here I have translated into conscious terms what was bound to remain unconscious in Hamlet’s mind; and if anyone is inclined to call him a hysteric, I can only accept the fact as one that is implied by my interpretation. The distaste for sexuality expressed by Hamlet in his conversation with Ophelia fits in very well with this: the same distaste which was destined to take possession of the poet’s mind more and more during the years that followed, and which reached its extreme expression in Timon of Athens. For it can of course only be the poet’s own mind which confronts us in Hamlet.

 

TROTSKY:

The poet can find material for his art only in his social environment and transmits the new impulses of life through his own artistic consciousness. Language, changed and complicated by urban conditions, gives the poet a new verbal material, and suggests or facilitates new word combinations for the poetic formulation of new thoughts or of new feelings, which strive to break through the dark shell of the subconscious. If there were no changes in psychology produced by changes in the social environment, there would be no movement in art; people would continue from generation to generation to be content with the poetry of the Bible, or of the old Greeks.

The only theory which has opposed Marxism in Soviet Russia these years is the Formalist theory of Art. The paradox consists in the fact that Russian Formalism connected itself closely with Russian Futurism, and that while the latter was capitulating politically before Communism, Formalism opposed Marxism with all its might theoretically.

The Formalists are not content to ascribe to their methods a merely subsidiary, serviceable and technical significance—similar to that which statistics has for social science, or the microscope for the biological sciences. No, they go much further. To them verbal art ends finally and fully with the word, and depictive art with color.

The quarrels about “pure art” do not become us. Materialistic dialectics are above this; from the point of view of an objective historical process, art is always a social servant and historically utilitarian, and quite independently of whether it appears in a given case under the flag of a “pure” or of a frankly tendentious art.

 

Freudian psychology used to be everywhere—it became a religion for 20th century intellectuals, and it still reverberates.  Freud conquered Christianity, manners, sex, art, pillow talk, literary criticism, and although the bomb went off several generations ago and the sound of its explosion has passed, its effects are still here; the ideas no longer need to be argued, they are in us.  But are they true?  Are they good?

Psychology occupies a privileged position between philosophy and poetry—with the withering away of both, Psychology has grown into a colossus.  Undergraduates study it, corporations manage people with it, and millions of people try and figure out themselves and others with it. Freud starts fires; Freudian psychology is a Dionysian force against religion, art, statesmanship and work, which orders and pacifies people.

Just look at what Freud does to not only Hamlet, the play, but to Shakespeare himself, just from the brief excerpt above:

Freud is certain that Hamlet, Shakespeare’s character, delays killing his uncle because Hamlet naturally feels he is a sinner in the same way: Hamlet, like all of us, wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother; not only this, Hamlet’s “distaste for sexuality” is quickly held aloft by Freud as a pathology, and then just as quickly ascribed to Shakespeare, the author.

Was the New Criticism, and other sorts of complex literary commentary, merely a fire wall against this sort of fiery Freudian Criticism?  We sometimes forget how very influential Freud was. One thinks of Princess Marie Bonaparte, a member of Freud’s inner circle, and her 700 page ‘psycho-biography’ of Poe (1933), which helped to cloud, mitigate, distort, and even destroy, the literary reputation of that famous author.

Trotsky reminds us that Futurism fit in with Soviet art, but “purist” Formalism did not, even though the two went hand in hand in the Modernist upsurge. Trotsky, writing for “the state,” can’t abide “purist” art, which is not a big surprise.

 

WINNER: FREUD

 

 

 

FRIEDRICH SCHLEIERMACHER BATTLES S.T. COLERIDGE IN ROMANTIC BRACKET

Schleiermacher: Common sense alternative to the New Critics and other text-obsessed thinkers.

SCHLEIERMACHER:

As every discourse has a two-part reference, to the whole language and to the entire thought of its creator, so all understanding of speech consists of two elements—understanding the speech as it derives from the language and as it derives from the mind of the thinker.

Every discourse depends on earlier thought.

It follows that every person is on one hand a locus in which a given language is formed after an individual fashion and, on the other, a speaker who is only able to be understood within the totality of the language.

Grammatical and Psychological are completely equal: the psychological is the superior only if one views language as the means by which the individual communicates his thoughts; the grammatical is then merely a cleaning away of temporary difficulties. The grammatical is the superior if one views language as stipulating the thinking of all individuals and the individual’s discourse only as a locus at which the language manifests itself.

Only by means of such a reciprocity could one find both to be completely similar.

Exposition is an art. Every part stands by itself. Every composition is a finite certainty out of the infinite uncertainty. Language is an infinite because every element can be determined in a specific manner only through the other elements.  And this is also true for the psychological part because every perspective of an individual is infinite; and the outside influences on people extend into the disappearing horizon. A composition composed of such elements cannot be defined by rules, which carry with them the security of  their applications.

Should the grammatical part be considered by itself, one would need in some cases a complete knowledge of the language, or, in others, a complete knowledge of the person. As neither can ever be complete, one must go from one to the other, and it is not possible to give any rules as to how this should be done.

The text is not always the focus of attention. Otherwise the art would only become necessary through the difference between text and discourse; that is to say, by the absence of the living voice and by the inaccessibility of other personal influences.

 

COLERIDGE:

 

The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction; while it is the privilege of the philosopher to preserve himself constantly aware, that distinction is not division. In order to obtain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts; and this is the technical process of philosophy. But having so done, we must then restore them in our conceptions  to the unity, in which they actually co-exist; and this is the result of philosophy. A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition; the difference therefore must consist in a different combination of them, in consequence of a different object proposed. According to the difference of the object will be the difference of the combination. It is possible, that the object may be merely to facilitate the recollection of any given facts or observations by artificial arrangement; and the composition will be a poem, merely because it is distinguished from prose by meter, or by rhyme, or by both conjointly. In this, the lowest sense, a man might attribute the name of a poem to the well known  enumeration of the days in the several months: “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, etc.” and others of the same class and purpose. And as a particular pleasure is found in anticipating the recurrence of sounds and quantities, all compositions that have this charm superadded, whatever be their contents, may be entitled poems.

So much for the superficial form. A difference of object and contents supplies an additional ground of distinction. The immediate purpose may be the communication of truths; either of truth absolute and demonstrable, as in works of science; or of facts experienced and recorded, as in history. Pleasure, and that of the highest and most permanent kind, may result from the attainment of the end; but it is not itself the immediate end. In other works the communication of pleasure may be the immediate purpose; and though truth, either moral or intellectual, ought to be the ultimate end, yet this will distinguish the character of the author, not the class  to which the work belongs. Blest indeed is that state of society, in which the immediate purpose would be baffled by the perversion of the proper ultimate end; in which no charm of diction or imagery could exempt the Bathyllus even of an Anacreon, or the Alexis of Virgil, from disgust and aversion!

But the communication of pleasure may be the immediate object of a work not metrically composed; and that object may have been in a high degree attained, as in novels and romances. Would then the mere superaddition of meter, with or without rhyme, entitle these to the name of poems? The answer is, that nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise. If meter be superadded, all other parts must be consonant with it. They must be such, as to justify the perpetual and distinct attention to each part, which an exact correspondent recurrence of accent and sound are calculated to excite. The final definition then, so deduced, may be thus worded. A poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth; and from all other species (having this object in common with it) it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part.

 

Do you know why art and poetry used to be really beautiful?  Because of thinkers like the two above.  To put it as simply as possible, they understood parts, and how parts relate to the whole.

Schleiermacher (b. 1768) makes a useful distinction between two vital aspects of writing: Psychological and Grammatical. Philosophers tend to get bogged down in one or the other; they become obsessed with text, and forget the “living voice,” or they become excited by various insights of their own (think of typical modernist extravagances: Gertrude Stein, John Cage, Charles Olson, etc) which don’t translate into speech that is scientifically sound (we don’t usually think of grammar as scientific, but it is).

Coleridge offers wisdom to both sides of the verse/free verse/what is poetry? debate: poetry is not an empty shell of metrics, but neither is it truth-telling prose—the end of poetry involves three things: pleasure, unity, and the compatibility of each part with its unity in the communication of that pleasure. One can see how metrics may very much be involved in this end—or not. One can also see how the pretentious poetaster of prosey ‘truths’ will not get much of a hearing.  Poetry is difficult to define; Coleridge may have come closest.

 

WINNER: COLERIDGE

J. L. AUSTIN AND FRANTZ FANON IN FIRST ROUND POST-MODERN ACTION

Fanon: Saw 9/11 coming in the 1950s

AUSTIN:

Philosophers have assumed utterances report facts or describe situations truly or falsely. In recent times this kind of approach has been questioned—in two stages.

If things are true or false it ought to be possible to decide which they are, and if we can’t decide which they are, they aren’t any good but are, in short, nonsense.

Secondly: people began to ask whether statements dismissed as nonsense were really statements after all. Mightn’t they perhaps be intended not to report facts but to influence people in this way or that, or to let off steam in this way or that? Or perhaps these utterances drew attention in some way (without actually reporting it) to some important feature of the circumstances in which the utterance was being made? On these lines people have now adopted a new slogan, the slogan of the ‘different uses of language.’ The old approach, the old statemental approach, is sometimes called even a fallacy, the descriptive fallacy.

I want to discuss a kind of utterance which looks like a statement and grammatically, I suppose, would be classed as a statement, which is not nonsensical, and yet is not true or false. These are not going to be utterances which contain curious verbs like ‘could’ or ‘might,’ or curious words like ‘good,’ which many philosophers regard nowadays as danger signals. They will be perfectly straightforward utterances, with ordinary verbs in the first person singular present indicative active, and yet we shall see at once that they couldn’t possibly be true or false. Furthermore, if a person makes an utterance of this sort we should say that he is doing something rather than merely saying something.

When I say ‘I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth’ I do not describe the christening ceremony, I actually perform the christening.

If I say ‘I congratulate you’ when I’m not pleased or when I don’t believe the credit was yours, then there is insincerity.

If I say something like ‘I shall be there,’ it may not be certain whether it is a promise, or an expression of intention, or perhaps even a forecast of my future behavior, of what is going to happen to me; and it may matter a good deal, at least in developed societies, precisely  which of these things it is.

By means of these explicit performative verbs and some other devices we make explicit what precise act it is that we are performing when we issue our utterance. But here I would like to put in a word of warning. We must distinguish between the functions of making explicit what act it is we are performing, and the quite different matter of stating what act it is we are performing.

Consider the case, however, of the umpire when he says ‘Out.’ Performing has some connection with the facts.

Statements, we had it, were to be true or false; performative utterances on the other hand were to be felicitous or infelicitous. They were doing something, whereas for all we said  making statements was not doing something. Now this contrast surely, if we look back at it, is unsatisfactory.

Ills that have been found to afflict statements can be precisely paralleled with ills that are characteristic of performative utterances. And after all when we state something or describe something or report something, we do perform an act which is every bit as much an act as act of ordering or warning.

 

FANON:

The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an underdeveloped middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace.

 

Colonialism pulls every string shamelessly, and it is only too content to set at loggerheads those Africans who only yesterday were leagued against the settlers. The idea of  the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572 massacre of Protestants in Paris) takes shape in certain minds , and the advocates of colonialism laugh to themselves derisively when they hear magnificent declarations about African unity. Inside a single nation, religion splits up the people into different spiritual communities, all of them kept up and stiffened by colonialism and its instruments. Totally unexpected events break out here and there. In regions where Catholicism or Protestantism predominates, we see the Moslem minorities flinging themselves with unaccustomed ardor into their devotions. The Islamic feast-days are revived, and the Moslem religion defends itself inch by inch against the violent absolutism of the Catholic faith. Sometimes American Protestantism transplants its anti-Catholic prejudices into African soil, and keeps up tribal rivalries through religion.

 

Austin is not well-known, which is a pity, for this brainy, nerdy, Harvard/Oxford/military intelligence 1940s-1950s professor is very easy to understand and articulates the crucial idea about language which goes to the heart of every philosophical debate from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein to Derrida; linguistic theory, poetry, science and religion cannot be understood without understanding what Austin is talking about in the brief excerpts above: All language is performance. This is Austin’s conclusion. Language doesn’t lie or tell the truth—it does things, and it does things whether or not it lies or tells the truth. Language poetry comes out of this whole notion that language is performance.  But in a misguided manner, since language poetry is so awful, and since the poets have always understood that poetry is precisely that which is neither true nor false, and yet is not nonsense—due to both its pleasurable effect and its grammatical epistemology.

Fanon confines himself to the facts of colonialism—a completely different topic one would think, but not really: “Moslem minorities flinging themselves with unaccustomed ardor into their devotions” is a prophecy of 9/11 made in the 1950s. Religion—the realm where language is performance—dominates politics, or, it might be said, is politics, and always will be. Liberalism has unconsciously known this, and its victories in the university and in Washington—uneasy, dumbing-down, ravenous sorts of victories, threatening to collapse all that Liberalism ostensibly stands for—are due precisely to this knowledge. If science and democracy often seem irrational, this is why.

 

WINNER: AUSTIN

 

MADNESS IN THE FAMILY: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT VERSUS PERCY SHELLEY!

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

 

WOLLSTONECRAFT:

 

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

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

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

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

 

SHELLEY:

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: SHELLEY

CLEANTH BROOKS LOCKS HORNS WITH HAROLD BLOOM

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

 

BROOKS:

 

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

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

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

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

 

BLOOM:

 

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

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

The precursor poem or poems.

The poem we write as our reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

WINNER: BLOOM

DE BEAUVOIR AND ADRIENNE RICH DANCE IN FIRST ROUND ACTION

DE BEAUVOIR:

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

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

RICH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: DE BEAUVOIR

SARTRE TAKES ON DERRIDA

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

SARTRE:

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

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

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

DERRIDA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: SARTRE

SCHILLER BATTLES EMERSON IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

SCHILLER:

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

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

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

EMERSON:

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

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

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

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

But Emerson is so much more fun.

WINNER: EMERSON

POE VERSUS LESSING!

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

 

LESSING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

POE:

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: POE

THOMAS AQUINAS DUELS APHRA BEHN

Aphra Behn: worthy opponent of Thomas Aquinas

 

AQUINAS:

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

APHRA BEHN:

 

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

 

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

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

 

WINNER: AQUINAS

 

 

 

KENNETH BURKE DANCES WITH HELENE CIXOUS

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

BURKE:

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

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

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

CIXOUS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: CIXOUS

WILDE VERSUS WOOLF

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

WILDE:

 

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

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

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

 

WOOLF:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The unhappy marriage is at the heart of all literature.

Literature is perhaps the invention of the unhappy marriage.

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

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

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

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

MAIMONIDES AND VICO, OH YEA!

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

MAIMONIDES:

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

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

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

 

VICO:

 

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

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

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

 

WINNER: MAIMONIDES

 

AUGUSTINE AND ADDISON BRING ARGUMENTS TO THE MADNESS

The dashing Joseph Addison, Man of Letters

AUGUSTINE:

 

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

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

 

ADDISON:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: ADDISON

NIETZSCHE VERSUS T.S. ELIOT!

NIETZSCHE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

T.S. ELIOT:

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: ELIOT

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

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

MALLARME:


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

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

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

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

It’s taste we should consider very modern.

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

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

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

 

 

 

RANSOM:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

WINNER: RANSOM

 

 

PATER AND HEIDEGGER CLASH IN MORE ROUND ONE MADNESS ACTION

Heidegger: Man is the speaking creature.

PATER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEIDEGGER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean to speak?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINNER: PATER

THE NOBLE EDMUND BURKE TAKES ON THE WILY THEOPHILE GAUTIER!

 Gautier.  Loves the useless because the beautiful is useless.

BURKE:

 

Mr. Locke very justly and finely observes of wit, that it is chiefly conversant in tracing resemblances; he remarks at the same time, that the business of judgment is rather in finding differences. It may perhaps appear, on this supposition, that there is no material distinction between the wit and the judgment, as they both seem to result from different operations of the faculty of comparing. But in reality, whether  they are or are not dependent on the same power of mind, they differ so very materially in many respects, that a perfect union of wit and judgment is one of the rarest things in the world. When two distinct objects are unlike to each other, it is only what we expect; things are in their common way; and therefore they make no impression on the imagination: but when two distinct objects have a resemblance, we are struck, we attend to them, and we are pleased. The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.

Now as the pleasure of resemblance is that which principally flatters the imagination, all men are nearly equal in this point, as far as their knowledge of the things represented or compared extends. The principle of this knowledge is very much accidental, as it depends upon experience and observation, and not on the strength or weakness of any natural faculty; and it is from this difference in knowledge that we commonly, though with no great exactness, call a difference in Taste proceeds.

So long as we are conversant with the sensible qualities of things, hardly any more than the imagination seems concerned; little more also than the imagination seems concerned when the passions are represented, because by the force of natural sympathy they are felt in all men without any recourse to reasoning, and their justness recognized in every breast. Love, grief, fear, anger, joy, all these passions have in their turns affected every mind; and they do not affect it in an arbitrary or casual manner, but upon certain, natural and uniform principles. But as many of the works of the imagination are not confined to the representation of sensible objects, nor to efforts upon the passions, but extend themselves to the manners, the characters, the actions, and designs of men, their relations, their virtues and vices, they come within the province of the judgment, which is improved by attention and by the habit of reasoning. All these make a very considerable part of what are considered as the objects of Taste; and Horace sends us to the schools of philosophy and the world for our instruction in them.

Whatever certainty is to be acquired in morality and the science of life; just the same degree of certainty have we in what relates to them in works of imagination. Indeed it is for the most part in our skill in manners, and in the observations of time and place, and of decency in general, which is only to be learned in those schools to which Horace recommends us, that what is called Taste by way of distinction, consists; and which is in reality no other than a more refined judgment. On the whole it appears to me, that what is called Taste, in its most general acceptation, is not a simple idea, but is partly made up of a perception of the primary pleasures of sense, of the secondary pleasures of the imagination, and of the conclusions of the reasoning faculty, concerning the various relations of these, and concerning the human passions, manners and actions. All this is requisite to form Taste, and the groundwork of all these is the same in the human mind; for as the senses are the great originals of all our ideas, and consequently of all our pleasures, if they are not uncertain and arbitrary, the whole groundwork of Taste is common to all, and therefore there is a sufficient foundation for a conclusive reasoning on these matters.

 

GAUTIER:

 

It is as ridiculous to say that a man is a drunkard because he describes an orgy, a rake because he describes a debauchery, as to claim that a man is virtuous because he writes a moral book.

It is one of the manias of these little scribblers with tiny minds, always to substitute the author for the work and to turn to the personality, to give some poor scandalous interest to their wretched rhapsodies. They know quite well that nobody would read them if they just contained their personal opinion.

Books follow manners and manners don’t follow books. Pictures are done from models, and not models from pictures. Someone or other said somewhere or other that literature and the arts had an influence on manners. Whoever it was, he was certainly a great fool. It is as if one said: green peas make the spring grow; green peas grow, on the contrary, because it is spring.

There are two kinds of utility, and the meaning of the term is always relative. What is useful for one is not useful for another. You are a cobbler, I am a poet. It is useful for me that my first line rhymes with my second. I have no wish to disparage the illustrious profession of cobbler, which I honor as much as the profession of constitutional monarch, but I humbly admit that I should rather have my shoe unsewn than my line ill-rhymed, and that I’d rather do without shoes than do without poetry.

Is there anything absolutely useful on this earth and in this life which we are living? To begin with, there is very little use in our being on earth and being alive. I defy the most learned of my company to say what purpose we serve, unless it is not to subscribe to Le Constitutionnel or to any kind of paper whatever.

Nothing beautiful is indispensable to life. If you suppressed the roses, the world would not materially suffer; yet who would wish there were an end of flowers? I would rather give up potatoes than roses, and I believe that there is only one utilitarian in the universe who could tear up a bed of tulips to plant cabbages.

What is the use of women’s beauty? Provided that a woman is physically well formed, and that she is capable of bearing children, she will always be enough for economists.

What is the use of music? What is the use of painting?

Nothing is really beautiful unless it is useless; everything useful is ugly, for it expresses a need, and the needs of man are ignoble and disgusting, like his poor weak nature. The most useful place in a house is the lavatory.

I am among those to whom the superfluous is necessary.

I prefer to a certain useful pot a Chinese pot which is sprinkled with mandarins and dragons, a pot which is no use to me at all.

I should most joyfully renounce my rights as a Frenchman and as a citizen to see an authentic picture by Raphael, or a beautiful woman naked.

The most becoming occupation for a civilized man seems to me to be inactivity, or cogitating as one smokes one’s pipe or cigar.

My God! What a stupid thing it is, this so-called perfectibility of the human race! I am sick and tired of hearing about it.

 

This is an epic battle between a sensible, dignified philosopher and a crazy, outrageous one.

Edmund Burke demands that we trace the connection between art and life; he trusts that we can measure Taste, that Taste is not merely the whim of an individual person.  Is this a truth, or a dream?

Gautier believes art is precisely that which is not connected to life, but is best when it is a mere dream.

Gautier, painter, poet, critic, (b. 1811) gives us Art for Art’s sake before Pater, before Wilde.

We prefer reading Gautier.  He is delightful.

We wonder though, if Gautier is aware that his simple love of a Chinese pot makes the art traders rich, and that his “inactivity” is impossible?

 

WINNER: BURKE

 

MATTHEW ARNOLD VERSUS WALTER BENJAMIN

Matthew Arnold: sentimental, dour, whiskered. Influenced T.S. Eliot.

ARNOLD:

 

Wordsworth says in one of his letters:—

“The writers in these publications, (the Reviews) while they prosecute their inglorious employment, can not be supposed to be in a state of mind very favorable for being affected by the finer influences of a thing so pure as genuine poetry.”

But is it true that criticism is really, in itself, a baneful and injurious employment; is it true that all time given to writing critiques on the works of others would be much better employed if it were given to original composition, of whatever kind this may be? Is it true that Johnson had better have gone on producing more Irenes instead of writing his Lives of the Poets; nay is it certain that Wordsworth  himself was better employed in making his Ecclesiastical Sonnets than when he made his celebrated Preface, so full of criticism, and criticism of the works of others? Wordsworth was himself a great critic, and it is to be sincerely regretted that he has not left us more criticism; Goethe was one of the greatest critics, and we may sincerely congratulate ourselves that he has left us so much criticism.

The critical power is of lower rank than the creative. True; but in assenting to this proposition, one or two thing are to be kept in mind. It is undeniable that the exercise of a creative power, that a free creative activity, is the highest function of man; it is proved to be so by man’s finding in it his true happiness. But it is undeniable, also, that men may have the sense of exercising this free creative activity in other ways than in producing great works of literature or art; if it were not so, all but a very few men would be shut out from the true happiness of all men. They may have it in well-doing, they may have it in learning, they may have it in criticising. This is one thing to be kept in mind. Another is, that the exercise of the creative power in the production of great works of literature or art, however high this exercise of it may rank, is not at all epochs and under all conditions possible; and that therefore labor may be vainly spent in attempting it, which might with more fruit be used in preparing for it, in rendering it possible.

For the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment; the creative power has, for its happy exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own control.

 

BENJAMIN:

 

Lithography enabled graphic art to illustrate everyday life, and it began to keep pace with printing. But only a few decades after its invention, lithography was surpassed by photography. For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech. A film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images at the speed of an actor’s speech. Just as lithography virtually implied the illustrated newspaper, so did photography foreshadow the sound film.

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.

The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.

 

It seems to us that Arnold is merely speculating to no purpose, while Benjamin really has something to say.

 

WINNER: BENJAMIN

 

 

BAUDELAIRE BATTLES ADORNO IN THE MODERN BRACKET!

Is the photograph modernity’s face?

 

BAUDELAIRE:

 

The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or a Raphael—one of those that have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.’ Just as there are people who, having once read Bossuet and Racine, fancy that they have mastered the history of literature.

Fortunately from time to time there come forward righters of wrong, critics, amateurs, curious enquirers, to declare that Raphael, or Racine, does not contain the whole secret, and that the minor poets too have something good, solid and delightful to offer; and finally that however much we love general beauty, as it is expressed by classical poets and artists, we are no less wrong to neglect particular beauty, the beauty of circumstance and the sketch of manners.

The child sees everything in a state of newness; he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and color. I am prepared to go even further and assert that inspiration has something in common with a convulsion, and that every sublime thought is accompanied by a more or less violent nervous shock. The man of genius has sound nerves, while those of the child are weak. With the one, Reason has taken up a considerable position; with the other, Sensibility is almost the whole being. But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.

 

ADORNO (and MAX HORKHEIMER):

 

A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself.  Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.

The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same.

Real life is  becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for the imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality.

Those very art forms which are known as classical, such as Mozart’s music, contain objective trends which represent something different to the style which they incarnate. Instead of exposing itself to this failure in which the style of the great work of art has always achieved self-negation, the inferior work has always relied on its similarity with others—on a surrogate identity.  In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute.

No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged.

 

Adorno is nothing but Marx for the film age.  The pessimism is a necessary intellectual stimulation—how can we not love, “the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality?” But how can anyone resist the revery of Baudelaire’s more optimistic, “genius is…childhood recovered…?”  Baudelaire’s pull is greater, even as we feel the dismay of being a “victim” of a film, or of—childhood?

Adorno’s fear that art which pulls us in will kill us probably goes back to the idea that hunting deer should take priority over drawing them on the cave wall.  It is always interesting, but finally tedious to mingle primitive fears with technological, economic, and reproductive sophistication.  Adorno’s distinction between telephone (active) and radio (passive) has merits in light of where technology is going today.

Philosophically, we find self-conscious modernism a big fat bore, and it can be downright malevolent sometimes, too.  The pathology of self-consciously modern philosophy is the primary manifestation to any real philosopher.  We see it in Baudelaire’s small-minded attack on the bourgeois love of Titian and Raphael.  My God, what is wrong with people loving Titian and Raphael?

Joni Mitchell recalled to an interviewer that her parents “each owned three records” when she was growing up (and she grew up in the age Adorno is writing about): her father owned three jazz trumpet records (Harry James, etc) and her mother, three classical piano records (Claire de Lune, etc).  People did not have huge record collections back then, but Mitchell found inspiration in her parents’ tiny collection.  Baudelaire looks forward to our over-saturated era with his recommendation that we seek “particular” beauty in numerous “minor” artists, but Baudelaire’s (childhood?) logic is flawed: great artists like Raphael give us more “particular” beauty than any given “minor” artist, and looking at a lot of minor artists does not give us more “particular” beauty—that would be to confuse substance with number.  It is tempting to say, and it’s often said: bring on the particular and give the ‘minor’ artists a chance, too, but when looked at soberly, this is nothing but crass, minor ambition.  We must always beware Raphael-hating.

The whole philosophical aesthetic of modern technology can be summed up by the despair generated when photography, which gives us so much to look at, gives us too much to look at, and instead of celebrating the variety seen and felt, we mourn the fact that everything now looks, and feels, the same.

 

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

KANT TAKES ON MARX IN THE ROMANTIC BRACKET

KANT:

Suppose someone asks me whether I consider the palace I see before me beautiful. I might reply that I am not fond of things of that sort, made merely to be gaped at. Or I might reply like that Iroquois sachem who said that he liked nothing better in Paris than the eating-houses. I might even go on, as Rousseau would, to rebuke the vanity of the great who spend the people’s sweat on such superfluous things. I might, finally, quite easily convince myself that, if I were on some uninhabited island with no hope of ever again coming among people, and could conjure up such a splendid edifice by a mere wish, I would not even take that much trouble for it, if I already had a sufficiently comfortable hut. The questioner may grant all this and approve of it; but it is not to the point. All he wants to know is whether my mere presentation of the object is accompanied by a liking, no matter how indifferent I may be about the existence of the object of this presentation. We can easily see that, in order for me say that an object is beautiful, and to prove that I have taste, what matters is what I do with this presentation within myself, and not the respect in which I depend on the object’s existence. Everyone has to admit that if a judgment about beauty is mingled with the least interest then it is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste. In order to play the judge in matters of taste, we must not be in the least biased in favor of the thing’s existence but must be wholly indifferent about it.

MARX:

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production. Then begins the epoch of social revolution.

In considering such transformations a distinction should be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the productive social forces and the relations of production.

Man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent.

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to products of labor, so soon as they are produced as commodities.

The capitalistic mode of production ( essentially the production of surplus-value) produces thus, with the extension of the working-day, not only the deterioration of human labor-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical conditions of development and function. It produces also the premature exhaustion and death of this labor-power itself.

Kant is all reflection and Marx is all fight, but both exhibit the modern tendency to split the world into two forever divided camps; Kant, its use and its beauty, Marx, its use and its use-value—the latter of which Marx maintains, is experienced by mankind religiously and aesthetically; so finally Kant and Marx are very much the same, ushering in fantastically devised estrangement.

Though Kant might be considered ‘conservative’ and Marx, ‘radical,’ the lynx-eye of true philosophy notes the profound similarity between these two philosophers, both, in many respects, brilliant but deranged producers of woe.

It is difficult to pick a winner between these two deep and similar types of conflict.

WINNER: MARX

HORACE VS. POPE, AS THE MADNESS CONTINUES

HORACE:

Study Greek models night and day.

Whatever advice you give, be brief, so that the teachable mind can take in your words quickly and retain them faithfully.

Whatever you invent for pleasure, let it be near to truth. We don’t want a play to ask credence for anything. The elder citizens chase things off the stage if there’s no substance in them, and the high-spirited youngsters won’t vote for dry poetry.  Combine pleasure with usefulness.

There are some mistakes we forgive. The string doesn’t always give the note that the hand and the mind intended: it often returns a high note when you ask for a low. The bow won’t always hit what it threatens to hit. But when most features of a poem are brilliant, I shan’t be offended by a few blemishes thrown around by carelessness or human negligence. But what then?  If a copyist goes on making the same mistake however much he is warned, he is not forgiven; if a lyre-player always gets the same note wrong, people laugh at him. I’m even angry when Homer nods, though a doze is OK in a long work.

Poetry is like painting. Some attracts you more if you stand near, some if you’re further off.

POPE:

Horace still charms with graceful Negligence,
And without Method talks us into Sense,
Will like a Friend familiarly convey
The truest Notions in the easiest way.

Tis not enough your Counsel still be true,
Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And Things unknown propos’d as Things forgot:
Without Good Breeding, Truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes Superior Sense belov’d.

Some positive persisting Fops we know,
Who if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with Pleasure own your Errors past,
And make each Day a Critic on the last.

Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
In every Work regard the Writer’s End,
Since none can compass more than they Intend.

Music resembles Poetry; in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.

Pope (b. 1688) was keenly aware of Psychology before it became a ubiquitous and pedantic school subject in the early 20th century: “Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehoods do; Men must be Taught as if you Taught them Not” is Psychology in a nutshell. Nothing more needs to be understood, for coming at Psychology directly always fails; if great authors teach anything, it is that all Wisdom is profoundly indirect. And yet intention is all—as flexible as Pope is, you will be held to that.

Alexander Pope also earns points by praising Horace, his opponent.

Team Pope really wants to win this thing.

We moderns like to flatter ourselves that we are more easy-going and flexible than our predecessors, but it depends on who one reads; Pope and Horace are not rigid pedants: stand back from this poem/painting, you’ll like it better; don’t hanker after perfection; there are some beauties no method can reach—Pope learned from Horace’s nonchalant wit. And yet the easy-going can have high standards, too, and intimidating terms Genius, Master, and God in Pope’s context serve, with gentleness and suavity, beauties which continue to please.

WINNER: POPE

MARCH MADNESS! POETRY! THEORY! MADNESS! HOLY MADNESS! REAL, ACTUAL MADNESS!

“Philosophy is the true Muse” —Thomas Brady

THE BRACKETS

CLASSICAL

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Horace
4. Augustine
5. Maimonides
6. Aquinas
7. Dante
8. Boccaccio
9. Sidney
10. Dryden
11. Aphra Behn
12. Vico
13. Addison
14. Pope
15. Johnson
16. Hume

ROMANTIC

1. Kant
2. Burke
3. Lessing
4. Schiller
5. Wollstonecraft
6. De Stael
7. Schliermacher
8. Hegel
9. Wordsworth
10. Coleridge
11. Peacock
12. Shelley
13. Emerson
14. Poe
15. Gautier
16. Marx

MODERN

1. Baudelaire
2. Arnold
3. Pater
4. Mallarme
5. Nietzsche
6. Wilde
7. Freud
8. Saussure
9. Jung
10. Trotsky
11. Woolf
12. Eliot
13. Ransom
14. Heidegger
15. Benjamin
16. Adorno

POST-MODERN

1. Wilson
2. Burke
3. Lacan
4. Sartre
5. Brooks
6. De Bouvoir
7. Austin
8. Frye
9. Barthes
10. Fanon
11. Rich
12. Bloom
13. Derrida
14. Said
15. Cixous
16. Butler

SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS, THE ROMANTICISM VERSION, CONTINUES: HOAGLAND V. PLATH

“A man in black with a Meinkampf look”

The biography of the poet—how important is it?

For Romantic Poetry, it is of paramount importance, for Humanist and Renaissance and Platonist reasons—the poem is a reflection and extension of the human.

Our interest in John Keats, for instance, cannot be separated from an interest in the poetry of John Keats.

Biographical interest was considered heretical by the New Critics, who, as self-appointed “moderns,” were anxious to leave the Romantic era behind and root out those Keats professors merely interested in—“watering their own gardens,” as John Crowe Ransom impatiently put it—to replace them in the universities with what Ransom called “the new writing” professors.  Ransom’s 1930s essay was called “Criticism, Inc.” and is one of the crucial founding documents of the Program Era, though it is forgotten/ignored by the avant-garde today.

The now-famous Program Era was ushered in by the New Critics and their allies like Professor Crane at U. of Chicago and Paul Engle at U. Iowa—who was awarded his Yale Younger Poets prize back in the 30s by one of the Fugitive set.  Ford Maddox Ford, who met Pound off the boat in Great Britain, was an associate of the New Critics and helped to launch the Program Era in the U.S.  If you are still following this, the Fugitives, the Southern Agrarians and the New Critics (all Rhodes Scholars) were a single evolving animal, and very influential in terms of text book and canon in the last century.

T.S. Eliot, the Modernist master, went out of his way to attack Shelley’s character; Eliot was fiercely anti-Romantic in his writings.  People write poetry; one cannot eliminate biography entirely, but Modernism sought to dismantle its importance—Shelley, the Heroic Natural Man was replaced by Prufrock, the Grotesque Fictional one.  Writing became detached from reality.

The current debate re: Conceptualism is problematic for the very reason that its really a natural outcome of the Modernist Avant-garde: Writers like Amy King and Seth Abramson, Program Era products, attack anti-humanist Conceptualism without understanding its roots—or, understanding its roots but without any understanding of how they themselves are tangled up in them, having themselves completely swallowed the doctrines of the Modernist avant-garde.

One has to embrace the Romantics, as Scarriet does, and see the Modernists for what they are, to escape the “conceptualist” dilemma.

Suppressing biography to enhance the poem was an interesting experiment, especially in light of the fact that all the New Critics are now unknown, overshadowed by a single Romantic Ballad-like poem : “Daddy,” by Sylvia Plath, dripping with blood and biography.

In the Tournament contest today, Plath faces off against living poet Tony Hoagland and his poem, “Why the Young Men Are So Ugly.”

Hoagland’s poem is about young men in general.

Plath’s is about her father and her husband.    (The poem is explicitly about Hughes, but this fact is often overlooked.)

Guess which one wins?

WHY THE YOUNG MEN ARE SO UGLY

They have little tractors in their blood
and all day the tractors climb up and down
inside their arms and legs, their
collarbones and heads.

That is why they yell and scream and slam the barbells
down into their clanking slots,
making the metal ring like sledgehammers on iron,
like dungeon prisoners rattling their chains.

That is why they shriek their tires at the stopsign,
why they turn the base up on the stereo
until it shakes the traffic light, until it
dryhumps the eardrum of the crossing guard.

Testosterone is a drug,
and they say No, No, No until
they are overwhelmed and punch
their buddy in the face for joy,

or make a joke about gravy and bottomless holes
to a middle-aged waitress who is gently
setting down the plate in front of them.

If they are grotesque, if
what they say and do is often nothing more
than a kind of psychopathic fart,

it is only because of the tractors,
the tractors in their blood,
revving their engines, chewing up the turf
inside their arteries and veins
It is the testosterone tractor

constantly climbing the mudhill of the world
and dragging the young man behind it
by a chain around his leg.
In the stink and the noise, in the clouds
of filthy exhaust

is where they live. It is the tractors
that make them
what they are. While they make being a man
look like a disease.

DADDY

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

 An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Tarot pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
and drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Plath wins, 69-43 and advances to the Sweet Sixteen!

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