BOBBY Z!

Image result for bob dylan

Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The great critic, Christopher Ricks, is happy.

But many people are objecting to Dylan’s literature Nobel because Dylan “is a musician.”

Here is Ryu Spaeth in The New Republic:

My main problem with giving Dylan the Nobel, besides the memories it invokes of playing too much Super Smash Brothers in a dorm room that reeked of stale bong water, is that he is a musician. It’s a category error. Music is an entirely different mode of expression that uses tools that are unavailable to the writer. Like, is the ache on a song like “Girl From the North County” expressed by the lyrics or the harmonica, or some combination of the two? Music is melody and rhythm and harmony, and at its best writing can achieve only one of those characteristics (rhythm). There’s a reason you always hear that Walter Pater line: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” It’s because music exists in this other sphere where form and subject are identical, where the sound of a harmonica represents nothing more than the sound of a harmonica. How can any other art compete? Dylan adds words to that sound, but the sound is a bass line, so to speak, anchoring his art.

This is all to say that “Girl From the North County” is a song, not a poem, and that Bob Dylan is a musician, and that he shouldn’t be awarded a prize that is meant to be for writing.

Ryu Spaeth has either taken too many bong hits or played too many video games.

He links Dylan to Super Smash Brothers. Why?

He uses Pater’s idea, that all art aspires to music, and the idea that “the sound of a harmonica represents nothing more than the sound of a harmonica” to dismiss words which, as everyone knows, in a song, coincide with music. Does Spaeth actually believe that simply because pure music is pure, that words used in songs are not significant as words, as literature?  Why in the world would he think this?

Spaeth might as well say that poetry is not literature.

A song lyric absolutely is literature. Why is this even an argument?

There’s a guitar in the mix. So what?

A nation’s literature will always include its folk and popular songs—songs which express everything literature expresses.

And since this is true, songs with words cannot possibly be categorized with music, for Spaeth describes music as “an entirely different mode of expression that uses tools that are unavailable to the writer.”  So where in the world should song lyrics be categorized, if not with literature?  There’s no “category error,” as Mr. Spaeth insists.

Another reason giving Dylan the Nobel is an inspired choice: American folk music is great and it, too wins with this award, since Dylan comes out of it.

And, another reason: it raises the bar for songwriting.

Not every song Zimmerman wrote is great. But again, so what? He wrote iconic songs.

Scarriet has written a great deal about the relation between song lyrics and poetry.  The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs of All Time.  The Top One Hundred Popular Song Lyrics That Work As Poetry.  They still get tons of hits!

Poems and songs are closer to each other than we might think, and we shouldn’t be afraid to push them closer together—even if it is more challenging to write poetry that is popular, like song, and to write songs that are good, like poetry.

If you can dance to a poem, will it fail the critical test, and only please the popular taste?

Musical poetry fell away from the critical taste in the 1920s, when craven authority usurped traditional poetry; the coup took many material forms: painting, building, film, photography, morals, and government, and smashed its fist through everything sacred, whether it was Nazi rallies, war planes, or ambitious art fraud: lurid spectacle and bad taste became the rule; manipulation, panic, and electrical communication created the sad effect of a great panic, in which the sedate and the beautiful became devalued; the screams of ecstasy and pain invaded every grove.

The new authority was so perverse in its tastes, that a reversal of good and bad occurred almost instantaneously.  Man had been an elephant, peaceful and tough-skinned, but the clamor and noise of modern life triggered a stampede, in which the elephant became highly dangerous to himself and others—“I accuse” merged with “I follow”; the elephants needed to be moved—they moved, and individuality and civility both died.

Love with a long-term focus is good; love with a short-term focus is bad—but in a stampede, everything “short-term” tends to be seen as good; and so we see how panic not only ruins everything, it makes us seek our ruin.

We seek oppression, with furious indignation and uncontrolled self-pity; we seek hunger, with the diets of religious fanatics; we seek the critical, squeezed out of all popularity, led by fake, manipulated, elite praise; and finally, we seek the popular just for its popularity, though it contains no merit—which diminishes the capacity for pleasure itself.

This is how people behave in a stampede.

This is what occurred in the 20th century: Byron and Shelley were beaten up by little men.

Poetry ought to be popular—because popularity should be poetic, not crass, and this is how great democracy thrives, not by fiat, but by subtle art; we see the reverse happened in the 20th century, as the modernists donned hair shirts and spoke against the splendid beauties of the 19th century and the past in general. Modernism became puffed up about a moment, not understanding that no moment is “modern.”  The modernists wanted love, not the infatuation of the 19th century; but infatuation is love—there is no difference, except love is infatuation that lasts, and momentary modernism was against this whole concept (lasting) altogether.

Look at the limerick—in the 19th century or the 20th century, it is still a limerick, a form which is amusing, but will quickly weary the educated taste.

Rhetoric, and even thought itself, belong to the music of language; poetry was imprisoned in image in the early 20th century; poetry of music was mistakenly associated with narrow Victorianism. And poetry as poetry died, and Man went back to grunting.

When spheres make music, but poetry does not, there’s something rotten in Denmark.  And look what happened to Denmark’s music.  Bach to Brahms was 200 years of glory.  In a mere 100 more, death metal hammers out our demise.

It is not easy to make great art, to make great music, to make great poetry. But why make these things more difficult, by confusing the spatial with the temporal?

The stampede needs to stop.

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel might help.

I heard someone complain that Dylan was a “white guy.” This doesn’t deserve a response.

Another beef against Zimmerman is to list authors considered great (in the opinion of the indignant commentator) who didn’t win—but this has nothing to do with Dylan and songwriting.

Finally, and this is heard often: this was merely a bone thrown to the Boomers, an old, failed, generation of influential losers. “Stale bong water,” as Spaeth, perhaps angling for a Nobel himself, puts it.  I recall that in the 1960s, LBJ was vilified because he bombed Vietnam—the protesters didn’t care that he was a Democrat.  Republicans and Democrats—neither one got a free pass. In today’s post-Boomer, “enlightened” atmosphere, the intellectual Left is simply the lapdog of the Democratic party—as the country sinks.

To contemplate the difference between song lyrics and poetry has endless philosophical interest.

If a poem already has a tune written for it, no matter how good it is as a stand-alone-poem, does that seal it off forever from us as a poem? Because it came into existence with its melody attached, it is forever condemned to never be a poem. Are there such things?  Poor unfortunate songs, forever exiled from poetry unfairly? And if not unfairly, can we then say true poetry will forever be the kind of thing that can never wear a melody?

Is there a realm where great songs and great poems touch but do not meet, since we know critically acclaimed poems are not songs and songs are not critically acclaimed poems?

To merely state that songs are not poetry, and therefore the Nobel Prize for Literature should not go to a songwriter, is inane.

To demonstrate how Dylan was the middle of American music: John Jacob Niles, the great folksinger born in 1892, wrote “Go Away From My Window,” a lovely and haunting ballad, which was first released in 1930.

Go away from my window
Go away from my door
Go away way way from my bedside
And bother me no more.

As the melancholy song continues, we find out “go away” is spoken by a heartbroken beloved, and one intuits this right away by the sad and beautiful melody of the song—which makes the lyrics even more heartbreaking.

I’ll tell all my brothers
And all my sisters, too.
The reason that my heart is broke
Is all because of you

How can one do better than this?

This is what Dylan does.

Go ‘way from my window,
Leave at your own chosen speed
I’m not the one you want, babe
I’m not the one you need
You say you’re lookin for someone
Who’s never weak but always strong
To protect you and defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain’t me, babe,
No, no no it ain’t me babe,
It ain’t me you’re lookin for babe

Dylan removes the sentimentality: no longer is it: Leave me, because you broke my heart. It is Leave me, because you want too much from me.

The tortured, hopeless, brooding entanglement of love-hurt break-up, in spite of the love, in the Niles song, is replaced by a pragmatic, disentangling break-up, where there is no love, but only dependency.  The speaker in the Dylan song, despite the echoed phrase, “Go away from my window,” and the melancholy spirit of the song and the words, (“babe” is a tender address) is saying something entirely different from the speaker of the Niles song.

Both songs practice “escape from emotion” (the poetic virtue expressed by T.S. Eliot in 1922).  The Niles song says “go away” instead of “I love you.”  The Dylan song says “go away” and means it, without irony.  The interest lies in the way the Dylan song rewrites the Niles song, but Dylan also uses Eliot’s advice: the “escape” from emotion in the Dylan song’s farewell lecture founders in the traditional structure of the sad love song itself—Dylan is fighting against the form he’s working in, while adding to its possibilities.

It is certainly true that the musical accompaniment will drive home the point I am making about these songs even more—but this doesn’t mean that in these remarks, I am not talking about literature.

 

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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

THE 2014 MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND WINNERS!

CLASSICAL

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

Tragedy is a complete action ARISTOTLE def. SAMUEL JOHNSON

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

Novelty bestows charms on a monster ADDISON def. AUGUSTINE

The flaming sword which turned every way MAIMONIDES def. VICO

All our knowledge originates from sense  AQUINAS def. BEHN

The four senses of writing DANTE def. DRYDEN

Poet never affirms and so never lies  SIDNEY def. BOCCACCIO

 

ROMANTIC

Religion & Commodities = Fetishism MARX def. KANT

Taste can be measured EDMUND BURKE def. GAUTIER

A long poem does not exist POE def. LESSING

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

Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind SHELLEY def. WOLLSTONECRAFT

Four ages of poetry PEACOCK def. DE STAEL

Nothing pleases permanently not containing the reason COLERIDGE def. SCHLEIERMACHER

Language really used by men WORDSWORTH def. HEGEL

 

MODERN

Genius is childhood recovered BAUDELAIRE def. ADORNO

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

Hard, gem-like flame PATER def. HEIDEGGER

Criticism, Inc RANSOM def. MALLARME

No poet has his complete meaning alone ELIOT def. NIETZSCHE

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

The first stirrings of sexuality FREUD def. TROTSKY

In language there are only differences SAUSSURE def. JUNG

 

POST-MODERN

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

Beauty will no longer be forbidden CIXOUS def. KENNETH BURKE

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

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

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

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

All speech is performance AUSTIN def. FANON

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

 

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

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

If we might be allowed to summarize the four Brackets:

The Classical determines WHAT POETRY IS.

The Romantic determines WHAT POETRY IS TO PEOPLE.

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

The Post-Modern determines WHAT POETRY IS TO LANGUAGE

 

Congratulations to all the winners!

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

WAR AND CRITICISM

Here’s an (ugly?) truth that many of us do not want to face:

Every thought, every action, every conversation, and every human interaction in human life is a dreary, exhausting exercise in fighting, strategizing, gaining power, gaining advantage, and gaining knowledge towards gaining power, for the endlessly strategizing subject.

The world consists only of objects in relation to the strategizing subject. Life is war. When friends and family don’t call you, it’s not because they don’t love you, necessarily, it’s because human interaction, even when we don’t want it to be, is a battle.  Even when affection is involved—and perhaps even more when affection is involved—human interaction simply wears us out.

Yes, war is hell.  But war is all there is. Peace is merely a pause in the action, in order that more fighting can occur, and real, lasting peace (if that is possible!) requires war to give it a chance.

We can’t sleep well unless we’ve fought a good fight. We can’t relax unless we’ve gone to battle.

This is equally true in art as it is in life.  We must struggle to paint the peaceful picture, strain to produce the peaceful poem.

We can leave sports aside, which is quite evidently a battle within agreed-upon parameters, the “agreed-upon” part making this “battle” palatable to many of us on a certain level.

But to the non-athletes or “game nuts” among us, to those of us who refrain from, and disdain, gaming, gambling and the competition of sports, the truth is, the war of everyday life—on every level, whether you are a monk, a bishop, a gardener, or a yoga instructor—is far more fraught, simply because you are a human being, with infinitely complex, non-agreed-upon, make-or-break-whatever-rule-you-want, war maneuvers.  And this is not just an aspect of life—it is the whole of it.  One is either fighting, or resting up from fighting.

Pleasure itself is nothing more than a rejuvenation in order to fight more.

This is not some “realpolitik” rant from a four star general, or a war-gaming adolescent.  Remember, you are reading Scarriet.

It doesn’t matter how “laid-back” one’s personality is, or how “politically peaceful” one is, or whether one is a vegan, or not.  The complex psychological struggle of every human being is vast and endless.  The “game” is on, and it’s always on, whether you are trying to convince your fellow human beings to become a vegan, or whether you are tearing into a cow.

Every single thing you do is judged, whether you’ve written a poem, done (or not done) the dishes, or are just staring into space.  It doesn’t matter whether you are “on stage,” or not.  It doesn’t matter whether an audience is before you, or there is no audience present.  You will judge yourself.  Even if you hate all judgement, all quantifying, all opinion, all truth, or all half-truth, complex judging is going on within you and without you all the time.

Most would acknowledge this reality of what we are outlining here, but many would insist: they are not part of that; that is not them, or (in an unfortunate choice of words) I myself fight against that whole competitive, strategizing, cynical vibe.

Others will go on the offensive without apology: This whole thesis is just an excuse to fight, an excuse to be a jerk!

Yes, but “being a jerk” is not a good strategy.  The point here is not that we must strategize viciously or unfairly or randomly—just that we must always strategize.

So let’s go back to sports and its “agreed-upon” parameters for a moment.  How crucial is the “agreed-upon” aspect of this war—that we call life?    If the two choices are war with no rules and war with rules, obviously the “agreed-upon” aspect is very crucial.

But life is not a game, is it?  How much do “the rules” in life apply?

If strategizing involves knowing which rules to follow, which rules to bend, which rules to ignore, which rules are useful, which rules are not useful, which rules are coming, which rules are going, which rules apply to whom and when, then it is clear that strategizing itself is more important than the rules—which are nothing more, in sum, than a less complex aspect of random reality, and which still reflect the brute forces of reality which we all must continually navigate.

So are we rejecting the rule of law?  That which essentially civilizes us?  Are we naked, then, as we fight this war?

Yes.  Each of us is merely a soldier.  And alone.

But what unites us?  Surely it can’t be all of us against all of us all of the time?

It is.  Because we judge ourselves, we cannot escape judgment, and therefore no one can escape the state we have been busily describing above.

We may seek alliances, and many of us do this in order to mitigate the general lonely horror that is the fact of our war-like state, and this explains why the culture of partnerships and political parties can be acutely acrimonious and emotional.  But the truth is known only by ourselves and determined by ourselves, as much as we may be comforted by the warm, piss-temperature propaganda of the group.  As Da Vinci and Blake have told us, let your own eyes prove the case, not the wind of authority or hearsay.  The group is a lie.  We are alone to the degree that we are human.  The genius is not alone because he is alone; he is alone because he is a genius.

Epicurus suggested the only real escape from this horror: pleasure.  The body seeks pleasure as a means to replenish itself before the next round of war; this is really the epicurean philosophy in a nutshell, the whole philosophy of pleasure, really, as now stated here; it is taking whatever is naturally restful and replenishing to the body, mind, and soul, and isolating it as an end in itself.

Poetry has been described by the Romantics (Coleridge/Poe), Pater, and Helen Vendler, as that which has pleasure as its immediate object.  Poetry is how our brains temporarily relax.

Poetry naturally has two main parts: the vessel and what is contained within it; the vessel (the action of poetry) partakes of pleasure, but the further question is: what is in the vessel, for all language by its very nature is a double entity—signifier and signified.  If seeking pleasure is both the vessel and what is contained within it, we have pleasure for pleasure’s sake, art for art’s sake, the enjoyment of rest for the Epicurean, who desires simplicity and beauty for their own sake.

Criticism belongs to war, and is the opposite of poetry as defined above.

But as we can see, the greater poet will always be a critic first, and a poet second.

We can test our thesis by looking at actual poetry, and Alexander Pope proves our case; one of the greatest poets, Pope’s Poetry and Criticism are often the same thing.  Need a greater poet?  The same is true of Shakespeare, whose plays are Platonic dialogues and whose Sonnets are really Critical essays: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” questions the worth of simile and metaphor.

The best poets put Criticism in the vessel of Poetry, this being naturally more efficient, since in this way, the poet may fight and be at peace, may have their cake and eat it—which is even more than what Epicurus, nibbling on a cake in the meadow, promises.

WILLIAM LOGAN: “MICHAEL DICKMAN IS JUST SOME GUY WITH CREEPY FANTASIES”

The obnoxious brat, Michael Dickman, a “demon kid whose poems are scrawled in fingerpaints or fiddled on an Etch-A-Sketch.”

The critic William Logan exists to give spankings to poets like Michael Dickman—who contemplates Emily Dickinson, for instance, like so:  “Standing in her house today all I could think of was whether she took a shit every morning/or ever fucked anybody/or ever fucked/herself.”

Logan’s spanking is administered with a yawn:

This seems a touch more impolite than Swift’s Strephon, emerging from a lady’s dressing room (“Disgusted Strephon stole away/ Repeating in his amorous Fits,/ Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”). Swift took romantic longing down a peg. Dickman is just some guy with creepy fantasies.

Nice. 

But there’s no “creepy fantasies” in Dickman’s “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue,” just your typical haunted scenario featuring Victorian/goth/white dress/child Emily flying above her bed, and then Dickman actually introduces a comforting image, “Her ankles and wrists held tightly between the fingers of some brightly lit parent home from a party” before ending the poem ambitiously, hopefully:

Heaven is everywhere
but there’s still
the world

The world is made out of cancer, house fires, and Brain Death, here in America

But I love the world

Emily Dickinson
to the rescue

I used to think we were made of bread
gentle work and
water

We’re not
but we’re still beautiful
killing each other as much as we can
beneath the pines

The pines that are somebody’s
masterpiece

It’s not a bad poem.  Dickman’s a sentimentalist.  He’s a secret Victorian, spitting out modernism on his way back to the fuzzy mid-19th century.  “The pines that are somebody’s masterpiece…” that’s God.

This is not Fred Seidel creepy at all.  It’s not even Sharon Olds creepy.  This is much closer to the  Barbie Doll school of poetry; it could have been written by Lucie Brock-Broido, Jorie Graham, or Marie Howe.  “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” by Billy Collins might be considered far creepier.   Creepy poems about Emily Dickinson could probably fill a book by now, and Dickman’s would be one of the milder ones, even though its opening lines would probably get all the attention.

So can we blame Professor Logan for focusing on them, even though Mr. Dickman was probably just setting a frank tone for the more sentimental parts? That’s the ‘art’ now of poets like Dickman: balancing attitudes, moods, and tones which avoid insincerity because-what-they’ve-got-to-say-may-seem-overly-heavy-or-silly-but-they-finally-need-it-to-succeed-poetically.  “The pines that are somebody’s /masterpiece” is a brilliant ending stroke because it just comes out of nowhere, but it works.

Logan obviously has no patience for all this.

I confess I cannot see the “incipient violence” or “manic overflow of powerful feeling” (how far Wordsworth has fallen) previous readers have noticed in such poems. What has been called a calculated clumsiness seems just, well, clumsy. Dickman’s childishness provides, not access to the world of innocence by a man of experience, just a reason to prolong post-adolescence a few more years.

William Logan is a product of his age—he is a modernist, not a Victorian.  When William Logan knocks poets over, he does so on the run, and not with a great deal of patience.  Logan wears no God-like frown, no vest coat, no whiskers, and sports no cane, but administers justice in a T-shirt, and with a grin.  Logan’s always in a hurry, and this is partly modern poetry’s fault: so many awful poets to ridicule, so little time.

Logan is guilty of not ‘getting’ Michael Dickman because Logan fails to heed the words of Matthew Arnold to “see the object as in itself it really is” and forgets Oscar Wilde’s advice to take both virtue and vice with a grain of salt when judging art, and does not recall Pater’s suggestion to realize the data of art distinctly and subjectively.

Logan expresses disgust with the opening lines of “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue,” but he fails to look at the whole poem.

Criticism was boiling over in the late 19th century, and only one critic really took the late 19th century to heart—T.S. Eliot, who turned out to be the most successful 20th century critic.  Logan can quote others—the Swift quotation was brilliant—but will Logan himself ever be quoted?  Not, we feel, until he mends his manner a little.

And yet—and yet…Logan begins his review of Dickman with a little essay on American surrealism which rescues the slipshod reading of Dickman’s actual poetry—quoting entire poems isn’t in the critic’s bag of tricks these days, anyway.  We don’t read poems with critics, at least not since Edgar Poe wrote criticism; critics instead pick a topic very much at random—surrealism, let’s say—and whether the poet under review is really a “surrealist” is anybody’s guess.

Logan’s point that the early Surrealists were anti-Christian is probably true, and this may be an idea worth chewing on, but I’m not sure what it has to do with Michael Dickman.

We should think of it as a Christmas gift from Logan to Dickman—whose search for fame gets a boost, as Michael Dickman is now…a fourth-generation American Surrealist!

Whooo!  Congratulations, Michael Dickman!

God bless us, every one!

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