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The Fallacy of Rejecting Closure

By Martin Earl

gary-hume-dream-1991
Gary Hume, Dream, 1991 (From “Door” series)

1.

My first camera, which I was given at the age of twelve, was a Japanese made Petri, a simple rangefinder camera that my father had bought at the PX in Okinawa, where he was stationed for three years as an Air Force Lieutenant, from 1954 to 1957. The camera traveled back to the U.S. in the hold of a ship, just as the pre-me did, doubly held in my mother’s “hold”, which was, in turn, held, strapped into a top bunk, in the ship’s hold. All together, I am told, we rode out a typhoon.

 

The rangefinder camera was a design perfected, most famously, in the early 1930’s in Germany by Oskar Barnack for Leica. Rangefinder cameras are still being produced, mostly because of a strong niche interest in the superior optics that the lenses used on these cameras are capable of and for the smallness of the camera itself, its precision and rapidity of use. Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Gary Winogrand and Robert Capa (who, during the Spanish Civil War, took perhaps the most famous combat photograph of the 20th century on September 5th 1936) all used Leicas. Among the camera wielding masses of today, it is rare, indeed, to see anyone using a Leica or a Zeiss rangefinder, not to mention film. 

At school, in a photography class, I learned the basics of my Petri, of negotiating between three possible choices: aperture (the F-stop: how wide the shutter blades would open), shutter speed (how long it would stay open) and film speed (either ASA, or –internationally – ISO). The higher the speed, 400 ASA let’s say, the greater the capacity of the silver halide emulsion coating the negative to absorb light, but also the more “grain” the image would contain. Lower ASA would produce a more pellucid image, but needed more light to begin with. These were the technical considerations – one could learn them. Then there was the aesthetic factor, framing and composition, which remains a mystery and cannot be, in the strict sense of the word, learned. Modern photography in a nutshell. The advent of the SLR (single lens reflex), in time for the Vietnam War (the Nikon F was the photojournalist’s M-16) simply substituted the range finder (which worked via parallax correction, aligning the viewfinder with the lens) for a through-the-lens view at the picture frame thanks to a mirror and a prism – that tiny pyramid on top of the camera.

During the 70s and 80s electronics, automated systems and plastics gradually overwhelmed those three basic principles, empowering and enabling the photographer, professional and amateur alike, to achieve a wider range of pictorial wonders without having to “think” about the simple technical compromises at the heart of photography. Motors replaced winders; auto-focus replaced manual focus, aperture priority and more sophisticated matrix metering released us from the need to understand light and finally fully automated systems eliminated the problem of getting bogged down in how the camera actually worked thus freeing up our creative energies and allowing us unfettered access to an ever opening visual world.

The advent of digital photography enhanced this paradigm even further. At the top of the list of miracles was the fact that as soon as the sensor replaced the negative, and the pixel replaced the grain in silver halide emulsions, a whole new dynamic was introduced. Since there was no longer a one to one relationship between cost and image, we were now free to shoot endlessly. This inspired a whole new way of taking photographs. The end product was released from its classic terms of production as labor was subsumed by the camera itself. Instead of doing the work of making an image, we could “capture” hundreds and pick the “one” we wanted, deleting the rest. And that one image (the result an aleatory process) could then be altered in Photoshop to suit our inner vision of the outer world: change the sky, add clouds, ramp up the saturation, remove the undesirables, like airbrushing away an apparatchik fallen from grace. There was no need to ever stop capturing, stop manipulating, stop deleting and adding, or to differentiate between still image and video, nor was there any need to understand the underlying technology, or the properties and raw materials converted by that technology. In fact, the technology was gradually replacing the subject. It was no longer the look of the world that fascinated, but the look of the way a very compact and, for most, incomprehensible system had taken that look and manipulated it according to a pixilated grid and its underlying Boolean system of endless recombinations, algorithms of plusses and a minuses: an amorality of one or the other. In the hands of the greatest practitioners it was still possible to distinguish and evaluate, aesthetically, what had come from their art. But even this ability to judge seemed to be increasingly eroded by a proliferating second echelon of photographers, whose qualities and languages created a swirl of color, a visual vortex generated by empowering anyone who cared to be a photographer, that sucked both master and minion into the same downward swirl. 

 2.

 The rise of literary theory and its colonization of what we used to quaintly call the “primary text” parallels the rise of those technologies which have changed “photography” into “digital capture”. Since the seventies and eighties of the last century the technology of literary theory, with its increasingly complicated circuitries, have gradually supplanted a more analog notion, especially in poetry, of that sense of a particular and completed act, of the poem as an aesthetic object which is capable, within the broader contexts and conditions of life: social, artistic and historical, of conclusion and, in its own way, like the photograph, of stopping time and dictating the terms of its own insight.

Like digital technology, literary (i.e. French) theory defers conclusion. Conclusions are of course reached. We must still eventually stop. The aching question is how inbuilt deferral affects the creative process, how students educated in theory first and poetry second end up writing poems, and how teachers (poets) who have deferred leaving the academic world end up teaching their students how to write poems. Just as there is a digital divide, there is a theoretical divide; both of them occurred in the last decades of the 20th century, both changed the way humanity a large inhabits its world, and poets in particular inhabit poetry and the poem.

Try to calculate the distance between a fountain pen and a high-end program, like Microsoft Office for Mac, the crème de la crème of document producers. You can’t; that is because there’s a basic gap, a wormhole between the two space-times. Instant publication, the instantly created simulacrum of the published page, the ease of editing, the surpa-cerebral storage of knowledge, the never ending supply of reference which converts a hunch into an assumed fact on the basis of speed-of-light data sampling, the temptation to include everything, the failure to adjudicate and the whole loss of the manual, temporally based, book-in-the-hand, wrist-strengthening accumulation of knowledge have opened up new ways of viewing ourselves and our artistic products. Certainly a variety of suffocating hierarchies have been shattered, and a more democratic, a more leveled playing field has been established. But the heft of the thing has been lost. This gap finds its perfect analogy in the difference between the developed silver halide negative (which will never change) and the digital file, which has not only converted light into an algorithm instead of an image, but changes – loses information – every time it is manipulated; ie., opened, sent through the internet, printed, etc. With the pace of technology our seemingly secure digital files of today will be, within ten years, utterly outmoded, unusable artifacts of a bygone era, while the traditional negative will remain forever adaptable to new means of production.

The formational texts on poetics written during the eighties and nineties now read as apologias, attempts at measuring drift. And yet, like the new technological advances, their primary crusade was, at the time, to enable the reader, or to empower the user of the product. The author (read the death of – watered-down Nietzsche), was downgraded to the status of mechanic, a kind of interface, or a content provider, and the reader (under the tutelage of critic-theorists, some of whom were poets themselves) was elevated to the status of avenging angel. Armed with the hermeneutics of deconstruction, no poem was safe. Augmenting the reader’s tool-kit with the latest super-hard drill bits was coupled with an attempt to politicize the reader whose duty it became to tear down not only the poem, but the whole poetic canon; the political project was grounded in, and justified by a very traditional American trope of liberating the individual (a recycling of the radically conservative vision of the individual conquering the wilderness, that vast and open linguistic frontier). The incomprehensible poetry of the Language School blessed by the sanctification of a group of ur-language poets (Emily Dickenson, Gertrude Stein, the early Ashbery of The Tennis Court Oaths – his least favorite of his own books – and others) created an instant oppositional tradition for the now largely MFA sequestered avant-garde. For a poet-theorist of the day it was the politico-ethical projects like “anti-absorptive” poetics (the strategy of poetry as a continuation of politics by other means was how one of our more famous poets, a bit too cutely, put it) that legitimized an endless stream of conventionally un-interpretable poetry, and took as its target the poem as an aesthetically achieved whole. The fact that much of language poetry was anti-readable was hardly an impediment to the more over-arching project of empowering readers. While Williams and the Objectivists were intent upon opening up poetic form, and creating theoretical rigor and fixed strategies (Williams’s tripartite line, Olson’s breath-based scansions) that could stand up against the well-oiled mustaches and bow-ties of New Criticism, later generations of poet theorists would bring in traditional late nineteenth century notions of personal empowerment (echoing an Emersonian version of the anti-Trinitarian and personal Godhead), a kind of Unitarianism for poetry, or, in secular or civic terms, a Thoreauvian poetic disobedience.

There were, however, a couple of problems. Foremost among them was the fact poetry was never going to lead to broader political effect, nor would it free the reader, over the author’s dead body, especially since most of the readers were the actual authors. Most problematic of all, however, was that there was no evidence that readers wanted to be empowered in the first place. Empowerment ran against the two thousand three hundred year old notion, first formulated by Aristotle in his Poetics, of catharsis. According to the Aristotelian tradition readers read (or, in his version, attended theatre) because they wanted their emotions to be purged. They wanted to experience the emotion of falling from a great height and then they wanted to go home and have a good night’s sleep. The American poetical avant-garde of the late twentieth century lacked the humility to give American readers what they craved, a cathartic experience, and instead tried, with great hubris and the new technology of literary theory, to feed them an agenda.

I said above that there was an analogy to be made between the deferral built into digital technologies and the deferral (a radical stance against closure) built into literary theory and the now academically accreditable discipline of poetics. These days our cameras do the work for us, and armed with the conveniences of poetical technologies poets point and shoot. Photographers don’t know how their cameras work and poets don’t know how their poems work. The fabrication of vast quantities of doggerel is like the obsession of capturing every moment of our lives digitally and then “publishing” them on Flicker. 

Comments (113)

  • On June 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Wonderful, Martin.

    As a tinkerer with words and images just a little over your age (thank you for letting me in on that secret), I now understand my digital anxieties—and why I can’t just continue to shoot like the old days on my Pentax either.

    I stumbled on the Pobiz in 2006 with that old Pentax still warm in my hands, so to speak, and got diddled, conned, and thoroughly dished. And you know who helped me in that crisis, to understand what had hit me?

    Foetry!

    Now I’m here on Harriet to get the hang of a digitalized world of letters I had never imagined in my worst nightmares, and the jury’s still out.

    So thank you, dear Harriet too.

    Christopher

  • On June 2, 2009 at 8:55 pm Miriam Levine wrote:

    Here’s a different view, anti-deconstructionist:

    “If a book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? . . . We need books to affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

    Kafka

    • On June 2, 2009 at 11:03 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

      Needless to say I got my last post in the wrong order—I was of course trying to quote this passage from Kafka.

      Oh dear.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 12:38 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    These are challenging thoughts, martin….my first response is wait, it’s not the gun, it’s the one who shoots it that kills. Not the fancy toys,or fancier models that make for flicker-ish images–great images come from greater eyes and sensitivities, be they in your old Petri, my old Brownie, or my or your mac or my or your sweat-smeared notebook under an old ash tree by the summer brook.

    But I think there are truths in what you ask, also. Fast work can lead to facile creativity, and down the line to mediocrity. But that’s in all creative work. As poet, visual poet, & photographer, I use all the media, have dark-roomed, apertured, speeded & slowed light,collaged, montaged, & photo-shopped, on museum papers, computer scraps, silk, sand, my private and public pages, & you name it. Experimentation in modern time is not the beast – it is, still, the talent and the inner vision that will guide and result in shinola or 24 karat, art or banal or market-place.

    What you speak about the newer academics teaching themselves and one another to become more of the lost in the woods &/or repetitious souls – well, these threads have wound those knots more than once, hereabouts. And i rather agree… But if by “closure” you might mean the moment when the shutter closes and the image is made, once, and done — or the last line of a poem is written, sans erasure, neither to be doctored by technology — yes, I think there has been closure on that era. We have many new tools — and only the light of our individual talents will make new and exciting images, prints, poems, and afterimages that remain even when we close our eyes–and isn’t that the wish of any art form– to traverse a dream space from the dreamer into the closed iris of viewer or reader–and pry it open to enter too– that dreamt or invented space for a minute or a lifetime?

    (btw, I do use a Leica. Yes, the lovely newest fangled one, now. I used to walk about with just the tiny Zeiss view-finder secreted in my fingers, in a forest – to learn to just see – not to make every image instantly. The old lesson for any photographer is to take a thousand images with the eye, and one, with the finger.In the older days it saved on film. It still pertains — just means saving digital garbage, and learning to be discerning, selective, a little wise, no matter what. The same pertains for the poem, the word, the alphabet. Some languages, such as Hawaiian, have even fewer letters in their alphabets.12 letters: 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and 7 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w) talk about constraint. but then, theirs was an oral tradition…and were their chants more selective in images? I can’t answer that.)

    Discernment. That’s the one word reply, Martin. No matter the toys, tools, or schools of poetry or criticism. Just as photography cannot, as you say, truly be taught – only a truer seeing can be suggested. After that – we’re all on our own, desperately hoping to fly in the dark and in the light.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    What a whirlwind tour of technology (analog v. digital) and modern poetics! Bravo.

    I LOVE this:

    “The American poetical avant-garde of the late twentieth century lacked the humility to give American readers what they craved, a cathartic experience, and instead tried, with great hubris and the new technology of literary theory, to feed them an agenda.”

    The ‘Death of the Author,’ the ‘Deferral of Closure,’ Emerson ‘personal Godhead,’ Olson’s ‘breath,’ Language Poetry, the rise of Technology and Aesthetic Responses: we’ve been repeating this tale for so long that we no longer question its objectivity or merit.

    It seems we no longer argue the merit of an idea–Olson’s fanciful breath measurement, for instance; it is merely enough for us to say modernity made it happen; well, modernity didn’t make it happen; the questionable EFFECT gets a pass—it simply exists because of a supposed historical CAUSE, by mere dint of repeating the ‘history,’ and this is enough in our minds to make a discussion of the merit of the idea itself moot—and here we do ourselves a great disservice.

    I do not have time to argue the precise merits of each of the truisms which you have mentioned, Martin, but let me look briefly at two examples.

    The ‘Death of the Author’ is not really a modern phenomenon. Shakespeare has never quite existed as ‘the author’ of the Works of Shakespeare, and the ‘death’ of the author of the works of Shakespeare is due to a variety of complex factors that can be described as natural and historical; if we put this ‘death’ which is real, on the scales with the pedantic and theoretical one, which is mere opinion, which direction do we think the scales will tilt? My guess is: Towards the real. But on the typical ‘myth of modernism’ tour, the reverse is the case.

    These may be truisms, also, but I think these do need repeating: just because Nietzsche or Emerson says it is so, does not make it so, and opinions of the ivory tower are still opinions and do not necessarily effect the population at large.

    Immediately after Poe became famous with his “Raven,” numerous parodies of the poem appeared, and this is a manifestation of (not a mere theoretical opinion of) a natural process of non-closure. Now one might reply that the “Raven’s” structural closure facilitated the parody, but this is not necessarily so, and this still does not mitigate the effect of the process I am describing, nor does it banish the important questions of the idea qua idea—an idea which clearly does not require a modernist, or any other time-line, to exist, since the whole idea of closure is a truism and a writer in any age would be quite naturally dealing with such a thing, even if they were not using 20th century academic jargon to describe it. There is a tendency to promote jargon, but we should not confuse jargon with the idea itself.

    We in Letters, I think, need to pay a little more attention to places and people and facts, and little less attention to dubious time-lines and dubious ideas.

    I think we also need to realize a bit more that technology is very often not an end; sometimes technology is simply a means which facilitates–and does not necessarily qualitatively change things.

    Why not say, for once, just for a lark, just to shake up our modernist theoretical prison a little: Modernity begins with Edgar Poe, not Walt Whitman, not Virginia Woolf, not William James, or T.S. Eliot? Or, Modernity begins in Philadelphia, not London. Or Modernity begins with the Renaissance author Shakespeare, or the Politician-Scientist-Poet Goethe, rather than the Hiker, Wordsworth, or the Drug Addict, Rimbaud, or the Coterie Crackpot, Ezra Pound? Why not take a different tour? Why not ignore Charles Olson, who interests about .001 % of us?

    Poe said because America was now making locomotives, this did not mean that Americans could not make poems.

    France & Britain were so politically alarmed by America’s locomotive-making that they decided on the spot the only revenge (short of declaring war on the U.S.) was to characterize the U.S. as a nation ONLY capable of making locomotives. (And we find this IS the story that, in fact, became popularized in the modernist era.)

    The petulance of that kind of artist who happily blames society and its technological advances for everything was all too ready to help.

    As Ben Franklin, the scientist, helped build a nation, as Edgar Poe, the scientist, helped build a literature, as S.F.B. Morse, helped build the telegraph, so did Baudelaire bring the counter-myth that America did not deserve Poe, so did Ruskin’s Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood rejoice in pre-renaissance, pre-U.S. culture, and so did Emerson sermonize Nietzschean deconstruction.

    A photograph is a photograph. That’s Poe, smiling in the picture.

    Thomas

  • On June 3, 2009 at 4:46 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I wrote this poem — part of a book-length series – in a questionable neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. The attached commentary takes on Ron Silliman, who I do believe perpetrated the phrase “the lie of closure.” I do honor Ron’s yeoman work as a blogger, and the pains he takes in that context, oddly enough, to communicate.

    NOT LANGUAGE

    All I had to work with in the end was not language
    but the irreducible continent, precipices and
    waterfalls of girls’ hair processed into bundles
    of garbage torn open by dogs on the corner of
    la dieciseis y la segunda — was not politics
    but the undeniable closure of our human lives
    shaped like a poem, like a river, like a dead-end street,
    like South America on a page ripped from a school atlas.

    Comentario: “the lie of closure,” writes l*a*n*g*u*a*g*e poet Ron Silliman, lying to us and to himself on every possible level. Our raw material as poets is not words but things, not syntax but lives. Mortal, we work toward an ending. La calle dieciseis y la segunda avenida is an intersection in La Candelaria, Bogotá, where the street dogs process reality.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 8:44 pm Brian Salchert wrote:

    With due thanks to Joseph Hutchison, this,
    Mr. Martin Earl,
    is a fascinating and persuasive essay, set as it is in a history of the camera. One could enter a discussion of the evolution of Homo sapiens away from the biological and towards the mechanical, but as you point out: not all technologies are equal, and in the end each user of whatever technologies expresses through them unique perspectives. Emerson also wrote: “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” Things have often ridden me;
    yet often I have ridden things. The Industrial Age, spurred by the plenitude of oil, is waning. A blip in the story of the human race, it is a fantasy; and it is not surprising that some authors have chosen to forward and mimic the fragmentations of human existence that the advances of science have made all too obvious.

    • On June 9, 2009 at 12:32 pm mearl wrote:

      Brian,

      Thanks so much for the Emerson…here’s the whole stanza if anyone else is interested.

      …from “Ode, Inscribed to William H. Channing”

      The horseman serves the horse,
      The neat-herd serves the neat,
      The merchant serves the purse,
      The eater serves his meat;
      ‘Tis the day of the chattel,
      Web to weave, and corn to grind,
      Things are in the saddle,
      And ride mankind.

      There’s a fascinating idea tucked into your last paragraph: the relationship between the mimetic fallacy and technology – and the notion of individual resistance.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Martin

  • On June 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm michael robbins wrote:

    It just isn’t true that the structuralist & poststructuralist dogmas gestured toward here are “unquestioned.” Their site of circulation & distribution is the graduate schools, & I can promise you NO ONE is talking about as dogma; in fact, they’re mostly confined to first-year seminars dedicated to the history of literary theory (which is not synonymous with “French,” sheesh: try Critical Theory or the Yale school or New Criticism or historicism or, or, or …). You won’t get any traction from “the death of the author” (funny how the “warmed-over Nietzsche” of Barthes’s concept is completely distinct in style & substance from Foucault’s “What Is an Author?”, while both are very far from Derrida’s model, but whatever) in the top PhD. programs. Now, if you’d talked about New Historicism, it would be a different question. In fact, this entire post reads like the work of someone who hasn’t followed the field since the early nineties.

    • On June 3, 2009 at 9:32 pm thomas brady wrote:

      This is just more of the same, Michael.

      Pssst! The ‘New Historicism’ isn’t new.

      You love to play this game: “Hey! You blinked and missed all the important new ideas!”

      This tiresome, trite, dishonest approach to intellectual discussion needs to be shelved…

      I suppose you’re too time-pressed to present an actual pro v. con argument.

      That’s fine. We’re all doing what we can do.

      But I know mere name-dropping when I see it.

      • On June 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm michael robbins wrote:

        Well, I suppose if you squint hard enough you could read what I wrote as somehow denying the intellectual heritage of new historicism, or as somehow defending either it or the other ideas mentioned. Really, really hard. But, in fact, my post takes no position on the validity of any of these theories. It simply states that the caricature presented by Earl elucidates nothing, takes a stand against a straw man, while the currency of the ideas he presents as dominant has long since been spent. Pro or con? Why should I bother to argue the pros or cons of any of these positions? I’m not the one who brought them up, & I did not argue that one should believe or disbelieve them, regret them or condone them. All I intimated was that it would be nice if those who denounced them were acquainted with the authors & works in question. This is what those who are not so acquainted call name-dropping. (Pretty hard to beat the charge of “name-dropping” when the names being dropped are the very names that were invoked in the post to which one is responding!)

      • On June 3, 2009 at 10:37 pm michael robbins wrote:

        And for the record, since you will doubtless press: never said new historicism was either new or important. Only said that it’s current while structuralism & deconstruction aren’t. Me? I’m no new historicist, buddy, & I’ll thank you to smile when you say that.

        • On June 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm michael robbins wrote:

          To elucidate, now that I have the cat fed: we are talking about what is fashionable — at least Martin Earl was. Deconstruction isn’t. Barthes’s “death of the author” ain’t. Language poetry is always already fashionable, I s’pose, but no one really likes to read it. The simple point I was making was that the arguments Earl adduces will not do the work he wants them to in his post. It hardly needs me to defend the serious work of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault — three writers who, as I said, might share certain affinities but whose concerns & methodologies are so distinct as to prevent their being profitably lumped together except as paragons of widely differing examples of broadly construed tendencies within what I suppose I’ll continue to call postmodernism. –But their ideas are not the ones in whose thrall we now dance. Which is to say, of course we inherit & inhabit the death of the author; but as a set of problems surrounding the author-function, of which we cannot remain ignorant, & which were framed in the mid-twentieth century in profoundly & importantly different ways from those in which they were capable of being framed in Nietzsche’s time (to whom they are nevertheless obviously indebted) or, please God, in Shakespeare’s — as though words just paddle along ahistorically in a vat of sedimented meaning. From the perspective of fashion, though, the case can hardly be argued.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm thomas brady wrote:

    John Oliver Simon,

    “Comentario: “the lie of closure,” writes l*a*n*g*u*a*g*e poet Ron Silliman, lying to us and to himself on every possible level.”

    Gracias, John. I think we need metaphysical cures even more than good poems these days.

    Instead of proceeding as an oily avant would, let’s make a commonsense examination of Closure.

    What is closure?

    I think we can all agree that it is a resolved ending.

    Does organic death have closure? It depends on who you ask.

    How about a ball of paper thrown into a brightly burning fireplace? Closure?

    What of World Series, Game 7? The winner gets closure, the loser also gets closure, but a different type, a ‘wait ’til next year’ closure.

    Peek-A-Boo contains both. A child takes delight in non-closure–in a context of closure.

    Resolution requires an obstacle to its becoming resolved, does it not?

    Therefore, Closure is not an either/or proposition.

    ‘Lie of Closure’ may be the closest to ‘Closure’ we can get.

    ‘Lie of Closure’ is not the opposite of ‘Closure.’

    A party ends. We go home. Did the party have closure? It depends on events within the party itself. If we saw a beautiful person at the beginning of the party that we wanted to meet, but we never saw them again at the party, the party may lack closure. But what if we see that beautiful person the next day? Now the party does have closure.

    A poem ends. (We finish reading the poem) We cannot understand the first line. Thus, the poem does not have closure for us. Someone else reads the poem, does understand the first line, and thus feels a sense of closure when the poem ends.

    Does the poem have closure, or not?

    Is the law of closure ever absolute?

    It is in the following aesthetic scenario:

    A poem displeases us throughout. When we finish reading it, will there ever be a sense of closure? Impossible.

    A poem pleases us throughout. When we finish reading it, will there be a sense of closure? Absolutely. Always.

    So, Silliman is merely pulling a very ordinary ‘avant’ *con* with his ‘lie of closure’ idea.

    Silliman takes an idea (closure) which is both variable in reality and a stable basis of merit in the realm of aesthetics, and glosses over its true nature as I have outlined it here, in order to lather up for his gulled audience a foamy, confusing pseudo-metaphysics.

    Silliman’s followers, by swallowing his half-baked idea of closure, consign themselves to a metaphysical tomb.

    Thomas

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:21 am nick wrote:

    I’m sorry, but I’m expected to read a long, magisterial, overwritten essay by somebody who neither knows how to spell Emily Dickinson’s name (no, that’s not a typo, the “i” and “e” not being particularly close together on the keyboard) nor knows the correct title of Ashbery’s second book? really, it’s nice that you like photography, but your essay displays distressingly little knowledge of poetry and literary theory….

    • On June 4, 2009 at 1:20 am michael robbins wrote:

      I thought of pointing these errors out, but they really could be typos.

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:48 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    But read it you did, despite your gorge rising—and even took the time to pen a reply even when your own command of the language was hardly up to the task.

    Good on you, Nick–now let’s hear what you think about the details that you know.

  • On June 4, 2009 at 11:03 am Martin Earl wrote:

    First: to my critics…

    Sorry Nick for not knowing how to spell Emily’s name. I’ve been making that mistake since I was twelve. And also for adding the “s” to “Oath”. And thanks for letting me know how little I know. It’s always helpful to be reminded of these things, especially by someone who seems to know everything, except for the fact that Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath is his third book, not his second book as you say.

    And Michael, thanks for bringing me up to date about what’s happening in graduate school and the “top PhD. programs these days.

    And just one observation: literature, unlike science, does not become outmoded. If the earth is flat in Chaucer, then we have to take him at his word. Likewise, literary theories don’t simply disappear. They’re internalized by writers, recycled by scholars and generally reformulated in new theories. Bloom’s reworking of Freud in his notion of the anxiety of influence, for instance. Why not look at your own poetry and see if Bloom’s theory applies? When I first read your poetry (which I like, by the way) I saw James Tate all over it. Later I learned that you studied at the University of Massachusetts, where I assume you worked with Tate. And yet in the two interviews of you that I’ve read, one conducted by Zach Baron just this year (in The Village Voice), you talk about your reading, influences and traditions, but you never once mention Tate, even though he blurbed your book, which I just discovered today at Verse Daily. I also studied with Tate, as an undergraduate, which is probably why I noticed his undeniable presence in your work. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with all of this. I just bring it up to remind you that this stuff doesn’t become outmoded as you imply. I recall, one afternoon, Tate picked out the fact (which wasn’t difficult to do) that I’d been reading Ashbery. He prescribed Vallejo as an antidote – that was the very word he used, “antidote”. A year later, after he’d done everything he could do to purge me of the poison, he arranged for me to study with Ashbery at Brooklyn, telling me that “he’s the only one in the country that you teach you anything.” It seems to me that Bloom’s theory marked that transaction to the core.

    Just two more things. I never used the word “unquestioned”…which you seem to imply in your first comment. Likewise, in the fourth paragraph of part 2 of this post the issues that seem to vex you are all fully contextualized historically. So there’s no need to say, as you so pompously do, that the “entire post reads like the work of someone who hasn’t followed the field since the early nineties.”

    By the way, Michael, how old were you in the “early nineties”?

    Martin

    • On June 4, 2009 at 11:16 am michael robbins wrote:

      Martin: I didn’t mention James Tate in the Voice interview because I did not study with James Tate; never met him. Never attended the University of Massachusetts. Do not have a book.

      Check the spelling of my name, please. The Voice interview is me; the rest is someone else.

      You said nothing about “unquestioned,” but Thomas did. These threads aren’t simply responses to the posts, but also to the discussions that ensue. And I already conceded what you say about how theory continues to influence us: read my final comment above. But yr post didn’t strike me as interested in that sort of influence.

      • On June 4, 2009 at 11:17 am michael robbins wrote:

        And I was in college in the early nineties; your point?

        • On June 4, 2009 at 11:34 am michael robbins wrote:

          Also, lots of people confuse me & Michael Robins; The Hat even printed my poems under his name (they issued a correction in the latest issue). We both teach at the same college, in the same program, too; we get each other’s email on a regular basis.

    • On June 8, 2009 at 1:05 am Matt wrote:

      The Tennis Court Oath is his second full collection, third book overall.

      Also happens to be one of my favorite poetry books. So there.

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:06 pm james stotts wrote:

    ‘they have taken wings–the arts and the sciences and a thousand appliances’ h.d.t.

    ‘flight were aliment’ e.d.

    the digital camera has given the photographer the manipulative freedom of the painter first of all, collapsing those old (notsoveryold, i guess) distinctions. and as the software eliminates all the skill/practice necessary to create in different registers and make images exactly correspond to desire, the photographer is moving closer to the poet, as well, whose reproduction most precedes the age of reproduction mechanical, that is (see benjamin)). the possibilities it offers, in exchange for the poetry of understanding and watching old-style developing, are invaluable. but there are greater costs…

    i was in dusseldorf a few years back, and spent a long, tongue-tied (that is, i can’t count to four in german) week paying my dues to the bechers, trolling the immaculate city with a handful of disposable handhelds taking pictures of the architectural necessities of imaginary wealth (the trading and banking and cheap oil that has kept europe, and esp. germany, strong). the sights included the school where the bechers plied (r.i.p. to half of that team), and also a disposable frank gehry office building, and a lot of windowshopping on the koenigstrasse. disposable was all my budget could afford. it was a sort of ironic grace that demanded i also get the images i took on disc instead of actually processing prints. i had to wait all summer to see the images, and work with them back at home with my pirated photoshop software. but the value-added benefits were in the reveries on process itself that the quiet peregrination afforded me.
    everybody is a poetaster these days. even more typical, though is the notion that everybody’s a photographer. after all, it only SEEMS that everybody tries to write poetry. the consequence of being overwhelmed by bad poetry–our memories are being ruined. the consequence of this bad shutterbug habit–we’re losing our vision. our culture’s in a bad way, with its capacity for appreciating its genius being compromised almost beyond repair (or, maybe there is no hope). there are such things as dark ages, where the aesthetic and ethical virtues have to operate underground/oppositionally/counter to the society. the effects are not on the creators, the progressives, the visionaries, but on the people-at-large, the hoi polloi masses, who have lost the capability to and interest in the benefits of great art and genius thought and take nothing from it while they produce en masse and are severe/disengaged. an age with a huge deficit of readers.

    it’s not a contradiction to discount the grafiti artists when they become popular. in other ages there are different standards, but in this age, the demands of mass consumption and commercial viability are invariably at odds with the artist’s integrity as a maker. and it’s no mistake that no real artist can stand thomas kinkade or billy collins. the true tragedy is in the cachet of the hursts and murakamis, with their idols and purses, the giovanis and sillimans and cetera–they’re confidence men (with the exception of nikki), and nothing more.

    • On June 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm mearl wrote:

      James,

      Fascinating comment: a kind of cost-analysis of our aesthetic and emotional engagement with technology – which of course we must do. And, as you point out, integrity is at stake no matter how one takes up the game, or which choices are made.

      For starters, as you intimate, we should go back to look at the Bechers (thanks for pointing this out), one of the strangest collaborative efforts of the twentieth century…their typologies are truly lyrical masterpieces, images of redundant technologies, factories, buildings, cooling towers, all of them lying just beyond the articulable, somehow to the side of any theory that could be called into explain them.

      Here is how the curator Emma Dexter spoke of them (cited in an Art Forum article, Oct, 2007, by Blake Stimson and Thomas Struth, the latter being one of contemporary photography’s most interesting practitioners and a student of the Bechers): “Curator Emma Dexter, writing in The Independent, memorialized the artist’s contribution by describing the photographic project Bernd and his wife and partner, Hilla, began a half century ago as a “portrait of a lost world, using a lost technology–the gelatin silver prints, the large format plate cameras are now a thing of the past,” so distant from our own glimmering postindustrial world and its snazzy new media that it “can never be repeated.”

      Your definition of “dark ages”? Perhaps?

      Martin

      ps: to other readers, see first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernd_and_Hilla_Becher

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm james stotts wrote:

    that rob-b-ins coincidence is bizarre, yeah?

    • On June 4, 2009 at 1:41 pm michael robbins wrote:

      That’s one word for it. I can think of a few others.

  • On June 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Okay, Michael, sorry about that. Tell your colleague M. Robins that I like his book. I just came across some of your poems (I think)….five of them published in La Petite Zine, and like them, indeed…and you’re right, they have nothing to do with Tate.

    I’m having a difficult time trying to figure out who people are. I’ve lived in Europe since 1984. I try to keep up with what’s going on, but of course it’s not all that easy. There is a lot going on here too.

    Admittedly, I’m not used to the aggression. There’s more of a sense of decorum in Europe, which I’ve internalized over the years.

    But I think that my response to your comments holds and that the basic technology/theory analogy in my post, while it might not be watertight, is at least interesting. Looking at your poems (if they are yours) I think we might have more in common than you think.

    I just don’t understand your tone, which is duplicated in other threads, responding to other posts. Why the aggression?

    Martin

  • On June 4, 2009 at 1:33 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Sorry about my tone, Martin. I suppose I mean to be polemical, but I’m working on not being a jackass. The internet seems to block my internal censor. At any rate, I mean to disagree productively, not to shut down or pompously lecture.

    I appreciate yr kind words, altho the LPZ stuff seems a bit apprentice-y to me now. If only certain editors (ahemdonshare) would accept my more recent work!

  • On June 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm mearl wrote:

    Chistopher,

    Thanks for you comments…you came in on this thread first, got it going as it were. Perhaps people don’t know, but you live even further away from Chicago than I do. I’ve been to your web page. I’m really pleased that you’ve found Harriet.

    http://www.homprang.com/Website%20p.11%20Resident%20Poet.htm

    If people go to this link they’ll find a marvelous poem, THE FRANGIPANI TREE, which describes what it’s like “in a pleasant home like ours.” Poems of celebration, like love poems, are hard to write. And this one is quite marvelous.

    And you’re right, there’s a lot of rough and tumble in this brave new digital world. I don’t know exactly what happened between you and Foetry. I’d leave that one behind. The whole affair was a bit over-cooked, the Foes themselves were anything but aboveboard.

    Thanks for writing in,

    Martin

  • On June 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Martin,
    Thanks for welcoming me in—and thanks to you all for having helped created a house so worth entering.

    What I like so much about Harriet is that it’s a whole world in itself, eclectic, tolerant, eccentric and, yes, ageless (loved how you handled the Robbins/Robins mix-up!). Above all it’s a place of good will, and unlike so many of the poetry sites I’ve been on before, it seems to have no social, critical, pedagogic, financial or, most destructive of all, factional axes to grind–what’s more wield.

    Loved the way you, Martin and Michael, resolved your very real conflict, and nobody even had to have the riot act read out to them, or be slapped, or banned.

    Unlike me!

    So here’s how it goes, the story of this old man in exile who loved poetry but started writing it much too late (I published my first poem at 52).

    At 66, the almost old man in me got diddled—I’ve aged a lot since! It was October 2006 (14 years into my poetic career and I still didn’t know!), and a “well known editor and publisher” asked me in a personal letter for $295.00 for a leg up. Well, I was just reaching for the old checkbook when I spotted http://www.foetry.com in my antideluvian hardcopy of Poets & Writers. I’d never gone on-line before in my life at that point, but I got a friend to help me and went in—and discovered, oh my God, no, it’s not alright with the world at all, of Poetry!

    As whatever it’s called hit the fan I hit the wall, hard. I was banned from one well-known site for abusing other posters by suggesting they weren’t listening, and a few weeks later from the mother of all sites for harassing the monitors in secret PMs—twice (banned that is!). My almost analphabet, traditional-medicine Thai wife came on-line for the first time in her life as well to speak up on my behalf, and she got banned too—for hi-jacking the thread!

    The Site Administrator’s last words to her have now been “pruned” from the site, so you’ll have to believe me when I quote them. “Apparently, rancor has a longer shelf life than a twinkie.”

    That took some explaining on my part as I’d never actually tasted a twinkie before, and we live in a world without “shelf-life” (we buy all our food fresh everyday at the local earth market).

    Then I joined another new site which I really liked but some yobo came in with a flamethrower and burned the whole place to the ground. The ashes are still there on the web, they’re not pruned, but the silence is deafening.

    Which is why it’s so lovely to be here on Harriet.

    I’m sure you’ve noticed already that I’m trying my best to express this awful tale in such a way that it’s acceptable and, hard, still helpful—yes, I’m doing my best to honor the trust Harriet places in all of us to be civil (good word!), but I’m also trying to broach a subject that even Harriet never quite manages to get quite hold of. Because there’s been a quantum (“digital” is Martin’s perfect image for it) development in the poetry numbers since I was at school, and the result has been distortions not only in the whole process of writing poetry but getting it out there, and even reading it—and some of these distortions are manifestly unaesthetic and even, in my case, get close to the criminal.

    And I wouldn’t say “overcooked” was the word either, Martin, which is precisely how my parents’ generation felt about the very early complaints about smoking, asbestos, and segregated soda fountains. Whistles, whatever their function, are strident–no one complains that the football referee or traffic policeman is making a mountain out of a molehill when he blows as hard as he does, even hurting our ears. The trouble is that the game Foetry was attempting to monitor is still being played without any rules at all, and those who would like to make the playing field more even are being banned from the pitch.

    The other way Foetry is dismissed is to say that it was just about contests, which it wasn’t by any means. There were very serious attempts on Foetry to identify the stylistic distortions the quantum development had engineered in specific poets (and specific poems!), and to look at the whole history of modern criticism. One of the main themes was the way the very construction of the modernist canon had been distorted by the Po-biz, and that struggle is continuing right here, yes on Harriet, as I think we’re all very much aware. And Monday Love is right here among us, the brightest voice on Foetry in its prime!

    I say let’s not be afraid of spades anymore. After all, we’re poets!

    Finally, thanks for visiting my home, dear Martin—I suspect we are both equally blessed by our geographical situations and our spouses. But above all thank you for having a heart big enough to accommodate “The Frangipani Tree”—it was written for people who say they can’t read poetry, and I’m always a little nervous that real poets will come along and say, how ridiculous. Doesn’t he know that poetry is deeper than that?

    Which is the whole point, I guess—how we might start writing to say what we mean, each one of us, each in his or her own situation, and not bow to what we think Literary History wants!

    Christopher

    • On June 4, 2009 at 11:18 pm michael robbins wrote:

      Thanks for sharing this, Christopher. I’m glad you didn’t actually send the money! And don’t worry what “real poets” think: what makes you think you’re not one?

      But please trust me when I say Harriet has hosted its share of backbiting drama (or “vandalism,” as Don nicely put it).

      • On June 5, 2009 at 12:16 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        Thanks to you too, Michael—indeed, I almost mentioned specifically what you said about your “polemical” tone, and how you were working on not being a jackass.

        And I mean that as a compliment to you, Michael, no sarcasm at all. Because you actually notice that in yourself, and very few people do!

        The fact is that in the Po-biz climate there’s tremendous pressure on us all to be jackasses—because we have to do everything we can a.) to get noticed, b.) to make sure that everybody realizes we’re so intimately in the loop that of course we know more, and c.) to be sure everybody knows we’re a formidable obstacle to YOU!

        I remember that feeling in the Yale Graduate School English Department in the early sixties. Needless to say, at that point it had nothing to do with the Po-biz but everything to do with the Ed-biz— a whole other ballgame. But the effects were the same, or the affects. Because we were almost all of us on Woodrow Wilsons (it was Yale!!!) so we were the creme de la creme. We were also bright enough to know that no way was Yale going to pick-up the tab for us all when the year ended…

        I missed some classes and asked the student who had been sitting beside me all that semester if I could see her notes.

        “Sorry, too near exams,” she said.

        A sorry parallel!

        So I’d like to add this to my Foetry Apology: the intolerable wrestle with self-serving intolerance—one of the most unpleasant legacies of a system that churns out too many books by too many poets, all of whom wannabe best.

        Question: why does a poet have to be best?

        Maybe Martin could answer that in digital terms. Why do people spend so much money trying to make their tiny super smart cameras loaded with gigas look like my clunky 1954 Pentax that lacks even a light meter?

        Christopher

  • On June 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm Terreson wrote:

    Good article, Martin Earl. Perhaps slow going at first, but its penultimate paragraph makes the going worth it. I certainly agree with your assessment.

    Let me share my personal antidote to the problem of theory driven agendas, as you call them. Maybe you and others know the story of how A.E. Housman delivered a lecture at Cambridge, May 9, 1933. Report has it that he spoke to an SRO audience, and that anybody who was somebody in London’s literary scene was there. The lecture was called “The Name and Nature of Poetry,” the length of which finally brought him to this:

    “Poetry indeed seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was describe by Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.’ Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keats’s last letters, where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne, ‘everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.’ The seat of this sensation is the pit of my stomach.”

    Later on he said this:

    “…and Burns has left us this confession, ‘I have two or three times in my life composed from the wish rather than the impulse, but I never succeeded to any purpose.’ In short I think the production of poetry, in its first stage, is less an active than a passive and involuntary process; and if I were obliged, not to define poetry, but to name the class of things to which it belongs, I should call it a secretion; whether a natural secretion, like turpentine in the fir, or a morbid secretion, like the pearl in the oyster.”

    I can’t imagine smarter poets and theorists will find much to be recommended in Housman’s assessment. But it has stood me well. It has happened, on the infrequent occasion, that a reader of my poetry, or someone in the audience, has confessed to getting a shiver; which information, more than once, has saved a poem of mine from the morgue file. There is also a story about how Dylan Thomas finally found a publisher to take him on. The editor told Thomas he couldn’t tell if what he made was poetry, but that it passed the Housman test. Guess you could say Housman was responsible for Thomas getting published.

    It isn’t that I dismiss lit theory and crit. And I could at least intelligently follow a discussion on the major (Modern) schools, the first of which, by the way, go back to the early part of the last century and are not confined only to its second half. It is just that I always come back to Housman. For me, at least, he clears the sinuses.

    (my apologies to anyone who has read me quote from Housman before. as I say it is something I come back to when the topic turns to lit theory driven agendas.)

    Terreson

  • On June 7, 2009 at 6:42 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Miriam

    Thanks for the Kafka, who certainly spent his life recording the angst of deconstruction, first that of the world around him, then of his own body. Your quote, one of my all time favorites, put me to reading the diaries. Here’s another one from the same day, to Max Brod: “Then once I read this passage in Byron’s diaries (I am only paraphrasing because the book is already packed up): ‘For a week I have not left the house. For three days I have been boxing four hours daily with a boxing master in the library with the windows open to calm my mind.’” I first read “boxing master” as an expert in boxing books, and thought, what a fabulous idea – a boxing master. One might actually make a leaving reviving this wonderful sounding profession.

    Martin

  • On June 7, 2009 at 6:44 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Margo,

    I did mean to make a comparison between the more definitive closure of your Brownie and the new Leica S series (digital format …$35,000 list). I think that we can still erase our last lines and rewrite them. My point is that, no matter the theoretical backdrop that informs us as poets, the poem comes to an end, and that the so-called open-ended poems, are carrying, in spite of themselves, a certain momentum towards their last line, and then they do end, just like poems have always ended. To attach a political agenda to the pretence of open-ended poetry is misguided, utopian, and has little to do with how we write poems. The new technologies, whether material or theoretical, don’t alter the actual dynamic all that much.

    But I think this is the conclusion you come to as well in the last paragraph of your comment. I love your sentence: “The old lesson for any photographer is to take a thousand images with the eye, and one, with the finger.” That stands for poetry as well.

    I’m glad you wrote in early, and brought a knowledge of both photography and poetry, while giving us a peek into your experience of one who has used different mediums.

    Thanks,

    Martin

  • On June 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm Martin Earl wrote:

    Thomas,

    “…it simply exists because of a supposed historical CAUSE, by mere dint of repeating the ‘history,’ and this is enough in our minds to make a discussion of the merit of the idea itself moot—and here we do ourselves a great disservice.”

    I thought about this one a lot – because the way you describe it, it sounds like literary history is very much like a political campaign with its haranguing repetitions that lead us finally into mistaking rhetoric for something that is workable and sound.

    But, I don’t agree with putting Olson’s notion of breath units in the same set as Emerson’s more wide ranging essays on an American transcendentalism. They are of different orders altogether. The evolution of American letters involved extensive interbreeding. For example, though Millay is much more in line of Emerson and Frost than with other ramifications of modernism. Olson also owed much to Emerson. Who didn’t? And Emerson much to German idealism.

    “I think we also need to realize a bit more that technology is very often not an end; sometimes technology is simply a means which facilitates–and does not necessarily qualitatively change things.”

    My sense is that technology does change things; and that mental processes eventually respond to new technologies. The time-lapse between invention and psychic paradigm shifts among the population is decreasing, rapidly. Your analogy between Franklin and Poe certainly fit the age. But I wonder if it’s still a workable analogy today. Technology itself has also evolved and has matured sufficiently that it is now beginning to have its own ends.

    I hope you can get back to me on these things, and especially on your last line: a photograph is just a photograph. Is that like saying a poem is just a poem?

    Martin

  • On June 7, 2009 at 11:15 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    Indeed a photograph is the end of photography, and a poem is the end of poetry–yet Modernist theory has convinced us somehow the opposite is true.

    Why do poets invoke Emerson so often? Emerson never reviewed poetry.

    Nor did Emerson’s godson, William James. John Dewey was not a reviewer; Betrand Russell did not practice criticism; I believe Huxley did some contemporary reviewing, but it has never received attention; George Santayana, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Marriane Moore, Robert Lowell, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, William Empson, Ford Madox Ford, and even T.S. Eliot–none of these reviewed their contemporaries, none reviewed actual poems–Eliot wrote how he felt poetry ought to be reviewed, how it ought to be read, and, like Arnold, did a little bit of ‘touchstone’ comparisons of dead poets, and Whitman, did he ever review poets, living, or dead?

    How are we so bereft? Where is our model for the poetry review? From Samuel Johnson to Randall Jarrell, 200 YEARS!! mid-18th to mid-20th we have NO poetry reviewers of any note? Even the New Critics were ivory tower critics who merely showed us how good the best of Wordsworth or Keats or Marvell was, but, really, we already KNEW that.

    How can there be such a GAP in our Letters? It is staggering to think of it.

    Was there ONE critic who demonstrated with rigor HOW the end of poetry was THE POEM? Who bothered, at all, do this?

    There was one. Not as a favor to friends. But in a fearless and *really* independent manner.

    Edgar Poe.

    Obviously we could find reviews by other writers and collect them. We should. But we don’t, because we don’t like reviews; we would rather philosophize with the cranks like Ezra Pound. Let’s get started on finding our way back to the real. But first let’s welcome Poe back into the fold, because reviewing begins with him. Poets today choose Emerson as a way of saying, ‘I find criticism best when it’s not really criticism.’

    Emerson? Why do poets even talk about Emerson? HE WAS NOT A CRITIC.

    Poetry is not an abstract thing. The ‘Adonais’ of Shelley is poetry. Criticism of POEMS is criticism.

    Why do we let an essay tell us what a poem is?

    Is there really an essay somewhere that can tell us what a poem is?

    What a photograph is?

    Where is the reasoning that out-reasons ‘Adonais’ as poetry?

    Nature abhors a vacuum, so Emerson, or Stevens, or whoever you like, who does not speak of poems, becomes a poetry reviewer–though he is not a poetry reviewer–by default. And, after that, people can whatever crackpot thing they want.

    What I am saying is so obvious as to have escaped our notice.

    Thomas

    • On June 8, 2009 at 2:08 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      Certainly well taken points, Thomas, re the paucity of contemporary criticism for both image and word. Tho’, in photography, one would do well to pay some attention to Sontag. Less, I’d say, actually, for her ‘On Photography’, its conclusions which she later questioned herself, a good thing for any critic to question him/herself, I think — but more, in her finer ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ – in which she returns to the photograph and what it does and does not do to our humanity. A worthy quest, for a critic. To return. And Sontag, in the latter book, poses and explores the multiple moralities in the captured image…

      and this pertains to an era where photographs ended with the making, not with the technologies now possible, as Martin is importantly bringing to the table. And so, that art becomes nearer to the poem and its possibility of rewrite, as Martin, you develop in your note to me above —

      yes, art, when it is working hard and well, moves toward its own conclusion, its inevitability, some believe — and then, if there be a good critic in the darkroom – or, after the covers close — is time to discern, see the pain or the joy, horror or heaven that a work may be able to invoke.

      Sontag makes harsh points about the differences between seeing and taking, between Goya’s horrified seeing as synthesis, and Capa’s evidence of a creation, to make an enduring criticism of war.(for instance.)

      Maybe I’d add Lee Miller’s cynicism/humor/play/horror image of herself bathing in Hitler’s bathtub, at the end of an end…or add Ophuls, or ‘Henry V,’(as Shakespeare’s best indictment of war, I believe…) or, the scraps of poems found in dead soldier’s pockets that Forche includes in her ‘Against Forgetting.’ But the subject gets vast – all of epic, all of lyric, all of our effort as humans to witness and sing of it…and art’s subject is surely not only war, thank God.

      Certainly, lines between documentation and creation have been blur/merging, ["bleshing" -- wonderful word SF author, Theodore Sturgeon invented.]

      And in image, and poem, there certainly is — the moment when the worker’s breath is let out, and line stops, and the critic may enter, if there is one of any worth in the house. few, as you say, Thomas. few.

      Sontag, as photography’s critic, reaches for moral authority; worries that in the end, one remembers only the photograph, or its icon, and not the event it may claim. Poetry’s critics have all the layers of sand, or the hard heartbeats of “now” –line by line. And the poet,word by word, trying to put a period on her line… until she can.

      Again, Martin, one has only discernment. Our last/best evolved tool. And the mistakes of stopping too late, or too soon.

      all best, margo

  • On June 8, 2009 at 1:50 am Terreson wrote:

    Martin Earl, I needed to ruminate on your essay. Sunday is a great day for me to chew on the cud while I am washing and folding my clothes. Finally I remembered.

    Ortega Y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, some sixty years ago observed on how accentuated technology would end up producing the mass-society man (and woman) only capable of mass-production in their imaginations. That is the point of your essay. And I suppose it needs to be said again.

    Still, it is an old fight. Going back to the likes of William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, even to Blake. Were I you I would reconsider the approach and take in more cultural context.

    Terreson

  • On June 8, 2009 at 2:42 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thank you for that, Margo–I hope I can get hold of some of that material.

    Here’s what stopped me: “Sontag, as photography’s critic, reaches for moral authority; worries that in the end, one remembers only the photograph, or its icon, and not the event it may claim.”

    What I worry about is that the “event” is almost always less urgent, less effective than the icon, on all levels of life. An event is rarely deep enough at the moment it happens to have real “moral authority,” which it goes on to achieve only after it has been “remembered”–even in our most personal lives.

    Do you find that so in your own lives, you poets? Is that not perhaps why we write, or at least get started?

    This week the BBC has been running over and over again the most famous of all the Tiannamen Square photos, the one with the solitary man standing in front of the line of tanks with what appear to be pom-poms in his hands but are probably shopping bags. The BBC was advertising an interview with the photographer who captured the image, which I subsequently got to see as well. It included going into the building and climbing the stairs and actually finding the little porch from which the photo was taken–with the photographer himself right along with us.

    Interesting, a bit voyeuristic but very moving–because so awfully banal! And yet yes, it really did do much less for me than the original photo because even if I’d been there in person I couldn’t have seen it like that, it was just too far away. Because it was the photographer’s equipment, his huge, protruding telephoto and his skill in the darkroom, that brought me the man himself, the little man all alone,—the small, slight pedestrian in the bull ring heroically facing the monster of history alone.

    And that would not have been visible but for the photographer’s artistry combined with my own, personal reflection, even like writing this.

    Christopher

    • On June 8, 2009 at 3:55 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      your question (worry) christopher, is much of what Sontag explores…

      (and what is recalled in tranquility, what is rendered meaningful, these are, yes, quests of the poet, we share knowing that.)

      here’s just one of Sontag’s lines in “Regarding the Pain of Others” “…what the mind feels like is still, as the ancients imagined it, an inne space–like a theatre–in which we picture, and it is these pictures that allow us to remember. The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering. The concentration camps–that is, the photographs taken when the camps were liberated in 1945–are most of what people associate with Nazism and the miseries of the Second World war.”

      really far better to read the book,if you can, Christoher. It’s a potent exploration. or, too, continue to think about differences, as the french surrealists & dadaists did –between distance and directness. maybe.

      big kettle of fish.

      • On June 8, 2009 at 4:59 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        Yes I should. Thanks.

        Living where I do I’m interested in child soldiers–there are thought to be about 6000 children, 12-15, in the hill tribe insurgencies in Burma, the Shan people, the Karen, the Wa, etc., a shocking statistic.

        But 70,000 in the Burmese army.

        And why? Because children can do the killing adults can’t do. Children can be sent in to burn and pillage whole villages without revulsion, and can quite easily gun down the women and children as they flee. They see the horror everyday but as they haven’t yet developed a mind for the image their consciences remain free.

        The popular Thai newspapers have gruesome automobile accident bodies and half naked rape victims splashed out in color across every front page. The average Thai has a good look and then wraps up the papaya and goes home with the fruit for supper. I can’t even look, indeed I get angry–the poor naked girl, the poor broken teenager son.

        Somehow my education has been better than there’s, yet I’ve “seen” only a fraction of the violence.

        Christopher

        • On June 8, 2009 at 7:40 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

          haunting images you speak of, christopher. harrowing. and harrowing statistics. how can one not be shamed to be human? that it is children of course, makes it more shocking. what, no innocence?

          yet i will quote just once more, and then hush, from Sontag, since this is how i began to focus on this particular frame: “…:victims are interested in the representation of their own sufferings. But they want the suffering to be seen as unique. …it is intolerable to have one’s own sufferings twinned with anybody else’s.”

          and that narrowed lens – I suppose, is how it goes on, and on.

          • On June 8, 2009 at 7:56 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

            It could also be thought–that the children you tell of–have NO distance at all. Which is so. No pause. No art. No luxury to think. May never have. So, no ability for compassion. I say that with my deepest silence, surfacing.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 8:31 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thanks for all that, Margo. I think you heard my cri du coeur.

    I’m doing the voice-overs for a visceral documentary on the subject by a well-known Thai film maker, Sitthipong Kalayanee. The first cut was called “No Childhood at All,” and the second is now “Invisible Soldiers.” You’ll get to see it I feel sure.

    (If any of you have any chance to do anything at all for Aung San Su Kyi, please do. These are heart-breaking times in Burma.)

    Christopher

  • On June 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Certainly well taken points, Thomas, re the paucity of contemporary criticism for both image and word. Tho’, in photography, one would do well to pay some attention to Sontag.”

    Margo,

    I may as well drive my point home further, even though what you say is thoughtful. So, if you’ll indulge me a little longer…

    “in photography…pay attention to Sontag.”

    But Sontag was not a photographer! Where are her photographs? This is exactly what I’m talking about.

    For Sontag to say that “people only remember the photographs” is a very big assumption on her part. What gives HER the right to say this? Do you see what I mean?

    This is just another example of the problem of Modernism, and perhaps this is THE problem with Modernism: it features so many philosophers/essayists/gurus whose heart is in the right place but whose whole schtick is a sophistical intellectualization of those who ‘can’t do’ but still place themselves above everyone as self-appointed cultural experts and teachers.

    The great motif, and Terreson will affirm this, is a critique of technology, advanced technology, and this spirit animates the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and William Morris with his ‘small is beautiful’ guilds and so much else; but shouldn’t we wonder why Ruskin rejected the Renaissance, including Raphael (thus giving the name to the brotherhood) and why this is exactly like T.S Eliot and Pound and Ford Madox Ford and all the founders of Modernism, rejecting Milton, for instance?

    If one is ‘anti-technology’ this is a perfect ‘in’ for those who ‘can’t do,’ who ‘don’t *use* the technology’ to blather on about how society is being destroyed by technology, a rather fanatical idea, if you stop and think about it.

    Study of primitivism is great, but worship of it? The latter should make us a little wary, but apparently it hasn’t given many people pause, at least not for many followers of Modernism. One can argue these things on a case-by-case basis, obviously, and I’m not saying ALL technology is good, etc, but I’m asking whether or not this tendency for the ‘can’t do’ types to appoint themselves as gurus isn’t a bit disconcerting?

    Thomas

    • On June 9, 2009 at 12:33 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      Also a thoughtful response, Thomas, including your “I’m not saying ALL technology is good, etc, but I’m asking whether or not this tendency for the ‘can’t do’ types to appoint themselves as gurus isn’t a bit disconcerting?”

      Depends on the capacity of the critic. No, Sontag was not a photographer, but a rather excellent critic. We are– un-blessed by the paucity of good critics. In the arts, “en gros.” If the other adage that “those who can’t–teach,” prevails – then to follow your point, perhaps only the student turned practicioner must teach. And if by that it meant that one must truly be a student of the subject to be a critic of it (or to teach it) then that is not such an evil, imho.) But can one do both equally well?

      And if only practicing poets, or photographers, are one another’s critics, then we are back to square one. I believe that intellectual education is lacking in that it does not train critics. Some are really not gifted for it, or do it for all the wrong reasons, as has been explored here. Better – that instead of MFA programs turning of hordes of would be stars with first books or portfolios, that education trained the minds that are able to be critics; certainly not all are. And this, full circle, is obvious by the paucity we both note.

      As for technology’s goods or ills, I’m daring to sound like a broken record. Discernment. I can do certain things in image– in my computer– that my forebears slaved for. But if I’m no damn good at it, or only facile, then I fail, no matter what.And if my neighbor knows when to stop–and makes a sketch to match da Vinci–then throw the technical out, and let her sketch til the cows come home. My earliest note was to say it’s not the gun that kills, it’s the hand. Equally, not the love or un-love of the technology, but the love of the art and a skill to practice it. Then, a reason for the critic.And otherwise, the critic is perhaps gratuitous.

    • On June 9, 2009 at 12:33 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

      Thank you for that, Thomas–you helped me to understand why I felt not exactly offended but just a little devalued when Margo, even Margo Barshedevsky with her exceptionally clear, direct and compassionate voice, responded to my personal experience by referring me back to the Sontag.

      Can you understand that, you all? Why I felt just a little devalued by having my experience judged by a source?

      Why I felt like a woman?

      So that’s why I replied with the image of the child soldiers, which she didn’t know I’d been working on, of course. And she heard me then, loud and clear, and she reached me a hand in a way very few others in this site would have the courage to do.

      So that’s a beautiful object lesson for what Thomas Brady is talking about. Certainly nobody could accuse Susan Sontag of being a man, or her message of being patriarchal, but still it is in a sense second-hand wisdom–the criticism which of course one can level at the whole New York Review of Books. Which I love here in my exile, and would die without.

      But still.

      So that’s what we’re talking about.

      Christopher

      • On June 9, 2009 at 12:47 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

        of course i listened and heard your cri du coeur, Christopher, and certainly never meant to devalue you.

      • On June 9, 2009 at 12:48 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

        Margo Berdeshevsky–please forgive me for mangling your beautiful name.

        Christopher

        • On June 9, 2009 at 12:56 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

          s’ok, Christopher, a life-long challenge. My publisher just had to re-do the cover of my forthcoming book :~)

  • On June 8, 2009 at 7:12 pm mearl wrote:

    Were I you I would reconsider the approach and take in more cultural context.

    Terreson

    POSTED BY: TERRESON O

    can you elaborate on that Terreson?

    m

  • On June 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm Charlie wrote:

    Mr. Earl,

    I think you’re pretty far off the mark here.

    There are many real and important differences between analog and digital photography, and those differences change the way pictures are made and how they are viewed. But the ‘amorality of one or the other’? The ability to manipulate images? No. Those factors have been at the heart of photography from its beginning.

    Have you ever worked in a darkroom? Are you aware of the kinds of manipulation that can be performed, in the darkroom and beyond? Is the irony of your own pre-digital example — “like airbrushing away an apparatchik fallen from grace” — lost on you?

    Our ignorance of the mutability and amorality of images may be a casualty of this digital age. There may be a place for eulogizing a time when we could still be fooled by a picture (or a poem). (Such a time might be called ‘childhood’.) But to liken our loss of these delusions with being sucked into a downward swirl is to say that real art can only be made so long as we’re wearing blinders. To me this seems like a Forrest Gump theory of art: authentic art is possible only so long as we aren’t clever; only so long as we don’t understand how things work, or think too much about what’s going on. Art is a magician’s slight-of-hand: the trick works only if we don’t know how it’s done!

    And so the myth of closure, or the completed act, or the finished object. The radical stance against closure didn’t begin as a theory about how art should be made. It’s a call to recognize what was already going on, what has always been going on — a call to pay attention to reality and to give up our myths about art and artists, and about meaning. The aesthetic object has never been completed. Time has never been stopped. The art has never dictated the terms of its own insight.

    The sense of it having been otherwise is just nostalgia for a return to being duped by questionable myths. It’s a failure to recognize that all art has always been interpreted differently by every person and every generation, and that meaning has always been produced by the reader or viewer or listener in their encounter with the work — that meaning was never simply handed down from on high by the artist, on the artist’s terms, or ‘possessed’ by the work of art on the work of art’s terms.

    This idea that the final arbiter of the meaning of the work is the artist, or the work itself, is the conceit of the artist. The idea that there is any final arbiter is the conceit of the artist, and it always has been. It’s the idea that the artist, or the work itself, is like God. Well, it is like God: ephemeral, impossible to pin down, always a step ahead of where we’re looking, always dynamically changing in meaning and import in each new encounter with each individual.

    This is why Aristotle’s ‘catharsis’ theory is so horrid and wrong. It raises up one element of aesthetic experience, mistakes it for the whole, ignores everything else, and claims to have defined art. Is it lost on us that this conception of aesthetics doesn’t usefully apply to the majority of art created since Aristotle’s time? Is it lost on us that this “I stuck a finger down my throat and now I’m purged and feeling better” theory reduces art to something less than we already know it is, because we’ve all encountered art that does so much more than this?

    • On June 9, 2009 at 7:44 pm mearl wrote:

      Charlie,

      Thanks for writing in. Let me try to respond to your points as they unfold, and in a way that I think supports the basic analogy that I’ve tried to create between digital technology and the rise of theory – which in the contemporary context has come to rival the poem as an object that hitherto was traditionally distinct from anything that could be written about it. Gerhard Richter has said that theory has nothing to do with art. For Richter (hugely inspired by photography, of course) painting is still a physical, a mechanical action that occurs in a space which is entirely separate from our ability to talk about painting. What I mean by “amorality” is that digital technology reduces that space, one could almost say bleeds it of its original manual requisites. Operating through the latest technologies has had a neutralizing effect. It has not been simply a case of blithely going out to buy a new toaster.

      I didn’t want to burden my post with a lot of technical information. Maybe I should have included a bit more. But my intent was to talk about the relationship between poetry and poetics, or the current theoretical orthodoxy (don’t worry, I’ve already been corrected several times about what that orthodoxy actually is). Every digital camera uses what’s called an ADC (an analogue to digital converter). This means that digital images are broken down and recreated so that they can occupy a fundamentally different storage space. Silver halide grains are chemical; pixels are mathematical. Since light is analogue it must be denatured to be stored in the pixilated format of the sensor’s far less stable surface. It is this denaturing that I am concerned with.

      Of course I have worked in a darkroom. I’ve done photography since I was a kid. Anyone who has worked with both digital and chemical procedures will tell you that they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. A darkroom and a lightroom are fundamentally different rooms. Darkrooms were much more costly, much more limited and less spontaneous. Each new burn and dodge required another sheet of paper. It was Ansel Adams who documented the outer limits of this technique in his exhaustive study The Print. Manipulation, contrary to Cartier-Bresson’s approach, played a huge part in Adams’ process. It was manual, rigorous, difficult and far from the contrast sliders in Photoshop. So you see, I am not trying to eulogize anything; I am just trying to provide a realistic description of what seems a fundamental shift in paradigms. The only thing I’d add here is that I work with digital slrs with great pleasure.

      At the end of your third paragraph, your Forrest Gump bit, you’ve completely misread me. I’m saying that one of the first rules of making art is to know how to make it. From there on out, I don’t really follow you. If you’re going to take on Aristotle, you have to do a bit more than sticking your finger down your throat. I would hope that you’d write in again, if only to explain why you think Aristotle’s notion of catharsis is reductive. That seems to me counterintuitive. You need to better articulate your version of Aristotle, that his theory, as you say, “reduces art to something less than we already know it is, because we’ve all encountered art that does so much more than this.” I’d be very open to seeing some sort of elaboration here.

      Thanks again for your comment,

      Martin

      • On June 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm Charlie wrote:

        Martin,

        I’m sorry I didn’t see your post. I’m still getting used to the comment threading on this site.

        I’ll definitely reply, but as I told Thomas, it’s a busy day, so it may be a day or two.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 2:45 pm james stotts wrote:

    martin,

    you and i agree that a sort of cost-analysis is more than de rigueur. when the technologies are so subterraneanly complex as artificial language or artificial vision (that is, linguistic art or visual art) there are some who will eagerly overlook all problematics. there are others who, when they consider the fundamentals cannot overcome them (this is how i would categorize most all of this group of avant-gardes) that their operations are little more than the obsessive scraping of a petri dish. they are overwhelmed on the semiotic level, and certainly not capable of eloquence/fluency.

    why they reject closure so blithely is because they are afraid to achieve it. ask the brighter thinkers on the subject (e.g., the types avant-gardes themselves love to celebrate: derrida, deleuze, agamben)–a poem HAS to die, it only exists THROUGH closure. i often catch myself thinking that a lot of the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets seem somehow like cowards, and the conclusion i’ve come to is that they cannot handle life, that they have been cowed by what dunbar canted as timor mortis. why certain artists are especially difficult is not just obfuscation, ambivalence, awkwardness–but because their work forces a confrontation. closure is the point of convergence and divergence. that the ‘can’t-do-gurus’ are so afraid of making sense does truly conturbat me.

    james

  • On June 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Margo,

    I find this most pleasing:

    “And if only practicing poets, or photographers, are one another’s critics, then we are back to square one. I believe that intellectual education is lacking in that it does not train critics. Some are really not gifted for it, or do it for all the wrong reasons, as has been explored here. Better – that instead of MFA programs turning of hordes of would be stars with first books or portfolios, that education trained the minds that are able to be critics; certainly not all are. And this, full circle, is obvious by the paucity we both note.

    The trouble, however, with “training critics,” is we often get a rash of pedantry; for who trains the critics? Do poets train the critics–and if so, in what? Do the poets train the critics to write poetry? Or make a criticism? Or, should the critics train the poets to be critics?

    It all rather sounds to me like pedants teaching pedants to be pedantic, what with all this “training.”

    This was exactly John Crowe Ransom’s mission, by the way, laid out in his 1937 “Critics, Inc,” the prelude to the astounding university coup by Ransom’s Fugitive/New Critical Modernists.

    We saw the dawning of poets “trained” to become professors, and the two blended into one super-effective business model.

    The “amateur” was Ransom’s term of rebuke; critics had to be trained; they couldn’t be mere “journalists” like Poe, who, as everyon knew, embarrassed everyone in the last century by picking on Professor Longfellow, an act from which American Letters was still reeling.

    Longfellow and Poe, looking back, were worthy opponents; Longfellow was no ‘trained poet;’ he was a Professor of Languages, and Poe, as an amateur…was quite good at what he did.

    But NOW poetry reputations are made quietly in the university (and professors of languages, those relics, who needs them?) the public is ignored; the poets don’t need the public, for the poets are all professionals, and brawling by amateurs in the public square to the delight of the peanut crunching crowd is a thing of the past…

    Thomas

    • On June 10, 2009 at 1:32 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      valid questions, Thomas. Tho your admiration for Poe, notwithstanding, he won’t do for an only paradigm; poets are not–always able to train themselves or other poets to be good critics.And some don’t have the talent for it, or are verbose but not illuminating. That’s one of my points. Not everyone can rub the tummy and pat the head at the same time :~)

      yes, training can lead to pedantry – so can blow-hard profs, or careerists you mention, or or or… The thing to me is – where will it begin to get any different or better?Because, tho there was a Poe,there is not, now.And not only because of his mortal state.

      Do I, as poet, want to train my critics?No, I’d rather they be born, and let me do my work. But failing that, I wish for criticism that inspires the art-forms. Maybe a vain wish. maybe.

      I saw a grand & rich exhibit of Blake yesterday, at the Petit Palais in Paris. The curators made an error, I felt–in that in their accompanying clips, they ascribed every, every work to Blake’s rage & criticism of old Europe, which is one aspect of Blake, but leaving so little room for the viewer to come to a (some) more mystical and/or inspired conclusions.i stopped reading and drank the paint and old notebooks and compasses and demonic wings. Yes, Blake was a critic, but visionary, madman in the best sense, & artist, first; and so does the critic(curator) aid my viewing, in this case? well, honestly, not for me. So who should train the critic/curator of the poet/artist/critic, Blake? Back to square one again.

      I’m afraid that damning the modernists is not sufficient for me. If there be wise journalists, bring em on. But we have noted that the rafters are rather spare. Not spare of pedants, but of useful critics. So we laud a few dead ones and pray for a miracle?

      all best, margo

  • On June 9, 2009 at 3:26 pm Charlie wrote:

    Thomas,

    Brawling by amateurs in the public square is alive and well. It’s called ‘rap’ rather than ‘poetry’.

    • On June 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm michael robbins wrote:

      I don’t get this response at all. You’re referring to hip hop, I take it, which hasn’t been referred to as “rap” for many years (“rap” refers to the lyrics recited by the MC). In what sense is Lil Wayne or Jay-Z or Ghostface Killah an “amateur”? How familiar with the form are you? Why can’t rap lyrics also be poetry? Etc. I’m hardly one for pulling the racism card, but this comment is, at the least, ill-considered.

      • On June 9, 2009 at 6:33 pm Charlie wrote:

        Michael,

        I don’t get this response at all.
        Sorry — apparently my attempt at irony fell flat.

        You’re referring to hip hop, I take it, which hasn’t been referred to as “rap” for many years (”rap” refers to the lyrics recited by the MC).

        I believe (perhaps wrongly) that the term ‘hip hop’ is too broad and includes things I’m not talking about here.

        In what sense is Lil Wayne or Jay-Z or Ghostface Killah an “amateur”?
        In the ironic sense in which people who don’t publish poetry in magazines and journals and websites for Real Poets are amateurs. Or the sense in which someone is an amateur when in discussions of poetry, something very similar to their work is described, and yet their work isn’t mentioned because it isn’t even considered.

        How familiar with the form are you?
        Fairly.

        Why can’t rap lyrics also be poetry? Etc.
        Of course they’re poetry.

        I’m hardly one for pulling the racism card…
        Apparently not, because you just did.

        • On June 9, 2009 at 10:33 pm michael robbins wrote:

          “I’m hardly one for pulling the racism card…”
          Apparently not, because you just did.

          Yes, parasiopesis is my favorite rhetorical device, used in this instance because I felt that you were — well, actually aposiopesis is my favorite rhetorical device.

    • On June 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm thomas brady wrote:

      Charlie,

      The ‘brawling’ aspect of ‘rap’ is probably a big reason for its popularity.

      Also, children love this kind of thing…

      miss mary mack mack
      all dressed in black black black

      But anyway, another discussion for another day…

      Thomas

  • On June 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Charlie,

    Truly interesting words on your part.

    “To me this seems like a Forrest Gump theory of art: authentic art is possible only so long as we aren’t clever; only so long as we don’t understand how things work, or think too much about what’s going on. Art is a magician’s slight-of-hand: the trick works only if we don’t know how it’s done!”

    I share you indignation to some extent. I suppose you know this rather famous gesture against the idea that art is organic and madly inspired:

    “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 authorial 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 the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”

    Poe here strikes a blow against Plato AND Aristotle.

    Poe debunks the Romantic notion (inspired by Plato) that the artist is mad and replaces it with the heady idea that the artist is the very opposite—a profound example of the triumph of ‘cause-and-effect’ consciousness.

    ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ was greeted with disdain, for the most part, by 20th century critics, but that’s for another discussion.

    Poe does not challenge Aristotle’s notion that art makes some kind of cathartic effect on an audience—his “elevation of the soul” is really not that far from Aristotle’s “catharsis.”

    Aristotle was Plato’s student and it was a clever stroke to come up with some reason to justify art’s existence as an emotionally-crazed thing, and we all know what Aristotle came up with: art purges the audience of unpleasant emotions.

    Now here you say, again, eloquently:

    “Aristotle’s ‘catharsis’ theory is so horrid and wrong. It raises up one element of aesthetic experience, mistakes it for the whole, ignores everything else, and claims to have defined art. Is it lost on us that this conception of aesthetics doesn’t usefully apply to the majority of art created since Aristotle’s time? Is it lost on us that this “I stuck a finger down my throat and now I’m purged and feeling better” theory reduces art to something less than we already know it is, because we’ve all encountered art that does so much more than this?”

    I don’t what to argue with you here, other than to say that art’s popularity demands that it ‘fool’ an audience is some cathartic sort of way, and to argue that art “does so much more than this” is in danger of speaking in mere intellectual terms. Poe doesn’t run from Aristotle’s catharsis, except to imbue the artist with a responsibility to be conscious of the kind of effect he produces and to be conscious of how that effect is produced.

    Art, for Poe, is not news—which if it have anything to do with us will create some ‘effect’ in us—but a careful synthetic construction of ‘news.’

    Thomas

    • On June 9, 2009 at 6:47 pm Charlie wrote:

      Poe does not challenge Aristotle’s notion that art makes some kind of cathartic effect on an audience—his “elevation of the soul” is really not that far from Aristotle’s “catharsis.”

      Thomas,

      I’d like to clarify that my problem with Aristotle’s theory is not based on a denial that art can include catharsis. It’s just that as an attempt to pin down what art is (a dubious enterprise from the beginning, in my opinion), Aristotelian thought is almost comically inadequate.

      Perhaps art can do 20,000 things, and one of them is emotional catharsis. Fine. Aristotle has walked 1/20,000th of the way on the road away from complete ignorance. (Except that he thinks he has a complete answer. Perhaps he should have paid more attention at the academy — Socratic ignorance and all that.)

      I don’t what to argue with you here, other than to say that art’s popularity demands that it ‘fool’ an audience is some cathartic sort of way…

      I’ll have to think about that some more. I’m not sure I agree. Does all popular art have to work that way? It makes me uneasy, and I don’t know why.

      …and to argue that art “does so much more than this” is in danger of speaking in mere intellectual terms.

      That’s fair, so allow me to clarify. By my ‘more than this’ I mean that when we actually look at our relationship with art — that is, when we pay close attention to what’s actually going on when we encounter various specific works of art, we actually find that there are many real, specific things at work that aren’t catharsis, and sometimes some art doesn’t involve catharsis at all, but still does powerful and interesting things. I’m saying that Aristotle is very wrong from a phenomenological point of view. If you want me to get into the specifics, I’m willing to do so. I haven’t so far because I’m pretty sure everyone can find their own examples, but I may be wrong about that.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 8:10 pm Terreson wrote:

    From Martin Earl’s upthread post:

    Were I you I would reconsider the approach and take in more cultural context.

    Terreson

    POSTED BY: TERRESON O

    can you elaborate on that Terreson?

    m

    Well, Martin Earl, late last night, June 8, I responded to your question at length, then tapped the wrong key and the post got vaporized. Chalk it up to operator error. Now, it seems, your blog starter is lost somewhere between Poe’s fractured genius and hip hop’s urbanally, and equally as fractured, pathos.

    So speaking in shorthand here, go back to your Ortega y Gasset. You’ll find the causes of the conditions your essay looks to bring attention to. In itself technology is not the problem, only an expression of the problem. The problem has to do with cultural parameters brought about by the conditions attenuating on mass-society in which every individual is reduced to a digit or the lowest common denominator. Hip Hop, as much as all of pop culture, rather proves his point. Consumer driven information reduces us all. As did Poe’s fixations. Technology is not the problem. The hand behind the gun, so to speak, is the problem.

    Terreson

  • On June 10, 2009 at 8:56 am thomas brady wrote:

    I’ll address everybody here, in an attempt to pull the thread back to itself:

    Charlie, specifically: I really don’t think you can talk about the ’20,000 things’ art can perhaps do. That’s the problem with Modernism: it lacks focus, it’s this hysterical pluralism which denies ANY possibility that anything can be understood. It’s inane, frankly; it’s like that breathless poem by Jane Miller posted above: ALL THESE THINGS are ennumerated and we’re supposed to fall back in awe of HOW INTRICATE AND COMPLEX THE WORLD IS BLAH BLAH BLAH. It’s self-congratulatory, pretentious, smarmy-romantic, modernisitc pap.

    Another sign of the disease is Terreson’s reference to “Poe’s fixations.” A genius who ‘got it’ has to be branded with some pseudo-psychological label, because god forbid we actually ‘get’ something. We don’t WANT to ‘get’ anything; instead we want this hysterical, arrogant embrace of the inscrutable soup of modernity. ‘Art does 20,000 things and Aristotle (the foundation of Art itself) only got one of them!’

    Terreson does say that it’s ‘the hand holding the gun, not the gun’ and this is a nice summary, a nice response to Martin’s original post. There I pretty much agree with you, Tere.

    It sounds to me like we all need to re-read an article published in ‘The Nation’ in 1942 by Randall Jarrell called ‘The End of the Line.’ PLEASE READ IT, people. 1942. Did you get the memo? 1942.

    I’m going to start randomly quoting from Jarrell’s brilliant piece and you’ll all begin to see what I mean. For one shining moment in 1942, Randall Jarrell was the smartest person in the world.

    Thomas

  • On June 10, 2009 at 11:17 am Charlie wrote:

    Thomas,

    Denying any possibility that anything can be understood would indeed be inane. Things can be understood. One can ‘get it’. But I don’t think that’s the question. The question is, what does it mean to get it, to understand?

    Please correct me if I’m reading you badly. It appears to me that for you, to understand something means to understand it once-and-for-all in its complete, unchanging, solid metaphysical certainty. For me, all (and I mean, yes, literally all) understanding is contingent, conditional, provisional, etc. I don’t think there is a solid, unchanging thing anywhere in the universe. I think we look for solidity and linguistically/metaphysically hoodwink ourselves all the time, because it’s nice to have a place to stand and not struggle with the same thing over and over again. But really, I think it’s absurd to talk about unchanging or complete definitions of one kind of activity of one kind of animal crawling on a tiny rock floating through a sunbeam. It turns out that in fact, the universe isn’t what we thought it was when we came up with the bunk metaphysics that still plagues us today.

    I also think it’s silly to talk about Aristotle as “the foundation of Art itself” as if there was no art before Aristotle, and as if every artist since Aristotle has performed with Aristotle in mind. Or as if only people descended from the Greek tradition have ever created art. (They’re all barbarians, eh?) The logic escapes me. It strikes me as akin to saying that the workings of life are logical, and that therefore nothing was alive before Aristotle penned the Organon. But worse, because Aristotle’s logic is somewhat more convincing than his wholly inadequate theory of art. So, instead of dramatic pronouncements about Art, can’t we just say that the guy came up with a theory about art and influenced a lot of people for a long time?

    So: it really isn’t true that I don’t want to get anything. I love getting things, I love searching for understanding and attaining understanding. I’m just not willing to dupe myself into thinking that the understandings I come to are “OH MY GOD THE SOLUTION NOW I GET EVERYTHING!!11!” solutions, as opposed to brief flashes of clarity which bring me a little bit closer to the real — which, whether it presents itself as simplicity or complexity, cannot in fact be captured by human thought or theory.

  • On June 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Charlie,

    You just don’t get it.

    We can only understand ‘unchanging truth.’ There’s nothing else to understand.

    Of course there was art before Aristotle. I would hope so. What do you think Aristotle wrote about? Art that came AFTER him?

    And there’s lots of stuff before lots of stuff and lots of stuff that depends on lots of stuff. Yea, so?

    So you would deny Aristotle because…well, there’s this and this and this and this and this and this…

    I’m sure you are not trying to disprove what Aristotle wrote down by positing stuff that was NOT written down.

    Aristotle is ‘what we got.’ ‘What else you got?’ Philosophy is like money. If an agreed-upon contract is not in place, money is worthless. I’m not saying Aristotle is gold in a gold-standard economy anymore than you are saying that your manic pluralism is gold in a gold-standard economy.

    Thomas

  • On June 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Charlie,

    It seems to me poets don’t study philosophy anymore, and that’s a pity. The discussion here is perhaps too big for this site, and yet I’m a little sad as I realize that it is precisely this sort of discussion which poetry today needs.

    I’m sorry if I came across as blunt, or even rude. I was typing quickly and unfortunately my philosohical strictures hardened into a kind social brutality. Sorry!

    I didn’t mean to sound quite so bossy. Please forgive me.

    Thomas

    • On June 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm mearl wrote:

      Thomas & Charlie,

      I read and study philosophy. I recently translated a book-length study of Nietzsche for Continuum Press (London/New York)…here’s the link at Google books:

      http://books.google.com/books?id=YsHYVzgO-DwC&dq=nabais+earl&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=xoYptip79Y&sig=jZAg8xZ6cdo1FkPytkfxeV_Bt8w&hl=en&ei=FgIwSt_XFZXMjAfIpJCdCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1

      Nietzsche and the metaphysics of the tragic please check it out…they’ve done a huge chunk of the book.

      I’ve been following the thread with fascination…I hope to come back in with some kind of summation. My work schedule has been a bit out of control this week.

      Martin

      • On June 11, 2009 at 2:16 am Charlie wrote:

        Martin,

        I read your preface and the introduction. Fascinating stuff. I will read the whole thing.

        (Heh — I was afraid that Nietzsche was going to show up in this discussion one way or another, but I didn’t expect it to happen like this. I don’t mind, though — unlike Aristotle, I appreciate happy endings!)

  • On June 10, 2009 at 1:48 pm Charlie wrote:

    Thomas,

    No apology necessary (though thank you for being so gracious). Philosophy is often a brutal discipline. It seems to come with the territory. I’m more of a philosopher (serious non-professional with training) than I am a poet (not at all, just a reader), so I’m used to it. And plenty guilty of it.

    As for a substantive response to your post — it might take a day or two. I’m really busy today. But I think this is a discussion worth having. Thanks much.

  • On June 10, 2009 at 3:52 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “It seems to me poets don’t study philosophy anymore,”

    What does this mean, Thomas? Define “poets”. First, to get an MFA you need a BA, don’t you? To my knowledge, all four year Bachelor’s programs include Logic and Philosophy. Now if one is just a “poet”, not in possession of a degree or any academic credentials, who can say whether that person has studied philosophy or not? Almost every poem I’ve ever written is philosophical and/or spiritual in nature.

    Your statement, I’m afraid, is pure poppycock.

    • On June 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

      Well, you’re an American after all, I guess, so let’s just say ‘horsefeathers’. :-)

  • On June 10, 2009 at 8:41 pm Terreson wrote:

    Thomas Brady says: “Charlie,

    You just don’t get it.

    We can only understand ‘unchanging truth.’ There’s nothing else to understand.”

    Oh, I think Charlie gets it quite well. There is no such thing as an unchanging truth. The particle composition of the universe was different 13 million years ago than it is now. Changing truth. For every DNA determination there is an allele, a variation on the gene. Changing truth. And for every allele there is a mutation. Changing truth. While the recombinations involved are not limitless they are multiple. Changing truths. And all of this soup is determining of you and me now, but not how we would have appeared 13 million years ago or 13 million years from now.

    Aristotle only explained one thing: how he thought. There is no evidence in cosmology, physics, biology, or psychology to evidence his thinking about cosmology, physics, biology, or psychology.

    Anyway, Aristollean logic, predicated on the notion that humans are rational, was pretty much smashed by Freud and others.

    Terreson

    • On June 11, 2009 at 12:54 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      Yep. & add a few more ancients : I Ching’s cosmology centered on ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, evolution of events as process, & acceptance of inevitability of change. Truth based on zero change? Only in empires & dictatorships, I’d say; and eventually, thankfully, they fail, and fall.I can make no claim to being philosopher, only human, where change is inevitable, & even the moving finger that writes no more–is supplanted.

      margo

  • On June 11, 2009 at 10:15 am thomas brady wrote:

    Everyone:

    The comments on ‘philosophical truth’ I’ll put to the side for one moment, because I really want to discuss Randall Jarrell and modern poetry.

    Briefly: if you say ‘there is no unchanging truth,’ that’s an unchanging truth. The ‘change’ doesn’t have to mar the ‘truth.’ You guys are simply sawing off the branch you’re standing on. And Gary: how many middle-aged poets recall their undergraduate philosophy classes? You have to work on philosophy all your life, unfortunately.

    But let me forge on with the 1942 Jarrell:

    Without fully assimilating Jarrell’s message, American poets went on repeating all the gestures Jarrell laid out in his 1942 “Nation” essay, thinking they were being new, or else believing they were being ironic about what they were simplistically duplicating.

    What a pity Jarrell’s essay did not have greater influence! How much cute Iowa poetry we would have been spared! How much obscurity! How much mindless primitivism! How much boredom!

    Jarrell’s assessment of the “vector” of romanticism and how modernism is the limit of that “vector” is so spectacularly spot on, that Jarrell ended up describing post-modernism in his 1942 essay as well, what became the self-conscious recalculation in philosophical mode (French) of romanticism’s (modernist) end.

    As Jarrell predicted, modernism died out in the mid 30s after taking the tenets of romanticism as far as they would go. Eliot’s anti-romantic criticism subsided into the New Criticism, a text-centered philosophy finally repellent to poets, who were abandonded for commercial reasons on the desert isle of a writer’s workshop seminar in a semi-pleasant midwestern town.

    Meanwhile, the French, who were writing modern poetry in the mid-19th century (LaForgue, etc who influenced Eliot), rode the pieces of Anglo-American modernism into French theory in the 20th.

    Using the ‘new historicism’ before its ‘invention,’ the twenty-something Randall Jarrell was showing us in 1942 what a pretty smart amateur (what the New Critic Ransom at the time was condemning) could do: Get It.

    Jarrell’s “Nation” article ‘got’ modernism so well that it was an embarrassment to many in the avant garde status quo of the time, and thus had to be ignored and buried away.

    Here’s a just small sampling of Jarrell from the 1942 article:

    “Compare a 1940 issue of ‘Poetry’ with a 1930 issue. Who could have believed that modernism would collapse so fast? Only someone who realized that modernism is a limit which it is impossible to exceed. How can poems be written that are more violent, more disorganized, more obscure, more—supply your own adjective—than those that have already been written?”

    Jarrell describes the modern poet:

    “The poet is not only different from society, he is as different as possible from other poets; all this differentness is exploited to the limit—is used as subject matter, even. Each poet develops an elaborate, ‘personalized,’ bureaucratized machinery of effect; *refine your singularities* is everybody’s maxim. These poets, typically, dislike and condemn science, industrialism, humanitarianism, ‘progress,’ the main tendencies of Western development; they want to trade the present for a somewhat idealized past, to turn from a scientific, commercial, and political world view to one that is literary, theological, and personal.” [Terreson should especially pay attention to this passage]

    In this passage Jarrell completely ‘gets’ (along with many things) Ashbery-ism–the most lauded ivory tower poetry in 2009–in 1942.

    Ashbery-ism is the clever cul-de-sac of Eliot’s ‘difficulty,’ because for a poet to be intentionally difficult is both socially and logically absurd–poets like Auden and Ashbery saw this pretty quickly.

    Ashbery settled on a style which both obeyed Eliot’s ‘difficulty’ decree and demolished it, for Ashbery is difficulty carried to its logical extreme: pure obscurity which none are obligated ‘to get:’ Difficulty without difficulty. Nonsense following nonsense until finally crowned.

    Why are the successes of 20th century poetry so vile? Because the very nature of that success was unseemly, like the fortunate seduction of a beautiful woman which triggers all sorts of unfortunate results: revulsion, guilt, jealousy, paranoia, and public embarrassment. An investigation can only reveal that the beautiful woman was in the right and the manifesto-tongued man was in the wrong. Randall Jarrell’s buried essay is one more piece of documentary proof, with the soiling of Poe, Millay…

    Thomas

  • On June 11, 2009 at 10:52 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “…we would have been spared!…How much mindless primitivism!”

    Thomas, could you elaborate on “mindless primitivism”? And be specific. Names and examples would be nice.

  • On June 11, 2009 at 11:26 am thomas brady wrote:

    Here’s some more Jarrell Gems from his 1942 “Nation” essay, pretty much at random:

    He’s right about Jeffers:

    “For a long time society and poetry have been developing in the same direction, have been carrying certain tendencies to their limits: how could anyone fail to realize that the excesses of modernist poetry are the necessary concomitants of the excesses of late-capitalist society? (An example too pure and too absurd even for allegory is Robinson Jeffers, who must prefer a hawk to a man, a stone to a hawk, because of an individualism so exaggerated that it contemptuously rejects affections, obligations, relations of any kind whatsoever, and sets up as a nostalgically awaited goal the war of all against all. Old Rocky Face, perched on his sea crag, is the last of laissez faire; Free Economic Man at the end of his rope.) How much the modernist poets disliked their society, and how much they resembled it! They rushed, side by side with their society, to the limits of all tendencies. When, at the beginning of the thirties, these limits were reached, what became of these individualists? They turned toward anything collective: toward Catholicism, communism, distributism, social credit, agrarianism; they wrote neoclassical criticism or verse; they stopped writing; and when they read the verse of someone like E.E. Cummings, as it pushed on into the heart of that last undiscovered continent, e.e.cummings, they thought of this moral impossibility, this living fossil, with a sort of awed and incredulous revulsion.”

    He’s right about Auden and Dylan Thomas:

    “Auden was so influential because his poetry was the only novel and successful reaction away from modernism; and a few years later Dylan Thomas was so influential–in England–because his poetry was the only novel and successful reaction away from Auden. But his semi-surrealist experimentalism could be as good as it was, and influential as it was, only in a country whose poets had never carried modernism to the limits of its possibilites. No one can understand these English developments if he forgets that, while we were having the modernism of Pound, Stevens, Williams, Moore, Eliot, Tate, Crane, Cummings, and all the rest, England was having the modernism of the Sitwells.”

    He’s right about Yvor Winters:

    “It is the end of the line. Poets can go back and repeat the ride; they can settle in attractive, atavistic colonies along the railroad; they can repudiate the whole system, a la Yvor Winters, for some neoclassical donkey caravan of their own. But Modernism As We Knew It—the most successful and influential body of poetry of this century—is dead.”

    Here, (in 1942) he sees the Beats coming:

    “Modernist poets, though they may write about the ordinary life of the time, have highly specialized relations with it. The poet’s naturalism is employed as indictment, as justification for his own isolation; prosaic and sordid details become important as what writers like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams somewhat primitively think of as anti-poetic. Contemporary life is condemned, patronized, or treated as a disgraceful aberration or special case, compared to the past; the poet hangs out the window of the Ivory Tower making severe but obscure remarks about what is happening below—he accepts the universe with several (thin) volumes of reservations.”

    More spot on description of modernist poetry:

    “A lack of restraint or proportion: all tendencies are forced to their limits, even contradictory tendencies—and not merely in the same movement, but frequently in the same poet or the same poem. Some modernist poetry puts an unparalled emphasis on texture, connotation, violently ‘interesting’ language (attained partly by an extension of romantic principles, partly by a more violent rhetoric based on 16th and 17th century practices); but there has never before been such prosaic poetry—conversational-colloquial verse without even a pretense of meter. 6) A great emphasis on details—on parts, not wholes. Poetry is essentially lyric: the rare narrative or expository poem is a half-fortuitous collocation of lyric details. Poetry exploits particulars and avoids and condemns generalizations.”

    Still more:

    “Obscurity, inaccessibility: logic, both for structure and texture, is neglected; without this for a ground the masses of the illogical or alogical lose much of their effectiveness. The poet’s peculiar erudition and allusiveness (compare the Alexandrian poet Lycophron) consciously restrict his audience to a small, highly specialized group; the poet is a specialist like everyone else. He intimidates or overawes the public by an attitude one may paraphrase as: ‘The poet’s cultivation and sensibility are of a different order from those of his readers; even if he tried to talk down to them—and why should he try?—he would talk about things they have never heard of, in ways they will never understand.” But he did not despair of their understanding a slap in the face.”

    He is right about Wordsworth and Pound:

    “French modernist poetry first influenced poetry in English through Americans who, lacking a determining or confining tradition of their own, were particularly accessible and susceptible: Pound and Eliot (like Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce) were in some sense expatriates in both space and time. They imported modernism into English rather more deliberately and openly than Wordsworth and Coleridge had imported romanticism; but all Pound’s early advice to poets could be summed up in a sentence half of which is pure Wordsworth: write like prose, like speech—and read French poetry!”

    • On June 13, 2009 at 3:01 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      “Modernismo” in Latin America is not what we here call “modernism” but a lush, febrile earlier phenomenon ca. 1900 led by Rubén Darío, more akin to French Symbolism. The reaction against Modernismo, ca. annus mirabilis 1922, is la Vanguardia (Vallejo, Huidobro): denser, drier, harder to chew.

      Neruda draws from both strands. World poets moan round with many voices.

      The problem with “modernism” as a term, as well as post-mo and its pal post-avant, is total lack of content. We’re now! We’re nower than now! Who ain’t?

      Jarrell is a wonderful critic but all our extended Oedipal windmill tilting against Pound and Eliot, given their sins, is like fighting Nude Descending a Staircase, all over. Broom vs. surf.

  • On June 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    “Mindless primitivism” is so pervasive as to transcend poets and schools; it simply refers to anyone who believes the nuances, the divisions and the distances of modern life have destroyed authenticity and thus need to be broken down or ignored in a kind of wordless, pre-verbal essence; which is a fine theory, but which encourages horrid, dull, solipsistic poems. The term “primitivism” is associated with all sorts of 18th and 19th and early 20th century movements and has dropped away as a term since then to describe poetry, but its general and “mindless” application and influence are surely relevant. Most of the unfortunate results surely lie unpublished in drawers, but a great deal of the influence can surely be detected in any number of inferior poems in print since Jarrell’s essay was published in 1942. One could point to a great deal of Beats and Black Mountain poetry and a host of Language Poetry experiments, too; these schools claim other modes of sophistication, but an unspoken primitivism is really behind a lot of what is going on.

    Thomas

  • On June 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    “French modernist poetry first influenced poetry in English through Americans. . . .”

    ?

    No disrespect to Jarrell,

    but this assertion might surprise George Moore, Ernest Dowson, Laurence Binyon, Oscar Wilde, John Gray, Arthur Symons, James Elroy Flecker, and other British poets in:

    “The Symbolist Poem / The Development of the English Tradition”,

    edited by Edward Engelberg (Dutton, 1967) . . .

    *

  • On June 11, 2009 at 3:05 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Bill,

    Jarrell does mention the fin de siecle, decadent English poets and Yeats as an influence on Pound, and your point is well-taken…however, if we grant that ‘French modernist poetry’ already existed in places like the Yellow Book and late 19th century London, then what happens to the Eliot/Pound modernist revolution? Jarrell’s target in 1942 is the then-lauded triumph of Pound/Eliot modernism, so he pays more attention to Eliot and Pound because that’s what he’s aiming at, and so by “Americans,” he’s referring specifically to Pound and Eliot.

    Also, you have to remember that ‘French Symbolism,’ as Edmund Wilson had already made clear, came from Poe–and Eliot and Pound (as good Modernists) reviled Poe. By the time Jarrell wrote his essay, symbolism was not really modernism; symbolism had nothing to do with free verse, per se, and when Jarrell says ‘French modern poetry’ he’s talking more about vers libre than symbolism–which Jarrell would consider finally more romantic than modern.

    But thanks for pointing that out. It’s a nice footnote.

    Thomas

  • On June 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    from page 55-56, The Other Voice, Octavio Paz:

    For [Anglo-American] critics the word “modernism” designates the community of works, authors, and tendencies evoked by such names as Joyce, Pound, Eliot, WC Williams, Hemingway, and others. Yet nearly everyone (except perhaps Anglo-American critics and reviewers) knows that in Spanish what we call “modernismo” is the first literary movement in Latin America and in Spain. Ruben Dario and Valle-Inclan, Juan Ramon Jimenez and Leopoldo Lugones, Jose Marti and Antonio Machado were all “modernistas”: with them our modern tradition begins, and without them our contemporary literature would not exist. The fact is that what the Anglo-Americans lump together under the term “modernism” was always known in France—and the rest of Europe, and Latin America—by a term that is equally vague: the avant-garde. To ignore this, to use the word “modernism” to apply exclusively to a movement in the English language that came thirty years later, is to show cultural arrogance, ethnocentrism, and historical insensitivity.”

    ….

  • On June 11, 2009 at 5:15 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Bill,

    I agree with Paz: the Spanish-speaking tradition he mentions is ‘modern;’ however, it would be ridiculous, finally, to get into a quibble about what is ‘modern’ and when did it occur, and where, and so forth.

    I could say Shakespeare is modern, but that’s not what Jarrell is finally addressing: the point isn’t ‘what is REALLY modern.’ Modern, modernismo or avant are only words. That’s one of my beefs with the Moderns–they hide behind that ridiculous word.

    “cultural arrogance, ethnocentrism, and historical insensitivity…” uh…yea. Can you say “Ezra Pound?”

    But it would be equally silly to ignore Jarrell’s essay in favor of some fatuous ‘modernismo’ stance, especially if one doesn’t publish in Spanish, or speak Spanish.

    Or, even if one did…

    Paz doesn’t cancel out Jarrell.

    Thomas

  • On June 11, 2009 at 6:12 pm Bill Knott wrote:

    by quoting Paz i’m not saying ignore Jarrell’s “The End of the Line” (which i xeroxed for my Modpo Lit course every year)…

    as for “modern”, doesn’t Eliot somewhere call Baudelaire the first modern poet?

    but then Eliot also says: “[U]sually and conveniently taken [as] the starting-point of modern poetry, is the group denominated … ‘imagist’ in London about 1910. I was not there.” (page 58, To Criticize the Critic, FSG, 1965)


    Paz doesn’t invalidate either Eliot or Jarrell, but his perspective is not insignificant, and is hardly “fatuous.”

  • On June 11, 2009 at 7:41 pm Terreson wrote:

    Bill Knott, I do respond to the way you just opened up the discussion by challenging a certain poster’s definition of Modernism. As they say in forensics, he who defines the terms controls the arguement. And you are right. No one really gets the Modernistes until they get how thoroughly international the moment(s) was. This is key to understanding the movement. Both an internationally shared aesthetic and an internationally shared rebellion against false values.

    Terreson

    • On June 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm mearl wrote:

      Thanks for that Terreson, it’s very well put and reinforces what Bill is saying, and what he cites from Paz (which is perfectly inserted in the thread at just the right moment: let our heads be raised!).

      There was enormous cross-Atlantic traffic from the late 19th century onwards that bi-passed the United States completely. Painters, poets novelists, not to mention huge waves of emigration which formed the community basis for a pan-Latin culture. Of coarse, from my vantage here in Portugal, this is more than obvious, and this transit continues to this day.

      So, Thomas, I don’t think where modernism occurred is completely irrelevant – art-making always adapts to (derives from) the local. Internationalist movements such as modernism contain many patterns of influence that were truly global. Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s greatest twentieth century poet brought Futurism to Portugal through his heteronymic alter-ego, Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa never left Portugal after arriving back from South Africa in 1905, and rarely left Lisbon, and yet he put Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s ideas to good use in a local context. Here’s Richard Zenith on the subject in an article called “The Triumph of Álvaro de Campos” published in Literary Imagination 2.2, USA, Spring 2000:

      Futurism never gained much of a footing in Portugal, where its literary significance is all but summed up — ingeniously so — in the poet-engineer who never existed. In addition to his Futurist odes, Campos was credited with a ranting and socially radical “Ultimatum,” published in the magazine Portugal Futurista, whose one and only issue saw print in 1917. After virulently indicting Europe and the “present age’s inadaptability and creative incapacity,” Campos’s manifesto proclaims the need for “artificial adaptation,” “sociological surgery,” the “abolition of the dogma of personality,” the “abolition of the notion of absolute truth” and various other measures that will pave the way for the “coming of a perfect, mathematical Humanity,” the “necessary advent of a Humanity of Engineers!” A humanity, in other words, made up of unreal figures like Álvaro de Campos. Because “the greatest artist,” according to the manifesto, “will be the one who least defines himself, and who writes in the most genres with the most contradictions and discrepancies.”

      I’d be curious to know what all of you make of that last sentence.

      Martin

  • On June 11, 2009 at 9:15 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I make of it the artist who may even feel disgusted with himself, who may feel that if everybody really knew who he was they wouldn’t bother to read him, who in a sense doesn’t even write to be read!

    Some of my favorite poets are like that. Philip Larkin, for example, who could write in any form about anything!

    Or W.H.Auden–who did have public hankerings, most certainly, but probably felt most at ease in his private pornography.

    Or William Shakespeare, who just didn’t care!

  • On June 12, 2009 at 1:15 am john wrote:

    “the greatest artist,” according to the manifesto, “will be the one who least defines himself, and who writes in the most genres with the most contradictions and discrepancies.”

    A trad. measure of “greatness” is range — of mood, experience, vision, cognition, effect. Shakespeare. I agree with Christopher: The Pessoa quote could be describing Shakespeare.

    Not the only measure of greatness, but a valid one.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 1:34 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Huge greatness can equally be experienced in the minimalist palette, the minute and painstaking concentration involved in some of the Far Eastern arts, haiku, ikebana, archery.

    To repeat the same limited movement over and over again until oneself unmoving becomes the palette, with no further interference from the self.

    The invisible artist.

    Emily Dickinson. In a sense Philip Larkin.

    Christopher

  • On June 12, 2009 at 8:50 am james stotts wrote:

    ‘de campos’ is describing the homeric shakespeare and the borgesian shakespeare as he tries to formulate himself–the infinite negative that gets lost in itself, and that becomes immortal as the details of his life are shorn by time. that seems to me to be very much the ambition of the avant-garde, only with the curious qualification that individuals, instead of trying to make themselves into trinities/quantities/quiddities/infinities are each of them writing with so little personality so as to make, say, the whole L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school one minor pessoa-weight’s worth of hetoronyms. they think their littleness contributes to a greatness, but that is the difference between them and shakespeare, between being delusional and visionary. they speak impotence to nothing, whereas the whitman in pessoa wanted very much to sing verse to the future, that is, speak truth to power.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 8:52 am james stotts wrote:

    and there seem to be a lot of clownfish in the school of resentment

  • On June 12, 2009 at 10:01 am thomas brady wrote:

    Bill,

    That’s great you share Jarrell’s essay with your students.

    I’m very impressed.

    Now, as for this:

    “but then Eliot also says: “[U]sually and conveniently taken [as] the starting-point of modern poetry, is the group denominated … ‘imagist’ in London about 1910. I was not there.”

    Sure, Eliot’s going to say that: it makes his friend Pound more important. The Modernists/Fugitives/New Critics were constantly helping each other out in this way. They knew the game.

    Terreson is obviously a devotee, wearing a picture of Ezra Pound around his neck…

    Martin,

    How “local?” Larkin’s famous “Who is Jorge Luis Borges?” remark reveals “local” can be fiercely arrogant; yes, “local,” as you put it, but if Larkin wanted to put blinders on, who are we to blame him? It’s a poet’s secret re: sense experience, put this way by Poe (perhaps the true inventor of Modernism) “Our senses sometimes see too little, but they always see too much.”

    The view I’m getting from Knott, Terreson and company is a kind of ‘international!’ ‘local!’ and everything in between, so that we’re back at square one: Modernism is just too diverse: you can’t question it. Sorry, I’m with Jarrell. The agenda(s) of that little band, which included the Modernists and the Fugitive/New Critics needs to be questioned, for all sorts of reasons. I will not be swayed by anecdotes which attempt to turn the operations of a coterie into a pluralistic, naturalistic, inevitable phenomenon.

    Thomas

    • On June 13, 2009 at 2:49 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      My take is that Terreson is a woman. No?

  • On June 12, 2009 at 10:17 am thomas brady wrote:

    “A trad. measure of “greatness” is range — of mood, experience, vision, cognition, effect. Shakespeare. I agree with Christopher: The Pessoa quote could be describing Shakespeare.

    Not the only measure of greatness, but a valid one.”

    I agree with John.

    This is what is so insidious, I think, by encouraging students to find ‘their voice.’ Great poets have many voices.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 8:22 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    True, Tom, a different great voice for every great poem–though great poets don’t always write the great poem when they write, thank god–it’s bad enough as it is!

    The sign of a great poem is that in the end it lives all by itself, without reference to anyone or anything. In addition, the great poem’s distinct voice continues to grow and develop as often as it is revisited. Indeed, one wonders how it could possibly ever have been written in the first place or, beyond even that, how the world could ever have managed to get started without it!

    Like you feel about anyone you’ve really loved who is dying or dead.

    Most importantly of all, the voice of the great poem speaks.

    Such a voice doesn’t just warm up in the wings (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E= poetry), recite by rote (……), preach (……), gossip (……), record itself (……), talk to itself (……), speak in tongues (……), or masturbate (……) [I started working on this sentence and realized I didn't know enough to fill in the blanks, so I deleted it.]

    Christopher

  • On June 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm Terreson wrote:

    Good post, Martin Earl. Really good post. And once again I am forced to look in the face how little I know of things Portugese, especially when it comes to the 20th c poetry scene. Only a few years ago, and by chance, I came across the writing of Pessoa. It was an eye opener. I felt the immediate affinity.

    But you’ve asked for a response to the sentence quoted from: “Because ‘the greatest artist,’ according to the manifesto, ‘will be the one who least defines himself, and who writes in the most genres with the most contradictions and discrepancies.’”

    I got one culture hero who passes all of my tests and against whom I measure everyone, man or woman. The same guy Napolean, at the height of his power, deferred to. Goethe. His really was an original character type, one of a kind. I’ve read a Jungian thinker to call Goethe’s character centroverted, standing out against both the introvert and extrovert, and likened to the Osirian archetype. Many years ago I read a Gide essay that fully developed the extent to which all artists and thinkers since Goethe are beholding to him. I am convinced it is true. I don’t know how it is in Europe or South American these days, but it blows me away the extent to which he has been subsumed in North America, at least in the U.S. All but forgotten. And I could bore all with the Goethe lore. Scientist, statesman, poet, novelist, imitator of the ancient Persian Hafiz, writer of Europe’s first international best seller, and the creator of more than a few conceptual constructs still in play in many different artistic and intellectual disciplines. Not many men or women are essential to the human story. Goethe is.

    The quote brings me to a poem of his called “Humility.” Here is a prose translation of the poem’s last strophe:

    “I cannot divide life, cannot divide what is within and what is without; I must give all of you the whole, if I am to live with you and with myself. I have always written just what I felt, just what I thought; and thus, my dear friends, I split myself up and remain always one and the same.”

    This is the sense in which I read your sentence. If correct it would not be the first time Goethe prefigured a Modern.

    Terreson

    • On June 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      Did Goethe know Alexander von Humboldt? AVH is the German – South American connection in that time-frame. Statesman, scientist, and I imagine poet, AVH gave his name to the Humboldt Current, the cold Antarctic current that laps the long shore of Chile, as well as to Humboldt County in Northern California. There is a statue of him on the corner by the old hotel where I always stay in Mexico City (he stayed on that block in 1806). Back in Germany, AVH met a young South American revolutionary in exile, who asked him, “Señor Humboldt, you have travelled throughout my continent. Are my countryfolk ready to free themselves from the yoke of Spain?” AVH said yes, they were; all they needed was a leader. Simón Bolívar went home and got right on the job.

  • On June 13, 2009 at 5:33 pm Terreson wrote:

    John Oliver Simon writes: “Did Goethe know Alexander von Humboldt? AVH is the German – South American connection in that time-frame. Statesman, scientist, and I imagine poet, AVH gave his name to the Humboldt Current, the cold Antarctic current that laps the long shore of Chile, as well as to Humboldt County in Northern California. There is a statue of him on the corner by the old hotel where I always stay in Mexico City (he stayed on that block in 1806). Back in Germany, AVH met a young South American revolutionary in exile, who asked him, “Señor Humboldt, you have travelled throughout my continent. Are my countryfolk ready to free themselves from the yoke of Spain?” AVH said yes, they were; all they needed was a leader. Simón Bolívar went home and got right on the job.”

    In fact, Goethe knew both the Humboldt brothers when they were young men starting out at Jena, Germany. This would have been in the last decade of the 18th C., and after Goethe returned from his second visit to Italy, much the changed man in that way the south of Europe had (has?) for changing north Europeans inclined to the Gothic. Goethe cavorted with the brothers at the same time he was cavorting with Fichte, Schiller, Herder, and, I think, Kant. What an extraordinary time that must have been for Germany. But I’ll leave off. Too much of a digression from the thread’s topic.

    Terreson

  • On June 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm Terreson wrote:

    Martin Earl, this amounts to a digression from your thread’s theme. But it is in response to something you say upthread, which I hope is okay. You say this:

    “Okay, Michael, sorry about that. Tell your colleague M. Robins that I like his book. I just came across some of your poems (I think)….five of them published in La Petite Zine, and like them, indeed…and you’re right, they have nothing to do with Tate.

    I’m having a difficult time trying to figure out who people are. I’ve lived in Europe since 1984. I try to keep up with what’s going on, but of course it’s not all that easy. There is a lot going on here too.

    Admittedly, I’m not used to the aggression. There’s more of a sense of decorum in Europe, which I’ve internalized over the years.

    But I think that my response to your comments holds and that the basic technology/theory analogy in my post, while it might not be watertight, is at least interesting. Looking at your poems (if they are yours) I think we might have more in common than you think.

    I just don’t understand your tone, which is duplicated in other threads, responding to other posts. Why the aggression?”

    I’ve been thinking about this post of yours for a while. Then I realized why it kept resonating with me. Some months ago on a salon style, poetry based, board I run a member started up a thread she called ‘Against the Argument Culture.’ What followed was a pretty lively discussion. Even people who normally keep quiet spoke up and their opinions were pretty strong. There were those who felt that a pugilistic approach to conversation was not only best but creative. And there were those who felt differently, who, in fact, felt that argument for its own sake is counter-productive in the same way, say, that the game of tic tac toe always cancels out both players. Nobody wins. The latter group was very much against this thing called a culture of argument. The former as fervently for it. Speaking as an inveterate observer and student of human behavior I found the exchange completely fascinating, especially since, as I had figured would happen, no middle ground was ever found. (You know how it is in cold wars. Nobody ever wins. Each side just wears the other down. Kind of like the Battle of Verdun in a hot war.)

    Anyway, the member who started the thread posted a link to a blog page of the same title “Against Argument Culture.” Here is that link:

    http://artdurkee.blogspot.com/2008/09/against-argument-culture.html

    If you go to the page you will find mention of an author named Deborah Tannen who has written a piece she called “For Argument’s Sake, why do we feel compelled to argue about everything.” The page gives a link to her article too.

    The point of my post is this: back here in America the, albeit dominant, culture of argument is also viewed by my many of us as lacking in decorum and even more lacking in productivity.

    On a lighter note, down here in America’s Bible belt I saw a bumper sticker the other day that tickled me to no end. It read: Come the Rapture we have the earth to ourselves.

    Terreson

  • On June 15, 2009 at 4:53 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thoughtful angles, Terreson–and of course this theme has come up a number of times on this thread already. I myself even went so far at one point as to suggest that knowing you’re a jackass is a prerequisite for arguing effectively, with the emphasis on knowing it. Indeed, there’s no hope for human beings without that.

    It’s interesting that you feel that in America there is a “culture of argument,” whereas in European countries debate tends to be far more intense, colorful and even ad hominem than it is here. The Houses of Parliament are a zoo, for a start, and no Member is safe there without a very thick skin and a whole arsenal of well-honed spears, automatic weapons, stink-bombs and whoopy cushions–all beautifully expressed, of course, with graceful figures of speech, Latin tags and Old School drivel. The put-down is almost more important than the politics!

    What I’m remembering is a discussion you and I had just under a year ago on Poets.net on a thread called “What If Emily Dickinson Belonged to a Workshop Group.” I went back and looked, and found that you wrote to me at that time: “Lordy, but we men do love the fur and feather display of prowess when in the same territorial reach of each other. Comment intended as much a self-observation as a remark on the silver back behavior of all men. And I swear to the holy mother of the species but the behavior seems to get accentuated among poets.”

    That’s colorful language coming from a pacifist like you, most at home among the tall trees and the beehives, and I wondered if you’d care to comment on it here. Do you still feel that way?

  • On June 15, 2009 at 10:15 am thomas brady wrote:

    http://www.textlog.de/poe-eureka.html

    Poe dedicated his prose poem “Eureka” (1848) to Alexander von Humboldt.

    Yes, Goethe is another giant which the idiotic Pound in his “How To Read,” (1929) his definitive curriculum for the brave new university of modernistic pedantics, completely leaves out. According to Pound, the student should NOT read Goethe, Schiller, Poe, Pindar, Swift, Pope, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Virgil, Milton, Plato, Aristotle, any Russian author, and Shakespeare, but should earnestly study Confucius, Villon and the author of “Madame Bovary.” Pound was not only ignorant, he was stupid. Yet we concede all sorts of importance to this jackass.

    Can we just call this thread ‘The Fallacy of Rejecting Pound?’

  • On June 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm james stotts wrote:

    pound was contrary and untoward, but he was considering the arbitrary (read, poetic) winnowing of influences. in some of his rejections he’s as transparent as nabokov was in distancing himself from, say, kafka and joyce, or as stevens was in distancing himself from whitman.
    give him credit for recognizing, in his time, frost, hemingway, h.d., eliot, and sundry cetera.
    he was maybe a medium, but certainly not a middling, talent. and we like to forget that his entitled arrogance and impressive reading was the product of an elite education, not just higher education, which is pretty base nowadays, esp. in the case of creative writing majors (a system he advocated, by the way, not knowing that it would be a way to comfort the weakest uncurious-est readers and versifiers instead of encouraging and guiding the most promising (i.e., an mfa is nothing more than a backhanded pat on the back).

    if recognizing the ‘genius’ of edgar allen is a litmus test, count me as ignorant, too. developing a poe-sy taste aversion very early on was a disguised blessing in that it kept me from ever reading goosebumps or the poetry of stephen king, in whose company his work properly belongs.

    • On June 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm thomas brady wrote:

      James,

      Have you read Pound’s “How To Read?” It’s like watching a man swatting imaginary flies. The guy was a lunatic. You sound like a fresh-faced intern in the p.r. dept of the House of Pound.

      It’s time to drop this line of apology. You know what? I don’t care who Pound “recognized.” Writers “recognize” each other all the time. Poe recognized Hawthorne–and you can read how Poe did so right here. http://www.eapoe.org They were NOT friends, by the way. Where are the writings of Pound that make another writer more memorable for us? Where? Where are these memorable writings of Pound? Not gossip. Writings. On Hemingway, for instance? How does Pound get credit for Hemingway? Remember when the public recognized genius? If a writer was “recognized” by Pound, that’s a strike against them. A good writer will prevail against all sorts of “recognitions.”

      Thomas

    • On June 15, 2009 at 11:11 pm thomas brady wrote:

      James,

      Ezra Pound is closer to the Unabomber than Edgar Poe is to Stephen King. Pound and King are minor authors. Poe is not.

      Thomas

  • On June 15, 2009 at 7:52 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    You had to be 25 years old a hundred years ago to experience the full glow of the Pound charisma; it certainly catalyzed Tom Eliot. Pound’s extraordinary ear and delicate lyric talent was swallowed whole by his grandiose attempt at Epic, and of course by hitching his wagon to the most evil social tendency of the last century. It is odd though how we give a free pass to the many considerable poets mesmerized by Stalin, who was not too shabby in the mass murder dept. either.

    The grand Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas (born 1917 and going strong) has a long magisterial poem on Pound, published in my translation by Green Integer. Maybe I’ll post it sometime, but I don’t want to Desmond the thread.

    Now monomanaiacal Ez begets equally didactic Brady. Modernism as the root of poetic evil? Too late, my brother; too late, but never mind.

  • On June 15, 2009 at 9:06 pm Terreson wrote:

    Christopher Woodman says: “What I’m remembering is a discussion you and I had just under a year ago on Poets.net on a thread called “What If Emily Dickinson Belonged to a Workshop Group.” I went back and looked, and found that you wrote to me at that time: ‘Lordy, but we men do love the fur and feather display of prowess when in the same territorial reach of each other. Comment intended as much a self-observation as a remark on the silver back behavior of all men. And I swear to the holy mother of the species but the behavior seems to get accentuated among poets.’

    “That’s colorful language coming from a pacifist like you, most at home among the tall trees and the beehives, and I wondered if you’d care to comment on it here. Do you still feel that way?”

    Mr. Woodman, it seems the ironic tone in my comment those many months ago did not carry over; which I figure is the problem with online (flatline) communication. I no more extolled silverback behavior back then, do now, or ever have. Mine was an observation on human behavior. I figure the silverback behavior will likely kill off our species. People, wanting to think they are in some way special or annointed, tend not to reckon with the fact that genetically they are .1 percent different from the next highiest primate. As expressed behaviorally a genetic difference of .1 percent is not much to go on.

    But I see that, once again, a conversation has been turned back on E.A. Poe, rather like an in-grown toenail.

    Terreson

    • On June 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

      Did I get a tiny whiff of silver back powder right there at the end? A flash of the flintlock shooting right through me in reply to another?

      • On June 16, 2009 at 7:32 am thomas brady wrote:

        Woody,

        It deeply offends Tere when the author of “Eureka” is mentioned. We observe a law, as in physics. It IS a physical law, in fact.

        Critical faculties exist as much as any object, but we cannot see them–only their results.

        If one embrace the modernism of Pound/Williams/Black Mountain, that pot of dullness, that scrabby, sexist band, it follows–as the night the day–that one CANNOT (and here is the law) ponder the graceful author of “Eureka” without feeling uncomfortable, offended, disturbed, in a manner which the modernist devotee cannot quite understand, but which is nonetheless as REAL as any physical law. It is not only the author of “Eureka” who offends; Pound chose to explicitly ignore an entire spectrum of the BEST in literature, in giving his world lit. syllabus to the world in 1929. It is right there in black and white in ‘How To Read.’ When this is pointed out, when the ACTUAL TEXT of Pound is put before the modernist devotee, when all the gossip about Pound’s p.r. work is put aside for 10 seconds, frantic backpedaling and excuses result.

        Having swallowed Pound’s Modernism, their stomach CANNOT tolerate other foods: even to taste ‘The Rationale of Verse’ or ‘Ulalume’ or ‘The Purloined Letter,’ or to read with pleasure the poetry of Percy Shelley makes them ill. They turn as green-faced as T.S. Eliot.

        Thomas

  • On August 3, 2009 at 12:10 am emily gadacz wrote:

    martin:: all i know as it relates to you and your camera is that you really know how to use it. cheers! M


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by Martin Earl.