Saturday, January 12, 2019

When the Emergency Becomes Articulate

(Reflections on Leonard Cohen's answer to a question about the line, "I am ready, my Lord.")

The poet seeks obedience, the origin
of desire, as the philosopher seeks
understanding, the end of belief.

As the philosopher disentangles essences
and accidents, the poet's inspiration arrives
"when the emergency becomes articulate."

The essence of a thing is the basis of its
intelligibility. Personality
emerges from the willingness to serve.

The Poet and the Politician

(Lines written after watching Leonard Cohen and Al Gore discuss the catastrophe.)

The poet is to the politician
as the philosopher to the scientist,
the latter's dogged clarity to
the former's first intensity.

The philosopher makes us think
about what we know.
The poet makes us feel
for those we master.

The poet extricates the emotion
from the forces of history.
The philosopher extricates
the concept from the world.

The politician peddles hope
The scientist promotes the future,
while our poets and philosophers
worry our doubts and our despair.

The philosopher must address
the scientist with utmost humility.
Oh, poet, how hard it must be
to muster your politeness!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Here's what happened.
No, here's what I think happened.
No, here's how I felt at the time
that it happened. No, I saw
something happening right before
my eyes but I wasn't sure
what to make of it.
I'm still not sure what happened.
I'll tell you what. Something
happened. It happened to me.
No. Dear God. What have I done?

Monday, January 07, 2019

Perspicuity is to philosophy
as intensity to poetry.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"The arts," said Ezra Pound, "provide data for ethics." It would have been more precise to say "capta". The arts show us how we are "taken" with experience. They do not merely enthrall. They show us how we are enthralled. This is what it means when a poet tells us "how he feels". Not, you will notice, what he feels, or even who he is, but how the feeling gets done. How it feels to be governed. What Wyndham Lewis called "the art of being ruled".

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A poem arranges feelings
to present an emotion.

Philosophy arranges thoughts
to present a concept.

To make you think and feel
they evoke images.

The thoughts and feelings,
the images, are not

the point. They're there
only to clarify

the concept, to intensify
the emotion.

The feelings themselves
are harmless.

The thoughts as such
are trivial.

They're all in your mind
and heart. Imaginary.

_____

It must be added that my poems aren't really poems. What feelings are arranged? What images are evoked? They look superficially like poems, but only because it keeps things orderly. Nor is what is happening here more than a shadow of philosophy. It's merely a thought of thinking, a concept of concepts. You, dear reader, are doing all the work. You have to imagine it. Poets and philosophers (real ones) make you better at it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Politicians make the rules
that govern us, they decide
which acts are just,
how they're to be done,
and who may do them.

Poets write emotions
down, as paradigms
for the expression of desire,
studies in the art
of being ruled.

Scientists find the laws
that govern things, discover
which facts are true,
how to see them,
and what you're seeing.

Philosophers write concepts
down, as paradigms
for the expression of belief,
studies in the art
of being wrong.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Freedom is to desire what
discipline is to belief.

All desire desires to be free;
all belief believes in learning.

(Explication here.)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Hard times
for an honest man.
Empty spaces
for a decent one.

Art recovers the beauty that remains between the truth and the justice we have accomplished. Another way to put it: art seeks happiness in the space between our honesty and our decency. That is why art is always being accused of indecency and dishonesty.

(More here.)

"Suicide is a temporary solution ... The real, interesting challenge is to solve the problem within the context of remaining alive." (Woody Allen, cf. Leonard Cohen.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wittgenstein compared the depth of philosophy with the depth of a grammatical joke.

Cummings used burlesque as a paradigm for poetry. "Would you hit a woman with a child?" He'd ask. "No, I'd hit her with a brick." He said he was "abnormally fond of the precision which creates movement."

Now, stillness is to philosophy what movement is to poetry. Both, however, are fond of precision.

The philosopher stills the mind to reach a very precise depth. The poet moves the heart...

What is to poetry as depth, to philosophy?

Let's think it through. Depth is a spatial category. And space is to philosophy as time, to poetry. Philosophical language shows us precisely where we are, gives us the locale. Poetic language sets the tempo, lays down precisely when it is. What is to time as depth is to space?

The poet moves the heart
precisely to a beat.

In the stillness
of philosophy
the
heart
sinks.

(The philosopher
stills the mind
to a precise depth.)

The mind scans
the motion
of the poem.

Now brace yourself for the etymological punchline: 'scansion (n.), 1670s, "action of marking off of verse in metric feet," from Late Latin scansionem (nominative scansio), in classical Latin, "act of climbing," noun of action from past participle stem of scandere "to climb" (see scan (v.)). From 1650s in English in literal sense of "action of climbing up".'

Wittgenstein's ladder is a poem.

Friday, December 07, 2018

In poetry (specifically, love poetry), escape vivacity is the minimum life force needed for a free woman to escape from the "mysterious carriage" of a man's body that conceals the defects of his mind.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Indecency interrupts
our institutions, as
dishonesty undermines
our intuitions, but

justice sometimes demands
a disruption of order.
Truth sometimes requires
we overturn the doctrine.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Emotions are
the fine grain
of social relations,
moral fibers,
the texture of time.

Concepts are
the grid lines
of material position,
causal nexuses,
the structure of space.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The singer and
his song,

the joiner and his
wooden box.

The writer
and his pain:

his misery
his insufferable

resentment
of the craft.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Think of the problem
as one of

satisfying your desires
but
challenging your beliefs.

Concepts establish the thing
in experience, construct the object
of knowledge. They provide

the structure of understanding,
the appearance of contingency.

Emotions situate the person
in experience, fashion the subject
of power. They afford us

the texture of obedience,
the surface of resistance.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The poet imagines
an ideal history
of love and freedom.

The philosopher imagines
the real world
of wisdom and limits.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An ideal world
is as imaginary
as the real history.

Philosophy struggles against
the reification of essence
as poetry struggles against
the emergence of personality.

In the failures of philosophy
the sciences find their objects.
In the failures of poetry
the polity rules its subjects.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Is all pain
a difficulty
in breathing?

Is the dark
merely hard to
stand in?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thus, the light,
the air:

an opening in space,
a breach in time,

a fleeting thought,
a feeling, merely.

But bring the concept,
the emotion,

to prop it up,
to hold it open.

The dust in the beam,
the cool draft,

the distant voices
of the searchers.

They have another day
to find you now.

Darkness is to the mind
as pain to the heart.

All this obfuscation and
all this violence require

concepts to steady us,
emotions to let us breathe.

Darkness and pain are real.
So is the light, the air.

Friday, November 16, 2018

When it is dark,
I think of your eyes.

I feel your hands
where it hurts.

Who is to blame
for believing in things

that people desire?
What is at stake?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Logic should be the theory of science." (Bolzano)
Pathos is the practice of politics.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

It was a matter of some delicacy.
He wanted to smash the system
without hurting anyone.

Poem Ending with a Line from Rilke

The scholar teaches.

The reader is allowed to think
that our problem is ignorance.
"If only we had known this sooner,
we wouldn't be in this mess."

The scholar accepts our thanks.

Poets and philosophers don't teach,
they entreat, they instruct.
"Look in your heart, man! For the
love of God, make up your mind!"

The reader is on his own.

The poet doesn't make you feel
but shows you how to do it better.
The philosopher doesn't make you
think, but shows you what it is.

The scholar is kind and gentle.

"There's nothing you could have
done. You didn't know. It is
complicated and there is no time."
Scholars teach and leave us be.

Poets and philosophers are cruel.

"Look around you! Don't you see?
Get a hold of yourself! Why do you
live to say this thing's to do?"
They point and scold. They laugh.

Scholars assert and deny.

They tell us what is so and
offer proof. Always assuring us
it took their whole intelligence,
an entire life, to understand.

Philosopher just pass remarks,
and poets turn a phrase,

all allusion and innuendo,
all allegation and insinuation.
You know what you have done.
You remember what you've seen.

"You must change your life."

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Why is there something
rather than nothing?
Consider the options.

If the mind and heart
were perfectly balanced
there'd be nothing.

If the mind were always still
and the heart, ever steady,
there'd be nothing.

But stir the mind, friends;
make the heart jump. Now,
that is something.

Some mornings, the fog
is so thick
one wants to call the weather company
and ask them
when service will be restored.

The poet must invoke
the things that make us feel
and make us feel them better.

The philosopher must recall
the people who make us think
and make us think better of them.