Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discipline and Freedom

But to have liberty one must first be a man*, cultured by circumstance to maintain oneself under adverse weather conditions as still part of the whole. Discipline is implied. (William Carlos Williams, "Against the Weather", SE, p. 209)

Etymologies sometimes catalyze Pangrammatical discoveries. I don't like making too much of them, but sometimes it really can't be helped. This is one those cases, and I must say it startled me.

free (adj.)
Old English freo "free, exempt from, not in bondage," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *frijaz (cognates: Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon and Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *prijos "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love" (cognates: Sanskrit priyah "own, dear, beloved," priyate "loves;" Old Church Slavonic prijati "to help," prijatelji "friend;" Welsh rhydd "free").

That's right, dear friends, "free love" is ultimately a pleonasm. Freedom is what love is all about; or, more precisely, love is the root of all freedom. [Freedom and love have one root.] This jibes so nicely with the Pangrammatical notion of love as "the master emotion", and that "desire seeks freedom", that it almost brings tears to my eyes.

What brought me here was reading Williams' "Against the Weather", the third part of which begins with a reflection on America as the symbol of freedom. He is trying to correct "the commonly accepted and much copied cliché, [that freedom implies] lack of discipline, dispersion" (SE, p. 209). This reminded of a previous Pangrammatical discovery, that belief is always a belief in limits. We can now be more precise:

Freedom is to desire, what discipline is to belief.

But what is discipline? Again, let us check the etymology.

discipline (n.)
... directly from Latin disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," also "object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline," from discipulus (see disciple (n.)).

disciple (n.)
Old English discipul (fem. discipula), Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower," said to be from discere "to learn" [OED, Watkins], from a reduplicated form of PIE root *dek- "to take, accept".

The disciple is the student, the learner. Discipline is the form of learning. (Liberty is the structure of escape.) So we can adduce the following analogy:

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

For Williams, the poet differs from the philosopher "in point of action … It is not the passive 'to be' but the active 'I am'" (SE, p. 197). He here forgets, however, that the philosopher, too, can be an artist. The obverse, in any case, is also true: the philosopher differs from the poet in point of fact. Not the "I am", perhaps, but the no less active "it is".

Let us put it this way. There is a love of action, often expressed in poetry, sometimes as the despair of being unable to act, the "melancholy fit". This love is always a love of freedom. And there is, on the other, the wisdom of the facts, which philosophy can register with great artfulness. And this wisdom is always the wisdom of learning. That is, we must of course find our freedom in experience, but there is an important limit. Whatever we do, whatever actions we take, must afford us opportunities to learn. (Injustice—evil—is action that affords no opportunity for learning. Think on it, friends.) And here, as Williams rightly says, "Discipline is implied."

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*This was written in 1939. While probably not intended that way, I hope feminists, too, will be able to appreciate the joke. It is akin to Woolf's "To write, a woman needs money and a room of her own." So did men, of course. So do we all. It's all about specifying the problem (problem for whom?), which is particular to the Age, and constitutes the "form and pressure" of the times in which we live.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pictures and Structures

"[T]he purpose of Playing […] was and is, to hold as 'twer the Mirrour vp to Nature; to shew Vertue her owne Feature, Scorne her owne Image, and the verie Age and Bodie of the Time, his forme and pressure." (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

"How does this apply here, today?" (William Carlos Williams, "Against the Weather")

Pictures are to facts what structures are to acts. Structures transmit forces, pressures; pictures capture shapes, forms. "Think of a work of art—a poem—as a structure," says Williams. "A form is a structure consciously adopted for an effect" ("Weather", SE, p. 217). A work of art is a structure in the form of a picture, a picture impressed with a structure. (Long ago, I said the image is a concept backed liked an emotion.)

"The image in the flesh, reaching up to reality in the fact, reaching up to ideality in the act."

In "Danse Russe", Williams observes himself, naked in his room,

before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"

In the mirror, he is able to see himself, alone. But he must be standing on the floor, he must be grounded. The work of art is a mirror, something we "to look at" to see ourselves. But we must stand before it, there must be some ground, some "bottom", a floor. (Too much, perhaps, depends upon these etymologies.) Williams sees himself—dancing, lonely—himself. And,

If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household.

In Heidegger, we have the Gestell—the apparatus, the frame—and, less famously, the Gebild—the structured image. They are outside us, beyond our skins, beyond the drawn shades, and constitute the "the verie Age and Bodie of the Time", as actual to us as the weather. As real.

Against this, says Williams, he puts his freedom and his discipline. He produces a work of art, an imagined structure, let us say, and an imagined picture. He "build[s] his living, complex day into the body of his poem" (SE, p. 217). The mirror is not simply a "true" picture of his "grotesque" body. His body stands before it and is shown his feature, his image. Even as he dances his poem is coming into being in the imagination of this "happy genius".

The imagination is the transmuter. It is the changer. Without imagination life cannot go on, for we are left staring at the empty casings where truth lived yesterday while the creature itself has escaped behind us. It is the power of mutation which the mind possesses to rediscover the truth. (SE, p. 213)

It is not that the work of art IS a "mirror of nature". It holds the mirror up. It shows you that you are happy when you are alone [, an emotion that is also beautifully noted down in Williams' "Waiting"]. The work of art teaches your body to absorb the pressure of the Time and (trans)forme it into a complex, daily act of living.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Picture of the F/acts

For my money the lynchpin of Wittgenstein's Tractatus is 2.1, "We make ourselves pictures of the facts." Some would translate "Wir machen uns Bilder der Tatsachen," as "we picture facts to ourselves", but I like that word "make" (machen) because it indicates poeisis, i.e., poetry.

Those "pictures" are of course what I normally call images, units of imagination. And this works out well in translation, too, since Bilder (pictures) is the the root of Einbildungskraft (imagination). We are talking about the power of making pictures. I'm borrowing that somewhat odd locution from Christopher Hitchens' appreciation of George Orwell's phrase "a power of facing unpleasant facts", which he thought was important to becoming a writer.

It would not be all wrong to think that your power of making pictures, defines your "voice" as a writer. Just as your power of facing unpleasant facts defines your style as a political writer, and your power of facing people quite generally, in social life, probably defines your ordinary speaking voice.

In another context, Thomas Presskorn recently impressed on me "the difficulty of distinguishing clearly (and in practice) between 'the sound of our speaking' and 'its mere sense'. Voice is often semantically, even assertoricly, relevant." In responding, I found myself speaking in the slightly mechanical voice of the Pangrammaticon:

Consider the "simple" case of the sentence as spoken [with all its tone and rhythm, sincerity and irony, competence and diffidence]* and the same sentence written down. The difference between these two utterances is "voice" in a literal sense. Perhaps this has provided a model for the idea that there is a difference between the sentence as written (with all its accidents of style and errors of typography) and its "propositional content", or sense, which again can be distinguished from its full "meaning", i.e., that which includes the fact that the sentence is about, its reference.

There is the question of whether it's style "all the way down" (and all the way up). This may include not just voice, but also gesture, and will cover every function of language between perception and action. It's the full ramification of the way the "picture reaches right up to reality". It's the image in the flesh.

And yet…

Aren't science and politics just the perfectly legitimate activities of softening and sharpening the voice enough to explicate some relatively unambiguous "content". I.e., to make a determination of sense and motive, i.e., what we "mean" by our seeing and doing.

The image in the flesh, reaching up to reality in the fact, reaching up to ideality in the act.

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*added 12.04.2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mirror of Nature

Williams: "I suppose Shakespeare's familiar aphorism about holding the mirror up to nature has done more harm in stabilizing the copyist tendency of the arts among us than —" (S&A, p. 50-51)

Wittgenstein: "Propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them. What finds reflection in language, language cannot represent. What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language. Propositions show the logical form of reality. They display it." (T4.121)

Williams: "the mistake in it (though we forget that it is not S[hakespeare] speaking but an imaginative character of his) is to have believed that the reflection of nature is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature, a 'lie'." (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "How can logic—all-embracing logic, which mirrors the world—use such peculiar crotches and contrivances? Only because they are all connected with one another in an infinitely fine network, the great mirror." (T5.511)

Williams: "Of course S. is the most conspicuous example desirable of the the falseness of this very thing. He holds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination rivals nature's composition with his own." (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "If a fact is to be a picture, it must have something in common with what it depicts." (T2.16)

Williams: "He himself become 'nature' — continuing 'its' marvels — if you will" (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "Logic is not a body of doctine, but a mirror-image of the world." (T6.13)

It has always seemed to me that Shakespeare's aphorism has been grossly misunderstood by those who would question the very possibility of representation. Here, Williams, too, makes the mistake of suggesting that Shakespeare can be used to justify the "copyist tendency", or what in philosophy is called the "picture theory of meaning", which Wittgenstein's Tractatus of course is taken to represent.

Just as erroneously, I would argue. The picture is not the meaning of the proposition; rather, the picturing is. The fact that one fact is a picture of a another fact is the meaning; the picture is not simply the meaning. Rather: "The pictorial relationship consist of the correlations of the picture's elements with things." (T2.1514) The picture does not represent the meaning; the pictorial relationship, with all its "crotches and contrivances", is the meaning. This is why "logic is transcendental" (T6.13).

And this is in fact what Shakespeare says of the so-called "mirror of nature". It is not the function of art to provide a "copy" of nature (in, presumably, the mirror). Rather, we stand in the same practical relationship to a work of art as we do to a mirror. The surface of the mirror (which is a distortion of natural perspective even when perfectly smooth and flat) determines, not a representation, but a relationship: an infinite possible number of images depending on how we pose in front of it. The work of art "hold[s] as 'twere a mirror up to [our] nature", i.e., the audience must see itself in the play (which is of course exactly what Hamlet hopes to achieve with Claudius), "to show virtue her feature" (if we have virtue, we should be shown this), "to scorn he own image" (if that's what's needed), "and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure" (III, ii., 22-24.)

That last line gives me my point of departure for the next post in this series. It means precisely that the mirror must rival nature's composition, "continue its marvels", not merely copy it. The mirror is always also a lens: it focuses our attention. On ourselves.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What So Much Depends Upon

If you can actually imagine a red wheel barrow,1 we'll grant you all the rest.
     When one says that a great deal depends on such and such an image, of course that does not mean that other images wouldn't be adequate too; the natural object is always the adequate symbol. But each may be as dull as any other. (On this a curious remark by E. Pound.)

To get into the correspondences between the Tractatus and Spring and All, published in 1922 (in English) and 1923 respectively, let's start with Chapter XXII of the latter, which (after the famous red wheel barrow) begins with the following remark:

The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. These things are normal — essential to every activity. But they exist — but not as dead dissections.

The opening gestures of the Tractatus of course spring immediately to mind:

1. The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
[…]
1.2 The world divides into facts.

The crucial difference in outlook of the two books, which we can label simply "poetic" and "philosophical", is here captured by Williams's focus on "activity" and Wittgenstein's focus on "facts". Facts are to philosophy what acts are to poetry. Both, however, are emphatic about how "essential" all this is: Williams already in the quoted paragraph and, of course, in that iconic opening stanza "so much depends/ upon", Wittgenstein at 2.011, saying, "It is essential to things that they should be possible constituents of states of affairs."

This is a good beginning.

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1The cleverness of this bit will be lost on anyone not familiar with the opening remark of Wittgenstein's On Certainty, Chapter XXII of Williams's Spring and All, and Ezra Pound's "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste". Even this footnote is thus clever.