Sunday, May 29, 2005

Marks and Stuff

All feeling must, either directly, or indirectly by way of certain marks, relate ultimately to institutions, and therefore, as far as stuff is concerned, to motility, because in no other way can a subject be taken with stuff.
-- The Critique of Pure Passion

(For those who are confused, I will post a longer explanation of what the Critique of Pure Passion is, and how it works, next weekend. I hadn't expected it to interest me as much as it does.)

I want to draw our attention first to those "marks" [Merkmale], by which I mean (though I'm not sure if this is what Kant meant) first and foremost written signs, words, the stuff of poems.

Second, note that a subject is taken with stuff just as objects are given to us: "subject" replaces "object", "taken" replaces "given", and "stuff" replaces "us". Generally, "people" replaces "things", but in this case there's this sort of general "we" entity in Kant that needs a just as vague "you know what I'm talking about" sort of designator. So I chose "stuff".

Intuition, for Kant, denotes the sense in which things are given to us to be known. For me, institution denotes the motive by which people are taken with stuff in their power.

Institutions are specific ways of being "caught up in" in historical activity, just as intuitions are specific ways of being "set before" the world's facticity.

Kant does not do much with the role of the "us" in his Critique, even though (as Heidegger showed?) it is probably in this very "us" that the "categories" are born.

But we must not forget the order implicit in the stuff we are so taken with. It moves us, constituting our motives. We are always moving--the roll of the us in the motion of stuff.

Contrary to various esoteric doctrines, stuff does not just respond to our desires, and I think emotion is structured by the tension between our capacity for motion (motility) and the difficulty of moving stuff around (immobility). This tension is the proper theme of poetry.

The Media of Immediacy

In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed.
--Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, A19/B33.

In whatever manner and to whatever ends a mode of power may position subjects, institution is that through which it positions them immediately, and to which all feeling as an end is directed.
--The Critique of Pure Passion.

There's something very peculiar about Kant's sentence, contained in the phrase, "that through which it is in immediate relation". My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "medium", in one sense, as "the intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses". That gives either (a) "that through which something is devoid of an intervening substance through which to be related" or (b) "the medium of its immediate relation".

More later.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Civil Status

The civil status of a contradiction, or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem.
--Wittgenstein (PI§125)

Gary Norris at Dagzine makes a useful contribution. Is it more poetic? he asks, "or is it less bourgeois?"

I want to argue that this is more or less the same question. A poem's "poesie" (a word I'm using to denote degree or quality of poeticality) is determined by its specific departure from the bourgeois.

Thus, "courtly love", I suppose.

To Proceed. . .

Emily and Laura are right about the damn fruit and I am wrong. Kasey, too, more or less retracts the example, but sticks to the main point, which I think is the line I want to take. And which allows me to bring the whole discussion to bear on Flarf.

The whole question has to do with the relative ease and difficulty of arranging certain available materials so as to activate our institutions in the text.

Phanopoeia 1-2

Laura went at the superiority of the image itself. "I've eaten an apple, but I've never eaten a fruit," invoking, I suppose, Williams' "contact with experience". Moreover, she is right to point out that apples "come in nice colors: red, yellow, green, bruised, etc." Fruit, I take, is variously nutritious but not especially apt to throw anything onto the visual imagination.

Melopoeia 1-1

Emily Lloyd has rightly exposed my zeal in "The Essence of Poetry". There is, to be sure, some "question" about the obvious "poetic" superiority of "fruit on the futon" over "apples on the sofa". And I think she nails it exactly. While the first is alliterative, the second is trochaic. So they are, at least, even.

Also, there is something about the way the a's and s's line up that intrigues me. Anyone know what that's called?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Corrections

"Notational irregularities are often the first
sign of philosophical errors."
Bertrand Russell



Two quick corrections to earlier posts. It is important to transpose all terms correctly to preserve harmony. On the other hand, imperfections of notation here may be the way the light gets in.

In "Decency", I had written.

"Intense concepts make us able to articulate desire; we become capable of saying how we feel."

I meant:

"Intense emotions make us able to articulate desire; we become capable of saying how we feel."

"The Critique of Pure Passion?" was a rough sketch. I have polished it a bit:
Institution is that through which power is immediately related to subjects, and to which all feeling is directed as an end. But institution finds its moment only in so far as the subject is taken with stuff. This, again, is only possible in so far as the mind is affective in a certain way. The capacity for imposing representations through the mode in which we are affective subjects, is called motility. Subjects are taken with stuff with the aim of motility, and it alone yields us institutions; they are felt through overbearance, and from this overbearance emotions arise. But all feeling must, either directly, or indirectly by way of certain marks, relate ultimately to institutions, and therefore, as far as stuff is concerned, to motility, because in no other way can a subject be taken with stuff. The effect of a subject upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are affected by it, is called motivation. That institution which is in relation to the subject through motivation, is entitled normative. The undetermined subject of a normative institution is called a surface.


I find it quite illuminating.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fruit and Stuff

I'm overjoyed about the comments I received on Saturday's posts. Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Kasey. I'm trying to confine my postings to the weekend, at which time I'll post something on the 'goodness' of poetry, its institutional basis, and, well, stuff. (Keep in mind that the transfiguration of Kant's paragraph is often mechanical, and always local. I replace words, not ideas, and so the consequences take a while to work out, even if they are immediately striking.)

As to the essence and virtue of a poem. Here are two groups of words I'll be mulling over til the weekend.


I

The fruit on the futon,
The cabbage and the croûton:
These, and a pretty pluot,
Are mine. What've you got?


II

apples on the sofa
cabbage and beans in the corner
coffee stained rug
dirty ashtray

See you on the weekend.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Essence of Poesie

K. Silem Mohammad has an excellent reaction to Ron Silliman's reluctant definition of poetry, which is very relevant for my previous post on institutions. I especially like the detailed transformations of his examples.

One thing to emphasize is that what makes a group of words a poem and what makes a poem good are two different but very related questions. The first question can be answered with the sorts of exercises Kasey takes us through. Starting with,

"There are apples on the sofa,"

which he suggests is not very poetic, he shows, by degrees, that the art of making this, let us say, sentiment into a poem is a matter of forcing an "affective response". I would say we are looking for an "emotional effect", or simply looking to "install an affect" on the page.

The first step, which Kasey does not take explicitly, is to transform the proposition into an image. This is easily done by sabotaging its predicating elements. We then have,

"apples on the sofa."

While the difference is very small, honest readers will have to admit that they feel more about this second group of words than the first. Not much more. But more.

Kasey now introduces a standard poetic effect, namely, alliteration (what Pound would class as melopoeia, i.e, using the sound of the words to "induce emotional correlations").

"fruit on the futon"

I don't think there's any question that this is more poetic than "apples on the sofa", even if we are dealing only with "a mild sense of amusement". The last step brings us up to institutions.

"The fruit on the futon,"

says Kasey, could, in certain contexts, be the image of a homosexual on a fold-out bed. We are now dealing with patently institutional matters of sexual conduct. (But furniture was all along a highly institutional matter qua "immediate sense of what is done". The trick was to bring its suitability for certain kinds of activity to presence.) This is not yet a good poem, but it is well on its way, and it accomplishes its poesie, I would argue, by directing our attention toward institutions, which are the real "medium" of poetry. More thrillingly, a group of words becomes a poem by playing on our sense of decency.

Lastly, in response to Kasey's response to my response to Ron, "Can't concepts involve emotions, or vice versa?" No. But the reasons for this are entirely analytic and probably won't satisfy either. Actual groups of words that are dominantly poetic (vs. philosophical), and which may therefore be called "poems", can, indeed, involve concepts, but they become less poetic (and more philosophical) as a result . . . and vice versa. Actually, it's a very good question and I'll write a post on it very soon.

The Critique of Pure Passion?

It would be insane to attempt to rewrite Kant's Critique of Pure Reason following the procedure of the Tractatus. But look at the results of the first paragraph of the "Transcendental Aesthetic" (KRV A19/B33).

In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of power may relate to subjects, institution is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all feeling as a means is directed. But institution takes place only in so far as the subject is taken with stuff. This again is only possible, to man at least, in so far as the mind is affective in a certain way. The capacity for imposing representations through the mode in which we are affective subjects, is entitled motility. Subjects are taken with stuff by means of motility, and it alone yields us institutions; they are felt through overbearance, and from this overbearance arise emotions. But all feeling must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters relate ultimately to institutions, and therefore, with stuff, to motility, because in no other way can a subject be taken with stuff. The effect of a subject upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are affected by it, is motivation. That institution which is in relation to the subject through motivation, is entitled normative. The undetermined subject of a normative institution is entitled surface.

Institutions are to poetry what intuitions are to philosophy. I don't know if poets will find this news liberating (i.e. the idea that intuitions are none of their business). Roughly speaking, I think when poets talk about intuitions or intuitive aspects of poetry they are talking about what I want to call institutions.

I'll leave it here for now. I like to think of intuition as the immediate meaning of what is seen and of institution as the immediate meaning of what is done. While these are distinct moments of experience (given sufficient grammatical exertion) they are, of course, ordinarilly conflated, owing to their synthesis in the imagination, which is the third moment and is the fulcrum or pivot with which we interupt the inertia of immediate experience, the moment of the transfer of momentum, where how our stuff appears on the surface can be "made new".

The fourth moment, as ever, is stillness.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Emotional Notation and the Formulae of Desire

Mussolini: "Why do you want to get your ideas in order?"
Pound: "For my poem."

Eliot: "What do you believe?"
Pound: "I believe that a light from Eleusis persisted throughout the middle ages and set beauty in the song of Provence and Italy."

My aim in keeping this blog is to try to articulate, in as many ways as possible, a project that has occupied me since I hit on the slogan, "Philosophy is the art of writing concepts down." It occured to me almost immediately that this art, which may be called "conceptual notation" (reviving Frege's idea of a Begriffsschrift), parallels a particular approach to poetry, which can be called "emotional notation", i.e., the art of writing emotions down, and which seems to be what Ezra Pound understood the troubadours to be doing.

In German, this might be referred to as Ergriffsschrift (though this is probably a neologism), evoking shades of Leo Frobenius. In his Kulturgeshichte Afrikas: prolegomena zu einer historischen gestaltlehre ("towards a historical doctrine of form"?) he tied emotion (Ergriffenheit) very closely to the formative processes of the "paideuma" (p. 26), which Pound defined in the Guide to Kulchur as "the gristly root of ideas that are in action" and distinguished sharply from the Zeitgeist, viz., "the notions that a great mass of people still hold or half hold from habit, from waning custom" (p. 58).

I find it useful to collect these fragments in one place. Absolute Astronomy has a helpful entry on the Begriffsschrift, which links to entries also on "thought", "formula", "language", "logic" and "notation". It is, of course, terse, technical and scientific, but it indicates something of what I am after, even if it does not provide us with the tools we need.

In the next few posts I want to go on to look at intuitions and institutions and to try to characterize poetry and philosophy as forms of writing, or more technically, systems of notation, whose aim it is to arrange imagery to present our intuitions and institutions to us in a useful (meaningful) way, allowing us to get a "grip" (Griff) on them.

I continue only to trace around the outline of my problem, rehearsing its form, its formal properties, its formulae. But T. S. Eliot did suggest that the work of art should arrange "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of a particular emotion" (he famously called this the "objective correlative" in "Hamlet and his Problems", The Sacred Wood, p. 100).

Pound tried to evaluate a writer "in proportion as his work is exact, i.e., true to human consciousness and to the nature of man, as it is exact in formulation of desire." ("How to Read", LE, p. 22)

Betrand Russell said that "a good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times makes it almost like a live teacher. Notational irregularities are often the first sign of philosophical errors, and a perfect notation would be a substitute for thought." (Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, p. xviii). He is talking about a kind of conceptual notation, here, and the poetic homologue would invoke a "substitute for feeling". No notation (no form) is perfect.

Each poem aspires to its own perfection, however. That is the quality of its affection.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Decency

Ezra Pound's early definition of "image" will serve as a point of departure: "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." ("A Retrospect", LE, p. 4).

First, note what sort of "thing" we're dealing with here. An image is "that which presents" something, i.e., that which sets something forth, makes it present. And what is given presence is a "complex" consisting of (presumably) simples of two kinds, "intellectual" and "emotional".

For the sake of pangrammatical rigour, allow the substitution of "conceptual" for "intellectual".

Art makes images, i.e., it fashions such moments as present conceptual-emotional (logico-pathetic) complexes.

Philosophy (one of the arts) arranges its images into remarks which fit together in order to clarify a concept or set of concepts.

Poetry (another art) arranges imagery into strophes which fit together in what are called poems in order to intensify an emotion or set of emotions.

In philosophy this is called the method of perspicuous presentation (Wittgenstein). In poetry it is called the method of luminous detail or the ideogrammic method (Pound).

The contribution of philosophy to civilization lies in the improved capacity to articulate belief that clear concepts give users (of language). That is, they make us able to say what we think.

The contribution of poetry is similar. Intense concepts make us able to articulate desire; we become capable of saying how we feel.

The preferability of a community of people who are able to talk about their thoughts and feelings over one of people who are not so able may be obvious. These communities are pragmatically indistinguishable from communities in which people can and cannot think, can and cannot feel.

While beliefs are true or false, they are not honest or dishonest. One can be honest or dishonest about one's beliefs, or better, one is honest or dishonest relative to what one believes. Some beliefs demand more of one's honest than others. Philosophy is the art of beefing up one's capacity for honesty. Without it you find yourself having to lie to people more often than you'd like.

One lacks the sophistication to do otherwise in a very difficult time.

It is not the emotion that is indecent but its presentation, its impingement on the imagination. No emotion is in itself decent or indecent: any emotion may be presented with decency or with indecency.

I want to say that poetry can help make us more decent. I'm not sure that philosophers have to be honest in order to practice their craft, nor that it is their job to preach honesty. It is their job to improve this capacity.

It is a pangrammatical fallacy (a logico-pathetic error) to think you should be honest about your desires. You should be honest as to your beliefs. It is often indecent to be honest about your desires: that's not what they're for.

The trick is to represent your desires decently, to acquire such emotions as are requisite to doing so. Persistent decent representation of desire, through the presentation of imagery that intensifies emotion, will alter your emotions and therefore your capacity for desire. That's why you go back to good poems again and again. In an important sense, they make you feel better.

Widespread dishonesty is detrimental to science; widespread indecency is hard on politics. They are arrangements of imagery that damage imagination. That's what's "wrong with them".

Art is damage control. (That is a historically contingent judgement, not a logical truism.)

I leave all of this as bald assertion for now.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Debauchery




Consider three poems. Irving Layton's "Love's Diffidence" (from The Improved Binoculars), Leonard Cohen's "The Rest is Dross" (from Flowers for Hitler), and Pound's Canto LXXXI (from The Pisan Cantos), here concentrating on the last three pages (From "And for 180 years almost nothing" to the end, i.e., the "pull down thy vanity" passage.)

For Layton, love is "a diffident thing". Poets, and here especially those working in the troubadourial tradition, have of course long insisted on the continuity of the art of poetry with the craft of love. One integrated skill, as it were. There is Pound's "What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross"; working under that heading, Cohen meets an old aquaintance in a hotel room and blushes at the "hope and habits in the craft", happy that "we own our own skins".

The "deliquesence", as Pound might say, of both arts, love and poetry, can be traced to the deformations of capitalism, which Pound identified first as usury and later as simple avarice (in his foreword to his Selected Prose), more precisely to that enticement to leave the workshop for more lucrative avenues of pleasure that is captured by the etymology of "debauchery" (cf. also the loveless antipoetry of Toulouse-Lautrec by clicking the thumbnail image above). The lust for easy profit inspires "the indefinite wobble" of language, the deterioration of craftsmanship, "the diffidence that falter[s]". Pound’s "errors and wrecks" (Canto CXVI) are attributed to the "mean[ness of his] hate" (Canto LXXXI). "Love," shouts Layton, "find me, spinning around in error. . . . Then strike, witless bitch, blind me." Looking for love, Layton had "scooped up his hands with air", just as Pound had "gathered from the air a live tradition" (which was not vanity). Cohen invokes "the perfect inflammatory word".

The mot juste, I suppose, that we're all looking for. Some small sign that "it coheres all right/ even if my notes do not cohere" (Canto CXVI). What I am after in this post is the sense of craftsmanship that keeps literary quality alive in the face of the twin enticement of the factory and the dance hall (loveless work and loveless pleasure). The workshop is where work is done with love still there "in the house". In real life, which is imperfect in its inflammations, one tries to keep it together, to pour one's words into some stable vessel. But in the end it must cohere.

I am not a demitasse.