Sunday, June 26, 2005


In March, I arrived at the following pithy remark.

Anthropology is to politics what metaphysics is to science. Anthropology is politics without mandate, just as metaphysics is science without method.
I believe there is an anthropological "I", a locus of becoming, just as there is a metaphysical "it", or locus of being. I am to culture what it is to nature.

It is the proper theme of philosophy and I am the proper theme of poetry.

More later.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

On Composure (as such)

Suppose there were never any doubt about the answers to the following questions.

1. What is it?
2. Who am I?

(There is a wonderful moment in the passage from page 209 to page 210 of Henry Miller's Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch where he gets you to stop up and consider the question, "What is the task of genuine love?" If I were that kind of writer we'd be doing that sort of thing now.)

I don't mean these questions in the sense that can be traced to mere ignorance (1) or impotence (2). I mean the first in the sense of "I know it's a damn apple, but what is it?" or maybe "What is it with you tonight?" I mean, "What is it really? And I mean, "Who am I ideally (whatever my name is)?"

I have deliberately not said "suppose you were never in doubt about. . ." because I want to engage with the mystery at its deepest level. Imagine, then, a culture where these questions just never came up.

Such cultures would have no need for philosophy or poetry. And just as the good doctor is the one who seeks his own obsolescence, so too are poets and philosophers forever striving for the culture I am describing.

They want to install these answers in the language itself (or they would be content to remain silent). They are working out that system of notation that would be a substitute for thought and feeling.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Art of Metaphysical Composition

Metaphysical composure is an experience that is available among the variety of experiences. It is the experience of 'knowing one's way about', of knowing how to proceed (cf. Wittgenstein, PI§123, 323).

A metaphysical composition is any arrangement of materials, in any medium, any work of art, which occasions metaphysical composure, or which is best appreciated in a moment of such composure.

"...the outer gaze alters the inner thing [and] by looking at an object we destroy it with our desire [so] for accurate vision to occur the thing must be trained to see itself..." (Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String).

Such training is the perfection of the art of metaphysical composition. Metaphysical composure is the experience of a thing during a moment of apperception that includes it.

Faced with any given object, metaphysical composure occurs when the subject (I, you) becomes simultaneously and immediately aware of its (the object's) concept, and therefore, necessarily, of itself (the subject).

When the composition employs writing it may be called conceptual notation. It is then the art of writing concepts down, or philosophy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My New Editing Technique is Unstoppable

I'm encouraged by the coverage of the recent developments here at the Pangrammaticon offered by Laura and enowning. I'm beginning to feel a bit like this.

On this wave of hubris, I want to try presenting two edits of a strophe in Bill Clinton's first inaugural address. Inaugural addresses make for interesting reading because their prose seems, in hindsight, needlessly poor. At the time, I'm sure a great deal of thought went into finding just the right balance of rhetorical tensions. In the example below I was struck by just how clumsy the sentences are, forever retracting a sentiment before it has been fully articulated. They seem bent on thwarting our attempts to engage with the language used. That's what I've tried to fix in my edits.

The first version is an attempt to approach something Lincoln might do with the idea. (Like I say, I'm overwhelmed by hubris.) The second is an attempt to write a poem without completely disposing of the materials provided. Comments are always welcome.


Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the Cold War assumes new responsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine of freedom but threatened still by ancient hatreds and new plagues. Raised in unrivalled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still the world's strongest but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions among our own people.

Version 1

A generation raised in the shadows of the Cold War today assumes new responsibilities. Ours is a world warmed by the sun of freedom and blessed with unrivaled prosperity. But it remains threatened by ancient hatreds and new plagues. There is increasing inequality and deep divisions among our people. But there is hope. Although weakened by business failures and stagnant wages, we inherit the world's strongest economy and are entrusted with it to do what we can.

Version 2


Raised in prosperity,
raised in the shadows,

the Cold War generation
assumes new responsibilities.

The sun of freedom
warms the ancient hatreds,
the new plagues.

We inherit the world's economy,
strongest at its weakest:

business failures,
stagnant wages,
increasing inequality,
and deep divisions:
we are among our own people.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Checkmate and Rushlight

As I noted in my previous post, the German word for "editing" is "redigieren"; an "editor" is a "redakteur". This comes from the Latin, "redigere" and "redactus", meaning simply to "lead back" and which gives us also "reduce". All this reminded me of the closing lines of Canto CXVI:

A little light, like a rushlight
to lead back to splendour.

There is a phrase in Latin "ad incitas redactus", which means "brought to a standstill", but also "to reduce to necessities" or "to reduce to extremities." In a note to Plautus' Trinummus: The Three Pieces of Money (at 2, 4, 136), Henry Thomas Riley notes that it

was a term borrowed from the game of 'Duodecim Scripta,' or 'twelve points,' and was applied when one of the parties got all his men on the twelfth point, and, being able to move no further, lost the game in consequence. Probably the game partook of the nature of both backgammon and chess.

He translates the phrase as being brought to a "backgammoned state", perhaps instead using "check mate".

Well, Ez found himself backgammoned at Pisa, didn't he? Always thereafter looking for a light "ad nitore redactus" (?).

There is here a gesture toward an interesting faultline in my ontology, which is, of course, a pun. Here's Lewis & Short's definition.

incitus, a, um, adj. [2. in-citus, unmoved; hence] , of a chessman that cannot be moved.

To be immobilized is to become extremely heavy, and the opposite of heaviness is light.

We pass from what Walter Benjamin called "dialectics at a standstill" (philosophical checkmate?) into the (rush)light of Eleusis.

Here, then, is the silhouette of an argument that I've been looking for for some time. Wittgenstein said that philosophy should be approached as an activity, not a doctrine. This activity, I have come to believe, looks less like writing than like editing. Indeed, the tiresome prose of philosophy is owed to understanding half of this insight--philosophy is not really a question of producing a text, a question of writing, and so is more akin to reading (the history of philosophy is full of "readers").

More concretely, Wittgenstein eschewed writing philosophical propositions or "theses"; the true method lay in the arrangement of factual material, i.e., of clarifying the content of scientific texts. Rather than producing more text, Wittgenstein's approach would result in less text, a more surveyable corpus. Indeed, even Heidegger's project of "leading our attention from beings back to being", which he called "phenomenological reduction" seems to resonate with this conception of philosophy.

Philosophy is a matter of reducing texts, of editing them.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


The philosophical text is the epiphany
of philosophy itself.
Günther Patzig

Here's a possibility that emerges from my last post.

First, recall that philosophy is to theory what poetry is to practice. Now, one definition* says that theories are "programmes of perception", which allows us to construct a homologous definition of practice, namely, "programmes of action".

Confining ourselves to "the system of literature", in which Katue Kitasono proposed we do well to find our place, which is to say, confining ourselves to the theory and practice of textuality, the following homologies further suggest themselves.

Philosophy reflects upon our programmes for perceiving literature (literary theory), deriving clear and distinct concepts from texts. That is, philosophy is a pure form of reading.

Poetry, meanwhile, leverages our programmes for acting upon literature (literary practice), imposing intense and discrete emotions on texts. That is, poetry is a pure form of writing.

(Anticipating an objection, though not in order to baulk at it, let me suggest that it is a category mistake to wonder how concepts then are ever imposed on texts and, conversely, how emotions are ever derived from them. I will probably have to say more about this, yes?)

We are halfway to an epiphany of sorts.

I often cite Wittgenstein's remark in Culture and Value (p. 24) about philosophical writing as a kind of poetry. "Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten," he said, which means, somewhat less elegantly than the German, that "one ought really to do philosophy as poetry." The German word "dichten" is the verb form of "Dichtung", which means "poetry". To my knowledge there is no such thing as poeting in English, as Wittgenstein's translator also discovered here. A literal translation would need the verb "to poet", i.e., "One ought really only to poet (v.) philosophy." Many poets will find this issue familiar. Like Wittgenstein, they see their field not as a corpus of extant work but as an activity. In any case, modifying Peter Winch's translation a bit, we can render this more naturally as, "One ought really only to compose philosophy (as one composes poetry)."

Its true pangrammatical meaning can be recovered by noting the Bunting-Pound thesis about poetic composure, namely, "dichten = condensare" (ABC, pp. 36, 92). That is, poetic expression is characterized essentially by compression or concentration**. Indeed, my German-English dictionary associates "dichte" with "thickness", "heaviness" and even "specific gravity". So we have the poem as a sort of specific linguistic thickness. ("Gedicht" of course means "poem".)

Leaving out a few leaps of logopoeia, let me propose, first in German, that "Dichtung dürfte man eigentlich nur redigieren," an idea that resonates well with Flarf, namely, "One ought really only to edit poetry."

This is actually the state of the art of pangrammatical composure right now. In the difficult interstice between philosophy and poetry there is the composition of a pure text, one that is produced by thickening (writing, compressing) and trimming (reading, editing). What I want to call poetry is the capable end of the racket--leveraging a programme of textual action, i.e., textual practice, i.e., writing. What I want, homologically, to call philosophy is the receptive end--reflecting a programme of textual perception, i.e., textual theory, i.e., reading.

*Pierre Bourdieu uses that definition.
**Ron Silliman deals with this in Jacket 27, April 2005

Friday, June 17, 2005

Standard Issue

I wait
for each one of you to confess
Leonard Cohen

Laura wonders whether her issues are "pangrammatical", forcing me to wonder what a distinctly pangrammatical issue is, i.e., what I'm doing here.

Pangrammatical homologies are articulations across the divide between thought and feeling, concept and emotion, philosophy and poetry, theory and practice. So in that sense much of what Laura is up to these days does indeed seem immediately pangrammatical. She notes that theory and philosophy somehow go together (are somehow substitutable) and that this is somehow (actually quite precisely) opposed to the poetic practice. ("Precisely" because the designation "poetic practice" is pangramatically homologous with "philosophical theory", whatever else they mean.)

A pangrammatical homology is the likeness that obtains between two expressions, A and B, such that A is to knowledge as B is to power. E.g.

A: Science is the theory of the real. [Heidegger's definition]
B: Politics is the the practice of the ideal.

are balanced qua knowledge and power and are therefore pangrammatically homologous. They are equally articulate, i.e., they present experience in an equally articulated formula, but they address different moments of experience (namely, the empirical and normative respectively.)

The ultimate joint in this endless articulation of all the uses and usage of the world is that between the concept and the emotion (perhaps only because I don't trust thought/feeling as an articulation) which parcels out the tasks for philosophers and poets.

How stale or profitable all this is, only God knows, who fixes the canon and all the other fights.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

What's the Use of Emotion?

Kasey has contributed a reading of John Stuart Mill's "What is Poetry", that has me reminding myself, first, that my reading background in poetics is wanting (I had never heard of this essay before) and, second, that, despite being native there and and to the manner born, I find philosophical prose more honourable in its breaches than its observations. Kasey does an admirable job of isolating the working parts of Mill's essay that its 'sentiment' and 'hazy reasoning' obscure and which install in it, as he puts it, a 'set of obsessions that has most fueled the reigning poetic cliches of the Twentieth Century.'

I have long thought that prose is simply too imprecise a medium for the presentation of philosophical results. But after reading Kasey's post it is possible, at least, to discuss things with Mill. Here are some provisional observations that I'll probably be taking up and revising later on.

Kasey suggests that 'at some point we must agree [with Mill] that to call something "poetry" in the first place is to "confess" that ideally it appeals to a sensibility not containable within the narrow parameters of the purely rational'. While I realize that I'm here imposing a set of distinctions that are still mainly a part of my own private vocabulary for connecting philosophy with poetry, I want to correct this statement a little.

Something is poetry if it appeals, not to a particular sensibility that is defined in opposition to reason, but to motility in general. That is, I think Kant was right to suggest that sensibility is impossible without reason, and that to speak of a sensibility "not containable" by reason is to speak of something that is so diffuse as to be insensible. It is precisely the relative containment of sensation by reason that gives us our particular, finer or coarser, sensibilities.

Also, I think the relative breadth of passion and narrowness of reason is a nineteenth century cliche that we do well to question. If we look at the sort of poetry that is interesting today we find that it is highly specialized and quite narrow, and this goes also for our passions. "Broadly" passionate work is just not very useful to us. So I offer the following confession to set alongide the Mohammad-Mill thesis.

Poetry appeals to a motility containable within the narrow parameters of pure passion.

Here the specific ability to contain, i.e., the specific narrowness and purity of the poem, becomes the quality that is of critical interest. Each poem must serve as its own little vessel, no poem is expected to get it all in there.

The specifities of the poem are what we call its emotions (in the plural). Poetry is not about expressing or eliciting feelings but about presenting the background dispositions against which feelings are possible as precise, contained affairs or events. These may, at the risk of misunderstanding, be called "states of mind". Poetry is useful because it makes our efforts to transform our emotions more precise. It is not "having the emotion" (i.e. feeling something) that is poetry's gift to us but the intensity, the tension, of the presentation. On the basis of a good poem, our next confrontation with feelings that are strong enough to transform our ability to have new feelings (cf. Aristotle) will not simply leave us frazzled, but stronger.

I'll need to come back to this. I think Mill and Kasey actually say this as well, but it's important to emphasize that no poet ever sets out to describe a lion. The lion simply sometimes provides the imagery (the imaginary material) out of which to build the poem.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

We Are Ugly But. . .

I count Bob Wiseman's "White Dress" among the most beautiful songs ever written. It is available here on Bob Radio (you have to click on the radio itself).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Formal Experience of Emotion

A few weeks ago, I proposed that poetry is the art of writing emotions down. Kasey Mohammad was stimulated but "finally unsatisfied". He noted that my slogan "suggests that poetry doesn't deal with concepts or philosophy with emotions." He also wondered whether it isn't possible that "concepts involve emotions, or vice versa". Continuing themes I've been dealing with lately, I want to try to defend my slogan against these objections.

The line I want to take is to distinguish the poetry from the poem. Poetry, then, is the essence of the poem qua poem "and not some other thing", in Eliot's phrase. Poems are only imperfect realisations of the poetry they aspire to be. I mean all poems, which by virtue of being realised at all, and always "in context", will necessarily find themselves embedded with strange fellas, and therefore will be, at the very least, imperfectly read and will, later, have only incomplete effects on the medium (language) that is the focus of its concern.

Every emotion actually written down, committed to the page, is a contribution to the poetry of the poem. While the introduction of a concept may not reduce its literary merit generally, i.e., while concepts might contribute to the poem qua "some other thing" like philosophy or writing in general, the presence of "conceptual notation" in a poem detracts from the poetry.

A poem may become a lesser piece of literature by the removal of conceptual matter even as it becomes more of a poem.

All experience involves concepts and emotions, but emotions and concepts can, and should, be precisely located, and then clarified (for concepts) or intensified (for emotions). When you are doing the latter, you are doing poetry, and when you are doing the former you are doing philosophy. In both cases you are engaging in a Poundian "charging" of language.

The great majority of writing does both. But the ambition to do primarily one or the other is manifest in almost all work.

Kitasono, whom I'm fond of taking out of context, talked about "pure and orthodox poetry". He believed the poet should find a nice, tidy, harmless place in "the system of literature". I think what I'm describing here is pretty much the same idea. (We mean "harmless" ironically, yes?)

And what this means is that the poet, working within the limitations imposed by a whole language, a language which is only intermittently poetic, tries to isolate and present the emotion in a precise, intense formula. The formulation of felt experience as emotion is the task of the poet. The formal experience of emotion, or the form of the experience of emotion itself, is called institution. It is the medium of the immediacy of power.

[Quick PS, 21:32: The second last sentence may need some some work. The formal experience of feeling is institution. Its form, I think, is institutional. So institutions are the form of the experience of the emotion itself in imagination, while the emotion is the form of the feeling as experienced institutionally. Like I say, a bit more work to clean up this transcendental aesthetic is probably in order.]