Sunday, October 30, 2005

Two Metaphysical Hints

Γνώθι Σεαυτόν


In the Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound tells us that "metaphysics [is that] about which no man knows anything save what he finds out for himself." (P. 47)

In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger expresses the same attitude in more formal terms: "The Being of [the entity to be analysed] is in each case mine." (H. 4241)


Read the riddle here.


Bonus hint?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Another Hint

In what sense are the following paintings all "metaphysical compositions"?

David Hockney's "Going up Garrowby Hill", 2000.

Giorgio de Chirico's "Metaphysical Composition (Composizione metafisica)", 1914.

Diego Velazquez's "Las Meninas", 1656.

Jay provided an important clue: "we're looking from the eyes of Velazquez as he paints his own reflection in a wall-sized mirror".

My first hint tried to suggest that Hockney's painting is probably not a picture of Garrowby Hill but a picture of, well, going up it, which is something Hockney often did in his youth.

The third hint comes to us from an unlikely source, namely, John Henderson's Pliny's Statue (University of Exeter Press, 2002). On page 221 he points out (more or less in passing) that Paul Eluard renamed "Composizione Metafisica" as "Portrait d'Artiste par Lui-même" and that it accordingly appeared under the title "Self Portrait" until the 1950s.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Three Metaphysical Compositions (a hint)

Here is the riddle, again. In what sense that makes them all "metaphysical compositions" are the following three paintings alike?

David Hockney's "Going up Garrowby Hill", 2000.

Giorgio de Chirico's "Metaphysical Composition (Composizione metafisica)", 1914.

Diego Velazquez's "Las Meninas", 1656.

Jay has noted an important clue: "we're looking from the eyes of Velazquez as he paints his own reflection in a wall-sized mirror".

Here's another hint. Of "A Closer Grand Canyon", Hockney, I think, has said, "This is not a picture of the Grand Canyon. It is a picture of looking at the Grand Canyon."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Latin Conservatism

Michael Lennon: Are there any Latin American writers you are familiar with?
Norman Mailer: Well, I think Borges and Márquez are the two most important writers in the world today.
Lennon: Why Borges? In political terms he is a reactionary, is he not?
Mailer: Well, he is a conservative, but . . . I detest having to think of a writer by his politics first. It's like thinking of people by way of their anus.

(From Jeffrey Van Davis' documentary
Norman Mailer: The Sanction to Write
transcription excerpted in
Pieces & Pontifications, p. 157)


I don't know whether this is an elegant or crass analogy (writers are to their politics as people are to their anuses in the way we think of them). But I like it. I supply it, first of all, as a contribution to Jonathan Mayhew's discussion about the possible conservative function of literature as such.

Grammar was once taught by immersion in the literature of a culture; it included both the parts and the figures of speech, and prosody as well. It also included the whole range of canonical allusions and orthodox metaphors. Mastering a language was understood (that is, not, as today, misunderstood) as something that went well beyond the conjugation of verbs.

(Pangrammaticism, then, is remarkably conservative even about the concept of grammar.)

And grammar is also profoundly ambiguous about the progressive/conservative distinction. On the one hand, grammarians are famously conservative, preferring to stick with forms that are understood by the majority over allowing new forms that violate this understanding. On the other hand, nothing is more conservative (in the pejorative sense) than a language that is so vague and unruly that only platitudes can be articulated in it. Teaching people to be articulate, even by orthodox standards, makes them better able to engage with the power that governs through discourse. Turning it back around again, it may be argued that such people also become less likely to use this ability to challenge that power.

I think Borges' writing, like all good writing, conserves qualities of language that progressives will find useful in their political projects. By a similar token, linguistic progress can be very useful to conservatives. I think activists and reactionaries, however, who really (and, for their purposes, perhaps rightly) distrust language as a cultural force have very little use for literature, which occupies so much of our time with harmless chatter.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Three Metaphysical Compositions

Today I'll try my hand at constructing a riddle.

These three paintings are alike in an important sense that makes them all "metaphysical compositions".

David Hockney's "Going up Garrowby Hill", 2000.

Giorgio de Chirico's "Metaphysical Composition (Composizione metafisica)", 1914.

Diego Velazquez's "Las Meninas", 1656.

What is that sense?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Grammar of Zen

"You can indulge your righteous rage but the things it comes out of are pretty cheap. The trick is to make yourself an instrument of your own policy."

Norman Mailer's General Cummings
(
The Naked and the Dead, ch. 3)


I want to get back to some core pangrammatical issues. Last night, a friend and I worked out an elaboration of a piece of Zen advice. Make few your desires

in order to make a precision instrument of them. The same, I would argue, goes for belief. Make few your beliefs

that they may be more precise. It is easy to see how this advice might be radicalized. Reduce your desires to one and your beliefs to one. Make these the same.

I want to emphasize, however, that the simplification of desire need not imply a simplification of emotion. Institutional experience (the immediate takenness of subjects by power) may be very complex. The maintenance of a simplicity of desire may therefore demand a rich assemblage of emotions (system of machination).

In fact, I would argue that excess desire and emotional deficit go hand in hand. Emotions are the discipline of desire, as concepts are the discipline of belief.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lyric's Task

"Lyric's task is to mediate between particularity and totality in the representation of persons." It is less important to me to decide whether this is Adorno's or Stewart's or Mlinko's axiom than it is to connect it to my own axiomatic.

The first task for the pangrammarian is to construct a provisional transposition of this insight in philosophical terms. I think we can keep "task" and "mediate" and "representation", which are grammatically equivalent for poetry and philosophy.

We automatically replace "person" with "thing" and carry out a simple dialectical inversion of "particularity" into "universality" (the particular is to poetry what the universal is to philosophy and vice versa). The same reasoning can be applied to the replacement of "totality" with "elementarity".

I take it "lyric" just means "poetry", which would allow us to substitute "philosophy", but I would prefer to find a word for philosophy that is to it what "lyric" is to "poetry". Perhaps I'll come up with something later (logic is taken). In any case,

Philosophy's task is to mediate between universality and elementarity in the representation of things.

This is a perfectly respectable suggestion, its means of construction notwithstanding.

Notice that we can here replace "lyric" with "emotional notation" salva veritate.

The task of emotional notation is to mediate between particularity and totality in the representation of persons.

This suggests that it is the noted emotion that carries out the requisite mediation. It must, of course, be accomplished immediately (or we would ask what mediates the mediation), and while the concept is available immediately in intuition for philosophy, the emotion is available to poetry only in institution. (Indeed, concepts and emotions are what make things and people respectively available to knowledge and power respectively in, respectively, intuition and institution.)

So everything works out very nicely. Poetry presents the institutional ground of the representation of persons, and the institution is nothing other than the immediacy of the mediation of a particular person ("I") and its totality (history). Homologously, philosophy presents the intuitive ground of the representation of things, and the intuition is nothing other than the immediacy of the mediation of a universal thing (the world) and its elmentarity ("it").

I wonder if that helps.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Claims and Arguments, Poses and Motions

And as a reader, I'd far prefer to live in a world where Kristen Ross reads Rimbaud as a set of claims on how we live, where Kristeva reads Mallarmé for argument and even for political argument, shock! — insightfully, dialectically — no matter how high he runs the l'art pour l'art flag up over the shipwreck.

Joshua Clover

A catalog of poses and motions produced from within a culture may read, then, like a form of special pleading, or, at the very least, like a product that must be ravaged of bias by scholars prepared to act as objective witnesses.

Ben Marcus


If we stick with the dark idea that the "thought" or "argument" to be extracted, by insight or dialectic (hook or crook?), from a poet's work is the "linguistic consciousness" that it "expresses", then we do well to ask whether Rimbaud or Mallarmé are the best places to go looking for it. They were not, after all, making the argument.

What they were doing was affecting poses and motions within the culture. And I think this simply is the difference between philosophy and poetry. Poetry should be assessed on its poise or stance, philosophy on its vision.

Scholars like Ross and Kristeva, it seems to me, are engaged in the act of ravaging their subjects of bias (insisting on an argument allegedly "expressed" by the pose). But bias just is the index of poise, it indicates a leaning.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Cheng Ming: The Rectification of Names

In Book Thirteen (§3) of the Analects, Confucius says,

When names are not correct, what is said will not sound reasonable; when what is said does not sound reasonable, affairs will not culminate in success; when affairs do not culminate in success, rites and music will not flourish; when rites and music do not flourish, punishments will not fit the crimes; when punishments do not fit the crimes, the common people will not know where to put hand and foot. Thus when the gentleman names something, the name is sure to be usable in speech, and when he says something this is sure to be practicable. (D.C. Lau's translation)
Ezra Pound provided his own translation, which I think is preferable in many respects. (I don't know whether it is more accurate, of course.)
If the terminology be not exact, if it fit not the thing, the governmental instructions will not be explicit, if the instructions aren't clear and the names don't fit, you can not conduct business properly.

If business is not properly run the rites and music will not be honoured, if the rites and music be not honoured, penalties and punishments will not achieve their intended effects, if penalties and punishments do not produce equity and justice, the people won't know where to put their feet or what to lay hold of or to whom they shd. stretch out their hands.

That is why an intelligent man cares for his terminology and gives instructions that fit. When his orders are clear and explicit they can be put into effect. (Guide to Kulchur, p. 16)
I actually prefer Lau's translation of the last part, mainly because it shortens the distance to "usage" (i.e., "usable in speech") but both translations make it clear that something as simple as correct terminology or "the rectification of names" (cheng ming) has wide reaching consequences for life more generally.

"To govern (cheng) is to correct (cheng)." (Analects, XII, 17).

What intrigues me here is the central place that language is given in much broader business. Pound made the idea his own in the ABC of Reading as part of a theory of language that I've heard some people describe as naive or simpleminded: "Language was obviously created, and is, obviously, USED for communication." (ABC, p. 29)
Your legislator can't legislate for the public good, your commander can't command, your populace (if you be a democratic country) can't instruct its 'representatives', save by language.
I recently stumbled on a passage in Wittgenstein's Investigations that reminded of this idea:
Not: "without language we could not communicate with one another"--but for sure: without language we cannot influence other people in such-and-such ways; cannot build roads and machines, etc. And also: without the use of speech and writing people could not communicate. (§491)
Pound makes it clear that literature is that specialized use of language which keeps it working properly. Literature just is the rectification of names, correction of usage. Cheng ming.

"If a nation's literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays." (ABC, p. 32)

I believe that Hamlet was talking about something along these lines in his first soliloquy.
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
(I take it "business is not properly run" = "unprofitable use of the world".) The abiding concern of these pages is the condition of all the uses of the world, the shape they're in, their form, which may ultimately be traced to the state of current usage, to grammar.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The crush of thoughts
that do not get out because they all try to push
forward and are wedged in the door.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dark's Dare

Joshua Clover (aka Jane Dark*) dares us to show him "[some poetry that doesn't] express the poet's linguistic consciousness within its particular social circumstance and historical moment." Of course, we can't show him a poem that fits this bill; but I wonder what that is supposed to prove.

Consider one of Shakespeare's sonnets. It does, of course, express Shakespeare's consciousness of English within its particular social circumstance and historical moment (the Elizabethan age). But is that all it does or even the most important thing it does? Is the most important thing about it what it expresses at all? That is, when does delineating "the poet's linguistic consciousness within its particular social circumstance and historical moment" become an interesting task, whether for the ordinary reader or the critic of the poem?

Surely all we need to do is to find a poem that, in addition to expressing this consciousness, i.e., in addition to representing one or another "style of mind" (socially and historically conditioned, to be sure), is a good or apt poem in some more immediate sense. And here any of the Sonnets will do.

I guess I'm not sure that anyone is making the claim that commits them to taking this dare.


*Please correct me if I'm wrong about this identity issue.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Then Thus the Palpable

Properly, we shd. read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book shd. be a ball of light in one's hand.

Ezra Pound

A machine is a poem / made of metal.

Tony Tost

Comparing the letters of James Joyce with those of Ezra Pound, Marjorie Perloff made an astute observation. "Pound conceives of the page--whether it contains poem or prose text or letter--as a visual construct" (76). This may have been Pound's version of Mallarmé's dictum, "poems are made of words, not ideas," in a variant perhaps best captured by Tony Tost's ironic, "poems are not made of words, but paper." (28) That is, a poem is something you arrange on a writing surface, something made first and foremost to be beheld with the eyes.

In Canto 81, Pound indulges his Elysian fantasy, his theology of light, saying, "First came the seen then thus the palpable." Of course, he may have meant this only in a particular case, only with regard to the "new subtlety of eyes" that he is recording in this passage. In any case, I want to suggest that the construal of a poem in essentially visual terms is no longer plausible. Like Abner with his shovel in Canto 77, we must now lift the poem "instead of watchin' it to see it [will]/ take action".

Perloff, in fact, saw postmodernism in terms of the passage from "image to action", but she meant simply that narrative was returning to poetry. To my mind, current developments, like Flarf, remain "imagist" in their basic orientation (eschewing narrative); the shift lies in passing from the visual image to the manual image.

So the shift is not a move beyond modernism, but is a continuous modernist sensitivity to the technological conditions that make the arts possible. In literature, the page stops being simply something to look at and starts to become something you have to do something to. You might Google it, for example, or, more often, follow hyperlinks to other pages, other genres, other media.

As reading becomes something we do as much with our hands as with our eyes, the poem itself becomes palpable. I don't want simply to reverse the error of the original emphasis, and say that the way the page "looks" is now subordinated to the way it "feels" (its texture, I suppose). There is, however, a new balance emerging.

We face a poetry that either depends physically on the page as a manual device or in any case employs a good deal of manual, tactile, palpable imagery. I think the work of Lara Glenum, Tony Tost and Ben Marcus are good examples of at least the latter. But as such texts begin to be written with an awareness of the infinitesimal space between the reader's copy of the poem and a search engine, the imagery and the mechanics of reading will, I suspect, become still more important to calibrate.

Poems are still made of words, but not of paper.



References

Perloff, Marjorie. The Dance of the Intellect. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1985.

Tost, Tony. Invisible Bride . Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004
.

Ladle, the Crutch (3)

(a work in progress)

Ziggy finds that the soup du jour had been a ruse all along and Thomas' decaying body had drawn upon some charge from at least 1450. The crutch or crutchstaff, upon which he leans, was given to him out of respect for his age.

She is represented in homely garments, with a ladle or skimmer in her hand, leaning against the edge of the table, pulling up the empty pant leg. Attached there are small scraps of cloth.

An hour later, the crutch is done. The cross piece had been nailed into place using the ladle. She dipped it into the hot water, then transferred pure honey in a timeless ceremony.

His trousers split completely (an incongruous sight) and as the oar creaked softly in the rowlock it pronounced, "Pasquale can get another from the main glass-house."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ladle, the Crutch (2)

(a work in progress)

Ziggy finds that the soup du jour
had been a ruse all along. Thomas'
decaying body had drawn upon some
charge from at least 1450; the crutch
or crutchstaff upon which he leans,
was given to him out of respect for
his age; she is represented in homely
garments, with a ladle or skimmer
in her hand, leaning against
the edge of the table, pulling
up the empty pant leg. Attached
there are small scraps of cloth.

An hour later, the crutch is done.
The cross piece had been nailed
into place using the ladle. She
dipped it into the hot water,
then transferred pure honey in a
timeless ceremony. His trousers
completely split (an incongruous
sight) and the oar pronounced
them as it creaked softly in the
rowlock: "Pasquale can get
another from the main glass-house."
Well, when in doubt, ladle on.

So here's a big steaming bowlful.
Just like the one gracing the top.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ladle, the Crutch

(a work in progress)

Ziggy finds that the soup du jour
had been a ruse all along. Or if
Thomas' decaying body had
drawn upon some charge from
at least 1450, the crutch
or crutchstaff upon which he leans
was given to him out of respect
for his age;
she is represented
in homely garments, with a ladle
or skimmer in her hand, leaning against
the edge of the table, pulling up
the empty pant leg. Attached there
are small scraps of cloth. An hour
later, the crutch is done. The cross
piece had been nailed into place
using the ladle. She dipped it into
the hot water,
then transferred
pure honey in a timeless ceremony.
His trousers completely split (an
incongruous sight) and the oar
pronounced them as it creaked
softly in the rowlock: "Pasquale can get
another from the main glass-house."
Well, when in doubt, ladle on.
So here's a big steaming bowlful.
Just like the one gracing the top.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Redoing Heidegger's Thing (procedural note)

A project like this needs rules to determine what counts as a correct replacement, or at least some background against which to discuss its wisdom. (This question just came up in the comments section over at Enowning.) What I am trying to do, in a sense, is to subject Heidegger ca. 1950 to Heidegger ca. 1927. That means that the arguments for replacing, say, "world in its worlding" with "things" is to be found in the pages of works like Being and Time and The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Since much of Heidegger's accomplishment there (which I think was greater than he himself finally believed) was to effect the "ontological difference" between beings and being, and thereby to break with ordinary usage in order to establish a critical phenomenological vantage on experience (structured by language, of course), what we are doing here, working backwards, is to "bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use" (Wittgenstein PI§116).

In this first step, for example, we can consult Being and Time, Chapter 14, to account for the replacement of "world in its worlding" with "things". Here Heidegger tells us that "describing the world as a phenomenon ... means to let us see what shows itself in 'entities' within the world'" and "the entities within the world are Things." (H. 63) Their "thinghood" is the world-structure of being-in-the-world, i.e., when world is worlding there are things. Thus, things are the result of the world worlding, and world in its worlding as such, is tantamount to things.

As I said at Enowning, I am aware of the damage I am doing to (other possible readings of) "The Turning". What Heidegger is presenting as a prayer or act of metaphysical faith, I am restating in terms of what a younger Heidegger might describe as its "phenomenological evidence". That is, the evidence for world in its worlding is the presence of things. And, yes, the next step is: "May things be in hand..." (not merely at hand).

But more on that later. Those who have a better sense than I of the progress of Heidegger's thought may notice that this exercise does in fact terminate in an interpretation of a rather vacuous, late-Heideggerian "openness for being" in terms of the (at least immediately) more robust notions of authenticity and anxiety.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Toward a Scientific Interpretation of the Default Object

Jasmine is a complete object.

Her language is based upon part of the difficulty.
A few additions (protective devices, danger signs, barricades,
an enclosed chute) make it a building, a bridge,

a highway, etc.

Racine, with his unerring good taste,
knows the danger of consistent understatement.
E.g., "This task is not for the fainthearted."

But, ahh, there is fun in danger, isn't there?

The artist: first a rough version, then anxiety
to wrap them up and take them from this place.
"A partial object is not a complete object."

And you can pretty much rely on "to thine own self be true".

A one-fourth human being is
not; and there is a danger in choosing
a sense object as the ideal.

(Even Phaedra cannot be a complete object of horror.)

The meaning of a 'danger' object
is merely the startled jump
which constitutes responses

to a complete object in all its setting.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Disconcerted Critic

And again, the purely "technical" critic--the critic, that is, who writes to expound some novelty or impart some lesson to practitioners of an art--can be called a critic only in a narrow sense. He may be analysing perceptions and the means for arousing perceptions, but his aim is limited and is not the disinterested exercise of intelligence.

T. S. Eliot
"The Perfect Critic"


My aim is certainly limited and my criticism surely narrow. If I feel confident about it is only because my object (Flarf) reliably broadens my perceptions by its distinctly "hi technical" machinery. That is, I believe that a narrow interest in the technique of Flarf, because of the virtually ("virtually"?) physical way that it is connected to the apparatus of the language (through Google), forces us willy-nilly to apply our intelligence purely to the work we are given.

Eliot was "inclined to believe that the 'historical' and the 'philosophical' critics had better be called historians and philosophers quite simply," and I agree with him. To try to "contextualize" a poem in order to tell us what it means (or, more often, meant) is simply a way of not reading the poem at all. "As for the rest, there are merely various degrees of intelligence," which, I would add, the critic may share or not share with the reader. Critics who try to help us to "understand" a poem, rather than helping us to see how it works, will apply their scholarship to the task of uncovering the sources, the references of its symbols, for example. A good poem will normally make this exercise immediately ridiculous.

I'm sure that is what Jorge Luis Borges meant in his capsule biography of T. S. Eliot when he said,

The erudite obscurity of [The Waste Land] disconcerted (and still disconcerts) the critics, but is less important than the poem's beauty. The perception of this beauty, moreover, precedes any interpretation and does not depend on it. (The Total Library, pp. 167-8)

I think Flarf radicalizes this obscurity; or, more precisely, reverses it. Flarf is perspicuously rudimentary. (Etymological note: the words "erudite" and "rudimentary" seem to share the same root, namely, "rude", from "rudis", unwrought or, where the human material is concerned, untrained.) Flarf forces us back to basics, to the substratum of the usage, where it all begins, where it all must be done. Here the fabrications of the poet begin.

That is, Flarf makes the unpoetry that underlies all poetry perspicuous, or "übersichtlich", as Wittgenstein might say. Still more disconcerting than not being able to discover the sources, or being played with by the poet in his footnotes (as Tim Peterson emphasized to me in a comment to an earlier post), is to discover that the sources of the poem are, in a word, Flarfy. That is, the poem came out of something other than poetry, out of materials the mere delineation of which do not explain the poem's poetry.

(It is this materiality that I think Tony Tost comes dangerously close to sublimating when he talks about the "original sources" of the language of the poems and the life of its language "outside the poem". But my insistence on technicalities, it should be noted, has its own danger that Tony is clearly better able to avoid, namely, it risks eliding whatever empathy we might otherwise have with the voice(s) of the poem.)

The sources are, in any case, unreliable referents. Discovering this (quickly, easily, efficiently unless he simply refuses the means he has been granted), the critic then faces the various degrees of his own intelligence and must condescend actually to read the poem. He must then try really to perceive the poem's beauty. It is because "the means for arousing" this perception in a work of Flarf tell the critic nothing, that his analysis of perception becomes so pivotal. Not only does nothing depend on erudition; everything now depends on the rudimentary order of usage.

Redoing Heidegger's Thing (1)

The dogmatic critic, who lays down a rule, who affirms a value, has left his labour incomplete. Such statements may often be justifiable as a saving of time; but in matters of great importance the critic must not coerce, and he must not make judgments of worse and better. He must simply elucidate: the reader will form the correct judgment for himself.

T. S. Eliot
"The Perfect Critic"


Though I wonder if I'm not doing the thing to death, I want to go through my paraphrases of the last paragraph of Marting Heidegger's "The Turning" (cf. this post and this one) again and in some detail. It is not controversial to suggest that this short passage of prose is, as it were, "pivotal" for Heidegger's thinking, i.e., it is that around which the thing turns.

I will be devoting a post to each step of the paraphrasing operation, underlining the part that I'm working on and explaining the word or phrase replacement undertaken. (I am, in part, practicing in order to meet Tim Peterson's challenge to get around to doing some acts of reading.)

First, then, here is William Lovitt's translation:

May world in its worlding be the nearest of all nearing that nears, as it brings the truth of Being near to man’s essence, and so gives man to belong to the disclosing bringing-to-pass that is a bringing into its own.
We now replace "world in its worlding" with "things". My argument for this is that what the world does when it is being itself is "to world", but the phenomenological evidence for the world's worlding is constituted by what this doing "brings forth", and this can be nothing other than things. Thus, we catch the world "in its worlding" (in the act of worlding, i.e., in the act of being itself) whenever we encounter a thing. If this passage constitutes a kind of prayer then Heidegger is here clearly praying for things.
May things be the nearest of all nearing that nears, as they bring the truth of Being near to man’s essence, and so give man to belong to the disclosing bringing-to-pass that is a bringing into its own.
That's the first step.