Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kulchural Studies II: Paideuma

I thought I was better at German. If someone can help me make more confident sense of this sentence in Frobenius' Kulturgeschichte Afrikas, I'd be very grateful.

Hier ist ein Typus von Dichtung erhalten, der noch den chaotischen Vulkanismus erster Ergriffenheit durch ein jüngst zuteil gewordenes Neuglied im Kulturbau erkennen lässt. (§51, p. 395)

Here's what I've come up with so far:

Here a(n arche)type is received from poetry, which still shows the chaotic vulcanism of first emotion through a recently assigned new element in the edifice of culture.

Here a(n arche)type is received from poetry—one that still shows the chaotic vulcanism of first emotion through a recently assigned new element in the edifice of culture.

Here a(n arche)type that still shows the chaotic vulcanism of first emotion (through a recently assigned new element in the edifice of culture) is received from poetry.

Here a(n arche)type is received from poetry. Through a recently assigned new element in the edifice of culture, it still shows the chaotic vulcanism of first emotion.

[Update: In the comments, Mark has suggested the following:

Here, a type of poetry has been preserved in which still can be discerned (through a new element that recently joined the edifice of culture) the chaotic volcanism of first emotion.

I think he's right about this. In any case ...]

Bablefish gives us "first seizingness" for "erster Ergriffenheit", which is nicely literal. In a sense "emotion" is "seizingness", i.e., to be more or less "enthralled".

The "chaotic vulcanism of first emotion" is rather Poundian (cf. poems of "first intensity"). I want to use this sentence as the basis of an interpretation of "paideuma". Elsewhere, Frobenius talks about "the ability to be enthralled [ergriffen zu werden, i.e., to be moved emotionally] by the essence of the appearances" (§7, p. 25). Kulchural studies (the methodical pursuit of paideumatic awareness, let us say) is based on this ability.

This form of study would naturally receive much of its insight from poetry, our source of "the best data for determining what sort of creature man is" (Pound, "The Serious Artist", LE, p. 46).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kulchural Studies I: Vortex

"Every concept, every emotion," said Ezra Pound, "presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form." Vorticism was simply the artist's insistence on approaching experience through these "primary forms" of concepts and emotions. Thus we have "points of maximum energy" and "works of first intensity".

Where I differ with Pound is in his coordination of primary forms with particular arts.

If sound, to music; if formed words, to literature; the image, to poetry; form, to design; colour in position, to painter; form or design in three planes, to sculpture; movement, to dance or to the rhythm of music or verses.

There is something immediately odd about distinguishing between the primary forms of literature and poetry, and to call "form or design in three planes" a "primary form" is not especially elegant. My solution is to say that the primary form of any concept or emotion is always the image, and it may be acoustic, or visual (optical), or manual (haptic), perhaps even visceral and digestive.

Vorticism is not just one among many ways of approaching art. Is is a proposed aesthetic theory: an account of all art. In fact, it is the proposition that we approach our experience artfully. Any proposed study of culture (kulchural studies) would do well to begin with the images that instantiate it. When Gaudier-Brzeska said that he would "derive [his] emotions from the arrangement of surfaces" this is what he meant (GK, p. 69).

It is an attempt to engage with culture as it presents itself to the "vivid consciousness" or to think about the age in which we live on that part of our brain that "will register", as Pound put it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Classic Penguin

I've complained about this sort of thing before. In his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Billy Budd and Other Stories, Frederick Busch writes:

In [Dickens's Bleak House], a man is shown to be very much about paper and pen and, like Bartleby (at one point described as "folded up like a huge folio"), is a parody of Melville's profession. (xi, my underlining)

In "Bartleby, the Scrivener", Melville writes:

Throughout, the scrivener remained standing behind the screen, which I directed to be removed the last thing. It was withdrawn; and, being folded up like a huge folio, left him the motionless occupant of a naked room. (38)

The introduction was first published in 1986. It has gone uncorrected for over 20 years.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sleeping Difficulties

"Beauty is difficult."

Tony Tost's new book, Complex Sleep (U of Iowa Press, 2007), is brilliant. It is much more difficult than Invisible Bride (LSU Press, 2004), a bit like Ben Lerner's Angle of Yaw is more difficult than The Lichtenberg Figures. Actually, the difficulty gap is greater: Figures is more difficult than Bride, Yaw is less difficult than Sleep.

All these books are well worth the effort. Like Lerner's "Twenty-one Gun Salute for Ronald Reagan" (and "Howl", for that matter), the title poem, "Complex Sleep", works best (for me) when taken in at one go, out loud.

Not incidentally, I've been having a hard time with Barrett Watten's "Progress". "Sleep" and "Reagan" (and "Howl", for that matter) work for me in a way that "Progress" does not. But I'm starting to see what Watten was trying to do, and what he may have accomplished for his readers at the time. I may yet come around.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kulchural Studies

Be the trouble not the balance
Tony Tost

For three years (today), out of key with its time, this blog has tried to be the balance not the trouble. I have tried to establish every possible homology between philosophy and poetry I could think of. Situated steadfastly between epistemology (philosophy) and ethics (poetry), this project has been rigorously "aesthetic" in nature, cashed out in an insistent grammaticism.

I'm now thinking of changing gears, of putting my aesthecism behind me. I'm thinking of getting into trouble. My working title for this new project (perhaps a new blog) is "Kulchural Studies: vortex, paideuma, ereignis". It will be an attempt to engage with the political culture of my time, inspired by Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and Martin Heidegger. I am fully aware of the dangers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Historiography of Babel

When Borges’ Library of Babel is invoked, it is normally described synchronically, i.e., at one particular moment in time. Indeed, I suspect that our current understanding of the Library, or any understanding of the Library, depends on ignoring its diachronic aspect. When this is acknowledged we understand that we are dealing merely with the ravings of a madman. “The Library of Babel” is incomprehensible.

According to the narrator, there is no doubt that the Library has a history. He himself claims, for example, to have a biography. “I have travelled in my youth,” he tells us. “I am preparing to die.” And while the Library is said to exist eternally, it has a history of ancient and modern conflict and struggle. It has a social order. It has a notion of genius.

And yet it has no school. No hospital. No family dwellings. It has neither a legal system nor a prison industry. It has no seat of government.

As in our own Universe, however, the most significant events in the history of the Library seem to be quite recent: “a general theory of Library” was developed three hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago a book was found that would later allow “a librarian of genius to discover the fundamental law of the Library.”

“For a long time it was believed that these impenetrable books belonged to past or remote languages. It is true that the most ancient men, the first librarians, made use of a language quite different from the one we speak today.”

The library itself does not change, yet its language does.

These apparently historical facts raise important questions of scholarship, journalism and documentation. Where, after all, is the living history of the library recorded? How were the various theories of the library communicated, discussed and discarded? Where are the newspapers and the scholarly journals? Where is the much more orderly catalogue of these writings, which have been produced, not by the original builders of the library, but by its melancholy librarians? Where, in the vast library, is there room for discourse?

The lack of answers to these questions suggests a very simple solution, which I have suggested in an earlier post. There is only one ‘gallery’ in the library. It may contain little more than a single book, a mirror and a deranged mind. These implements are sufficient to conjure up the infinite and incoherent fantasy of a total library.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


The artist is concerned with producing something that will be enjoyable even after a successful revolution.

Ezra Pound, "The State", SP, p. 184

My favourite act of misreading, as far as my own misreadings are concerned, had me thinking Tony Tost had written, "We usually know a poem that is dispatched from the State when we read it," in "Disarm the Settlers". Though I quickly realized my mistake, the sentence has stuck with me. I'd say it remains a "Tostian" attitude in any case.

I've been thinking about it in relation to Soft Targets 2 and was reminded of it again when I read Pound's "The State", in which he makes his familiar distinction between "the state as convenience" (res publica) and "the state as infernal nuisance".

I think there is an important relation between the State and the Poet. I think all states depend on a certain "disposition" or configuration of emotion in their populations. Poetry tweaks that configuration, and may therefore be inimical to the interests of state at a particular time. (Tonight I am not wholly committed to the idea that any degree of emotional precision is anti-statist, but the thought does cross my mind sometimes.)

Pound said that the politician who picks the right artist is "blessed". That is, the (true) artist is always way ahead of the revolution. I like this idea. I don't like the equal and opposite idea: the artist who sides with the right politician is blessed. This may only be a matter of emphasis, but I think it makes all the difference.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Soft Targets and the Enemy

The official job description of the U.S. Poet Laureate contains a puzzling metaphor.

"The Poet Laureate ... serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans."*

We consult the Concise Oxford Dictionary (8th edition, 1990):

The Poet Laureate has been fixed to an exposed part of America to divert the poetic impulse of its people into the earth or sea.

"We seek an inadequate enemy, one who comes to capitulate. We seek the declared enemy," says the editorial We of Soft Targets.

I will let all this stand as an ideogram.

*As of July 8, 2013, this is still how the page at the Library of Congress reads.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Image/Device (2)

[An expanded version of my comment to the last the post.]

I think the most precise statement I've made about (my older ideas about) the image can be found in "The History of the World".

The image is detached
from appearances,
and applied to surfaces
with equal ease.
The image is what can be done
without effort,
and seen,
without strain.
The image is easy.

On my new hypothesis, it would look like this:

The image is detached
from appearances;
the device is applied
to surfaces.
Both, with equal ease.
The device is what can be done
without effort.
The image is what can be seen
without strain.
The image is easy.
So is the device.

You just glance at it.
You push the button.

It is important here to keep in mind that neither the detachment of the image nor the application of the device will necessarily "work". The operation may fail.

The point is that "operating" the device demands an insignificant amount of effort compared to the results it can achieve (if it works). "Insignificant" is exactly the right word. It is not the act of pushing the button but the operation of the device that is significant. Herein the comedic force of the child or tramp who pushes an unmarked button out of curiosity.

("Operating an image" would be the wrong phrase. I can't think of the correct pangrammatical homologue of "operating a device".)

The role of the image (originally) or image/device (hypothetically) has to be to offer a "free" experience, i.e., a way of engaging with our experiences in an unconstrained way. We must be (absolutely) able to take them or leave them. Note that you can't just take or leave your perceptions and your actions, nor your sensations and motivations. You're to an important extent "stuck" with them. Images and devices are different in exactly that regard. (Just as intuitions and institutions are different exactly in regard to their immediacy.)

Looking for that older statement, I also found a post on "apparatus" and "machination". There might be something there.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I just reread an earlier post on what might be called "the picturing of the world and the machining of history". It reveals an ambiguity in the pangrammaticon. I normally want "the image" to be in the center, between the concept and the emotion, so that the image can attach itself "freely" to either side of the divide. But in that post I seem to have pushed the image into the claws of philosophy and posited a "device" to occupy the poet.

I'm not sure that's a bad idea.

It suggests an application for the distinction between drawing and diagram as well. Philosophy patrols the conversion of images into drawings (scientific representations); poetry patrols the conversion of devices into diagrams (political representations). And, in both cases, vice versa.

Life, then, (or experience, or the "whole thing", or grammar, what-you-call-it) is the conversion of images into devices (or simply the confusion of images and devices).

Pictures are for philosophers? Machines are for poets?

Like I say, it appeals to me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

On the Possiblity of Stand-up Poetry

This idea has been suggested before, with various degrees of seriousness. Mairead Byrne's proposal (available as a PDF file at UbuWeb) was, perhaps, prefigured by T. S. Eliot in his essay on "The Possiblity of a Poetic Drama":

The Elizabethan drama was aimed at a public which wanted entertainment of a crude sort, but would stand a good deal of poetry; our problem should be to take a form of entertainment, and subject it to the process which would leave it a form of art. Perhaps the music-hall comedian is the best material. I am aware that this is a dangerous suggestion to make. For every person who is likely to consider it seriously there are a dozen toymakers who would leap to tickle æsthetic society into one more quiver and giggle of art debauch. Very few treat art seriously. There are those who treat it solemnly, and will continue to write poetic pastiches of Euripides and Shakespeare; and there are others who treat it as a joke.

What I want to suggest here is that the "stand-up poet" as the implicit author/performer is one way of understanding the yaw angle of a given poem. Another is the "poetry anchor", i.e., the poem read off a teleprompter as part of newscast. In either case, "our problem should be to take a form of [non-poetry], and subject it to the process which would leave it a form of art." (Something I've long been arguing is the central contribution of flarf.) The whole idea here is to imagine the poem being presented in a context not defined by the institutions of poetry, but, so to speak, "in public". Poetry read in a tough room, if you will.

This line of thinking has also been sending me back to Tony Tost's "Disarm the Settlers". His "mongrel" school of poetry (somewhere between mainstream and experimental) was an attempt to imagine how experimental work could successfully transform (even revolutionize) the public face of poetry. We need to go a step further, I think, and ask if there is any way to introduce poetry to the public directly (not just to the poetry-reading public). Any attempt to imagine this (with or without irony) is an approach to the "yaw" of a poem. I'm not saying it would ever "work" (i.e., that the shows would sell out); I'm saying that "the possibility" of reading a poem as stand-up indicates the "yaw" of the poem.

There are many styles of stand-up, of course. Chris Rock (Byrne's example) is only a recent example. Obviously we need to consider also Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams, George Carlin and Steven Wright. All of them had audiences that arguably "wanted entertainment of a crude sort" but would stand a good deal of, not poetry perhaps, but at least something like thoughtful "content". (I'm willing to give ground on this in particular cases.)

While I had been thinking about this idea for some time already, it seemed especially relevant when I reached the last line of Ben Lerner's "Twenty-One Gun Salute for Ronald Reagan". Here the "easy" stand-up reading would be the "flat affected tone" of, say, Steven Wright. But there are different ways of performing these "twenty-one bits for Ronald Reagan".

More later.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yaw-Wise Torque Budget

Proposition 1: In poems (unlike cars, bikes, or small boats) you have separate control over which way it is pointing relative to which way it is going.

Normally you want the poem to be pointing the same direction as it is going. That is, you want the slip angle to be small. There are several reasons for this:

Precision: If your objective is Leftist, it doesn’t make sense to let the maneuver begin with a big inadvertent yaw to the Right.
Efficiency: Slipping is an unnecessary drag.
Comfort: Readers really hate being sloshed from side to side. Maybe it doesn’t bother you, but it will bother your readers. Also note that in many small poems, readers are at a literary disadvantage because they are seated farther from the pivot point (in the Tostian sense) than the poet is. That means any given yaw angle produces more sideways displacement at the reader's location.
Safety: Whereas if you stall in coordinated composition your nose will just drop straight off your head, if you manage to stall in sufficiently uncoordinated composition, you will get spin or a snap roll, which is much harder to recover from.

Maintaining zero slip angle while maneuvering requires coordinated use of the cut and paste, so poets speak of “zero slip angle” and “good coordination” almost interchangeably.

(Grateful acknowledgement is made to John S. Denker.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

"The Sub-area of Pragmatics"?

The new Absent is here. Let me be among the first to take the bait. I think Kent Johnson's piece on the linguistic competence of the post-avant begs all the questions. I don't see any reason to accept the Chomskian hegemony of "deep structure" and "universal grammar" even in linguistics, but, more importantly, I think the scientific image of "grammar" has always been a mistake.

Grammar is just usage; and meaning is use. There is nothing immediately indecent about allowing the later Wittgenstein to condition one's reading of the early Chomsky and concluding that cognitive linguistics begins by misunderstanding what language fundamentally is. It reduces grammar to the rules (even the "natural laws") of sentence parsing. While I'm sure Johnson could provide the examples of comical parsings by post-avant critics he alludes to (he doesn't here, though he bids us notice that Bernstein doesn't provide examples of grammatical domination in an interview), there is really nothing funnier than "scientific" readings of literary texts (e.g., readings informed by cognitive linguistics). My favourite example is E. O. Wilson's appreciation of the "anatomical accuracy" and "alliterative t-sounds" of the first paragraph of "Nabokov's pedophilic novel" Lolita (Consilience, p. 222).

I'm poking around in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateau's these days, especially chapter 5, "On Several Regimes of Signs". But one could also use Bourdieu to challenge the cognitive presumptions of contemporary (largely American, I think) linguistics. Anyway, Deleuze and Guattari put it as follows: "There is no ... grammaticality in itself ... . [P]ragmatics is not a complement to logic, syntax, or semantics; on the contrary, it is the fundamental element upon which all the rest depend." Deleuze didn't think much of Wittgensteinians but did agree that "meaning is use", here put in terms of the fundamental status of pragmatics.

I don't cite these people as authorities but in order to break into the assumption that Chomsky should necessarily be the point of departure for our understanding of the word "language" in Langpo or the post-avant and that poets should be ashamed of their ignorance in this regard. There is plenty of perfectly "competent" criticism of the idea that pragmatics is a "sub-area" of linguistics. Or rather, of the linguistic idea that usage comes after grammar. The whole of cognitive linguistics is a "sub-area". Cognitive linguistics is but one thing you can do with words.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I think that the poet, whether she likes it or not, always has to struggle against what Chuck D has called the ‘dumbassification’ of American culture, against the deadening of intellects upon which our empire depends.

Ben Lerner

Anatole France is said to have spent a great deal of time seaching for the least possible variant that would turn the most worn-out and commonest phrases of journalism into something distinguished.

Ezra Pound (ABC, p. 70)

"Torque" is not in Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms. Kasey, however, has provided a useful two-part definition. It is the second of these that I want to focus on: "a way of talking about a poem's ability to dodge readerly expectations, to swerve or twist away from a strict construal or single valence." Harold Bloom used similar language in the Anxiety of Influence when defining the "revisionary ratio" of the clinamen: "a corrective movement in [a new] poem, which implies that the precursor poem went accurately up to a certain point, but then should have swerved, precisely in the direction that the new poem moves." But Kasey's definition is not about a poem's relation to its precursors; it is about a poem's relation to "readerly expectations". I want to use Ben Lerner's title concept of yaw to discuss a poem's relation to culture in general, more specifically, popular culture.

More later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


It is natural to think that history (the scholarly discipline not the process) is the art of writing true sentences about human beings in the past tense. There are no doubt historians who would call that sort of description simple-minded, but I think laypeople tacitly accept that such an art is possible. Consider the possibility, however, that human beings can't (technically) be "objects", i.e., that there can't be "true sentences about" them. When writing about people, we must write just sentences in the future tense. That is, all our judgments about people are about what will happen (or, more precisely, what we would have happen), not was has happened.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Coming Attractions

I'd better get back at it. I've been attending to other things, and took a nice long vacation, but I feel like there are some things to blog about again.

  1. At the cottage, I finally got around to reading both Ben Marcus's Notable American Women and Leonard Cohen's The Favourite Game.
  2. Dan Hoy has written a perfectly good review of Katie Degentesh's The Anger Scale, which appears in the current all-prose Octopus.
  3. In the same issue, Elisa Gabbert has written a less perceptive review of Ben Lerner's Angle of Yaw (which is a very good book).
  4. I'm reading Soft Targets 2.1 with interest, in whole and in part.
  5. I feel like Tony Tost's "Disarm the Settlers" deserves another look.

OK. That's my things to do list for now.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Work, Value and Creativity

Here's one of Ezra Pound's typically luminous economic observations:

Work does not create wealth, it contributes to the formation of it. Nature's productivity is the root. (Guide to Kulchur, p. 357)

It got me consulting my dictionaries because he sees this as part of the misuse of the word "create", and that's something I have noticed when editing texts written by Danes.

Danish writers (in English) usually write "create" whenever they mean "skabe", although this word (in Danish) often means precisely "contribute to the formation of" or "establish" (as in "establish suitable conditions for"), i.e., when it makes no reference to creation ex nihilo, whether by human or divine agency.

As it turns out, the English word "shape" is a relation of the Danish "skabe" (and the German "Schöpfung") going back through the Old English "gesceap" to Old Norse.

To "contribute to the formation" of something is arguably to "shape" it. Finally, it seems that "worship" is, etymologically, the "creation of worth" or, let's say, the "shaping of value".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Kirby Olson responds to my earlier post about fascism and writing by saying "fascism and communism [are] the same thing." Good writing is equally impossible under both systems because a "one-party system, with penalties for outliers" prevents honesty.

I agree that there is an important connection between honesty and good writing. This was also Hemingway's point: good writing can only be produced by people who "will not lie" and fascism is a system of government that requires people to lie. (It is a lie.)

What Kirby means by "communism" is probably as inimical to honesty as what Hemingway meant by "fascism". I am not entirely sure that these systems of government are inherently more honest than, say, liberal democracy, however. And I am not sure that fascism and communism are "the same thing" when seen from the point of view of historical plausibility, or imminence, let us say.

What I mean is: writers have very little to fear from communism today. It is not likely that the lie they will be required to support in their work is that of communism (leaving open just exactly what that lie might be). I do think, however, that fascism, which is to say, the total and absolute "incorporation" of private and public concerns (regardless of how many "parties" there may be), is a real threat today. Social life is increasingly conditioned by the coordinated activity of big business and big government.

On a more optimistic note (if that it was what it is), let me say that I have begun to think Hemingway was wrong. Good writing can be produced under fascism. The political ontology of Flarf is arguably "fascist" for precisely this reason: it will not allow fascism (come what may) to destroy poetry. In fact, it seems to me that the whole post-avant tendency is a rejection of honesty (at least in the form that fascism can prevent) as a sine qua non of good writing. That doesn't mean it is a rejection of honesty as such, of course.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I'm a big fan of the early work of Giorgio de Chirico--his squares and buildings--and especially his "Enigma of Arrival and the Afternoon" (1912), which I sometimes say is the most beautiful painting ever made (knowing that this is really a meaningless judgment). When I visited the Nivaagaard Collection this weekend, I'm sure you can see why C. W. Eckersberg's "Temple of Vesta" (ca. 1815) caught my eye. I almost want to say that de Chirico must have had it "in mind". Note, for example, the shadow in the foreground.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bartleby, de Silentio, Palinurus

There is something about these three figures that engages with Hemingway's views in my last post. They all indicate the (precarious) possibility of an image to set against "the accelerated grimace" of a totalitarian fantasy, whether that of Wall Street, the Systen (i.e., Hegel), or Rome. They share the grand refusal.

Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4, 1937

Seventy years ago today, Ernest Hemingway addressed the American Writers' Congress to talk about fascism and the problem of writing about war.

A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and, having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.


Really good writers are always rewarded under almost any existing form of government that they can tolerate. There is only one form of government that cannot produce good writers, and that system is fascism. For fascism is a lie told by bullies. A writer who will not lie cannot live or work under fascism.

Because fascism is a lie, it is condemned to literary sterility. And when it is past, it will have no history except the bloody history of murder that is well known ...

(Source: Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. Conversations with Ernest Hemingway. University Press of Mississippi, 1986, pp. 193-195.)

Friday, June 01, 2007


A concept is a way of thinking.

An emotion is a way of feeling.

A body is a way of life.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Orientation of Babel

I am beginning to think the Librarian is deranged. Not only does he construe what must be a tower as a sphere, he claims also that "a few miles to the right the tongue is dialectical and ninety floors farther up, it is incomprehensible."

At first I let this draw my tower hypothesis into question, suggesting as it does a vast horizontal distribution of hexagons, but then I realized that it is nonsense to talk of "a few miles to right". To the right of what?

Even compass directions would be hard to imagine in this "universe".

In Borges's "The Secret Miracle", Jaromir Hladik's play The Enemies (or Vindication of Eternity) is set in a library and "the drama never [takes] place; it is the circular delirium that Kubin lives and relives endlessly."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Floor Plan of Babel

Any ass can assimilate the main points of Tolstoy's attitude toward adultery but in order to enjoy Tolstoy's art the good reader must wish to visualize, for instance, the arrangement of a railway carriage on the Moscow-Petersburg night train as it was a hundred years ago. Here diagrams are most helpful.

Vladimir Nabokov
Interview in Vogue, 1969

To clarify the ideas in my previous post, I have produced the following floor plan.

I have decided to render Borges's "gabinetes" as "cabinets", not "closets", i.e., as fixtures rather than rooms, and I have installed bookshelves as furniture. Both may of course be more "built in" without changing the main point. Keep in mind that this is one of very, very many floors in what therefore comes to look like a tower. I lean to the interpretation that it would not be infinitely tall, but I sometimes indulge in the "elegant hope" that it is a giant ring suspended in space, so that if you ascend the staircase long enough, you arrive back where you started. The gravity of this situation, as it were, would be a mystery.

I have no idea where the Librarian gets the idea that the Library might be "a sphere whose exact centre is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible." Then again, I am also not convinced that the principle that determines the contents of the library is fully known, i.e., I am not sure that "the Library is total". I believe these two issues help us to refute the Librarian's speculative "dream that [the mirror in the hallway] represents and promises the infinite."

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Architects (Translators) of Babel

[Updated on 8 May 2007]

I recently reread Borges's "The Library of Babel" and realized that the physical layout of the library is unclear, at least to me.

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between [en el medio], surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruits which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

That is James Irby's translation. Anthony Kerrigan, to my mind more plausibly, puts the ventilation shafts "in the middle [en el medio]" of the hexagons, not between them. What I hadn't noticed until now is that the galleries seem to be connected by the stairwell, two-by-two: each gallery is connected to only one other gallery, i.e., only "one of the free sides ... opens onto another gallery". This would apply also to this other gallery, which thus opens onto the first. These two galleries are connected to the others only by means of the stairs. That is, the Library is a tower.

Given the height of such a tower, however, it would be impossible to "see ... the upper and lower floors". This leads me to think that this, too, is an error in the translation. Borges had written, "Desde cualquier hexágono se ven los pisos inferiores y superiores: interminablemente." Though I have no independent understanding of Spanish, I think his meaning would be better captured by, "From any hexagon the floors above and below [i.e., the superior and inferior floors] can be seen: interminably."

Andy Wilkins seems to agree with me about this point, though not the previous one. Kerrigan, it seems to me, botches this point completely by rendering "y" as "or" rather than "and", which my Spanish-English dictionary, in any case, does not license. That is, Kerrigan is suggesting a very finite height for the Libary so that from any gallery one can see either the top or the ground floor.

If anyone has any thoughts, I'm all ears.

[Continued here.]

Friday, May 04, 2007


"When I began my earlier book to talk about the 'world' (and not about this tree or table)..."

Ludwig Wittgenstein
(Redacted from the Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough)

A reader of this blog emailed me about a quote I had posted from Borges's "An Investigation of the Word", one of his "disowned" early works. While I can see why he might have thought it was unsuccessful, I like the approach he takes. "What is the psychological process whereby we understand a sentence?" asks Borges. And his approach to answering it is to analyse a single sentence from the Quixote ("In a place in La Mancha, whose name I do not wish to recall ...") word for word in order to locate "the content its words yield to the reader". It is a naive approach, but one I have great respect for. There is too much philosophy of language that produces apparently sophisticated theories without providing a single detailed application, a single complete analysis.

I called my PhD dissertation Likeness and wanted to call the follow up Composure, but I think both words subscribe to a vain philosophical profundity. (That probably won't stop me in the end, of course.) I'm now thinking of calling it Roundness. In it, I want to provide a full answer to the question, "What is the experience of the roundness of a plate?" We are all capable of having this experience; but in what does it consist?

Composure and likeness are, I think, part of what Wittgenstein called the illusory "super-order of super-concepts". That is, one imagines that the task of philosophy is not to analyse specific compositions or specific likenesses but to provide a theory of composition and likeness "as such". But if these theories are to mean anything to us they must usefully guide our practical investigations (note that Borges and Wittgenstein used the same word). "If the words, 'language', 'experience', 'world', have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words 'table', 'lamp', 'door'." (PI§97) It is in the spirit of that humility that I want to write my first real book.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The empirical concept of a plate is homogeneous with the pure geometrical concept of a circle. The roundness which is thought in the former can be intuited in the latter. (KRV A137/B176)

That's how it looks from the point of view of "pure reason". Passion would demand the introduction of a craftsman of some sort, an artist.

The normative (e)motion of the potter's wheel is homogeneous with the pure[raw] sculptural emotion of the cylinder. The spinning that can be felt in the former can be instituted in the latter.

The book I want to write, called Composure, would begin with this image of a plate on a wheel, this homology (a homology of two homogeneities), and then develop about twenty-five of its moments of reason and their twenty-five homologous moments of passion. E.g.,



I will confine each moment to the space of a single page, and arrange the homologous expressions on facing pages (a "parallel edition" of reason/passion). I know that such symmetry does not appeal to everyone, but I need to see how it works out on the page.

[Update: Either I or Norman Kemp Smith seem to have mixed up "former" and "latter" in the above quote. I've fixed it now and it makes much better sense. Also, I think it might help to rewrite Kant's formula as follows: Our empirical grasp of a plate is homogeneous with the pure geometrical concept of a circle, for the roundness that is thought in the former can be intuited in the latter. This allows us the following variation: The normative motion of the potter's wheel is homogeneous with the pure sculptural emotion of a cylinder, for the turning that can be felt in the former can be instituted in the latter.]

[Update 2: Norman Kemp Smith's 'misreading' follows Vaihinger. It appears in the footnotes to both the current German (Felix Meiner Verlag) edition and the Guyer & Wood (Cambridge University Press) edition. Presskorn has a plausible explanation for Vaihinger's reading in the comments below.]

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Motivation, Surface, Image

The Pangrammaticon posits a Critique of Pure Passion to serve as a shadow cabinet (of horrors) to the Kantian critique.

Separate from any possible representation, people impinge upon our lives as motivations.

In so far as people are "represented" to us (in conation*) as subjects, whether correctly or incorrectly, we call our relation to them surfaces.

A surface with its motivation removed is an image.

Now, such immobile images of course don't actually exist. But the image is that component of the surface that is separate from the motivations that occasion it.

Literature is the cultivation of imagery through the very minimal motility of letters.

The white page with black marks on it is all the "motivation" we are offered.

This is still not pure imagery. Reading involves anticipation: projected motivations.

The image is "sticky", as Kasey might say. It will always be composed in a field of motivation. And yet, each image will have its own degree of articulateness. It will occupy experience more or less intensely, i.e., it will be a better or worse product of the imagination.

Even as we acknowledge that images owe much to motivations, it is important to keep the possibility of a life of minimal imagery in mind: the complete absence of any artifice in our motivations (and thus the dissolution of the difference between a person, a motivation and a surface). Such a life might, of course, be fun. But it would be demonstrably illiterate; it would be inarticulate.

The next post will introduce a book-length project I'm working on under the title Composure. My aim is to provide a complete pangrammatical articulation of a single image, viz., Kant's plate. "The empirical concept of a plate," he says, "is homogeneous with the pure geometrical concept of a circle. The roundness which is thought in the latter can be intuited in the former." (KRV A137/B176) In the shadow critique of passion, we would read the following: "The normative emotion of a sling is homogeneous with the pure chronological emotion of a cycle. The revolution that is felt in the latter can be institutionalized in the former."

*My Concise Oxford Dictionary is remarkably "pangrammatical". Conation is the homologue of cognition. The COD defines the former as "the desire to perform an action" and that latter as "knowing, perceiving, or conceiving as an act or faculty distinct from emotion and volition". The homologue of the COD definition of conation (and thus a definition of cognition) is "the belief in the representation of a perception"; the homologue of the definition of cognition (and thus a definition of conation) is "mastering, acting, or emoting as a fact or activity distinct from conception and intellection". It's a bit rough, but it provides a useful analysis of the "stickiness" of the imaginary field.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sensation, Appearance, Image

I think the following determinations are vaguely Kantian.

Separate from any possible representation, things impinge upon our lives as sensations.

In so far as the things are "represented" to us (in cognition) as objects, whether correctly or incorrectly, we call our relation to them appearances.

An appearance with its sensation removed is an image.

Now, such insensate images of course don't actually exist. But the image is that component of the appearance that is separate from the sensation (in fact, sensations) that occasion it.

Literature is the cultivation of imagery through the very minimal sensibility of letters.

The white page with black marks on it is all the "sensation" we are offered.

This is still not pure imagery. (To my mind, the Critique of Pure Reason fails precisely to establish the "purity" of any of the faculties convincingly.) Reading involves memory: recollected sensations.

The image is "sticky", as Kasey might say. It will always be composed in a field of (in part) sensation. And yet, each image will have its own degree of articulateness. It will occupy experience more or less clearly, i.e., it will be a better or worse product of the imagination.

Even as we acknowledge that images owe much to sensations, it is important to keep the possibility of a life of minimal imagery in mind: the complete absence of any artifice in our sensations (and thus the dissolution of the difference between a thing, a sensation and an appearance). Such a life might, of course, be fun. But it would be demonstrably illiterate; it would be inarticulate.

The next post will repeat these determinations in terms of motivations and surfaces. An image is a surface separate from its motivation.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

ABC of Imagery

From Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading:

Date says: 'A canzone is a composition of words set to music.'

I don't know any better point to start from.

Coleridge or De Quincey said that the quality of 'a great poet is everywhere present, and nowhere visible as a distinct excitement', or something of that sort.

This would be a more dangerous starting-point. It is probably true. (31)
To tonight's post:

Wittgenstein says: 'We make ourselves images of the facts.'

I don't know any better point to start from.

Kant said that 'the image is a product of of the empirical faculty of reproductive imagination', or something of that sort.

This would be a more dangerous starting-point. It is probably true.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sense, Image, Motive

The image is an artifice between sensation and motivation.

It is sense imitating motive.

And vice versa.

More later.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Anstalt und Anschauung

In German the difference between a perspective and an intuition is gently blended (at least for me) in the word Anschauung, which can mean "view" (as in Weltanschauung) and intuition (as Kant uses it). Likewise, the German word Anstalt blends the difference between facilities (like asylums, prisons, homes and schools) and institutions (like madness, punishment, family and education).

A perspective is an order of visibility, while a facility is an order of manipulability. Intuitions and institutions are the immediate moment of perspectives and facilities respectively.
A perspective determines what things can be seen, while a facility determines what people can do (mainly in the sense of who can carry our particular tasks). But intuitions and institutions determine the immediate meanings of the available perceptions and actions, their use if you will.

I think they are interdependent. There is no home without a family; there is no asylum without a madman. There is no "what" without a "who" to find it shiny, fresh, salient, and profitable. There is nothing to see if there is nobody to do something with it. There is nobody without nothing comes of it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Lyre and the Lamp

Working on a slightly different problem over a year ago, I said in passing that I would like to find a word that is for philosophy what "lyric" is for poetry. I think I have now found it.

Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms tells us that "a lyric is usually fairly short ... and it usually expresses the feelings and thoughts of a single speaker in a personal and subjective fashion." The philosophical unit that resembles the lyric in size is the aphorism. Interestingly, it expresses the thoughts and feelings of any speaker in an impersonal and objective fashion. The lyric is an emotional specificity, I want to say, while the aphorism is a conceptual generality. They are staples of poetry and philosophy respectively. As Cuddon notes, while there are other kinds, "lyric poetry, which is to be found in most literatures, comprises the bulk of all poetry." I'm not sure that aphorisms comprise the "bulk" of philosophy in the Western tradition (though certainly its popular reception), but it is iconic of philosophy in an important sense.

Etymology offers an interesting insight here. Lyric can of course be traced back to the lyre that accompanied the lyric (a song) in ancient Greece. Aphorism, meanwhile, can be traced to the horos, meaning boundary. An aphorism is the use of words to mark off an area with boundaries. A lyric is the use of words to sing a tune accompanied by a lyre.

So the question of the correspondingly concrete "instrument" of philosophy became clear to me. A lamp. Philosophy consists in the construction of "elucidations", Wittgenstein said.

"I am looking for an honest man," said Diogenes, holding up his lamp in broad daylight.

The light that a lamp spreads marks a boundary. This also grants philosophy a suitably spatial orientation, while poetry, in its association with song, is oriented in time. All this is working out quite nicely. But there's more.

The lamp is to the eye what the lyre is to the hand. (Roughly. Bit more work to be done there.) Finally, expanses are the pangrammatical homologue of vibrations. A vibrating string in a circle of light. There is an ideogram of the relation of poetry to philosophy in that image.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Curiosity and Sincerity

At the end of the "Immediate Need of Confucius", Ezra Pound offers the following observation, which I think remains relevant.

We are bedevilled with false diagnoses. We are obfuscated with the noise of those who attribute all troubles to irrelevant symptoms of evil. We are oppressed by powerful persons who lie, who have no curiosity, who smear the world and their high offices with Ersatz sincerity. (SP, p. 94)

Now, real sincerity, Confucian sincerity, if you will, was for Pound the key to decent social order, and amounted to "precise verbal definition" (good grammar, I like to say). But I've always found Pound's disappointment with the curiosity of our leaders to be the most profound insight in this passage.

The two intersect in the expression "what's the word?", i.e., the sincere statement of the limit of one's knowledge, accompanied by the desire to overcome one's ignorance, or at least a "willingness to move away from one area of semi-ignorance" (cf. ABC, p. 35).

I want to propose that sincerity--the pursuit of the "right word"--is located at the intersection of hope and faith, courage and curiosity. I believe that the urge to create, the artistic motive, the urge toward innovation in form, arises because of a very, very subtle imbalance in the pull of these influences. It is not that artists are especially "unbalanced", however. On the contrary, non-artists (or artists in a creative slump) are precisely that because they are dominated by only one moment: they live on hope or faith or courage or curiosity, often serially. Artists, by contrast, will (at the crucial moment) not let faith extinguish their curiosity, nor let their hope render their courage irrelevant.

Their sincerity is therefore very complicated. That, I think, is what Pound was complaining about. Our leaders, as it were, "honestly don't care" what is going on. Mainly because it's all happening so fast. "An age-old intelligence is not lost in an age of speed," however (Pound, SP, p. 94). Poetry unwobbles the pivot, rectifies the heart.

One last thing about curiosity. Heidegger dealt with it as a dimension of "everydayness" and therefore saw it as a "deficient" mode of Being. But what he understood by curiosity (Neugier) was a desire for novelty, a longing, if you will, for news. Gossip. He did not mean a longing for news that stays news. But that is what we mean. We mean the result of tempering our curiosity with hope, faith and courage. And all the reciprocal effects of this: form.

See also "Li and/or Ethos" and/
or "Form and/or Grammar"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hope and Courage

for Tony Tost

What I am thinking of is the man of imagination and science, whose courage is infinite because his curiosity surpasses his courage.

Vladimir Nabokov

Hope and courage are, arguably, emotions. That is, they are conditions of the possibility of action or, where opportunities for action are lacking, they are conditions of the possibility of feeling. As such, however, they seem to be at least provisionally opposed in force. Given sufficient courage, an action may be possible without much hope. Likewise, given sufficient hope, the deed may require very little courage. Intellectuals will no doubt speak of "the courage to hope", but I think this is often a sophism, and, no doubt just as often, a well intentioned philosophical error.

We are interested in form. And form is an aspect of experience that comes to light in the juxtaposition of pangrammatical homologies, in the passage between the people that pertain to our power and the things that pertain to our knowledge, in the interstice between the emotion and the concept.

Faith and curiosity are, arguably, concepts. That is, they are conditions of the possibility of perception or, where opportunities for perception are lacking, they are conditions of the possibility of thought. As such, however, they seem to be at least provisionally opposed in force. Given sufficient curiosity, a perception may be possible without much faith. Likewise, given sufficient faith, the vision may require very little curiosity. Moralists will no doubt speak of "the curiosity of faith", but I think this is often a lyricism, and, no doubt just as often, a high spirited poetical mistake.

Wittgenstein said that genius is merely talent exercised with courage. Pound said that the measure of a man's civilization is his hope. It is under these conditions that we pursue the forms. (Our invisible brides? Tony's eternal pursuit of Agnes?) With curiosity and with faith.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Case Notes 2

In my now very tattered Basic Kafka, there is a chronology of events in Kafka's life. The entry for 1917 reads:

First half: Writes "The Hunter Gracchus." Learns Hebrew. Spring: Writes "The Great Wall of China." July: Second engagement to Felice Bauer. August: Begins coughing up blood. September 4: Diagnosis of tuberculosis. Moves in with sister Ottla in Zürau. September 12: Leave of absence from office. November 10: Diary entries break off. End of December: Breaking of second engagement to Felice Bauer. Autumn and winter: Writes aphorisms (octavo notebooks).

There is an (Ambrose) Biercean chuckle in me that rears itself at the sequence "July: [gets engaged]. August: Begins coughing up blood." I always imagine that the graduate student who compiled the chronology arranged the facts intentionally to achieve this effect, and that Eric Heller either didn't notice it or allowed it. It may also have been perfectly unintentional, of course.

In any case, a lot of other things no doubt happened to Kafka in 1917. And other arrangements of the details already presented are obviously possible. Consider the following list:

Begins coughing up blood. Leave of absence from office. Moves in with sister. Diary entries break off. End of December. Writes aphorisms.

It is obviously this sort of sensibility that lies behind Kate Greenstreet's case sensitive. It produces wonderful passages like the following:

Several glass ashtrays, the panther lamp. The light
bent toward the map. I spent a long time under the table, learning
to recognize wires. How we could change her.

How the bullet is scraped as it moves through the barrel.

The subject is distant, and dark.

It's not who dunnit that matters here, but how rooms look in detective novels. Not what surveillance uncovers but what it feels like to watch. There is an aesthetics of private investigation that is here freed from the plot. Also here:

There might be a group of people who meet every year at a summer house.
All that nature. A single mouthful can kill a man.

The poems concentrate our attention on what makes a whole range of mediocre movies succesful (it isn't the suspense, nor the action, nor the sex). Toxicology and balistics and nobody really dies.

Case Notes 1

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Formal Homologies


{ courage , power , hope }


{ curiosity , knowledge , faith }


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Form and/or Grammar

There is nothing more human (that is, less mineral, vegetal, animal, and even angelical) than grammar.

Jorge Luis Borges

I am a grammarian.
We will or we will not cry together.

Getrude Stein

What I'm desperate for, from myself and others, is a poetry & poetics that pushes its innovative & expressive powers, and new forms, towards the invention, or construction, or even the fabrication, of things like courage & hope.

Tony Tost

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Philosophical Image

Kasey's recent post made me think of this footnote to an old poem of mine.

We lift images from appearances and apply them to surfaces never the other way round. A surface is that to which an image may be effortlessly applied. An appearance is that from which it is lifted without strain. To imagine is sometimes to see and sometimes to do. The image may equally well be seen or done. The same image is equally compatible with surfaces and appearances. There are not some images that go better with surfaces than with appearances. But we must keep in mind that we cannot impose an image on an appearance; we must lift it from there. Nor can we lift an appearance from a surface, we must put it there. Thus, we lift an image off the appearance of the closed door and apply this same image in opening its surface. This whether in imagination or in experience. That is, the door appears closed as we run into it, and it surfaces in its openness as we pass through it. Note here that the door's openness is nothing to the door but belongs to you and me (the subject), i.e., that which is in motion. Its closedness, on the other hand, is the door’s imposition on our motion (and is objective).

The key passage in Kasey's post is this:

These poems do not "use" or "contain" images so much as they are images, images formed by language shaped into a "rested totality," as Zukofsky puts it. The attempt is to simulate the contours of a mental/perceptual experience through words, drawing on those words' referential function as well as the irrationally evocative sub-qualities of their morphemic and phonemic makeup (it is probably impossible not to do both at the same time in some proportion). The challenge facing the poet is then to translate a personal, subjective experience of language/reality into a textual message that will communicate itself, however incompletely, to another reader, by means other than simple reportage. This challenge is always doomed to at least partial failure...

This advances my understanding of poetry, philosophy and imagination. The step I want to take from here is to reject the challenge: why begin with "a personal, subjective experience" and then translate, convert or transform it into a "message" that can be "communicated" (though the phrase "that will communicate itself" indicates a bit of answer, an immediacy)?

To take two examples. Is there any (useful) sense in which "Message to the Department of the Interior" (Glenum) and "Social Life in Western North Carolina" (Mohammad) translate their authors' personal experiences of language/reality into messages that are then made more or less available to readers? It seems to me that these poems begin with the imagery already formed in an impersonal "outside". These poems will communicate as "imperfectly" with their creators as with any other reader, which is to say, they are perfectly, resolutely imaginary.

Obit Imitating Art?

When Albert Camus died, the literary journal X (I, 2, March 1960) ran an obituatry by Michel St. Denis. He writes:

The theatre was not for him a distraction: he used to say, in his warm and cheerful way (I knew him as a theatre man), that he loved sharing in group work, simply as a member of the team; his solitude as a writer, concerned with the plight of man, was fed and helped by his daily contact with the difficulties, failures and achievements, passions, generosity and pettiness of a company of actors. What to others is trouble and unbearable agitation was food and excitement to him. He wrote that the stadium and the auditorium of a theatre were the only places in the world where he did not feel guilty. (113)

In his 1956 novel The Fall, Camus did in fact write what St. Denis says he wrote. Here is the relevant paragraph:

To be sure, I occasionally pretended to take life seriously. But very soon the frivolity of seriousness struck me and I merely went on playing my role as well as I could. I played at being efficient, intelligent, virtuous, civic-minded, shocked, indulgent, fellow-spirited, edifying ... In short, there's no need of going on, you have already grasped that I was like my Dutchmen who are here without being here: I was absent at the moment when I took up the most space. I have never been really sincere and enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports, and in the army, when I used to act in plays we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was a rule of the game, which was not serious but which we enjoyed taking as if it were. Even now, the Sunday matches in an overflowing stadium, and the theatre, which I loved with the greatest passion, are the only places in the world where I feel innocent. (87-8)

Now, those words may of course have been as true of Camus as they were of Clamence. But it seems to me that this is an unhappy coincidence in an obituary on the life of the author of The Myth of Sisyphus (an essay on the absurd). It would be a bit like using words originally (or even just also) "written" by Charles Kinbote or Humbert Humbert in an obituary for Nabokov. Wouldn't it?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poetry Reading: Ascending to Reality like Condoleeza Rice

WEDNESDAY, February 7, 5 pm
Atheneum International Bookshop
Nørregade 6
Copenhagen K

This reading will draw attention to the work of six American poets. Themes will cover the full range of poetic images: swans, clouds, hats, eggs, knives, snow, and deer. Their poems have been called "angry, even when they are asleep", "grotesque ... domestic ... war-torn", "rigorously articulate", "aphoristic and electrified", "remarkably fresh and exciting" and, yes, "spooky". These poets have located the human condition somewhere between an advanced alien technology and an intense political audacity. Having discovered how we feel, they write that emotion down. Here's an opportunity to find out how we're all doing.

Thomas Basbøll will read selections from the work of Ben Lerner, Lara Glenum, Tony Tost, K. Silem Mohammad, Drew Gardner and Gary Sullivan.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Borgesque Blurb

My 1981 King Penguin paperback edition of Borges' Labyrinths has the following remark on the back cover.

The twenty-three stories in Labyrinths include Borges's classic 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius', a new world where external objects are whatever each person wants; and 'Pierre Menard', the man who re-wrote Don Quixote word for word without ever reading the original.

I find such inaccuracies enormously depressing for some reason. It is no consolation that Borges himself, in 'Partial Magic in the Quixote', tells us that Shakespeare 'include[d] on the stage of Hamlet another stage where a tragedy more or less like that of Hamlet is presented.'

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This Application Supports the Other

for Sara

If you experience problems,
please select one of the
Details of Interface.

There are three different
Token Rings. Step 2:
connect the Other. But this
feature does not work
reliably. Stop time
or hours worked can be
solved based on the
other three parameters
through a twisted pair
and the emerging subject's

continuous communication
between the process manager
and the optimal process,
rather than the other
way around. An environment
for the rapid construction
of visual elements to
be added to the graphs
constructed in sophisticated
editing of the 400 different
other disappointments.

Originally designed to
discriminate people, the data
are stored in the formats.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Case Notes 1

The portion of the story that remains after the other components have been dissolved by churning. The woman attends the night game to watch the snow fall near the lights. Only the body of the protagonist is undergoing change. A whistle sweeps the town of meaning.

Ben Lerner
Angle of Yaw, p. 25.

"Dusting for Prints" was probably the first Kate Greenstreet poem I read. I read it in Diagram (4.6) on or around December 10, 2005. About a year later, I read it again but this time in her new book case sensitive. As it turns out, Kate wasn't making her author note in Diagram up:

A woman is driving coast to coast. She is listening to a book on tape, a murder mystery. The poems she's writing in the motels each night combine mystery matter with observation and memory. Later some of those poems will become a chapbook called Where's the Body? A collection of this character's chapbooks form the manuscript case sensitive, my attempt to make the kind of mystery I'd like to read, with all the stuff that I don't need (the murder, etc.) removed.

So there is the natural question: what is the relationship between the "woman" in the first sentence and the "I" in the last. "She" is writing the poems, but so, presumably, is Kate Greenstreet. Where, indeed, is the body?

We know that Where's the Body is collected in case sensitive. So we are to imagine that a fictional chapbook was fictionally published. However, case sensitive also includes the poems "Learning the Language" (in the chapbook/section Book of Love) and "Bridge" (in Diplomacy). These also appear in Kate Greenstreet's very real chapbook Learning the Language. which does not appear in the present "collection of this character's chapbooks." Did Kate Greenstreet steal these poems from her character and publish them as her own, or did her character steal them from her?

Question: did Kate Greenstreet ever drive coast to coast listening to murder mysteries on tape and writing poems in motel rooms? What was she doing? Research for a poem?

Here's another detail. Perhaps it is insignificant, perhaps it is crucial. Like the other "chapbooks" in case sensitive, Where's the Body has endnotes. The first line of the first poem, "Begin with who was killed and why," is attributed to Gillian Roberts' You Can Write a Mystery (1999), which seems to be a real book. This may be perfectly innocent. But there is something else: the endnote informs us that the line has been "used with the kind permission of Writer's Digest Books." Did she really need permission? Since she has even provided her source, wouldn't it be "fair use"? Even if she hadn't provided the source, would a line like that really constitute plagiarism if it had been simply appropriated? She puts the line in quotation marks and endnotes it. But the rest of the book is full of unreferenced quotatations. Why offer a reference here?

The answer must be that it accomplishes a specific literary effect. But we must now ask: did she really ask for the publisher's permission? Like I say, she probably didn't need it. But perhaps she would get in trouble for claiming to have done so if she really hadn't. So she asked for permission in order to accomplish the literary effect of appearing to have asked for permission?

It's all very strange. Suspicious.

Elsewhere in case sensitive, she (who?) says, "A story has to leave out nearly everything or no one can follow it" (p. 29). This is a bit like Ben Lerner's "churning" (see epigraph, where it is used without permission.) The process is not so much that of plot development: "Only the body of the protagonist is undergoing change."

One last detail before the chapter ends in suspense: the endnote does not provide a page reference. Google turns up only this.

Note: no endnote.

I think this story knows it's being followed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Postmodern Baroque

But Josh, what if Las Meninas does not situate us "impossibly in the mirror"?

All the people in the painting are standing in front of a mirror. The painting is the image as seen by Velazquez. (The Infanta's face is the dead give-away for me, as is her maid on the right, who is enviously comparing herself to the royal child.) The mirror is at a slight off angle to the floor and wall, which accounts for the vanishing point not being in the middle of Velazquez's head (for people who need to know that). The King and Queen are hidden behind (i.e., standing in front of) the canvas (with their backs turned to it) right beside Velazquez. The fact that the canvas depicted in the painting is the same height as the canvas we are looking at is also an obvious clue that this is how the painting should be read.

See also "Borges, the Prado, and I".

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Factory, Laboratory, Museum

Tony, you give us a nice set of images to work with. But I'm not sure I understand the confrontation you are arranging between Pound's "machine art" and Stein's "motor automatism". Your insertion of Kracauer's typists, however, as what Wittgenstein might call an "intermediate case" (PI§122), is pretty much brilliant.

One important distinction, at least at first pass, seems to be that Pound is thinking about how to improve factory production, while Stein (if I understand this correctly) is basically engaging in laboratory experimentation. We could of course imagine experiments to test Pound's ideas (a kind of acoustic Taylorism) and we could certainly imagine taking Stein's reading and writing practices into use. The idea that Pound's factory could be re-interpreted as a museum, however, strikes me as odd; especially if you want to say that Stein's proposal is somehow immune to this. Surely her approaches could be cultivated in some highly idealized settings, while having no impact on reading and writing in general.

What Pound was saying, I think, is simply that we could think about sound in very practical terms. The musician here serves in the same role as a painter might for Albers. He is an expert at producing sound, and his contribution to the world is making it sound better. So there is a kind of pragmatist aesthetics here (in Dewey's sense). Some arrangements of sounds or colours improve the way the environment sounds or looks. More generally, how the environment feels. Other's improve the ear or eye that perceives them. Pound was saying that what the musician hears could be applied to improving what the factory worker hears. But the factory will never be something we would want to listen to in order to improve our sense of sound, i.e., for its own sake.

In a similar way, though I'm not exactly sure how to make the comparison, Stein is trying to improve our sense of language.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tostian Media

This looks promising. I think poetry has an important role to play in the appropriation of the potential of the new media. I'm not sure Pound was as "blind to his historical moment" as Tony thinks, but I'm basically just looking forward to hearing more about these ideas. Also, it looks like I'm going to have to read some Stein.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fear as a Mode of State

'Das Wovor der Furcht, das Furchtbare...'

Several points must be considered.

1. It shows itself.

2. The target is a definite range of what can be affected.

3. The region itself is well known. It has something 'queer' about it.

4. Something that threatens us.

5. It can reach us, and yet it may not.

6. This enhances it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

5 Little Things

I appreciate Jack's gesture, but picking up a meme is not my thing. (Do love those captions, by the way.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

She Took Time Off

She took time off from touching
due to tendonitis, twice removed.

But she never stopped singing. She raised
two sons. One of them she titled "Night",

and with an eventful year under her belt,
she started touching again in January.