Monday, May 26, 2008

Poem Conceived on Bornholm Many Years Ago

In the summer studio
above the rock garden,
I took the eyes
of the painter.
What is it, I asked,
They cannot see?
Cannot? he balked.
They won't. Be kind,
I said. They don't.

Long before I knew anything about poetry, but thought I might become a poet, I spent a few days on the Danish island of Bornholm. Naturally, we went to the Oluf Høst Museum, which is a beautiful place—one of those places you immediately wish hadn't been converted into a museum, but could remain a place for an artist to work. So you begin to plan its conversion into a retreat for artists, a school, your own home.

Like the poem says, I tried to put myself in the mind of the painter while I stood in Høst's summer studio. At the time I was also, of course, generally despairing of the human species, which I suppose I still am, but less hopefully, more completely desperately, I guess, which means I don't imagine anything can change, or really needs to. (This post emerges vaguely from my response to Kirby in my last post. I felt the urgency of art, but not its futility.)

Back then, I worked on a poem about it, which must have run about thirty lines that are now lost. When it came back to me now, suddenly, thinking about the particular necessity and contingent universality of imagery, I was also reminded of Ezra Pound's reflections on "In a Station of the Metro".

Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation ...

I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.
I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.

Okay, I'm no Ezra Pound. But my first effort was undoubtably not of the first intensity. What I just came up with (recalling the "equation" that was the core of the experience in that studio) is much more satisfying. It is still very much "just a poem" (maybe its emotion is just as must just a sentiment). But maybe it just needs that final bit of focusing.

If I am right about "the image" then we can almost describe in advance—a priori, if you will—what I will have to do to intensify it. I must situate the poem more resolutely between a natural regularity and a cultural regulation. I must activate both its urgency and its futility.

More later (I hope).

[One more thing: shortly before writing the above I had just read this post over at Jonathan's blog.]

Friday, May 23, 2008

An Imagism

Some loose jottings.

I generally look for imagery. If appearances are the undetermined objects of empirical intuitions (Kant) and surfaces are the undetermined subjects of normative institutions (me), then the image is more radically undetermined. It indicates neither the subject nor the object of an experience.

Perceptions are grounded in the immediacy of empirical intuitions. I want to say that there are regularities (which are basically natural) that govern perception. Action is likewise governed by (cultural) regulations.

Now regulated subjects have "representation" in the political sense, while regular objects have "representation" in the scientific sense. Images have only their "presentation", "pure" presentation, we might say. Well, we just took the "re-" off the "representation" to get that.

So what's the root of "regular"? It turns out the "re-" isn't a prefix. (Would have been neat.) But I did find this in the OED: "L. regula straight stick, bar, ruler, pattern, etc." Images are governed by "rules" in the sense of lines or bars on a ruler, i.e., "patterns".

Now, a pattern has "resolution", we might say (in the digitial sense). Better: regulations (subjects), resolutions (images), and regularities (objects). And to "re-solve" is to "loosen back" (needs more work). Imagery is the locus of grammatical "tightness". Subjective and objective representation (regulations and regularities) are about grammatical "rightness".

Like I say, just jotting things down.

[I should acknowledge that this post at In the Ordinary Sense got me thinking about this again.]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The Pangrammaticon is the blogosphere's leader in the deformulation of prose and poetry. Also known as reverse engineering, deformulation is the separation, identification and qualification of images in a literary formula. Our experienced poets have performed deformulations on hundreds of texts and have the skills and the tools to successfully deformulate the most difficult material.

Deformulation analysis uses interpretative techniques and conventional exegetical methods to identify and qualify (at least somewhat) the components of complex literary expressions. The components may include polysemes, plaster cramps, idle chatter, discourse, luxuriants, anecdotes, flame wars, etc. Although we do not guarantee a "cookbook recipe", our analysis, in most instances, identifies the literary hype of major and minor components. An Internet search is also performed when needed to locate the source of similar, commercially-available materials.

We have successfully deformulated a variety of texts...

Our clients often come to us with knowledge of the imagery in their target formula, such as wetness, dissolution or suffering. Using our client's information along with our literary expertise we can create a working "recipe" that meets a variety of needs, including:

Competitive existential characterization
Identification of botch to botch variations
Comparative analysis of "good" and "bad" examples
Copyright infringement or plagiarism

Our experienced poets are kept up-to-date with the latest web content and have developed techniques for unraveling complicated formulations.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


My hope for philosophy has always been that it could provide an elucidation of some ordinary experience. In Kant, the need for such an elucidation can be seen at least here: "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). When we think a thing is round, we subsume an object under the concept of a circle.

But there is a hitch. What is the concept of a circle? Well, it is line whose every point is the same distance from another point. The length of that line is famously incommensurable with the distance from its center. The ratio of the radius to the circumference, which Kant in his own notes estimated to be 6, is actually the irrational number 2pi. So what does it mean to think something is round?

A real plate, a thing in the world, cannot be "perfectly round" (truly circular). We do not think its likeness with a geometrical figure. Rather, we imagine it spinning on the potter's wheel. (More generally, we imagine a wheel.) Such a wheel will always have a slight wobble. It will have an axel with a determinate width and there will be a small space between the axel and the hub. It is for that reason that the circumference and the radius can rationally coexist.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Conceptual Notation

"You can write history by tracing ideas, exposing the growth of a concept," said Ezra Pound (GK, p. 60). It's not a terribly original idea. But you have to grasp a concept as such (and not another thing) in order to do this well. To this end, I propose "conceptual notation", borrowing the phrase from Frege, but reading it very much through the later Wittgenstein.

And developing along lines suggested by Albers. I'm trying to get a hold of a book about his work called simply, To Open Eyes. Well, my aim is just as simply to open minds. Albers was able to show us how colours work. Eyes give us access to colour. Minds give us access to concepts. Eyes see colours; minds grasp concepts. They are the means by which we notice them. We then write down what we notice.

Conceptual notation is a technique of kulchural studies.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Monetary Kulchur

"and the light became so bright and so blindin' in this layer of paradise that the mind of man was bewildered."

Ezra Pound, Canto XXXVIII

"Since the 1980s," Richard Cook tells us, "every U.S. economic expansion has been nothing more than a Federal Reserve-created asset inflation." Eric Janszen reaches a similar conclusion about so-called "financial bubbles", which he prefers to describe as periods of "asset-price hyperinflation". The basic idea is that government and business get together to create financial instruments to artificially inflate the price of assets in a particular industry (information technology and housing being the most recent, energy is next, it seems). It's all very Poundian. Janszen seems a bit accepting of the whole affair and doesn't make much of the extraction of profit; Cook, however, cites Major C.H. Douglas and everything. Here at the Kulchural Studies Revival Center we follow such ideas with interest.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Style and Symbol

Recent developments in Denmark suggest another thesis of kulchural studies. The Social Democrats now propose to outlaw "religious dress" in the public sector. Their argument is that a clear indication of one's religious beliefs will undermine the public's faith in the "professional" commitment of the civil servant.

In an interview in the major left-leaning daily, a midwife (who would be affected by the proposed law ... not yet even a bill, it should be noted) asks, "What's next? We'll have to go topless at the pool?" Perhaps she reads the Pangrammaticon? While the interviewer refuses to grant that it's a similar situation, she really hits the nail on the head here.

Here's the promised thesis of kulchural studies:

The fall of Western Civilization is the history of style supplanted by symbolism or (for those who think that is too stylish a way of putting it and need a symbol to hold on to) the subjugation of practice to theory.

Those who would outlaw the hijab insist that it is a mere symbol. This is probably because, raised as a faithful Lutherans, they understand God merely as a metaphysical assertion (a "faith alone"), not a set of practical constraints, i.e., a guide to living. A religious artifact, to them, is always, and only, a symbol. They simply cannot get their mind around a religiously motivated practice. They have no sense of the problem of winning and losing one's soul.

They have, in short, no sense of style. They are not interested in how an experience feels; instead, they immediately reduce it to the simpler question of what it might mean.

In this case, the relevant practice and feeling, most notably the wearing of a headscarf, can be translated by the simple English word "modesty". My wife and I have been struggling to find a good Danish equivalent. It's actually not easy; to avoid a directly moral notion like "decency" (anstændighed) one reaches for the somewhat old-fashioned "seemly" (sømmelig). The language may already be incapable of expressing the terms of this problem.

Hijab, as I understand it, can refer both to the headscarf itself and the modesty it achieves. I intentionally say "achieves", not "implies", because there is no doubt that, while they can certainly be beautiful, women who wear this garment are less likely to be directly attractive. Maybe it's different for you, but I generally feel less ashamed of my own impulses in their company than in the company of typical "Western" woman.

("American woman ... get away from meee heee ..." etc.)

Critics of hijab focus on what they think is the purely symbolic effect of the scarf. But the scarf actually covers something. In so doing it also emphasizes (or demands) a particular sincerity of facial expression. It is a fashion statement: a style. And it has obvious moral effects. What should the State's position be on the strength of a woman's desire to exhibit her hair in public? Kulchural studies of course articulates that question as a straightforward absurdity.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Like most people, I was more revolutionary when I was young. Today, I have centred my indignation on a simple proposition: some people make way too much money compared to others.

I do think a system of incentives is necessary. People who do their jobs well should be rewarded with a few luxuries. What one must object to, however, is a society that rewards even dubious hacks for choosing particular professions while letting recognized masters of other arts scrape by.

"Should the richest man in a town amass ten times more, even fifty times more, [than the poorest man,] it is not hard to conceive of a decent society," said Norman Mailer. "When you get to the point where you're speaking of thousands to one, something outrageous is taking place." What that something outrageous is might be gleaned from the title of the book that this idea appears in: Why Are We at War? The answer, of course, is: in order to keep it well over a thousand to one.

Something outrageous is taking place. But there is something a bit quaint about Mailer's suggestion that America (this fictional little town) "got to the point" where it was a thousand to one. It's been a thousand to one for 10,000 years. It was a thousand to one in ancient Egypt and in Imperial Rome and in the British Empire.

'The world would be a better place...' pretty straighforwardly if it were impossible to be rewarded 50 times more than anybody else for one's efforts. It would be more than enough to ensure that people made an effort. In fact, it might ensure that only one's real efforts were rewarded. So say I on this first of May.