Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Correcting Williams

"No ideas but in things" is perhaps the most famous statement of any poetics. (Only Pound's "make it new" is more succinct, but it is also less specific.) Pangrammatically speaking, however, it is imprecise. Poetry is to people what philosophy is to things. Williams gets the connection between poetry and ideas right (philosophers are mistaken to think ideas constitute their domain, though concepts, of course, do). But the slogan must either read "No realities but around things" or "No ideas but in people".

The original slogan is of course taken from the first book of Paterson, which was supposed to be about "the resemblance between the mind of modern man and a city" (xiii). His method, then, would be to describe the ideas in this mind by describing the things in that city. But a method is not, in and of itself, a poetics. Williams was not actually writing down the things he saw; he was writing down the ideas in his mind. Paterson is not so much a place in the world as a way through history. As he would also put it, much more simply, "Paterson is a man".

In a related matter, making is to poetry what taking is to philosophy. Philosophy studies the given while poetry polices our striving. (Striving is to power what giving is to knowledge. A study is to knowledge what a policy is to power.) If poetry, then, is to make it new, i.e., direct us to the end of history, let philosophy take us back, i.e., direct us to the origin of the world. Poetry is a crisis of desire, philosophy a crisis of belief.

7 comments:

Iain said...

not sure if I'm just talking past some of the things here, but I thought your post was very interesting and it made me want to flesh out some of my own ideas about the Williams mantra.

Presskorn said...

Question somewhat unrelated to the post, but of general relevance to ’The Pangrammaticon’:

What really sets your propositions off as ‘homologies’ rather than ‘analogies’?

Aristotle in Topics calls this an analogy: “Knowledge is to the object of knowledge as sensation is to the object of sensation.”

And Kant in Prolegomena calls this an analogy: “The welfare of children is to the love of parents as the welfare of humans is to the love of God.”

And presumably you would for instance call this a homology: “Science is to intuition what politics is to institution.”

I know the standard dictionary entry stating that analogies goes content, while homologies goes to form – and the standard examples saying for instance that “wings” are homologues of “arms”, but not analogies of “arms” - but I am a bit uncertain as to how to apply this distinction in these cases. I seem to be missing the relevant clue?

Thomas Basbøll said...

, I've definitely had the content/form distinction in mind.

Take a standard pangrammatical homology:

Knowlegde is to scientists as power is to politicians.

Now, there are probably a number of interesting analogies between the work of scientists and that of politicians. And these do sometimes inspire me. But what I am interested in is the moment when through a kind of poetico-philosophical "thickening" (Dichtung) these analogies become formal correspondences.

For example, there is nothing very analogous about laboratories and parliaments. But they are, I submit, grammatically homologous qua knowledge/power.

Presskorn said...

Hmmm, yes, helpful. Though it'd be interesting to hear your take on why Aristotle and Kant's examples are definitely NOT homologies.(This question still strikes me as slightly different from the question of why they are analogies - logically, of course, this is in confusion. But that's just the thing about confusions; they are seldomly logical.)

Presskorn said...

Or to spell out the self-centred concern that is the cause of my interest in this question:

I’ve been thinking about what the heck it is that I’ve been doing in my dissertation and by applying Weick’s principles of retrospective sensemaking (kidding, of course!) I’ve arrived at the conclusion that some of it might be summed up by saying: Norms are to action what rules are to practice. And rules are to practice what apparatuses are to history.

This sort of thing, of course, only makes sense after we realize that (Wittgensteinian) rules and (Foucauldian) apparatuses are not the sort of rigid things that we might imagine them to be.

Now, I don’t intend such statements to be pangrammatical nor even grammatical; they are, as it were, substantial.

Now, “Norms are to actions what rules are to practice.” strikes me as an analogy. While “Rules are to practice what apparatuses are to history.” strikes me as an homology proper.

Wouldn’t you, prima facie, agree?

Thomas Basbøll said...

"Rules are to practice what apparatuses are to history" is certainly not a pangrammatical homology. But I suppose the question is whether it captures a formal likeness. If apparatuses are rule-totalities (aggregations of regulations) then they condition historical events "just as" rules condition practical events. The formal likeness obtains in so far as histories are aggregations of practices. History (the whole shebang!), then, would aggregate the totality of practices. I would agree with that.

Laura Carter said...

I very much agree. Great post.