Friday, June 29, 2012


Philosophy extricates "it" from the world of science and makes it "mine". Poetry extricates "us" from our political history and makes us "me". This amounts to extricating the concept of the thing and the emotion of the person respectively.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Personal, Possessive

We might say that while poetry is "personal", philosophy is "possessive". Both virtues can be corrupted into vices, of course.

To Have and to Want

In its reflection upon what is "in each case mine", philosophy helps us to appropriate what we already have. It is always already ours, we might say, but we need to make it our own. This entity that is ours to begin with but yet in need of our appropriation is called existence, i.e., Dasein. Here, then, is one sense we can give to Heidegger's "event of appropriation" (Ereignis), i.e., the experience of making the world one's own. (Which, as I have said before, amounts to doing one's own thing.) Philosophy is interested in how we appropriate our existence.

Poetry has a complementary mission. It cultivates inspiration not existence (duende not Dasein) and its theme is therefore not what I have, i.e., what is mine, but who I am or, more accurately, who I may become. If there is something tautological, unnecessary, or even wholly futile, about appropriating something you already own, i.e., taking ownership of your property, then in poetry a different kind of futility rules. Here, we must renounce (or disown) something we will always lack, i.e., we must refuse something we will never have.

Philosophy always seeks the occasion for the event of appropriation, the moment when we can make things our own, take what is given. Poetry, by contrast, is the recusal of ownership—it acknowledges the duende as the true owner (the dueño). The poet gives himself to what he is taken with. The mind of a philosopher-poet is therefore a strange place ... in a strange time. It finds its composure at the very point where its clarity about what is mine is balanced against the intensity of who I want to become.

It is not altogether wrong to interpret "want" here as "need" or "lack", but the poetic recusal is precisely the act of doing without that which I do not have, so that I may become that which I am destined to be.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


"It" is to science as "we" is to politics. "Mine" is to philosophy as "I" is to poetry.

When philosophy asks the fundamental question "What is it?" it is really asking "How is it mine?" (We owe this insight to Heidegger: the entity to be analyzed is "in each case mine", je meines.) The "objects" of our scientific theories do not belong to us, but the things we experience are ours before we discover a single scientific fact.

Poetry, likewise, traces the fundamental question of who we are becoming back to the question of how I got here. We do not become the "subjects" of our political practices, but the people of our experience are themselves before we decide upon a single political act.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Insubordination of the Flesh

"Pleasure is preceded by a certain appetite which is felt in the flesh like a craving, as hunger and thirst and that generative appetite which is most commonly identified with the name lust, though this is the generic word for all desires." (Augustine)

I've always had great respect for Catholic moral psychology, though not much love for Catholic ethics. So, for example, I agree about the mechanics of "proximate occasions" of sin, but not that we should avoid such occasions. This does not mean I think we should sin, but that we should be open to the situations where sin, and therefore virtue, is possible.

I have a feeling that Augustine's views on lust and pleasure have to be part of my own canon on this subject (they are of course just part of the the canon on the subject.) I've said that pleasure is the immediate satisfaction of desire in the act, unmediated by an emotion (intellectual pleasure is the immediate satisfaction of belief in the fact, unmediated by a concept). But I have also argued, following Kierkegaard, that this still requires an "image", which just is the immediate presence of the act (or fact) in experience.

Augustine does not (at least here) mention the important work of the imagination in shaping and indeed civilizing (or humanizing) lust. Pleasure is not just the satisfaction of a "craving". It requires the formation of an image (the passage from craving to imagining) and it is here that our "spiritual" lives begin. What Pound described as "a form of stupidity not limited to Europe, that is, idiotic asceticism and a belief that the body is evil", is this substitution of the idea that images arise in the human body with the notion that man is created in the image of God. After the fall, the body is construed as merely "insubordinate". Spinoza was very right to suggest that "we don't yet know what the body can do." And to make this the basis of sane ethical inquiry.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Image, Structure, Texture

In his "Diapsalmata", Kierkegaard tells us that real pleasure is owed to the image. It is not the feeling of pleasure that is truly pleasurable but the correspondence between the act and the image. (He doesn't develop the idea, but it seems to me that this is the right approach to "feeling". Pleasure isn't really a feeling because it is the feeling of a successful action. Feelings, as normally understood, are the result of failed or deferred actions.) Real pleasure, Kierkegaard tells us, does not come from merely drinking the finest wines, but from "getting what I want", even if it is, at the moment, a glass of water. That is, one has to have an image of the source of pleasure before the feeling (of pleasure, which, like I say, is "more than a feeling", as a song goes) is possible.

But I hear the fair lady sigh that real pleasure cannot be anticipated, must come (at least sometimes) unexpectedly, must be "without structure", or some such bohemian idea. An image, she might say, is always a structure, and structures are always to be avoided. Well, I would argue that the image is not quite a structure. We can lift an image from an appearance and impress it on a surface, in both cases without any effort. The appearance has structure and the surface has texture. (The appearance of, the surface of.) But the image is suspended between the structure of the appearance and the texture of the surface. It presents what is is represented in them, indifferently.

Pleasure is felt when what is done and what is seen is exactly as it had been imagined, or perhaps as it will be imagined afterwards (which is a useful notion to meet our fair lady's objection halfway, since now pleasure is possible even in the absence of a prior act of imagination). Either way, pleasure is not "felt", because it is the direct realization of the image in action, without any intervening emotion. It is the perfect ecstasy of being liberated from feeling. It is the moment when the structure of experience is in complete harmony with its texture. When the surface is the appearance. When the act is the fact.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A Specious Coincidence?

In 1972, the same year that the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, Leonard Cohen published The Energy of Slaves. Just noting. (Cf. "The Heart's Content".)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Four Imperatives

Know the object.
Understand the concept.
Master the subject.
Obey the emotion.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Energy of Slaves

I found Leonard Cohen's The Energy of Slaves in a used bookstore the other day, and I've been enjoying it a lot. In many ways, it is a perfect illustration of my poetics. "It is the task of the poem to detach an experience from its politics," I have said. "To extricate it from history. By this means, the poet locates the emotion." And my example was very Cohenesque: A woman's beauty is intensely political. If the poet is to write a poem "to her beauty", his task is to free, e.g., her lips from the policy that governs her face. The Energy of Slaves offers a number of poems that, though often less politely, accomplish this task. And often more politically, I suppose. Sometimes it does not even involve a woman.

Consider poem #92 (here with simplified lineation):

The killers that run
the other countries
are trying to get us
to overthrow the killers
that run our own
I for one
prefer the rule
of our native killers
I am convinced
the foreign killer
will kill more of us
than the old familiar killer does
Frankly I don't believe
anyone out there
really wants us to solve
our social problems
I base this all on how I feel
about the man next door
I just hope he doesn't
get any uglier
Therefore I am a patriot
I don't like to see
a burning flag
because it excites
the killers on either side
to unfortunate excess
which goes on gaily
quite unchecked
until everyone is dead

Elsewhere (poem #107), he says that "Layton was wrong/ about the war," but "right/ about beauty and death". Irving Layton published a collection of prose five years later called Taking Sides, in which he really is outrageously wrong about number of things. Cohen here (in poem #92) resolutely refuses to take sides. Today, of course, it would be more accurate to invert the force of the poem's neutrality: Today, the killers that run our countries are more eagerly trying to overthrow the killers that run the other countries than they are trying to overthrow ours. I suppose that was actually true also 1972, but perhaps it was too novel an idea to be useful in a poem.

In any case, what I'm really interested in is that line about his neighbor. The renunciation of all political allegiance and all faith in the proponents of social progress on the basis of "how I feel about the man next door" is exactly what a poem is supposed to do. This one is working from the (foreign) policy inwards. Others work from the (domestic) situation outwards. I'll write something about that later.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Immanent Doctrine of Totality (3)

The effect of a subject on the faculty of representation, so far as stuff is affected by it, is motivation. That institution which is in position before the subject through motivation, is called normative. The undetermined subject of a normative institution is called surface.

That on a surface which corresponds to motivation I call its society; but that which so determines the manifold of surfaces that it allows of being ordered in certain positions I call the temper of the surface. That in which alone motivations can be related and ordered in a certain temper, cannot itself be motivation; and therefore, while the matter of all surface is taken from us a priori, only its temper must lie ready for the motivations a posteriori in the heart, and so must allow of being considered apart from all motivation.

The Immanent Doctrine of Totality (2)

But institution holds sway only in so far as the subject is taken with stuff. This again is only necessary in so far as the heart is effective in a certain way. The capacity to transmit representations through the way stuff affects subjects is called motility. Subjects are taken with stuff for the sake of motility, and it alone yields institutions; they are felt through obedience and from obedience arise emotions. But all feeling must directly or indirectly, by way of certain marks, pose originally in institutions, and therefore in motility, because in no other way can subjects be taken with stuff.

The Immanent Doctrine of Totality (1)

By whatever art and through whatever media mastery may pose subjects, institution is that through which it poses them immediately, and from which all feeling as medium flows.


Part I of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, "The Transcendental Doctrine of Elements" begins (in Norman Kemp Smith's translation) with the sentence, "In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed." In transposing it here for pangrammatical purposes, I have tried to preserve the association of the German "Mittel" (Smith's "means") and "unmittelbar" (Smith's "immediate"), while also availing myself of a pun on the German "Art", which Smith correctly renders as "manner". By talking about "art and media" instead of "manner and means" some useful associations in the context of "institutions" are hopefully evoked. Immanence is to power as transcendence is to knowledge but I will not coin something as barbarous as "immanental" in an attempt to preserve the analogy.

Elements are to knowledge as the totality is to power. This will be important later on, as you might imagine.

It is entirely correct, as the reader suspects, that I'm going to be building, sentence by sentence, a Critique of Raw Passion, which is a poetics, just as Kant's Critique is an account of what philosophy is. For perhaps obvious reasons, where Kant discovered a limit to philosophical speculation, I will decide in favor of the freedom of poetic manipulation.