Monday, April 15, 2013

Frühjahr und Alles was der Fall ist

We don't yet know what the body can do, Spinoza taught us. That's why we need ethics. Why do we need epistemology? Because we don't yet master what the body can see.

That's a rather neat pangrammatical analogy. (The body has no analogue or supplement. The body is the mind/heart, the eye/hand.)

We are dominated by totalities. To resist, Williams and Wittgenstein teach us to begin with our own experience, with what we find lying around in plain view. Pound said the poet must "build us his world". He said we should approach the world "in periplum".

Stil there is, clearly, an "everything" out there. There is an "everyone". But, as Pound said, the "total man" has found out for himself all he knows about metaphysics. That is, even our knowledge of totalities is situated in elemental experiences.

"In the composition, the artist does exactly what every eye must do with life, fix the particular with the universality of his own personality" (S&A, p. 27).

I would add "what every hand must see".

Yesterday a question came to me. Does composition teach composure? Does the artist who composes daily in writing find composure in life? The balance of historical and biographical evidence would not suggest so. But, then again, we don't know what life the artist would have led without art.

What is it that is to be composed? Always an arrangement of fact (a reality) coordinated with a subject (the body). Or an arrangement of acts (an ideality) coordinated with an object (the body).

What every hand sees in life as it fixes the universal with the particularity of its own thinghood.

There is a visual field, a field of perception, which is of interest to epistemologists. There is a manual field, a field of action. Here we need an ethics.

The inexorable subjectivity of practical life. And the objectivity of theory.

The poem notes down the emotions that inform the practice.

The totalities are represented (but how?). Poetry and philosophy begin with what is present. Out of this we can build our ethics and our epistemologies. (Pound: "the arts provide the data for ethics".)

The artist ... and both the philosopher and the poet is an artist ... notices facts and acts and brings them into an arrangement in his notes. This is all there is to composition.


Andrew Shields said...
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Andrew Shields said...

The arts provide the data for ethics but the arts are not themselves ethical.

What provides the data for epistemologies?

Thomas said...

The craft provides data for epistemology. It is not itself epistemelogical.

(There's an imperfect sense in which craft is to philosophy what art is to poetry. But it would be fine to say that art also provides the "given" of epistemology. I think David Hockney would agree.)

Andrew Shields said...

And Gerhard Richter? :-)

Thomas said...

I don't know much of his work. Do you have anything in particular in mind?

In the case of Hockney, I'm thinking of the way his paintings get us to think about perception and its object.

j. said...

why are we dominated by totalities? my first thought was, because when we imagine them, we… find it difficult to imagine or perceive or remain mindful of whatever there might be that escapes the totality as we have imagined it (i.e. reality)?

i was just reading wordsworth's 'lyrical ballads' preface yesterday… it seems like he would modify your formula about beginning with what is present to, 'poetry begins with what was present', i.e., with recollecting what was present. (that's part of his theory of composition, i guess: his account of the way in which a poet plays a role in producing poetry from the materials of daily life in proximity to nature. and for him it does seem to be a practice, a meditative one, in which the composure of the poet is crucial.)

Thomas said...

I'll write a post on totalities tomorrow.

It does seem like there's a shift from Wordsworth to Williams' toward "the present moment", i.e., from what WAS to what IS present. But I don't think Williams' "imagination" ignores memory.

"to write down that which happens at that time" (S&A, p. 48)

Williams is reflecting on impression had while driving (XI: "In passing with my mind/on nothing in the world//but the right of way/
I enjoy on the road...")

Presumably he is not writing while driving, but "recollecting in tranquillity" at some later time. Williams is interested in "perfect[ing] the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the imagination gives" (p. 48, an almost Kantian formulation!). That "moment" may not be simultaneous with the impressions that the poet records, the enlargement may come after (as Wordsworth emphasizes ... it is not while sitting above Tintern Abbey, but "in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din of towns and cities" that the poetry comes).

Williams wants to be "released from observing things for the purpose of writing them down later"; he wants to "enjoy, ... taste, ... engage the free world" (p. 50).

He trusts that his imagination will be able to make use of this experience for writing poems later. Poems that do not "represent" that experience, but are themselves present in the experience of the reader at the time of reading. Are themselves experiences to enjoy, taste, engage with.

I think that's a lot like Wordsworth's description of the process (which I will now have to resolve to reread!)