Monday, April 29, 2013
"You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music."
I read Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-lighted Place" for the first time after running into it in William Barrett's Irrational Man, where it is described as "a vision of Nothing that is perhaps as powerful as any in modem art". Here's a sample of Papa's vision:
What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was all nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who are in nada, nada be thy name... [etc.]
Barrett rightly says that this "encounter with Nothingness" defines modern art, and perhaps modern life. I, too, feel the pull of this urge towards something clean, something orderly. With nothing, Nothing, at the center.
It's interesting to note the similarity between this waiter who "lives in it", i.e., nothingness, with self-awareness, and the gurus of the East. Sectarian disputes to the side, it is in the discovery that there is finally nothing and that I am finally no one that moksha is achieved.
But I am committed to a different path, that of "immanence", in which the experience of nothingness, by way of which transcendence (it is said) can be achieved, is forever denied. (Perhaps I'm just not meditating hard enough, of course!) In my "metaphysics", there is no question of why there is something rather than nothing, only why not something else. In my "anthropology" there is no question of why I am someone rather than no one, only why not someone else.
That is, I am pulled towards the "nothing", but always find some-one there. I am pulled toward the "no one", and some thing blocks my way. I can escape existence but only by way of inspiration; I can cease to be only by becoming.
I don't believe it is nobler to suffer in the mind than to take up arms.
I think modern art forgot this. I think it assumed that there was nothing to do, only so much to see, and this seeing without doing (think of Hemingway's gang in Paris), ultimately produced that "vision of nothingness" that Barrett identified. Some of course accepted it, almost like sages, and found themselves a clean, well-lighted place, an orderly space around their emptiness. Others sought adventure (think now of Hemingway in Africa), nothing became anything, and they themselves became anyone.
We're still modern in that sense I suppose.
What is the pangrammatical supplement of cleanliness and light? Well, intensity is to poetry what clarity is to philosophy. Light is to the mind what tension is to the heart. [Note: shine and pulse, flicker and flutter, illumination and palpitation.]* Since time is to history what space is to the world, we need, not a place (in space), but a moment (in time), a now, not a here.
You want music now. Certainly you want music.
When you tighten the lyre's string, giving it tension, it becomes sharp. Sharpness is to poetry what cleanliness is to philosophy, let us say. A sharp, tense moment? How about this: a sharp, well-tempered instant? The duration of the "moment" is simply "tuned" into a "temper", leaving only its "edge", if you will.
It's the modernist fantasy of perceptions always enjoyed in good light in a clean space, and actions always cutting (cleanly, I suppose) with a sharp edge. It's all about precision. But it's all for naught, of course, for nothing and for no one.
The possibility I'm exploring, which is at once philosophical and poetic, is that the alternative to somethingness is not nothingness but always, for all practical purposes, someoneness. And vice versa. The mystic, the guru, achieves enlightenment by first seeking isolation, encountering nothing only when there's no one else around.
*Update: I originally promised to write another post on Beckett's "mess", but never really got there. Also, I'm no longer sure about the light/tension analogy. Adding the other pairs, I'm thinking light/rhythm might be better. The would mean that light is to seeing as rhythm is to doing.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
If the basic question of metaphysics is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" then the basic question of anthropology is "Why am I someone rather than no one?"
From the first question we can derive an ontological one: "What are all these things?" From the second we get an ethnographic one: "Who are all these people?"
In both cases, the answer to the first lies in the second. You are someone and not no one because of the culture of the people around you. There is something rather than nothing because of the nature of things.
There is the world of things and the history of peoples.
But the "nothing" and "no one" indicates a radical alternative to how things and people are, what and who they are: that they could be nothing and no one at all.
If the soul is "not" a thing, then it becomes something im-material. If animals are "not" people, they become anti-social.
There is no escape from the world of things except into the history of people. And vice versa. It is not possible that there could be nothing, nor no one.
There is no escape from existence except into inspiration. And vice versa.
We cannot transcend our existence. But we can be inspired.
This is immanence. Always partly learning what you are and who you should become.
"...the subtle link that joins the five senses to what is core to the living flesh, the living cloud, the living ocean of love liberated from time." (Lorca)
I just stumbled on Ramana Maharshi's method of "self-inquiry". Listening to Ram Dass's explanation of the method (which I found on You Tube), I was struck by what he calls "the five organs of motion". It reminded me of a question I asked (and tried to answer) last year. Are there five discrete motives just as there are five discrete senses?
Ramana appears* to have taught a method by which you gradually realize that you are not your body and not your mind either. You go through the "organs of perception" (the senses) and the organs of motion (what I call, perhaps a bit clumsily, "motives") one at a time. The senses are, of course, sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, and the relevant organs are, just as obviously, eyes, ears, tongue (sometimes this is "mouth"), nose, and skin.
Now, Ramana teaches that the organs of motion are the hands, feet, tongue (sometimes this is "throat"), sphincter and genitalia. My attempt to itemize the motives was speech, song, impulse (pushing/pulling), grasp (holding), and locomotion (moving around). I wasn't quite happy with it at the time (especially the idea of distinguishing song from speech at this level.) Ramana's organs give me another approach.
(pushing can be understood as the combination of holding and moving)
I like this way of analyzing the body. Remember that (in the Pangrammaticon) the senses are organized around the "mind", and the motives are organized around the "heart". Ramana's method moves on to the autonomic functions: "I am not the five internal organs: the organs of respiration, digestion, excretion, circulation, perspiration." It seems to me that before getting to the "thought" that must be denied at the end, one might say, "I am not this heart. I am not this mind. Or, perhaps that is precisely what I would deny.
I am not sure that I believe in the "I-I", the realization that I am nothing. I believe in a kind of samadhi that is perhaps worldless but nonetheless articulate. Parts joined together in a system.
*Appearances can be deceiving. It seems Dass was merely propagating a standard misconception about Ramana's method. (This is what happens when you try to glean an understanding of spirituality from the internet!). Apparently (!) what I'm talking about here is the "neti neti" method of self-inquiry, which Ramana rejected.
[Update: but much of it can be found in his Who Am I?:
'Who am I?' The physical body, composed of the seven dhatus, is not 'I'. The five sense organs… and the five types of perception known through the senses… are not 'I'. The five parts of the body which act… and their functions… are not 'I'. The five vital airs such as prana, which perform the five vital functions such as respiration, are not 'I'. Even the mind that thinks is not 'I'. In the state of deep sleep vishaya vasanas remain. Devoid of sensory knowledge and activity, even this [state] is not 'I'. After negating all of the above as 'not I, not I', the knowledge that alone remains is itself 'I'. The nature of knowledge is sat-chit-ananda [being-consciousness-bliss].
[Note: "The five parts of the body that act are the mouth, the legs, the hands, the anus, and the genitals and their functions are speaking, walking, giving, excreting and enjoying."]]
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
There's an age-old tension between mysticism and scholarship. The mystic believes that he can understand existence (and obey inspiration) by himself. That he does not need to learn anything about it by reading books. He simply needs to discover (and decide) what his body can (and may) do (and, dammit, see ... sometimes pangrammatical composure is a pedantic nuissance!).
The scholar would have you learn Sanskrit to study dharma, German to study Dasein, Spanish to study duende. The mystic would have you seek the answers within yourself. You would simply study your own existence.
There's something odd about presuming to actually face "the problem of existence" directly, in one's own case. I think the scholar assumes that the problem of existence has been solved in his own case, but that it is interesting to investigate in the case of others (Buddha, Heidegger, Lorca ... a strange list, I know). The mystic feels the need to face it himself.
The "guru" differs from "the professor" in that the guru's authority derives from a personal journey of enlightenment. The scholar does not pretend to "be enlightened", but is nonetheless able to transmit the insight contained in a particular tradition.
Lorca and Heidegger are hybrids. On the one hand, they practice arts (poetry, philosophy) that have an authoritative tradition, one that they have clearly mastered and respect. On the other, they seem (and are often read) as having some special access to the profound mystery at the bottom of everything.
We read them as though they lived their lives somehow closer to their being and becoming, their existence and their inspiration. Not just as men who read a lot of books.
Compare Williams and Wittgenstein, whose art of suffering lay in their eschewal of both mysticism and scholarship. Perhaps their mysticism was simply more thorough?
Friday, April 19, 2013
Here [defining "imagination"] Kant uses both large type and extra spacing for emphasis. (Footnote on p. 256 of Guyer and Wood's translation of the Critique of Pure Reason.)
[Demuth tell us] that design is function of the IMAGINATION, describing its movements, its colors (William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, p. 16).
Williams uses this device for emphasis in several places. What does he emphasize?
Meanwhile, SPRING, which has been approaching for several pages, is at last here. (16)
..in great works of the imagination A CREATIVE FORCE IS SHOWN AT WORK MAKING OBJECTS WHICH ALONE COMPLETE SCIENCE AND ALLOW INTELLIGENCE TO SURVIVE... (37)
It lives as pictures only can: by their power TO ESCAPE ILLUSION... (38)
[Shakespeare's] actual power was PURELY of the imagination. ... his buoyancy of imagination raised him NOT TO COPY [his fellows] ... (53)
The primitives are not back in some remote age — the are not BEHIND experience. (68)
That is: life is absolutely simple. In every civilized society everyone should know EVERYTHING there is to know about life at once and always. There should never be permitted, confusion — (76)
There's more, but I'll leave it there.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
"Imagination is the faculty for representing an object
even without its presence in intuition." (Kant)
Last year I was working on the "immanent doctrine of totality". It's an old project of mine. J.'s question about totalities has forced me back to it. That's a good thing, of course.
The basic idea is that Kant's philosophy needs to be balanced with an equal and opposite poetics. His "transcendental doctrine of elements" needs a "pangrammatical supplement", and that's just the immanent program of totality. (I like that analogy—a program is to power what a doctrine [Lehre] is to knowledge—which occurred to me when thinking about Williams and Wittgenstein earlier this month.)
Remember that imagination is pangrammatically analogous only to itself. It's "in the middle" between the "the media of immediacy", i.e., intuitions and institutions. The image belongs to neither philosophy nor poetry. This means that imagination is also the faculty for representing a subject even without its presence in institution. Let's try now to translate the following passage from Kant Critique of Pure Reason, specifically, a sentence from §24 of the "Transcendental Doctrine of Elemements", into the terms of the immanent program of totality. Here's Kant (in Guyer and Wood's translation), which follows immediately the definition of imagination I've quoted in the epigraph:
Now since all of our intuition is sensible, the imagination, on account of the subjective conditions under which alone it can give a corresponding intuition to the concepts of understanding, belongs to sensibility; but insofar as its synthesis is still an exercise of spontaneity, which is determining and not, like sense, merely determinable, and can thus determine the form of sense a priori in accordance with the unity of apperception, the imagination is to this extent a faculty for determining the sensibility a priori, and its synthesis of intuitions, in accordance with the categories, must be the transcendental synthesis of the imagination, which is an effect of the understanding on sensibility and its first application (and at the same time the ground of all others) to objects of the intuition that is possible for us. (KRV B151-2)
I won't here explain how it's done (I'm sure it's largely obvious), but here's a draft of the analogous passage in the Crisis of Raw Passion:
Now since all institutions motivate, the imagination, on account of the objective conditions under which alone it can take a corresponding institution for the emotions of obedience, belongs to motivation; but insofar as its analysis is still an exercise of discipline, which is determining and not, like motive, merely determinable, and can thus determine the content of motive a posteriori in accordance with the multiplicity of apperception, the imagination is to this extent a faculty for determining motivations a posteriori, and its analysis of institutions, in accordance with the dispositions, must be the immanent analysis of the imagination, which is a cause of obedience to motivation and its first application (and at the same time the ground of all others) to subjects of institution that is necessary for stuff.
I promise you there is method in that madness, albeit no doubt along with a few imprecisions and errors. I'll try to explain in another post.
Monday, April 15, 2013
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.
Friday, April 12, 2013
The poetical supplement of Wittgenstein's Tractatus would begin "History is everything that happens." (Sometimes I think it should begin with something funnier, like "History is everyone who's on my case." This has the virtue of correctly transposing "everything" into "everyone", i.e., things into persons.) Meanwhile, the "secret project" of Chapter 19 (pp. 4-6) in Spring in All, a "final and self inflicted holocaust" (remember this is published in 1923), "the annihilation of every human creature on the face of the earth", marks the historical moment of Williams' poetical imagination. Now, compare:
Houses crumble to ruin, cities disappear giving place to mounds of soil blown thither by the winds, small bushes and grass give way to trees which grow old and are succeeded by other trees for countless generations. A marvelous serenity broken only by bird and wild beast calls reigns over the entire sphere. Order and peace abound.
...There, soul of souls, watching its own horrid unity, it boils and digests itself within the tissues of the great Being of Eternity that we shall then have become. (S&A, p. 6)
Here it can be seen that solipsism, when its implications are followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism. The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension, and there remains the reality coordinated with it. (T5.64)
Wittgenstein is not defending solipsism. In the Investigations he explicitly pushes back against the view presented here. And Williams is not, of course, proposing a glorious holocaust of humanity! He is rejecting History (with a capital H) as the situation of poetry and proposing imagination instead. When Wittgenstein later rejects his point of departure, "the world", in favor of a much more local situation ("this lamp", "this tree") he is learning Williams' lesson: "no ideas but in things". (Though as I've argued before this, too, can be made more pangrammatically precise.) We must begin with actual pictures of actual facts.
Philosophy must reject a radical solipsism in order to avoid its implication: an inhumanly "real" world comprising "everything that is the case". Poetry, meanwhile, must reject the idealism of each person's solidarity with all human beings. (History is everyone that's on my case, indeed!) Such idealism is at once revolutionary and suicidal. Williams' nightmare vision of a "final solution" is apt.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Williams published Spring and All in 1923, one year after what C.D. Wright, in her introduction to the 2011 New Directions re-issue, calls the "head blow" of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: "Now he knew what he was opposing" (p. viii). On her list of work that was published in 1922, one modernist classic is conspicuous by its absence: Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Having read and re-read that book for many years, when I finally got around to Spring and All, in the winter and spring of 2013, the latter seemed like a carefully constructed "other" of the former. Indeed, there is an almost perfect sense in which the two books are pangrammatical supplements.
We can begin with the surface features. Both are small books of under a hundred modest pages. And both books challenge the distinction between prose and, let us say, verse. I would argue they radically enforce the distinction between poetry and philosophy, however, even though they bring each right up to the other.
This only marks the difference more clearly. Where Wittgenstein says that the value of his book lies the fact that "thoughts are expressed in it", Williams could have established the value of his book in its expression of feelings. If we are in the presence of someone who has thought a great deal in the Tractatus, and very precisely, we are in the presence of someone who has "felt something through", if you will, in Spring and All.
Even the organization of the two books are poetico-philosophical mirror images of each other. Wittgenstein's book is ostensibly ordered in rigorously number of propositions that situate them into a clear hierarchy (1, 1.1, 1.11, 1.12, etc.) Williams, meanwhile, goes from an untitled preface to "Chapter 19", to "Chapter XIII" (which is printed upside down), then VI, then 2, then XIX, and then, on page 15, "Chapter I". It's almost as though Williams is commenting on the insistently clear logic of Wittgenstein's book with his own stubbornly intense pathos.
Finally, note the similar ways that Wittgenstein and Williams and address their reader:
Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it—or at least similar thoughts.—So it is not a textbook.—Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it. (T, preface)
To whom then am I addressed? To the imagination ... In the imagination we are from henceforth (so long as you read) locked in a fraternal embrace, the classic caress of author and reader. Whenever I say "I" I mean also "you". And so, together as one, we shall begin. (S&A, pp. 3-4)
Wittgenstein and Williams, it seems to me, arrive at the imagination by separate routes, one through thought and philosophy, the other through feeling and poetry. Once there, however, they discover the same thing, in the same sad condition.
"Philosophy is not a doctrine," said Wittgenstein, "but an activity." (T4.112) In Spring and All, I believe, we can discern Williams telling us that poetry is not a program but a facticity. More on that in my next post.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
The imagination can't save itself, I'm afraid.
Williams gives us the image of the Roman feast, where the guests eat until they can't eat any more, then throw up, and eat some more. Still, he says, "the powers of a man are so pitifully small, with the ocean to swallow" (28). A full stomach is necessary, in any case. "Having eaten, the man has released his mind" (29).
There has to be a "basis". We often don't notice how well these needs are covered, and therefore take the imagination for granted. The mind is released because the body is not anxious. (Pound talked of "freedom from worry", which any sane economy would provide to artists.)
But this also means that the imagination relies on everyday opportunities for work and play. It is an excess. Without a basis (a baseline of certainty and pleasure, let's say), there can be no imagination. There would be just the facts and our acts.
Maybe spring is precisely the promise of sufficiency in living. So the imagination stirs, ready to gorge itself on the excess.
Monday, April 01, 2013
Over the past few months, and with increasing intensity over the past few weeks, I've been feeling like something is ending, and something else is beginning. I've come very late, and very slowly, to an insight over the past ten, maybe fifteen, years. This blog has been a record of my process, as has my other blog, if from a completely different angle.
This month, both blogs will address the theme of Williams' Spring and All, which has helped me to realize what I've been doing all these years and why have not been doing a great many other things. Those other things would have been useful to me, both personally and professionally. But something else took priority. It was (and will no doubt remain) an obsession, but until recently I had not seen clearly enough what it was: the imagination.
I had long understood the importance of the image, however. I couldn't see the imagination for the images, we might say.
"I let the imagination have its own way," says Williams, "to see if it could save itself" (SA, p. 43). I've been rereading that passage again and again over the past few days. "I think often of my earlier work and what it has cost me not to have been clear" (p. 42). He talks of his "refusal" and "rejection" of "most things" (42) and of "trying to remain firm" (43). It's clear that he believes it was all necessary, all part of an unavoidable process. Nonetheless, also a kind of "hell".
And with the coming of spring...