Friday, February 25, 2005

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Memory Harness

You can use a small screw driver or paper clip
to remove the image,
inserting it into the front of the plastic harness.

Use the top of the metal frame as a guide
as you push the screwdriver into the back of the sleeping body,
then tilt it up.

This unlocks a plastic stop and allows the image
to come into view. Once you've unlocked
the spare sentiment from the harness

add 12, 16 or 18 images to the bare end
so that you have enough to run the radio wire through the controls
and up to the light connector.

After that is done connect the metal frame
to the image harness and make sure it snaps in securely.
Take the 10th or 14th image from this "memory rig"

and tap the thin solid red wire it displays.
This is the liar that controls the light.



I'm not sure how successful this is. I'm still trying to understand what I like about Lara Glenum's poems. Using
Simon's review of "The Eggs of My Amnesia" as a point of departure, I first found a poem I've called "The Wire Harness", which I've now gerrymandered a bit to give us something, I hope, more obviously "poetic" and approaching (only approaching) the Glenumesque. More to come (unless there are very many complaints).

Sunday, February 20, 2005

$500 Down on Your Old Strophe

America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece
$500 down on your old strophe
Allen Ginsberg

I want try to organize some old ideas of mine and others around more recent remarks made by Gary Norris at Dagzine and Kasey Mohammad at Lime Tree. When I started this blog, I announced it as an expression of "MFA envy", namely, that there doesn't seem much interest in teaching philosophy as a form of creative writing (or any other form of writing), i.e., as an activity rather than a body of doctrine (cf. Wittgenstein T4.112). I wish there were. So my basic project here has been to try learn from poets and critics of poetry (often the same people) whatever I can to cash in Wittgenstein's suggestion that philosophy ought to be composed in the manner of poetry. As an extension of this approach, philosophy ought to be read and criticized as one reads and criticizes poetry. Of course, this is where all the disagreements begin.

My first inclination sounded like this:

That's what's so appealing about poetry: it's got a product. We philosophers ought to approach our passing remarks in a similar fashion, commodifying what is already our fetish for thinking.

But I can see now that this is itself a somewhat controversial stance in the poetry community. I imagine that especially Gary Norris and Jay Thomas would take issue with it. But Kasey's recent post gives me a kind of hope, even if it leaves me puzzled in what is no doubt exactly the way he intended. Before I get to that, I want to take issue with the following critical principle, which, I fear, threatens to do to poetry and poetics what has always irritated me about philosophy.

Simon at Rhubarb is Susan apologizes for his critical approach at precisely the point where I feel most inclined to praise it. He notes that his intention to critique individual poems has a "disadvantage" that stems from the following claim:

[M]ost poems only make sense in the larger context of a poet's work. There are some poems that can blast themselves out of context into the consciousness of the language, but even there it is nearly impossible to understand and appriciate in any deep manner without at least some familiarity with what else is happening behind the scenes. The residue of a single poem is ephemeral.

After reading this I posted the following somewhat flarfy comment on his blog:

Great idea, this blog. I think what you call a disadvangtage, however, bears thinking about. While it is true that some poems "blast themselves" out of their context, the whole genius of web poetry is that every poem is equidistant to every other poem, and, actually, to every other sentence. In my opinion, "familiarity with what else is happening behind the scenes" is always an illusion that is affected by some critics . . . in order to bolster their authority by bolstering the authority of "the author". Not necessary now. Each poem can be easily taken out of context and criticized (attention can be drawn away from the poet and onto the poetry, as T.S. Eliot advised), and "everyone knows" that the critic does not know jack about what's happening behind the scenes anyway, and that "deep appreciation" is, well, sort of icky.

Reading Kasey's post about "Why we publish?" I get the eerie sense that the consensus out there is on Simon's side, not mine. Everybody, it seems, knows that the whole point of publishing is to make a name for yourself, i.e., establish an authorial/authoritative position, from within which to accomplish poetry. What is disturbing about Kasey's analysis of the situtation is that this accomplishment seems wholly circular, i.e., the only relevant sense of "accomplishment" seems to be "publication". (I say this knowing that this is no doubt a manifestation of the "reductively deterministic model of poetic culture" that Kasey warns against taking too seriously in his post.)

My suggestion here, and one that I like to think Flarf (especially Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot") taught me, is that web-based poetry accomplishes itself without authority. I think the central error here (which also motivates the fear of market forces) is the romantic image of "poems that can blast themselves out of context into the consciousness of the language". If they had to blast themselves out, Simon would be right and the fear of markets wholly justified. But poems, at least today, are able to install themselves in the consciousness of the language. That is, they can be determinate little machines, gadgets . . . products. They can't accomplish everything, but to expect them to do something "deeper" after first submerging them in "the larger context of a poet's work" is simply to expect too much.

I say this knowing that I'm being naive about the way markets produce personalities. But I'm working at the level of critical taste that still thinks there are a lot a brilliant, depersonalized consumer products on the market, which we overlook because they are right under our fingertips.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

How to Review the Poem You've Now Read

I found "The Wire Harness" while trying to understand why Simon over at Rhubarb is Susan finds Lara Glenum's images "strangely unimaginable". Lucidly reviewing her "Eggs of My Amnesia", he nonetheless "stumbles" over the line,

It was running radio wire through the holes in my cheeks

This is the image he can't get his kopóltuš together on. He explains:

It is the radio that destabalizes this sequence, turning one act -- one of mutiliation -- into a second -- the creation of the conditions of possibility for communication.

Simon cannot imagine what running radio wire through holes in one's cheeks is like because he associates the radio wire with radio communication. To see why this threw me, consider the following line,

He was running piano wire across the hairs on my jaw

I have exaggerated the conventionality of the image, but we are dealing with (or "spiting") a comparable "simplicity of terms". My question here is whether the piano destabilizes the sequence. Does it turn the act of execution (or perhaps extortion) into the act of creating conditions of possibility for music? My first inclination here was to think that "piano wire" and "radio wire" are grammatically equivalent. Indeed, when we Google these terms (with some added limitations) we find stuff like:

... learn routing (Programming exchanges) by physically running piano wire and jumper wire through a frame to connect switch points ...

... Running piano wire around the window always worked
for me. Use it like a saw ...

... Take the Red #940 radio wire and connect it to the radio constant hot wire ...

... do a final check of the remote radio wire and measure the ...

But closer inspection reveals that piano wire is a much more ordinary object than radio wire, which often appears only in very narrowly defined contexts. (It should be noted, however, that "radio wire" is a fully legitimate physical object. Statistics Canada assigns the Standard Industrial Classification number SIC 3381 to companies who deal in it.) So Simon was in a sense right to wonder.

His puzzlement, moreover, reminded me of the story Norman Mailer likes to tell about Picasso, namely, that he couldn't learn math for a long time because the "7" just looked like an upside down nose to him. "Radio wire" makes Simon think of a radio and communication, though I would think in most similar contexts "piano wire" would not get him thinking about a piano and music.

I'll continue on this later. Thanks to Simon for starting this off, and giving me a way of keeping my promise to Laura.

The Wire Harness*

You can use a small screw driver or paper clip
to remove the wire
by inserting it into the front of the plastic harness.

Use the top of the metal connector as a guide
as you push the screwdriver to the back of the harness,
then tilt the screwdriver up.

This unlocks a plastic stop and allows the wire
to come out the back. Once you've unlocked
the spare wire from the harness

add about 12" of 12v (18 gauge) wire to the bare end
so that you have enough to run the wire behind the HVAC controls
up to the pop up light connector.

After that is done connect the metal connector end
to the radio wire harness and make sure it snaps in securely.
Take the PIN 14 wire from the radio harness

and tap the thin solid red wire shown above.
This wire is the "panel lamp control" wire which controls the light


*This poem was found at the website of the Cape Fear Miata Club.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Patetisch-Dichterische Abhandlung [1, 2, 3]

Here is a radical German translation of the previous post.

1 Die Geschichte wird alles, was wird Geschehen.

2 Was wird Geschehen, die Tat, wird das Passieren von Ereignisse.

3 Das patetische Bild der Tat wird der Gefühl.

The "radical" element comes from taking the consequence of 3.232, replacing "ist" with "wird", i.e., "is" with "becomes", thus installing a différance for every copula. I imagine this sort of coitus interuptus in every sentence would make the text unreadable, something that of course accounts for the relative resilience of the metaphysics of presence in the occident even "after deconstruction".

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [1, 2, 3]

1 History is all that happens.

2 What happens--an act--is the passage of current events.

3 A pathetic* picture of acts is a feeling.

*or: passionate

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [6.53]

6.53 The proper mandate of poetry would ideally be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e., the sentences of cultural politics--i.e., something that has nothing to do with poetry--and then, whenever someone wanted to say something anthropological, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to strip certain signs in his sentences of meaning. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person--he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him poetry--this mandate would be the strictly proper one.

Waiting to be Astonished (and taking it to heart)

Laura (and we're happy to have her back) also makes an interesting contribution, offering two methods or strategies to the practicing poet.

(a) Wait to be astonished.
(b) Take the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus to heart.

In regard to (a), let me say that the Pathetico-Poeticus itself never ceases to astonish me. Note the sudden appearance of the différance at 3.323 right across from Wittgenstein's copula, and the correlative suggestion that the Pathetico-Poeticus itself is the Logico-Philosophicus' "dangerous supplement". It's all there. Fully automated. Just like Google.

In regard to (b), I tremble at the experimental force of this exercise. But it may be worth noting Wittgenstein's hope that his thoughts might "shed some light into one mind or another" alongside Pound's definition of poetry as "an art to make light the heart of man". Neither are especially profound suggestions, but they do suggest that logic is to the mind what passion is to the heart, that we should keep philosophy in mind while taking poetry to heart, and, just, basically, you know, wait to be astonished.

Thanks Laura.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Cold Poultice

Ron Silliman has his finger on something important today in his reading of Duncan's H. D. Book. There's too much about Duncan I don't know and a lot of theory/theosophy that is likely simply to get in the way of my own. But this "picture that must be put together" in order to "take over the seeing", this "kopóltuš" of a "group of three objects in a certain light", is so orthodox in the Wittgenstein-Kitasono sense that I'm digging for myself that it would be arrogant of me to let it pass unnoticed. Thanks Ron.

(I note that Duncan's "Cold Poultice" reading of "kopóltuš" evokes the "Naked Lunch": "a frozen moment when everyone sees what's on the end of every fork," though an evocation is obviously not a reference.)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tractatus Poetico-Patheticus [3.32ff.]

(For some explanatory remarks cf. this post on the Tractatus Pangrammaticus and this section of the Pathetico-Poeticus. Another section may be found here. This is a somewhat technical section and the transpositions get a bit strained near the end, but this strain is of course itself an effect of the pangrammatical method. I note especially that 3.323 seems to bring Derrida to bear on Vitiello, or vice versa.)

3.32 A sign is what is motivational (enactable) about a symbol.

3.321 So two different signs (written or spoken, etc.) can be common to the same symbol--in which case it will signify in different ways.

3.322 Our use of different signs to signify the same subject must always indicate a common characteristic of it, if we use it in the same mode of signification. For the sign, of course, is arbitrary. So we could choose an identical sign; and what difference would this make on the signifying side?

3.323 In every language it is very frequently the case that different words have the same mode of signification, and so belong to the same symbol--or two words that have the same mode of signification are employed in sentences in apparently different ways.
Thus, the word 'becomes' figures as the différance, a sign for difference, and as a recording of essence; 'essence' figures as a proper noun like 'God', and 'differently' as an adverb; we speak of nothing, but also of nothing's being the case.

3.324 In this way the most fundamental prevarication is destroyed with great difficulty (each poem is devoid of it).

3.325 In order to attain such correctness, we must make use of a sign-language that includes it by using different signs for the same symbols and by using signs that have the same mode of signification in apparently dissimilar ways: that is to say, a sign language that belongs to passionate grammar--passionate syntax.
(Emotional notation is such a language, though it fails to include all correctness.)

3.326 In order to master a symbol by its sign we must negotiate how it is to be used with motive.

3.327 A sign does not determine a passionate function unless it is kept from its pathetico-syntactical employment.

3.328 If a sign is useful, it is meaningful. That is the point of Occam's maxim.
(If nothing remains as if a sign had meaning, then it does not have meaning.)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [4.1ff.]

(Click on the number of each proposition to link to Jonathan Laventhol's hypertext of Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Please note, however, that he uses C. K. Ogden's translation and that I work mainly with the Pears & McGuinness translation, often working from the German when it is to my advantage. Click on the text of the first proposition to see what taking advantage of Wittgenstein and his translators amounts to.)

4.1 Sentences resent the ebb and flow of current events.

4.11 The totality of just sentences is the totality of cultural politics (the totality of cultural polities).

4.111 Poetry is not one of the cultural polities.
(The word 'poetry' must mean something whose place is inside or outside the cultural polities, not beside them.)

4.112 Poetry aims at the passionate intensification of feelings.
Poetry is not a heresy but a facticity.
A poetic work consists existentially of irritations.
Poetry does not result in 'poetic sentences', but rather in the intensification of sentences.
Without poetry feelings are, as it were, slack and mushy: its task is to make them intense and to give them hard cores.

4.113 Poetry raises questions about the core of cultural politics.

4.114 It must reach the core of what can be felt; and, in doing so, of what cannot be felt.
It must reach the core of what cannot be felt by working inwards through what can be felt.

4.115 It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting intensely what can be said.

4.116 Everything that can be felt at all can be felt intensely. Everything that can be put into words can be put intensely.

Tractatus Pangrammaticus [4.1]

Proposition 4.1 of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus provides us with a somewhat inconspicuous starting point for investigating the relation of poetry to politics on the model of the relation of philosophy to science. Here is the Pears & McGuinness translation.

"Propositions represent the existence or non-existence of states of affairs."

The German original reads:

"Der Satz stellt das Bestehen und Nichtbestehen der Sachverhalte dar."

Now, as often happens, I am not happy with the rendering of "stellt. . .dar" as "represent". Indeed, while it is true that propositions "represent facts", T4.1 is not about facts (Tatsache), but "states of affairs" (Sachverhalte). The difference is of course too subtle to spend a lot of time quibbling about. But, on my reading, propositions represent facts by presenting states of affairs. That's not all.

In order to open the Tractatus to interpretation, rendering "Satz" as "sentence" will be more useful. Also, "Bestehen" does mean "existence", but since there are more natural words in German for existence (including the famous "Dasein"), something a little different would be nice here. I propose "obtention", as a form of "obtain" in the sense of "be prevalent or established". So we have

Sentences present the obtention or non-obtention of states of affairs.

Or, more naturally, but less literally,

Sentences present whether or not states of affairs obtain.

Now this is a typical example of Wittgenstein's epistemic presumption or, as Russell put it, the view that "the essential business of language is to assert and deny facts." Poets are not likely to accept this axiom, nor should they. But it should not be denied that asssertion is part of the linguistic business. I'd add (at the very least) the "existential" business of enjoining and denouncing acts, i.e., a political function. Even Wittgenstein would have to accept also a non-assertive philosophical business and the poet, accordingly, is entitled to something very particular.

Sentences resent the ebb and flow of current events.

Here "current events" transposes "states of affairs", while "ebb and flow" transposes "obtain or not". The first choice results from trying to find something that is not yet a political "act" but the background on which politics is carried out. In science, by comparison, "states of affairs" are the raw material of fact. The (scientific) fact is specified in the way the state of affairs obtains or "holds out against" our inquiries. Likewise, the (political) act is specified by the way the present situation (one current event) "passes through" our governance. For "resent" see my discussion of T6.124.

Keep in mind that we are this point talking about sentences before they have been applied in science and politics, but in terms of their capacity to be so applied. I will post some of the subsequent propositions as they appear in the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus shortly. Here the distinction between sentences used in "natural science" on the one hand and "cultural politics" on the other will guide the work.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Bloggers and I

I do not know which of us has written this page.
Jorge Luis Borges

"Every novel," said Borges (but he might have said every text), "is an ideal plane inserted into the realm of reality" (in "Partial Magic in the Quixote"). With the retirement of Tony, Laura and Aaron from blogging, my realm becomes a little less ideal. But I wonder what this means, exactly. Their "last broadcasts" would have us believe that somewhere in America three lives now turn to other things. They would know.

This knowledge, or something like it, is probably what leads very reflexive writers like Borges to say somewhat silly things like, "The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to" ("Borges and I"). As if the textual persona could ever be anything "like" the person who writes. As if this problem ever really arises.

"I like hourglasses," says Borges (for I will call him by his real name), "maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor." And, indeed, his no less vain preference for self-referential art (Las Meninas, Don Quixote, The Thousand and One Nights, Hamlet) has led him to the "disturbing" suspicion that "if the characters of a fictional work can be readers or spectators, we, its readers or spectators can be fictitious." ("Partial Magic")

I don't think this disturbs us today. On the contrary, I think what disturbs us is the possibility that we are as real as the people we read about. In fact, Borges is uncharacteristically wrong about Hamlet. "Shakespeare," he says, "includes on the stage of Hamlet another stage where a tragedy more or less like that of Hamlet is presented" (ibid.). But The Mousetrap is nothing like Hamlet: the scene it presents is a scene that occurs nowhere else in the play, a scene "something like the murder of [Hamlet's] father."

Like the map that supposedly maps the territory on which it has been drawn (though no map ever has this responsibility), the problem simply does not arise. One part of the text refers to some other part of the text. This, because nothing can ever refer to anything, let alone anyone, completely. "Time," said Bergson, "is what keeps everything from happening all at once." And only if everything, suddenly, happened all at once would our words be perfect enough to lament their own abstractness. Borges, in fact, knew that he could not refute time; and he understood exactly what this meant. "The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges." ("A New Refutation of Time")

But the other Borges is, perhaps, entitled to think otherwise. How else, I wonder, can one textual persona lament the loss of another?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [5.6ff.]

(In order to save myself time, I've decided to sometimes just to post extracts from the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus, without comment. For those who don't know what I'm doing here, read this.)

5.6 The core of our language means the core of our history.

5.61 Passion empties history: the core of history is also its core.
We cannot therefore passionately say: These people and these are in history, these people are not.
For that would superficially presuppose that we include certain necessities, and this cannot happen since it would require that passion must get inside the core of history: for only in that way could it view this core from the inside as well.
We cannot feel what we cannot feel; so what we cannot feel we cannot say either.

5.62 This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solidarity is just.
In fact what solidarity** means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself.
That history is our history, shows itself in the act of encouraging the language (the language which we understand) to mean the core of our history.

5.63 We are [our]* history. (The body.)

5.64 Here we see that solidarity strictly carried out coincides with pure idealism. The 'we' in solidarity expands to a limitless horizon and there remains the ideality co-ordinated with it.


* Added Feb 15, 4:05pm

** In a comment to j. in my post of April 12, 2013, I misremembered the "socialism" that I originally used as an analogue (pangrammatical supplement) for the "solipsism" of the Tractutas as "solidarity". Re-reading it now (on April 15, 2015) I see that my misremembering is also a correction. I've replaced it throughout.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Fragments, Bits and Pieces

(This post is dedicated to the retirement of the Unquiet Grave. Thanks for everything, Tony.)

A fragment is a part of some larger whole, which has lost something in being detached from its source—namely, its ‘belonging’. This loss then becomes the interpreter’s task to recover. That is, the ‘fragmentary’ nature of a text raises interpretative difficulties, since what the text ‘really’ means is presumed to depend upon its original context, now lost. The interpreter’s job is then to overcome this difficulty: to sift through all the other evidence for the structure of the original whole, including the rest of the extant works, evidence of the life its author led, traces of the city he inhabited. An enormous task, full of many subtasks—an industry.

Now, while a bit is also of something, and so becomes a bit by being detached from something larger, the miracle of the bit is that it does not thereby become something ‘lesser’ and the interpretation does not become more difficult. On the contrary, while reading a fragment is, in a sense, impossible, reading a bit is comparatively easy. It is true that the bit is smaller than the thing from which it is detached, but only in a sense that brings it to hand, and from hand to mouth, making it more manageable, chewable, digestible. A piece of cake loses nothing from being detached from the whole, on the contrary, it comes into its own. If my knowledge of French is ‘fragmentary’ I am lost (specifically) in the French speaking world, but if I know ‘a bit of French’ then I can make myself understood for a set of limited purposes.

A writer of bits or pieces is not trying to express himself in his own full complexity, not hoping to display the eleborate machinery of his own existence. He is trying to contribute details, always in good working order, small improvements to the whole—gadgetry.When approaching a fragment hermeneutically we lament the loss of its belonging; but in stumbling on ‘a bit' of literature we celebrate its usefulness to the purpose for which it has been plucked from its becoming. These are two very different concepts of ‘meaning’, two very different kinds of ‘understanding’. The fragment is broken off from its source, and remains broken (in part because the source is an operatic myth not a working reality), while the bit is carefully cut from the source in order to be insertable into some specific set of circumstances for which its smallness is nothing less than its aptness to purpose, or what Ezra Pound simply called its ‘beauty’ (ABC, p. 64).

I hope to continue this line of thinking in connection with Jonathan Minton's editorial notes on Flarf in the current issue of Word For/Word, especially his invocation of Ann Lauterbach's "On Flaws".