Sunday, May 08, 2005


Ezra Pound's early definition of "image" will serve as a point of departure: "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." ("A Retrospect", LE, p. 4).

First, note what sort of "thing" we're dealing with here. An image is "that which presents" something, i.e., that which sets something forth, makes it present. And what is given presence is a "complex" consisting of (presumably) simples of two kinds, "intellectual" and "emotional".

For the sake of pangrammatical rigour, allow the substitution of "conceptual" for "intellectual".

Art makes images, i.e., it fashions such moments as present conceptual-emotional (logico-pathetic) complexes.

Philosophy (one of the arts) arranges its images into remarks which fit together in order to clarify a concept or set of concepts.

Poetry (another art) arranges imagery into strophes which fit together in what are called poems in order to intensify an emotion or set of emotions.

In philosophy this is called the method of perspicuous presentation (Wittgenstein). In poetry it is called the method of luminous detail or the ideogrammic method (Pound).

The contribution of philosophy to civilization lies in the improved capacity to articulate belief that clear concepts give users (of language). That is, they make us able to say what we think.

The contribution of poetry is similar. Intense concepts make us able to articulate desire; we become capable of saying how we feel.

The preferability of a community of people who are able to talk about their thoughts and feelings over one of people who are not so able may be obvious. These communities are pragmatically indistinguishable from communities in which people can and cannot think, can and cannot feel.

While beliefs are true or false, they are not honest or dishonest. One can be honest or dishonest about one's beliefs, or better, one is honest or dishonest relative to what one believes. Some beliefs demand more of one's honest than others. Philosophy is the art of beefing up one's capacity for honesty. Without it you find yourself having to lie to people more often than you'd like.

One lacks the sophistication to do otherwise in a very difficult time.

It is not the emotion that is indecent but its presentation, its impingement on the imagination. No emotion is in itself decent or indecent: any emotion may be presented with decency or with indecency.

I want to say that poetry can help make us more decent. I'm not sure that philosophers have to be honest in order to practice their craft, nor that it is their job to preach honesty. It is their job to improve this capacity.

It is a pangrammatical fallacy (a logico-pathetic error) to think you should be honest about your desires. You should be honest as to your beliefs. It is often indecent to be honest about your desires: that's not what they're for.

The trick is to represent your desires decently, to acquire such emotions as are requisite to doing so. Persistent decent representation of desire, through the presentation of imagery that intensifies emotion, will alter your emotions and therefore your capacity for desire. That's why you go back to good poems again and again. In an important sense, they make you feel better.

Widespread dishonesty is detrimental to science; widespread indecency is hard on politics. They are arrangements of imagery that damage imagination. That's what's "wrong with them".

Art is damage control. (That is a historically contingent judgement, not a logical truism.)

I leave all of this as bald assertion for now.

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