Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Procedural Notes

The basic move is to pick it up
and look at it. To close your eyes,
form its image, and put it down.

Another way is to look at it
and pick it up. Then open your hand,
form its image, and look away.

If you feel sleepy, get up, walk
around, shake your arms,
roll your head, talk to yourself.

There is the method of pushing
and of glancing. In reaching for it,
there is an application of longing.

Peel it off the appearance, stick
it onto the surface. After
the fact, before the act. The image.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Your blonde guitar, my plaster Buddha

When Wittgenstein described himself as "someone who cannot quite do what he would like to be able to do,"* he probably meant that he couldn't write like Kate Greenstreet.

The first issue of Absent is here.

*In Culture and Value, p. 24. It's the same remark in which he says "philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition."

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Flowers of Emergency

for Asmund and Søren

Horse Holistics, i.e., Bush Flowers, are to be
taken during an emergency or crisis. They
help with trauma, anxiety, injury and/or
any emotional crisis or individual
responsibility. This is Emergency Essence.
I.e., Angelsword, Crowea, Fringed Violet,
and Dog Rose of the Wild Forces.
Negative condition: panic, distress; yes,
but you must really fear a positive outcome:
ability to cope, navigation, documentation.
Then there are, of course, the Flowers of
Emergency Childcare Services. This is a short-
term, recreational emergency and needs are met
by gift baskets, Godiva chocolate,
fruit baskets, Teddy bears and pad rations
packaged neatly and completely with a snack mix.
Essences for dogs and cats only: a natural
herbal remedy for accidents, stressful
situations, trauma, fear. Gift emergency:
a blissful bouquet of white and blue flowers
will tell your loved one they make you $79.99
(as shown). Emergency Sandbag: rainbow, crystal,
clay, expanded, and technically sandless.
Facial mask: blue healin' love monkey.
Emergency Music: Hoping Flowers Bleed Horace
Horse Tranquilizer. This emergency plan has
been designed for Charles and will be updated.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

These Purely Formal Questions of Arrangement

For some reason Nicholas Manning's comment to my last post has been hidden from view. Here it is in full:

What's so interesting about this model for me is that it makes me think of a probably important distinction between two different types of collage that up until this point we haven't really explictly made.

For on the one hand there is this type of collage, which is purely about choice and formal arrangement, (though interestingly Lynch does not at all consider here the role of choice: the bits of paper are considered "random" and the choice of the material apparently "unimportant"), and on the other hand, collage which includes the introduction of "original gestures" on the part of the artist: that is, the cubist painter or Rauschenberg painting over collaged surfaces with marks which are recognisably his or her own, marks which must have, I think, a different statute to that of the found and arranged material.

For it seems to me that these marks, though still governed by such rules of arrangement as Lynch outlines, are still to an extent different, and make the confrontation and interaction between more-found and less-found materials (in order not to say "found" and "original") infinitely more complex than these purely formal questions of arrangement imply.

For it is almost like the confrontation of two entirely divergent theories of art and artistic creation (inspiration and techne perhaps, or Plato and Aristotle), and it is this, I feel, over any formal devices, which leads to the often stunning complexity of collages' aesthetic statements.

I wonder if the most important distinction here is one between pure collage and hybrids of various kinds. This also goes for Flarf, where there is no rule against "writing over" the collaged the materials with "original gestures". The point, for me, however, is that collage focuses the writer on "purely formal questions" precisely by setting the problem as one of arrangement ...

... and selection, I should add. Nicholas is right to point out that Lynch's exercise does not include this aspect. But I did leave out Fig. 51d: the finished product called Cliff with Cloud in which he adds a piece of paper obviously either made or selected to that end.

In any case, my questions are largely formal. What I like about collage/flarf is that it approaches form as the selection and arrangement of materials, instead of something that is violently imposed on content. This strikes me as a more sane approach to both the origin and the terminus of the art work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

How to Make Collages

[This post is excerpted from John Lynch's How to Make Collages (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 68-71]

Fig. 51a

Fig. 51b

Fig. 51c

In figure 51a four simple white shapes have been torn from a sheet of heavy paper and dropped at random onto a sheet of gray cardboard. The shapes are not complicated or particularly interesting in themselves. Their relationship to one another in this accidental arrangement is dull. Why? Because the indispendable elements of tension and interaction are lacking.

In figure 51b a more interesting contrast has been created between the two left-hand pieces in relation to one another. The straight edge of the thinnest piece is in opposition to the jagged edge of the piece above it, and a certain amount of tension is felt in the resulting space between the two pieces.

In figure 51c the arrangement has been amplified. These four variations on a rectangle are aligned in such a way that the contrast has an abstract interest. Two opposing factors are involved--the shapes themselves and the spaces between them. They begin to suggest something--a cliff, perhaps. Their placement makes the gray cardboard part of the composition rather than a neutral background, which it was in figure 51a.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Men of Anger and Light

"Vivid," wrote Borges, "is the contrast in styles" between Cervantes' Don Quixote and Menard's (which are of course identical in their letter). I think I have found a contemporary example of this contrast in styles between identical expressions written at different times.

In 1946, Henry Miller published a pamphlet called Patchen, Man of Anger and Light. In 2006, I might write a pamphlet called Tost, Man of Anger and Light. Here, too, the stylistic differences are vivid.

A less perfect example can be constructed by asking whether Kenneth Patchen or Ben Lerner wrote "Perhaps It Is Time":

Does anyone think it's easy
To be a creature in this world?
To ask for reasons
When all reasons serve only
To make the darkness darker,
And to break the heart?
-- Not only of a man,
But of all breathing things?
Perhaps, friends, it is time
To take a stand
Against all this senseless hurt.

Angle of Yaw arrived the other day. These are good days for my grammar. Vivid.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hiatus and the New Metaphysics

I will be taking a break from this blog for a while. Instead, I think I'll hang out in Nicholas Manning's comments box.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

And then this comes up

Jacket 31 brings us two serious pieces on Flarf. Gottlieb's piece sets some things straight about the influence of Google. (A brilliant analogy: the suggestion that Google makes Flarf a conduit of corporate ideology is like the suggestion that flipping a coin is a genuflection to filthy lucre.) While Rick Snyder offers some interesting readings of the actual poetry, I think his interpretation of "Chicks Dig War", for example, could avoid some speculative conclusions by looking directly at the influence Google (or, in this case, the source page itself) seems to have have on the poem.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Required Reading

When selecting the works that students are to read and be examined on, the important thing is not just that the books be worth reading and rereading but that this reading may safely be interferred with by teaching. Imagine students who are predisposed by interest and talent to enjoy Hamlet, Don Quixote, Ulysses, A la recherche du temps perdu, Sein und Zeit, and Philosophische Untersuchungen. Imagine, next, that these students are given sufficient time to read them; that is, imagine that they are not pestered by an overwrought curriculum to also read a bunch of other perfectly good books. We will pester them only about those six books, which are of course inexhaustible. If their sense of literature (their mastery of grammar) is improved by reading something else, I want to suggest, it will show in their reading of these core six works. We may suggest they go and read Woolf or Augustine or Confucius but we are not to ask them directly to prove that they have done so. Instead we may ask them what they now think of "the relationship between sensation and memories" (Proust) or "Dasein's own temporality as ecstatically stretched along" (Heidegger). Likewise, we may want them to understand Hegel's philosophy of history but we are only to lecture them about the connections between, say, the fair maidens of the Quixote and the sad masons of the Investigations. This approach may appeal mainly to a certain kind of mind; but are such minds really to have no place to improve themselves?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grammar School

[Note: I originally framed this post with some critical remarks on the current state of higher education. Rereading them today, I've decided against putting it exactly that way for now. There is of course an implicit critique of the status quo in this proposal, but I'm not sure that that particular way of making it explicit really captured it.]

I want to spend a few post on a utopia that I have written about before. I think all university education (at least in the humanities) should be centred on the reading and rereading of a handful of books. Six books, to be precise. The list of books can of course be discussed, and schools could differentiate themselves by their choices. The key is to make sure that, whatever material is selected, students are encouraged and expected to return to the same, shared set of works again and again in the course of their (typically) four years of undergraduate study.

While I sometimes call it the Department of Western Thought or the Department of Modern Language (not quite sure what the MLA would think, though), it might also simply be called the Grammar School. Back in classical times, the teaching of grammar included the study of literature. I think that is the spirit of what I'm driving at.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ethics is Not a Branch of Philosophy

That's probably one of the more controversial consequences of the pangrammatical homologies. It goes nicely with the idea that neither psychology nor sociology are proper sciences: they are crypto-politics. The only relevant psychological "experiment" is a democratic election. The only relevant sociological "observation" emerges from negotiation. I'm not fully committed to these consequences right now, but I thought I would just note them down to keep track.

If this is right, a just society will not emerge from philosohy and science, but from poetry and politics. (Whitman would back me up on this. Pound would too. Kung, also, I think.) This of course explains much contemporary injustice.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Available Materials

Can you mask a tree? That walk we took made me wonder, even as you invented yourself a bike with a sort of stick. Even then it occured to me that all this may be a mask. It imposed itself on the clouds and lunged at the winds. It bore itself no thankless labours of contempt. It spilled its fruits into the brook, and the brook carried your shirt into the public square. I hung cantarelles on the fences as a sort of garland, as a funeral oration ... that is, for kicks. And all the laughing you did from behind your wooden face. I made several brief sketches and discarded those that gave me pleasure. It was a cloud of penance for all they had done to my country. It was a cloud of grace for the efforts of my family to establish an acre of civility in the provinces. You and the many plants can visit my cavernous garrison full of drupes. I will put on this tree mask, this trunk of feathers, this quadrangle of sex appeal, and stalk myself til the musculature of my own sad hatred collapses to a slow quiver.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Towards an Index of Invisible Bride

Agnes, 8, 21, 28, 30, 47, 49
Arkansas, 19
assassin, 21, 22

Dylan, Bob, 49

eternity, 17, 23, 45

fire, 1, 33, 53

identity, 3, 33, 48

knife, 1, 31

pain, 1, 37

shoulder, 21, 31

Texas, 57

war, 2
weeping, (of animals) 13, (of mothers) 35
winter, 13-15

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Of Another Tostian Item

The way these faces look in the crowd:
Leaves on a wet, black branch.

"Of another Tostian item" is an anagram of "in a station of the metro". Riding the Copenhagen Metro today I found the faces as striking as I imagine Pound did in 1913 in Paris. I found his little poem very useful too. I spent a long time thinking about whether there really is a missing "like" between the first and second line, or whether there needs to be. I.e., whether or not it is an implicit simile. I found it most useful simply to imagine the experience of the faces followed by the experience with the petals.

To hold the bough up to those faces, as it were.

The apparition of those faces is not just a thing of beauty (though it is that too). There is something disturbing about it. And Pound's poem helps us to deal with it. So do the poems in books like Invisible Bride, The Lichtenberg Figures, The Hounds of No, and Petroleum Hat.

These are (often little) poems that help us to manage what Tony once called "pivots", a Poundian notion in its own right. Pound puts it this way: "I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective."

Tony puts it this way: "I find myself wanting to recreate or find pivot-points in my own poems: a pivot from image to aphorism, from emotion to trivia."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Department of Philosophy and Poetry

Googling the phrase "department of poetry" does not come up completely empty, but it doesn't give us anything like the institutional support for "department of philosophy". This is an interesting grammatical asymmetry between "poetry" and "philosophy" (i.e., a difference in the way we use these words). Studies of poetry are normally hidden in departments that deal with particular languages or groups of languages. Philosophy departments, of course, have their various regional biases, but they don't generally explicate them in terms of national literatures.

I'm not sure what the right way to go is. (I don't think anything very substantial will be achieved by carving up academic fields of study differently.) Sometimes I think we should see works of philosophy simply as contributions to broader (and even national) literary traditions. Sometimes I think the study of literature would benefit greatly from being dissociated from its often less than implicit nationalism and even patriotism.

I think a Department of Philosophy and Poetry would be an excellent idea. Like many much needed excellent ideas it has zero hits.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Radical Silence Model

A woman's silence is a prelude to another more radical model: zero infinity.

The relationship between van Lamsweerde and Matadin and Kate Moss is one of such radical silence, for example.

For fifteen of these women, language does not mirror an unbearable appeal.

Like Saussure, they work with the strongest and most therapeutic of Puškin’s Boris Godunovs in dialogue.

Experiences and actions are now thought of as objects that are accessible only through posture.

This requires the invention of new idioms, but the upshot is to set the "social" over against the "verbal", and

the refusal of all activities of art, i.e., the standardizing of all opinions about women.

Fixing the country's failed social integration, the motherfucker has chosen to stand.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Close Reading Assignment

Hang a Cosimo Tura beside a Carlo Dolci. Compare and contrast my recent flarf effort "Blowjob" with Leonard Cohen's "Celebration" (see below). Compare your comparison with a comparison of Drew Gardner's "Money" (see below) and Dana Gioia's. Then compare your comparison with a comparison of Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot" and David Jason Blocker's "The Poet".

(Leonard Cohen)

When you kneel below me
and in both your hands
hold my manhood like a sceptre,

When you wrap your tongue
about the amber jewel
and urge my blessing.

I understand those Roman girls
who danced around a shaft of stone
and kissed it till the stone was warm.

Kneel, love, a thousand feet below me,
so far I can barely see your mouth and hands
perform the ceremony,

Kneel till I topple to your back
with a groan, like those gods on the roof
that Samson pulled down.

(Drew Gardner)
Money is a kind of lettucy Stegner Fellow.
-Wallace Stevens

Money, the long pink scorpion semaphores,
cash, stash, Charman Mao, extra sharp cheddar
getting hard just listening to Terry Gross.
I just killed the Pillsbury dough boy.

Chock it up, fluff it all over yr own self,
Shelly Duvall it out. Watch it
burn holes through the argon gophers.

To be made of it! To have it
to slumber on in the frightening alien metal disk-things!
Greenbacks, Mike Schmidts,
twelve point bucks arguing with Minnie Driver.

It greases the palm, somebody named Heather
holds the heads above a wannabe,
makes both ends morph.

Money breeds with leather instructional manuals.
Gathering questionable options, pounding on Dan Rather
Always in circulation.

Money. You don't know why it's floating in front of you,
but you put it where your mouth put it.
And it talks to itself.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Mit einem Gedicht von Leonard Cohen.
Ja, ein Gedicht, kein Song!

When you kneel on the bench
in both cities, I have heard suburbanites
hold my manhood as I ran.

When you wrap your lips
about the amber code
and urge my elected representatives,

I understand those who have said please,
who danced around and slashed
and kissed it, making him suck.

Kneel, love, between your serves.
So far I had only seen dicks in magazines
perform the ceremony.

Kneel until I come to Being
with a groan that reached the ears of this blond
that Samson really did slay.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Water Swimming

"Op art" is a pleonasm, said Albers. Like "water swimming". Like "language poetry", no doubt. Like "seeming to disappear".

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wittgenstein and Albers

Can you tell where Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (Part II, xi, p. 193) leaves off and Albers' Interaction of Color (Chapter II, p. 5) picks up?

I contemplate a face, and then suddenly notice its likeness to another. I see that it has not changed; and yet I see it differently. I call this experience "noticing an aspect".

Its causes are of interest to psychologists.

We are interested in the concept and its place among the concepts of experience.

Equally, a factual identification of colors within a given painting
has nothing to do with sensitive seeing
nor with an understanding of the color action within the painting.

Our study of color differs fundamentally from a study which anatomically
dissects colorants (pigments) and physical qualities (wave length).

Our concern is the interaction of color; that is, seeing
what happens between colors.
There is an obvious similarity of temperament here.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Usage and Usury

The Danish word for debt (gæld) is the German word for money (Geld). The OED alleges that the origin of guilt is unknown, but offers the Old English gylt as a possibility. The Danish gæld (debt), meanwhile, can be traced back to the English g(i)eldan, meaning "to pay", and leading eventually to the modern "yield". The double sense, of both "return as fruit" and "give up, surrender" (and all the way to "hold back", i.e., "allowing another the right of way", i.e., deference), is very telling. It shows how deep the ethos of double-entry book keeping runs in our culture. We are spiritually cut off from nature's increase by our currency.

Today, governments and citizens accumulate all manner of debt and guilt, while corporations shamelessly harvest the fruit. We are all born into a system of ownership, which is ultimately simply a sense of being indebted. There are some poems, however, that seem to have done away with this guilty feeling. At the root of all power is the ability to determine the difference between what one owns and what one owes. This play on words, this grammar, provides us with a clue to the ethos of the "major poets". As Pound put it, "They have not wished for property."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Primer Book Notions Akin to Madness (or Politics)

Western civilization is at the mercy of an international conspiracy of bankers ...

Wars are caused by this "usurocracy" in order to run nations into debt and create opportunities for manipulating the currency.

From Malcom Cowley's summary
of Ezra Pound's "ideas" (1961)*

I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause.
The cause is AVARICE.

Ezra Pound's forword to
his Selected Prose (1972)

I have stayed largely clear of political questions in this blog. And scientific questions as well, for that matter. But I've recently become aware of the enormous grassroots opposition to "American empire" that has formed around so-called 9/11 conspiracy theories. I've always suspected that real politics must transcend right/left distinctions. This movement seems to be doing that.

As far as I can tell, the 9/11 conspiracy is related, by a variety of networks, to the conspiracy Pound saw in the monetary system. (Michael Ruppert and Webster Tarpley have different versions of this connection, but to roughly the same effect.) Earle Davis notes that these ideas may "appear somewhat extreme or even 'akin to madness,' if one may venture a euphemism."* The point, for both Cowley and Davis (who disagree about just how kooky Pound should be taken to be), is that the Cantos "exploited" these ideas and may be judged, at least in part, by them. I've resisted this approach to poetry until now. But, as I keep saying, Kasey Mohammad's idea that some poems, at least, have an "ethical stickiness" to them has had me reconsidering this.

A couple of years ago I found an old book called Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross (Evans, 1980). It's really not a very good book, but it does describe a strangely familiar society, governed by an inscrutable network of powerful interests (an avarice system, let us say), indifferent to any distinction between government and business. It was, to my mind, actually prefigured by Alexis de Tocqueville's description of "the new physiognomy of servitude" (the subtitle of Gross' book is "the new face of power in America").

I once proposed that Flarf, and perhaps post-avant poetry more generally, is the sort of literature that could remain poetic even under fascist conditions. That is, even if we live in the nightmare world described by those who believe 9/11 was carried out by a "rogue network", a "secret government" beholden to "an international conspiracy of bankers", in order to accomplish all the much more terrifying things that followed, these poems are there to "make glad the heart of man". A "poetry after Auschwitz".

The basic idea behind approaching the poetry/politics issue in this way is to consider the possibility of an abyss between the political consensus and the political reality. And then to live intensely within that possibility.


*Davis, Earle. Vision Fugitive: Ezra Pound and economics. The University Press of Kansas. 1968. pp. 13-14.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Flarf is both an intellectual and an aesthetic exercise. It may be fantastic, humorous, macabre, ludicrous, or abstractly beautiful. But as an art form flarf is not a medium for the expression of profound themes. It is curious that while a pencil and a sheet of paper in the hands of a master may be used to create a sensitive, moving, emotionally dignified poem, the very materials of flarf stand between the poet and his theme, preventing more than a casually witty or psychologically exciting expression of an idea or feeling.

(The above is adapted from John Lynch's How to Make Collages, p. 9: "Collage is both an intellectual and an aesthetic exercise. It may be fantastic, humorous, macabre, ludicrous, or abstractly beautiful. But as an art form, like mobiles and constructions, collage is not a medium for the expression of profound themes. It is curious that while a pencil and a sheet of paper in the hands of a master may be used to create a sensitive, moving, emotionally dignified drawing, the very materials of collage stand between the artist and his theme, preventing more than a casually witty or psychologically exciting expression of an idea or feeling.")

Friday, September 22, 2006

Did you mean: "call an ambulance"?

No, I did mean "call a mambolance", though "no standard web pages containing all [my] search terms were found."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Downright Corruption

Every bank of discount is downright corruption
taxing the public for private individuals' gain.
and if I say this in my will
the American people wd/ pronounce I died crazy.

Canto LXXI

Now a new motion picture by Aaron Russo.

These are interesting times.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading Heidegger II: while these machines are to us

There is a grammatical asymmetry in Heidegger's "Age of the World Picture". He defines the modern age in terms of two related events: the world becomes picture and man becomes subject (subiectum, in fact). It would be more precise (for those who care about such things) to say that modernity is constituted by the world becoming an object and history becoming a subject. But what, then, to do with this "picture" and this "man"?

We need to find something in the world to correspond with man in history. Heidegger provides a clue in invoking anthropology. After all, the pangrammatical homology of anthropology is metaphysics, just as the pangrammatical homology of ethnography is ontology. We can reinterpret "man" as "people", then, and can oppose them with "things". Thus, things become objects just as people becomes a subjects.

Now, the conversion of the experience into a picture (of the world) is certainly part of the process of objectification. Heidegger is not wrong to say that a "world picture" is an essential modern notion. But if things in the world are getting pictured as objects, then people in history are getting (what?) as subjects? If the world/thing is becoming a picture, then what is history/people becoming?

The answer, I think, is a machine. Modernity is the division of experience into, on the one hand, a series of images ordered into one comprehensive "world picture" and, on the other, a series of devices ordered into one comprehensive "historical machine".

Reading Heidegger

In "Science and Reflection", Heidegger tells us that "science is the theory of the real." But he is quick to assure us that it is not the task of philosophy to tell us that. In fact, it tells us very little. It is, at bottom, a question; and it is the task of philosophy to interrogate such definitions, not make them.

I think that is basically right. More generally, I think it is the task of philosophers to describe specific knowledge claims (scientific moments, if you will) in terms of "the theory of the real". That is, Heidegger's definition gives us a guide for how to proceed.

One important feature of the definition, to my mind, is the tension between "theory" and "the real". Science is not a description of reality but a theory of the real. There is an implicit sense of brute reality, on the one hand, and a "mere" theory of it, on the other. That is, science is an approximation of the real, an approach to it. Philosophy exists in the tension of that proximity.

My concern, as always, is what this means for poetry. We begin (I've done this before) by saying that politics is the practice of the ideal. Again, there is a tension between pristine ideality on the one hand and "mere" practice on the other. Practical matters seem somehow degenerate. But politics is precisely the dirty business of approximating the ideal without ever reaching it. If science is our (theoretical) approach to reality, politics is our (practical) approach to ideality.

(Here one might stop to read Borges' "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim".)

Poetry works the tension between our practices and the ideals they approximate. It resides, not in the proximity of either politics or ideality, but, rather, in their proximity to each other. Again, I find Kasey Mohammad's notion of "ethical stickiness" useful.

In philosophy, there is a corresponding epistemic stickiness.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Li and/or ethos

Achilles Fang's introduction to Pound's translation of the Odes contains an interesting connection between Pound's poetics and Confucius'. Both seem to cultivate a pragmatic aesthetics that situates poetry in the environment in which living goes on (shades of Dewey?). Fang begins his quick gloss on ancient Chinese poetics by noting Pound's definition: "a poem is an emotional value verbally stated." Or, as I normally put it, poetry is emotional notation, just as philosophy is conceptual notation (shades of Frege!).

But the really interesting part comes in the connection between poetry and "the rites", li in Chinese.

The word li, essentially a code of behavior, is generally rendered "rites" when that behavior is directed towards the supernatural or the manes, and as "etiquette" when it concerns man's relation with his fellow men. ... Perhaps the late Ku Hung-ming had an insight when he rendered it as a "tact." It could, as well, be translated as "character."

As could the Greek "ethos", which also covers moral disposition and "theory of living". I think poetry is essentially related to (though not directly subject to) "appropriate behavior" or "decency". Rites invoke institutions, poems evoke emotions.

Institutions are the media of the immediacy of our manner of doing; emotions dispositions to feel. These connections all seem pretty tidy to me.

Replace emotions with concepts, feelings with thoughts, doing with seeing, institution with intuition, and ethos with episteme, and you have the pangrammatical homologue for philosophy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How to Write Concepts Down (3)

I want to go touching.

Tony Tost

The ability to write concepts down bears on the ability to think as little and as much as the ability to draw hands bears on the ability to touch. Certainly, there is an important relation between noting something down (committing black marks to a piece of paper) and noticing it. This noticing and noting is then related in a variety of ways to the use of the thing noticed.

Wittgenstein said that the uses of philosophical words like "language" and "experience" are as humble as those of "lamp" and "door". We can extend this: their uses are as humble as those of lamps and doors. These objects, too, have their "usage".

We must approach the grammar of concepts (in writing) as one might approach the grammar of hands (in drawing). That is, the usage of marks on bits of paper.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How to Write Concepts Down (2)

Is a bit of white paper with black marks on it like a human body?

Ludwig Wittgenstein
(Philosophical Investigation, §364)

I mean I don't do as Bill does--notice something and write the note down and then type it off.

Louis Zukofsky
(Pound/Zukofsky, p. 78)

I'm a great admirer of David Hockney, both in practice and in theory. But in 1981, introducing Jeffery Camp's Draw: how to master the art, he made a mess of the difference between drawing and writing. The passage is worth quoting in full.

Everybody learns to write. We are taught to write by copying marks, and even when we copy marks we all make them individually, we all have different kinds of handwriting. Within a year or two of being taught to write, things happen to our handwriting and personal ways of making marks develop very quickly. That's the way, really, you learn to draw. And in learning to draw (unlike learning to write) you learn to look. It's not the beauty of the marks we like in writing, it's the beauty of the ideas. But in drawing it's a bit of both - it's beauty of ideas, of feelings and of marks.

Maybe Hockney doesn't know any poets, or never talks to them about writing. Later on he makes the following outrageous assertion: "Drawing is a more interesting way than writing of passing on feelings about the world you see, the world you feel about."

I know a woman whose instinctive response to people who claim they don't know how to do draw pictures is, "How do you see?" I sometimes feel the same way about people who claim they can't write. How can you think? How can you be sure you know anything at all? "The only time I know something is true," said Jean Malaquais to Norman Mailer, "is the moment I discover it in the act of writing." It strikes me as absolute rubbish to suggest that writing is a less interesting means of expression than drawing.

Hockney thinks that "learning how to write" is a matter of learning how to form the letters. He reduces style to handwriting, and then claims that writing style has nothing interesting to do with seeing or feeling. But in order to write a good sentence you have to be able to see your world, feel it, think it. The beauty of the ideas depends on the beauty of the marks. A well-crafted remark, like a well-written strophe, is aesthetically sastisfying. That is, it's a bit of both, even when you've stopped using a pen altogether and type everything you write. Even when you've stopped typing and Google everything you write. It's how the marks work on the page that matters.

Writing, whether our notes are conceptual or emotional, helps us to attain precision in suffering. Wittgenstein described the writing of the Philosophical Investigations as a painstaking process of making sketches, selecting the good ones, and then arranging them. I think this positive analogy is much stronger than Hockney's negative analogy. We put marks down on the page and then work on the arrangement of those remarks until it satisfies us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How to Write Concepts Down (1)

The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it were, a number of sketches ... Very many of these were badly drawn or uncharacteristic, marked by all the defects of a weak draughtsman. And when they were rejected a number of tolerable ones were left, which now had to be arranged ...

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Preface to the Philosophical Investigations

I've noted my admiration for the prose of accomplished artists before. Josef Albers' Interaction of Color and Michael Andrews "Notes and Preoccupations" are dependable sources of literary pleasure for me. This weekend I found a less famous example in a little book by Oliver Senior called simply How to Draw Hands (Studio Publications, 1944). It is about just that. The very first sentence announces that "This is an instruction book."

What I like about this sort of writing is the excess of experience that supports the text. The author is telling us in words how to do something that he is obviously very capable of doing with his hands. (Senior drew the pictures in the book. They are very good.) He is also making a very simple assumption: that we are reading his book in order to learn how to do it ourselves, and not in order to learn "how it is done" (by others). Under that assumption is another: that we will only learn this particular art by trying to follow his instructions. That is, the book is only the tip of the iceberg. The clarity of this basic relation, which in fact obtains between any text and the experience it addresses, is the main attraction for me in the way artists write about their work.

In his own words, Senior "assumes authority to propose ... a course of study ... together with directions, explanations and comment based upon his experience and observations." He describes the hand as "a familiar yet highly complex piece of physical mechanism" and correlates "the notorious difficulty of drawing hands" with "the mental equipment by which [the student's] vision may be directed, extended and refreshed."

The better draughtsman has more "on his mind" concerning his subject; and, by embodying his knowledge and understanding in each purposeful line or passage of his drawing, achieves with apparent--or even real--ease an expression of form, character, action--whatever may be his immediate object--that the novice, lacking such equipment and relying on vision alone, finds beyond his power.

It was this "better draughtsman" that reminded me of Wittgenstein and the quote in the epigraph. Immediately after making his famous remark about writing philosophy in the manner of poetic composition ("Philosophie dürfte man eigenlich nur dichten") he noted that this only showed that he was "someone who cannot quite do what he would like to be able to do" (Culture and Value, p. 24). I, of course, think he did it better than anyone else. He knew how to write concepts down, i.e., how to arrange descriptions (sketches) so as to render a concept perspicuous, locating "its place among the concepts of experience" (PI, part II, xi, p. 193).

His main strength was the eschewal of philosophical jargon and special "philosophical propositions", theses, or theories. (That, to my mind, is the most important difference between Wittgenstein and, say, Heidegger, and marks his genius as being of a wholly different order.) As it happens, Oliver Senior puts this point brilliantly in relation to the difficulty of drawing hands.

If ... the artist finds himself constrained, by any consideration of expression, treatment or style, or by his deference to the peculiar nature and limitations of his tools and materials, to adopt or invent a convention or a symbol and to substitute the semblance of a bunch of bananas or a bent fork for a representation of the human hand, then the particular problem dealt with in this book does not arise.

I feel like this about jargon in philosophy, perhaps symbolism in poetry. It avoids the inherent difficulty and substitutes a technical term, a "technically correct" word, and thereby sidesteps the problem of the draughtsman: to get the subject down on the page.

What the better draughtsman (il miglior fabbro?) has "on his mind" makes him "more alert to respond to the indvidual character of his model, more interested to recognize its unexpected aspects, to seize upon its exceptional grace, or to emphasies its strength." After all, "the better drawing is not the more elaborate attempt to reproduce the visual appearance of its subject, but that which is better informed."

It may be argued that we cannot be as straightforwardly informed about concepts as we can about hands. Fortunately, like Senior, "I am entitled to assume that you are never at a loss for an authentic model to study." Everyone has one or two concepts work with. We are not, as Wittgenstein, pointed out, dealing with a super-order of super-concepts. "If the words, 'language', 'experience', 'world', have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words 'table', 'lamp', 'door'." (PI§97)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Armor Fati

"Traicit et fati litora magnus amor."

Heinz Guderian once asked Hitler
"Was it really necessary to attack Kursk
and indeed in the East that year at all?
Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is?"
To which Hitler agreed with him saying,
"I know. The thought of it turns my stomach."
It was just the two of us and we went to visit
my older sister. Soldiers headed for Iraq
are still buying their own body armor — and in
many cases, their families are buying it for them:
spikey quills covering body, hard shell on back.

They go on and on like you thought I stole
your armor. Just south of the guildtower and west
of the Knights of the Bad Face, north of the Spears
of Odin's Handmaidens (per fati un esempio
nel tread della gilda leggevo che piccolo fatica
weapons and armor are made by the best smiths
of the land. I want to know where to get shoulder pads.
To enable tanks and heavy armor to penetrate
to the camp, the IDF sent in the only survivor
of the incident. He explained how his son and his love
of your unchangeable fate buries secretly
her weapons as she takes up her sword again.

Surreal reality: my armor, my collapse module.
L'ouvrage de Michel Defromont s'appuie sur des
faits réels.
If somehow we do survive, if the path
does continue, I hope it is made by others like you.
My formula for greatness in a human being
has been wounded in this war, and because of
body armor and better emergency medicine, the dancing
became even more abandoned, with no sign that irony
can serve as a sufficient protective armor
against criticism of that aspiration for danger.

I finde it easier to beare all ones life a combersome
armour of the finer compositions of Rumba Music.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One thinks one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing around the frame through which we look at it.

Wittgenstein (PI§114)

Much of my critical project here at the Pangrammaticon is about the relationship between poetry and politics on the model of the relationship between philosophy and science. For some reason, this line of thinking has been bringing me down lately (how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seems to me all the usage of this world!). It may certainly have something to do with how things stand with both our scientific and political establishments. Or maybe there is something I've missed. In any case, I'm going to leave criticism alone again for awhile. Turn my attention to more (for me) pleasurable things.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


This is one of the more concrete pangrammatical homologies I've ever constructed: the lens is to knowledge what the lever is to power. Both are instruments that focus experience. The first, by installing a very specific experience before the eye (an appearance), the second by installing a just as specific experience before the hand (a surface). These are installed as possibilities of, respectively, perception and action.

The instruments are supplemented by mirrors and screens (to define the field of vision) and walls and ramps (to define the field of motion). On this basis we can imagine two vast, connected but distinguishable, "equipmental contextures" or "Zeugzusammenhangen" (as Heidegger might call them): the apparatus of perception (a system of lenses, etc.) and the apparatus of action (a system of levers, etc.).

The apparatus of perception (surveillance) defines what it is possible to see, determining the structure of appearances.

The apparatus of action (leverage) defines what it is possible to do, determining the structure of surfaces.

It is perhaps unnecessary to note the connection to "media". But it should be added that intuition and institution, as pangrammatical elements, are defined as "the media of immediacy", i.e., that through which knowledge and power are immediately present in our lives. They are the sense in which experience is "given" to us, and the motive by which we are "taken" with it.

Finally, note that the traditional (i.e., Kantian) theme of philosophy is the transcendental logic of intuition. The homologue of this theme belongs to poetry: the immanent passion of institution. And this is why politics is to poetry what science is to philosophy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

FlarfEmo is Dead

Does this issue seem familiar? (Note: you have to watch the whole thing; it's about seven minutes long.)

I don't know about you, but I'm learning disturbing things every day.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Tostian Item

I want to return to Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot" because that is where it all began for me. Since reading that poem, and tracing its relations to what is happening in poetry today, I cobbled together this idea of the "antipalinurian" voice, which proceeds from the slogan gubernator non sum as though having fully overcome the melancholy of Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave. Examples include Drew Gadner's "I Am So Stupid" and "I Feel I Am Searching", Gary Sullivan's "On Speaking in Public", Lara Glenum's "How to Discard the Life You've Now Ruined" and "The Manifestation of Male Hysteria", pretty much anything from Ben Lerner's Lichtenberg Figures, Cynthia Sailers' "Against Interpretation", and, of course, Tony Tost's Invisible Bride.

Reading Leonard Cohen's "Item" today, with Tony's sample from 1001 Sentences fresh in my mind, an important aspect of antipalinurian writing occured to me. Cohen's poem opens like this:

Let the still-born eagle demonstrate
how he avoided the arrow
with its predicament of death: his closed eyes,
his half-formed feathers.

I paused at "the arrow/ with its predicament of death" because it is in many respects a great phrase. The trouble, of course, is that it is strapped into this metaphor, or, more accurately, that it means something. In fact, "Item" goes on to invoke "the hunter" directly, and then makes the explicit connection to "heroes" and "swords" and "battles": "Then let them remember the still-born eagle," etc. In short, Cohen was clearly trying very much to say something with this poem, and therefore ends up obscuring the very predicament of death he deploys.

An antipalinurian poem would not eschew phrases like "the predicament of death", "the darker battle", "the unthinking steel", "the difficult flesh".* Even "the dry field of death" is permissible. But it would avoid letting "half-formed feathers" belong to a still-born eagle. It would begin, not with the image, but the items that compose it. It would scrupulously avoid re-presenting the image that is present to the poet. (Or more precisely: it would avoid presenting the illusion that any image was present to the poet.)

"Kafka liked to draw his terms from the language of law and science, giving them a kind of ironic precision, with no intrusion of the author's private sentiments," said Nabokov in his lectures on "The Metamorphosis". I am not sure that the antipalinurian voice is ironic, and it certainly does not depend on the language of law and science. But it does prevent the intrusion of the author's private sentiments (in the mind of the reader, let us say). It does this by detaching the item from the idea in the construction of the image.

I want to pursue this "item" as the unit of analysis.

*In fact, the seminal antipalinurean work ("I Am Not the Pilot") deploys "the glamorous end of the sword".

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Doing my best...

...not to ruin a couple of very good ideas,

I'm using the new tools.
I'm feeling free in the direction of anxiety.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Honesty & Decency

Pangrammatical homologies are isomorphisms that obtain between philosophical and poetic formulae.

These isomorphisms (formal equivalences) are experienced as suffering in so far as they involve belief and desire. Suffering is the formal identity of belief and desire given their substantial differences.

The following formulae are homologous.

Honesty is about beliefs, not facts.

Decency is about desires, not acts.

In an important sense, then, honesty is to science (i.e., the determination of facts) what decency is to politics (i.e., the determination of acts).

Philosophy and poetry, as literary arts, need to be aware of this.

Honesty and decency are varieties of appropriateness. Dishonesty is an inappropriate expression of belief (beliefs are not themselves honest or dishonest: expressions of them are.) Indecency is an inappropriate expression of desire.

Note, however, that neither philosophy nor poetry are essentially "expressive"; that is, a poem should not represent desires, but present emotions. In order to do this, certain constructions (groups of words with determinable effects) may "offend", i.e., be deemed "indecent", but only when construed as expressions and this ultimately implies their misconstrual.

The affective impact of many poems depends on the tension between the expressive misreading and the inexpressive reading [, i.e., the tension between what the poem could possibly represent and what it does actually present.]

By a similar token, philosophers often appear disingenuous in their questioning, i.e., dishonest about their lack of belief in one or another aspect of "reality". Socrates' methodological ignorance, his "irony", is the classical example.

Poets deploy a comparable, indeed, homologous, methodological impotence.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Glory, Despair, Likeness

At the cottage last week, I read Nabokov's Despair. The last chapter notes some of the earlier working titles of the narrator's manuscript, including "The Likeness", all of which are abandoned as the enormity of his error dawns on him.

My PhD thesis was called Likeness and was an attempt to determine the nature of concepts through the homologies of knowledge and power. In the end, I decided that these homologies are summarized in our suffering.

I'm now starting Nabokov's Glory. Maybe we learn everything when it's too late.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Poetry & Politics

Mirroring Wittgenstein's definition of "philosophy" as "what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions", one might give the name "poetry" to what is possible before all new decisions and initiatives. That is, poetry is prior to politics just as philosophy is prior to science.

Ezra Pound actually located this sense of priority quite precisely. Poetry provides the data of ethics, he said. Philosophy likewise provides the data of epistemology.

This is the reason I've been finding it difficult to participate in the discussion about Mike Magee's "Their Guys" over at Limetree. For all its sophistication, the argument seems to remain about whether or not the poem is or is not politically correct. It is not that I am against political correctness. It is just that I believe poems should be judged by other criteria.

The sense in which philosophy ought to be exempt from judgments of "scientific incorrectness" is what I'm after here. This of course also means that philosophy should avoid making what appear to be scientific claims.

Again, Flarf is a useful model because its materials are devoid of subjective positions, which are essential for making political claims. Perhaps more accurately, the Flarf procedure divests the materials of such positions. Flarf, applied to philosophy, would work with materials that are likewise devoid/divested of objective relations, which are essential for making scientific claims.

If I understand the critique of "Their Guys", it is predicated on an attribution of subjective position to the poem and (to some extent) on the demand that the poet identify with (or in some other way take responsibility for) that position. That demand is plainly political.

Obiter Dicta

I want to go back to the question of how philosophical writing can model itself on poetry without blurring the formal distinction between poetry and philosophy.

A "piece" of philosophy, for which we do not have a word like "poem", consists of "remarks" whose role is analogous to strophes.

In arranging strophes, we present an emotion or set of emotions. In arranging remarks, we present a concept or set of concepts. (The nature of the task forces the plural, I think. You can't present one emotion or concept without presenting others. We call this interrelatedness "passion" in poetry and "logic" in philosophy. There are, as it were, implications.)

All texts are hybrids. There are no pure poems or purely philosophical pieces of writing.

Wittgenstein understood that a remark does not express a concept. Rather, it describes certain facts (which may or may not obtain) such that our images of those facts presented in close succession (allowing us to pass easily among them in imagination) makes concepts conspicuous by making the grammar of experience "perspicuous" or "surveyable" (übersichtlich).

Flarf provides an especially interesting model because the materials themselves have very little philosophical import. So their arrangement must produce the philosophical effect.

One starts with materials that are not prepared for philosophy. One passes from one remark to the next. The thought appears in the passage.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Experimental Motto

Beyond sketching out a plan for the curriculum of the soul, I will make no more major theoretical statements in this life.

(Cf. Ron's recent post on Charles Olson.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

If That’s What You’re Into, Go For It

for Chris Daniels

When misery overwhelms your heart, as inevitably it will, don’t run from it. Go for it.

Then go fuck yourself.

Find a way to use it. Be open. Be completely generous. If that’s what you’re into, go for it. Demand complete generosity in return.

Then go fuck yourself.

Make mistakes. Suffer and rage. Rejoice and love. Work hard. Go fuck yourself. Get into it. Go for it.

Play as seriously as a child.

Talk about it, think about it all the time. Have a sense of humor about yourself. Be honest and go fuck yourself.

That’s how people grow.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Library & Lottery

The soi-disant postmodernist is the comic book hero who takes "The Library of Babel" to be an allegory of the times. Unfortunately, it is just a paradox; our tragedy is "The Babylon Lottery".

Monday, May 29, 2006

Close Reading Assignment

In what sense (if any) are "Westward Ho, or the Migration of Guilt" (Ryan G. Van Cleave) and "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay" (Michael Magee) "in the same neighbourhood" (Josh Corey)?

Busy Doing What I'm Doing and Enjoying What I'm Doing

LARRY KING: What are you going to do after 2008?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. I'm so busy doing what I'm doing and enjoying what I'm doing and feel that we're making progress, that I don't think about that.

CNN Larry King Live
Aired May 25, 2006, 21:00 ET
(Full Transcript)

"What is the most compassionate pace at which to dig this ditch?"

Cheri Huber, Fall 1996

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The arrangement of materials that maintains the materiality of the arrangement.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

Two more things to be proud of

Simon DeDeo likes my compositions in Typo 8. He rightly notes that these are "instruction poems". In fact, since I believe that philosophy is to assertions as poetry is to injunctions, I suppose I think that all poems are ultimately written in the imperative.

Also, I'm currently listed among The Page's New Poems, in the company of people like Anne Boyer and John Ashbery.

These are good times for me.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Clamour of Personality

[I wrote this post back in February and decided against posting it. Rereading it now, it seems to me to have gained something that applies more generally.]

There is a good feeling surrounding Tom Raworth. He is not a clamorous personality.

No negativity is justified. All negativity is based on a misperception of reality.

Gabriel Gudding

It occurs to me that, for all my claims to take an impersonal interest in poetry, my personality generally precedes my criticism. Certainly it seems lately to be preceeding the reception of my criticism. There has been some talk recently about the essential "egoism" of blogs, and I fear that I have carelessly transported my blogging persona into various corners of the Internet that are less tolerant of it, or less resistant to it. And for which it may be ill-suited.

Gabe describes a "clamorous personality" as one who

seem[s] to accuse or shout or fight or contend or argue or scramble or vie or stoke debates or flap about for attention or toot or boast himself or pretend to be attacked or beg for aid or tout his work from sun to sun or exact a loyalty to a pettiness or threaten the ruination of friendships.

I think those words, "seem to", are important. One of the projects I probably won't get around to until I retire is something I call the literature of "elemental vehemence". I constructed the idea as an inversion of the title of Thomas Carl Wall's Radical Passivity, which is an enviable little book. He presents a single, reasonably well-defined idea by locating it in the the work of three specific authors: Blanchot, Levinas and Agamben. If I recall, his aim is to identify and, in his way, insist upon "the passion that I must be". While he explicitly rejects the opposition of his idea of "passivity" with the notion of "activity", there is an all pervading sense of humility, of "letting be", in the book, a reverence for being, indeed, for being "whatever" (Agamben's qualqunque, L. quodlibet). I also get the sense that he wanted to write a wholly unobjectionable book. At one point (again, I'm quoting from memory) he says that he would be content merely to note as it were "in parenthesis" (or in quotation marks) the passivity that is his theme (the typographical gimmicks are his, as I recall.) There is a distinct effort in the book not to be clamorous.

I bought Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself in a used book store. The notes in the margins are written in green ink and seem to belong to someone who was studying Mailer from the point of view of, say, Kate Millet's Sexual Politics. On the first page, for example, she underlines the words "settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time" and writes the following remark at the bottom: "typical Mailer arrogance - reflects his fascination with power". Reading this running commentary is quite interesting, and I get the sense that she finds Mailer clamorous.

I'm a bit puzzled by people who pride themselves on identifying (or at least feel themselves compelled to identify) the "fascinations" and "arrogance" of people who are obviously themselves very conscious of their self-consciousness. People who are putting themselves "out there", so to speak, to find out what they mean by seeing what they say. Gudding praises Raworth for being "a real person, not someone stuck inside a fantasy of himself" as opposed to those who "poison social networks" with their clamorous being. It would be clamorous to name names, I suppose, but I imagine that the relevant beings know who they are.

Like I say, I think it is in any case worth looking at the literature of this clamour of personality, this elemental vehemence. Its modern examples are people like Norman Mailer, Mordecai Richler, and Irving Layton; there is reason, I think, to count Melville and Whitman among their progenitors. Henry Miller could probably be listed here (though Mailer has noted the spiritual progress in his work towards something like a sage; Hesse's Siddhartha, of course, has an important period of bawdy decadence). And there is certainly something vehement (the etymology of the word is interesting, by the way: "deprived of mind") about Pound (Mr. Directio Voluntatis) and Hemingway (Mailer said, "Hemingway has always been afraid to think"). I'm a long way from having a theory about it, but I think it is worth pointing out that Wall's thesis depends on a particular kind of literature; once we look at other voices, a different sense of the "the passion I must be" emerges.

Love, I call out, find me
Spinning around in error.
Display your dank, coarse hair,
Your bubs and bulbous shoulders.
Then strike, witless bitch, blind me.

(Irving Layton, "Love's Diffidence")

And this brings me back to the epigraphs. You often hear people say stuff like "negativity is based on a misperception of reality" especially when faced with the palpable negativity of someone in the room. This response is generally "justified", in the sense of "socially acceptable"; making this judgment displays, and perhaps exhibits, "emotional intelligence". But we have to keep in mind that there is a parallel argument to be made about "positivity", if you will: it is the elaboration of an unfeasible ideality. I think the sages would back me up on this. Any judgment, good or bad, is in error. Party pooping is perhaps to be frowned upon; but is not partying itself predicated on maya? We tend, however, only to censor the fantasies of clamorous people, we prefer quiet errors to loud ones. We should keep in mind that a good many sweet and gentle people are only as "seemingly" so as someone like Mailer is seemingly arrogant. To judge them as sweet or as arrogant, as passive or as vehement, as peaceful or clamorous, is precisely a judgment. It is directed at a phantasm that haunts the mind of the judge.

In science, the value of an experiment lies in its potential effects on an established theory.

In literature, experimental writing is valued for its potential to transform mainstream writing?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I'm very proud to have three poems in the new Typo.

I've also noticed that the typographical quality of the Pangrammaticon is slipping. Thus, "hegomony". Thus, "Erza Pound".

Sunday, April 30, 2006

On the Possibility of Performing Flarf

The performer is interested not in form but in opportunities for vituosity or in the communication of his "personality".

T. S. Eliot

As I've said before, my hunch is that many of those who don't get or don't like Flarf also think that it is impossible to perform it at some level. The poems, it might be argued, lack a "voice" or "immanent orality" to be "realized" in a "reading". Sorry about all those scare quotes. I'm trying to connect the sense in which poets do "readings" with the sense in which critics do "readings". Reading a Flarf poem is famously difficult.

So I'm watching the videos of the Flarf Festival at YouTube with great interest these days. I am enjoying it as much as the next guy, I'm sure, but there is something about these performances that once again makes me think that what I like about Flarf is something other than what its poets themselves see in it.

The readings I've watched so far all seem to introduce personality or "character" into the work (Jimmy Berhle's may be an exception). Many of them do different voices, and they certainly seem to be impersonating (and, arguably, sometimes mocking) their sources as they do this. That is, in reading their work out loud, they lend some support to Tony's "re-imagining the sources" theory.

Tony once applied Kasey's reading of Barrett Watten to Flarf. The key image is that of a poem

"spoken" through a bullhorn by a figure in black pajamas standing on top of an imposing but faceless public structure.

Like Tony, I think this image provides a model for reading (in both senses) Flarf.

Actually, I always try to read Flarf as though presented on a teleprompter in front of a talking head (news anchor, talk show host, president, etc.). The reason is that I think the Flarf materials (let's simplify by thinking of them as Google searches) achieve their maximum effect when passed through the constraints of an established, monolithic form. That is, Flarf calls for a radically entrenched subject position, a well-endowed enunciative modality. On the page, this normally means subjecting the materials to the hegomony of "free verse".

I was suprised that Drew Gardner used different voices. I always read that poem "straight" as a single, coherent statement. Something similar goes for Kasey. Sharon Mesmer's hillarious "Annoying Diabetic Bitch", which is probably the performance that works best (at least when seen on video) used a single voice but does seem to impersonate (and to an extent mock) the sources (though, like I say, construing what must be multiple sources as one). One way to avoid this would be to imagine Scott McClellan reading it off a teleprompter ...

in black pajamas, of course. Or, alternatively, and just as obviously, he might wear a pair of bunny ears and get someone to play bagpipes in the background.

As you can see, this isn't a finished thought.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Duino Epigrams

Listening to CocoRosie's "Terrible Angels" tonight, I suddenly remembered where the refrain ("every angel's terrible") comes from: Rilke's first Duino Elegy.

...beauty is nothing/ but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure/ and we are so awed because it serenely disdains/ to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

Rereading the whole elegy, I was reminded that what I enjoy about it is its arrangement of epigrams. The rest seems like filler: a medium in which to suspend its substance. But part of that impression comes from straightforward misprision, i.e., from plucking groups of words out of their context and distorting their meaning. That is, I like the following phrases much better in isolation than in the role in Rilke's poem.

It serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying. (And CocoRosie's translation is even better.)

Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the[se] huge strange thoughts inside you going and coming an often staying all night?

Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough?

That fierce example of soaring.

What I mean can probably best be illustrated by providing the shared context of the last two epigrams:

Have you imagined/ Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl/ deserted by her beloved might be inspired by that fierce example of soaring, objectless love/ and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her"?

I think my intuitions here follow Pound's imagist programme, i.e., the injunction not to add "of peace" to "the dim lands".

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Laboratory Conditions

On vacation last week at the cottage, I had a chance to reread more or less all of Williams' Paterson (especially Book III), Lerner's Lichtenberg Figures, Tost's Invisible Bride and Gardner's Petroleum Hat. I'll probably have something to say about this experience/experiment in the weeks to come. For now, suffice it to say that I recommend it to anyone.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Borges, the Prado, and I

On March 15, I sent the following question about Velazquez's Las Meninas to the Prado by email.

In his essay, "When Fiction Lives in Fiction", Jorge Luis Borges describes his encounter with the painting, recalling that "the Prado's adminstrators had installed a mirror in front of the painting to perpetuate [its reflexive] enchantments." Is this also how the painting is currently displayed? Is there any record of that way of hanging it? Also, has the painting ever been displayed by setting it on the floor like the canvas depicted in the painting itself?

On April 6, I got a reply.

Efectivamente, hasta 1976 el cuadro "Las Meninas" se exhibía en una sala pequeña, con un espejo al fondo y una ventana entreabierta, que proyectaba la misma luz y en la misma dirección que la ventana que aparece en el cuadro. El cuadro estaba situado a una altura que situaba los ojos de Velázquez a la altura de los ojos del espectador. Con este montaje se pretendía recrear la atmósfera que hay en el cuadro e integrar al espectador dentro del espacio creado entre el cuadro y el espejo, en un efecto muy teatral y barroco.

Babel Fish translates this as:

Indeed, until 1976 the picture "the Meninas" was exhibited in a small room, with a mirror to the bottom and a half-opened window, that the same light and in the same direction projected that the window that appears in the picture. The picture was located to a height that located the eyes of Velazquez to the height of the eyes of the spectator. With this assembly it was tried to recreate the atmosphere that there is in the picture and to integrate to the spectator within the space created between the picture and the mirror, in a very theater and baroque effect.

If anyone can improve that translation, I'd be very grateful.

[Update: Effectively until 1976 the painting Las Meninas was exhibited in a small room, with a mirror at one end and an open window that projected the same light in the same direction as the window that appears in the painting. The painting is situated at a height that places Velazquez's eyes at the same height as the spectator's eyes. With this set-up they attempted to recreate the atmosphere in the painting and to integrate the spectator in the space created between the painting and the mirror, in a very theatrical and baroque effect. (Thanks, Stower.)]

In any case, what I find interesting about this is that Michel Foucault, who seems to have seen the painting sometime before 1966, managed to feel his subjectivity not integrated but "elided" under these (almost) ideal conditions.

I'll explain that "(almost)" in a later post. I have myself never been to the Prado.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The School of Resentment

At its simplest, the historical method is not interested in asserting the transcendent or autonomous aesthetic value of literary texts but, to use Marxist terminology, in researching the contexts of their production, consumption and status.

J. A. Cuddon
(Dictionary of Literary Terms)

Much of my disagreement with Dan Hoy and Chris Daniels and, to a lesser extent, R. J. McCaffery, stems from their (at least) implicit New Historicism. Since Flarf is not a stable historical phenomenon, however, this amounts more to the sense in which their perspective on Flarf is informed, let us say, by an amateur sociology of contemporary poetry (see Seth Abramson's widely discussed posts, for example.) It is a historicism of the present in the sense that it undertakes to judge contemporary literary works in terms of their historical moment(um), if you will, rather than their (more or less) "autonomous literary value". Since I simply insist on reading the poems, much of the conflict lies just as simply in their refusal to do the same.

So we might, as Comrade Daniels suggests, just leave each other alone. I could let them have their historical or sociological opinion of Flarf and they could let me value it aesthetically. Except, of course, that there is no sense in which a book I enjoy reading might conceivably be a "pretentious turd" unless I, as it were, like that sort of thing. So there is a real problem there. People like Hoy and McCaffery, who want to call Flarf pretentious, must, in order to convince me, say that particular poems pretend to be more than they are, and in order to do this they must, I would think, look at the poems and identify the relevantly pretentious parts of them. People who want to call it "crap" must also identify the parts of it that are worthless. And this must mean doing more than quoting (parts of it) and saying, "well, obviously, right?"

Another reason that I cannot simply ignore Hoy, Daniels and McCaffery (though there is a weariness in me that would have me do so, to be sure) is that my object, Flarf, actively implicates itself in historical and social concerns, i.e., in "the contexts of [its] production, consumption and status". It also, I would argue, actively engages with, overcomes, undermines, subsumes, subverts, evades, escapes, mocks, rejects, eschews, or even satisfies, the very judgement that "history" would bring to bear upon it. And, by extension, it pre-empts the new historicists critical objections. I want to say that at a programmatic level Flarf, and the critical conclusions I draw from it, asserts the immanent autonomy of literary texts, or what I have often (now) called the mission of a work of art to extricate itself from history. Kasey Mohammad made a permanent contribution to my understanding of Flarf on the Lucipo list when he suggested that there was an "ethical stickiness" to the poems.

[The following paragraph has been cleaned up a bit since being posted.]

Flarf seems to know with exceptional clarity what the historicist dimly perceives: that the artist is free but that beauty is difficult. The historicist converts a vague sense of this circumstance into a profoundly insensitive capacity to read a poem without looking at it (or, perhaps more charitably, to look at a poem without reading it). At its worst, as in the rantings of Comrade Daniels, it proceeds by first declaring that bourgeois poets are free and then suggesting that they've got it easy. This absolves him from having to appreciate the very particular (though of course limited) hardship of poetry. (Which is why it is odd to read that he is "interested in a very particular thing that [he's] noticed about flarf and flarfistes" [my emphasis].) It is only in historical hindsight (which the historicist, rightly, tries to correct) that the artist seems have been granted a transcendent space in which to move. At the time, we always work with what we have on hand.

It is disappointing (it is even a little sad) that the critics who are in an important sense best qualified to appreciate Flarf seem the least willing to do so. Harold Bloom's appelation, the School of Resentment, applies here almost too precisely. The opposite of "resentful" is, of course, "Tostian".

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Flarf & the Revolution

Just a quick note that this post exists. I can't think of anything at the moment to say about it.

[Update: it's because I don't see the mockery. I don't think Flarf is "about" its sources. The materials allow certain effects, help to avoid many others, that's all.]

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Elite Flarf

I'm looking forward to seeing how R. J. McCaffery's still somewhat general indictment of Flarf as "elitist and obscure" and founded on "false consciousness", along with his endorsement of Dan Hoy's thesis, viz., that it "pretty much surrenders the technique of collage to a set of corporate algorithms (that control the rankings of the google search engine)", plays out in his analysis of particular poems.

One poem I'm rereading often these days is Gardner's "I Am So Stupid".

the garden will love me
the pollination will love me
that stupid girl from Sweden will love me
I can’t believe you slept with her

I need some of that sweet toxic love
pouring through my vernacular
how did I get so dumb? What’s wrong with me?
in the same way I love it, I also hate that I love it

I am so walking across a county
I am so stupid that I cannot rely on birds
I’d rather take a test

It seems to me that the only way to construe these lines as elitist and obscure (let alone "corporate") is to think they mean something very different than what is right there on the page.

I think the same can be said of another current favourite: Gary Sullivan's "On Speaking in Public". Here again, it is only if we suppose that "the point" of the poem is for someone to make an ass of themselves by "not getting it" that any sort of elitism would make sense. This, also, is why I resist the satirical construal of Flarf. I like it best when it's just saying what it's saying.

There must be a difference between writing top notch poetry and being elitist. Just as there must a difference between being in good shape and being a formalist.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Extreme War Poetry

Picking up on an idea of Jordan Davis', Kasey would have us imagine the extreme possibility of "a poem that, for example, ended the war in Iraq. Or started a whole new war." I can imagine neither. In fact, it doesn't jibe well with my understanding of what war is or what poetry is.

Picking up on another idea of Jordan's, the reason for this may that "poems don't consume petroleum". Wars, of course, do. But they also, it is said, secure the oil fields.

It looks like we might be talking about this a bit on the Lucipo list.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Keats and Yeats are on your side

One of the most impressive tribute albums I've ever heard has to be The Smiths is dead (Les Inrockuptibles, France, 1996). Billy Bragg and Supergrass do excellent versions of "Never Had No One Ever" and "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others". Placebo does an amazing rendition of "Bigmouth Strikes Again". For some reason, however, the Frank and Walters (whom I don't know anything about), have chosen to engage in a strange act of misprision.

Keats and Yeats are on your side
why can't they be on mine?

To see the enormity of this misreading, compare Morrissey's original,which is among my favourite pop lyrics:

Keats and Yeats are on your side
but you lose because Wilde is on mine

All this is just a longwinded intro to a later post in which I intend to unpack the anti-Palinurian sentiment of those two lines. I have my own ideas about what they mean, but any suggestions are, as always, welcome. If anyone wants to defend the Frank and Walters, I'm all ears too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Explication de Texte 3: emotion

J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory tells us that the word "strophe" is sometimes synonymous with "stanza" (especially in an ode) and sometimes (which I think is roughly the same thing in another form) "the unit or verse paragraph in free verse". That is also how I use it, making it homologous with the philosophical "remark". It is a group of words that achieves a specifiable poetic (or philosophical) effect.

In that sense, Kasey Mohammad's "Wallace Stevens" consists of four strophes (and Part I of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations consists of 693 remarks.) The first and last address the form of perception: intuition, in the Kantian sense. "Imagine" in the first becomes "look" in the fourth. "Evil" in the first becomes "numb" in the fourth. The second and third strophe present two simple images (emotional-conceptual complexes): an inner-city tragedy (the cliché of such a tragedy) and (in what may be the most interesting single impression in the poem) a guy standing beside the speaker, fuming like Cyndi Lauper, Björk and small, young Japanese women that write for people on drugs (and/or in high places). (I had a different interpretation of the fuming earlier; I like this one better.)

We are here being given a glimpse into the imagination of the Wallace Stevens of evil (some would argue that Wallace Stevens is the Wallace Stevens of evil, of course) and the corresponding numb eye that is already surveying the present as "the total past" (i.e., the present as the total expression of everything that has gone before). The emotion of a poem is always that with which we become contemporary, however. That which joins us to time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Explication de Texte 2: sources

The ostensible source of "Music Theory" is the experience of the poet. The poem reports on something that "happened". But it is, of course, not important whether or not it is true or accurate: what is important is that for the poem to work the teacher and the students must plausibly exist. The poem's emotion depends upon our ability to imagine the scene and to identify with the teacher. The poem does not "work" if we identify with the students. The materials, more importantly, are arranged around a point of view that asserts itself as poetic, a particular sensivity, an aesthetic "rightness" precedes the reading of the poem.

"Wallace Stevens" accomplishes itself as a poem by the arrangement of materials that are not in and of themselves poetic. Flarf is made out of materials that are unprepared for poetry; the materials used stand in an arbitrary relation to the emotion presented in the poem. Below are the sources I was able to find. As usual, their critical effect is minimal and negative, i.e., all we learn by discovering the sources is that they do not explain the poesy of the poem. They do not account for the emotion available in the poem. And yet, there is nothing else to the poem but their arrangement. This may seem like a banal point, but it ought to sharpen our sense of the contribution that poetry makes to language. It ought to make it somewhat clearer what poetry is.

3. Wallace Stevens

I couldn't have imagined, nor could you have less imagined, anything so worthy of America, had you not been there and done things, oh so many things, there.

Ahmed Balfouni, "Top 10 American Poets" in
Neo-comintern Electronic Magazine #187,
January 27, 2002

You're an evil motherfucker if, when somebody dies and you were THERE contributing to the damn shit, you're an evil motherfucker if you say, well, he did it to himself. Of COURSE he did it to himself. And I thought it was a riot, at the time, contributing to it. Look, man, it is actually pretty fucking FAR from a riot. And you got fucked up with Wallace Stevens? Hart Crane? And you're proud of it? Well, FUCK you, Peter Rabbit. I miss everyone I've ever known. Even those I did not like.

Kevin McGowin, The Benny Poda Years, Chapter 20

Track 10 is “Angel Blake.” This is Glenn Danzig at his finest: slow, heavy and richly textured with his sotto-voce tenor. Lyrically, Danzig is the Wallace Stevens of Evil. “Angel Blake” is a haunting tale; and simply a beautiful song. Here is the perfect example of a man getting better with age. He certainly has come such a long way from, “I turned into a Martian…”

Mick Stingley, Review of Danzig 777: I Luciferi

Oh yeah
In france a skinny man
Died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle
And soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys
And their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called the disciples
High on crack, totin? a machine gun

Prince, "Sign of the Times"

tavie.com... Like small, young Japanese women, Kirsten can dress like Cyndi Lauper circa 1983, or like Bjork circa anytime, or like Betsey Johnson on crack (redundant ...

(This archive seems to have been deleted)

3) "Interactive writing for sexually active teens" -BMC

4) "Hot shit off the dome for the mentally infirm" -Rickey Petersen

5) "Leaky cow udder writing for milk-starved sycophants" -Melatonin

6) "Hi-fi writing for high people" -Gnarly Wayne

7) "Wisecracks for wise people on crack" -BMC

"Top 10 Rejected N-Com Tag-lines" in
Neo-comintern Electronic Magazine #187,
January 27, 2002

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Explication de Texte 1

If we compare Ryan G. Van Cleave's "Music Theory as Chaos.com, or the Magical Breasts of Britney Spears" with Kasey Mohammad's "Wallace Stevens", I think the virtues of Flarf can be seen quite clearly.

At a general level, both poems combine references to literature with references to popular music and both poems evoke the vernacular. More specifically, both poems seem to turn on an error in this combination. Van Cleave's speaker mistakenly tells his students that the Parthenon is in Rome. He calls this a "boo-boo" and later says, "I wanted to Ctrl+Alt+Delete the/ whole / thing, reboot the damn class". Mohammad's much less definable voice simply notes someone "fuming" next to him (over the practice of "writing for high people") and offers an apologetic, "my bad, people /I could fast-forward life/ and look at all this with a numb eye/ to be like the total past". Note that the word "bad" here is a noun, like "boo-boo". Note the reference to technological mediations of experience that foster the dream of reversibility.

The differences begin with the choice of poets and pop icons. Britney Spears vs. Danzig, Walt Whitman vs. Wallace Stevens. In Van Cleave's poem this is no contest; it is clear that Britney Spears really doesn't belong in a poetry classroom. But Mohammad, in part because he draws his language verbatim from a positive review of Danzig's album 777: I Lucifero, makes the confrontation a fair and interesting one. Mohammad is not defending Stevens against vulgarization, he is exposing him to it. Van Cleave, however, is clearly simply shaking his head at "a pack of beaky, cheeky geeks who can't understand/ that their / trajectory in the universe is one of their own making,/ fueled / not by sugary gimmicks or cool turtle bone shades, but/ curiosity".

I think Van Cleave is trying to satirize his students but really just succeeds in moralizing from his superior position as their teacher. There is nothing to suggest that "Wallace Stevens", however, is satire. What vices are being ridiculed? What values are being defended? Nor is he making fun of anything. Rather, he is coordinating a field of social forces (heavy metal and high literature, crack heads and thin, Japanese women), he is writing down a particular emotional equation.

The Spirit of Flarf

The arts have a complex relation to society.

William Carlos Williams

The word Flarf has a definite meaning when applied to language derived from the Internet and to the literature written in that language. I've lifted the structure of that sentence from Erza Pound's Spirit of Romance (p. 11.) And, indeed, like the Troubadours, Flarfists are "melting the common tongue and fashioning it in new harmonies" (SoR, p. 22). But Flarf is not essentially Internet collage nor is all Internet collage Flarf. Rather, Flarf is a particular way of articulating emotions under particular conditions (roughly: war in an age of terror), working with particular linguistic constraints (or, more accurately, working on a pretty generous linguistic platform).

The Internet is to Flarf what Pound said Latin was for Romance, i.e., the source of its derivation. That is an important point. "Rome civilized BY LANGUAGE" (ABC, p. 33). Today, we are civilized by the Internet and, since "[our] language is in the care of [our] writers", it is only natural that our poets look for their materials online. ("I am SO stupid!", "That is SO cool!", etc.) Mike Magee has invoked William Carlos Williams' introduction to The Wedge (1944) in his characterization of Flarf. Williams emphasized that the poet makes a poem, that the poet does not say something with a poem, and that the poet "takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them" (SE, p. 257).

This, I'd say, applies more less directly to Flarf and I'd add that Google gives a (disconcertingly) concrete sense to "words as he finds them". But it is important to keep in mind that if he were satirizing the places he had found them, or in any other way using the words ironically, he would then be saying something, and this the poet does not do. Or so I want to argue.

All this is a warm-up to looking at some poems directly. What I want to stress is that the procedures by which a poem is made cannot account for its effects. At most, we can appeal to a procedure in order to explain how it was possible to make a particular poem. And this will of course only be a necessary where it amazes us. I take much of R. J. McCaffery's recent "simple" argument to be saying that the qualities of a number of poems I am currently enjoying are "outside the scope of the possible". If that is the case, then one of us is clearly wrong.

I don't want to deal with the question of whether or not Flarf is pretentious because it presupposes that Flarf is "crap". R. J. is working with a perception of Flarf that includes too many "random lines" read with too little charity (in the hermeneutic sense of reading for greatest possible coherence). He takes the word Flarf to denote a programme that is, with the greatest of "ease", churning out aesthetically indistinguishable lumps of (since they claim to be poems) "pretentious" nonsense. By contrast, I use the word Flarf to indicate a quality or set of qualities of poems, using "qualities" here in the laudative sense. That is, I use Flarf as a concept to guide my sensitivity for how particular groups of words come to constitute "such [an] intensity of perception that [they live] with an intrinsic movement of their own" (Willliams, p. 257), or "equations for the human emotions" (Pound, p. 14).

I will be spending a few posts now in an attempt to identify those qualities, with the side-project of identifying them independent of a possible satirical project, which some of the poets and some of their promoters seem to insist upon.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Word For/Word #9

"neither you nor your double can have the final say"

The new Word For/Word is here. Check out the lovely poems by Adam Clay, Kate Greenstreet and Justin Marks. And me.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

(Stupid) Question

for Simon DeDeo

Has Drew Gardner accomplished with Flarf what Tao Lin was unable to accomplish with a litany?

Mr. Pound and Mr. Rockefeller Go to the Bank

Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it. If Mr. Rockefeller draws a cheque for a million dollars it is good. If I draw one for million it is a joke, a hoax, it has no value. If it is taken seriously, the writing of it becomes a criminal act.

Ezra Pound (ABC, p. 25)

The latest round of talk about Flarf has an interesting feature that I would like to get at by way of an analogy. Suppose you overhear someone at a party telling a bigoted joke. On that day, let's say, you're in the kind of mood when you say, "Bigot! Asshole! Fuckface!" He quickly changes his tune. "It was just a joke," he says. He might even apologize and admit that it was a stupid thing to say. Except, he actually doesn't like "those people", you soon find out. This comes out because, for some reason, you started to defend those people. (What you forgot was that in order to mount this defense you had to accept the bigot's original category.) In the course of the discussion, you find out he has a series of uninformed opinions about "them". These opinions are not as vulgar as the original joke, which he has taken back, but they are nothing more than unfounded generalizations about a group of people he knows nothing about. When pressed, he finds examples of all manner of perverts and reprobates among "those people". You tell him that "they" can't be responsible for the failings of individuals and that the examples he cites are, in most cases, ordinary human imperfection magnified by a crusade against a larger foe. In other cases, there is talk of individuals no one has ever claimed to be especially proud of. Finally, to show his openmindedness about it all, he challenges you to find just a handful of "decent people" among "them" that he will then "civilly" measure his judgment (of all of them) against. After all, he's not prejudiced, he assures you, somewhat offended that you might have ever entertained the idea.

(To avoid a needless misunderstanding: I am not saying that Seth Abramson is a bigot. I'm saying he is arguing like one.)