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.