Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kulchural Studies I: Vortex

"Every concept, every emotion," said Ezra Pound, "presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form." Vorticism was simply the artist's insistence on approaching experience through these "primary forms" of concepts and emotions. Thus we have "points of maximum energy" and "works of first intensity".

Where I differ with Pound is in his coordination of primary forms with particular arts.

If sound, to music; if formed words, to literature; the image, to poetry; form, to design; colour in position, to painter; form or design in three planes, to sculpture; movement, to dance or to the rhythm of music or verses.

There is something immediately odd about distinguishing between the primary forms of literature and poetry, and to call "form or design in three planes" a "primary form" is not especially elegant. My solution is to say that the primary form of any concept or emotion is always the image, and it may be acoustic, or visual (optical), or manual (haptic), perhaps even visceral and digestive.

Vorticism is not just one among many ways of approaching art. Is is a proposed aesthetic theory: an account of all art. In fact, it is the proposition that we approach our experience artfully. Any proposed study of culture (kulchural studies) would do well to begin with the images that instantiate it. When Gaudier-Brzeska said that he would "derive [his] emotions from the arrangement of surfaces" this is what he meant (GK, p. 69).

It is an attempt to engage with culture as it presents itself to the "vivid consciousness" or to think about the age in which we live on that part of our brain that "will register", as Pound put it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Classic Penguin

I've complained about this sort of thing before. In his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Billy Budd and Other Stories, Frederick Busch writes:

In [Dickens's Bleak House], a man is shown to be very much about paper and pen and, like Bartleby (at one point described as "folded up like a huge folio"), is a parody of Melville's profession. (xi, my underlining)

In "Bartleby, the Scrivener", Melville writes:

Throughout, the scrivener remained standing behind the screen, which I directed to be removed the last thing. It was withdrawn; and, being folded up like a huge folio, left him the motionless occupant of a naked room. (38)

The introduction was first published in 1986. It has gone uncorrected for over 20 years.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sleeping Difficulties

"Beauty is difficult."

Tony Tost's new book, Complex Sleep (U of Iowa Press, 2007), is brilliant. It is much more difficult than Invisible Bride (LSU Press, 2004), a bit like Ben Lerner's Angle of Yaw is more difficult than The Lichtenberg Figures. Actually, the difficulty gap is greater: Figures is more difficult than Bride, Yaw is less difficult than Sleep.

All these books are well worth the effort. Like Lerner's "Twenty-one Gun Salute for Ronald Reagan" (and "Howl", for that matter), the title poem, "Complex Sleep", works best (for me) when taken in at one go, out loud.

Not incidentally, I've been having a hard time with Barrett Watten's "Progress". "Sleep" and "Reagan" (and "Howl", for that matter) work for me in a way that "Progress" does not. But I'm starting to see what Watten was trying to do, and what he may have accomplished for his readers at the time. I may yet come around.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kulchural Studies

Be the trouble not the balance
Tony Tost

For three years (today), out of key with its time, this blog has tried to be the balance not the trouble. I have tried to establish every possible homology between philosophy and poetry I could think of. Situated steadfastly between epistemology (philosophy) and ethics (poetry), this project has been rigorously "aesthetic" in nature, cashed out in an insistent grammaticism.

I'm now thinking of changing gears, of putting my aesthecism behind me. I'm thinking of getting into trouble. My working title for this new project (perhaps a new blog) is "Kulchural Studies: vortex, paideuma, ereignis". It will be an attempt to engage with the political culture of my time, inspired by Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and Martin Heidegger. I am fully aware of the dangers.