Tuesday, December 28, 2010


For some time now, I've been looking for a pangrammatical homologue for moral experience (for technical reasons, I do not say "the concept of morality"). Ethics is easy: epistemology (ethical/epistemic). But what is to morals as knowledge is to power, as epistemology is to ethics? Or another way of putting it: what is to epistemology as morality is to ethics? I've hit on causality as a possible answer.

The experience of causal order in our pursuit of knowledge is homologous to the experience of moral order in our pursuit of power. Causality is rooted in a kind of material custom, just as morality is rooted in social custom. Causality is the habit of the world. Morality is the habit of history.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Ridiculistest

I'm not sure it's even necessary to point out (certainly to the readers of this blog) that Anderson Cooper's recent Ridiculist segment on Julian Assange is completely unserious spin on a serious issue. To propose some sort of equivalence between leaking the diplomatic cables of the most powerful nation on earth and leaking the details of the allegations about the sexual conduct of the man who leaked those cables under the theme of "he can dish it out but..." is not simply ridiculous. It's outrageous.

Here's the thing not to lose sight of: Whatever Assange did with those women, there can be no question that the final judgment in that case depends less on what he did with them than what he has done, and will do if he isn't stopped, to the powers that be. Even those who want us to take the charges more seriously grant that elementary point. If he is guilty, he has done something that hundreds of thousands of men are as clearly guilty of, and stand as clearly accused of, and about which the very same police organizations (Swedish, British, international) do nothing. Are we really going to ridicule a man who objects to calibrating the police's interest in the sex life of an individual according to the individual's ability to expose the abuses of state power? Anderson Cooper seems to think so.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Does the state have a right to keep secrets? asks Frost. It has a "practical need" to do so, answers Assange. This is exactly right. The state does not have "rights" at all; keeping secrets is one of its practical problems. WikiLeaks exacerbates this problem, of course, but it is important to keep in mind that it is not advisable to satisfy all of a state's "needs". Especially if the state in question is already the most powerful state in the world.

Cenk Uygur did a serious interview with Assange on MSNBC too. (I really like both interviews. It's so rare to see issues actually illuminated in this form.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I think Naomi Wolf gets the issue exactly right in this discussion with Jaclyn Friedman. Reading the Guardian's report of the charges, it does not seem to me that what Assange is being accused of doing is rape, and I think Wolf is right to say that to treat Assange as an accused rapist on that basis is wrong. She is also right that he is being treated outrageously even if he were an accused rapist—where the outrage lies in the many accused rapists who are in no real danger of prosecution by the same legal systems that are so zealous here. But that seems to be something everyone agrees about.

There is an important point here that Friedman misses, but Wolf rightly emphasizes: the women themselves have not accused Assange of rape,* the Swedish authorities have. So it may be true, as Friedman says, that Assange is "guilty of what these women are alleging". But they are not accusing him of rape. The Swedish prosecutors have trumped their story up into this charge. Wolf is right that the way Assange is being treated fails to take rape seriously, but the conversation we have to have about this is obviously very difficult to have.

Wolf at one point talks about young women who have "felt raped" without saying anything to their sexual partners. She is right that to accuse that partner of rape goes against any reasonable standard of justice, not least, I would add, because of the impossibility of arguing the point on evidence. Likewise, Friedman's suggestion that I have raped the women who have consented "unenthusiastically" to having sex with me in the past is as silly (i.e., not taking it seriously) as the idea that I've been raped by women that I have had unenthusiastic sex with.

As Wolf emphasizes, this story can't be about rape and be serious. It is really just an attack on journalism, one that exploits ("pimps", as Wolf puts it) both feminists and rape victims. It perhaps also about sexcrime in the Orwellian sense; it is about the state deciding when you are having "goodsex". And the state, you can be sure, is not really interested in whether or not you or your partner are enjoying it. It is interested in control.

I would have a hard time living happily under Friedman's regime of "enthusiastic consent". Sex is necessarily ambiguous, sometimes boring. Sometimes done for one's pleasure, sometimes for the other's. Ideally, for both, of course. But get real.

It is perfectly okay to wake up aroused in the middle of the night and start coming on to the person who has chosen to share a bed with you. Even if they are asleep. It is not okay to keep at it if they tell you clearly to stop. But it is okay to keep going even if they seem a bit bored with it, would rather go back to sleep, or would have preferred that you used a condom, etc., but are clearly allowing it to continue to please you. These women may not, finally, have liked Assange's lovemaking (or judgment). Indeed, one describes it as "the worst screw ever". But, even when followed by a word like "violent", this doesn't seem like a way you would describe your own rape. Neither of the women (as I understand it) said even that she felt raped, let alone that she believed Assange had raped her (Friedman's repeated formula "he raped her in her sleep" is patently unjustifiable.) And I think Wolf's reading of the report is right on the question of whether there was explicit consent.

These women appear precisely to have called "the dating police" on Assange. They did not report a rape.* They sought only some leverage on a man they thought was being a jerk to them and was behaving irresponsibly in regard to pregnancy and STDs. After that, the authorities ran with it. And there is no real mystery about why that is.

"Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women's issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well -- at once -- the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault." (Noami Wolf)

*Update: I'm no longer sure about his. Here's a Guardian piece that talks about "two women in Sweden, who accuse him of sexual misconduct and rape". But it remains unclear whether this is the women's lawyer's and the prosecutor's word ("rape") or the women themselves who are using it. Bjorn Hurtig, the Swedish defense lawyer says: "Both complainants say they did not report him to the police for prosecution but only to require him to have an STD test." My view is obviously that if a woman says she's been raped, the police ought to take it seriously. I'm still not sure that that is what the women claim, however.

Another update: Cathy Young has a pretty sober reflection on what is going on here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ideological Translation

Here's an attempt to transpose the first paragraph of this interesting piece in FP on Kim Jong Un into something that might (or perhaps should) have been written about the current US President in, say, 2004. It doesn't take too much doing.

Ever since Barack Obama was introduced to the public in March, when he won the nominaion to run for the Senate and then became a rising star of the Democratic Party, we have been waiting to get the first insights into how he will be fitted into the ideological system of the United States of America (USA). To most Americans, he emerged almost out of nowhere; hence the US media now needs to present a convincing story to solidify his legitimacy as the next president. Much more than a purely academic question for Washington pundits or another expression of a bizarre Reaganite cult of personality, this is one of the key issues that will determine political faith in Obama. More importantly, it will be a major factor determining the future of America, which is of course of great concern to its neighbors, China, and the international community. Accordingly, even the slightest development regarding the role of Obama has to be taken very seriously. However, due care must be taken also that we do not only see what we want to see.

There's no political message here. I'm just trying to point out how our language deals with our brothers' motes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Lieberman non supra grammaticos

The stupidity continues. Joe Lieberman accuses Assange of definitely committing a crime, but the NY Times only of "bad citizenship" and possibly criminal responsibility. He then repeats the idea that Assange is obviously guilty of treason, forgetting precisely the issue of citizenship. Seriously, let's begin with the indictments. If the Department of Justice has not yet found a crime to charge the man with, leave it alone. This all just so much verbage, "so close to garbage, so far from language".

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


You know you're in trouble when the enfant terrible is the only adult in the room.


Just a little detail I find amusing in Cable Gate. Hillary Clinton has called Julian Assange "irresponsible". But we now hear the Department of State "coming to the defence" of the Secretary of State. That's in itself absurd. She runs the department; she can speak in her own defence or in its defense, but it cannot speak in her defence. An elementary point. That the secretary and her department don't understand it can be seen in what the spokesman said in an attempt to defend her. Her name is on all communications (underscoring my previous point: her name is also in principle on her spokesman's defence of her person). He goes on to say that she is "responsible" for the cable in question but did not "author" it. But what kind of naïve concept of "authorship" are we working with here? Surely nobody expected her to have typed it. Nor even formulated it. All she was supposed to do was take, precisely, "responsibility" for it. It was written and sent on her authority. And she calls Assange "irresponsible"!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

State Terror

"The scientists are in terror," wrote Ezra Pound, "and the European mind stops." If science is the methodical pursuit of knowledge, let us say that politics is the mendacious pursuit of power. When the politicians are in terror, then, the American body stirs. Lashes out.

It is unseemly. I just read a denunciation in a major Danish newspaper of Julian Assange as a traitor. It is a nonsensical claim—Assange is an Australian who has committed a crime, if he has, against America—in this case made by a Danish journalist who doesn't even know how to spell his name.

It is said that Assange should be hunted down like a terrorist, tried and even executed. Who is so afraid of Julian Assange? The state. Treason is a crime against the state. But the pundits forget that it cannot be committed by your foreign enemies (or even your allies abroad), who are free to oppose your policies as they choose. This has always been the crucial ambiguity of terror: are terrorists “criminals” or “enemies”? They are enemies that we want to treat as criminals so that we can feign outrage over their actions. What we forget is that their actions are desperate. A responsible state is careful about the enemies it makes, precisely because a sufficiently desperate enemy cannot be trusted to "behave". Assange, let us say, is being accused of misbehaving.

And, once again, Ron Paul brings us clarity, speaking from D.C. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.” U.S. foreign policy (“spreading democracy and freedom”) is a lie. The truth is much more complicated and we are now in a position to engage with that truth in its complexities, in its details. This makes things difficult for the state. It's not that I don't understand Hillary Clinton's irritation and frustration. I just can't respect her outrage over it. She seeks exactly the same kind of information about her adversaries. The difference is that she would keep that information to herself and use it to her advantage. WikiLeaks immediately redistributes that advantage to everyone.

It is true that diplomacy demands secrecy about exactly the cables that have been leaked. But what commits us to any country's diplomacy? And a country other than our own, to boot? If they want these things kept secret, they should keep them secret. They have failed. Assange, in a fundamental way, seems to be against diplomacy. So you have to keep this sort of stuff away from from him. Don't be outraged about what he does with it when he gets ahold of it. Don't tell him he's making diplomacy "impossible". He knows.

Let’s keep in mind that a so-called “enemy of the state” is always really only the enemy of a state. In this case, the secretary of the relevant state has slid unremarkably from talk about how WikiLeaks threatens U.S. security and prosperity to how it threatens security and prosperity as such. As a top Bush aide once famously said, “We’re an empire now.” And Assange has been quite clear about his loyalties (or lack thereof). To be outraged at his methods is a desperate act. Patriotism is no longer the last refuge of the scoundrel, it seems; even after patriotism becomes irrelevant, the scoundrel can accuse foreign nationals of treason! It would be funny, if it was not so sad, that the person who is directly responsible for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy denounces the “irresponsibility” of someone who has exactly no responsibility for that conduct.

Hillary Clinton, your outrage bores me. You have made an enemy of Julian Assange. Accept it. Your government made an enemy of him long ago, not by its words by but its deeds. But this enemy of yours has proposed only to expose your lies, to tell the truth about your policies. You are making an ass of yourself by suggesting his behaviour is at issue. He does not have to explain himself because he has no power. You have power; you must explain your actions. To say that he is disloyal is such nonsense! He never offered you his loyalty. You failed (your country failed) to win his loyalty long ago. Take it like a statesman, Hillary. The truth was leaked and your mind stopped so abruptly that your face has cracked. You must step down now because your diplomacy, your mendacious pursuit of global power, is impossible. The truth is out. Your successors will have their work cut out for them in their own mendacious pursuits. The state is in terror.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Tyrant and the Rebel

"Resist all you like," said the tyrant, "I draw my strength from your resistance."

"Oppress all you like," replied the rebel, "we draw our strength from your oppression."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Genius is

reaching the limit of a thought without indulging the desire to feel stupid.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Where to?

When the farthest corner of the globe has been conquered technologically and can be exploited economically; when any incident you like, in any place you like, at any time you like, becomes accessible as fast as you like; when you can simultaneously "experience" an assassination attempt against a king in France and a symphony concert in Tokyo; when time is nothing but speed, instanteneity, and simultaneity, and time as history has vanished from all Dasein of all peoples; when a boxer counts as the great man of a people; when the tallies of millions at mass meetings are a triumph; then, yes then, there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for?—where to?—and what then?

Also sprach Martin Heidegger in 1935 (IM 40 [28-9]). "Regular television broadcasts [had begun] in Germany in 1929." "[Muhammad] Ali regained his title on October 30, 1974 by defeating champion George Foreman in their bout in Kinshasa, Zaire." "The first "modern" network technology on digital 2G (second generation) cellular technology was launched by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa Group) in 1991 in Finland on the GSM standard." Tonight, Fran Lebowitz answers the question concerning technology on HBO. Her answer is: "No." Where to then? "Here."*

*"I have none of these machines, which allows people to not be wherever they are. Since I don't have them and I'm forced to be where I am all the time, which is why I'm noticing what people are doing." It does not get much more Heidegerrian than that, does it, friends?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I was surprised that Google only turned up one instance of the sentence "Science is the methodical pursuit of knowledge". When I articulated it for myself, I certainly didn't think that I (or, as it turns out, "ChrisM") was saying something original. So if anyone knows of a classic version of that dictum, please let me know.

The straight pangrammatical homologue is: politics is the mandated pursuit of power. But all depth in philosophy, as Wittgenstein said, is the depth of a grammatical joke. Here the joke might go as follows:

If science is the methodical pursuit of knowledge, politics is the mandacious pursuit of power.

Only a pangrammarian would get it, of course. Only if the word "method" immediately calls up "mandate" will "mandacious" have any meaning at all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Conservation of War

Here's an astute and surprisingly still-relevant observation from Norman Mailer in his debate with William F. Buckley made in September, 1962, published in Playboy in 1963, and reprinted in the Presidential Papers (pages 170-1). Replace the Cold War with that peculiar vector of financial crisis and the "war on terror" that Obama inherited from Bush and the point, I think remains valid.

So long as there is a cold war, there cannot be a conservative administration in America. There cannot for the simplest reason. Conservatism depends upon a huge reduction in the power and the budget of the central Government. Indeed, so long as there is a cold war, there are no politics of consequence in America. It matters less each year which party holds the power. Before the enormity of defense expenditures, there is no alternative to an ever-increasing welfare state. It can be an interesting welfare state like the present one, or a dull welfare state like President Eisenhower’s. It can even be a totally repressive welfare state like President Goldwater’s well might be. But the conservatives might recognize that greater economic liberty is not possible so long as one is building a greater war machine. To pretend that both can be real is hypocritical beyond belief. The conservatives then are merely mouthing impractical ideas which they presume may bring them power. They are sufficiently experienced to know that only liberalism can lead America into total war without popular violence, or an active underground.

As far as I can tell, Rand Paul is not hypocritical in this sense. Like his father, he has always granted that the "huge reduction in the power and budget of the central Government" implies an enormous reduction in military spending, i.e., a reversal of imperial "total war" strategy. The larger argument, in the pages leading up to this paragraph, is worth examining. Mailer works through the budgetary wiggle room that a rollback of the welfare state implies and then introduces the problem raised by Goldwater's promise of not "economizing on the nation's safety".

Note to self: the longish post here, which saved me half the typing in that long quotation from PP, could make for an interesting engagement.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Songs of Praise and Libel

I just listened to John Coltrane's "Song of Praise" and Bob Wiseman's "Libelous" back to back. It's worth doing either. Also both.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rand Paul, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow

I believe the world would change (or would have already changed) if Rachel Maddow gave Rand Paul an interview that looked (and especially felt) like the one she gave with Jon Stewart. The important thing here is what she let him say and how it did not destroy the mood. It suggests the following utopian vision:

Rand Paul is president. Jon Stewart is the host of the Late Show (that IS going to happen, right?)*. And Rachel Maddow anchors the evening news.

*Update: if you want to feel that this "IS" going to happen watch this clip.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Notes Toward Composure

The aim of poetry is to extricate the subject from the history of peoples, just as the aim of philosophy is to extricate the object from the world of things.

It is the task of the poet to present the subject by noting the emotions that position it in a particular history. It is the task of the philosopher to present the object by noting the concepts that relate it to a universal world. In a profoundly disturbing sense, the poet is to "the party" what the philosopher is to "the university".

Philosophers fail when they merely posit the object, just as poets fail when they merely pose the subject. The aim of philosophy is to bring the thing out and ground it objectively in the world as an object subsumed under a universal concept. Anything less is but an academic exercise. The aim of poetry, likewise, is to bring the person out and situate him or her subjectively in a history as a subject obligated to a particular emotion. Anything less is merely toeing the party line.

(I don't know if everyone appreciates these exercises. But they make me tingle. Just saying.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

Rand Paul

I think Rand Paul did really well in this interview, and I don't think it's fair to say that he deals in "sweeping generalizations". I think he sounds as level-headed and intelligent as Obama did when he was running against Hilary Clinton.

His position is basically that the U.S. gov't can't keep behaving like "everything is an emergency". He wants to downsize it from a four trillion dollar operation to a two and a half trillion dollar operation. Like he says, that's still a very big government. If you want specifics, he refers you to a book by Christopher Edwards. Don't say that's skirting the issue. If you're going to downsize a government in that scale, you'd better have read a few books on the subject.

Most importantly, it seems to me that he'd take seriously the idea that pulling out of Afghanistan and legalizing pot are two very good ways of reducing needless government spending. So I'm looking at him with interest. He doesn't seem corrupted.

I know he's said some disconcerting and puzzling things in the past. But I mostly cringed with him, not at him.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Has anyone noticed that one can bring a "suit" against someone else and one's "case" can come up in court. You can also hire a lawyer (who will be wearing a suit) to write a brief. Lawyers don't keep their underwear in their briefcases, by the way. But when they travel they put their suits in their suitcases. They wear suits and carry briefcases, they keep their briefs (of their cases and suits) in those cases.

I don't know. Maybe it's important.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kate's Own Eyes

This 30 minute film about Kate Greenstreet and her latest book, The Last 4 Things, is well worth watching. Kate's America, like Tony's, is a wondersome place. Thanks, Max.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I ♥ the New Yorker

'In the movies, we are taught that if something bad happens to someone, somebody better-looking will learn from it. In "Pearl Harbor", the sight of struggling sailors, drowning below-decks, serves as a useful reminder to Ben Affleck of how he ought to feel about Kate Beckinsale.' (Adam Gopnik, NYer, 25/10/10, p. 32)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tony Tost as an Assuring Male Poet

I just came across an outrageous distortion of Tony Tost's Invisible Bride, perpetrated by Stephanie Cleveland (who I don't know who is, I'll admit). In "The Myth of Women’s Masochism", she writes as follows:

In “The Great Submarine Race,” Mathew Rohrer describes penises as metaphorical submarines (that is, warships) which slumber in the bloodstreams of all men. These “submarines” want desperately to “burble [i.e. shoot off] in shallow slips.” Erection and ejaculation are the primary focus; the woman’s vagina becomes passive, a port where the poet docs his sub:
A man in the square nudged his wife/and told her they were Mammary clouds. Everyone’s bloodstream burbled faintly./ The wife loved the lumpy clouds, the man’s submarine slipped its mooring/and nosed her coral arches. Simultaneously, all the world’s submarines exhaled and plunged deep into the shifting water, with their little engines racing (65)
Men fuck women as a collective entity, bonding through what Tony Tost has aptly poeticized as “the ancient male ritual of penetrating” (49). Some envision themselves as charming submarines who “enter her” magnanimously. For women, to reject this image of being plunged or parted by a man’s ship is to hurt men’s feelings, to risk making a male partner feel less substantial, less like a man, and potentially less willing to stick around. Every one else is fucking this way, every other woman in the world waits eagerly to be nudged by her partner’s penis; the male poet assures us this is so; every woman is happiest in her natural role of passive port directed were to look by an erection-wielding husband.

But anyone who reads the poem on page 49 will immediately see that Tony was not talking about a ritual of penetrating per se. Rather, he has “Agnes”, who recurs in the book as “the otherworldly force that silently and insistently explains [his] reason for being” and also “theorizes about the sanctity of airports" (8), say something completely different. I'll quote it here along with the set-up.

When I was ten I broke into my father's office to steal some money and there he was digitally stimulating my mother and talking on the phone. Agnes said I have spent my life's capital perpetually sneaking into my father's office, then telling myself I was a trespasser of the unknown.

"The ancient male ritual of penetrating the public sphere only to stumble upon a penetration of the private one," she said.

Cleveland, the "female poet", if you will, lops off the clauses that give a sense to "penetrating" and now assures us that this is a poem about how “men fuck women as a collective entity, bonding”. Very assuring, indeed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Far Too Canadian

Many years ago when I was living in Canada there was a song called "Far Too Canadian" by a band called Spirit of the West. Today, I read the following about Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, in the Economist:

Last year he raised eyebrows by choosing to inaugurate a doughnut-innovation centre rather than attend the UN General Assembly. (16/10/10, p. 54)

It's one of those facts through which reality outdoes the parody.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reverse Notation

Here' s a nice little poem by the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt. It appears in a book called called The Hand's Tremor in November, here in my own translation:

You, whom I love, and who thinks that I love another. I love you so intensely these days because I have fallen for another.

An interesting idea, to be sure. Today, I had a series of experiences that made me feel something of what Pound noted down in his "In A Station of the Metro" (which, as I have noted before, is an anagram of "Of Another Tostian Item", but I digress...). What I felt can perhaps best be described with a poem that inverts, almost completely, Nordbrandt's notation:

You, who loves me, and I know can't love another. I fell for every girl I saw today because you love me so intensely.

Not a work, I will grant, of first intensity. But noted down, in any case, for future reference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Weather is Broken

Today it is so foggy outside that the weather appears to be malfunctioning. One wants to call the weather company and hear the customer service representative say that they're "working on it", that they hope to have it "up and running" later today.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Notes Toward the Meaning of Justice

In the "The Meaning of Truth", William James says,

Distance ... is made abstract by emptying out whatever is particular in the concrete intervals—it is reduced thus to a sole 'difference,' a difference of 'place', which is a logical ... distinction, a so-called 'pure relation.'

The same is true of the relation called 'knowing,' which may connect an idea with a reality. ... I say that we know an object by means of an idea ..."

Here's a pangrammatical transposition of this passage, converting it from a statement about knowledge to one about power (here, as we shall see, "mastery"):

Duration ... is made concrete by filling in whatever is universal in the abstract termini—it is ramified thus to a mass 'identity,' an identity of 'way', which is a passionate ... equivalence, a so-called 'brute position.'

The same may be said of the position called 'mastering,' which may divorce a reality from an idea. ... I say that we master a subject by means of a reality ..."

Not bad, eh?

Saturday, October 02, 2010


"In other words, the intermediaries which in their concrete particularity form a bridge, evaporate ideally into an empty interval to cross and then, the relation of the end-terms having became saltatory, the hocus-pocus of erkenntnisstheorie begins, and goes on unrestrained by further concrete considerations." (William James)

"Hoc est corpus meum." (Jesus Christ)


We want reality to be opaque. There should be nothing behind it.

We want ideas to be transparent. There should be nothing to them.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Major and Minor Forms

A distinguished novelist complained that no directions for major form were given in How to Read.
In apology: It is a waste of time to listen to people talking of things they have not understood sufficiently to perform. (Ezra Pound, ABC, p. 76)

Pound ultimately didn't even exhibit "major form" in the Cantos. As Kearns points out,

He never got around to theorizing about major form, nor did he impose one on the Cantos. As he added to the poem or he came across new materials that interested him, he allowed them to find a place in the expanding code, trusting principally that a dynamic magnetism would hold everything together by the quality of the poet's affections. (29)

This is exactly the opposite of what I want to allow, and what I can trust, in Composure. My notes will cohere, I want to say, even if It/I don't (cf. Canto CXVI). That's what the project is about.

I want a major form to emerge from the pieces (the pjecer that have been translated as Kierkegaard's "fragments"). 51 pieces, say, one of which is my body ("This is my body"). Where it at all coheres. The form will not be imposed; it will be built. Hand crafted.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poetic Composition

Thomas Presskorn reminds me that I've been promising to write Composure for some time. If it were a straight prose work, I would chide myself for not just getting down to it. But I did actually once try to just "get the thing done" and it simply didn't work. I write scholarly prose quite easily (surprisingly easily) these days. What I'm having trouble with is the sort of writing that I want Composure to be.

"Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten," said Wittgenstein. Peter Winch renders it, "Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition." I sometimes think it would suffice (though it doesn't, of course, really) to say "One ought really only compose philosophy," adding, perhaps, a parenthetical "in the manner of poetry", to capture the everyday sense of "dichten".

But what kind of poetry? My answer is that philosophy ought to be written on the model of Rosmarie Waldrop, Lisa Robertson, Ben Lerner, and Tony Tost. Their work is resolutely "emotional", however, in a way that I do not intend Composure to be, and for this reason they work much more freely within their form than I hope to. But the words are composed on the page in a, to me, exemplary way.

Wittgenstein said that his demand that we compose philosophy as we compose poems only showed that he wasn't very good at what he wanted to do. I feel the same way. I simply don't know how to "work" at it. I know that "This is my body" is the central claim of the book. The book is to be a "complete" elaboration of that sentence. I also know that this elaboration will consist of about 50 "moments" (roughly speaking, discrete poems) with titles like "Knowledge" and "Power", "Intuition" and "Institution", "Seeing" and "Doing" ... perhaps even "Eye", "Hand" and "Lens", "Lever". The "poems" will be paired like that, with no moment lasting more than a page (probably about 300 words). But that's what I know. I don't really know how to compose a poem. I can't do it the way I write prose.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Descartes' Feint

I am still working on a book called Composure. It is an attempt to overcome, both poetically and philosophically, what Damasio calls "Descartes' error", which, I believe, was not so much a mistake as a deft piece of misdirection. Here is the key passage in part IV of the Discourse on Method.

I attentively examined what I was, and as I observed that I could suppose [feindre] that I had no body, and that there was no world nor any place in which I might be; but that I could not therefore suppose that I was not; and that, on the contrary, from the very circumstance that I thought to doubt of the truth of other things, it most clearly and certainly followed that I was; while, on the other hand, if I had only ceased to think, although all the other objects which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking, and which, that it may exist, has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing; so that “I,” that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the body, and is even more easily known that the latter, and is such, that although the latter were not, it would still continue to be all that it is.

I do not believe this is an error based on an (understandable) lack of neurological knowledge. Rather, I simply do not believe Descartes when he says he could "suppose" or, as some translations put it, "pretend" (arguably a more literal translation of feindre) that he "had no body".

I cannot myself suppose, imagine or pretend any such thing. If I had no body, I would not be. If there were no world around me, there would be no place for me, no "there" (Da) for my being (Sein). Composure is coming to terms with the experience of being wholly indistinguishable from my body, my world, my history.

I am not "a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking, and which, that it may exist, has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing". On the contrary. This experience is my body.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Concentration Which Will Persist Uncomfortably until It Is Removed

I have said that the purpose of a poem is to make us "feel better", that is, better able to feel. A poem does this, I have argued, by "noting emotions", that is, by writing them down. Poetry is emotional notation to foster precision in feeling. Precision in thought is clarity. Precision in feeling is intensity. It all still sounds right to me. But I recently read Robert Graves's "November 5th Address", given sometime in 1928 and published in X, volume 1, number 3, June 1960.

It is a rejection of literature that is written to please, whether the public or the critics. And while this is never what I have consciously meant, I can see that positing a "purpose of poetry" that is centered on the reader (what a poem should "make us" do) is more in line with with this "literary" approach than what Graves is after (Graves rejects all "literature").

Not only is poetry not a science, says Graves, it is not an art. This is really where he challenges my views, and he does it most effectively in this passage:

Poetry is not an art. It does not even begin as words. What happens is that there is a sudden meeting in the poet's mind of certain incognizable, unrelated and unpersonified forces; of which meeting comes a new creature—the still formless poem. The poet feels this happening at the back of his mind mind as an expectance, a concentration which will persist until it is removed. First, he objectifies it by writing it in in such a way that it has a general, not merely personal, context; then removes it as far as possible by putting it into circulation. (174, my emphasis)

Graves says that poetry is a "serious activity" for "serious people", people whose first goal "is to be themselves and please themselves" (172).

So to apply this to my own formula: A poem must, first of all, make the poet feel better (please the poet, if you will). And it is only in the pursuit of this aim that poem must be published ("put into circulation") so as to "remove it as far as possible". Poetry responds to a need, first of all in the poet, for greater emotional precision. This need no doubt exists in the so-called "public"; the "incognizable, unrelated and unpersonified forces" do not impose themselves on the poet in a vacuum. But the poet does not (should not) respond to a presumed (projected?) need for pleasure in the public. Rather, public life, which does much to determine the parameters of what Graves calls "the huge impossibility of language", is, in part, the source of the imprecision. The notes of the poet does all it can to move it. That is emotional notation.

I think I have, perhaps inadvertently, let myself get distracted by my hope that poetry could serve a civic function. It has been "hugely impossible" for me to write poems that, however unconsciously, were ultimately "literary" in the sense Graves disparages. At some level, my protestations notwithstanding, I did not want to circulate a poem that I did not see the civic utility of. I have, in an important sense, tried too hard to please other people. I take as evidence the presence, "at the back of my mind", of a concentration that persists uncomfortably. It needs to be removed.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Moral Equivalence: A Presidential Memo

I just read the following sentence in a pretty good editorial in the New York Times: "Iran’s leaders, ruthless as they clearly are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt." It reminded me of a passage in Norman Mailer's Presidential Papers:

It could be argued that the impetus to America's cold war with communism has come from a collective psychosis, from a monster which has borne almost no relation to the objective cold war going on in these years, a particular real cold war which has been concrete, limited, ugly, detailed, and shrewd in its encounters. The Russians have shown a tough tenacious sly somewhat dishonorable and never-tiring regard for local victory in each of their episodes with us. We have dealt with this international opposition in terms which were schizophrenic. On the working diplomatic level any adjectives applied to the Russians could have applied to us. We also have been tough tenacious sly somewhat dishonorable and have hardly ever slackened in our regard for local victory; but at the level of domestic political consumption we have presented the Russians to the American public as implacable, insane, and corrupting. We could have talking equally of of the plague or some exotic variety of sex. (161)

That may have been a long detour for the simple point I want to make. I long for the day when the New York Times writes, simply, "Iran’s leaders, though clearly as ruthless as ours are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt." That is, I wish we could bring what we say at "the level of domestic political consumption" into line with what we say and do "on the working diplomatic level". It would make our culture more sane.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Obedience (again)

"Just as a decision may obey or disobey desire," I once said, "so a discovery may confirm or disconfirm a belief." That's not exactly right, and I'd like to take a moment to correct it. Decisions are indeed to discoveries as desires are to beliefs. But obedience is to understanding, not confirmation, as desire is to belief. What does this difference imply about decision and discovery?

Well, a discovery can't really understand a belief and, likewise, a decision can't actually obey a desire. An action, or more accurately an actor, can obey and disobey somethign.

But there may be tensions between decision and desire, just as there may be tensions between discovery and belief. Perhaps we can say that if a discovery can, indeed, confirm a belief (I believe that there is a woman outside my door and, opening it, I discover that this is indeed the case, i.e., I confirm it) then a decision can ratify a desire (I desire to share the woman's company and, inviting her in, I decide to let this happen, i.e., I ratify it).

I can express the content of a belief as a statement, and the content of a desire as a command. These expressions may then be understood or misunderstood, obeyed or disobeyed. I cannot decide an action any more than I can discover a perception. Do or do not. See or don't see. There is no try.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ron Paul

After I quick read through, I think Ron Paul gets this thing exactly right. I may be missing something in the fine print, and I'd still like to think socialism could be as right on this issue as libertarianism (i.e., that another set of principles could imply the same conclusion.) But, in any case,

"We now have an epidemic of 'sunshine patriots' on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended."

That nails it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Failures to Communicate

Deference is to obedience as reference is to understanding. To defer, that is, is not exactly to obey, but it may nonetheless display an "understanding" of the power implicit in a situation. Likewise, a mere reference to something does not demonstrate any depth of understanding, but it may display a rudimentary grasp of what is known.

What is interesting here, in fact, is how an incorrect reference may demonstrate a lack of understanding quite unequivocally. Likewise, failing to defer to power (or deferring to the wrong the person) can constitute an unequivocal act of disobedience.

That famous line from Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate," nicely captures the homology of misunderstanding and disobedience.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reference and Deference

My knowledge is beholden to a system of reference, to identifications of named things. My power is beholden to a system of deference, to differentiations from named people. Indeed, only things actually have identities, i.e., only things are that which they are. People (you and I and them) are not simply who we are. Our existence is our difference from others. That is why our knowledge of things is conditioned by reference (knowledge is a capacity for accurate reference) and our power over people is conditioned by deference (power is a capacity for accurate deference).

When I "identify" a person, I am not merely saying, "This body goes by this name." I am saying, "This is not my body. I will defer to this body under such and such circumstances." No general principles define those circumstances. They are determined exactly by who the person is, and who the person quite specifically is not, namely, I. The person's name, then, does not simply refer to the person. Instead, the name stands for a particular apparatus of (set of dispositions for) deference in me. My power is implicit in that apparatus. "Accuracy of deference" means simply that I defer to the "right" people.

See also: "Notes on the Practice of Deference"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Freedom and Limits

You are limited by your understanding and misunderstanding of statements. You are free to obey and disobey commands.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Scandal

It seems to me that the scandal of the current financial system is that the closer you get the source of the money, i.e., the place where it is printed, issued, and gets leveraged into purchasing power (as credit), the more money you are in a position to make. Banking should be a much less ambitious business. Perhaps it shouldn't be a business at all. All banks have to do is ensure there is enough money to facilitate the circulation of goods. It seems obvious that if someone is in a position to make a profit simply by printing money (and keeping some of it) then "someone" will do exactly that. And this will put too much money into circulation. In effect, the "wealth" of our bankers consists in money they created out of thin air, distributing some (for show) and keeping some (for themselves). So-called "derivatives" were merely a shell game to conceal the operation.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Jefferson/Pound redux

While on vacation, I read Simon Johnson and James Kwak's 13 Bankers. The closing paragraph of this wholly convincing, if perhaps too affable, analysis of the financial system reads as follows:

Even when it goes out of fashion, Thomas Jefferson’s suspicion of concentrated power remains an essential thread in the fabric of American democracy. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 has made Jefferson a little less out of fashion. It is that tradition of skepticism that, if anything, can shift the weight of public opinion against our new financial oligarchy—the most law-abiding, hardworking, eloquent, well-dressed oligarchy in the history of politics. It is to help reinvigorate that spirit of Jefferson that we have written this book. (222)

If Jefferson is going to be "a little less out of fashion", then perhaps Pound can be hip again, too? In the late-1930s, he argued for a "revival" of what he called "American civilization", namely, America in the spirit of Henry Adams and Thomas Jefferson (ca. 1760 to 1830). In a sense, Johnson and Kwak argued that this revival actually came about (with the various banking reforms that came out of the Great Depression), though Pound was not of course satisfied. The "reinvigoration" that Johnson and Kwak are hoping for is much less radical than Pound's "revival", but, as the name of Jefferson indicates, is thought in the same "spirit". As Pound put it:

'As monument' or I should prefer to say as a still workable dynamo, left us from the real period, nothing surpasses the Jefferson correspondence. Or to reduce it to convenient bulk concentrating on the best of it, and its fullest implications, nothing surpasses the evidence that CIVILIZATION WAS in America, than the series of letters exchanged between Jefferson and John Adams, during the decade of reconciliation after their disagreements.

I'm going to spend a few posts this month thinking this through.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Translation

One day I'll find the time to read Kierkegaard again, I hope, and to try my hand at translating him. Here are two sentences from The Sickness unto Death:

Den socratiske Definition hjælper sig da saaledes. Naar En ikke gjør det Rette, saa har han heller ikke forstaaet det; hans Forstaaen er en Indbildning; hans Forsikkring om at have forstaaet en feil Direction; hans gjentagne Forsikkring om Fanden gale ham at have forstaaet, en uhyre, uhyre Fjernhed ad den størst mulige Omvei.

Here's the official (Penguin) English translation by Alistair Hannay:

The Socratic definition covers itself as follows. When a person does not do the right thing, then neither has he understood; his understanding is an illusion; his protestation of understanding is a misleading message, his repeated protestations that he'll be damned if he doesn't understand, a huge, huge distance away on the greatest possible detour.

It comes off a bit like a Dane's attempt translate his own writing. Here's what I'd do with it:

The Socratic definition offers itself as follows. When someone fails to do the right thing, then neither has he understood it; his understanding is a delusion, his assurances that he's understood, a diversion, his repeated assurances that you better damned well believe he's understood, a monstrous, monstrous distraction by way of the greatest possible detour.

Not bad, if I do say so myself. I'll update this post with some notes later.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Conjunctions of War

The grammar is always impeccable in the New Yorker. It tells us how one thinks. Consider an illuminating sentence from William Finnegan's article on the Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico's President, Felipe Calderón declared war—his metaphor—on the country's drug traffickers when he took office, in December, 2006. ... [His] first act was to send sixty-five hundred soldiers and federal police into Michoacán. ... Fifty thousand soldiers and twenty thousand federal police are now in the streets and countryside, but the bloodshed and disorder have grown worse. (39)

It is the "but" in that last sentence that interests me. The unstated understanding between the implicit author and his implicit reader is that a surge of troops into a region will normally reduce "bloodshed and disorder"; "but" normally sets up a contrast of some sort. Consider the alternative:

Fifty thousand soldiers and twenty thousand federal police are now in the streets and countryside, and the bloodshed and disorder have grown worse.

We can easily imagine the same grammatical issue in coverage of the War on Terror.

One hundred and fifty thousand soldiers are now in Afghanistan, but the bloodshed and disorder have grown worse.

The always implicit axiom is that it is puzzling that declaring war on something increases rather than decreases the bloodshed related to it. The grammar of empire requires that "but" (which, not incidentally, indicates "exception"—as in "state of exception"). A shift in usage to favour "and" would be in the interest of peace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Foreign and Domestic: The Movie

Read "Foreign and Domestic: The Blog Post".

Ridiculous Thought

"Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy."
Norman Mailer

If Being and Time is a metaphysics of fascism, The Cantos is its anthropology. The tome and epos of fascism, if you will.

This would explain why these books are so hard for us to understand. Perhaps only a reevaluation of fascism will yield an understanding of the "inner truth and greatness" of these books. Spooky.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Notes on the Practice of Deference

"Given a theory," Quine writes, "one philosophically interesting aspect of it into which we can inquire is its ontology [i.e., what is the theory about?]. But we can also inquire into its ideology (to give a good sense to a bad word): what ideas can be expressed in it? The ontology of a theory stands in no simple correspondence to its ideology." ("Notes on the Theory Reference", FLPV, p. 131).

Let's begin with a straight pangrammatical transposition:

Taking any practice, one poetically interesting handle we can get on its governance is its ethnicity [i.e., who is engaged in the practice?]. But we can also govern through its realisability (to give a good sense to a vague word): what realities can be contained by it? The ethnicity of a practice stands in no simple correspondence to its realisability.

To continue: "The notion of ontological commitment," says Quine, "belongs to the theory of reference. For to say that a given existential quantification presupposes objects [things] of a given kind is to say that the open sentence which follows the quantifier is true of some objects of that kind of none not of that kind." (130-1) Get that? Well, maybe the transposition is actually easier to understand:

The sentiment of ethnic commitment belongs to the practice of deference. For to say that a given essential qualification applies to subjects [people] of a given ilk is to say simply that the open sentence which follows the qualifier is just of all subjects of that ilk and none not of that ilk.

Pause for reflection.

Update (29-09-16): I did not realize when I wrote that "Poem about WVO Quine" how much it was related to this post.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Facing Hitchens

"I can only admire but cannot emulate the accuracy of judgment of those who pose the fair young mammals photographed in magazines where the general neckline is just low enough to provoke a past master's chuckle and just high enough not to make a postmaster frown." (Vladimir Nabokov)

I like Christopher Hitchens's column in Slate this week. I don't agree with it, but I like it because he emphasizes exactly the point at issue. He offers some "minor" objections to the Burka as well, but seems as bored by them as I am. (It may or may not be true that it's unsafe to drive a car wearing various kinds of headdress, but then the law should be against driving under that influence, not the influence itself. We don't ban whisky because it impairs our ability to drive. Nor ought we to ban pot for that reason, as Hitchens would agree.)

No, Hitchens goes straight at it. It begins with a somewhat personal stance:

I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face, let alone a tax inspector or customs official. Where would we be without sayings like "What have you got to hide?" or "You dare not show your face"?

But he ends with something much more universal (and what is an intellectual for if not to distill a universal principle from a feeling of personal indignation?):

So it's really quite simple. My right to see your face is the beginning of it, as is your right to see mine. Next but not least comes the right of women to show their faces, which easily trumps the right of their male relatives or their male imams to decide otherwise.

There seems to me to be an obvious objection. Hitchens is claiming his right to see a woman's face over her right to hide it from him. He is offering me the right to see his face in exchange for relinquishing my right to turn mine away from him while I talk to him.

Now, as it happens, the idea of a face to face with Christopher Hitchens appeals to me. But I both understand and respect the impulse to modesty that underlies a woman's (or man's) choice to wear a veil (which is not the same impulse, I want to point out, that underlies the decision of European women to wear sunglasses.) I also understand the desire that underpins a man's hope that his wife will dress modestly in public; and I leave it to husband, wife, and priest (if husband and wife so choose), to decide what's appropriate. I will never grant the state the power to decide what counts as reasonable modesty, no more than I will grant the state the right to decide what counts as too immodest. I would have thought Hitchens was with me on this.

In my country, at least for now, a woman has the right to show as much of her face (and then some) as she chooses. I simply cannot see anything healthy in a law that changes this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Things and People

Much of what I'm doing here can be found in Heidegger's Being and Time, but I like to think I'm doing it more, if you will, plainly.

Let's begin with a simple phenomenological distinction. There are, immediately, things and people. All of experience is filled with things and people; we are surrounded by things or people or both at all times. That's plain enough, but why bother with it?

Well, in ordinary talk there's a tendency to identify people with their bodies and let everything else be a thing. This ultimately makes the naked body a very strange thing, or nothing at all. When we are dressed, are we really best understood as "people covered in things"? Is your hair a part of your personality or a thing in its own right? What of wigs? Enough.

My view is that we can't divide all the stuff of the world into things and people. Hammer on one side of the distinction, Thomas on the other, a chair is a thing, the body that occupies it, a person, etc. That's not going to work.

A piece of writing in your hand can be as personal as a lover in your bed. A body, even perfectly alive, walking down the street, can be entirely soulless, a mere "extra" in your experience. A thing. To make sense of the difference between people and things we have distinguish them as immediate experiences.

And here Heidegger, drawing on Scheler, gets it entirely right: "A person is ... given as a performer of intentional acts which are bound together by the unity of meaning" (H. 73). Now, I would say simply that people are to acts as things are to facts: implicated in them. A thing, then, is given as the substance of an extended fact that is bound together by the unity of meaning.

We experience things only when faced with facts. The same "thing", however, can be implicated in an act. And then everything changes.

There's a knife on the ground. James and John are standing in the street. Their standing there is an act, performed by two people. But the knife, implicated in the fact of lying on the ground, is a thing. When James steps forward and picks up the knife, however, it ceases to be implicated merely in a fact. There is, in fact, no longer a fact to speak of, not immediately. The knife is now implicated in James's act. To stand there, James only needed his body. But to stab John, he needs the knife.

The thing appears as such in intuition when the fact in which it is implicated is immediately meaningful. The knife on the ground is its own thing because John knows immediately that the knife is on the ground. (The ground, too, derives its thinghood from this immediacy.) If I have a contribution to make to philosophy it is to propose that the person surfaces as such in institution when the act in which he is implicated is immediately meaningful. James wields the knife immediately, he steps into character as the assailant. The knife that once made plain sense to John is now imbued, just as plainly, with a motive. The motive may wholly or partly supplant the sense John made of the knife before James picked it up. It may become an entirely personal experience, all motive.

There is such a "thing" as senseless violence. The limit of institution.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Deep Thought

I am humiliated by how things work.

97 Years on the Case

Robert Reich has an interesting post over at TPM on the Fed's role in the rescue of Bear Stearns.

Thomas Jefferson put a stop to Alexander Hamilton's idea of a powerful central bank out of fear it would be unaccountable to the public. The Fed has just proven Jefferson's point.

And John Adams's. And Ezra Pound's.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Q: What is the difference between a concept and a mere word?
A: Logic, a certain rigour of usage.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Note on the Crisis of Brute Passion

(See this post for some background.)

Just as reason conditions our understanding so passion conditions our obedience.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mayhewianism #2

"To really love literature is to love how it rewrites your subjectivity, how it kicks your ass with its transformative power." (Jonathan Mayhew)

I feel the same way about love in general. "Strike, witless bitch," said Irving Layton. "Blind me!"

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Movie Version

My favourite poets are making movies.

Tony Tost's "Elephant & Obelisk 2"

Kate Greenstreet's "The Giant"

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Palinurean Year?

"Pascal and Leonardi dominate because when they died they were the same age as Palinurus (thirty-nine)," says Cyril Connolly in his introduction to The Unquiet Grave. Let's add to this that Borges was thirty-nine when he hit his head and was nearly killed by sepsis. Today, I, too, turn thirty-nine. I have been looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pangrammar 2.0

"Flarf is to poetry what Wikipedia is to philosophy."

Some implications:

Flarf is to power what Wikipedia is to knowledge.
Flarf is to ethics what Wikipedia is to epistemology.

Remember that Wikipedia is "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit."

Homework assignment: Editing is to philosophy what ________ is to poetry.
Extra credit: Anyone is to philosophy what _________ is to poetry.

(Hint: The subject is to poetry what the object is to philosophy.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is Poetry?

I've always found the sort of thing that Michael Rosen says in this video about poetry very unsatisfying.

Poetry Basics

What is poetry? Well, it's hard to say. Why do people write poetry? To express themselves. Now, to his credit, he doesn't quite leave it at that. But wouldn't it be refreshing if he simply said, "I don't know what poetry is and I'm the wrong guy to make this video. I just can't give you a straight, informative answer." After all, some of the best videojug contributions are precisely those where the presenter confines himmerherself to what heorshe knows well enough to say simple, declarative sentences about.

What would I say in such a video?

Poetry is the art of writing emotions down. A poem is an emotion that has been (more or less) precisely noted. We can then go on to define "emotion" in contrast to "feeling" without at any point having to say, "That's a difficult question."

Why do people write poetry? In order to make an emotional situation more precise, which just means intensifying it. (Compare a conceptual situation, which you make precise by clarifying it.) We can begin with the simple case of a man in love with a woman. His situation is emotionally imprecise because, while she may have smiled at him or returned a glance, it is unclear how she feels. This makes feeling love for her difficult to handle. In writing a poem, the troubadour is hoping to intensify the positions (him-her) at either end of the emotion. She may then, of course, simply reject his advances, but that is more intense than the ambivalence we began with.

All this also applies to Rosen's "big grand things, important things, political things, aspects of nature, the eternal aspects of the sky, the universe or whatever". One may suffer the emotional imprecision of gender (like, say, Sylvia Plath) or those of race (like Amiri Baraka). One may even (like Ezra Pound) try to deal with our monetary emotions, which may be, as they are to today, in something of a disarray. (I made a quick vaguely flarfy attempt here.)

I don't think (as Rosen does) that a good poem needs to offer something "new" or "surprising". After all, a very old poem, read for the hundredth time, is no worse than when it was first written simply because you, the reader, have become familiar with it. A good poem is just emotionally precise; it does not impart feeling, but it intensifies it. It makes you feel better. It makes you better able to feel. I do dare say that this makes the poem good.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Questions

(the not-at-all-difficult-to-discover answers to which might change the way you think about government.)

Why is pot illegal?
Why did we invade Afghanistan?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Rackets

This movie about cannabis prohibition is worth watching. It rehearses all the major arguments for legalizing "the safest drug on the planet". Along the way, it brings up the problem of private prisons in the U.S. That's a really good point. If it is possible to make money by running a prison, then there's a natural (in the sense of economically rational) basis for a lobby for criminalizing all sorts of activities and, of course, for tough sentencing of offenders.

There is a of course a similar problem with another human activity: war. A great deal of policy today is being shaped by lobbies who have direct economic interest in crime and war. For some, it is economically rational to start wars and criminalize activities that many people like to engage in. The interest is there regardless of any strategic advantage or disadvantage that a war might bring about or intrinsic harm that the activity in question may or may not cause. There are people who have their own reasons to warmonger and to criminalize.

I'm not making any accusations. I'm just noting, objectively, that those interests exist. The solution is quite simple: put corrections and munitions in the hands of the state. Accept the inefficiency that this might involve in order to avoid constructing this kind of interest.

PS: This argument can also be made in the case of medicine and finance, by the way. And countless other things no doubt. There are certain problems that a society should not let its members profit from solving, because, if they do, members of that society will have an interest in producing the problems themselves.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Music

"[Music is] the cause of everything that's gone wrong in the world. The dirty music. The young are violent because they have no inner life. And they have no inner life because they have no thoughts. And they have no thoughts because they know no words. And they know no words because they never speak. And they never speak because the music's too loud." (Quentin Crisp)

I remember reading this statement many years ago, excerpted in Harper's Magazine. I think, at some level, it has shaped my views on a great many things. But I do like the music loud sometimes. I'm just not sure it's good for my inner life.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Obscurity and Violence

Many thanks to Thomas Presskorn for solving the puzzle of the last post! Obscurity is to violence as knowledge is to power, as intuition is to institution. Violence is "done to" someone in undoing them. Darkness is "seen as" something in not seeing it. In obscurity, we experience something "as dark"; in violence, we experience someone "to hurt" them.

We may oppose clarity to obscurity, but clarity is already homologous with intensity. That is, clarity is to obscurity as intensity is to violence. Opposites? Is intensity the opposite of violence? Well, clarity is not really the opposite of obscurity. It is light, not sight, against the dark, after all. But there is actually a sense in which the intensity of a boxing match or hockey game can degenerate into violence. It becomes violence when the tension between the subjects is lost.

A fight is not always violence. It is often a contest. Violence eradicates the position of the subject. Darkness conceals the object.

New problem: Light is to dark as ________ is to hurt. Hint: ________ will also be to power as light is to knowledge.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Intuition & Institution

This year I will make an effort to post formal pangrammatical exercises more often.

Keep in mind that "the pangrammaticon" is the general likeness of articulations of knowledge to articulations power. A pangrammatical exercise consists in completing the general formula "_________ is to knowledge as _________ is to power".

Here's one that occurred to me over the Christmas break. First, some background:

The world produces, reproduces, and transforms intuitions. This is a natural process. An intuition is a sensation that is immediately "seen as" something. Without intuition (immediate seeing), no perception (mediated seeing). Intuition constitutes our experience of objects (determined whatnesses).

History produces, reproduces, and transforms institutions. This is a cultural process. An institution is a motion that is immediately "done to" someone. Without institution (immediate doing), no action (mediated doing). Insitution constitutes our experience of subjects (determined whonesses).

Now, it seems to me that there is a kind of doing-to-someone that is necessarily immediate and eminently fundamental: violence. It is by holding back from violence that properly "institutional" experience and subjects in the usual sense can emerge. If all doing were violence, experience would probably not be possible.

So what is the corresponding ("homologous") seeing-as-something? _________ is to intuition as violence is to institution. If violence is a kind of deed that we must refrain from in order to engage, properly speaking, in "action", then what sort of sight must we avert ourselves from in order to have proper "perceptions"? One hint might be that violence is to "the social" as _________ is to "the material". Violence is an immediate experience that affects our mediated experience of who "we" are. We are looking for an immediate experience that likewise affects our mediated experience of what "stuff" is.