Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grasp and Motion

Philosophy is an attempt to grasp the thing, poetry to move the person. The concept is how we hold things together (in our minds), emotions enthrall us with people (in our hearts). It's important to keep the symmetry in mind here: the philosopher starts with a fluid, moving force and tries to seize it formally. The poet starts with a stable form and arranges images to indicate the forces it directs.

(I'm embarrassed to admit that this idea demonstrates so little progress from this post from six years ago.)

Paella Ingenium Nobis Sunt

It is a woman, always,
makes the poem. She moves
the poet's mind, which,
helpless, forms the words.

Disdaining weakness, we have
made a heroism of this art.
We've called it genius, said
our pain is proof of strength.

But it's a woman's beauty,
always, speaks in poems,
not the eye for pleasure, we
are happy to pretend is love.

Be all this as it may, you
turned your body on your heel.
It's now a purity of form,
my love—a strophe.

Note: As this post and the previous one reveals, I'm trying my hand at poetry of a pretty ordinary kind these days. Both of these came to me virtually whole. It is interesting that it is still possible for a man, in the twenty-first century, to write this poem. Indeed, to let a woman (in fact, a series of women, all repeating the same gesture in some way, over a series of days, some wholly strangers on the street, some closer to home) inspire it. As a poem, it doesn't impress us much (hence this note to apologize for it). If I were still a young man, we might sort it among my juvenalia. Count it instead among my "antiquaria", my nostalgia for a time when poetry held a simpler place in society, when "the civil status of seduction" was better understood. Last night I read a few lines of Dylan Thomas and Robert Burns. That ought to explain it.

My Prophetic Soul

In our time, they say,
there will be many prophets.
I'll not be one of them, my love.
I'll be lying here, beside you
sleeping, only partly sleeping,
peeking under the sheets, and
planning my approach. Or I'll be
standing in your shower as you
fly around the place in God
knows what angelic postures,
getting ready for our walk. Or
I'll be searching for you (when
you've had enough and left me)
in the smiles and thighs of happy
girls who know enough of love
to think it worth pursuing and,
like us, won't let their fears
distract them. Yes, there will
be many prophets in our time.
And I will not be one of them.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The basic idea behind this blog is that there is a fearful symmetry in experience, and that its axis constitutes the difference between philosophy and poetry. Philosophy is conceptual notation (Begriffsschrift). Poetry is emotional notation (Ergriffsschrift).

Consider the following formula, which just occurred to me:

Only an emotion can justify an action, which will always only be motivated by desire.

Well, all these "poetical" terms—emotion, justification (justice), action, motive, desire—have "philosophical" complements (homologues)—concept, verification (truth), perception, sense, belief. The corresponding philosophical formula, then, can be produced simply by substitution:

Only a concept can verify a perception, which will always be sensitized by belief.

There's something a bit forced and odd about it, which I may or may not eventually be able to fix. But the idea that a perception is (merely) "sensitized" by belief and not (of course) actually verified by it would not have occurred to me unassisted by the artifice of a pan-grammar. Desire motivates action but does not justify it. It is the intensity that an emotion brings to experience that ultimately lets us speak of the "justice" implicit in an action. Likewise, it is here suggested, a belief makes a perception "sensitive" but does not yet let us speak of "truth". Rather, we need the clarity of a concept to do so.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reminders and Encouragement

Wittgenstein (PI§127) tells us that philosophical remarks are really just "reminders for a particular purpose". What's the poetic equivalent? Well, poetry is made out of strophes, not remarks, and it speaks to the heart, not the mind. So, perhaps the work of poet consist simply in assembling encouraging words for particular purposes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Clarity is the bright space
between honesty and wisdom,

intensity, a momentary tension
between decency and love.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wisdom and Love, pt. 2

The pursuit of knowledge must yield to a greater wisdom. The pursuit of power must yield to a higher love. This is only to say that there must be a respect for limits in science; and there must be a respect for freedom in politics.

Poetry is always about the difficulty of love, and this difficulty is determined immediately in institution. An institution is a particular set of difficulties that lovers face. The institution determines how they feel immediately, the "first emotion" in the encounter. What one feels when one is "in love" with someone is the difficulty (if one did not feel anything there would be no difficulty). The poet writes the emotion down, which is to say that the poet presents the difficulty.

Philosophy, likewise, is always about the difficulty of wisdom, which is determined immediately in intuition. An intuition is a particular set of difficulties faced by sophists (intellectuals). Intuition determines what they think immediately, the "key concept" in any commentary. What one thinks when one "gets wise" to something is the difficulty. The philosopher writes the concept down; the philosopher presents the difficulty.

The poet represents love in history. The philosopher represents wisdom in the world. They do so without authority and must rely on their presentations alone. The poet presents the emotions that immediately determine the feeling that arises in an encounter with a person. The philosopher presents the concepts that immediately determine the thought that arises in an encounter with a thing. Both presentations bring precision to any future encounter. This precision is manifest as clarity in philosophy, intensity in poetry.

Clarity is found in the bright space between honesty and wisdom. Intensity is found in the temporary tension between decency and love.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Crisis of Brute Passion, an Immanent Pathos

Immanence resists by gathering all our power
out of the totality that brute obedience yields to.

Some emotions are brutal. They are free,
not of institution and motility,
but of feeling and obedience;
they are superficial and daring,
not, first and foremost, not isolated.

Our table of emotion emerges from the whole,
a field of brute obedience.

When politics draws its insistence
from a merely democratic manner, the table
can never be surveyed by a poll. It is necessary
only to the elements of the power
that obedience yields to, furnishing emotions that isolate
the elements, inhibiting their disconnection
from the system. Brute obedience associates itself with
motion. It is dependent and needy and not diminished
by any of the usual privations within.

Its lack of power thus repudiates the system,
abandoned and obscured by the reality.
The babelling of this system can yield an argument
only for the wrongness and falseness of its isolation.
If it is to be fully imposed, however, this immanent pathos
requires two books: the one containing the emotions,
the other the ultimatum of brute obedience.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


[Poem traced from a Google translation of Gilson's Philosophie du Moyen Age as quoted in Ezra Pound's "Cavalcanti" (LE, p. 160.)]

"This French summary is most able, and most lucid. It is far more suggestive of the canzone, Donna mi Prega, than the original Latin of Grosseteste." (E.P.)

Light is a substance, a subtle body,
close to intangible, self-engendered, the same,
constant and spreading, spherical.

Take a bright point, my love,
instantly engendered. Around this point,
posit a huge luminous sphere.

The scattered light can be thwarted.

Either it encounters a darkness
and stops, or it reaches the extreme limit,
a scarcity, and the light ends.

The tenuous stuff of which all things are made,
it is also the first shape of the body, and is
what some have called the corporeal.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Contradiction & Seduction

"The civil status [bürgerliche Stellung] of a contradiction," writes Wittgenstein (PI§125), "or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem." It would be nice to have as clear a sense of the problem of poetry. To that end, note first that the philosopher does not deal in contradictions as such. The philosopher's problem is not to actually contradict people, but to clarify the "civil status" of the contradictions their lives lead them to. Moreover, it is the contradictions that stem from our entanglement in our rules of reasoning (logic) that constitute the problem. "This entanglement in our own rules is what we want to understand (i.e., get a clear view of)", and this will "throw light on our concept of meaning something".

Well, there are rules of passion as there are rules of reason, and our passions, just like our reasons, lead us into trouble. The poet's problem concerns just that trouble. Now, to contradict is to "speak against", and in this case we are interested in the way logic leads us to speak against ourselves. The poet, by contrast, is interested in the rules that lead us astray, away from ourselves and towards another. These are, of course, the rules of love.

The troubadour, specifically, is interested in the rules that might lead his lady to imbibe "the one obvious remedy" (E.P.). As a lover, he is interested in that remedy, of course. But as an artist he is interested, first and foremost, in the rules that keep them apart, which are also, he suspects, part of a larger set of rules, a system of, precisely, poetic justice, that, if it were fully and intensely obeyed, would also bring them together. ("What a wonderful world it would be.") Just as the philosopher ultimately believes that the contradiction indicates a "pseudo-problem", not be solved or resolved but dissolved in complete clarity of the concept, so the poet qua poet seeks that "first intensity" of emotion, the complete intensification of the "rules of the game", i.e., the grammar of the language of love. Here, to be led astray is also to be led back to oneself.

To "lead astray", to seduce.

The civil status of seduction, or its status in civil life: there is the problem of poetry. The poet's task is not to seduce. It is his entanglement in his own rules (his passions) that he has to obey (i.e., get firm grip onbe firmly seized by*). It is not the love itself that is his problem, but the conditions of its possibility.

*I was too eager to construct something like Wittgenstein's "get a clear view of". It is important to distinguish between conceptual and emotional precision. When our concepts are precise they ensure that things are given to us clearly. When our emotions are precise, however, they ensure we are taken with people intensely. A poem presents us with the "chaotic volcanism of first seizingness".

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Don't know much about history...

but I do know that I love you.

Andrew drew the association in his comment on my last post. At first, I thought it was just free association, but then I realized how profound it is.

To love someone is to be able to write a poem about them. So, Sam Cooke is really saying:

I don't know much about history, not your personal history or the larger history in which you are implicated, but I know that am I here, that I exist to extricate your beauty from the history of injustice that your body, like all bodies, is subject to, any history, yes, and from its biology and its geography and its algebra.

And if you will do the same for me, if you will untangle the intricate suffering that is my beauty from the history of my own body, then this world in which we both live will be, yes, full of wonder.

I am a poor scholar, Cooke says, but quite a lover, and while our political history reaches too far back into the past for me, and our scientific world too far into the reaches of space and too far into the nucleus of the cell, the surface of your body, your skin, your beautiful skin, is right here with me, and it is not by actually understanding your history, nor is it by uncovering the natural laws that govern the mechanisms of the stars above and the leaves in the trees, and it is not by actually deciphering the political codes that interpret your face and your shoulders and what Tony Tost calls "the genius of your legs" (and, yes, everything in between), that I will fathom this feeling that has captured me. But by "trying to be" an A-student of the immediate presence of this body before me I will, if you'll let me, win your love, extricate your beauty from the prison of space, liberate us from the despotism of time, conquer the universe.

In short: There you are. And here is my poem. Love me.