Friday, February 28, 2014


It is, let's say, "the wisdom of the heart", the error in thinking that is caused by feeling, the unreasonableness of passion. But it is not simply a defect. Its ground is in something positive, our emotions. And this is why Erasmus was able to sing its praises.

What is the pangrammatical complement? Spinoza talked about "the intellectual love of a thing". What is to passion as folly is to reason? What do we call the loss of feeling that is caused by thinking, the dispassionateness of reason?

Monday, February 24, 2014


I few years ago, I came up with the unhappy notion of "anthropopathy" to capture the idea that there can't properly speaking be a "science of man", a scientific account (logos) of the human—no anthropology, that is, not even a philosophical one, because humanity is not a concept but an emotion, not a reason for being, if you will, but a passion to become. But this has not, of course, brought an end to the human "sciences", which are as strong as ever.

One of the means by which they establish themselves is to interpret all passion as a species of suffering on the model of illness. If you want to replace anthropology with a horrid word like anthropopathy (which I granted at the time was a indeed a very ugly word) then perhaps you also want to abandon sociology and psychology by a similar maneuver? But that just makes you either a sociopath or a psychopath.

It's a clever move. If you are not going to be reasonable, rational about your society or your psyche then you are implicitly admitting you're insane, i.e., irrational. But we should push back against this interpretation. After all, a great deal of mental illness simply is to approach emotions (i.e., one's own) as objects for rational analysis, rather than actual guides to who one might become.

If I'm right, the original error was to let philosophers consider the question of our humanity. They treated it as the unknown object of some obscure concept. Then they helped scientists believe that key parts of the object were now known, and well enough to be theorized good and proper. Throughout the centuries, the poets have been gradually pushed to the side, and with them the fundamental point that the self is not meant to be known in theory but to be mastered in practice.

It is not that the human has been conceptualized badly, but that it has been conceptualized at all. The construal of a pathos under logos has turned our passions into so much suffering. Though it may have been done in the name of rationality, there's nothing reasonable about it. I guess I risk being called insane for pointing it out.

See also: "Emotion and Society"

Update: In his 2013 book Intractable Conflicts Daniel Bar-Tal has coined the much less unhappy word "ethnopathy" (p. 344) to describe essentially what I'm talking about here: the suffering of peoples or, less, dramatically, a feeling toward a group. I believe this concept is absolutely crucial to resolving the world's current conflicts, its cultural crises, both in the West and between the West and its Other.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Manners and Causes

A few years ago I suggested that the pangrammatical analogue of "moral order" is "causal order". This would make pangrammatical complements of morality and causality, which sits uneasily with me. But perhaps etymology can help me rest easier. Our morality derives from our manners. It strikes me as plausible that causes are to knowledge what manners are to power. If the thought had occurred, be advised that reasons and causes are on the same side of the knowledge/power divide. So we have something like this:


I've been toying with filling that space in with "verity", but the root meanings don't line up so well. I don't think etiology quite captures the spirit of the juxtaposition. But if it's true that etiology is the study of "origins", then maybe it's something like this:


Seems a bit like a grammatical joke, of course. But we're not above that here at the Pangrammaticon, neither as poets nor as philosophers.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Our scientists and our politicians, taken as groups, lack, in my opinion, resolve. They shy away from making their assertions and injunctions explicit. We are mired in the imprecision of irresolute knowers and powers. We are asked to understand vague statements, to obey vague orders.

Clarity of statement. Intensity of command. These are what make our understanding and obedience precise. And our misunderstandings and disobedience interesting. Our scientists and politicians lack the requisite resolve. To inquire. To govern.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What if

"the conditions of the possibility of the experience of objects"

no longer exist?

And the conditions of the necessity of the experience of subjects?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sophistry and Amory

I sometimes think I am as much a poet as I am a philosopher, sometimes that I am as little a philosopher as I am a poet. In any case, I believe that there must be some balance between one's love of wisdom and the wisdom of one's love. To develop in feeling at the expense of thought, or in thought at the expense of feeling, is to become a monster.

Over the past two and a half millennia, sophistry—"wisdomizing" if you will—has been given a bad rap. It has been considered in bad taste to openly declare one's expertise in thinking, and especially gauche, of course, to charge a fee for carrying out the function. Today, there's a whole industry, rooted in both Easten and Western traditions, that more or less credibly produces "gurus" to help people think. They are often also considered sophists.

I would like to coin a corresponding poetic notion. In Western, Christian culture, what can be called "amory" has been derided as mere philandering in the amateur and denounced as a prostitution in the professional. (Sophists are of course correspondingly denounced as intellectual "whores", which we have to remember is also a slur against sex workers.)

Socrates was supposed to have made both love and wisdom respectable. He charged no fee and it is said he loved his students rather more chastely than his fellow pederasts. Those who involved "baser" activities (lucre and lechery) in their practices are presented as fools and perverts. "Once, a philosopher, twice, a pervert," said Voltaire of the orgy. Today our poets bear the burden of slanders against their reputations. How we love to hear of their debauchery!

Last year, I suggested an analogy between wisdom and love:

the stillness of the mind in which things are what they are,
the movement of the heart through which people become themselves.

I want try to get beyond the denunciation of people who make specific efforts to think clearly and feel intensely. Surely, given the stakes (i.e., our capacities for wisdom and love), these efforts are not simply silly or creepy. Though they may often be in error, their experiments are wholly necessary.

Sophistry is just the open pursuit of wisdom as a lifestyle. Amory, the open pursuit of love. There must be limits, of course, but I indulge in the hope that they provide natural limits for each other if pursued together.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Death, One and Many

"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once."

Perhaps the poet is a coward, dying the little death a thousand times, turning his grief, his post-coital tristesse, into a thousand minor poems. The sage, by contrast, valiantly faces down his fear of death forever, savoring it, if you will, "once and for all."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Death, Great and Small

What is the difference between the poet and the sage? The poet, let us say, explores the ramifications of "the little death", the sage pursues the liberation of "the great death".

Friday, February 07, 2014

Art and Suffering

It is said that artists suffer, perhaps more than others, or perhaps just in a particular way, but that suffering is, in any case, central to their work. In fact, if we were to meet a Wall Street banker who suffered in that same way for her job, we'd be likely to describe her as an artist.

An artist is, crucially, someone who tries to accommodate the world to his suffering. Not the other way round. The artist tries to present a particular moment of private suffering and "make it work" publicly, so that he may henceforth, I suppose, live in the world without that particular species of shame.

One problem with "the arts", i.e., the institution of art, is that is offers "blanket" accommodation to the suffering artist. It says that as long as you are willing to be known, universally, as "an artist" you don't have to be ashamed of your particular moment of suffering. Instead of being frightened of or confused about your behavior, let them understand you in perfectly conventional terms. "Oh, don't worry about her. She's an artist!"

("…and a good one, too," they'll add for extra comfort.)

But the whole point of art is to find a way to accommodate what has hitherto been incommodious. The troubadour, to take a simple example, needed to find a way to accommodate his desire for an unattainable lady. He produces a "great" poem if he finds a way to accommodate a general passion, i.e., if the problem of desire for unattainable ladies is widespread. Naturally, the attainability [and desirability] of ladies is not determined by the ladies themselves alone. It can be considered a social problem, sometimes a problem for the squires, but sometimes certainly a problem for the ladies. Sometimes because the ladies are not attainable enough, and sometimes because they are too attainable[, sometimes not desirable enough, sometimes too desirable]. I'm speaking here of the sorts of "advances" that are allowed and disallowed [and sometimes demanded] in the culture. The system by which shame is assigned to particular kinds of approaches and gestures.

A fair amount of good and bad poetry has come of out this complex of issues. It is, to my mind, the basic issue of the arts. The artist has a feeling and the feeling is, culturally, inexpressible. It may be outright suppressed, or it may just be baffling to the masses. In any case, the artist suffers. And the work of art results as an attempt to accommodate the suffering.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Stimulus and Response

"Master thy self then others shall ye bear."

I've described wisdom and love as, respectively, the master concept and the master emotion. Perhaps it would be more precise to say the master of concepts and the master of emotions. Perhaps "master" should go only with love, and "teacher" would serve as a better image for wisdom. In any case, love denotes the harmony of all other emotions, just as wisdom denotes the harmony of our concepts.

A thought occurred to me the other day. While I am fully aware of the lessons of history, I think I understand the appeal of both communism and fascism. In part, I guess, I just don't like to think of, say, Pablo Neruda and Ezra Pound as having been simply "wrong". I want to believe they were on to something, if also blind to other things. So here's the thought. Perhaps historical communism was an attempt to be wise without temperance in love. And perhaps historical fascism was vice versa. Don't understand that too quickly: I mean fascism was an attempt to order society through intense emotion, a kind of love, but completely unfettered by wisdom.

Their failures have left us with a society that attempts to administer itself with neither love nor wisdom. It invests none of its hopes in precision of thought or feeling, indeed, treats both with contempt. Instead, it presumes that civilization can be run on mere stimulus and response.