Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Long Baseline

At the edge
of our field of vision
galaxies recede
at the speed of light.

This is the furthest
we can see.

Within reach
of our manufacturing base
we produce neutrinos
with mass <0.120 eV/c2.*

It is the least
we can do.

*The obscurity of this stanza is the result of trying to repeat the formal pattern of the first (to make it a pangrammatical supplement.) The visible (what can be seen) must be set against the manipulable (what can be done). But, given the enticing prospect of neutrino factories, I hoped that "manufacturing" might serve instead of "manipulation". I regret that decision now and will have to write another take on this. I'm trying to get at the idea that there is a maximum limit on our seeing and a minimum limit to our doing. It seems to me that controlling a neutrino is the most precise thing we can do. It's the smallest action we can take, the smallest mass we can direct. Someone with more physics than me might come up with a better example. In both cases there must be technological mediation (a telescope, an accelerator). What we can see with the naked eye and do with our bare hands is another matter.

The image interpolates
from hand to eye,
correlates the heart
with the mind.

It is the objective
correlative of feeling,
the subjective
interstice of thought.

The image smooths out
the space of perception.
It sharpens
the time of action.

It mediates
from reason to passion
from passion to reason

In imagination, the doing
finds its point,
the seeing, its edge, our
suffering, its measure.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

So much depends upon imagination. This was really Williams's point. We must insist on imagining things—even, and perhaps especially, those things that are real, all too real. Or, to use Wittgenstein's phrase, we must insist on making, for ourselves, pictures of the facts. They do not make themselves known. Only in imagination can they be situated in a field of action; only here can they find a human measure, a sense of the possible, a glimpse of the ideal.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Philosophy begins with imaginary questions,
poetry, with imaginary decrees.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The world frames our concepts;
history shapes our emotions.

The heart has reasons
the passions don't mind.

Friday, June 21, 2019

"[T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood] were married at Hampstead Register Office on 26 June 1915. 'To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land,' [wrote Eliot]."*


"In March 1916, [Wittgenstein] was posted to a fighting unit on the front line of the Russian front ... [where he] directed the fire of his own artillery from an observation post in no-man's land against Allied troops ... In August 1918 ... he completed the Tractatus."**


"Even the wreckage of Europe is tempting to the young, creative, contrary, and restless. One American writer stays put, finishes school, starts a medical practice. One American writer sticks around to catch the babies." (C. D. Wright, 2011, introduction to William Carlos Williams' Spring and All)

Monday, June 17, 2019

"The world is everything that is the case," said Wittgenstein. Later on, he thought it might have been better to start with a lamp or a tree. Perhaps a red wheelbarrow would have done the trick? We make ourselves pictures of such facts, he said. Indeed, much depends on them, said Williams. "Without imagination life cannot go on, for we are left staring at the empty casings where truth lived yesterday* while the creature itself has escaped behind us." The world is made of facts, not things. Or things, but glazed with rain.

*These should remind us of the "nonsensical" propositions of philosophers, or the rungs of Wittgenstein's ladder. "The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem" (T6.521). We were never supposed to transcend them, we were supposed to inhabit them. The immanence of imagination. This lamp. That tree.

Philosophy is the use of language
to clarify our thoughts.

Poetry is the use of language
to intensify our feelings.

As arts, they make a common cause
of precision in experience.

They articulate our concepts and
emotions in imagination.

"A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom, and ever three parts coward." (Hamlet)

And a feeling, quartered, has but one part love, and ever three parts scoundrel.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Genius and Despair

Wittgenstein: " must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home? — What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use." (§116)

Williams: "If not definitely a culture new in every part, at least a satisfaction. He wants to have the feet of his understanding on the ground, his ground, the ground, the only ground that he knows, that which is under his feet." (213)

Wittgenstein: "Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble.) What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand." (§118)

Williams: "There is nothing for a man but genius or despair. We cannot answer in the smart language, certainly it would be a bastardization of our own talents to waste time to learn the language they use. ... However hopeless it may seem, we have no other choice: we must go back to the beginning; it must all be done over; everything that is must be destroyed." (215)

Williams, WC. 1925. "Descent". In the American Grain.
Wittgenstein, L. 1953. Philosophical Investigations.

Monday, June 10, 2019

You cannot know
what you cannot understand.
You cannot understand
what you cannot imagine.

What you cannot imagine
you cannot obey.
What you cannot obey
you cannot master.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The mind establishes
the intuitions of the body
as an order of concepts.

The heart challenges
the institution of the soul
with emotional turmoil.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The heart leads the mind
out of melancholy
through folly.

Truth is not an element,
but a relation between parts.

Justice is not a totality,
but a position within the whole.

We don't find the truth,
so much as arrange it.

We don't strive for justice.
We submit to it.

Friday, June 07, 2019

To get from the heart
to the mind
you have to slow down
a little bit.

To get from the mind
to the heart
you really have to get
your shit together.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

A tree is a fact
of nature, rooted
in the ground, bending
in the wind, turning
light into sugar
         and water into air.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

I was the dam that longed for the flood;
now I can't see the wound for the blood.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019


This lady is a woman
of beauty, poised
by wisdom, moved
by love, graceful
in her candor
             and her shade.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The image is a picture
of suffering, framed
by a concept, steeled
by emotion, composed
of a reason
             and a passion.

Beware of sages who tell you the truth is deep
or that the arc of justice is long. Be precise.

Think clearly about appearances.
Feel the tension of the surface.

The truth isn't far below, it's here.
Justice isn't far from now. Nor's infamy.

Profundity sinks the truth into darkness.
Enthusiasm leads the just to violence.