What is the Pangrammaticon?

"In that great social organ which, collectively, we call literature, there may be distinguished two separate offices that may blend and often do so, but capable, severally, of a severe insulation, and naturally fitted for reciprocal repulsion." (Thomas de Quincey)
MEMO from Ezra Pound to John Keats: Truth is truth, justice justice. Beauty, friend, is difficult.

This blog has at times served as an outlet for my ideas about philosophy and poetry, at times ventured into science and politics, the culture wars, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

At the moment, it serves as a notebook of "pangrammatical" expressions, which I have variously called homologies, analogies, or supplements. They sometimes look suspiciously like poems, sometimes, no less doubtfully, like aphorisms.

Their unifying conceit is that our language is a "generator" (in a vaguely Chomskian sense) of expressions that can be "played off" against each other for particular effects. I call this generator the Pangrammaticon, a mysterious apparatus that is part machine, part machination—highly organized, but entirely organic.

Sometimes, I admit, it is merely a pretentious justification for constructing profundities that no one, today, feels comfortable asserting without irony. Positing an autonomous (if not quite automatic) generator keeps the embarrassment at bay. Let me try to explain.

The Pangrammaticon divides experience into two broad domains, the Real and the Ideal, the domain of knowledge and the domain of power, which are addressed by particular crafts. We use science and philosophy to grapple with the Real, and we use politics and poetry to engage with the Ideal. "Science is the theory of the real," Heidegger tells us, for example; the Pangrammaticon then teaches us that politics is the practice of the ideal. Philosophy is the art of writing concepts down; poetry is the art of writing emotions down.

All crafts are about developing our receptivity (to reality) and our capacity (for ideality). Philosophy makes us more receptive, through thought, to concepts. Poetry makes us more capable, through feeling, of emotions. Science makes us more receptive to things, as objects. Politics makes us more capable of people, as subjects.

Or, to put it another way, science brings us knowledge of what is, but philosophy tells us what can be known. Politics brings us power over who is to come, but poetry tells us who the master is. In the end, philosophy must "know" the "it" and poetry must "master" the "self", the scare-quotes indicating the dispiriting impracticality of the task and the principled non-existence of its focus.

Or, to put it yet another way, science tells us what we are seeing. Politics tells us who is doing it. Philosophy tells us what there is. Poetry tells us who we'll become. Pretentious profundity, like I say, notwithstanding.

For the literary types, one way to understand what I'm doing here is to imagine a Tractatus Poetico-Philosophicus, which adds a "pathetic" shadow cabinet (of horrors?) to Wittgenstein's logic. (As I discovered a few years ago, you can approximate this imaginary work by waiting for the first sign of spring and then reading the Tractatus alongside William Carlos Williams's Spring and All.)

Another way is to imagine (with somewhat greater difficulty) a Crisis of Brute Passion, a companion volume to Kant's first Critique. For the fascists and futurists and surrealists, let me suggest a cut-up of Being and Time and The Cantos. However you want to situate it in your canon, the goal is to find our "composure", which this blog is at once a promise of and, I'm afraid, a distraction from.

"Beauty is difficult," as Aubrey Beardsley said to Ezra Pound. But take heart, friends! At the core of our composure we find the image. And the image is easy.

I have linked to some hopefully illuminating posts from the past. From here, you can wait for new posts (some of which will also link to backfiles) or you can search the archives. My vanity and my cowardice prevent you from leaving any comments.

"This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it," said Wittgenstein in his preface to the Tractatus. "Its object would be attained if it afforded pleasure to one who read it with understanding." That aptly sums up my feelings about this blog in its current form. Enjoy!

Thomas Basbøll
September 29, 2019