Saturday, July 31, 2004

My interview is up at HCE.
Still mostly only managing to confuse myself as I work on the intro to my dissertation. I just hope it's a progressive sort of confusion.

Working at the bookstore tonight and flipping through The Antonio Gramsci Reader. Some pithy bits:
Having passed from capitalist power to workers' power, the factory will continue to produce the same material things that it produces today. Butin what way and under what forms will poetry, drama, the novel, music, painting and moral and linguistic works be born? It is not a material factory that produces these works.... Nothing in this field is foreseeable except for this general hypothesis: there will be a proletarian culture (a civilization) totally different from the bourgeois one and in this field too class distinctions will be shattered. Bourgeois careerism will be shattered and there will be a poetry, a novel, a theatre, a moral code, a language, a painting and a music peculiar to proletarian civilization, the flowering and ornament of proletarian social organization. What remains to be done? Nothing other than to destroy the present form of civilization. In this field, "to destroy" does not mean the same as in the economic field. It does not mean to deprive humanity of the material products that it needs to subsist and to develop. It means to destroy spiritual hierarchies, prejudices, idols and ossified traditions.


A new social group that enters history with a hegemonic attitude, with a self-confidence which it initially did not have, cannot but stir up from deep within itself personalities who would not previsouly have found sufficient strength to express themselves fully in a particular direction.


For the politician, every "fixed" image is a priori reactionary: he considers the entire movement in its development. The artist, however, must have "fixed" images that are cast into their definite form. The politician imagines man as he is and, at the same time, how he should be in order to reach a specific goal. His task is precisely to stir men up, to get them to leave their present life behind in order to become collectively able to reach the proposed goal, that is, to get them to "conform" to the goal. The artist necessarily and realistically depicts "that which is," at a given moment (the personal, the non-conformist, etc.) From the political point of view, therefore, the politician will never be satisfied with the artist and will never be able to be: he will find him alwahys behind the times, always anachronistic and overtaken by the real flow of events.


When the politician puts pressure on the art of his time to express a particular cultural world, his activity is one of politics, not of artistic criticism. If the cultural world for which one is fighting is a living and necessary fact, its expansiveness will be irresistible and it will find its artists. Yet if, despite pressure, this irresistibility does not appear and is not effective, it means that the world in question was artificial and fictitious, a cardboard lucubration of mediocre men who complain that those of major stature do not agree with them.


There is also a "rational" form of conformism that corresponds to necessity, to the minimum amount of force needed to obtain a useful result. The discipline involved must be exalted and promoted and made "spontaneous" or "sincere." Conformism, then, means nothing other than "sociality," but it is nice to use the word "conformism" precisely because it annoys imbeciles. This does not mean that one cannot form a personality or be original, but it makes matters more difficult. It is too easy to be original by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing; this is just mechanical. It is too easy to speak differently from others, to play with neologisms, whereas it is difficult to distinguish oneself from others without doing acrobatics.
Curious how he affirms Futurism (conservative politically, aesthetically revolutionary) as politically revolutionary in spite of itself, but his revolutionary aesthetics seem actually quite conservative, as with Georg Lukacs. But I think this will be useful to me in understanding a little better the specifically Italian situation that Pound found himself in, in some ways extending the Futurist project with The Cantos.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Oh hey, for what it's worth, good speech by Kerry last night. I think he achieved the goal of humanizing himself that all the pundits were going on about. The question is, who was watching? The "bump" upward has yet to appear in the latest polls.

For those looking for the kind of Bush-bashing the convention was a little short on (probably a good thing), check out this article from a new magazine of politics and culture, n+1. I like the cut of its jib.

Disappointed, to say the least, that Steve Evans, in his new "Field Notes" feature in the latest issue of The Poker (the first issue I've seen—thanks to Dan Bouchard for sending it to me) saw fit to dis Selah; this took place as part of a brief discussion of what he refers to as the dominant Stevens-Ashbery post-avant aesthetic represented by poets as diverse as Marjorie Welish (in her excellent book Word Group), Geoffrey G. O'Brian (The Guns and Flags Project, which I don't find as interesting), and Beth Anderson (Overboard, a book I haven't read). Selah is judged to be "a less successful project" than theirs; the book is at least in reasonably good company insofar as he lumped it in with the work published by Jubilat. Steve has to be the most uncompromising critic of his generation, as well as one of the most knowledgable; I have huge respect for him, which makes a judgment like this sting all the more. On the other hand, it was delivered casually, unargued, exactly as if it were a blog entry, so that I can't help but take it less seriously than I would a bad or mixed review. (And then there's the question as to whether I accept the Stevens-Ashbery affiliation. Stevens, certainly, but I don't see Selah as particularly Ashberian; there's more Ashbery in my unpublished manuscript The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I wonder what position Fourier Series will be seen as occupying?) Cold print does make a difference to the ego, though, so... ouch.

In spite of my bruised feelings I'll be subscribing to The Poker, which I immediately recognize as one of the crucial magazines of our moment—and Steve Evans' "Field Notes" are a large part of the reason why.
Trying to graft key pieces of my A-exam into the introductory chapter of my dissertation. It's ticklish work. Right now the form of it feels more like the vase (or cardboard box) into which I dump all my thinking about Adorno, Virgil, Benjamin, Agamben, Pound, Oppen, etc. I hope it will feel more organic as I get further into it—more the model of the tree-form than the vase-form.

Tony over at Geneva Convention is having a crisis of PhD faith, which makes me think of other friends and acquaintances who have gone through such crises. One of my dearest friends from college had a terrible time at Rutgers; she finished the PhD but then decided to leave academia for good (she's now writing an epic fantasy novel and happier than she's been in years). So it's clearly not for everybody. I think it would be very hard, probably impossible, to write something on the scale of a dissertation if you were unable to care about it as a piece of writing (or at least as a piece of thinking); the other jumping-through-hoops stuff is fakeable, but not the dissertation. Or maybe it is, but I imagine it would cost a huge chunk of one's soul. At the same time, I find I've so far been able to play the game of academia without permanent damage because I do see it as a game. A challenging game, a serious game, a sometimes frustrating game, but a game for all that, with discernible if sometimes obscure rules. The most crucial decision I made in my career as a grad student was giving up my specialization in Renaissance drama and instead choosing to write about the same subject that imbricates the rest of my life: contemporary poetry (though I have found a little historical distance by grounding my studies in Modernism). That made it possible for me to use more or less the same head (and heart) I use in writing poems for writing academic essays. My writing, really my entire life, is animated by the same core group of concerns and fascinations: the materiality of language, fragments of theology, aesthetic knowledge, political economy, and the utopian imagination. I've been very fortunate, I know. No one has bullied me into taking a more limited or utilitarian view of scholarship; I haven't been as harshly exploited as a teacher as many grad students are; and I haven't yet become bored with academic discourse or convinced that it's impossible to talk about stuff that matters in that language. If that last were to occur, I'd have to seriously question the academic life, because for me its entire promise (so far kept) has been to make it possible to talk about fundamental concerns regarding poetry and the world with increasing richness and depth. That's largely why I moved into the PhD realm from the MFA realm: because I felt the typical MFA language for talking about poetry (and the culture and society that generates it and that it generates) was an impoverished one.

It seems to me that Tony's problem is really everyone's problem, in the sense that we are all nowadays called upon to become more and more narrow specialists in whatever field; we are all forced to discipline ourselves. I think I'm lucky because I think I've found a discipline that doesn't require my to cut off all circulation to my other interests; I have a shot at being more whole than many others because academia suits me so well. But many people aren't so lucky. So you have a choice: to find a discipline that doesn't require the pruning of vital limbs, or the much harder choice of resisting discipline, period, in favor of a permanent amateur status (amateur from amat, to love). Though I have accepted the yoke of professionalization (which is not to say I'm not chafed by it), I dream of a revolution in consciousness that would make it possible for us all to be amateurs. Wishing alone won't make it so... but it's a start. Poetry for me is that sort of wishing; as I've said before, it's the creation, in language, of an imaginary wholeness. (Yes, I've been reading Schiller.) The more clearly we can visualize it in poetry, the more likely we are to find a path to real wholeness (or at least to see concretely the obstacles to that wholeness); not just for ourselves, but for all those with whom we feel solidarity. Which is another thing I get from poetry, and that's not nothing.

Hang in there, Tony. Listen to yourself. You're fighting for your life.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Once in a long, long while the Buffalo Poetics List is actually rewarding to subscribe to. Today it's because of Kevin Killian's extremely charming reports on the Orono conference. Read Part 1 and then Part 2.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Blocked and sluggish today. I did manage a semi-coherent addition to the conversation between myself and Chris Lott (and some anonymous poster—boy, am I sick of anonymous posters!) over here this morning. And I ordered some more poetry books for The Bookery, which at least feels useful. But I can't bring myself to look at Pound lately. I've been nibbling at Bloch and also Susan Buck-Morss' wonderful book on Benjamin. And I've been thinking about what happens to pastoral as refuge from history in the postmodern era, which by one definition is itself the forgetting of history. Who needs to hide from what you can't remember? This may all lead to something, but yesterday it led to napping and playing computer games. The weather hasn't helped. This is the wettest summer I can recall since I left New Orleans in 1996. Gray and more gray. I hope things clear up a bit for my friends Richard and Trevor when they come to visit next week.

Got some shelving to do. Deep thoughts later. Maybe much later.
I've been steering clear of the ressentiment machine that is Foetry, but then I stumbled across this. I happen to doubt very much that David Lehman was showing any favoritism to Christine Scanlon, the most recent Barrow Street Book Contest winner. One can be an editorial advisor to a literary magazine without ever setting foot in the magazine's office (if it has one); it's conceivable he's never even met Scanlon. But what burns me about this is their willingness to tar the entire contest with their sloppy brush—which means some of the sticky stuff gets splashed on me. I am not, as I've said before, a committed defender of the contest system—not because I'm worried about conspiracies and unfairness but rather because of the way it fosters an overly "submissive" relationship between authors and editors. But there's no better solution to publishing poetry right now; even print on demand costs more than most publishers will recoup from selling the books. I dislike having to defend myself from unseen enemies, but for the record, one more time: I had no pre-existing relationship with either of the judges of the contests I have won. If publishing books was only about who you know, I would probably not be published.

Okay. Ahem. In other news, how about that Democratic National Convention? I was generally heartened by the spectacle of Democrats looking and sounding confident. It was strange to think of how the Republican convention will seem to take place in an utterly different world, one in which George Bush is a visionary and successful leader. (I saw a sticker on a pickup truck's back window the other day: GEORGE BUSH IS OUR CHURCHILL; next to it was the more puzzling message VICHY IS HERE AGAIN. Does this refer to the treachery of France or to the fifth column of peaceniks at home? Churchill, incidentally, was in favor of using poison gas against rebellious "natives" in the first half of his career.) No one broke away from the "war on terrorism" paradigm, although Clinton hinted at this toward the end of his speech when he said there was no military solution to the problem of Islamic radicalism. (He didn't use the phrase "Islamic radicalism" but I find it vastly preferable to "terrorism"; as many have remarked, terrorism is a tactic and a symptom, not the problem itself.) And certainly no one was going to fault the larger project of neoliberalism; the general theme seemed to be that Kerry would do what Bush is doing, but more tactfully and more successfully. Still, I'm voting for Kerry, because I believe at least it would be possible to have an intelligent conversation with the man on the subject (on any subject). The most terrifying thing about Bush is his complete inability to engage with any reality beyond his own political plurality.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Okay, I've probably said enough about the greatness of Homestar Runner. But... did you know that They Might Be Giants are fans?

For the love of Mike, watch this.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I concur with Ms. Dark: read this. Jordan has some thoughts on it.
Well, the question as to whether I will actually devote a chapter of my dissertation to the Language poets remains open. I certainly appreciate the feedback I've been getting, though—and more than that, I appreciate how the stakes get raised when one contemplates scholarship on living writers. The stakes are highest of all, of course, for myself as a living writer. If I've become fixated on pastoral as the eccentric lens through which to read modernist and postmodernist poetry, it's largely because of my own attractions to the genre and my insisting on its possibility as a site of mediation between aesthetic and political impulses. We shall see.

And now for something completely different: I'm reading and getting a big kick out of Lytle Shaw's The Lobe here at The Bookery tonight. Shaw happens to be an Ithaca native, and he specializes in masking high literary comedy in low blows; or perhaps it's the other way around. There's a painful edge to some of the humor, because many of the poems imply questions about readers: who are they? Do they want this? How about this? Both reader and writer are occasionally cast into the pose of an Augustan literary man, comically distanced from possibilities for real dignity by our actual 21st century context:
Some Critical Exercises

Consider carefully the men busy reviving a woman collapsed by a fire they've built beneath a rock, then pronounce this one of the best composed scenes of the salon.

Reprimand if you must, but save a choice morsel for the Baron and his slumped, work-suited helpers.

Tap your cane sharply against the polished marble.

Purse your lips while uttering the letter O, leaving your mouth open an awkwardly long time, then recline into the bean-bag chair.

Smirk at his malapropism, but mind your own words with a heightened vigilance.

Pass the hookah and recite a naval yarn.

The Spaniard is on horseback, he occupies most of the canvas.

Poor little one, how intense, how thoughtful is your pain!
This is delightful and squirm-inducing all at once, as is the poem that follows (you'll have to content yourselves with the title: "Some Failed 18th Century Jacket Blurbs"). What saves the book from being mere highfalutin' hijinks (which I don't mean to disparage; I could still enjoy a book like that, ideally in the form of a leatherbound mass-market paperback) is how much of the recognizable (or recognizably strange) world Shaw crams into it. Somehow he makes the pomo collage of one poem, "My Mother Would Be on Falcon Crest" facing pages with another poem called "Fragments and Aphorisms for Holderlin" seem fresh again; it's the matter-of-fact furniture of our lives posed agasint the matter-of-fact shag carpet of cultural studies. (He can do this in a single poem title: "Dude Looks Like the Portrait of a Lady.") Not the least of this poetry's pleasures is its musical sense of wit, captured in this six-liner (the middle poem in a series of six-liners):
From the Couch

Pool man escalates turf slide
out back of bread edge pile.
Lay back and limn it.
A hose in the greens, magazine
gloss to Continental hood:
May I speak to the helper of the house?
This reads like riding a waterslide, jumping between alliterative peaks of t and b and splashing through the een rhyme to its assonantal conclusion. But you don't lose sight of the social content of these poems, almost always a self-implicating critique of bourgeois norms or cultural circles (we have met the literati and it is us). If an avant-garde artist is one who wants to close the gap between art and life, but who thereby runs the risk of losing the perspective that makes him or her an artist, Shaw succeeds by leaping right into the gap and discovering all of us already in there with him. The Lobe is good company.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Woke up this morning, grabbed Emily's laptop, and wrote the first three pages of my dissertation. Hurray for me! Only one hundred forty-seven pages to go. Well, probably a few more than that.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The first genuinely summery day in a long while: hot and sunny, with just enough of a breeze to keep the humidity from being uncomfotable. I've been shifting around a lot lately as I approach the moment when I actually start writing the dissertation. Often before embarking on a long project I spend an inordinate amount of time hesitating at the threshold, waiting for some kind of hint or sign that will impel me into the actual writing. It's not an entirely comfortable place to be, but I'm coming to accept it as part of my creative process.

This evening I'm spending a little time with Ernst Bloch, whose cautiously cheerful utopianism makes for a refreshing change from the pessimism of Adorno. I was led back to him through Walter Benjamin, whose early essay "On Language as Such and the Language of Man" I read yesterday in search of further clarification of the idea of "Language" as that site (cite?) in which things communicate themselves: the capability to communicate, communicativity as such. (It's easy to go round in circles trying to think this stuff.) Benjamin of course returns me to such numinous, not-quite-pindownable concepts as mimesis and the dialectical image. Bloch (or at least Jack Zipes' very helpful introduction to Bloch's book of essays, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature) helps clarify Benjamin a bit and moves me closer to my particular (pastoral) ground with his concept of Vor-Schein, or "anticipatory illumination," which seems to exist in constellation with Benjamin's concepts (as well as Adorno's concept of, er, constellation). Here are some notes I scribbled in my non-online notebook just now:

Ernst Bloch sees literature as diagnostic of a topographically conceived historical situation: the distance of a given social moment from Utopia as well as, ideally, the direction in which that Utopia might lie.

Quotes Franz Marc (in his Principles of Hope): "pictures are our own surfacing in another place."

From the same passage: "Wish-landscapes of beauty, of sublimity as a whole, remain in aesthetic anticipatory illusion and as such are attempts to contemplate the world without its perishing."

Marx initiates a tradition of via negativa within Utopian thinking by refusing to describe the Communist society—so the genuine Utopian thinker must obey the commandment against graven images. Yet images have their function—the dialectical image of Benjamin is meant to shock the reader awake from his dogmatic slumber, and this image is thus cousin to Bloch's insistence on the Novum (the genuinely new, as distinguished from a marketable novelty) as the "qualitative reutilization of the cultural heritage" (Zipe's words). The image (most suggestively crystallized for my purposes as the "wish-landscape" or Wünschenlandschaft) takes the form of an "anticipatory illumination. This is the ability of an aesthetic depiction to return the depicted object to its full immanence (suppressed by habitual ways of seeing as well as, presumably, a merely theoretical or calculating vision)—but not in the service of an auratic nostalgia. The goal is rather to measure the distance between the artwork's historical moment (or more vitally, the historical moment of the reader/receiver) and Utopia (which Bloch insists on seeing as objectively realizable—he focuses on the daydream as the origin of anticipatory illumination because unlike actual dreams, whose content is twisted by repression, daydreams "occur in semiconsciousness and point to real, objective possibilities" [Zipes again]). Not only is the wish-landscape then a portrait of Utopia (though necessarily an incomplete and inaccurate one), but the very process of generating such an image depends on a kind of itself-Utopian openness of encounter between subjects and objects—presented once again in topographical terms as what Bloch calls "dialectically open space, in which any object can be aesthetically depicted" (emphasis in original). But Utopia itself is deferred into the not-yet, an undescribable but infinitely important and yearned-for home (Heimat).

Ah, if only I could simply present the blog as my dissertation. Or at least a Habilitationsschrift.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Just added a link to the online magazine Aught, a homegrown Ithaca journal of innovative poetry edited by Ron Henry that I've been too long ignorant of.
To elliptically insist on the topic of profiling: what are we to make of a middle-aged woman in a sunhat browsing the poetry section who looks only at books by Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, and Mary Oliver? If it were not for the Graham I would snobbishly assume she was looking for pretty verbal baubles, though that's probably unfair to Gluck as well. But somehow looking at a Graham book (Never) still leaves this poor woman accused in my mind of looking for poetry that tells her what she already thinks she knows--she's not looking to be changed or blown away. Who is Jorie Graham's audience these days, anyhow? I mean, I still think of her as an important poet and very influential on my generation--but it's been a long time since I've read her myself or gotten excited about a poem of hers.
Earlier today a customer asked for Mark Doty and seemed shocked when I said we didn't have any. (And we should have some too, because he sells.) But he also strikes me as a poet of reassurance and affirmation (though his memoir Heaven's Coast was remarkably sad and brave about grief). Maybe what really bothers me about these poets is their language--it just doesn't carry the word-by-word charge that I demand. I like some of Gluck's work, particularly The Wild Iris, but her vocabulary and diction don't sizzle and pop enough for me. (One might say the same about George Oppen, but a) I think there actually is considerable verbal surprise in his terseness and b) his engagement with the larger political world compels me more than Gluck's sometimes melodramatic self-intimacies.) Mary Oliver is, in my opinion, a second-rate Wordsworth; I'd rather read the original. Graham is often intellectually exciting, but her long, discursive lines often fail to hold my attention as raptly as it wants to be held. I open up Never and I'm primarily struck by an impression of endlessness, an experience of sheer verbosity. Unfair! This is all pure gustibus and hardly based upon the kind of sustained reading these poets deserve. But somehow I feel they're read just as shallowly cover-to-cover as I'm "reading" them here. They're read for what they signify; I fail to read them because I can't get any purchase of pleasure on the surface of their language. If they were situated within a tradition I find intellectually interesting (such as Language poetry) I'd pay closer attention; but I might still, ultimately, feel the books slipping from my hands because, on the surface level, they promise so little. (And I'm often more interested in the promise than its fulfillment: what I'm being set up to expect. A broken promise can be very interesting, poetically.)
And a "moderate automatic preference for Arab Muslims." The funny thing is, I know I have racist impulses like anyone else. Perhaps this test just shows I'm committed to not acting on them.

Anyway, try it yourself:
Taking the Harvard Bias Tests that Dan posted about. I have "a strong automatic preference for African-Americans." Take that, racism!
I'd never really given much thought to Gary Snyder. When he did cross my mind, it was as one of the Beats—a group I have ambivalent sympathy for. I think of them as poets who did important things, who were themselves important symbols for a little while, but who became in our cultural memory a primary example of commodified dissent: "Jack Kerouac wore khakis," etc. Most of the actual writing bores me to tears. Gary Snyder the man continues to impress me because of his dedication to environmental causes; his Buddhism also seems very sincere. But I've never much liked his poems. This is all just a lengthy preamble to me saying I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying his newest book, Danger on Peaks, an advance reader's copy of which was handed to me as I came to work at The Bookery this morning. The first section comprises a group of haibun on the topic of Mount St. Helens and its varying significations through the poet's long life: from the place where he first heard about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a visit to the Blast Zone as a site of more or less unreconstructed nature in 2000. Snyder's style isn't particularly remarkable; it's the kind of nature writing that I've always found to be a bit of a snooze, mostly description of natural features mixed in with acute observations of the changes made by humans (interstates, the presence of ranger stations, etc.). Reading this kind of thing always brings out my inner Frank O'Hara: "I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally REGRET life." But there were a few moments that cut through this, that made me feel the presence of unregretted life. When I was twenty I did a peak climb in central Oregon as part of an Outward Bound trip, and although the beatspeak of the first sentence makes me wince, I understood what Snyder meant when he talked about the estrangement from earth one experiences at the top of a really high mountain:
West coast snowpeaks are too much! They are too far above the surrounding lands. There is a break between. They are in a different world. If you want to get a view of the world you live in, climb a little rocky mountain with a neat small peak. But, the big snowpeaks pierce the realm of clouds and cranes, rest in the zone of five-colored baners and writhing crackling dragons in veils of ragged mist and frost-crystals, into a pure transparency of blue.
Somehow I forgive Snyder this bit of Orientalism—I feel like he's earned it somehow, that he really does see the Chinese heaven up there. Plus I've seen it myself: I remember near dawn at the top of a glacier looking at peaks rising through fog like a thick green sea, sun beginning to crystalize on the snow through the eastern clouds. Then there's his basic unpretentiousness. He has a series of charming quasi-haiku in the second section which make Imagism seem almost fresh again:
A Dent in a Bucket

Hammering a dent out of a bucket
       a woodpecker answers from the woods

Standup Comics

A parking meter that won't take coins
a giant sprinkler valve wheel chained and locked
a red and white fire hydrant
a young dandelion at the edge of the pavement


small birds     flit
from bough
to bough to bough

to bough to bough to bough
That last one is my favorite and taps a deeper reservoir of linguistic possibility than Snyder had previously seemed interested in. So I'll keep reading. What's come as a welcome surprise is his willingness to see what's in front of him, acutely and without becoming strident: it's the fulfillment of Pound's "periplum" (something Pound himself completely failed to do; his excoriation of American from Europe is the complete opposite of his proclaimed "see for yourself" ethic). It does not strike me as the kind of invigorated "late work" that Ron was talking about last week, but maybe I don't know enough about Snyder's other work to judge that. Sometimes the mere perseverance of an older writer is inspiration enough.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Do check out this remarkably sympathetic, thoughtful, downright romantic article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus on the MLA and professing English in The Believer. It includes a remarkable defense of arcane academic discourse. Not only does it partially restore my faith and interest in the magazine, but it makes me actually eager to go to my first MLA convention. Will I need a tie?
Media report: Last night's episode of Six Feet Under was very sadistic and disturbing. After that we caught the first episode of Entourage. In the words of Mussolini, "Ma questo e divertente." Earlier that afternoon we had seen Anchorman, which was funny and forgettable. Wish I could have seen all of Will Ferrell's cameos on assorted news programs promoting the movie. Best scene: the news team rumble with "gangs" led by Ferrell, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins (the public TV anchor, in 'fro and smoking a pipe), and Ben Stiller (the pseudo-Latino anchor of Spanish language news).
Brick, where did you get that hand grenade?

I don't know.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Ever since I read Marjorie Perloff's essay "Pound/Stevens: Whose Era?" I've been on the lookout for critical work that breaks down that dichotomy--for both poets are very important to me and implicated in my prosody. So I particularly appreciate this article by Kent Johnson in the newest Jacket. They're looking for reviewers, incidentally. Think I'll volunteer.

It has rained every day in Ithaca for a week.
Jonathan worries about the possibility of my following in Oren Izenberg's footsteps with my dissertation. But be assured that while Izenberg's basic insight about Language poetry's most fundamental gesture rings true with me, I don't accept his idea that every poem is just a boring demonstration or iteration of that gesture. Different Language poems and poets have diverse aesthetic effects, even I dare say "content" in the old-fashioned sense. Nor am I going to insist on "pastoral" as a unitary genre or entity that subdues all visible differences between John Clare and John Ashbery (that reminds me: I have to spend some time with the new Angus Fletcher book).

What excites me about this project is how I'm beginning to construct a theoretical armature for poetry that feels true to my own practice, my spider-sense of poetry if you will. I'm sure many poets have had my experience of reading some critic or other and thinking, "This person has no idea what really goes into writing a poem, none—no sense the decisions made or the experience of making them." This theory speaks to my grandest aspirations for poetry—and why pursue such a maddening, ignorable art without oversized expectations for some future poetic Aufhebung?

Friday, July 16, 2004

Read through the war years and up into St. Elizabeth's in Tytell's biography, and my revulsion toward Pound is at an all-time high. It becomes more and more difficult to hold the contradictions in my mind. I'm nowhere near simply chucking The Cantos and other assorted Poundiana into the wastepaper basket, but my sympathy for those who do is high. And though I'm now convinced he was mentally ill from the mid-twenties on, that doesn't mean he wasn't responsible for his actions. Incidentally, I'm struck by other nasty misdemeanors in his life that would probably have received more attention if not for the spectacular nature of his high crimes. The man basically abandoned his son Omar and was an indifferent parent to his illegitimate daughter. He was a compulsive womanizer. And most of all, mean as a snake. Yet, and yet: it was his unusual capacity for friendship--particularly to Eliot and Joyce--was of imperishable value, or at least fostered imperishable works. As for The Cantos themselves--well. They are the record of a struggle, mixed in the way described by Yeats ("Out of our quarrel with ourselves, we make poetry; out of our quarrel with others, rhetoric") but not separable as his formula implies. It will be responsibility, in writing about him, to take the whole (yet fragmented) Pound into account--though there's much I can scarcely bear to touch.

Huh. New-style Blogger interface. Think I prefer the old one. Anyway, I spent the morning pleasurably immersed in Giorgio Agamben's short, dense book The Coming Community. Agamben is a philosopher very much working in the wake of Heidegger and Levinas, and in some ways this book reads like an attempt to synthesize their thought--an ethical ontology. The argument is not easily summarized, but what fascinates me about the book is how it gestures toward quiddity or the "whatever" (not in the sense of "whatever, man" but as a way of gesturing on a thing's tendency to be whatever it particularly is. It's the attribute of having "whatness") as the fundamental property of beings, a property that itself does not belong to either the particular or the universal. It reminds me strongly of that Oren Izenberg article in the Fall 2003 issue of Critical Inquiry, in which Izenberg argues that the project of Language poetry is "the ontological and ethical practice" of gesturing toward "the human capacity of free and creative agency" lodged within language qua language. The Language project becomes particularly visible in Agamben's formulation of its opposite: the condition of language under the society of the spectacle in which we all live. Here, the "communicativity" essential to any sense of community that is not predicated on "identity"—that is, the possibility of escaping the oppression of the State or homogenous nation—has been erased and absorbed by the spectacle, which replaces that possiblity with its sinister and inane tautology "What appears is good; what is good appears." In the following quote, Agamben assigns the Hebrew word "Shekinah" as a symbol of language reified as an instrument of knowledge (another barrier to what Agamben calls "the Common":

What hampers communication is communicability itself; humans are separated by what unites them. Journalists and mediacrats are the new priests of this alienation from human linguistic nature.

     In the society of spectacle, in fact, the isolation of the Shekinah reaches its final phase, where language is not only constituted in an autonomous sphere, but also no longer even reveals anything--or better, it reveals the nothingness of all things. There is nothing of God, of the world, or of the revealed in language. In this extreme nullifying unveiling, however, language (the linguistic nature of humans) remains once again hiden and separated, and thus, one last time, in its unspoken power, it dooms humans to a historical era and a State: the era of the spectacle, or of accomplished nihilism. This is why today power founded on a presupposed foundation is tottering all over the globe and the kingdoms of the earth set course, one after another, for the democratic-spectacular regime that constitutes the completion of the State-form. Even more than economic necessity and technological development, what drives the nations of the earth toward a single common destiny is the alienation from linguistic being, the uprooting of all peoples from their vital dwelling in language.

     For this very reason, however, the era in which we live is also that in which for the first time it is possible for humans to experience their own linguistic being--not this or that content of language, but language itself, not this or that true proposition, but the very fact that one speaks. Contemporary politics is this devastating experimentum linguae that all over the planet unhinges and empties traditions and beliefs, ideologies and religions, identities and communities.

This sounds so close to Izenberg that I'm convinced he must have been drawing upon Agamben for his argument; I wish I had a copy of the article in front of me. But in any case I'm very attracted to the suggestion here that the role of poetry is in unlocking "the very fact that one speaks"--it's Heidegger's "Language is the house of Being" transformed into an imperative. (An interesting parallel here between poetry as providing access to linguistic being and Allen Grossman's more humanist notion of poetry as being the power of granting personhood; but  think Grossman sees poetry more conservatively as a means of representation--which would trap him within the State/identity paradigm.) And of course I'm hardwired to try and think this through pastoral--Virgil's Eclogues give us a liminal space between wilderness (later aka myth) and civilization (later aka Enlightenment) whose shepherds create a provisional community based upon their powers of song. By relating to each other primarily as singers, as opposed to economic or political units, they create a humane and livable community, albeit one that is both imaginary (the fantasy of aristocrats) and always under threat (as signified by the eviction of Meliboeus in the First Eclogue).
Maybe I will end up doing a chapter on the Language poets (heavily indebted to Izenberg) in which I examine their project, or a chunk of it, as a pastoral one. But another question opens: what are we, the post-Language poets, up to? By returning to "content" are we manufacturing identities and falling prey to the spectacle? Or are we simply asserting our own ontic particularity in protest against the levelling of affect seen in much Language poetry, synecdochic of the indiscriminate cutting edge of revolutionary violence? Pound believed that Social Credit would make it possible to technically correct society's ills; it was an alternative to revolution. The technician usually fails to anticipate the ways in which his experiment will change its conditions. On the other hand, the revolutionary lets a thousand flowers bloom by lopping off the heads of thousands more. Agamben writes, "Selecting in the new planetary humanity those characteristics that allow for its survival, removing the thin diaphragm that separates bad mediatized advertising from the perfect exteriority that communicates only itself--this is the political task of our generation." The critical question then becomes: what is the nature of Agamben's proposal? Is it technical, revolutionary--or some barefly imagined hybrid?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

One thing of interest emerging from Pound's biography (I'm in the late 1920s and things are tending toward disaster) that I hadn't realized is the fact that Poetry has historically mostly been interesting in spite of itself. Although as I recall their sample poem (by which contributors are meant to judge if their own work is appropriate) in the old Poets Market is an excerpt from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," it appears that Harriet Monroe's Poetry was, outside of Pound's direct influence, devoted to neo-Victorian sentimental verse. Who's their Pound today? And what exactly are they doing with all that money? Not much, not yet.

Odd dissonance in seeing that Pound felt there was about to be a vital surge of Jewish American literature ("capital" was his word); he saw the "Objectivists" issue that he got Monroe to permit Louis Zukofsky to edit as a foretaste of that. But I should know by now not to expect consistency from Pound.

Basil Bunting has also made his first appearance, though only in reference to his being jailed in Genoa for a "drunken disturbance."
Only managed to slog through the first canto of Thrones today. It's heavy going: even more Greek, and this time devoted to such minutiae as the rules for tradesmen in medieval Byzantium. It's a falling-off from the lyricism of the last half of Rock-Drill. Nonetheless I shall forge ahead. Specific comments to come later, but I think I really need the Terrell guide to do much with these late Cantos. The Cookson—at least the old edition I'm using—just doesn't cut it.

In the bio, Pound's getting close to meeting Mussolini for the first time. Turns out Hemingway beat him to it.
Over the past few years, The Atlantic Monthly has imperceptibly morphed into a neocon rag that I mostly ignore. Their poetry too is eminently ignorable. But this interview with Cornell's own Alice Fulton is actually pretty good.
Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

Check out this comic my old friend Nikki just introduced me to: A Softer World.

And Chris Lott over at his new blog Cosmopoetica has some thoughts about Corpus Socius (and I've got thoughts about his thoughts).

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Jordan's banned words. But imagine them all in the same poem!
Way back in 1991, when "independent film" was becoming a phrase on everyone's lips, there was a little movie starring Crispin Glover called Little Noises. Glover played a would-be writer unable to finish even a single page of his novel (something to do with arctic adventure, as I recall) who ends up stealing the poems of a deaf-mute in order to impress his literary agent, played by Rik Mayall (of The Young Ones). Mayall, who had always viewed Glover as a poser (and rightly so) is amazed, gazing across his desk at squirmy Crispin: "They're such strange, beautiful poems." Glover becomes an overnight sensation (a turn no less improbable than Simon Grim's Nobel in Henry Fool) while the saintly mute poet vanishes into alcoholism, refusing Glover's guilty attempts to make up for his theft. I've always thought of Mayall's as the ideal aesthetic reaction to the poetry I most want to write, but the man who's pulled it off is HCE's Lance Phillips with his remarkable Corpus Socius. Christopher Davis' blurb puts Lance's work in the tradition of poetry's Via Negativa, and there is something Celanian about the project. But what grabs me as a reader is the energy wrung from contorted, nearly verbless, and neologism-crammed lines and stanzas:
The acts     I've immediate acts
Cloud full with hand then mouth's
a lightning of mercury     of hair's memorable lust
      —("Portion's sweetest root")

bunker larkspur
cart cart
Homoousia brighting ladder whole against the house

Axon sustaining plum-reflex its branch has embodied
      —("Orbis sensualim pictus")
The not-quite nothing of these lines and brief stanzas suspended in white space are like bird-tracks in snow; the bird seeks nothing less than God. (Ahsahta seems to have a predilection for poets whose poetry evokes theological investigation in either form or content has published so many poets—I'm thinking of Aaron McCullough and to a lesser degree Graham Foust. I suspect the influences of Michael Palmer and Donald Revell, among others.) I have inclinations that way myself, and some have taken Selah for a religious book. But I would hazard that theology isn't religion, much less belief—it's more like a technique not fully separated from clouds of numinousness. It's an uncomfortable position, as Phillips knows:
Secularist, am says head
says diagram from I
bulks poppy
      —("The how")
The physical, excessive "bulk" of the poppy (most Lawrentian of flowers) counterbalances the rational secularism of the "head" and "I" with a most bodily and sexual intuition of spirit. This is the core insight of the book, extended by the title into the knowledge that spirit is always an attribute of collectivity (as in "the spirit of the age," Pound's paideuma). And this secret knowledge of the body emerges bodily from the text, from the words forced just slightly enough out of whack to utterly change our focus:
Safed goldenrod:
safed field's
a telling    Whose
fifth remove: road
babe and hoof

Moth is such I'm brutalizing
      —("The human being")
Words drawn helplessly to God's light get brutalized by the poet to make us feel them shuddering between verb and noun. "Plain skin being motion" ("Oxyrhynchus"); "Bringing materiality, the taking wasp from his hand" ("Sign of accordance")—the flesh is an emblem and itself all at once. I need to spend more time with this book; I also want to continue to ponder the attraction of the theological to contemporary poets, especially confirmed secularists like myself. Whatever the appeal of Phillips' immanentism, though, I'm wholly taken with/by his language: "Outside from the word mastery being bluish wing" ("Physiocosmology").
And one page later (Tytell bio), Pound offers immediate and intense support to the beginnings of Joyce's Ulysses, one of the most movingly sympathetic portrayals of a Jewish man in all literature (among other things). People. You can't figure 'em out.
You morons! (Pound, Wyndham Lewis, D.H. Lawrence, et al.) It's not democracy that lays waste to culture. It's capitalism.

And lay off the Jews! What did we ever do to you?

Grr, grumble.
Too much coffee.
You know, if we could manage a presidential election in the midst of a freakin' Civil War, I think we can manage an election in the wake of a terrorist attack. Nicole is right—it's all to make John Wayne look more impressive. Of course, John Wayne WAS impressive because of his cool and grace. Cheney et al are more reminiscent of a gang of Peter Lorres.

I'm at the Bookery all day today, so we might have some poetry moments later on. More Cantos eventually. I broke down and ordered Carroll Terrell's A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound after looking at a copy in another bookstore; it's just too useful not to own. I learned from a single glance that the "Section" in Section: Rock-Drill refers at least in part to the "golden section," which would seem to be a marker of the rational rendered aesthetically pleasing. I may just have to sit down and read the damn thing cover to cover.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Can't get any work done at all because I keep snickering over Strong Bad E-mails. These have to be seen... again and again.

Before it recedes too far into the past I'd like to say I enjoyed very much the reading here in Ithaca by Noah Eli Gordon, Sara Veglahn, and Eric Baus (author of the marvelous and odd The To Sound. We hung out afterwards (they bought lots of poetry books from The Bookery), had some wine and beer, talked poetry. It's the kind of poets' comradeship I sometimes miss here in Ithaca. Maybe when Aaron gets here we can start a serious mafia.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Holy crap.

Click on the above and be seduced by... Homestar Runner!
Awestruck congratulations to Ron for completing his postmodern post-epic, The Alphabet.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Zack Finch has given Selah a very, very nice review over at Boston Review. Thank you, Mr. Finch!

Friday, July 09, 2004

So much cool stuff has arrived at The Bookery that I don't know where to start. The new issues of Fence, the comic-book issue of McSweeney's, and the all-music issue of that compellingly irritating mag, The Believer, are all in. And prominently on display in the poetry section are a bunch of books I ordered.

Top shelf: Frances Payne Adler, The Making of a Matriot; Christopher Arigo, Lit Interim; Anselm Berrigan, Zero Star Hotel (not the first time it's appeared on our shelves); Charles Borkhuis, Savoir-Fear, Jack Collom, Red Car Goes By; Valerie Coulton, Passing World Pictures, Tom Lamont, Siwa Door (that one I didn't order); Tan Lin, Blipsoak 01; Frank Stanford, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You; Emmanuel Hocquard, Theory of Tables; William D. Waltz, Zoo Music (we've had this one); and Lisa Robertson, Debbie: An Epic.

On display here and there: Michael Cross, ed., Involuntary Visions; Catherine Daly, DaDaDa (we've had this one too); Robert Duncan, Letters: Poems 1953-1956; and Graham Foust, Leave the Room to Itself.

Bottom shelf display: Kathleen Fraser, Discreet Cateories Forced Into Coupling (I love the title; it sounds like Kant's nightmare wet dream); Loss Pequene Glazier, Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algoritihm; John Godfrey, Private Lemonade; Gerry Gilbert, Moby Jane; Renee Gladman, The Activist (a return engagement!); Christine Hume, Alaskaphrenia, Kaia Sand, Interval; Edwin Torres, The All-Union Day of the Shock Worker (it's a toss-up between that and the Fraser book for my favorite title); Rodrigo Toscano, Platform (replacing the one I bought); Elizabeth Treadwell, Lilyfoil; and Jo Ann Wasserman, The Escape.

I think that makes ours the most exciting poetry display in western New York. If I were a better person I'd link to all of these titles to make it easier for you, my gentle readers, to purchase them. But you know what? Just go to Google and find 'em. Buy directly from the publisher when you can and Amazon when you can't, is my suggestion. Buy, and sin no more.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Section: Rock-Drill is named in part for a sculpture by Jacob Epstein, "The Rock Drill"—you can see a charcoal study of it here and here's a bit of the menacing, Cylon-centurion-like torso. Apparently he cut it down after WWI as if attempting to destroy the demonic power of the original, which he described this way:
It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock-drill, and my ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill...and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menancing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconsed. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into...Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.
Clearly Epstein was caught up in a passion similar to that of Marinetti, another figure of tremendous importance for Pound. I wonder if he's thinking of the pre- or post-war Rock Drill, if he means it as an emblem of technological monstrosity, phallocentricity run amuck—or of the legless being stripped of its potency and imprisoned by its armor. The sketch seems slightly more benign, reminding me of the idealized workers on Soviet posters—a force for production, not destruction. The "Section" is also curious: the word may refer to a new section of the poem as well as the section or core-sample that one obtains with a drill. That seems the most likely interpretation, given that the first half of the decad is devoted to recapitulating Pound's Confucian values and discovering new warriors against usury in 19th-century American history (Thomas Hart Benton and John Randolph of Roanoke): it's a dense core sample of the ideals laid out in the previous 84 Cantos. I also associate the word "section" with the one-square-mile sections imposed like a grid on the geography of North America before much of it had even been "discovered" (I play with this idea in Fourier Series); but this kind of abstraction seems entirely antithetical to Pound's notion of "periplum." And the frightening image of Epstein's original Rock-Drill lingers in the mind. So perhaps "Section: Rock-Drill" is actually a condensation of the forces opposed by Pound's poem. Probably a little more research could settle this question for me.

The poetry itself is dense; there are more Chinese characters and more Greek in this decad than in any of the other sections of The Cantos so far. You could extract much of Pound's philosophy of government (and ethics generally) simply by listing the meanings of the various ideograms: sensibility, clarity, point of rest/balance, sincerity, equity, sacrifices to the dead, "the unwobbling pivot," and "the One Man." It seems that even from the insane asylum Pound couldn't let go of his hero-worship—though there are blessedly few Mussolini references and relatively little anti-Semitism in these Cantos. A notable exception being these italicized lines from Canto 91:
Democracies electing their sewage
till there is no clear thought about holiness
a dung flow from 1913
and, in this, their kikery functions, Marx, Freud
      and the american beaneries
Filth under filth,
                  Maritain, Hutchins,
or as Benda remarked: "La trahison"
"1913" refers to the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank, the principle trahison or betrayal in American history according to Pound's lights, since it took power over interest rates and the like out of the hands of Congress, where the Constitution had originally put it. (Pound would have had nothing whatever good to say about the unelected and unstoppable Alan Greenspan.) But Pound's contempt for democracy as it is practiced (one might say, with a nod to the Marxists of old, "actually existing democracy"), and the seething ressentiment toward iconic Jewish thinkers and the universities ("beaneries") that promulgate their thought, continues to dishearten. The italics serve to emphasize and also to separate this outburst from the poetry around it, much of which is lovely and moving. Also, by this point the reader has been so long sunk in various mythologies and leitmotifs that the appearance of one of their elements echoes back through the poem and resonates in the mind. The figures of "Erigena" or "Mount Segur," or the Latin phrase "sunt lumina" ("are lights") immediately suggest Pound's paradisal longings and the pagan theology by which he expresses them. Plus new terms and concepts are introduced, the most important of which has to be "Sagetrieb." A German coinage for "oral tradition" it literally means something like "the drive to speak"; he extracts this notion from the Chinese ideal of ministers "invicem docentes" ("teaching each other"). It first appears amid a flurry of ideograms toward the end of Canto 85 and then recurs occasionally thereafter, but the word beautifully captures both Pound's reverence for tradition and the urge (trieb) to extend it and keep it alive, in the present tense. At the beginning of 90 it is associated with the legendary minstrel Amphion, said to have built the walls of Thebes with the music of his lyre; music instead of labor for production. This is the intelligence of keen observation and also of Gelassenheit (as in 83, represented by Chinese characters meaning "don't help to grow"). I'm curious though how to read it against this crucial passage from 87, which I'm convinced must have directly influenced Ronald Johnson:
The tower wherein [Poictiers], at one point, is no shadow,
           and Jacques de Molay, is where?
and the "Section", the proportions
      lending, perhaps, not at interest, but resisting.
Then false fronts, barocco.
           "We have", said Mencius, "but phenomena."
monumenta. In nature are signatures
      needing no verbal tradition,
oak leaf never plane leaf. John Heydon.
           [Selloi] sleep there on the ground
And old Jargeheld there was a tradition,
      that was not mere epistemology.
Mohamedans will remain,—naturally—unconverted
If you remove houris from Paradise
There's a lot to unravel here, but what draws my attention foremost is the notion that nature contains "signatures / needing no verbal tradition". Sagetrieb may be something other than "verbal tradition"; in a 1957 interview Pound spoke of "the intelligence working in nature and requiring no particular theories to keep it alive; a respect that is reborn in a series of sages, from Confucius, through Dante, to Agassiz." But maybe "verbal tradition" is Sagetrieb and Pound's point is that Nature itself has no need for it to achieve its telos of continuous differentiation. In that case, Sagetrieb is only needed by humans as that which mediates their relationship to nature; without it we are left with usury (exchange detached from production) and the devastation of the Rock-Drill. Sagetrieb becomes Pound's word for myth that also encompasses a certain functionality, a way of being distinct from the pursuit of profit (what Lawrence calls "the whole self-preservation system"). What would be interesting for my purposes now would be to examine how Pound models Sagetrieb, not just how he conceptualizes it. My claim for pastoral is that it is a representation of life in touch with nature, not just a wish for that life (all lyric poetry provides an imaginary fulfillment of that wish, but not all lyric poetry creates an image of that fulfillment). And of course Pound's pastoral is constantly compromised by the intrusions of history—not just from without, but from within, in the form of his deformed, anti-Semitic soul.

Lots more to say about Section: Rock-Drill and I may say some of it. But I'm also eager to press on to Thrones de los Cantares. Six-hundred sixty-seven pages down, can you believe it? Only one-hundred fifty-three to go.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Getting Pound tidbits from a biography by John Tytell that we have here at the Bookery. It's very well written, though irritatingly devoid of notes. Here's a little Pound poem I didn't know:
L'Art 1910

Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries. Come let us feast our eyes!
What adventures Deborah has had in Russia! I'm quite envious.
D.H. Lawrence on Pound: "his god is beauty, mine life."
Still reading Pound, but yesterday I made an abrupt dive back into D.H. Lawrence. His Study of Thomas Hardy is a marvelous text, one of the most sustained explanations of his thought. I am now thinking that my first chapter will use Adorno and Heidegger to set up my idea of modernist pastoral as a middle space between myth and enlightenment/technology/production, a momentary clearing or rift between earth and world, a temporary refuge from history; then close the introduction with a look at Lawrence and how his pastoral tends to emphasize mimesis (in Adorno's sense) and the recovery of myth. The following chapters will then develop how formally innovative poets with a larger investment in techne than Lawrence use pastoral (or are used by it—Pound is basically seized by it, imprisoned by it) for aesthetico-political ends. Yeah, that's the ticket. So, sticking to my six-chapter plan, we're looking at 1) Adorno/Lawrence, 2) Pound, 3) Objectivists (including Williams?), 4) Spicer/O'Hara (urban pastoral!), 5) Duncan/Ronald Johnson, 6) contemporaries such as Lisa Robertson. Still not sure how to explain/narrate the shift from reactionary politics to progessive politics, though I have some ideas—I think the Pound-Zukfosky correspondence might be helpful here. I think that the more coherent a given poet's critique of capitalism, the more likely he or she is to reject the reactionary stance of a Lawrence or Pound (though both, it should be noted, have distinctly anarchist strains preceding and within their embrace of the extreme right). Also there's the shift from Lawrence's embrace of difference for his own individuality's sake (compromised by his many hates) to a more collective ideal that stands opposed to patriarchy and racism. (Is there a missing Language poets chapter? Mayhap.)

A thunderstorm is creeping into Ithaca. More later.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Good choice, Kerry!

In other good news, I'm delighted to learn that my old college friend Eric Brenner is the newest member of the a capella group Chanticleer! He's wanted this for a dozen years. Congratulations, Eric!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Fistful of Pound below, but before you read that (or simply go screaming off into the night because of the problems Blogger seems to be having), please read this kick-ass review of Richard Greenfield's kick-ass book, A Carnage in the Lovetrees.
Right. Canto 81. Who is Pound addressing here?:
What thou lovest well remains,
                                    the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                 or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
      Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant's a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
      Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention of true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
                              Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.

"Master thyself, then others shall thee beare"
      Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst'ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
                     How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
                     Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
                     I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing
                     this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
               To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
      Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered . . .
For a long time Pound's apologists read the "Pull down thy vanity" as Pound's address to himself: a renunciation of his bad works, Prospero drowning his Fascist books. Nowadays it's more common to see that injunction as addressed to the conquering American army. The first part of the passage ("What thou lovest well remains") seems to reinforce the first interpretation, for surely Pound is trying to reassure himself, in his desperate situation, that he has not in fact lost everything. The second interpretation is reinforced by the end of the Canto, which makes claims for Pound's "doing," preserves an "unconquered flame," and suggests if anything that Pound's "error" resulted from not trying hard enough. So both interpretations coexist uneasily in my mind—an unlooked-for case of negative capability.

Still, the tone of resignation and renunciation that I noticed earlier continues into Canto 82, in which Pound appears to be preparing himself for death: "Where I lie let the thyme rise / and basilicum / let the herbs rise in April abundant". But this momentary vision of a pastoral resting-place is almost immediately supplanted by guilty self-knowledge: "but I will come out of this knowing no one / neither they me / connubium terrae" and repeatedly invoking the Greek word chthonos (of the earth, under the earth) and then dakruon (tears), which we've seen before. The Canto closes with the image of three birds on a wire, tied again to Pound's word "periplum": the view from up close, with one's own eyes. Death is at hand. But the last two Pisan Cantos seem to have come out of renewed engagement with life—perhaps it was at this point Pound learned that he would not be immediately executed. But this is life as seen by Persephone after leaving Hades, or perhaps Orpheus before the Maenads struck. The presiding figure of Canto 83 is the "Dryad," Pound's name for Olga Rudge (he also gave this title to H.D., to whom he atttributed the same gray eyes). Whereas the lynx/Dorothy episode of Canto 79 was a pure idyll, the Dryad's landscape is shadowed by Pound's dark new knowledge. The image of Pound the person that emerges here is Pound at his best, at his most lyrically sensitive and compassionate:
[Dryas], your eyes are like clouds

Nor can who has passed a month in the death cells
      believe in capital punishment
No man who has passed a month in the death cells
      believes in cages for beasts

[Dryas], your eyes are like the clouds over Taishan
      When some of the rain has fallen
      and half remains yet to fall

The roots go down to the river's edge
      and the hidden city moves upward
        white ivory under the bark

With clouds over Taishan-Chocorua
        when the blackberry ripens
and now the new moon faces Taishan
one must count by the dawn star
      Dryad, thy peace is like water
There is September sun on the pools
There is an emphasis on restraint and harmlessness: "'Non combaattere' said Govanna / meaning, as before stated, don't work so hard" (this is followed by the Chinese characters for wu, chu, and chang: "Do not help to grow [what will grow well enough on its own]"). Nature's phusis has a redemptive power: "the sage / delighteth in water / the humane man has amity with the hills" and "where the mind swings by a grass-blade / an ant's forefoot shall save you / the clover leaf smells and tastes as its flower". (Whitman is a strong presence in these Cantos and he gets an explicit mention in 82: "Whitman, exotic, still suspect".) The rest of the Canto drifts through memories of loved Italian places, working with Yeats in Ireland, and repeated acknowledgments of his age and weariness. It ends with a familial memory of visitng the U.S. Capitol with his mother, but this "descent / has not been of advantage either / to the Senate or to 'society' / or to the people". The "descent" refers to the descent to Washington, but it also seems to indicate the poet's Orphean descent into the underworld, from which he has returned empty-handed. "Oh let an old man rest" is the plaintive conclusion. And probably if Pound's friend the English poet J.P. Angold hadn't been killed in the war, that's where The Pisan Cantos would end. Instead, Canto 84 returns us to the familiar space of the Poundian jeremiad against "th' eastern idea about money". There's another shout-out to Mussolini ("il Capo") and his executed lieutenants and a conversation in Italian through the barbed wire with a shepherdess ("pastorella") who calls the behavior of the American soldiers "poco," no better than the Germans. (Though it occurs to me that Pound's indictments of the American warmaking power are not entirely off base. WWII was the real beginning of the military-industrial complex that dominates our unhappy world to this day. Pound saw the inherent evil of the war machine, even if he blinded himself to the better aims to which that machine was put.) Still there are flashes again of lyricism and resignation, along with a nursery-rhyme like passage whose hidden meaning intrigues me: "ye spotted lambe / that is both blacke and whtie / is yeven to us for the eyes' delight." Cookson's trot says nothing; Sieburth postulates that it's a pastiche of Blake and Burns from the tattered anthology Pound had found in the shithouse at the DTC. The particolored lamb also reminds me of Hopkins, but in any case it's a highly pastoral image: the lamb's value is aesthetic and completely detached from any economic purpose. A bit later Pound muses, "Under white clouds, cielo di Pisa / out of all this beauty something must come". His sufferings at Pisa have also exposed him to tremendous natural beauty (not to mention the kindnesses of the faux-naif shepherd-like black soldiers). The Canto ends with a bit of doggerel: "If the hoar frost grip thy tent / Thou wilt give thanks when night is spent." Pound is grateful, of course, for the literal tent he was moved to (Canto 83: "in the drenched tent there is quiet / sered eyes are at rest"), but to end The Pisan Cantos on this note suggests that, for the moment, the impulse toward pastoral renunciation has won out over Pound's urges to castigate and remake the world.

Now I'm already five Cantos into Section: Rock Drill and there he takes up the struggle once again, re-establishing his Confucian principles , condemning various examples of usury, and taking another stab at American history (Pound is always on the search for heroes). They're a bit of a slog. I'm more looking forward to the "paradiso" of the Cantos that follow, De Los Cantares (90 - 105), but next I'll have a report on Pound's attempts to re-orient his epic project from within the confines of the "bug house" at St. Elizabeth's.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Gorgeous weather. The dog froliced. Spider-Man 2 was every bit as good as the critics say. The most perfectly calibrated comic-book movie that I can recall. And tonight we saw Farenheit 9/11. Incendiary. George Bush's re-election has gone from unconscionable to unthinkable. How I wish we lived in a swing state.

Reading that Civil Disobediences book. It is, as Gary says, pretty Naropa-centric. But in the small doses afforded by dipping into an anthology I find that universe and its priorities to be refreshing. It's an institution founded on the border between academia and bohemia—that is, on the borders of institutionality itself. Nice place to visit.

I am in the process of re-establishing contact with my oldest and dearest group of friends—the geeky kids who found each other at a summer camp for overeducated underachievers back in the mid-Eighties. How much we've all changed, and how little. Hi Danny! Hi Nikki! Hi Sarah! Hi Andy and Andi! Hi Rachel and Emily and Elliott and Jay! It's our own little Big Chill moment.

And so to bed.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Acquired a new bookcase yesterday (actually it's an old on that Emily's no longer using) and integrating it into my library seems to require taking everything down and putting it up again in the correct order. So it feels like I'm moving even though we signed a new one-year lease today.

Looking forward to Spider-Man 2. What more can I say? I love Spidey. Anybody else remember when he was romantically entangled with a Catwoman ripoff named The Black Cat? I still remember the cover of an issue in which she was nearly killed, her costume artistically shredded by a volley of incredibly sadistic Marvel-style weapons (imagine guns firing halberds at you). Hardly anybody ever got killed by ordinary bullets in those comics, so it's as though the violence had to be channeled in another direction.

Back to work.

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