josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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5 Oct '03 06:47:04 AM

'Nonsense, or, the party. Bursts of talk, this is what is expected of one. Yet one prefers lengths of silence. Neither talk nor silence is by definition charming. Insofar as the charming is aware of itself, it too is not charming. It rattles.' - Lyn Hejinian

5 Oct '03 05:49:32 AM

Ted Greenwald, 'Spoken', from 1979:

The sound in my poems comes from the sounds I hear in my head of almost myself talking to some person. I choose to have as my limitation spoken speech, as you and I are sitting here talking. That's what I test the poem's shape against.

Occasionally, I like to do other things, when I hear a completely peculiar sound or something, see if it works, give it a test run. Eventually, I prefer dealing with items that are still charged with meaning and in fact are open to the change that happens over time in meanings. In other words, if I don't know exactly what a poem means when I write it I'm somehow writing a certain kind of science fiction, because the poem (if I'm right about the direction the language will change in) will eventually make sense on a more than just, say, shape level or form level as time goes by and I'll start to understand it more.

I'm an opportunist: I'll take what I can get. If it works and if it's working when I'm working on it, then I'll use it. I don't care what the source of it is. But I'm saying that the basic motor on my car is spoken (for): What is sounds like in my head when I read it to myself.

What works has to be grounded in the language, which is the locality of words. Words change in spoken language. "the/form/of/the/words/pump/blood/in/the/form/of/the/heart" That pretty much sums it up.

What I'm interested in and always have been is not what ideas people have in their heads, but what's in the air. The most invisible part of "trends." What is it that two people in the whole world or maybe twenty all of a sudden out of the middle of nowhere start to think about. What's in the air is the shape of things to come - it's palpable - right under your very nose. I hear what's in the air, that's my way of thinking with my ear. You're not working with the idea of something, you're projecting the idea of something. You're not working from models, you're creating models.

It's a romantic notion (where classical means coming from someplace), going someplace, sort of operating more out of imagination and less from received forms. In a specific sense, what it is the interior mind projecting itself into the phenomenological world, telling you where it's going. The time we live in is interesting, since there's a tremendous amount of good poetry that's "about" comings and going, this's and that's here and there, not sillyass schools of one thing or another ("in" and "out" I leave to the hosts and hostesses of the world).

Poetry is about a time that hasn't occurred yet, and if it's very good it's about a time you'll never know about. Poems are my pencil and pad for jotting down shapes or ways of embodying imaginary shapes or things that don't exist. But some time will exist on a wider scale. This is even conceptual: They are almost like plans for the future.

I think that the notion that sort of got started with Pound and other modernist artists is that if you were dealing with something you were going to take notes and the notes will usually be in fractional form. What's wrong with writing poetry that uses fragments (or notes) is that there is no everyday language that can be used to test the goodness of fit. All there is is some poetic diction or poetic language to go back to that says "This is correct!," but no language in evveryday use by people speaking, which changes over time, however imperceptibly.

I personally don't believe in using some form of a poem as a container for a bunch of things ("good lines" for instance). Each poem's form discovers itself as I write the poem. Two poems may not be perceptibly different looking, but there are differences. And, since I write on a day-to-day basis, and try to pay as close attention as possible, by paying close attention can see those differences. And watch the form of the poem, and the meaning and sense of sounds and words, change. And satisfy myself as a good reader with a good read.

3 Oct '03 07:33:41 AM

'It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence.

Only one answer: write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive.'

2 Oct '03 07:48:20 AM

I would like to take a moment to note how wonderful a phrase of Brian Eno's is - the one that titles and gives the chorus to 'I'll Come Running To Tie Your Shoe'. I do not however have at the moment the wherewithal to expand on this observation, and so instead invite you to do so for yourself, at your leisure, in a quiet moment alone. Keeping loved ones in mind while doing so is advisable but I suppose not required, if you can swing it.

1 Oct '03 08:06:34 AM

By fatten up I mean of course something like a sumo wrestler, not something like a hog.

1 Oct '03 08:02:44 AM

In Marcia's seminar I keep trying arguments, if they can be called that, that try to make both ethics and aesthetics ultimately social. They all seem to be, in spirit, kind of like the 'well what would aesthetics be if we didn't share art with others' deal below. So it occurs to me today upon rereading part of Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self that I may be able to fatten up my argument considerably. Early in the book he argues apparently casually but as far as I can tell at the moment convincingly that to be a self is always to be oriented toward some conception of the good, or some things equivalent to that. He opposes this view to the modern-ist (i.e. 'modern philosophy') view that he calls 'the punctual self', where basically the only essential thing about selves is self-consciousness. Social stuff gets added in later, but not successfully, ultimately, because the foundation - the self as simply a self-conscious thing - is too impoverished. Now, it seems to me that if Taylor can be so confident about an argument like that (he feels confident to me, at least), a similar approach to arguments about aesthetics should be easy to push. (The reason I wrote all this down is that, despite what I say here, there seems to be a great deal of resistance to say aesthetics conceptually grounded in something social.)

I suppose if I were better educated I would know if I was right to think that Taylor is throwing transcendental arguments around like crazy. I always thought they were kind of serious things. So blasé, philosophers.

30 Sep '03 09:37:35 AM

I put on Change today to walk to the coffeeshop. I hadn't played it in a while. Once the first song got going, it was as if it was fall 2001 again. Or rather, I felt like the me of fall 2001 again. The sort of thing that happens to me a lot, music or not, when I'm reminded of some time in the past, especially college or later. It's so strange. The feeling is so intangible, so vague, and yet it's always so definitely connected to a sense of my being in a particular time, and then less clearly, place.

Since I have begun reading Proust I would quote something pithy ('pithy: consisting of or abounding in pith') about involuntary memory here, but it's too late and I'm too tired to look it up. Madeleine this, madeleine that. Do your best to imagine it.

26 Sep '03 07:02:01 AM

Some stilted thoughts I've been returning to a lot lately:

If somebody gives me a theory of art and I can't immediately see where the people are, or what impact they have on the theory, then I can already tell that it will eventually disappoint me. I mean real people, meaning people who have relationships with other people, not all of whom are conceived of as essentially the same. If it's not social, it can't capture my experiences. It will fail.

The same is true of time. To look at one of the papers I typically have to read, you would think that there is no time.

It's reflexive to try to characterize art as essentially involving something aesthetic, something involving perception, perceptual experience - even if one is willing to admit that art may also be ethically valuable. The resulting conflict between ethics and aesthetics seems irresolvable.

Most concerns in ethics are immediately faced with the problem of all those people, again. However badly this has been handled, philosophers at least freely admit the people are there somewhere, before doing their best to get rid of them.

But the 'purely' aesthetic seems to me no less social, even if social in a different way. If I couldn't share my experiences with others, would they really be all that important to me?

25 Sep '03 08:21:10 AM

'Antithesis. - He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life. Against such awareness, however, pulls the momentum of the bourgeois within him. The detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant; the only advantage of the former is insight into his entanglement, and the infinitesimal freedom that lies in knowledge as such. His own distance from business at large is a luxury which only that business confers. This is why the very movement of of withdrawal bears features of what it negates. It is forced to develop a coldness indistinguishable from that of the bourgeois. Even where it protests, the monadological principle conceals the dominant universal. Proust's observation that in photographs, the grandfather of a duke or of a middle-class Jew are so alike that we forget their difference of social rank, has a much wider application: the unity of an epoch objectively abolishes all the distinctions that constitute the happiness, even the moral substance, of individual existence. We record the decline of education, and yet our prose, measured against that of Jacob Grimm or Bachofen, has in common with the culture industry cadences unsuspected by us. Nor do we any longer have the same command of Latin and Greek as Wolf or Kirchoff. We point at the decline of civilization into illiteracy, and ourselves forget the art of letter-writing, or of reading a text from Jean Paul as it must have been read in his time. We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless. With the dissolution of liberalism, the truly bourgeois principle, that of competition, far from being overcome, has passed from the objectivity of the social process into the composition of its colliding and jostling atoms, and therewith as if into anthropology. The subjugation of life to the process of production imposes as a humiliation on everyone something of the isolation and solitude that we are tempted to regard as resulting from our own superior choice. It is as old a component of bourgeois ideology that each individual, in his particular interest, considers himself better than all others, as that he values the others, as the community of all customers, more highly than himself. Since the demise of the old bourgeois class, both ideas have led an after-life in the minds of intellectuals, who are at once the last enemies of the bourgeois and the last bourgeois. In still permitting themselves to think at all in the face of the naked reproduction of existence, they act as a privileged group; in letting matters rest there, they declare the nullity of their privilege. Private existence, in striving to resemble one worthy of man, betrays the latter, since any resemblance is withdrawn from general realization, which yet more than ever before has need of independent thought. There is no way out of entanglement. The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one's own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.'

- Adorno, Minima Moralia section 6