Modernism

Weekend Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Wandering the Sea Of Fog Above Your Hotel Bed-Diminished Things: Theodore Dalrymple On Susan Sontag

From Fans Of Theodore Dalrymple: ‘The White Race Is The Cancer Of The Human History.’

Susan Sontag couldn’t mean such nonsense, could she?

‘The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions.’

Yes and no, probably.

Traversing the rocky outcrops of the postmodern landscape can lead to occasional outbursts of moral grandeur.  Beneath the fog, hilltops can present themselves as though all of ‘(H)istory’ is coming into view.

Bathing in the thermal pools of group identity, deep inside of this ritual or that, perhaps chanting ‘power-theories’ to feel some warmth and comfort; all may quiet the conscience for a time.

Sooner or later, though, action is required. The injustice becomes unbearable.  The Self lies suspended atop ‘(H)istory’ and the utopias to come under its oppressions.

What were once Romantic visions of grandeur high above the clouds (is that an old German castle?) were still available to some Modernists, but maybe even fewer postmodernists, yet.

Where are these things headed?

Addition: It would seem I can state the radical case well enough that actual radicals are mistaking this post for one of sympathy.

—-

Be careful where you put your Self, dear reader, as your moral sentiments, hope and despair will follow.

If I’m going to make an appeal to your Self, then at least let me do it in more pragmatic fashion, away from these many post-Enlightenment dead-ends and radical discontents.

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Thoughts From The Anglosphere-Some Links

Denis Dutton: ‘Delusions Of Postmodernism:’

‘Here perhaps lies postmodernism’s greatest failure of nerve: as Khanin puts it, where the modernist posture was one of pathfinder and conqueror, the postmodernist prefers the passive life of a voyeur. The former posture may have been presumptuous, but the latter is senseless. Why this mood of fatigue has so much current appeal in the industrialized world is, I readily admit, mysterious to me. I can only affirm my view that the Enlightenment in its modernist and postmodernist manifestations is still a vital enterprise in science, politics, and even art. Though its completion is nowhere within our sights, it demands our active engagement.’

Roger Sandall: ‘Guardianship: The Utopia Of The New Class

‘You can’t keep a good idea down. You can be gently derisive and hope it will go away. You can make things hot for True Believers by exposing their ideas to ridicule and scorn. Or adopting a more serious approach, you can research and write and publish two mighty volumes of overwhelming argument printed in several editions over a period of forty years, which make vividly clear the intellectual error of Platonic politics, the practical folly of using them as a guide to action, and the numberless vices which invariably ensue.’

From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Friday Poem-Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

Throw something at it and see if it sticks.  I like Helen Vendler’s interpretation….

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land?  Import European learning and literature “atop” it?

The nature/culture divide?  Nature is wonderful but it is to culture where we must return.  If you are an artist, you turn towards direct experience in this land, but…you also turn to that which inspires you…European learning and thought….the products of other cultures.

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’

Full piece here.

Logan takes a look at one of the most important modern poems:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

Logan:

‘The minor vogue and rapid extinction of Imagism, a movement whose influence we still feel, has been hashed over by literary critics for a century. Its rehearsal here is merely to bring the poem into focus within the slow progress toward the densities of language, the images like copperplate engraving, that made Pound Pound’

Thorough and well done.

The result would echo back to the States years later:

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
This blog tends to look cautiously at many of the ideas of the Romantic poets, and the break to modernism, but not necessarily the poems themselves.  The echo ripples outwards:

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Gary Snyder

Once we start arriving at ‘ecological’ appreciations of nature, and the postmodern, confessional altar of Self and the turn inwards to the Self a subject for the art, and the desperate search for meaning, I get more and more turned off, for my own reasons.  Such good poems will carry on.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Update & Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Theodore Dalrymple: ‘On Sentimentality And Compassion

”The fiction that all people are equally deserving is a sentimental one. People congratulate themselves on their generosity and largeness of spirit for not making distinctions between the deserving and undeserving, for such distinctions imply a scale of values and all scales of values are in effect mere prejudice, usually of the well-placed in society. They – the distinctions – are a manifestation of complacency and imply a lack of sympathetic or empathetic understanding of a suffering person’s situation. Therefore it is best, intellectually and ethically, to abandon the distinctions altogether.’

And this is to say nothing of the competition and self-identifying that goes on once ‘who is the most compassionate?’ becomes the norm. We are all still creatures subject to vanity, pride and false pride, desirous of praise and respect. This can create a stultifying, tribal in-group/out-group atmosphere where no one is really aware of the moral judgments they’re already making/simply ignoring.

More Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’


Working towards a theme: Politics tends to follow culture, but much culture seeps out of our institutions. And when our institutions charged with teaching what’s important to young people lose sight of certain kinds of judgment, ideology can seep in.

Roger Scruton focused on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence when it comes to teaching the humanities, rather than the ‘-isms‘ which have taken root:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?’

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

As Scruton has pointed out, people want to be a part of something, to have meaning and purpose and common lights. Certain ideologies often lead to darkness, as can abandoning your own moral judgment in favor of the compassion and sentiment of the moment.

What I ‘feel’ in the modern and postmodern transcendent quest for Self so often trumps what others feel and whether or not what one ‘feels’ is, in fact, true.

Humanities departments across the fruited plain can display this most openly, having lost a lot of whatever intellectual rigor and pedagogy they once had.  Unsurprisingly, many ideologues adept at colonizing low and mid-level administrative and bureaucratic functions have filled-in.

Of course, one’s own experiences, emotions, and ideas do matter.  In fact, they matter a lot.  Many young people, precisely at the moment of questioning the duties they might have to family, loved ones, friends and fellow citizens most deeply, can become plugged in to ideologies of radical change and ultimately some variant of Marxist revolution.  Here, individual duties, responsibilities and freedoms become secondary to a collectivist and authoritarian/totalitarian political project, which still leads to political dysfunction, utopian thinking, and much human misery.

Keep reading and thinking, indeed

‘Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades.
For ever and forever when I move.’

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Repost: A Goya Tour Of Madrid At The NY Times

Every 6 months or so…

Full slide show here.

The first modern?

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

See Also: Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

Alas, the mildly ambitious knowledge, hobby, and vanity project that it is this blog continues (it takes a LOT to listen, watch and paste a link to a Youtube video):

Jordan Peterson and Stephen Hicks.  Recommeded:

Mentioned: Immanuel Kant and his transcendental idealism, Noam Chomsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Jacques Derrida, the American Pragmatic tradition and more.

Also from Dr. Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

More On Nietzsche’s influence-Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic Greek (the beginning of the end).

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism and moving in a libertarian direction):

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellctual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

Roger Scruton was cast out of polite society just for trying to provide some context and pushback:

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

Four Poems & A Short Story Collected Throughout The Years-Aging

Men At Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it moving
Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practises tying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of the father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

Donald Justice

IV

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

William Butler Yeats

Whole poem here (Vacillation).

An Old Man

In the inner room of the noisy café
an old man sits bent over a table;
a newspaper before him, no companion beside him.

And in the scorn of his miserable old age,
he meditates how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, the art of the word, and good looks.

He knows he has aged much; he is aware of it, he sees it,
and yet the time when he was young seems like
yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.

And he ponders how Wisdom had deceived him;
and how he always trusted her—what folly!—
the liar who would say, “Tomorrow. You have ample time.”

He recalls impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless prudence.

…But with so much thinking and remembering
the old man reels. And he dozes off
bent over the table of the café.

C.P. Cavafy (translation from the Greek found here).

The Old Fools

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there’s really been no change,
And they’ve always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don’t (and they can’t), it’s strange;
                               Why aren’t they screaming?

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines –
                               How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
                              This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
                             We shall find out.

Philip Larkin

It’s barely twelve pages long, dear reader.

What are you doing with your time and imagination?

You’re fine, Mr. Corte.  In fact, you’re looking a little better than yesterday…:

‘Giuseppe Corte didn’t need anything, but he began to chat freely with the young woman, asking for information about the clinic. In this way, he learned about the hospital’s unique practice of assigning its patients to different floors in accordance with the gravity of their illness. On the seventh floor, the top floor, only the very mildest cases were treated. Those whose forms of the illness weren’t grave, but who certainly couldn’t be neglected, were assigned to the sixth floor. More serious infections were treated on the fifth floor, and so on and so forth. Gravely ill patients were housed on the second floor; and on the first floor, those for whom all hope had been abandoned.’

You probably spent a lot of energy when younger, wishing to be older, and as you get older, find yourself spending time wishing you were younger.

Friday Poem-David Ignatow

The Bagel

I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as if it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.

David Ignatow