Postmodernism

Three Poems On Distance & Loss

For one who didn’t care much for poetry:

Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color

W.S. Merwin

For another who handles the losses with grace and courage:

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

For a special friend, you know who you are.

Flying Over The Nebraska Of My Life

So much of our lives dissolves.
What did I do the day before
I met you? You remember
what I was wearing that holiday.
What did I wear the next morning?
What did I write the day my mother died?

I fly at night over the plains.
There is a cluster of lights,
a starfish shape glittering. Then
darkness and darkness.
Then another clump bearing
long daisy petals of roadway.

Then nothing again. How much
of my living has fled like water
into sand. The sand is not
even damp to the hand.
Tears and wine and sparkling
water all vanish the same.

I know looking out the plane’s
dirty window that there are houses,
barns, roads, trees, stores
distinct in that darkness I once
drove through. I knew them and will
never know them again.

The plane is flying from lighted
place to lighted place, but
our arc is from the dark into
brightness then back into darkness.
I want to possess my own life like a
necklace, pearl by pearl of light.

Marge Piercy

Repost: Postmodern Body Talk-A ‘Narrative’ To Which You Might Want To Pay Some Attention

From The Seattle Times-‘Art, Crime And Survival: ‘Awaiting Oblivion’ Seeks Hope In Hopelessness:’

‘After his arrest at Occupy Seattle, a local actor and youth-homelessness worker corresponded with “AO” — a mysterious graffiti/street artist or artists who mailed him art-based “temporary solutions” to stave off despair. The result, “Awaiting Oblivion,” opens at On the Boards.’

The two pictures at the link probably tell more than my words ever could.

Nevertheless, here’s a brief write-up: Lost, desperate souls wander hopelessly through and around the world’s woes, ground-down and alone, bedraggled and suicidal, finally…perhaps finally, discovering some meaning and purpose by engaging in (A)rt as salvation and (A)rt as therapy.

One voice, a candle-flame flickering in the darkness, provides hope and succor, solidarity and structure, across the meaningless void. Perhaps, here, bodies of innocence and bodies of decadence spontaneously and rhythmically erupt in joy against systems of oppression and cold, uncaring authority.

Gender becomes fluid, intersectional; bodies heat-up, juxtaposed within many competing narratives of time and space.

Anti-Capitalist ‘Occupy’-style political activism and identitarian political ideology provide some replacement glow of family and friendship.


Enough of that, already.

Yet, dear reader, you might want to pay attention to how this thinking so easily can make its way up through many news and media outlets, seeping down from institutions of higher-ed into the popular culture, forming reefs of public sentiment and ‘right-thinking’ public opinion.

In fact, I’d say it will likely coalesce around a broader, more popular political middle (women’s marches) in a few years time, [that, in turn] cooling into more somewhat-reasoned anti-Trumpism.

On that note, more (A)rt as politics and protest: ‘In Protest of Trump’s Travel Ban, Davis Museum Will Remove All Art Made or Donated by Immigrants.’

‘From tomorrow, February 16, to Tuesday, February 21, 20 percent of the permanent collection galleries at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will be shrouded or removed’

‘We’re a nation of immigrants’, not of laws, seems to have become the ‘dominant narrative,’ in many quarters these days.

Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:

‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’


Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Maybe anti-commercialism is kind of commercial after all, and ‘ironically’ ends-up becoming a spiritual prosthetic in many lives (update: Well, at least to hangers-on following artists around like cult-leaders, but more broadly, such influence is not hard to find in popular culture)

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

Do you remember the Sokal hoax?

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

***My own anecdote: After a fruitful Town Hall discussion here in Seattle, celebrated British mathematician Roger Penrose did some Q & A afterwards. Most questions were from math majors, physicists, engineers and hobbyists in the crowd (many were over my head…but I tried to catch a few).

One question came from a youngish man in a beret, a little unkempt, who asked (in a possibly affected, but in a very serious tone):

‘Mr. Penrose, what is meaning in a moribund universe?

‘Eh…sorry…I didn’t catch that?’

‘What is meaning in a mo-ri-bund universe?’

‘Well, that is a different kind of question…I mean, here’s what I can offer you…’

***That’s roughly how I remember it, and Penrose was gracious, but brisk, in moving onto the kinds of questions he might be able to answer, or for which he could provide some insight.

The Jordan Peterson/Cathy Newman Debate-It’s Been Coming For Some Time

In my humble experience, I’ve observed that many women, especially from the previous Boomer generation, have been reacting against personal experiences of some genuine injustice (generally milder than war and famine to be sure, but limiting nonetheless):  Being prevented from pursuing one’s natural talents into further education and professional development beyond proscribed spheres was frowned upon and generally prohibited.   This, unsurprisingly, built an enormous reef of legitimate grievance and anger, as well as obstacles towards many kinds of life-achievement.  ‘This job ain’t for you, sweetie’ must go long way towards reinforcing the idea of systemic injustice.

Much feminist doctrine, additionally, feeds upon this injustice and can incentivize relatively well-adjusted girls and women into ‘Sisterhood’ across what I consider to be a natural divide between the sexes.  ‘Seeing the world as it really is‘ is being offered, and is an invitation found within many modern doctrines to join the front-lines of an ongoing battle towards radical liberation.  The underlying logic of neo-Marxist thought, aditionally, has established itself within many of our social, educational and and political insitutions (swapping out the bourgeoisie for ‘the Patriarchy’, seeking to remake (H)istory while prioritizing collective, group and class identity in starkly authoritarian/totalitarian fashion).

More broadly, ‘seeing the world as it really is’ via radical liberation tends to engender radical suspicion and skepticism of institutional relationships, hollowing-out many of these social, educational and political institutions, leaving many folks caught up in endless protest towards rather utopian ideals. Such activity also exerts upward influence upon a liberal idealism that is claiming the legitimate moral authority to run our social, educational and political institutions.  Perhaps my deep skepticism has been there all along, but I see a rather myopic liberal elite when it comes to much human nature, history, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining political stability and moral decency.

The deep conservative split (pro-Trump, anti-Trump) tells me there are many more systemic changes going on.

Possibly related on this site, see:

White Guilt & The Freedom To Think Differently: Shelby Steele & Jordan Peterson-Some Links

The Perilous State Of The University: Jonathan Haidt & Jordan B. Peterson

Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Repost At The Request Of A Reader-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Harvey Mansfield At The City Journal: ‘Principles That Don’t Change’

Bing West At The American Interest-’Women In Ground Combat’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Sunday Poem-Theodore Roethke

Autumn Poem

I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.
I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.

Theodore Roethke

Not always one of my favorites, but thanks to a reader!

 

If It Ends In ‘Studies…’Wars Of Ideas Within The West-No One Will Find You Here

From Quillette- ‘Postmodern Creationism In Academia: Why Evergreen Matters

‘One of the most urgent challenges, today, is that of correcting the double standard in education that discriminates against Native American students, in effect, maintaining a lower standard for Native American students. While it would be truly exceptional and aberrant to find the science curriculum of a typical high school or university contaminated by creationist versions of human origin, the same cannot be said today for schools on Indian reservations and programs in American Indian Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Multicultural Education.’

The Noble Savage,’ by definition, is a figure shrouded in sentiment. The idealized native bi-pedals through a diorama of Romanticized Nature, living off the land, performing his rituals while in possession of a profound and ancient wisdom.  Perhaps, at least, we should study him, copying his mysterious ways, living alongside him in a journey of discovery.

I’d say there’s definitely a well of modern primitivism within Western thought:  The search for shared spiritual and/or ideological goals, a primitive freedom of one’s own along with moral absolution (lessening the guilt and shame).  For many in the West, ‘going native’ has all the appeal of an escape hatch.

Actual natives, too, can remain something less than individuals for many ideologues and true-believers.  Being asked to join a separate and not yet (E)qual identity group, fighting in fierce competition over scarce political resources in the bosom of empathy, might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

That Columbus, what a bad guy!  Am I right?

Perhaps neither is simply becoming another of God’s children carted-off to an Indian School.

For some Westerners, understanding involves using the tools of (S)cience and the expansion of knowledge within Western taxonomy.  Mathematics, observation, developed problem-solving techniques, the historical record, evolutionary theory and the Western fields of archaeology and anthropology all play a part.

For others in the American West, especially, I’m guessing it’s also about practicality:  Genuinely living in closer quarters with tribes and having to the negotiate different languages, conceptions of ownership, scarce resources and whatever challenges and shared traditions have arisen over the years.

Maybe it’s as simple as going to the casino Friday Night to play bingo and blowing $100 on drinks and tickets for the Blue Oyster Cult, if that’s your thing.

Laws and free-markets matter, too.

Various and assorted links:

Painting lush Romantic visual tapestries and synthesizing Irish music can create something of global appeal…and that’s something, right?:

Hmmm…..

Maybe we should just stop with the museums, at least for a few years.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Not really science-Running After Antelope from This American Life.  The latest theory/fad meets some guy with probably too much time on his hands.

Please just stop, NPR-At Bug-Eating Festival, Kids Crunch Down On The Food Of The Future! Those kids probably belong to everyone, and so do the bugs.  So does the Future!

Related On This Site:  Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Romantic primitivism in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?:  Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Glass Altars And Temples Dedicated To The ‘Self’

From Mick Hartley: ‘Playing In The Gallery

‘It’s no surprise at all that the latest Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern is a glorified playground

‘…The two quotes on the website give an idea of the level of desperation:

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Turbine Hall… but I’ve never felt as exhilarated as I did on a swing installed here by Superflex” – Evening Standard.

“When you get on that swing – and I haven’t been on one for more years than I’d care to mention – you immediately reboot” – Donald Hyslop, exhibition curator.

These people need to get out more.’

Do we really need adults on swings?

I’ll try and remain neutral on ideas I think were once the radical and innovative syntheses of Romantic and Modern artists, thinkers, and schools, as they become institutionalized within museums dedicated to all things ‘Modern.’

It seems Man’s natural impulses towards the spiritual, the metaphysical, and the sharing (especially when kids are in tow) come to the fore in vague and navel-gazing types of ways.

It seems that this particular metaphysical legacy fails in important ways to deal with people (us) often as we are.

The Temple of the ‘Self’ has many altars, and I get more than a hint of the pathetic, the ignorant, and whiffs of authoritarianism at these types of things.

***Of course, I don’t think it necessarily diminishes the quality of some works…the heights reached by particular individual Romantic and Modern artists and schools which have since arisen.


On that note, some previous links and quotes:

Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:

‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Somewhere apart from Medieval, Christian, Classical and pre-Enlightenment forms of authority and social hierarchy; somewhere away from the kinds of patronage, inspiration, rules, money that bent and shaped previous Art, emerged the Enlightenment and came the Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern.

***As for ideas to fill the holes, there’s definitely one path from Hegelian ‘Geist’ to Marxist class-consciousness to the revolutionary and radical doctrines found in the postmodern soup…but there are also problems with the liberation of the ‘Self’ from Schopenhauer’s ‘Will’ to Nietzsche ‘Will to Power.’

Thanks, reader:

“Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”…

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

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

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

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

Many People Want To Tear Stuff Down-Stephen Hicks: Nietzsche Perfectly Forecasts the Postmodernist Left

It’s possible to turn Nietzsche against many of the tired old ideologies found lurking within postmodern thought.

I’m not sure about that ‘perfectly’ part:

Another pomo quote 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’

Perhaps Banksy is a good example of a certain Left worldview wrapped within the transgressive postmodern art-scene.

You never have to grow up, really learn how to paint, nor think that much.  Perfect for media consumption these days.

It’s not Disneyland, it’s ‘Dismaland.

Get it?

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.’

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..A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’..From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

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.…

From Roger Sandall-‘A Curious Case Of Censorship’

Original piece from 1976 found here.

Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:

‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’

‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’

We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.

What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).

Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.

There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.

This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:

Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).

But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.

What is true and right?

How should I live and what should I do?

I can say Orwell has caused me to think, reflect, and honestly take a look at myself in the mirror.

——–

Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.

Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.

Perhaps not too much has changed.

Those Germans and their Idealism!: Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Update & Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’…From Roger Sandall: ‘The Slave Girl and the Professor’


As previously posted:

Full Misguided Nostagia for Our Paleo Past here.

‘The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’

There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently.  Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.

Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage,  Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe.  There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.

It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.

It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.

Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

Related On This Site: What happens when you romanticize the aboriginal? Romantic primitivism: Roger Sandall: Marveling At The Aborigines, But Not Really Helping?Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Repost: A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

This will be a longer one, so thanks in advance.

From the comments on this piece:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As to the epistemological questions surrounding Modernism, below are four poems. Hopefully, each is a representative example of a move away from the Romanticism that had been prevalent up until the late 1800’s.

In addition to the move away from traditional Romantic rhyme and meter towards modern blank verse, there’s also a certain conception of the Self rendered in them; a presentation of our natures that might be worth examining in some detail.

I believe we can see clearly a move away from tradition towards the Self, the Poet isolated, the poem itself as a means of communication, and an anxiety so common within the 20th century.

I should note that a friend points out Harold Bloom does it much better (well, yes…obviously). From this blurb:

‘At the heart of Bloom’s project is the ancient quarrel between “poetry” and “philosophy.” In Bloom’s opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior.’

Says the guy who writes about poetry…


What does one find within, as one looks without, waking from sleep and dream?

What kind of world is this, and can the poet actually help us know it?

T.S. Eliot (Preludes: Stanza 3)

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.

As consciousness creeps in, building a bridge to the day, to the world, to the facts left as though they were the first facts, the light as though it were the first light, what one finds is distressing, both within and without.

That distress must be ‘made new,’ which is to say, the suffering (original?) in which we all sometimes find ourselves must match our experiences within the modern city and world, at least, the world created within Eliot’s lyrical verse.

Of the four poems, only the first and last have a 3rd-person subject.

Wallace Stevens‘ ‘I’ is in a more contemplative state, but it’s an ‘I’ exploring similar themes, and experiencing some distress in trying to know how the world actually is, and what might lie within.

The journey to The Self may not be a journey for the faint of heart.

The Poems Of Our Climate (stanzas II and III)

II
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Even if the verse can describe a perfected world, delivering us, perhaps, a little closer to perfection, our poet is still not free from the impulses and desires which simply never cease.

Interestingly, we end-up not with a discussion of the heart, the spirit, libido etc. as a source for those desires (for Plato, the irrational), but rather, for Stevens, just a mind.

We also find more Romantic elements of language and an almost baroque/rococo arrangement of words and ideas, dandyish even, yet combined with an intense effort to abstract, define, and clarify. From here, the poet may proceed on his task of flawed words and stubborn sounds.

***I find myself thinking of elements of modern architecture and abstract-expressionist painting. The meaning, or at least some delivery from our restless existences, can be found within the abstract itself. Or at least within a retreat to the abstract for its own sake, away from the world.

The modernist, glass-walled house on the hill will exist in its own space, offering and defying meaning. The structure’s own shapes will be stripped down to often mathematically precise forms interacting with Nature. These shall guide Man, or at least offer individual men a little refuge.

It is perhaps in Stevens’ poem we can see the questions of knowledge about the world suggesting questions about whether there is a world at all, or, at least, what kind of worlds each Self might be able to inhabit.

Here’s one of Robert Lowell’s poems, occurring a generation later, in the mid 20th-century, as part of the confessionals.

The Self is extremely isolated. In fact, Lowell went more than a little crazy. Unlike the known nervous breakdown of Eliot from which Eliot recovered, Lowell’s life was essentially one long breakdown from which he never recovered.

Here he is, looking back:

Epilogue

Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write
With the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot
lurid rapid garish grouped
heightened from life
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

The weight of having to make that meaning, for yourself, and by yourself, is a horrible weight indeed. One can glorify one’s Self and family, but that, alas, only goes so far. Rhyme and form still carry one’s living name, as far as they do.

Of course, there’s still wonderful rhythm and form here (this is excellent verse), but blanker now, with a relentless focus on the ‘I.’ The poet is perhaps talking a little more to himself, and the poem keeps self-consciously calling attention to itself.

In fact, it reminded me of the poem below, by Robert Creeley, which was published a few years afterwards.

From this page:

‘Creeley was a leader in the generational shift that veered away from history and tradition as primary poetic sources and gave new prominence to the ongoing experiences of an individual’s life. Because of this emphasis, the major events of his life loom large in his literary work.’

There’s Nothing but the Self and the Eye seeking and making meaning, by itself within a void of emotionally compact and precise language (of course there’s still form and other things besides).

Can the poet fit inside the little abstract chapel of words he’s building for himself (let alone the world, tradition etc.)?

For all the talk about ‘space,’ there seems very little.

The Window

Position is where you
put it, where it is,
did you, for example, that

large tank there, silvered,
with the white church along-
side, lift

all that, to what
purpose? How
heavy the slow

world is with
everything put
in place. Some

man walks by, a
car beside him on
the dropped

road, a leaf of
yellow color is
going to

fall. It
all drops into
place. My

face is heavy
with the sight. I can
feel my eye breaking.

The distress is still there…but I’d argue that we are now a good distance away from the grandness of Eliot’s vision, his religiosity and virtuosity with form and meter at the dawn of Modernism. Very few people can/could do what Eliot did (addition: even if he can help us gain knowledge of our Selves or the world).

That said, it’s unclear there’s enough tradition and confidence to even undertake such a project, now, even as such talents come along. The state of things is more scattered. We’re in a very different place of selves and artists isolated, of anxiety and post-anxiety.

Aside from the very accomplished poets above, in terms of both knowledge (epistemology) and being (ontology), we often have writers feeling pressure to weigh-in on such questions without even being about to write that well; artists who can’t draw or paint that well, and frankly, quite a bit of bullshit besides.

So, where are we headed? Who’s ‘we’ exactly?

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.


As previously posted:

Why not just put a few algorithms to work in writing those artist statements?

Bathe in the bathos of a warming world:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

Oh boy.

What are these poems being asked to do?


And moving away from poetry into the realm of ‘performance art,’


Tilda Swinton At MOMA-From Arma Virumque: ‘Nightmare In A Box’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Repost-The Duran Duran Phenomenon, High And Low Art In The Modern Anglo-Sphere

For you kids out there, Duran Duran are a band from Birmingham, England who made it big in the 80’s. They succeeded with genuine musical talent, technical and marketing prowess, a new-romantic visual-style, and presumably, somewhat deeper artistic aspirations.

————–

There are, no doubt, trade-offs people in the Anglosphere make, living with our particular Anglo-focus upon government, law, trade, and generally speaking, more open markets. There are reasons English is spoken so widely, after all, while the food has remained so bad.

Traveling abroad while younger, I often observed the American genius as a kind of egalitarian gathering of talent; general and specialized, ambitious and organized.

Such ‘Americanness’ can be shrewd, though it often comes with a certain optimism and idealism, for which Americans are known.

This is the stuff of American diplomacy, international lawyering, and business management. American advertising techniques, Hollywood movies, franchises like Starbucks and Apple, all can earn almost instant global recognition (if you’re not too far off the beaten path).

As an American, I claim a certain pride, here.

——————

That said, deeper artistic aspirations also tend to seek nourishment apart from such commercial populism and American egalitarianism in particular.

The accomplished artist probably had a lot of natural talent to begin with, but also joins in conversation with serious past talent and endures critique of his development, spends years of life engaged in hard work, and perhaps profits from greater tilt in the culture towards admiration for artists in general.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

This can send many American artists out on a mission to gain technique and skills elsewhere. This can fill many American cultural critics with a sense of European yearning and envy, and this can leave some Americans indulging in rather cheap, unimaginative commercialist America-bashing that usually lines-up with preconceived political/ideological commitments.

It’s here in the modern to postmodern to wherever-we’re-heading-now that, as an American, I find much of my daily life being lived.

For me and many of my fellows, the latest shows, pop-music, games and movies are the culture, even though we all have deeper ambitions and aspirations, and even if much of that culture has deeper roots of which we remain unaware.

————–

Here’s Robert Hughes from The Guardian on Damien Hirst: ‘Day Of The Dead’

‘If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.’.

I’m guessing Hughes loathed such confusion over money, art, fame, and our deepest aspirations, and thought such an approach prevents everyday people from entering into conversations with the everyday in great works of art. I find myself attracted to his marriage of Anglo-tradition and more ‘high’ European art-criticism.

For my part, I’d simply argue that more open markets in the Anglo-sphere offer a lower bar to reach a larger audience with one’s artistic ambitions. Such a marriage of art + market may be less likely to happen, in, say, Spain or France.

Perhaps this is true of Duran Duran, Damien Hirst, and various others with some natural talent and access to a wider audience through a global supply-chain.

This lower bar, in turn, can allow for perhaps more questionable art and marketing jargon; postmodern concept-shilling and various bullshit promising freedom within stale ideology and often poorly-executed art.

Or, at least, the above comes with its own Anglo-character.

(Addition: I should add that it gives more people easier access to make and gain exposure to the arts, which benefits a lot more people, but also puts the artist, and modernists, especially, in tension with the really hard task of making something beautiful which can last. Does good art have to be hard, and be made free of ‘The People?,’ or at least the passing fads, genres and styles that come and go?)

————————

Thanks to a reader for the link:

From The Daily Beast: ‘Get Into Bed With Tracey Emin For $2 million: The Sale Of A British Art Icon.’

“My Bed” will be sold at auction at Christie’s on July 1, and has been given an estimate price of between £800,000 and £1.2m (approximately $1.35 million to $2 million), which seems astonishingly low given the piece’s cultural impact. Indeed, David Maupin, Emin’s dealer in New York who sold the bed to Saatchi in 2000 for £150,000 (about $252,000), has said he thinks the Christie’s estimate is too low. “It’s historic. It’s priceless.”

———————–

‘Cultural impact.’ So, a lot of people noticed it? It took a lot of technical skill? People were shocked by it? People had a strong reaction after seeing it in person?

It made her a celebrity?

I generally prefer the art dealer’s self-interested marketing bulls**t to a journalist’s ‘cultural impact’ claptrap.

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual 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.’

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

Another pomo quote from Dr. Stephen 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’