‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
Something of how the homing bee at dusk Seems to inquire, perplexed, how there can be No flowers here, not even withered stalks of flowers, Conjures a garden where no garden is And trellises too frail almost to bear The memory of a rose, much less a rose. Great oaks more monumentally great oaks now Than ever when the living rose was new Cast shade that is the more completely shade Upon a hose of broken windows merely And empty nests up under broken eaves No damask any more prevents the moon, But it unravels, peeling from a wall, Red roses within roses within roses.
‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’
Nelson, composing his expression under the shadow of his hat brim, watched him with a mixture of fatigue and suspicion, but as the train glided past them and disappeared like a frightened serpent into the woods, even his face lightened and he muttered, “I’m glad I’ve went once, but I’ll never go back again!”
William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose For Emily‘ read aloud
And on real and imagined houses, from a Northern poet who vacationed in Florida:
Postcard From The Volcano
Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;
And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;
And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt
At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion-house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky
Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became
A part of what it is . . . Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,
Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,
A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Some people who commissioned Boston’s City Hall were probably thinking they were bringing something new and wonderful into the world: Inspiring, modern, transformative.
The folks at bureaucratic levels up-top would steer this concrete ship, scanning the Horizon for The Future. The People down below, justly and benevolently guided, would feel welcome and do people-y, citizen-y things as though in a terrarium.
Maybe that’s why it’s not so popular.
At least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:
Folks, my life’s pretty good, but we all have moments when a poem can be there to comfort us.
Sometimes, the bleak can be desired; a dreary, iron-gray winter sky in November. Frost upon gravel in an abandoned parking-lot. Knotweed. Slush beneath snow. A few images clearly passing as your feet, fingers and face become numb: Green-glass under lakewater.
Clear water in a brilliant bowl, Pink and white carnations. The light In the room more like a snowy air, Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow At the end of winter when afternoons return. Pink and white carnations – one desires So much more than that. The day itself Is simplified: a bowl of white, Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round, With nothing more than the carnations there.
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.
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.
Well, it’s not a photograph quite abstract enough to get to mid-century American abstract expressionism, anyways.
Where did poems and paintings go, exactly, within the imaginations of many in this past generation now passing away?
Why I Am Not A Painter
I am not a painter, I am a poet. Why? I think I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg is starting a painting. I drop in. “Sit down and have a drink” he says. I drink; we drink. I look up. “You have SARDINES in it.” “Yes, it needed something there.” “Oh.” I go and the days go by and I drop in again. The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by. I drop in. The painting is finished. “Where’s SARDINES?” All that’s left is just letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. Pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. Then another page. There should be so much more, not of orange, of words, of how terrible orange is and life. Days go by. It is even in prose, I am a real poet. My poem is finished and I haven’t mentioned orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
Poems require your mouth and mind to come alive. But aren’t there real things, to which these words refer within our visual memories, out in the world?
Are you lost within the peaks and valleys of the sounds, mesmerized by the singer and the song (poet and poem), as well as the underlying patterns, working upon your mind?
What are you doing with your visual imagination?
If you’re like me, maybe you just want a few minutes of pleasure; a return to when your mind (if you’re getting older) encoded sounds into a map within, during times of impressionable openness.
Strange how they stick around:
As posted: Let’s go further back, now, to a place and time which we’ve never experienced, but live partially within:
Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.
Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’
Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?
Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).
(link may not last):
As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:
Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.
In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City
I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).
To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between Romanticism and Modernism:
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.
What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?
That’s a nod to this site’s international readers. Maybe it’s worth posting some poems and music to share with others.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by. It’s appreciated.
Sailing After Lunch
It is the word pejorative that hurts. My old boat goes round on a crutch And doesn’t get under way. It’s the time of the year And the time of the day.
Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had Or the lunch that we should have had. But I am, in any case, A most inappropriate man In a most unpropitious place.
Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer. The romantic should be here. The romantic should be there. It ought to be everywhere. But the romantic must never remain,
Mon Dieu, and must never again return. This heavy historical sail Through the mustiest blue of the lake In a really vertiginous boat Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .
It is least what one ever sees. It is only the way one feels, to say Where my spirit is I am, To say the light wind worries the sail, To say the water is swift today,
To expunge all people and be a pupil Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give That slight transcendence to the dirty sail, By light, the way one feels, sharp white, And then rush brightly through the summer air.
***Wallace Stevens is often going meta and abstract, confusing nearly all readers, while indulging heavily in a lush Romantic style which later transitions to more blank verse modernism. He’s sailing and he’s writing. He’s charting new waters, the old dandy.
Neither Far Out Nor In Deep
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep
Some popular songs have buried themselves into people’s minds as well: Young love on a blanket. Shadow and sun. Days that seem to last forever. Songwriting that appeals to innocence and common experience.
Life’s got darker sides, too, and so does human nature. Atlantic City became an East-Coast economic center for legal gambling; an empire which rose and fell. The seediness was never that far from the surface.
I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.
II The night is of the colour Of a woman’s arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.
III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.
IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.
V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.
VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon Rationalists would wear sombreros.
I quite like this one. Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.
As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts. Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism. Make it new and strip it down.
Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.
I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
One might ask what kind of genius? Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical? Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least. They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.
Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.
The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization. The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).
At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.