We’ll be discussing the importance of the electric guitar later in the semester.


The experience, you will notice, the elements which enter the presence of the transforming catalyst, are of two kinds: emotions and feelings. The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art.

–T. S. Eliot

I wonder what anyone will make of these recordings, from the 1970s, of the very famous Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, author of the famous essay “Let’s Ban Applause!” (1962). The YouTube comments are total nonsense, of course. But perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from watching people make idiots of themselves by failing epically in their attempts to praise or blame. The same appalling spectacle can also be seen regularly over on Amazon.com, and I invite you all to have a look, when you get a chance, at customer reviews there. Horrifying, but instructive, and indicative of just how important it us for us to have decent critics in our culture. But enough of general issues. What’s actually going on in these specific videos? What would the author of our current readings have to say about these performances? What do you imaging Gould is trying to achieve here? Is he succeeding wonderfully, or is he yet another epic failure? Why? How?

Orlando Gibbons
“Lord Salisbury’s Pavan and Galliard”

William Byrd
Galliard No.6

But why in the world would Gould ever want to ban applause? And what might that have to do with arguments put forth in the critical writings of T. S. Eliot? Will the following piece of music offer any assistance as we attempt to answer that question?

The difference is not a simple difference of degree between poets. It is something which had happened to the mind of England between the time of Donne or Lord Herbert of Cherbury and the time of Tennyson and Browning; it is the difference between the intellectual poet and the reflective poet. Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think; but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility. . . . In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered; and this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden. Each of these men performed certain poetic functions so magnificently well that the magnitude of the effect concealed the absence of others. . . . But while the language became more refined, the feeling became more crude.

–T. S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets”

Some music for your consideration and enjoyment. Feel free to respond to any or all of this. Have you heard similar music before? Why is this relevant to Eliot’s argument about art and poetry? What exactly happened, as far as Eliot is concerned, to the English mind in the transition from the 16th to the 17th century, and why is it so significant?

“fidelity to thought and feeling”

Thomas Tallis
(1505 – 1583)

“If You Love Me”
“A New Commandment”
“Out From The Deep”


William Byrd
(1543 – 1623)

“Prevent Us, O Lord”
“O Make Thy Servant Elizabeth”


Orlando Gibbons
(1585 – 1625)

“See, See, The Word Is Incarnate”
“O God, The King of Glory”

Surprisingly, or not, Eliot would have considered the following music a serious step downward. Where is this suggested in his essays, and why would he have thought that?

“a dissociation of sensibility . . .
from which we have never recovered”

modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence.

Written when he was 22 years old.

Wondrous Natural Spectacle

Posted: January 18, 2018 in Uncategorized

Readings for Week of January 22rd

Posted: January 17, 2018 in Readings

Since the question has been raised:

Los Angeles Review of Books
“Catherine Malabou on the Brain and Other Topics”
April 2012

Catherine Malabou, a French philosopher who teaches at Kingston University in England, is the author of ‘The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage,’ ‘What Should We Do With Our Brain?‘ ‘Changing Difference,’ ‘The Future of Hegel,’ and other books. She speaks here with LARB Philosophy/Critical Theory Editor Arne De Boever.

“Wolf’s Prolegomena has long been recognized as one of the most important books in the history of classical studies. . . . This English translation, with a detailed historical introduction, makes it fully accessible to the modern reader. . . . The analytical and unitarian interpretations of Homer have, indeed, been argued over ever since. It is gratifying that the work which started this famous controversy is available once again.” —H. B. Nisbet, Times Higher Education Supplement

“This is the first English translation of Wolf’s Prolegomena ad Homerum, a seminal work for classical scholarship. An introduction places Wolf in the cultural setting of eighteenth-century Germany, especially with regard to Homeric studies, showing how he was influenced by contemporary textual criticism of the Old Testament, and how Wolf’s work was originally received.”–Choice

Twenty-three poems that transformed English poetry

Wordsworth and Coleridge composed this powerful selection of poetry during their youthful and intimate friendship. Reproducing the first edition of 1798, this edition of Lyrical Ballads allows modern readers to recapture the book’s original impact. In these poems—including Wordsworth’s “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere”—the two poets exercised new energies and opened up new themes.

In semesters past I have assigned these materials. I will not do so now. But I do want to make key selections of English Romantic verse available for curious and motivated students. Please feel free to read and discuss these poems, if you like; but, technically, they are not on the syllabus.

If you find you loathe this stuff, please note that these pieces contrast markedly with almost everything else we will be reading this semester.

p.s. Look for the print button on the upper-right corner of the web pages hosting each poem. This may make your life easier. Also, notice that the Wordsworth poems are the longest and (by our standards) most ponderous. Things will get much briefer and lighter as you move on to the other Romantic poets.

Readings for January 10

Posted: January 8, 2018 in Readings

Hi! This is the first set of readings for the semester. I plan to begin discussing William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge during our next class. What we don’t finish the first day we will continue to address in subsequent meetings. I will also include texts by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in this post, but only to give the more adventurous something to explore. Wordsworth and Coleridge may be difficult read. Do the best you can with them. I have no expectations that anyone will understand these materials perfectly on the first reading. At least some parts of them will be too challenging for that, though there is certainly fun and adventure to be had in accepting challenges. Good luck, and see you soon!

(c) The Wordsworth Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Wordsworth
(1770 – 1850)
Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(1772 – 1834)
Biographia Literaria (1817)
“Of The Imagination, or Esemplastic Power”


Posted: January 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

Here it is!

This Is The Place!

Posted: January 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

This Is The Place

This is the place where I will post our readings this semester. You can also use the blog to keep in touch with me, and ask questions and comment on assigned texts. WordPress is easy and fun to use. I know many of you will take right to it, whereas it will be new and intimidating for others. The more you follow and utilize this form, the better you will get to know my ways of thinking and my expectations regarding your work, the more help and guidance you will receive, and the more you will learn.

To follow KUBERNESIS just click the option above and to the left in the transparent toolbar.

I have used blogs with great success in variety of courses over the last seven years. It has been an tremendous resource for both my students and me. You will be amazed at how much you will learn – from me, your peers, and yourself – if you will check this site regularly and treat it not just as a task but as an expressive artistic medium, a vehicle through which to think in new and exciting ways.

Please, don’t allow yourself to become anxious about writing here. I’ve designed this as a place to diffuse anxieties and to get to know my expectations gradually, long before it’s time to write a paper. Using WordPress really is not very hard at all, and becomes increasingly fun and instructive once you get that hang of it.


Posted: January 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

Here it is!


It’s hard to overestimate he significance of photography in the work (and life) of critic Susan Sontag, perhaps one of the 20th century’s most photographed women. (Sontag spent the final years of her life in a long-term relationship with noted celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz, who documented her demise from cancer.) To elucidate this subject it might be valid to refer to the work of French art historian, novelist and statesman André Malraux – a figure whose ideas we’ll soon see critiqued in the comparatively recent writings of art historian Douglas Crimp.


André Malraux with his “Museum Without Walls,” 1950

One of Malraux’s very first texts, a 1922 preface to an exhibition catalog, already presents this notion of art as a vast semiotic system, a multiple chorus of meaning. In it Malraux had written: “We can feel only by comparison. He who knows Andromaque or Phedre will gain a better idea of the French genius by reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream than by reading all the other tragedies by Racine.

– Rosalind E. Krauss

In particular, one thinks of Malraux’s concept of the “Museum without Walls”. Taking the form of an enormous book, Voices of Silence, this museum was more properly to be understood as a strictly ideal space in which art works from multiple cultures and historical periods would be reduced to weightless and isolated photographic images, thus allowing for a free-association and comparison of a vast catalog of works in various media. Not that it makes strict sense, but my impression is that Wimsatt & Beardsley’s criticism is essentially an similar attempt to reduce all poems to pure data, disembodied word images.

Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Che Guevara

If you think about it, photography, which reduces all of life and culture to documents, presents itself as the most anonymous, intentionless and affectless medium – that medium which, even more than language was for Shelley, is no medium at all, and consequently the very best medium to function as the “universal” medium through which to convert a host of culturally specific works of art into to a large-scale display of “global” culture. Photography converts the work of art into a sign, and the sign, like the commodity in Marx, obeys the law of universal equivalency and exchangeability. Or so Jean Baudrillard taught in his For A Critique of The Political Economy of The Sign.





Monuments of The Cubist Struggle

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

Here are images to help you read the ‘pasted-paper’ essay by Clement Greenberg. For Wednesday, let’s try to read the Greenberg essays we don’t manage to cover today. If we don’t manage to get through everything this week, we’ll just have to be comfortable with that. Good luck!

–Clement Greenberg, “The Pasted-Paper Revolution” (1947)


In 1910 Braque had already inserted a very graphic nail with a sharp cast shadow in a picture otherwise devoid of graphic definitions and cast shadows, Still-life with Violin and Palette, in order to interpose a kind of photographic space between the surface and the dimmer, fragile illusoriness of the Cubist space which the still-life itself – shown as a picture within a picture – inhabited.


And something similar was obtained by the structural delineation of a loop of rope in the upper left margin of the Museum of Modern Art’s Man with a Guitar of 1911.


In that same year Braque introduced capital letters and numbers stenciled in trompe-l’oeil in paintings whose motifs offered no realistic excuse for their presence. The intrusions, by their self-evident, extraneous and abrupt flatness, stopped the eye at the literal, physical surface of the canvas in the same way that the artist’s signature did; here it was no longer a questions of interposing a more vivid illusion of depth between surface and Cubist space, but one of specifying the very real flatness of the picture plan so that everything else shown on it would be pushed into illusioned space by force of contrast.


It was toward the same end the Picasso and Braque began, in 1912, to mix sand and other foreign substance with their paint; the granular surface achieved thereby called direct attention to the tactile reality of the picture.


A little later [Braque] made his first collage, Fruit Bowl, by pasting three strips of imitation wood-grain wallpaper to a sheet of drawing paper on which he then charcoaled a rather simplified Cubist still-life and some trompe-l’oeil letters. Cubist space had by this time become even shallower, and the actual picture surface had to be identified more emphatically than before if the illusion was to be detached from it.. Now the corporeal presence of the wallpaper pushed the lettering itself into illusioned depth by force of contrast. . . . The strips, the lettering, the charcoal lines and the white paper begin to change places in depth with one another, and a process is set up in which every part of the picture takes its turn in occupying every plane, whether real or imagined, in it. The imaginary planes are all parallel to the one another; their effective connection lies in their common relation to the surface; wherever a form on one plane slants or extends into another it immediately spring forward. The flatness of the surface permeates the illusion, and the illusion itself reasserts the flatness. The effect is to fuse the illusion with the picture plane without the derogation of either — in principle.


Sometime in 1912 [Picasso] cut out and folded a piece of paper in the shape of a guitar and glued and fitted other pieces of paper and four taut strings to it. A sequence of flat surface on different planes in actual space was created to which there adhered only the hint of a pictorial surface. The originally affixed elements of collage had, in effect, been extruded from the picture plane — the sheet of drawing paper or the canvas — to make a bas-relief. But it was ‘constructed,’ not a sculpted, bas-relief, and it founded a new genre of sculpture. . . . Not for nothing did the sculptor constructor Julio Gonzalez call it the new art of ‘drawing’ in space.’


Cubism, in the hands of its inventors achieved a new, exalted and transfigured kind of decoration by reconstructing the flat picture surface with the very means of its denial. They started started with the illusion and arrived at a quasi-abstract literalness.

With [Juan] Gris it was the reverse. As he himself explained, he started with flat and abstract shapes to which he then fitted recognizable three-dimensional images. . . . He used his pasted papers and trompe-l’oeil textures and lettering to assert flatness all right; but he almost always sealed the flatness inside the illusion of depth by placing images rendered with sculptural vividness on the nearest plane of the picture, and often on the rearmost plane too. . . . Instead of the seamless fusion of the decorative with the spacial structure of illusion which we get with the collages of the other two masters, there is an alternation, a collocation, of the decorative and the illusion and if their relationship ever goes beyond that, it is more liable to be one of confusion rather than fusion. Gris’s collages have their merits, but they have been over-praised.


That point, as I see it, was to restore and exalt decoration by building it, by endowing self-confessedly flat configurations with a pictorial content, an autonomy like that hitherto obtained through illusion alone. Elements essentially decorative in themselves were used not to adorn but to identify, locate, construct; and in being so used, to create works of art in which decorativeness was transcended or transfigured in a monumental unity. Monumental, in fact, is the one word is choose to describe Cubism’s preeminent quality.

STUDENT: I feel like both positive and negative criticism should be freely expressed as felt by the individual. Clap or don’t after a performance, it’s your decision. Just let everything be done in moderation.

TEACHER: These are objections one hears time and again: Who is to say? What makes him the judge? Doesn’t everybody get to decide for himself?

These questions, and the anxiety of which they are unmistakable expressions, are highly symptomatic and emblematic of the condition of being modern. We no longer live in an age of God-ordained authorities. Or, if we do continue to live, as individuals, in a world of God-centered world, we can’t help but find ourselves hopelessly out of touch with the ideas and culture of the current moment. Consequently, nobody knows what to think or even feel anymore, at least not in public. And this profound state of anxiety is reflected – at least among those who actually continue to care about genuine culture – in our disturbing inability to enjoy ourselves thoroughly and unselfconsciously. Applause, for all it presents itself as the most enthusiastic praise, ought properly to be seen for what it actually is, a noisy and vulgar eruption of mass insecurity. It is the surest sign that an audience has no idea what it just experienced. In a culture composed of a constant stream of pseudo-experiences, applause is the flood of noise which surges forth to fill the disconcerting void of genuine experience. Here, Eliot and Glenn Gould seem to agree with Freud.


Eliot’s attempt to establish criteria of judgment, as well as a canon of exemplary works, is intended to provide a remedy for this anxiety. And the key to the effectiveness of that remedy is that it must offer a set of standing paradigms with reference to which one work of art can be judged intrinsically more successful than another, as well as a set of objective operations in terms of which the creation of a work of art can be mapped. In the absence of any such objectivity, Eliot argues, the only standard of judgment we are left with is brute consensus, popularity.

Samuel Johnson is, for T. S. Eliot, the classic proponent of moderation. Though this evaluation is correct, we should simultaneously recall that popularity is Johnson’s standard of judgment. Shakespeare is great, he argues, because more people can relate to his works than any one else’s; hence, Shakespeare must best represent universal human nature. In other words, Johnson’s criterion for the judgment of artistic excellence is a matter of averages. The paradox in this should not be lost on us: excellence = mediocrity. This takes for granted the mass’s response to the object, by assuming that common sense is genuinely sensible. Whereas even a cursory examination of history will teach us that the masses have hardly made judicious decisions. If anything, the masses have been subject to constant shifts of opinion, based on little more than rumor, wild conjecture and immediate sensation. Certainly, free and open elections have hardly guaranteed with consistency the best of all possible leaders. With a few notable exceptions, it would in fact appear that the very first qualification for elected office is to be unexceptional, mediocre.

Further, the opinion of the masses, or the random individual, says virtually noting about the object itself. Most judgments we encounter – as Eliot insists, judgment comes a natural to us as breathing – regrettably lack any articulated criteria of selection or rejection, other than the fact that the person in question “just so totally loves” Shakespeare.

If pressed, persons may say they enjoy Shakespeare’s characters. But these characters are only one aspect of Shakespeare’s total art. Further, this offers no means of explaining why Shakespeare’s most popular characters tend to be scoundrels? What, Eliot would ask, is the difference between liking a persons in real life and liking a character in a play? Are liking person and liking characters even the same kind of liking at all? Is there really a difference between art and life, and if so, what is it? These, and others, are all questions which Eliot believes have been left fundamentally unanswered, by the culture in general and by Samuel Johnson in particular, who as a man of the Enlightenment, understands quality art to distinguish itself primarily by its lack of errors. Shakespeare’s verses, like his plots, are “grammatically correct.” Good art, according to Johnson’s commonsense mode of thinking, should always shun extremes, be ‘reasonable’ and show ‘moderation’.

British Actor John Garrick as McBeth

Notice, though, Eliot’s great interest in and admiration for the Metaphysical Poets. It’s not only that these poets are willing to make errors, or stray as far as possible from everyday patterns of thinking and speaking. But, indeed, the very peculiarities and deviations from standard thought and speech are these poets’ most basic virtues. But nobody speaks or thinks like Metaphysical Poets in daily pedestrian life, one might insist. And this precisely is why Eliot considers them great. Because they are blessedly free of the conventions of daily life and the perceived need for personal consistency (what Emerson called the “hobgoblin of little minds”), they are able to produce works which can be considered genuine art, and ought to be judged superior to the vast majority of human fabrications. Because these literary artifacts exhibit thought and feeling working together at the highest energy level, they reveal not just the normal functioning of a typical human mind but rather the vast array of operations which are possible for the human mind, per se. In this respect, Poetry, as Eliot clearly indicates, approaches Psychology. Though Eliot’s psychology will be one which radically rejects Positivism’s reduction of all human experience to mere aggregates of ‘units of sensation’ to be recorded and modeled in laboratory psychology. For Eliot sees this sort of science as the psychological equivalent of capitalism’s reduction of millions of individual lives to mere ‘human resources’ and individual lives to a loose mass of discrete and mobile units of labor to be bought and sold, like any other commodity, according to the law of supply and demand.


In particular, Eliot understanding of poetry approximates the psychological investigations of Harvard professor William James, one of the most distinguished and influential intellectuals in all of American history. James’s great contention, which flew in the face of the experimental psychology which prevailed in his own day (Helmholz, Fechner, Wundt), was that laboratory testing, statistical analysis and functional mapping of mental activity only serve to show how the statistically average person thinks, and this only under the most narrow and artificial of conditions. Such research might possibly give us some insight into how conformists, prisoners and the institutionalized think and behave, but it says almost nothing about how truly powerful and exemplary minds and bodies function when operating at the very highest level of energy or in a state of (semi-)autonomy. For this reason, James turns away from the statistically average person in his search for what is most essential in human thinking and experience, and instead turns to the great eccentrics.


In particular, James turns, against the current of the day, to the lives and writings of religious persons. James, in a masterful series of lectures delivered at Harvard, shows little interest in the conformist lives of average believers but rather focuses his attention on the great non-conformists in religious history, those ‘visionary’ individuals who founded either new religions or religious movements, or those saintly individuals who bound themselves to an arbitrary law and lived life extravagantly and exclusively on their own eccentric terms, with the least amount of compromise or moderation. It is these individual, James argues, and not experimental psychology which show actual human nature and potential.

Colomina Discussion

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

Repost from 2013:


Hey, I really enjoyed our discussion of Loos and Corbusier, as analyzed by Beatriz Colomina (here, she speaks on male, female, and post-gender architecture). I thought student participation was curious, intelligent and engaged. Thanks for that. It help me do a better job and enjoy myself all the while. Though things will never be perfect, that exactly what we should want an Honors Intellectual Traditions class to look like. Let’s just discuss the remaining Colomina articles on Monday. I hope to see many of you at the UMFA lecture at noon on Friday, the last of our three mandatory group lectures, and the one most closely related to our assigned reading materials. Aside from that, have a great weekend!


Any comparison between Loos and Le Corbusier is fascinating. In the work of both architects there is creative tension between two specific attitudes. On the one hand, their work is concerned with the autonomy of architectural means. On the other, each architect tries, in his own way, to place his work in a context. These contexts frequently overlap. For Loos, the frame of reference is traditional craftsmanship, the task being socially determined. In Le Corbusier‘s case, the division of labour between design and realization forms the core of architectural process. The assignment and means of realizing it are formulated in terms of new technologies. The issue is further complicated by a consideration of the cultural backgrounds of the architects in question. Space embraces the notion of continuity and distance, as well as the idea of enclosure. Their respective vocabularies, Raum and espace, may have partly formed their visions.

Raumplan versus Plan Libre was originally published in 1987. This revised and updated edition looks anew at the respective merits of two giants of modern architecture. As well as featuring writings by the architects in question, the book illustrates the evolution of the work of Loos and Le Corbusier, with detailed reference to their domestic projects, ranging from the Strasser House (1919) to the Last House (1932), and from Maison Domino (1915) to Villa Savoye (1932). With its excellent overviews and analyses it will give the reader a deeper insight into the motivations of these two architects, so near yet so far away.