Now we can have more identical modular condos for incoming Californians!

Construction crews started the demolition process on Monday to tear down the old Road Home Shelter.

“Having it opened up like this is odd, in the first place they started is the area I worked,” said James Woolf, the former Operations Director of the Road Home.

Woolf used to work at the Road Home Shelter and he stopped by to take one last look.

“I spent a quarter of a century here helping the homeless,” Woolf said.

If you had no opinion on applause, Tudor choral, or Russian composers – which the majority of you didn’t – then perhaps you’ll have an opinion on John Adams. This piece of music strikes me as very much in line with my comments today on T. S. Eliot. Not that anybody listens to any music at all anymore. But I’ll post the video anyway.

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The indoor photos were taken at the grand piano, and in the library, where [composer Jean] Sibelius often listened to broadcasts and recordings of his works in the evenings.

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Ingram Marshall
“Sibelius in His Radio Corner” (1974-1980)

Sibelius in His Radio Corner was inspired by a photograph of the Finnish composer during his “forty years of silence,” sitting in an armchair and listening to his own work being performed on the radio. “In his old age Sibelius enjoyed pulling in distant broadcasts of his music off the short-wave. I imagined that with all the static and signal drift, some of these listening experiences might have been proleptically like a modern-day electronically processed kurzwellen piece.” New Albion Records


Soviet Kitsch in Utah

Posted: January 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

Some of you may be surprised to learn that our beloved Beehive State is home to one of the largest collections of Soviet Socialist art to be found anywhere. What?! Sure, just drive south an hour or so and check out the Springville Art Museum. They have acres of canvas there that might as well have been painted by our friend Repin.

The question arises though: Why would people around here want to collect such works? I’ll leave that question to you to answer. Click the image below to check out the museum’s extensive holdings. Notice that the painters are not referred to as Soviet however, but rather as “Russian” – in fact, at least a few artists are not Russian but Ukrainian. Also, the art is incorrectly called “Social”, rather than Socialist. What up with that?

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Kozhevnikov, Ivan Vasilevich
Election Day on the Collective Farm (1958)
SOCIAL REALISM
OIL ON CANVAS
46-3/8″ x 113-3/8 x 117.7

(Click for link to Utah’s collection of Soviet Socialist art)

Giving Voice To The Dead

Posted: January 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

Do you suppose this is what T. S. Eliot had in mind?

In what sounds like the premise for yet another reboot of The Mummy, engineers have synthesized the voice of a priest named Nesyamun who lived 3,000 years ago in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes.

The results, published in Scientific Reports on Thursday, include a short simulation of Nesyamun’s voice pronouncing a vowel sound. He honestly doesn’t sound thrilled to be vocally woken up after three millennia of silence.

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”




byrd

William Byrd
(1543 – 1623)

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




gibbons

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”

More music for you!

A great deal of purism is the translation of an extreme solicitude, an anxiousness as to the fate of art, a concern for its identity. We must respect this. When the purist insists upon excluding “literature” and subject matter from plastic [visual] art, now and in the future, the most we can charge him with off-hand is an unhistorical attitude. It is quite easy to show that abstract art, like every other cultural phenomenon, reflects the social and other circumstances of the age in which its creators live, and that there is nothing inside art itself, disconnected from history, which compels it to go in one direction or another. But it is not so easy to reject the purist’s assertion that the best contemporary plastic art is abstract. Here the purist does not have to support his position with metaphysical pretensions. And when he insists on doing so, those of us who admit the merits of abstract art without accepting its claims in full must offer our own explanation for its present supremacy.

– Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laocoon” (1940)

~

The great 20th-century art critic Clement Greenberg, in the passage above, is alluding to three of the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century: Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich. Each of these men wrote a manifesto (see and click the images below) in which he explained the nature, production and effect of abstract painting in emphatically spiritual terms. Greenberg eagerly asserts that the work these abstract artists have produced is indeed the very greatest of the day. However, he insists that, when it comes to these artists’ explanations of what they were actually up to when making their work, they are, sadly, completely mistaken. Rather than resorting to high ideals and spiritual principles, Greenberg insists that abstract art, like all art, must be explained exclusively in terms of the historical and material conditions under which is what produced, and that is must be appreciated in material, not spiritual, terms.

Kandinsky

Mondrian

Malevich

A student in a class I recently taught thoughtfully expressed concern over the fact that Greenberg dismissed the school of painting known as Symbolism, which according to popular understanding, sought to achieve spiritual effects through a return to mythology and a world of pure illusion emancipated from our own. Greenberg exemplified Symbolist painting by referring to the work of Gustave Moreau. Elsewhere, however, Greenberg commended the music of the “symbolist” composer Claude Debussy for its “escape from literature”, its abstract purity.

Music, in flight from the undisciplined, bottomless sentimentality of the Romantics, was striving to describe and narrate (program music). That music at this point imitates literature would seem to spoil my thesis. But music imitates painting as much as it does poetry when it becomes representational, and besides, it seems to me that Debussy used the program [by which Greenberg means attempts to create the effect of stories and landscapes, as in say, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony] more as a pretext for experiment than as an end in itself. In the same way that the Impressionist painters were trying to get at the structure beneath the color, Debussy was trying to get at the ‘sound underneath the note’.”

In your own words, what do you think it is that Greenberg is hearing in pieces such as those below?

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

T. S. Eiot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

NEURASTHENIA: (noun) Psychiatry (not in technical use) nervous debility and exhaustion occurring in the absence of objective causes or lesions; nervous exhaustion.

the-dance-of-life

Edvard Munch
The Dance of Life (1900)

simmel

A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all. In the same way, through the rapidity and contradictoriness of their changes, more harmless impressions force such violent responses, tearing the nerves so brutally hither and thither that their last reserves of strength are spent; and if one remains in the same milieu they have no time to gather new strength. An incapacity thus emerges to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy. This constitutes that blasé attitude which, in fact, every metropolitan child shows when compared with children of quieter and less changeable milieus. . . .

In the blasé attitude the concentration of men and things stimulate the nervous system of the individual to its highest achievement so that it attains its peak. Through the mere quantitative intensification of the same conditioning factors this achievement is transformed into its opposite and appears in the peculiar adjustment of the blasé attitude. In this phenomenon the nerves find in the refusal to react to their stimulation the last possibility of accommodating to the contents and forms of metropolitan life. The self-preservation of certain personalities is brought at the price of devaluating the whole objective world, a devaluation which in the end unavoidably drags one’s own personality down into a feeling of the same worthlessness.

–Georg Simmel
The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903)

Nordau Nietzsche

Neitzsche Biology Metaphor

Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor explores the German philosopher’s response to the intellectual debates sparked by the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. By examining the abundance of biological metaphors in Nietzsche’s writings, Gregory Moore questions his recent reputation as an eminently subversive and (post-) modern thinker, and shows how deeply Nietzsche was immersed in late nineteenth-century debates on evolution, degeneration and race.

S: I have to ask is it right to judge a previous century against the more recent in regards to technologies available? It’s like getting critical of cavemen for not using Adobe Photoshop CS5 to do a painting. But yes, I can tell a difference between Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. So really, I guess I am asking if Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev had the same assets or resources and tools to draw from to create music? Or is this angle of analysis even relevant?

T: For what it’s worth, it’s the very fact that you’re able to ‘relate’ to his music which would prompt Eliot to say Tchaikovsky’s music is not especially great. As for the technologies available to Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, I would imagine they were working with relatively similar material resources at their disposal. The symphonic instruments we recognize today were developed in the 19th century.

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What differs is the way the two composers chose to deploy those resources. Whereas Prokofiev’s music has the lightness and energy of modern transit and cinema, Tchaikovsky’s music still feels absurdly ponderous, bloated with sentimental, narcissistic and wretched 19th-century emotionalism.

With regard to the technologies of different eras, it’s crucial to recognize that Eliot considers prehistoric cave painting — such as had been discovered recently in Lascaux and Altamira — to be supremely powerful, as good as any art created in the subsequent 36,000 years. It does not matter what technology – whether a straw, a paint brush, a photographic camera, or a radio is used to create art – what matters is that the artist use it cannily to produce art which is appreciated for its abstract qualities as opposed to its personal appeal.

This is why Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though a fascinating reflection on modern recording technologies, would, for Eliot, still be a failure as art. It describes the latest and most unsettling technologies, but it does so from the outside and through the familiar techniques of 19th-century realism and the epistolary novel. (Odd though it might sound, I would argue Stoker’s novel, unlike most others, would actually gain something by being transferred to CD and heard on an iPod.)

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 3.59.53 PM

In strict contrast to this, Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” should, according to his own professed terms, be considered great art, because it doesn’t speak merely about the latest technologies but rather it attempts to speak from within and through the latest technologies. Eliot, it should be observed, deliberately adopts forms of speech of the sort generated by the latest audio technologies. The effect of disembodied voices (on the phonograph or radio) is uniquely modern, yet it can’t fail to recall, uncannily, an archaic ritual of summoning the dead. Consequently, Eliot’s art functions as a modern recapitulation of primitive necromancy, and displays some of the same power as that produced by artists in prehistoric times.

5b

The Waste Land

I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. . . .

ouija-board-and-pointer

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel.
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying ‘Stetson!
‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
‘Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!

‘You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!’

Gavin Bryars
“The Sinking of The Titanic” (1969)

First performance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 1972

Growth!

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

Barring a downtown real estate miracle, one of Salt Lake City’s best-known and most colorful bookstores is likely to close sometime next year.

Ken Sanders, proprietor of Ken Sanders Rare Books at 268 S. 200 East, has known since mid-2014 that his shop’s run of more than two decades at that location was nearing an end, as the city center continues to see rampant growth.

But Sanders, now 68 and an icon of hippie counterculture in the Intermountain West, said his ongoing search for a new location hasn’t turned up anything affordable.

“I don’t want to give up the store, but, good lord, what choice do I have?” the bookseller, small-press publisher and literary and musical event organizer asked.

Metaphysical Poetry

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

dashboard-8

John Donne’s standing as a great English poet, and one of the greatest writers of English prose, is now assured. However, it has been confirmed only in the present century [principally because of the criticism of T. S. Eliot]. The history of Donne’s reputation is the most remarkable of any major writer in English; no other body of great poetry has fallen so far from favor for so long and been generally condemned as inept and crude [principally because of the criticism of Samuel Johnson].

donne1-1

John Donne
(1572 – 1631)

I don’t know how it could be possible that anyone in class would never have read John Donne. But considering that students are now arriving at the university without ever having read Charles Dickens (not their fault!), it might be well to post these here. This is the kind of thing that made high school students, back in my day anyway, stop in their tracks and declare in a moment of self-discovery and conviction, I will be a poet too! Your results may vary. In any case, John Donne is the most exemplary of the so-called Metaphysical Poets, disparaged by Samuel Johnson for their irrationality. As I said in class today, T. S. Eliot celebrated and sought to rehabilitate them, precisely because their complete immersion in the act of writing revealed what a mind looks like when it is wholly active, and the various operations – mental and linguistic (because we think in the medium of a specific language, the two are always the same) – the mind can perform. Genuine psychological studies, for Eliot, emerge not from laboratory experiments, but rather from watching the mind wholly absorbed in the process of thinking, feeling, and creating – which are really just three different aspects of the same activity. This is everything that got lost with the isolation of the detached and calculating ego. Eliot claims the discovery precipitated a major derailment of English poetry, from which it had yet to recover. His call for a return to these poets of the English Renaissance is a central component of his attempt to call the English-speaking public back to its sense and correct this problem.

May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“The breath goes now,” and some say, “No,”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so much refined
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion.
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do;

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

nb_sculpture_stone_n_monument_to_the_poet_john_donne_3 detail 1631

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

ancient_wallpapers_483

Hymn To God, My God, In My Sickness

Since I am coming to that Holy room,
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music ; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before ;

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map
, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die ;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west ;
For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me ? As west and east
In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific sea my home ? Or are
The eastern riches ? Is Jerusalem ?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar ?
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them
Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s cross and Adam’s tree, stood in one place ;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me ;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.

So, in His purple wrapp’d, receive me, Lord ;
By these His thorns, give me His other crown ;
And as to others’ souls I preach’d Thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
“Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down.”

If so shrewd and sensitive (though so limited) a critic as [Samuel] Johnson failed to define metaphysical poetry by its faults, it is worth while to inquire whether we may not have more success by adopting the opposite method: by assuming that the poets of the seventeenth century (up to the Revolution) were the direct and normal development of the precedent age; and, without prejudicing their case by the adjective ‘metaphysical’, consider whether their virtue was not something permanently valuable, which subsequently disappeared, but ought not to have disappeared. … 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.

–T. S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets” (1917)

Student: Eliots presented himself as opposed to two poets, Milton and Dryden, instead of just one, because they compliment each other. I think he is trying to make a point of how he disaproves with both of them from both perspectives.

Teacher: I believe T. S. Eliot is saying that Milton and Dryden are opposites. John Milton was a Puritan revolutionary writing under Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the Protectorate (1653–1659). John Dryden, on the other hand, was a Royalist “man of the world” writing under the Restoration monarchs (after 1660). Not that these events should be seen as causes, as far as Eliot is concerned, and even less so for his American successors, the practitioners of the so-called New Criticism. But these historical contexts are highly emblematic of the faults which the respective writers commit.

gustave-dor-the-fall-of-the-rebel-angels-from-john-miltons-paradise-lost-black-and-white-engraving

The Fall of The Rebel Angels
(from Milton’s Paradise Lost)
Gustave Doré


The Puritan is too visionary; in other words, his epic plots and grand visions appear as entirely prior to language. It’s clear in reading John Milton that he thought up all of Paradise Lost in his head first, and then ex post facto sat down to dictate it. The whole schema seems insufficiently to have passed through the crucible of the act of composition, to have been insufficiently submitted to language’s transformational forces, and this because Milton feared that the overarching schema of his epic might be destroyed by the full heat of the creative process. Not that Eliot considered Milton to be entirely useless as a poet – far from it, in fact. Rather, Eliot thought that Milton was too imaginative, letting his vision run loose in flights of fancy, while his language, powerful though it was, struggled to keep up. Because he is not firmly rooted in language, Eliot considers Milton insufficiently traditional. For Eliot there is an all important difference between true abstraction (which lifts an artwork into the Tradition, along with those of Shakespeare, Homer and the artists of Lascaux Cave) and mere fantasy (which consigns an artwork to the scrap heap of literary history, along with Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, and their science fiction-writing progeny).

Not that Eliot necessarily consciously thought this, but it’s hard for me right now not to think of the highly fragmentary Waste Land as a kind of rebuttal to Milton, what Paradise Lost might have looked like if Milton’s own ego, or self-image, as a visionary prophet, hadn’t been so bound up with the poem and he had surrended himself more fully to the depersonalizing power of language. It’s hard not to see Eliot’s reference, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, to a mock-heroic and tedious Lazarus as an offhand allusion to the visionary Milton.


And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
. . .
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

The Apotheosis of James I
Peter Paul Rubens

The courtier John Dryden, on the other hand, rather than conceiving other-worldly visions and then attempting after the fact to put them into words, writes poetry meant to please the ear and flatter a king. Quite simply, the writer has a political or social goal, or intended effect, well in mind before he ever sit down to inscribe that potential effect’s prior literary cause. Strategic and ambitious ends, along with the ego intimately attached to them, are what the poet is unwilling to sacrifice in the act of composition. Here, the poet, again, does not allow his mind to enter fully into the crucible of language. The metamorphic power of language is always held in check, with the result that Dryden poetry never becomes sufficiently abstract. Rather than excessively other-worldly, like Milton’s, Dryden’s verse is excessively this-worldly, suited to specific sites and situations. Again, not that Eliot had this in mind at all, but it’s hard for me right now not to recall the fatuous Polonius in “Prufrock” as an allusion to Dryden.

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

In sharp contrast to both these writers, Eliot, you will recall, insists that poetry must be utterly without ego: “The progress of the artist is a continual self-sacrifice, and continual extinction of personality.”

Beheading_John_the_Baptist

Nervous System Angelus


It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw
the nerves in patterns on a screen.

–T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917)

• • •


If we wish to discern whether anything is beautiful or not, we do not refer the representation of it to the object by means of understanding with a view to cognition, but by means of the imagination (acting perhaps in conjunction with understanding) we refer the representation to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure. The judgement of taste, therefore, is not a cognitive judgement, and so not logical, but is aesthetic-which means that it is one whose determining ground cannot be other than subjective. Every reference of representations is capable of being objective, even that of sensations (in which case it signifies the real in an empirical representation). The one exception to this is the feeling of pleasure or displeasure. This denotes nothing in the object, but is a feeling which the subject has of itself and of the manner in which it is affected by the representation.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790), SS 1. The judgement of taste is aesthetic.

Now, I would argue that the same applies to intelligence. To the extent that we believe in such a thing as a “beautiful mind,” the very last way we should ever expect to identify one would be by means of IQ testing or neurological analysis. Of the many areas of research in which the writings of Kant enjoy an enduring influence, one of the most significant is the field of Phenomenology, a branch of philosophy which (along with the Pragmatism of the American psychologist William James) first arises as a critique of Experimental Psychology. Though the very same could be said of Freud: psychoanalysis arose a critical rebuke to the brilliant inanity of Helmholtz, Fechner and Wundt.


But does anyone write today on this stuff, and in a way which combines the very best of Art History and the History of Science? Yes.

9780262531993


Or, if you were prefer to read the classic text I mentioned in class the other day, have a look at William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, considered by Modern Library to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century. (Pay no heed to the readers’ list, which has been hijacked by morons and zombies.)

MAKING OUR IDEAS CLEAR

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

Is nihilism perhaps to live in a world without magic? Or, is I]it R=rather to Live in a world of pure magic?

How To Make Our Ideas Clear, by Charles Sanders Pearce

“When we elevate someone like Martin Luther King Jr. to the status of a saint or a prophet, we see him as more than a mere mortal, thus freeing ourselves from the responsibility of trying to emulate him since we simply have to be hopeful that someone like him will come again.”

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?

Readings for January 28th

Posted: January 23, 2020 in Readings

Here is our next author, Clement Greenberg. Greenberg was an American critic who is widely considered one of the most important theorists of modern art. Just one bit of evidence to support this is the painting of Greenberg below, by Mark Tansey, which depicts the critic as a victorious American general at the Versailles/Bonn Convention(s). We’ll have an occasion to discuss the complexity of Greenberg’s position of authority (along with Tansey’s depiction of him) very soon. I hope you enjoy these readings.

For now, good luck with a handful of readings which may prove to be a formidable challenge. I hope this challenge will be a rewarding experience. I don’t imagine we’ll have time to discuss all these material in a single day, but here they are all here for anyone wishing to press ahead.

Finally, I really enjoyed our meeting today, despite certain technical frustrations, and I hope you did too. It’s been a good semester so far and I thank you for the efforts and contributions you’ve made so far. Keep of the good work, and see you soon!




Clement Greenberg
(1909–1994)


“The Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939)
“Towards A Newer Laocoön” (1940)
“The Pasted-Paper Revolution” (1948)
“The Plight of Culture” (1953)

(click here for all four essays)

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Mark Tansey (American)
The Triumph of The New York School
oil on canvas, 74″ x 120″
The Whitney Museum of American Art
New York City, New York

(click image for names of artists depicted)


More ‘Metaphysical’ Poetry

Posted: January 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

John Donne
(1572–1631)
“Batter My heart, Three-Person’d God”

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

George Herbert
(1593 – 1633)
“The Collar”

I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
And I reply’d, My Lord.

Richard Crashaw
(1612 – 1649)
“The Flaming Heart”

O heart, the equal poise of love’s both parts,
Big alike with wounds and darts,
Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same,
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame;
Live here, great heart, and love and die and kill,
And bleed and wound, and yield and conquer still.
Let this immortal life, where’er it comes,
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms;
Let mystic deaths wait on ‘t, and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,
Upon this carcass of a hard cold heart,
Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combin’d against this breast, at once break in
And take away from me my self and sin;
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be,
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dow’r of lights and fires,
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove,
By all thy lives and deaths of love,
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they,
By all thy brim-fill’d bowls of fierce desire,
By thy last morning’s draught of liquid fire,
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz’d thy parting soul and seal’d thee his,
By all the heav’ns thou hast in him,
Fair sister of the seraphim!
By all of him we have in thee,
Leave nothing of my self in me:
Let me so read thy life that I
Unto all life of mine may die.

You Can’t Deny It

Posted: January 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

Pop star; fashion icon; not a girl, not yet a woman: Britney Spears can do it all, and in 2017 she added ‘artist’ to her impressive roster of titles after sharing a video of herself painting on Instagram. Now, a gallery in France has announced that it will be displaying the singer’s original artwork as part of her “first solo show”.

Galerie Sympa, in the southwestern village of Figeac, shared details of the exhibition on Instagram. “We’re thrilled to announce that we will be opening @britneyspears first solo show in a contemporary art gallery on Saturday January 18 2020, from 6-9PM.”

The show is titled Sometimes you just gotta play!!!!!! after the caption Spears gave her IG post, and will run “till the world ends” – a nod to her 2011 song of the same name.

This is most definitely worth reading.

“It was at Saint-Louis de Gonzague that he began to study philosophy, a compulsory subject in the final year of French high school. The first text he was assigned was Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy”; unlike “all the confusion of mathematics,” it immediately struck him as clear and perfectly rational.”

“His task was to find out why French companies, which still owned and operated many of the factories in postcolonial Abidjan, were having such difficulty recruiting ‘competent’ black executives. It took less than a day for Latour to realize that the premise was flawed. ‘The question was absurd because they did everything not to have black executives,’ he told me. In the French-run engineering schools, black students were taught abstract theories without receiving any practical exposure to the actual machinery they were expected to use. When they were subsequently unable to understand technical drawings, they were accused of having ‘premodern,’ ‘African’ minds. ‘It was clearly a racist situation,’ he said, ‘which was hidden behind cognitive, pseudohistorical and cultural explanations.'”

Fearing that I might have led students astray in last Thursday’s rant on Nietzsche’s essay, I did a little research to see if I could find scholarship to corroborate thoughts I improvised from materials I had tucked away in my memory. To my surprise and relief, I found some brilliant scholarship by esteemed historian Maria Stavrinaki, whose credentials could not be more impressive. Her work says essentially what I attempted to say in class, though she says everything far more clearly and completely than I ever could. I just finished reading her essay “‘We escape ourselves’: The invention and interiorization of the age of the earth in the nineteenth century“, and found it both highly instructive and genuinely exciting. Please consider having a look at her work.

Maria Stavrinaki is an habilitated Associate Professor in history of contemporary art at the Université Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is working at the crossroads of the art of modernity, human sciences and political thought. She is currently writing a book on the Modern uses of Prehistory (19th-21th c.), a topic on which she is also co-curating an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (May-September 2019). She has been a Fellow at the CCA (Montréal), IAS (Princeton), and the Clark Art Institute.

The idea of “prehistory” is a modern idea, invented in the 19th century. Discovered thanks to its materiality (fossils, geological layers, artifacts …), it raises perplexity and fascination in the modern era. Prehistoric discoveries are photographed, molded and reproduced countless times in publications, interfering in the popular imagination to inspire and question artists of the 20th and 21st century. Thus, the awareness of an artistic activity then the recognition of a parietal art haunt the greatest artists: Picasso, Miró but also Cézanne, Klee, Giacometti, Ernst, Beuys, Klein, Dubuffet, Smithson, Penone, Tacita Dean , Chirico, Moore, Nash, etc.