Archive for September, 2020

Look what showed in my email only moments ago. Seems that I’m not the only person with extinction on my mind. This lead was sent to me via the MIT Press news letter, the regular circular for my favorite publisher in America.

How humanity came to contemplate its possible extinction.

From forecasts of disastrous climate change to prophecies of evil AI superintelligences and the impending perils of genome editing, our species is increasingly concerned with the prospects of its own extinction. With humanity’s future on this planet seeming more insecure by the day, in the twenty-first century, existential risk has become the object of a growing field of serious scientific inquiry. But, as Thomas Moynihan shows in X-Risk, this preoccupation is not exclusive to the post-atomic age of global warming and synthetic biology. Our growing concern with human extinction itself has a history.

Tracing this untold story, Moynihan revisits the pioneers who first contemplated the possibility of human extinction and stages the historical drama of this momentous discovery. He shows how, far from being a secular reprise of religious prophecies of apocalypse, existential risk is a thoroughly modern idea, made possible by the burgeoning sciences and philosophical tumult of the Enlightenment era. In recollecting how we first came to care for our extinction, Moynihan reveals how today’s attempts to measure and mitigate existential threats are the continuation of a project initiated over two centuries ago, which concerns the very vocation of the human as a rational, responsible, and future-oriented being.

Extinction In Our Times

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

“More than two thirds of the world’s wild animals have disappeared over the past 50 years. You may not know that because it was barely reported on.”

For whatever reason, I decided this semester to leap from Wordsworth directly to Eliot, bypassing two important late-19th century authors I assigned to students last semester, Oscar Wilde and Friedrich Nietzsche. Each of them took great interest in the thought, still quite new in Victorian times, that all species, including the human species were destined to go extinct. Much of the discussion on this topic derived not only from Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), but also Lord Kelvin’s and Hermann von Helmholtz’s (1852) writing on the eventual heat death of the universe.

Wilde’s and Nietzsche writing are set agains this background of futility. Each asks what, in a world which is destined to extinction, makes life worth living? The thought of the ultimate extinction of all life was a shocking and depressing notion to most persons in the 19th century, even though they believed that the great cessation lay in the very distant future. It was at this point in history that the scholarly and artist communities were beginning to take very seriously the notion of deep space and deep time.

While deep time has again become a topic of intense scientific and artistic interest in the 21st century, eventual extinction no longer seems to us as a very distant event, but instead one looming dead ahead, potentially one we will live to witness first hand. Below you can examine a new documentary film by beloved British naturalist Sir David Attenborough on this very timely topic.

Friedrich Nietzche
“On Truth and Lies In A Non-Moral Sense”
(1878)

Oscar Wilde
Preface To Dorian Gray
(1890)

As a wildlife filmmaker, and a committed environmentalist, I’m delighted that this film has finally been made. And I’m impressed by the way this complex story has been put together.

After being shown that the current extinction rate is 100 times faster than natural evolution, we were introduced to the last two northern white rhinos, condemned to extinction, and to the Kenyan ranger whose job it is to look after them until they eventually perish.

From there, heavyweight international scientists from a range of disciplines described all the ways in which human activity is fuelling biodiversity loss across our planet.

Eliot and Experimental Psychology

Posted: September 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

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.

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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.)

Canon Formation, Canon Revision

Posted: September 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

Rembrandt von Rijn
Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer (1653)

Dear Students, we have already this semester discussed canon and canonicity with respect to the critical writings of T. S. Eliot. By “canon,” we mean at least two things:

1) the established and understood (though not necessarily written) set of rules whereby a given work of art can be recognized as valid and great, or the set of standards according to which an artist might produced a work of art which aspires to greatness.

2) the set of individual works (explicitly enumerated or otherwise) which have been accepted and set forth as exemplifying artistic greatness, and which function as standards against which all new works can be judged.

Canons, where they have been established, generally function to create a sense of collective identity, to draw together and maintain groups whose members are united by a common appreciation and respect for a body of works they view as authoritative. Most of the literature you read in high school – or are reading in college Humanities courses – will be have been taken from out of the established canon of great European and American literature – generally collected and presented in the form of anthologies. For many years, the Norton History of English, or American, Literature – currently edited by preeminent Shakespeare scholar and Harvard professor Steven Greenblatt – have been considered definitive. (In opposition to this, the modern Sciences, though they do have their own body of canonical writings, tend rather to be taught though textbooks – something about which you’ll hear me speak later.) But where there are group norms there are bound to arise disputes over what constitutes the norm and how one conforms to it properly, and where this is inclusion there is bound also to be exclusion. Since canons first began to appear, there have been disputes over what they do and ought to contain.

Today is no exception with regard to canon debates. Over the last decades, and particularly since the 1980s, a great debate has arisen in American universities regarding what taught ought to be taught to students (CLICK). As this country becomes increasingly diversified, and increasingly aware of its social diversity, many scholars have complained that the English literary canon canon is either too restrictive, insufficiently relevant, or entirely obsolete. Consequently, various efforts have arisen either to expand, revise or destroy the canon. In an effort to address these issues, the Norton company has in recent years begun to issue a series of “alternative” or supplementary anthologies, each representing a group of writers whose identities, interests and styles were thought grossly underrepresented in the dominant canon, which was composed predominantly of white males. These new volumes, though received well for the most part, have no emerged without controversy, and much of what is taught in Literature departments in colleges today involves not only the books contained in these modern canons but also the fiery debates surrounding their production.


Recently, I heard on the radio a broadcast featuring Amherst College professor Ilan Stavans, general editor of the most recent addition to the Norton family of literary anthologies – The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.

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The Accents of Latino Literature
NPR – On Point – Monday, September 13, 2010

Stavans, in his remarks, discussed the diverse group of cultures and historical periods from which he drew the texts he found representative of Latino literature. As in all prior cases of canon expansion and revision, Stavans will have made choices that will choice various parties either to rejoice or protest. This is almost inevitable, and these reactions are worthy of investigation and discussion. For now what should matter to us however, is the simply fact that standards do change, however gradually or rapidly, and that to remain culturally relevant ourselves we must be aware of these changes – both past and present.

What are your experiences with canons and canonicity? Has your education thus far taken the form of an inculcation into canonical literature, or has your education avoided the canon? If you have received such an education, do you feel that process represented an initiation into great culture, or rather a form of ideological indoctrination, or simply a waste of your time? Does your awareness of the literary canon, however recently acquired offer you comfort or distress?

I welcome and encourage all thoughtful responses.

Propeller (1937)

Rhythm (1938)

Rhythm Color no. 1076 (1939)

Issued by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jackson Pollock Jazz
1. Jelly Morton and His Red Hot Peppers – Beale Street Blues
2. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra – Lazy River
3. Louis Armstrong – Mahogany Hall Stomp
4. Count Basie and His Orchestra – One O’Clock Jump
5. Billie Holiday – I Got a Man Crazy For Me (He’s Funny)
6. Duke Ellington – Delta Serenade
7. Artie Shaw and Orch – It Had To Be You
8. Billie Holiday – When a Man Loves a Woman
9. Duke Ellington – Solitude
10. Fats Waller – Carolina Shout
11. Count Basie and Orch – Boogie Woogie
12. T Bone Waller – I Got a Break Baby
13. Lionel Hampton – Central Avenue Breakdown
14. Coleman Hawkins – Boff Boff (Mop Mop)
15. Coleman Hawkins – My Ideal
16. Lionel Hampton – Jack The Bellboy
17. Louis Armstrong – St. James Infirmary

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?

T. S. Eliot Video!

Posted: September 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

This project only took me fourteen hours. It’s now 5:AM. I hope I spent my time in a way that is interesting and helpful to you. Have a look!

Monuments of The Cubist Struggle

Posted: September 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

Here are images to help you read the ‘pasted-paper’ essay by Clement Greenberg. Good luck!

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

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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.

rope

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.

bal

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.

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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.

braque_fruitdish_glass

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.

guitar-1912

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.’

gls_bass

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.

picasso_violin-1

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.

Once I was asked in class if Greenberg would consider dance, in particular modern dance, to be a viable form of art. I wouldn’t say he would hate all ‘arty’ dance, though I must confess I believe his opinion of it would be relatively low. Serious thought and criticism doesn’t really have much to say about dance until a moment slightly after the one we’ve arrived at in our readings. It is the Jackson expressionism of Jackson Pollock, often called Action Painting, which clears up a space for bodily performance. Now, it was Greenberg in fact who discovered Pollock. But what Greenberg valued in Pollock’s paintings were their material and formal qualities, not their expressivity.

Rather than dance, Greenberg declares that it was only music which was powerful enough to break literature’s hegemonic control of other forms of art. So, what would Greenberg think of the music below? Would he consider it Art or Kitsch? And, why? Does this music remind us of what we heard in the Debussy tracks I posted earlier? In what ways does the music of Debussy, or that of the Russian composers I posted a few days ago, compare and contrast with the work of these Viennese composers?

(Please let me know if listening to music like this is interesting and helpful to you. It takes me a while to get this up here, but I’m certainly willing to make the necessary effort if you want me to.)

Reading For September 17th

Posted: September 14, 2020 in Readings

OK, I’m finally posting new readings. I didn’t want to leave anyone without electricity in the lurch, but I believe power has been restored in most places. Because we lost a whole week, we really need to get moving now and make up for lost time.

Here is our next author, Clement Greenberg. As was the case with Eliot, these readings will be somewhat challenging, but I hope you will find them worthwhile. An important thing to learn in college is that you don’t necessarily have to agree with a writer to find their work intriguing and instructive. Perhaps that will be so for you as your attempt to make sense of Greenberg. Good luck!




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)


I’m Aware of This Situation

Posted: September 11, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’m really not happy that our progress has slowed to a crawl. I don’t want to disadvantage persons who are still without power. This delay will force me to jettison a number of important readings, but as I have said earlier, while citing the famed communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, this semester the medium will have to be the message.

His my friend Nick playing chess with his mom by candlelight.

Published: 1 hour ago.

These past few days, when the sun sets over Salt Lake City, Nick Kuzmack pulls out a wooden, foldable chessboard his mother, Frances Rowsell, bought at a yard sale years ago. Then he lights some candles, and the two play a few games.

The chess game is a normal part of their routine. The candles are not.

Kuzmack and his 72-year-old mother have been without power in their home near Liberty Park since Tuesday, when hurricane-strength winds blew through northern Utah, toppling trees, hurling branches and downing power lines. At the most, more than 195,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers lost power. Now, crews have restored electricity to about 80% of them, but the last 20% will be tricky, President and CEO Gary Hoogeveen said at a Friday news conference.

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?

Just for the record, this stuff, the good stuff, is some of my favorite music, ever. Tchaikovsky? Yuck.

Uh, your grade will go up if you listen to these tracks. I might not even be kidding. If nothing else, you may as well get an education as long as you’re in coolidge. Just saying.

The vast interval separating the “out” and “in” should be self-evident. Just one comparison worth noting is the way that Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #1 sounds as if it were written as a deliberately ironic parody of Tchaikovsky’s very famous piano concerto. Perhaps listening to Prokofiev’s piece in isolation would not cause many people chuckle. But after hearing Prokofiev’s ironic take on the older composer’s aching pathos and pompous bluster, it’s hard to go back and listen to Tchaikovsky’s piano music without laughing out loud. I laughed anyway. Prokofiev, it must appear to us, is writing quite deliberately to render Tchaikovsky entirely obsolete, indeed ridiculous. What, to make another comparison and contrast, do we hear when listening to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” back to back with Tchaikovsky’s?”

Yuck!

Tchaik

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(1840 – 1898)

“Symphony Pathetique”
“Serenade For Strings”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D Major”
“Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor”
“Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture”

Cool!

alsop_prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev
(1891 – 1953)
“Romeo and Juliet – Introduction”
“Piano Concerto #1 in D-flat Major”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D”
“‘Classical’ Symphony #1 (Allegro)”
“Piano Sonata #7 in B-flat Major”
“Sinphonietta (Allegro Giacosso)”

Igor Stravinsky
(1882 – 1971)
“Dance of The Firebird”
“Petrouchka (Russian Dance)”
Violin Concerto #1 (Toccata)”



Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)
“Jazz Suite #1 – Foxtrot”
“String Quartet #2 in A Minor”
“Piano Concerto #1 (Allegretto)”
“Violin Concerto #1 (Nocturne)
“Violin Concerto #1 (Passacaglia)”

ryb

Piet Mondrian
Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921
Oil on canvas, 39 x 35 cm

More ‘Metaphysical’ Poetry

Posted: September 8, 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.

Metaphysical Poetry

Posted: September 8, 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].

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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.”

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”

Power Outage

Posted: September 8, 2020 in Uncategorized

Dear Students,

Last night’s hurricane-force winds took out all my electricity. Right now I have neither power for my desktop or Wifi for my laptop. If you don’t hear from me for the next little while, that is why. I’m only able to write this now on my phone, which is losing power as well.

Please be patient. Though I have little control over the weather or the utilities companies, I’ll do my best to get back up and running as soon as possible. I hope you all weathered the storm and are feeling safe and secure.

If you have special concerns, you can email me. As long I my battery lasts, I will try to get back to you.

Best wishes, Brian

My anthropologist and activist friends are feeling this deeply.

(click image to read full story)

Things are FAR more active over on my IT 2810 blog, though I do see some slight indication of an upward trend in 2108. Will students here continue to step it up, or will they trickle off in to mediocrity and C grades. That’s up to you to decide. Good luck!