Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New email address...

New email address. My last one is swamped with spam lately. I will begin deleting all mail sent to the old account in a week.

from Councourse G, Gate 22

*Well, we are now attempting to get home from Minneapolis to Denver; hopefully, all will work out and we'll be sitting on the couch with our animals this evening. Andrea has a latte and I a mocha.

*Susan Sontag dies at 71. From what I have read, so far, the press will botch her obits as successfully they did Derrida's. She will be encased as the scholar who criticized US reaction to 9/11. Grossly misrepresenting the significance of her work nevermind the real crux of her critique in the _New Yorker_.

*For any local readers: I will dj New Year's Eve at The Red Room, 10pm-2am. No door charge. Look for fliers about DJ 6d8 bringing in the New Year with a Freakbeat Soundtrack in 4/4 time. The Red Room is on Colfax between Grant and Logan. I will drop my gear off at around four on Friday and then head over to Peter and Karla's for the early moments of their celebration.

*Will be at the CEA and Narrative conferences in April, in Indianapolis and Louisville respectively. Papers on Mary Robinson and Spike Lee. Talk about difference.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

We had troubles getting to Ohio for the big family gathering at Xmas:
broken engines, missing flight crews, extremely late connections, missing
baggage; yet, we made it to Cincinnati on time. Now
we are stuck in Minneapolis, not a flight to Denver, for two days.

Tsunamis make all of this insignificant.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

on the real...

From Jay Thomas (Bad with Titles):
Consider a representational painting, say, of a dog chasing a ball. The dog may not be a real dog, and the ball may not be a real ball, but what about the chasing? I want to say this: the chasing is real and, moreover, the sense of the painting, its capacity to cohere into something other than a jumble of unrelated patches of color, hinges upon the reality of the chasing which it embodies.
Question: How is "the chasing" real?

The conversation about the chasing is certainly real and ongoing. The conversation about the chasing is concurrent with the reality of the painting itself. We can go there to see it. But the chasing itself? Isn't "the chasing" a name, not a real? --"The Chasing" is a name for an event revealed but always already passed into interpretation, at best, recollection, at least. The attempt to capture--to freeze in perpetuity a perspective--is real only in the sense that we can attempt to capture it. Once captured, it is a document: that one perspective ably reproduced according to means and desired amount.

"The reality of the chasing" (which the painting embodies, to use Jay's words) also assumes that a useful manner exists to put a dog and a ball into relationship with the other in space, regardless of time. But that reality is not just the material ingredient for its self-composition. That reality, unnamed and instantaneous, includes the viewer who must be in an appropriate position both physically and psychologically to see the dog chasing the ball. The relationship, if presented with skill, will be "a dog chasing a ball" but never "the dog chasing the ball." Language wouldn't work right if it were that one dog always chasing that specific ball. The quality of the real is not based in a static reality but in all the possible chasings that it approximates for all people at any given time.

The reality of your home, for example, is not the house itself. It is the house and in addition all the things you ever have and will come to want it to be and in subtraction all the things you have not wanted it to and will not want it to become yet it is or will be anyway. This might be called the housing of your house.

The chasing, then, is phenomenal and brings out of the painting as a communicable idea that a dog can chase a ball and this one may be chasing that ball. It also stirs associations we recollect in connection with chasing. The chase has a look. But the chasing is not real it is at best a potential view. Always fleeting.

Might the reality of the chasing be the reality of the repressed? What I see is in many ways always a return. I may not see the chasing. I may see the looking--my looking at the painting, my painting the painting, or my looking at the dog's looking at the ball. Moreover, I may see the people looking at the painting further down the hall.

The chasing may, in the end, be representative of my ability to see anything at all. As such a view, it represents a challenge to the real. It says, "You, real, are only able to reside in language, in my ability to say it is so. The rest is struggling to say what I mean."

Presidential Verisimilitude

Time Magazine named President George W. Bush "Person of the
Year" and praised him for "reframing reality to match his

new link

Added Tony Tost's audio blog for poetry, Spaceship Tumblers, to Dagzine's sidebar.

Monday, December 20, 2004

On Tropic Verisimilitude

Friedrich Nietzsche’s definition of the free spirit is grounded in the hopeful appearance of future philosophers whom he refers to as “experimenters” (Beyond Good and Evil, Sect42). In his lecture “The Relation of the Rhetorical to Language,” he explains the essence of language is not truth but the “power to discover” and “to make operative that which works and impresses”. In other words,
Language does not desire to instruct, but to convey to others a subjective impulse and its acceptance. Man, who forms language, does not perceive things or events, but impulses: he does not communicate sensations, but merely copies of sensations. The sensation, evoked through a nerve impulse, does not take in the thing itself: this sensation is presented externally through an image.
If we are to consider the relationship of art to truth, then we must be willing to give up the notion that truth is attainable as a thing that can be grasped, held, and cherished. Truth is not a thing. If it were, we would examine an image of truth not truth itself.

Vladimir Nabakov, with his novel Pale Fire, purposefully confuses the relationship between a text as a presentation of a possible thing itself and the image one reader has of it and its author. In his foreword to John Shade’s poem Pale Fire, Charles Kinbote writes as if he knows how Shade intended to end his poem and, therefore, edit it for publication. (This example adds poignancy to my use of Nietzsche above. His later notebooks were turned (tropic, indeed) into Will to Power, a text that misrepresents many of his later ideas and writing.) After Kinbote explains how he believes the poem should have looked like had Shade finished, he writes:
Knowing Shade’s combinational turn of mind and subtle sense of harmonic balance, I cannot imagine that he intended to deform the faces of his crystal by meddling with its predictable growth.
Nabakov writing as Kinbote writing on behalf of Shade provides a clue to what a “combinational turn of mind” looks like, but Nabakov doesn’t explain what the turn means. Whatever interpretations readers bring to his novel, the search for a more or less true representation of what is intended by the reading about an author writing about a man editing a poem that all of us readers together read together will only ever increase in complexity. Interpreting our reading of readings is a kind of discourse that refuses to be confined by simple logic. Logic limits discourse to a set of known parameters and accepted constants that always allows us to find any unknown variables on our own.

The discourse of verisimilitude is not containable within any set of parameters. After explaining to his future readers how he thinks Shade would have finished Pale Fire, Kinbote shares with us a recollection of the poet with the note cards on which he wrote drafts of his work:
I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies of that backyard auto-da-fé.
As Nietzsche reflects in his lectures from 1872-1873, the thing about language is that it is, like Kinbote, more concerned with translating its impulses and seeking some acceptance for its creative excesses. The truth that Kinbote relays to me lies more in his image of Shade at the incinerator than it does in his knowledge about the facts about Shade’s work. Kinbote’s recollection certainly betrays about his disregard for accuracy; moreover, it illustrates his inability to differentiate between the thing itself and his image of it. (This is, of course, an important issue in literary studies. We all know colleagues who are more interested in the return-of-the-repressed impulses as well as their recollections of reading and learning experiences than they are in giving a good hard look at the discourse itself. In other words, there are those who believe in magic and mysticism and those who study language.)

Kinbote introduces readers to tropics. His foreword and commentary on Pale Fire is a study in tropics. He constitutes that object he claims to discuss realistically and objectively. Hayden White, in his Tropics of Discourse, appeals to us to see discourse as tropical rather than logical because discourse slips from “the grasp of logic [and] constantly ask[s] if logic is adequate to capture the essence of its subject matter” (4). He proposes a turn away from the dialectical—reasoning that is used to determine (over- and under-) what is more or less true—towards the diatactical—reasoning that is as self-critical as it is critical of others, that is critical of “the syntactical middle-ground itself,” and that is willing to doubt all tactical rules “governing its own formation.” Diatactical reasoning demands an acknowledgment that a text is merely a representation; therefore, the correspondence of events to actual truth in any narrative become less important than the art through which the facts that construct the truth are put into action.

Plato explicitly sets truth above representation. Persuasion, as rhetoric, is not capable of telling the truth only presenting the facts according to a style that suits an author’s needs. We may present facts in order to represent truth to others, but this situation relies on the construction of a narrative that depends on verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is quite simply truth-likeness.

We tend to use images of things in correspondence to determine truth. Truth is the relation of X to a picture of X, whatever the nature of X and its picture might be. The Scholastic definition is veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus. (“Truth is the equality of the thing and the mind.” I use a scholastic definition because it leads into my discussion of Stephen Dedalus’s aesthetics of stasis below.) Verisimilitude is a turn of discourse through which authors and readers-- artists and spectators; speakers and listeners—seek adequate apprehension of truth in art so authors can rely on readers accepting their narratives as possible. Verisimilitude in fiction permits authors to face truth authentically without worrying about the facts of the case. Art persuades individuals to challenge their preconceived notions of truth. Art is somewhere between the true and the false.

A text, no matter how close a likeness, always adds or subtracts to what actually happened at any given time; consequently, the relationship of history to the novel is problematic. White argues that “[h]istory came to be set over against fiction, and especially the novel, as the representation of the ‘actual’ to the representation of the ‘possible’ or only ‘imaginable’” (123). I argue that the novel is as much a representation of the actual as the historical can be because both require readers to accept as more or less true the content as it is prior to engaging a text.

Henry James complains that the novel form is asked to apologize and “renounce the pretension of attempting to really represent life” (346). For him, the novel is an “attempt to represent life.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his Preface to The House of the Seven Gables, explains why his work should be considered a romance instead of a novel. He argues the novel form aims at “a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary cause of man’s experience” (vii). In other words, novels use verisimilitude to illustrate moments of believable, ordinary experience. For both Hawthorne and James, then, the novel is always in relation to truth. We might even be convinced to read “minute” not as small or modest, but as precise.

Hawthorne claims the novel is a work of art through which the author exercises choice:
[W]hile, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart [Romance] has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation.
Novelists attempt to meet specific demands determined by the market and the human heart. Hawthorne’s prose intends to connect a “by-gone time” with a present tale that is by nature fleeting. He claims to leave the significance of the past to the whim of his readers.

His problem and plea are authentic. How can he, using verisimilitude, represent something true about the past through characters living in the present? He uses a haunting, which is precisely the past inhabiting the present. He uses a haunted house, which is precisely the presence of a thing in a place that extends from the past into the future without much expected change, carrying along with it the weight of a deed in history. Hawthorne’s gesture to verisimilitude, his fidelity to moment and truth in his art, exists in his representation of an actual locale—from people, families, and communities to houses, streets, and towns. Readers will evaluate his tale based on the probable likeness of these elements (not the ghost story) in comparison to what they know of similar elements as much as they will evaluate his art.

If the approach to a narrative by author and reader alike is an agreement to work out the likelihood of events taking place or having taken place, then both parties must have reached some agreement about what things should look like and how events should occur. We share an implicit agreement how to properly see things in the world. We expect certain things to appear in certain ways. Such expectation takes a social form and an aesthetic form and both affect the way we relate to supposed truths through art. Our expectations illustrate the important role art plays in the comprehension of truth.

Kate Chopin was ruthlessly criticized for creating Edna Pontellier, who failed to meet her social obligations as a mother and wife. In a “mock-apology” for The Awakening, Chopin claims she “never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things.” As Nancy Walker notes, “the reviewers themselves seemed unable to regard Edna as a fictional creation” (Chopin 170). The verisimilitude in The Awakening arouses debate about social issues through its narrative about a woman who doesn’t exist, and exhibits how author and reader can agree to see things similarly and so approach the truth of how things actually are.

The failure to miss Chopin’s point must not be over-determined. Edna Pontellier is as much aesthetic exploration as she is social critique. Until her “awakening,” Edna is always at the whim of powerful, private, and passing impressions:
She slept but a few hours. They were troubled and feverish hours, disturbed with dreams that were intangible, that eluded her, leaving only an impression upon her half-wakened senses of something unattainable.
An impression is a passive response to a sensation; in its simplest form, it is a transitory acknowledgment of a state of affairs from a subjective point of view. (I do not wish to complicate my essay and confuse my readers with notions of technical terms from art and art history; so, a little explanation on word choice seems appropriate. I am using impression and expression in the sense that both terms are used in addressing peculiar aesthetic responses. If I were merely speaking of a social form of verisimilitude, then I might make better use of terms like private and public in context with positive communicative acts. As it is, I am not implying anything concerning the history of Impressionism and Expressionism in painting and film in this essay.) Her impressions are undercut through the latter half of the novel when her emotional state is violently altered. Readers are asked to consider (even though they rejected the offer when the book was initially published) Edna’s state of mind from an aesthetic perspective. From subjective and fleeting points of view, Chopin constructs a highly personal and radically different way of looking at everyday reality. In sharp contrast to restless sleep and bad dreams, Edna wakes from a nap with “the conviction that she had slept long and soundly.” She eats and drinks food and wine left for her:
Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing into it with her strong, white teeth. She poured some of the wine into the glass and drank it down. Then she went softly out of doors, and plucking an orange from the low-hanging bough of a tree, threw it at Robert, who did not know she was awake and up.
The narrative itself is now far less concerned with telling a tale than it is in grasping its image for us to hold onto for a while.

Stephen Dedalus discusses just this aesthetic response to the radiance of a thing or event in Part V of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While developing his thesis on “esthetics” to his friend Lynch, Stephen mentions quidditas, the whatness of a thing. Authors not only wish to convey to readers something they will understand because it relates to the truth of things; they desire to convey the “supreme quality” felt when an image is initially conceived in the imagination. Stephen describes this instant as “the clear radiance of the esthetic image…apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness” or “the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, …the enchantment of the heart” (Joyce 231).

We depend on the novel to document reality in a manner that engages reader and author in a conversation about the truth about what happens in a text. Verisimilitude, in this case, is probability. Readers are encouraged to endure moments of stasis in aesthetic pleasure after the manner of an artist’s experience. These moments erupt into the public space of narrative whenever an object radiates through a text in expressionistic descriptions that leave more than a subjective point of view. In this way, the use of verisimilitude runs the risk of straining credulity through its portrayal of an abundance of descriptive detail that may go beyond a reader’s experience (hence, the document.)

Novel moments are often considered self-contained. Carlo Ginzburg, in his study of a sixteenth-century miller, argues that his subject unconsciously placed a screen between himself and the printed page, “a filter that emphasized certain words while obscuring others, that stretched the meaning of a word, taking it out of context.” This screen “leads us back to a culture that is different from the one expressed on the printed page” (33). Ginzburg illustrates the problem a writer encounters during an attempt to recover an oral culture not recorded so that we can, as students of the sixteenth century, know to what extent “we can consider such an unusual figure” typical.

Ginzburg’s problem is engaging. If knowledge and understanding (phronesis) are intuitive paths to familiarize the unfamiliar, then we may be able to use verisimilitude to work out the gaps that exist in such studies. In novels, these problems are allowed space—literally, the production of textual space depends on what needs to be composed and is not limited to what has been recorded—to work themselves out.

In Absalom, Absalom!, Quentin Compson endures Rosa Coldfield’s testimony; he listens to his father fill in the gaps of her tale; he shares the story with his college friend. The discourse of the novel turns on the need for the listener to have specific questions answered, but all originate with the desire of one woman to tell her version of the history of a tragic event. Faulkner refers to Quentin inhabiting a “long unamaze.” For Quentin the tale really has no beginning or end.
It (the talking, the telling) seemed (to him, to Quentin) to partake of that logic- and reason-flouting quality of a dream which the sleeper knows must have occurred, stillborn and complete, in a second, yet the very quality upon which it must depend to move the dreamer (verisimilitude) to credulity—horror or pleasure or amazement—depends as completely upon a formal recognition of and acceptance of elapsed and yet-elapsing time as music or a printed tale.
For the narrative to work, for its purpose to be conveyed, it needs more than being told—more than what is being told having already happened. The peculiar state of being for a tale is that, once read, it has always already happened and was always there that way. Rosa’s tale, unlike Faulkner’s novel, lacks verisimilitude; her story is a long unamaze. Quentin isn’t moved by her indictments. Her attempt at documenting history is truly false.

The seeming of a logic- and reason-flouting dream, a tropic dream that participates in verisimilitude, appears to occur instantaneously. Raimundo Silva is a proofreader in José Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon. He takes it upon himself to create a personal relationship with history and its documentation. His comments below sound like a reflection on Faulkner’s narrative point and Quentin Compson’s dilemma:
Why, in this history accepted as being true, must I myself invent another history so that it might be false and false so that it may be different…He realized until he overcame the problem he would make no progress, and was surprised, accustomed as he was to books in which everything seemed fluent and spontaneous, almost essential, not because it was effectively true, but because any piece of writing, good or bad, always ended up appearing like a predetermined crystallisation….
Saramago repeats this sentiment throughout his novel: literature already existed before it was born. Verisimilitude, in this case, is a process marked by pre-crystallized moments of time, not simply historical events. If we accept that all accounts are merely perspectives and use verisimilitude as a means to discourse about the object in question—for Raimundo Silva, the history of the siege of Lisbon, for Edna Pontellier, an “awakening,” for Carlo Ginzburg, Menocchio the miller, for Stephen Dedalus, a few sentences from Aristotle in his primer—time becomes a thing that serves a diatactical purpose.

The novel, like history, documents an attitude directing the attention of readers somewhere useful. Daniel Defoe opens A Journal of the Plague Year with a sentiment designed to attenuate how we stretch the screen between his text and his readers (see Ginzburg’s mention of Menocchio’s screen above):
I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of Moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same Distress, and to the same Manner of making their Choice and therefore I desire this Account may pass with them, rather for a Direction to themselves to act by, than a History of my actings, seeing it may not be of one Farthing value to them to note what became of me.
And after all, it isn’t of value for us to note what became of the narrator of A Journal. Instead, we still read it for the account of what happened in that moment. In this way, we are directed to read it and other records of that time as representations of what did happen.

Nietzsche heralds a new philosopher who experiments. As Ginzburg notes about his sixteenth-century miller, we cannot know what Menocchio used to interpret the texts and customs he confronted; we can only know what was recorded concerning what he said. In this way, it seems that fiction in whatever form is a discourse that is pre-crystallized. In other words, once written, it is always already there. The reader, then, enters into a discourse with an author about a document’s social and aesthetic forms that, through the author’s use of verisimilitude, may be more or less persuasive. Readers tend to make the mistake that Kinbote does while reading Pale Fire. What is there, in the document, is there and that is the crystallized substance. It isn’t incomplete. To speak about something more is tempting. And what we are tempted to experiment with is not what happened or what will happen. We experiment with the image of things, and as we look at art objects in galleries from different perspectives to get better views, we engage in discourse not for the logical rigor the looking permits, but for the tropical nature of verisimilitude that allows us to behold the pale fire of the thing itself, as it were, vanishing in the flames of an incinerator. We only too happily destroy it.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Ed. Nancy A. Walker. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage Int’l, 1990.

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Trans. John and Anne Tedeschi. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Preface by the Author.” The House of the Seven Gables. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” Tales of Henry James. Ed. Christof Wegelin. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1984.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

Nabakov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. New York: Vintage Int’l, 1989.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

_____. Friedrich Nietzsche on Language and Rhetoric. Ed. & Trans. Sander L. Gilman, Carole Blair, and David J. Parent. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Saramago, José. The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Trans. Giovanni Pontiero. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. 4th ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1990.

Friday, December 17, 2004

feeling better...i hate the feeling--not having done much in the past few weeks, and getting to it can be tough, facing my self.

cleaning my house is the beginning and then the compulsions simply take over.
we'll see, won't we

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Well, yesterday's post is thought-gathering. I am not at all sure that I am content with any of the claims made. As I stated in that post, I am merely attempting to get the chatter going again, and to figure out what I want to address at all. Since September, my life has been a mind-numbing series of activities and now I can get back to business.

Laura wants to know more about what I think about Craft and Expression. I will try to get some of it out below.

--As far as the craft of literary art is concerned, I do know one thing: Craft isn't simply in the doing or producing. The writerly craft is not in-vent-ing. I heard an author on a local college station last night. She encourages writers to feel free to write the biggest lie and to fill that lie with as much truth as possible. Unfortunately, I find that folks consider writing to be fiction and fiction to mean a lie. Fiction is not lying, it is recollection.

Her idea is writing as a hoax, a grift, a spectacle--not the document that is produced but writing itself. Writerly craft is form-ing something out of something not Creating something out of nothing. This much I know.

From Nick Piombino's Theoretical Objects (Green Integer 34):

"Fourth Silent Manifesto (01/01/01)":
I the person had so much to say, while the author only wished silence.

So much to say about the spectacle of everyday life. But that saying is spectacle, is information, not Craft. I think of Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget. His is a record, a kind of document, and even his document of his every (almost) movement is a kind of recollection. Is it possible to mute the immutable?--in order to get to the form of thought.
I the person had problems like anybody else--sick of paying bills, tired of pains in the feet, no time to read and more importantly no time to think, eating too much and worrying too much...
while I the author has different problems like what are my themes, is death for real, what is the nature of time, are my characters in conflict, do my sentences get to the point, am I boring, am I popular, is my book a good read...

The "I" is a singular identity, and this identity while similar in attitude approaches each task differently. That which is crafted is real and formed from some thing already there. The appearance of what is crafted is itself phenomenological in nature. That which is written is not only revealed to readers but first to an author. Craft is visible, and Piombino's authorial concerns about being popular, about an agent lying, about conflict and time, are each human concerns that develop out of real interaction in the present tense. "The author has problems..." I, the person like every other person, is invisible not because of identity, but because of difference. Thinking of any kind requires a withdrawal from the subject matter at hand. This is a private experience for the author; for the person it is public and does obliterate the self as a unique individual. I among so many others exactly like me (like-ness) who look and feel nothing like me. Oblivion and historicized: past tense: "I the person had problems." This is an immanently present past.

Craft is presence. Craft forms. Craft is silent. Authors write to present; people talk past one another.

From "Automatic Manifesto #5":
Nothing more bitter or hard to taste than a new poem. Yet poets live in the delirium of new poems. The intoxication of the new consists, in part, of its role of proferring evidence of aliveness of the form and the experiential actualities of the present.

Piombino's claim about form reminds me of Hazlitt on Gusto. It is a romantic claim. The new proves itself in the present. Craft is (or should be) so intoxicating. My comments about prosody--Much easier to count through a poem than to imbibe in or with it. My question has always been "What is the poem for?" or "What is a poet?" I often treated the two questions as if they sought the same answer. Not anymore. The action in Craft permits the present eruption of form--in other words, two events occur for a poem to become a poem, no matter what we think a proper poem is, no matter what form we champion.
Human work consists of learning to remember. But first we must learn to allow that all of us--and everything--exists at the same time.
The poem asks: where is the poem? Where is the poetry located? The poet first identifies a significant event amounting to an obsession. Is a truth to be found here? Yes, because this is what the surroundings themselves consist of.

So, two events occur for the poem to be a poem: 1) An allowance/acceptance (I suppose one might repress this) of contemporaneity which in turn permits substance and revelation an invitation; and 2) A recognition of consistency where the poem is located.

Craft, then, is a means to unrestrict and unrepress the time being for the sake of the Craft itself.

Piombino also claims the reader can do nothing other than embrace or be embraced (Automatic Manifesto #8). I like this: the reader as a machine with an active and passive state: the reader, therefore, as always present and in perspective with a document. But the reader reads documents not authors. And we often ask "Who do you read?" It's a cop out, a move away from the responsibilities that come with the embrace. "What do you read?"--Well, this question requires a knowledgable answer, a solution that is neither correct nor incorrect rather experienced. Readers who read authors rather than works need not embrace any thing at all because authors are always absent. Narrative becomes a hindrance, Prosody a religion: Celebrity and Spectacle govern as we loook for the poet doing the new.

From Andrew Joron's Fathom (Black Square Press, 2003):
What good is poetry at a time like this? It feels right to ask this question, and at the same time to resist the range of predictable answers, such as: Poetry is useless, therein lies its freedom. Or, poetry has the power to expose ideology; gives a voice to that which has been denied a voice; serves as a call to action; consoles and counsels; keeps the spirit alive.

All of the above answers are true, yet somehow inadequate. This is because poetryy cannot be anything other than inadequate, even to itself. Where language fails, poetry begins. Poetry forces language to fail, to fall out of itself, to become something other than itself.

A kind of topological fold or failure (called a "catastrophe" in mathematics) precedes the emrgence--constitutes the emergency--of the New. If poetry "makes language new," then it must be defined as the translation of emergency.

If poetry is a force that language reckons with, an event that allows language to "fall out of itself," then poetic form may carry the potential to get at representing thought through language. Readers and Writers embrace a middle-Craft of reading through language--past the form of language--to get at the form of thought. We know this, I think, but we often refuse to cultivate the practice. Poetics typically dwells in either the celebrity of the new poet or the religion of prosodic occurences.

Poetry dwells outside--hides from in many circumstances--thought because it is rooted in the market. The recognition that "There is no market for (my) poetry" is the confession that "Poetry is located there." Language--as a form of positive communicative action--is market driven. Thought, its eruptions into the market, is always new, always redirects language, always emerges. Poetry, then, as on-going presence.

Craft, then, is the place where the ethics happens. Authors choose to revel in the spectacle of the market--writing about boredom, social policy, commercialism, celebrity, private experience(s)--which are many different forms of writing (hence not one choice, but many, and poetry as materialism.) Nevertheless, authors can choose (learn to choose) to remember. Recollection incorporates the new into lines that become disinterested in the self and experienced in the world. In this manner, Craft allows spectacle, which is meaningful and right hand of the market, to whither away, and the author to get to language and thought.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

the archive and the artist (gathering my thoughts)

to begin:

I didn't receive an MFA like most of my colleagues in the PhD program at University of Denver. Though I study poetics and write poetry, I am in the fiction program. I studied American High Modernism, Gender and History, and Film Theory for my MA.

For a history class, I began researching women's health and hygiene guides, late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Until WWI guides for boys and men were nearly non-existent. The market for health and hygiene (if you exclude "self-help" Samuel Smiles styles from this market and some might not--of course, I am talking bodies not minds--)the market for health and hygiene guides was limited to guides for wives, daughters, and girls. Rarely was the word women used. Each guide offered a preface that grounded the approach to women's bodies into appropriate socio-religious contexts. The guides contained info that determined everything from proper posture and clothing to diet and education: not only what kind of walks but for how long. I don't want to over-summarize the colonization of women's bodies; I merely want to show why I brought up the archive discussion during my gender discussion a few posts ago.

Our bodies are prefaced, and the mechanism of the preface should not be seen as automatic. We cooperate with how bodies are produced; or, I would like to submit that we conflate the representation with the thing itself. We do this through interpretation and rhetoric. The ways women should sit, eat, read, etc., and the way women--according to Michael Davidson--need to be absent are documents (documents because each aspect has a history) from the archive Women's Bodies. Each document, in this case, is used in rhetoric to teach us how to see "looking backward." The Gender--female--relates the body itself to its socially constructed archive backwards. After all, the body does come first. In every case--in each preface--a woman's "healthy" body is needed in some manner or position to allow for the arrival of a new, male subject. Davidson's claim, though problematic, is a safe bet.

Fast Forward for a moment (b/c I have to give my last philosophy lecture of the fall semester in a bit and need to prepare):

Separating the Archive from the Artist is necessary--the document from the body. This separation does not already exist; on the other hand, it is not an impossible nor an impractical goal. Artists is traditionally viewed as products of their work. We learn about our literary artists through criticism--can be NYTimes book reviews or a theoretical text. Even in graduate workshops and lit courses, mature students of the craft of writing and reading actively confuse the product with the artist. Nevertheless, I don't see the point in speaking of a death of the author, of a reader-created text. I want to keep labor involved in our aesthetics. The work, then, needs to be viewed as a different event than the publishing of the document, and this in turn needs to be viewed as a different event than the archive of all such documents.

In the case of Poetry and Poetics, the confusing of craft and critique has made it tough for the market to see the need for a pure poet and this has constructed a market in which many young poets do not see the need to learn craft properly (b/c it is associated with a corrupt market.) We all know poets--some actively publishing--who know absolutely nothing of Poetry. This is not a viscious circle or a slippery slope; the situation is a form a stasis.

What is a poet? We try to answer this question through example rather than through discourse. Because we conflate the poet and the poem, we often look for a person who represents the potential for a new arrival. At its worst, this process of locating the new seeks a group of local poets who perform similar tasks and uses that group as proof of an arrival.

"What is a poet?" is a question of definition, after all, not a question of fact. Its potential answers lead one to interpretation and documents, not to the poets themselves. At any rate, if one attempts to point out individuals (as do Hank Lazer, Marjorie Perloff, and Ron Silliman, among many others,) then one authorizes a style, a voice--and in a very significant way, this is paramount: poetry is performance and does unite a reader with a writer.

Poetry is an everyday event; it is there. Poets know this. Verse is fashioned out of the senses. So much poetry currently available is fashioned out of tutored forms. But Form without Experience is worthless. Nothing like listening to a young poet read a masterful (of form) poem about experiences that he or she can not possibly understand. Thus, the poem becomes a hoax or merely spectacle. Cute.

Study the sound and copy. We resist interpretation and improvisation.

Such manufacturing--because it is like factory work based upon cooperation between artist and apprentice--takes the necessary verse forms and the necessary literary artist writing lines in verse and produces poetry for the critics. Projective verse is a form that absolutely resists such production values; Language poetry tries. But here we are still dealing with TS Eliot's comments on tradition and talent...

If we can figure out a way to allow new subjects to emerge and produce bodies prior to the existence of an archive for their work, then we can figure out a way to cultivate a craft worth producing without the need for a market. The market is fueled by products that meet the satisfaction of sovereign consumer-critics. The market is shaped by the interaction between the consumer and the business owner (a publisher, for example.) Writers producing in the market must meet demands based on an interpretation of already produced texts. That isn't how we write. Yet the market is where we publish. We may be in dialogue with the tradition; we may even be in studied conversation with a specific artist or form; we do not, however, fill-in-the-blanks. But that is what the market is all about. Ful-Filling a demand.

So, I am babbling. I am working in a reflective manner here; I want to figure out this work/archive : body/document issue; I believe the discussion needs to be about LOCATION. When we materialize the problem, we gain one important tool. We must talk about any ideology as imaginary and possibly false representation of real conditions of work, and we must rethink our (ab)use of FORM.

Instead of pointing to the poets emerging who do new things with old forms, which is a useful discussion, we might benefit more from a look at the poet in the world rather than the poet after work. Building a community out of which poetry is a vocation not a gift (taking into account the troubled economies of The Gift) takes understanding (it isn't the old understanding either) how "a" poet lives at "a" given time. And we might benefit from keeping that examination separate from the critique of that poet's verse. Hence, we have poets and writing about poets. We have the lives of poets. In addition, we have poetics. In this manner, the poet can be de-mystified.

It relates, Thomas, doesn't it? If we require women to be absent in the discourse and publication of 1950s literary art, for example, then we imply ONE DEFINITION FOR ALL WOMEN. We seem to have the same problem with authors. ONE DEFINITION. For poets, we are given a lack of definition and the claim is made that they need it because thoughts are formless and poetry forms them through turning language. But this is strictly nonsense. Thoughts are not formless; they are individual.

I must admit. I gave up dedicated study of poetry and began writing prose because I have more freedom now. I hated most arguments about prosody. Prosody has such potential but is typically treated as a religion or (worse) a science. I don't think we should blame the market. I think it is up to us to make the discourse about poetry be solid and useful and illuminating. And it is up to us to illuminate the variety of poets. In other words, there is the body and the form: one estimates, exaggerates, imitates even, the other if used properly. Form does not exist on its own within breath. Music isn't the document. We accept this. Why not with poetry? Or any writing. With Music: the composer, the composition, the performance, the reaction, the history of performances and reactions. All exist in the market independently unless desired otherwise. With poetry: the poet, everything is the poet.

I am collecting ideas here to put together in discussion with YOU. I recognize the above is a bit scattered. But that makes it easier for somebody else to provide a worthwhile line of flight...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

last batch of comp essays

Well, I am collecting my last batch of comp essays from students at Metropolitan State College of Denver. I have worked them hard--and they have kept me busy.

I am teaching creative writing at University of Colorado at Denver beginning in the Spring (adjunct, of course.) I have serious composition burn-out. Teaching it Spring, Summer, and Fall for five years, 3-5 courses a term since '99. Makes me want to holler.

So I did. Now on with it.

On deck: Amy King's Antidotes for an Alibi and more on Michael Davidson's Guys Like Us, esp regarding to Thomas Basboll's comments on my initial post on Davidson's claim concerning women and new, male subjects.


Thursday, December 02, 2004


My story, "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (limited stops)," in Matter, Issue 5 (isbn0974199923)

Wolverine Farm Publishing

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Reading: Andrew Joron, Fathom (Black Square)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blog Crush List

Does everybody apologize for doing this the first time? (I feel bad about this only 'cause I read my sidebar at every chance)

Blog crush No 1:

Wood S Lot
Hounds of No (gone for awhile and back, like me)
Bad with Titles
Blue Revisions
Brand New Insects (had fun at frequency, and I have a great photo of the readers I'll post)
Cahiers de Corey (what about the aubergine thing?)
fait accompli
Never Neutral
The Ingredient
The Pangrammaticon
Unquiet Grave


you think you kind of get to know a person through her blog and yet you fail her quiz horribly.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

some ideas revolving around a text

From Michael Davidson's Guys Like Us:
While women were often absent from the centers of artistic and intellectual life in general during the 1950s, their absence in these groups was a structural necessity for the liberation of a new, male subject.

While I am overall pleased with Davidson's book (I am working on a review and will share where it can be found when published,) I am dismayed with this claim.

Gender is not necessary for the arrival of a gendered subject; gender itself is not gendered. Gender is language's container for thoughts about bodies. These thoughts are only ever uttered and are only never embodied. A body never is what its gender says it should be. When I talk about male, female or man, woman or masculine, feminine I talk about the talk-about-bodies not the bodies themselves. In other words, I address a form.

The problem, then, with Davidson's qualification through necessity is that women, as subjects, have to be(come) absent each moment they appear in order to make room for any new subject. This qualification might expose the sexism in American popular culture--the recording of culture, the process of enculturation, what have you--nevertheless, the qualification re-enacts or re-instates the sexist mode of discourse because it refuses to allow for the appearance of a female object. Davidson insists that the female subject is there, pushed away, hidden, purposefully; yet, he allows the new, male subject to become the useful object of study to reinvigorate the study of 1950s literature. The female subject is not allowed to be recongized, therefore, to be confronted. This suppression may be a form of repression; I don't know. Quite frankly, I find the whole issue confusing. However, I do know that powerful subjects are objectified through their own discourse. The "I" is always rejuvinated or recuperated through its becoming "Me" or "Myself." Well-meaning feminist critics often prohibit female subjects Me-ness in order to expose the sexist act or practice. But this exhibition/exposition/compositon of the female body concretizes it as a subject with a peculiar place in any discourse.

My question for Davidson would be, why make this claim? Why do we need to excuse the subject of a book about "Guys" with a plea for the need for the exlusion of women from the center?

Though Davidson is admittedly up to something else in his book, he should have spent a page or so developing this problem, which (whether he agrees with me or not) he explicitly recognizes. He claims, after all, that a woman's absence is a kind of presence: "their absence in these groups was a structural necessity." The language confesses the problem with gendering the subject--recovers the conversation about compulsory homosociality (which is the name of the chapter, by the way.) For an absence to be "in" a community--physical or rhetorical--the absence must be a presence (i.e., an identifiable structure; therefore, a structural necessity.)

The new, male subject was long in arriving. We pay so much attention to masculine arrivals; they are always strange. Women's bodies are always de-feminized using obscene (public) methods and then absent-ed to make room for other (always unpredictable) women or new (never predictable) men. It seems that there can only be one female subject and that this is the important marker for compulsory homosociality.

But this is nonsense, common practice or not. If Charles Olson, for example, is one such troubled male subject, he certainly isn't a new subject. Maximus was old news and found a way to finally project himself into the field, some might say found himself there. Olson put himself in the field, interjected as much as projected himself in a variety of positions within the field. He needed the presence of men and women, like-minded and not, to emerge himself. I know Davidson is addressing the real misogyny and active exclusion of women from the public face of the movements he addresses, but the requirement that absence is a necessary quality for the female subject in history is a failure to address what actually is compulsory in (habitual) masculinist discourse (in poetics).

I still hear Creeley's complaint that most writers do not know the form they use. Form is the subject; the object: the poet. We witness the arrival of a new, poetic form not a new, male subject. This new, gendered subject is a misconception and re-covering, of what is there to be had. It is problematic to gender the field and the form, the page and the breath, to sex it all physiologically and spiritually. IT is what it is at the time that it is. Olson's masculinist rhetoric is masculinist rhetoric, but women are not absent from it. They are scattered throughout it.

What is masculinist, in its misogyny, recovers the essential femininity it so desperately rejects. It calls for the female subject in each violent gasp. The response from women and men recognizes the female subject and objectifies the male. If women were necessarily absent, then by definition, a male subject could not come forth. In order to address Davidson's concerns properly, we need to address compulsory heterosexuality, if anything. We need to address the structural demand for gendered bodies to appear at any moment in history at all. Whose voice, what deman, where from, when made?

Davidson plays it safe through qualification: he claims women were absent "from the center." I take this to be his proper admission that women were vital though forcefully kept from celebrity, the public eye. So, the men are visible; the women invisible. Sure. Fine. But this is safe and hardly approaches the complexities such options for visibility create in the field.

What problems arise when we insist on gendering the landscape of literary discourse? Davidson uses Olson's sexist poetics to great effect. But is it actually sexist, or does it just sound that way? What is in the appearance that makes it sexist? (I am not saying he was or wasn't a pig; I am trying to throw off that pointless dialogue.)

What/Who is a new Male/Female subject?

What/Where/At-what-time is the center?--I would begin here. And I would begin with somebody like Olson, as Davidson does. Williams, perhaps. The Wanderer does not merely walk to a center. Wanderers are not self-directed. There is not a place to get to--a point. Places are not actaully Centers; places are here-and-nows.

The fallacy of centers appears in early appraisals of American literature. DH Lawrence, in his essay "A Spirit of Place," claims Americans do not yet know the meaning of place, our place, IT--that we are more interested in being masterless. I take Lawrence to mean American literary artists are center-less. This supposedly snide critique turns out to be our greatest strength. Tie this all together: Gender is a staple used to tether language to a point that can be referenced as one possible center. Whereas I am not arguing that we can simply give it up, we can show it for what it is: a conservative tool for discourse that interprets thought in language. Gender must first disembody what it constructs. Consequently, gender is not a self-evident fact of biology but a reconstruction of human beings into gendered subjects. Gender allows for the history of gender, not of male and female subjects. Always already, through gender, men and women are subjects of their own discourse. We lose our approachability as objects, our ability to transcend socially constructed norms. If we restrict any aspect of poetics to gender, then we lose the opportunity to find ourselves in language and we are always doomed to remain at least one step removed from addressing the activity of thought.

Lawrence compares us to Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest. But this is all wrong. The wandering is the project, the IT is illusive. We have long ago found our borders--politicized North and South, ocean-bound East and West. Where do we go and who do we become? Are we new gendered subjects, turning increasingly inward into ourselves? Are we genital-bound? Are we limited to recognize ourselves as others through pre-defined classes like gender? If so, are we to have nothing else in common?

What is it that tends to use Woman as a subject for all women, and men, who must herself be present but absent to allow Man to get his Word out right about himself and for himself? --Gender.

We walk through not towards.
I can sit and observe where I know to look.
I must walk to observe where I haven't been to become.
What is revealed is not structural, nor necessary.
What is revealed is only that which can be transcended: myself.
Myself is a subject given to becoming an object--
Purposefully doing that which purposelessly happens allows.
I am allowed, not my body,
my language,
(dis)embodied thought.
I see the world after I am given to myself free of all association--
the new subject that arrives is phenomenal.
We form it--thing it--dwell with it.

We should resist excusing "structural necessity."
Such pleas give up not to appearance in the moment of occurrence but to ideologically determined structures,
and structures are not there before uttered, and always permitted
to be uttered by the powerful.

Maybe a little revision is in order.

Of course, I know that the cult of personality surrounds many of our
literary artists and resists the destructuring of its irresistible self-presentation. (Oh, here comes the market-concern vomit.) Nevertheless, if we are to take A Poetics seriously, we need to take A Walk Ourselves. This taking necessarily deconstructs the artist and intellectual who came before to encourage all future walks and reconstructs, revitalizes, recovers (all at the same time) the present form and past breath of the new subject-turning-object. Such a necessity--say, one that utilizes available landscapes as an open gesture for creating discourse--allows for the presence of any subject regardless of gender, race, class...all social spectacles that distract the artist.

Now this is not to say that art is not personal and that the personal cannot be political. It is meant simply to redirect the flow of discourse. Now it flows from the social to the individual and to the social again, a reiterative, closed circuit that builds in intensity with or without the participation of the given individual. In this manner, any art created colonizes space according to the ideological state apparatus regardless of the artist's intent. If we counter the flow of the circuit, three radical alterations occur. First, the obvious: the flow must move from the artist into the society and back to the artist. Art, therefore, is active and not reactive. Second, this circuit is neither open nor closed, and its action occurs only once. After any action, all that is left is the document of the event. In this manner, art can resist operating as a tool for colonization and insist on immanent participation at the level of the happening. Moreover, the creation of an archive to document an artist's events allows for a collection of works that is independent of the artist's work. The third alteration occurs at the level of discourse. The discourse about the work must happen at the level of discourse. Therefore, the poetics or any discussion of aesthetics must occur at the level of the archive--a collection of documents. Such a demand would remind us of our desire to associate texts with bodies, our desire to permit colonization of bodies by confusing, misleading, and disempowering ideologies.

I suppose we find it hard to resist the appeal to sexuality, to incorporating the biological body into the textual body because we wish to expose ourselves not only as we are doing now but as we wish to be seen as following what already has been accomplished. Some call this Affectation: that looking like is close to being like(d). But such fetishisms are not much more than personal idiosyncrasies; they do not actually shape the discourse in any lasting manner. The field itself shapes the discourse, that part of Form we tend to displace as invisible, always in doubt, never concrete. The literary artist cannot possibly self-impose and self-create. I wonder if we want to continue our use of gender as the tool for exposing constraint, restraint, purpose, and technique. At each moment, one of the other subjects must become absent--the foreground/background trick--so that a whole can be constructed. Not too useful...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I am back. Reading: Amy King's Antidotes for an Alibi; Michael Davidson's Guys Like Us; Bin Ramke's Matter.

Once I get back into the swing of the blogosphere, I am going to jump right back into the language/thought/action fray.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

post comps burn-out

apparently there is this little thing called burn out
and I am there, burning out,

well, I will be back in Dagzine biz after November 22nd--Fall Quarter will be finished.

I recently received a few books for review here and elsewhere. I need to complete those reviews and get back in touch with those of you I have had to ignore recently.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

why I am disturbed

What does it mean when a student rushes up to you, out of the blue so to speak, says,

"Your class fits into my schedule," flatly states it as the case?

--a statement about his schedule or the class?
--how do I figure into this fixture that more or less adequately fits?

on form

Ron Silliman and Mark Tursi in dialogue on Silliman's blog. Mark and I are colleagues at Univeristy of Denver; you know I want to jump in this conversation. --working on my own response right now...

and I am about caught up once again and getting back in touch with my Wittgenstein reading. I think I have lost touch with the old thread of Jay and Thomas's discussion. I am going back to my earlier concern with Nick Piombino's aphorism to begin again and possibly rethink a few points. Maybe Silliman's concern for form can find its way into it all. I get the feeling that form is the whole thing for him, so to read him is to read it all as to accept it for what it is--some form of impenetrability, a fortress--like a word and its ambiguities for a listener contra the word and its ambiguities for an author.


Friday, October 22, 2004

i am so tired

found: not the books i lost this summer, but three Sun City Girls' lps, more early Ahmad Jamal.

I am sad, though. My favorite used lp store has been wiped of inventory. A Korean outfit purchased all rock, jazz, classical, and pop inventory. Even the junk. Good for the business, I suppose, sad for my digging habit.

have I mentioned that it is a bad idea to teach five classes at once. i must have.

Monday, October 18, 2004

a bit of wandering to warm-up

I am considering a longer, more direct, response to Jay and Thomas. For now, I posted a response on Bad With Titles. Follow the previous link to the discussion.

I like Jay's points. Thomas's, too. We each have different approaches to knowing an event. I am closer to Jay here. I think that Wittgenstein feared giving something to poetry he felt philosophy owned. A clarity that philosophers yearn for but cannot get to. A perspective on approaching propositions, maybe, I am not really sure.

When we talk about the craft of writing, we talk about much more than propositions. Language, in this talking, excedes its object; but it would be wrong to say that literary artists merely interpret reality (as is too often the case.) Many writers workshop under such a misapprehension, as well, and reduce lines into structures to be edited for comprehension.

Writing as Poetry is Breathing:
consider breathing as a mechanism for combining sense into compressed moments to be projected somewhere at some time. This allows authors to transmit and transfer space and time in a manner independent of history and dialectics--in other words, logic and ideology. And tradition, too. It allows for improvisation, which is not based in knowledge, rather in craft and something exceding both knowledge and craft we sometimes mystify and call genius.

Knowledge of concepts in the manner of truth-making always has an agenda that itself excedes the moment written about. Knowledge, then, is not static; its moving not historical. Though, knowledge can be historicized.

Writing as Poetry is working out--expelling--the "because it is" rationalizations. Poems or stories, Epics or novels, are objects themselves, maybe even concepts. Nevertheless, they are not static. They do not mean something for all readers. Knowledge is code for a word that strips action of act. Knowledge is nominalization. From the perspective of the liminal, knowledge is racist, sexist, colonialist--Empire. It is always determined by those who have social power. From the perspective of the artist, knowledge is a limit.

Knowledge is old school. The language of ONE is dying. Thankfully.

We have come to a moment where knowledge is useful as a mechanism. Concepts are machines.

To know is not to know;
A limit is not a limit.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Reading Tomorrow

For the Denver lurker, I am reading tomorrow at Book Buffs--a happy participant in "Freedom of Expression Weekend." The entire Old South Pearl St community is involved.

Book Buffs is at 1519 S Pearl St, 5 1/2 blocks north of Evans and Pearl. My spot is at noon.

I should get the local writer news thing going again up there below the Dagzine masthead.

Friday, October 15, 2004

a little silence

been writing this week.

i like this:

from H Michaux, "A Dog's Life"
I've already said that in the street I fight with everybody...
As for books, they harass me more than anything else. I just can't leave a word with its original meaning or even its form.
I catch it and after a few tries I uproot it and lead it definitively away from the author's flock.
There may easily be thousands of sentences in a chapter and I've got to sabotage every one of them. It is absolutely essential to me.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Strange Admissions

Well, seems I have been left behind. I am going to continue my work on Wittgenstein, but I must distance myself from what is being done over at Bad With Titles. Jay and Thomas know how much I appreciate their conversation and company; with all due respect, I completely disagree and find somewhat absurd the attempt to claim that poetry is philosophy after their manner.

I published a comment to the post linked above. I see philosophy and poetry as dependent on the other and becoming the other--philosophy becomes poetry and poetry becomes philosophy. CONJUNCTIONS: Identity and Difference. The one becomes differentiated in itself...Heraclitus, Hyperion...states of being shift yet remain distinct. And the idea that it becomes differentiated in itself (not for itself) is important because of what it doesn't admit. It isn't "the one becomes differentiate in/with/through others." The and in poetry and philosophy needs to be there for poetry and philosophy to become differentiate in themselves.

If Jay and Thomas will allow me one critique, I'll take a truckload: Jay is somehow trying to work Deleuze and Guattari's concept of Concept from What is Philosophy into the mix. Neat idea, but it may not fit. Thomas, and I don't know if Jay knows, wrote his dissertation on Concept and Knowledge. Thomas uses homologies to get to the case. I am intrigued about a dialogue between poetry and philosophy in this way, but what it is one tries to know always becomes privileged--and Hamlet is not, I'll submit, the best example. In other words, the knowedge of a concept in this logic is always private. Knowledge doesn't simply point it is always becoming. Knowledge isn't a fact, it is a case always opening. One might bring Benjamin's theses on history into the mix here.

I am a bit dismayed about how an attempt to discuss poetry and its relationship to (use of) philosophy has turned into a flattening of the two together and ejected the poetry itself as a result. I posted my essay on Thoreau as an anchor in our developing constellation. It seems to have been dropped. So, I will go on my direction. In poetry, as in prose, the concept for the work, even the concept(s) in the work, is always a representation of the case of the work after the work. I am not satisfied with, to use Wittgenstein, spirit hovering above the ashes of culture. That kind of passive looking pisses me off. If it works, break it. Go under the ashes. Dig it. And cultivate from the ground up.

If Kleist is right: poets want to convey thought without words. We might explore the authenticity of Witggenstein's parenthetical reaction to that claim. He says it is a strange admission. W sees facts, states of being, as admissions. This is our first entry into discussion with the epitemologist. So, I ask of Jay (in particular because he writes poetry) and Thomas, for what purpose such admissions (yours, then his)?

If the concern is literary art, may I suggest ceasing to make it into an epistemological case? I think Wittgenstein is useful because his study confesses its own gaps through which we can take off or erupt/irrupt, depending on which direction we're going, into/out of the poetic...

and this is why I began almost a month ago with Nick Piombino's aphorism on thought. I saw three gaps (different interpretation for his use of the word thought) worth jumping through. Not into Concept. Not towards knowledge. But into increase.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Jacques Derrida died yesterday.

I have to think about it.

some notes from a

  • working from my office today. just finished chatting with new writing colleague about students and plagiarism. has to be some way to work the dependence on others out of young writers. some are simply cheats. most are simply deferential--a warped sense of respect and never being encouraged to be creative. You know: to create with others. my students know the preposition for.
  • I am listening to The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade, 2004). saw them at the Larimer Lounge last night. originally was going to see Electric Frankenstein. good thing that fell through. The Fiery Furnaces are truly wonderful. now I have something else to obsessively listen to other than E Satie. no vinyl, boohoo; had to buy a cd. take pearls before swine, psyche folk, the nice, ELP, Patti Smith, Capt Beefheart, Velvet Underground, early Genesis, Blonde Redhead, a little Spoon, Sparks, Queen, 70s NYC DIY rock attitude: blend on high. I am not kidding: it's all there and more. they certainly do something with the music. wonderful talent, too: in other words, they produced IT on stage and added to it. I am getting sick of bands who rely on post-production to create a sound they cannot hope to produce live. thank you Fiery Furnaces.
  • coming: responses to laura carter and jay thomas. building our thought map.
  • my annual jaunt to NYC is only four weeks away. tick tock tick tock. nov11-14. andrea's b-day this trip. we're going to see Yoshimi P-We's band 00100 at the Knitting Factory on Friday night. I imagine we'll do a b-day dinner on saturday. (btw: we save up to spend on good food and wine...any suggestions? anything that's good cause its good not expensive cause it's hip, which is soo denver and manhattan right now.) Andrea's only been to the city once. her first time, I took her to do all the tourist things I did when I was a kid and my grandfather took us into the city from CT, like Empire State Building. we walked all over mid and lower Manhattan. Was right after 9.11, so very strange for me. this time we're going to the museums and spending time in the parts of town she liked most last time. if anybody wants to get together or if there's any reading to be done (I am reading a lot lately, bitten by the bug), get in touch with me: dagzine at mac dot com. Thursday and Saturday night are up in the air, as is Sunday before our late flight back to Denver. Or join us for lunch or dinner or a museum or the show at KF. We're staying blocks from Grand Central. Last time, I spent time with friends and made new friends--thanks Shanna! I missed folks, too, sad sad.
  • Reading Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, and Fordham's series on Phenomenology and the "Theological Turn" (I am on Dominique Janicaud's contribution). Attempting an essay on the phenomenological troubling of faith and revelation using American Puritan Poetics--actually fits into discussion of late on Dagzine concerning thought and language, speaking and writing. Glaube=Faith; glaube=think. Also reading Henri Michaux, various stories & JK Huysmans' Parisian Sketches, and many student essays.
  • if you'd like to know. i really really want the john cassavetes box set from criterion and the albert ayler holy ghost box set on revenant.
  • shows i am going to see before NY: heroine sheiks, dirtbombs/dead moon, makers/brian jonestown massacre, holly golightly. now if that isn't a year's worth of shows in three weeks.
  • have been scheduled to read at Freedom of Expression Weekend 2004, on Old South Pearl St, Denver, on Sunday 10/17, 12noon, I think... I am reading a fictional essay, Free Speech Movement. it is both a critical exploration of free-speech movement and a story about its author. it is both an introduction and a conclusion: it is a beginning with a middle and an end. there are a lot of parentheses. needless to say.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Aesthetic Fascism

What is beautiful for George Bush:
1)The Homeland
2)Women as child-bearers
3)Men being tough
4)Silent Labor
5)Organic Intellectualism
6)The Guts
7)Running but not hiding
8)Ethical Binarism
9)YES or NO and nothing else
10)Pure Rhetoric

We surfed the networks after the debate. What was, in fact, an embarrassing debate for Bush--always responding to critiques as if he is always correct contrasted to Kerry's forcing issues and directing the questions; not knowing even ONE statistic or name to reference contrasted to Kerry's use of names and statistics to attempt reasonable claims; either wearing a practiced flat face or fidgeting nervously contrasted to Kerry's composed style; etc.--was instantly turned into a charming victory for the president.

Kerry and Bush stretched facts; at times both grossly exaggerated. Bush outright lied, though. Hidden in his rhetoric was justification for lying about Iraq. He promised to appoint judges who would uphold the consitution rather than an agenda; however, he campaigned that he will appoint Christian judges, conservative judges.

Kerry never once cut-off the moderator; Bush did so at will. Commentators on MSNBC actually called it Presidential. Pat Buchanan, go figure, praised Bush's manliness, calling it "presidential."

Bush was embarrassing. He was an idiot. He was too angry. He was pompous. He was misinformed. He was uncomfortable. He knew nothing. He couldn't answer a question about the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act and the 4th Ammendment. It is obvious he doesn't know what the 4th Ammendment is because he answer addressed the wrong issue. And he certainly doesn't know the Act itself--there is What He Thinks It Means and What It Actually Says. Kerry addressed the 4th Ammendment. But Kerry is doesn't know anything and Bush is Presidential? So what is Presidential? Someone who can grab their cock and piss on others apparently. A man who can say "NO!" is Presidential; not one who can mediate.

He said he had the idea for the hydrogen car. I think he said, I suggested the hydrogen car. This is not funny anymore.

Did anybody hear Bush revise "the axis of evil" to "the nexus of the haters"? The words were spread out through an answer, but "the haters" is a supremely vague concept that easily can fit folks who support Planned Parenthood, for example, as well as "the terrorists." This idiot believes that YOU can simply answer YES or NO to moral questions WITHOUT reflection. Abraham, according to Kierkegaard, listened to a voice that told him to sacrifice his son. Blind Faith. But that voice Bush listens to is not a sign of his faith, it is a sign of Ralph Redd, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, his father, et. al.

I hope folks don't buy the masculinist ball-grabbing postures the president used last night. If they were impressed by his posturing and toughness, his anger and swagger, he will win in November.

On the positive side, I was surprised to hear Kerry actually attempt to make points based on reasoned evidence. He elided how he would cut the deficit; but the deficit is a red herring anyway. The issue is who Kerry will represent: the silent majority or the very vocal minority. Kerry will get closer to listening to the silent majority than Bush. This is the case. For now he will have to do.

I have revised this...what I posted this morning was a bit incoherent.

Friday, October 08, 2004

on passive production

I wrote, on 10/3:
On the other hand, the most offensive writers passively produce experimental texts that neither approach the theory which their work attempts to sound like nor make the sort of attempts at the new experimentalists are supposed to be tempted [to attempt]...

Nada asks, "How can anyone produce a text "passively"? Isn't all writing an act of will, even so-called "automatic writing"?


I like the questions. First, Production and Action are different states altogether. I agree with your definition of writing. It seems to be: writing is a willful act.

But what that act produces is not necessarily active. A writer can passively produce: Bartleby actively copies but passively produces the ideas on the cases he copies.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Henry, I am pulling your comments from an older post up onto the stage, because I like your worry, and I couldn't find out if you had a blog where I could leave a reply. Eventually, the older threads of this discussion are going to be sucked into my archives inthe sidebar. I don't know how many folks actually dig in there...

Henry writes:
Enjoying this discussion, thank you, even though much of it is over my head. I guess my comment is a cautionary one. In trying to articulate the character of poetry's picture-logic - how it manages to present something real or coherent or telling - there's a danger of imposing some kind of determinism. For me what primarily differentiates poetry from science & philosophy is its contingent quality - something you touched on in comments about the writer/reader relationship, but I think it needs to be underlined. Poetry (or creativity in general) occupies a contingent Now which escapes ordinary notions of causality. Ironically, this activity may present the most accurate "picture" of reality.
I think Henry's concern about determining the beheld is proper. I am more inclined to discuss the object of poetry as revealed much in the way Edward Taylor and Anne Bradstreet address it. What I behold in the world, in nature, is approach by me in many ways. Regardless, the phenomenon must give itself up to show itself. Like the loon in my discussion of below, the poetic object calls out to announce itself. We may not hear it, we may not hear it at the right time, we may mistake it for something else, etc., but we certainly do not determine it. We can attempt to over-see it, but that will come out in the wash.

I haven't read Glazov-Corrigan's Mandlestam's Poetics. I understand the urge to write a humanist poetics, one that addresses a poetics for the human encounter. I just don't think such worries are important for the poet--they are fine ones to have--but I think they are much more vital to the critic who uses them. We find ourselves in poetry. We aren't necessarily working anything out. Maybe we are simply there, enjoying the difference between subject (of the world) and object (of the word) through revelation. I don't know.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Lines of flight

I posted a comment on the continuing conversation over at Jay Thomas's blog.

it is good to see this going on elsewhere.

Laura Carter is writing quite a bit as well; I have a response in the works to her wonderfully frank response to my critique of workshops and our generation of writers.

This from Ron Silliman seems apropos.

and I bet Tony Tost would add things if he had time.

Constellations: Point 5, part one

Ok, so here goes. Awhile back I believe I posted an essay in progress on this subject. But it works for our discussion; it belongs on our map. Part One is in this post; part two in the next.

The essay should bring out points worth applying to or exploring with Wittgenstein's concerns. I am bothered by his statement in Culture and Value:
[T]here is a way of capturing the world sub specie aeterni other than through the work of the artist. Thought has such a way--so I believe--it is as though it flies above the world and leaves it as it is--observing it from above, in flight.
(5e, U of Chicago edition)
I am quite satisfied that there should be a way of capturing the world other than through art. But that thought is the way is very sly--we shouldn't trust it. I think this attempt to see thought flying above the world illustrates the function of thought in a way similar to how he illustrates the function of spirit--"but spirits will hover over the ashes [of culture]" (3e). Though the German verbs are distinctly different in kind and sense, we may ask what distinction we can make between the two--thought and spirit, flying and hovering. I believe literary artists purposefully perform this function--should perform, since we are talking oughts.

This is where Emerson's "Circles" sits on our map:
Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle through which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it.

Therefore we value the poet. All the argument and all the wisdom is not in the encyclopedia, or the treatise on metaphysics, of the Body of Divinity, but in the sonnet or play....[The poet] smites or arouses me with his shrill tones, breaks up my whole chain of habits, and I open my eye on my own possibilities. He claps his wings to the sides of all the solid old lumber of the world, and I am capable once more of choosing a straight path in theory and practice.
So, a beef with Wittgenstein. The literary artists take their place in society as folks whose labor is useful because it refurbishes all that is the case and re-presents the world allowing us to get it straight. I think Wittgenstein wanted to keep that for philosophy.

From the Tractatus:
5.6 The limits of language are the limits of my world.
If so, then my world is limited similarly to Wittgenstein's only because we share a limit of language.
5.631 There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas.
If I wrote a book called The World as I found it, I should have to include a report on my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will, and which were not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.—
5.632 The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world.

5.634 ...Whatever we see could be other than it is.
Whatever we can describe at all could be other than it is.
There is no a priori order of things.
I am confused about how to approach such limits. I think that my essay below addresses ideas of beholding phenomena that trouble Wittgenstein's point of view.

From Culture and Value:
Kleist wrote somewhere that what the poet would most of all like to be able to do would be to convey thoughts by themselves without words. (What a strange admission.)
I like this thought. for some reason.

“Fleeing in the face of”: Fugitive Laughter and Unanswered Questions on Walden Pond

“Everyone asks me what I ‘think’ of everything,” said Spencer Brydon; “and I make answer as I can—begging or dodging the question, putting them off with any nonsense. It wouldn’t matter to any of them really,” he went on, “for, even were it possible to meet in that stand-and-deliver way so silly a demand on so big a subject, my ‘thoughts’ would still be almost altogether about something that concerns only myself.”
—Henry James, “The Jolly Corner”

“When seen correctly, however, this interpretation is only a fleeing in the face of the conscience—a way for Dasein to escape by slinking away from that thin wall by which the ‘they’ is separated, as it were, from the uncanniness of its Being.”
—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

Can we separate the man from the living picture?
—Emerson, “Nature”

Part One: Three Methods for Beholding in “Brute Neighbors”

At the beginning of “Brute Neighbors,” Thoreau asks, “Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?” In a concise but detailed manner that conceals as much as uncovers its complex philosophy, Thoreau explores three ways beholding phenomena in the world happens. Each reflection is based on a different form of interaction with the natural world and each uses different narrative structures to relate claims about the act of beholding itself.

He begins with a simple claim: “You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns” (153). A few significant concepts are dropped into this line gleaned from cliché to make a complex claim seem more ordinary. Beholding changes in mood and intellect with each subsequent form explored; one kind need not be considered more valuable than the other, though each does build on the other in levels of complexity through increased involvement of both the beholder and the beheld—henceforth referred to as the observer and observed, respectively.

Method 1: The observer who beholds the world while tranquilly tarrying alongside what-will-be, is-desired-to-be, or is-already-being observed beholds while sitting still for a long time. Through patient observation, the natural world shows itself to the observer. Hence, this beholding is an involved patience that allows the world to show itself for what it is at the time it is observed, each time it is observed. Thoreau implicitly characterizes this beholding as an active passivity. In this engaged, yet passive state of mind, and observer is likely to wander about aimlessly if not encouraged to sit still.
Let me see; where was I? Methinks I was nearly in this frame of mind; the world lay about at this angle. Shall I go to heaven or a-fishing? If I should bring this meditation to an end, would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer? I was as near to being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was in my life.
Thoreau utilizes an active passivity that needs, or calls out for, some phenomenon to show itself for him to look towards. He worries, “my thoughts have left no track, and I [will not be able to] find the path again” (150). Only after he expresses this anxiety does he query “precisely these objects” that make “a world.” The emphasis on “these” is significant. The objects beheld are exactly the phenomena that must always have a prior being so they may be observed as if they were waiting for and expecting the presence of the observer to behold them.

To reference our conversation about Wittgenstein: The objects are the case in this case and Thoreau offers us, his readers, a picture of the case. The picture is not a proposition; it is a precise concept. (Thomas?) Thoreau adds precision to the beholding of “these objects” because it is important for him to note that they, in this case, can not be any other objects but those precise objects that make his world at Walden what it is.

Method 2: If the first method for beholding the world through nature is an active passivity that involves sitting still long enough to allow all things to be observed, the second method requires a two-fold form for the observer to begin to leave active passivity behind.

Method 2a: The first form is a means to actively engage and involves being startled or awakened from passive engagement.
Method 2b: The second involves active accounting of what is being observed.

The first form of this two-fold method involves observation that happens suddenly. The observer becomes an eyewitness to an event. In Thoreau’s example, he also becomes a kind of reluctant over-seer to the event as it unfolds; unlike the first form of beholding, such observation is not tranquil at all.
I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants…fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled…on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that is was…a bellum, a war between two races of ants….
The observer witnesses above (remember Wittgenstein on thought and spirit) an event not able to be seen with a patient stillness. Such observation over-comes the observer as he over-takes the observed. Both observer and observed are, therefore, taken by surprise. In other words, Thoreau did not plan to behold ants-at-war. Nevertheless, once Thoreau becomes an observer, he stays to look on; in a significant manner, he fulfills an obligation. It is the case that the ants are at war but it is also the case that Thoreau stumbles across the ants at war.

In the first form of beholding, the observer’s seeing is withdrawn not because thinking recedes from its matter, as Heidegger puts it in Identity and Difference (50), he is withdrawn because he waits passively and it passes him by or it doesn’t. Thinking comes after beholding. This second method of beholding, discovering the ants at war, occurs after an engaged recognition of the state of things (t)here.

Thoreau's decision to remain and observe what he finds as over-seer or eyewitness, no matter how reluctant, distinguishes this form of beholding from the first. Unlike the first kind of observing, though the ants do exhibit themselves for the observer, he is not in any manner prepared to observe the show. He must stop in his tracks, make a choice to pause his day’s work, to “look farther,” to see better what is there to be seen. The observer might ask, at this time, What is there to be seen? in a much different sense than in the first kind of beholding. According to the first kind of beholding, the question asked takes the form, What is there-to-be-seen? Actually, this may even be too much for such passive looking; whatever chooses to exhibit itself may not appear long enough to be considered an “is there.” The Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, or the winged-cat of “Brute Neighbors” that is “gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont” are examples of such mystifying creatures to behold that may not actually “be there” at all. Instead, the observer at this time asks What is there (to be seen)? Such a question engages an observer as an observer and encourages a taking account of his surroundings. Thoreau explicitly refers to himself, for the first time in “Brute Neighbors,” as an observer when he discusses the ants.

The second form of the two-fold method of beholding involves accounts taken in observation. Within the first form of beholding, Thoreau provides concise narratives of immediacy and familiarity. This happens and then this happens; and the writer relates what happened. He holds mice in the palm of his hand because they crawl into it. For unknown reasons, a phoebe builds a nest in his shed, and a robin makes nest in the tree against his house. A partridge, the shyest of birds, leads her brood past his windowsill. The first method of beholding is always at the level of fortunate occurrence. Always immediate and familiar because we depend on an informal relationship to everyday events happening without our encouragement or without needing our recognition at all.

In the second method for beholding, the first form of the two-fold structure involves immediate yet unfamiliar and not necessarily fortunate occurrences. The second form is less concerned with the “is” objectified and the “there” showing itself. Such beholding is more concerned with the “there” not known in which something is occurring now. The second form of the two-fold method finds an explanation for any event itself and involves making up for the lack of waiting for the event to let itself be shown. Thoreau explains,
I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, that will bear a moment’s comparison with this….

I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it onto my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that…his own breast was all torn away; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer’s eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite.
Taken by surprise, Thoreau carries off a few ants to home “in order to [better] see the issue.” Before his encounter with the ant war, Thoreau has seen “the issue” without needing further investigation. The difference in this scene, with this form of beholding, is that he is not waiting, not tarrying alongside, for the moment to be. Thoreau uses a microscope to estimate the physical damage done to the ants in battle.

Within the second form, the observer abandons any given setting, time, and place to achieve a distance from the occurrence of the event, a distance from which specific observations can be made that are always extracted from the prior exhibition. Once again, to apply this to our discussion of Wittgenstein. If the facts in this beholding are at stake, the they are not the case. The second form of the two-fold method isolates specifically chosen objects for further examination. Like the first method for beholding, the second method relies on observed phenomenon giving itself up to being observed always before showing itself to the observer. The ant war happens regardless of Thoreau’s observation or interruption, just like the mouse scurries across Thoreau’s floor whether or not he is there waiting for it to appear. In both methods, regardless of different points of view and technologies for seeing implemented, the observed phenomena must give in order to show.

In the first method of beholding, seeing absolutely and in every case relies on a phenomenon giving itself in order to show itself. Thoreau’s careful description of watching the young partridges wait for their mother’s distant commands, not only foreshadows the call of the loon, therefore a more complex form of beholding, but shows his concern for the animals themselves as delicate creatures--how the partridge’s presence is a gift first and showing second.
In June the partridge…which is so shy a bird, led her brood past my windows, from the woods in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and calling to them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving herself the hen of the woods. The young so suddenly disperse upon your approach, at a signal from the mother, as if a whirlwind swept them away….
Thoreau knows what a partridge should look like. He knows when partridges seasonally appear. He knows their virtues—character and habits. Consequently, he skillfully anticipates their appearance with more or less accuracy. He admires similar skill in fishermen: their ability to find worms in frozen, wintry woods. They know where to look without knowing what they will find. Like the fishermen, he can look out for the partridges. He can certainly wait for their appearance for he will know them when he sees them. But he must wait for the event to happen (to give itself.)

Though anticipated, what we are looking for can only be seen properly through a showing itself that gives itself. Thoreau comments on this anamorphosis, “All intelligence seems reflected in them…Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects” (152).
By waiting patiently for the possible return of partridges, his waiting anticipates appearance. But when actively engaged with beholding an event such as the ant war, one must come to terms with the anamorphosis itself. A comportment must be reached towards being in front of one another in order to be shown at all. For Thoreau to fully understand the ant war, he has to remove himself from the site (sight-ing) where the war took place. He had to find in himself a recollection of an idea that would help ground the present event. He is taken by surprise yet taken by some phenomenon he nonetheless anticipates. For he knows how to see it show itself. He knows how to “look farther.”

So far, Thoreau’s “Brute Neighbors” has illustrated two methods of beholding in nature. The first, not necessarily the simplest, involves the least work and the least engagement. It is an active (in that one looks) passivity (in that one sits still) that covers a substantial duration of time (in that one is still for a long time.) In this manner of beholding, we have seeing at a primary level, possibly akin to the kind of seeing described in Plato’s Republic that occurs deep within the cave. Not that such beholding is at all like the shadows on the wall but that such seeing requires restraint. The second method for beholding is a two-fold method that involves surprise and accounting for the surprise. The first form involves an over-sight, a kind of looking that allows an observer to behold as much as possible of the observed in one sitting. Once the observer is satisfied with having seen it all, then accounts are made of what was observed. If possible, technology might be implemented in order to find a way to explain the phenomenon from a distance.

Method 3: The third method for beholding is whole-heartedly engaged participation in the showing itself that phenomenon gives itself. The benchmark of such beholding is the use of literary craft to relate what was observed. The observer is typically a major character, usually in the role of a pursuer while the object of the occurrence itself plays the role of a pursued. Before explaining anything else, it should be noted that such beholding does have waiting or anticipating even though the observer may not intend to anticipate and may desire to wait. This troubles the observer because he or she must participate in creating a place for an event to happen. In whatever order moments take place within an event and its subsequent retelling, the author recognizes the phenomenon and interprets its meaning. This picture of the world is always fictive.

“Brute Neighbors” closes with a story about Thoreau pursuing a loon. It begins in the “once upon a time” fashion many authors use to immerse readers in a world where patient waiting can allow observed phenomenon to show itself. The story of the loon is preceded with a concise anecdote about a winged cat. Thoreau never sees the mysterious cat, although he is given a pair of its “wings”—strips of matted fur. He jokes, “this would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep, if I had kept any; for...a poet’s cat [can] be winged as well as his horse” (156). Thoreau is no longer an observer of nature in different states of quiet observation; at the beginning of the pursuit of the loon, he gives himself to the reader as poet.

Thoreau begins “as I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon” and describes how he “pursued with a paddle” and the loon “maneuvered so cunningly” diving into the water and reappearing always “where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat.” He works hard to give us the image of him in pursuit of the loon, of the intelligence of the loon itself, and a metaphor for something left unstated in the text itself.
The loon first appears through its uncanny laughter; Thoreau uses “unearthly.” After its laughter is heard, and only after, do folks pursue the loon. All the emotion of pursuit is detailed in Thoreau’s telling and such telling exhausts anything that might be considered excessive in the loon’s uncanny appearance.
He led me at once to the widest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon.
Therefore, the loon’s appearance is indelibly tied to Thoreau’s looking as if the two expected to find each other in each moment. What appears is unique and it is the one thing at stake and nothing else:
I found that it was as well for me to rest on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate where he would rise; for again and again, when I was straining my eyes over the surface one way, I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh behind me.
While the first method for beholding requires an active passivity in engaged looking at the world as it passes one by who sits still for a long period of time, the second method moves the location to a suitable place for scientific observation that has a method tailored to the specific observer. Finally, the third method for beholding is giving up science for letting something be in narrative, to allow the one thing at stake in the phenomenon to appear for others as it is in pursuit of givenness.

First, the third method for beholding requires an author to give up close and personal observation and to take a purposeful step back towards the quality of the first method. Second, this transforms thinking's stepping back from its matter into a moving ahead of itself. I think it is safe to say that such beholding can possibly move through what Heidegger calls the oblivion of difference. We are given something to identify with regardless of experience and clearing from which to be given the phenomenon described. (This is why I find ethics such an important topic for discussion in workshop.) Thoreau leaves a story for others who have yet to see the loon for themselves in the form of an unanswered question that is meant to haunt the reader much the same way a loon’s laughter haunts a lake at daybreak. He asks, “But why, after displaying so much cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh?” And he leaves the loon “disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface [of the pond.]” aspect of the third method for beholding involves the retreat of the pursuer from the pursued.

Third, the third method of beholding incorporates aspects of the prior two methods and implicates both the observer and observed in a given phenomenon of their own appearance that an outside reader or listener beholds for himself. The image of Thoreau pursuing the loon appears for what it is worth. Nothing more of the pursuit remains after he retreats from it. The story itself is given. Nevertheless, a lingering unanswered question is there. And that unanswered question marks the call for participation with an audience—a reader or readers—who will use up any significance and behold or interpret the meaning of the event itself—Thoreau and the loon together. Reader and writer absorb anything abundant or excessive that the phenomenon gives up.