Wednesday, September 29, 2004

My artful silence

First, an aside for Thomas and Jay: isn't Rhetoric the artful silence? If you slip while thinking, silence turns into science.

Mapping the constellation so far:
1. Jay and Thomas continue their engaging discussion on Wittgenstein below. See the comments to my 9/23 entry "Preparing a response: Limits".
2. On 9/17, I offered a response to Nick Piombino's aphorism on Thought with the entry "Accompaniment". A link to Nick's aphorism is there. If you want to begin at the beginning, so there.
3. Nick responded; Jay joined the conversation giving it further direction, then Laura and Thomas joined. These appear to be the main participants so far.
4. In addition, many folks have been reading, and I hope, will begin participating.
5. Also, there are bits of significant color in my underdeveloped and playful but related posts on Robert Frost's definitions for the sentence.

Here is my return to the discussion. Below I quickly outline my continuing thoughts, and am quite happy to let them fester a bit more before I continue in detail this Friday.

Thomas's last comment is where I was intending to go but with different results. (If I am wrong about your direction, Thomas, let me know.) I do think we can use the epistemological arguments in W's T and PI to consider constructing a poetics. Here I differ slightly from both Jay and Thomas. I don't see any problem at all with steering Wittgenstein away from himself for our use. I think of this as a Nietzschean move--he did it with Kant--or a Heideggerian move--he did it with Nietzsche--or a Marx move--he did it with Hegel.

My claim: First, we must assume we are addressing the subject of language and thought. Second, we assert that literary art has something meaningful and useful to say about the state of things that is neither science nor philosophy though it may use both in its speaking. Then, we can make the following claim. If what philosophy and science cannot say must be passed over in silence, then literary art need not silently speak what philosophy and science must pass over in silence.

Both Jay and Thomas will immediately notice that I have made a small leap because from my givens to my claim two complex implications are left assumed that shouldn't be. I need to come to terms with the overcoming of the silent utterance I have implied can be spoken. I hint at my solution in the title to this entry and the playful definition of rhetoric as the "artful silence."

Thomas quotes Wittgenstein: "If you can see the white chickens, I'll grant you all the rest." Well, his gesture is a sacrifice more than a gift. The philosopher has limits just as the scientist does. On the other hand, we don't say that the writer is limited in the same way a philosopher or scientist is: The literary artist has no limit. But "possesses no limit" is itself a Limit--or, we could say, is Limited. And that is the second implied claim I must address. I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, it is enjoyable and constructive. And undeniably debatable.

This is where I will go and what I will try to discuss and I will use Thoreau and Emerson...Thoreau's Walden and Emerson's "Circles" among other essays. I will use Olson and his discussion of breath and the reader's involvement in breathing the poet's breath--parts one and two of "Projective Verse." There are helpful discussions between Olson and Creeley within their earliest letters--the bits about attending to voice. The scolding that goes on.

Anyway, there is another way to look at this. If the phenomenologists were onto anything at all, I feel that their (Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, et satellites) aim best illustrates how Philosophy is the science of Science. What scientists cannot discover through methodology, the philosophers handle. If Emerson's definition for the purpose and use we make of literary artists and their craft/product in "Circles" is precise, then we can safely (which is important for the ability to implement any idea in everyday use, though I prefer dangerously) then we can safely submit that literary art holds stable philosophy and science and all the rest in silence. In other words, in the background. Poetry is The Case.

Now, this should not tempt us to locate our debate inside a teleological frame. The philosopher does this--the scientist, too. The end of philosophy is always some par excellence or another. The end of science is the thing itself by way of a representative solution to a unique method. The end of literary art is its own destruction because literary artists revise method and excellence in each moment.

The literary artist takes hold of the matter of everyday experience with language and, for a moment, shows us ourselves. The intimate relationship that exists through language and thought between the writer and reader is a world shattering campaign contra History and Modernity. [Nietzsche, in The Gay Science talks about Romanticism and Idealism and the desire for destruction--he writes about the mistake of "backward inference." I will get to this as well.] The relationship between literary artist and reader is not the relationship between philosopher and reader (Nietzsche knew this; Susan Howe works on such problems) and is certainly not the relationship between the scientist and citizen. [aside: this is the problem with Aristotle after all. "Wouldn't it be nice?" is all one can say.]

So, the literary artist's aim, when accurate, destroys the telos language and thought are used to cultivate through philosophical discourse. Nevertheless, and this is vital, we depend on philosophy to address those things science cannot address because of the limits its own eminently safe methodology constructs and those ideas art cannot address because IT is not utterable.

Whereas poets tend to accept the need for a poetics (a dialogue as much aout verse itself as it is about the inability to address the poetic object at all,) which is as close as the poet artist gets to philosophy itself, the majority of prose practitioners roll in their own anti-intellectual shit as if they enjoyed the smell of being oneself without knowing oneself. And don't think I am taking sides. I am, after all, in a Fiction program. I chose this route over Poetry because poets tend to see prose in anything that doesn't resemble one of many traditional verse forms. Fortunately, Bin Ramke and Brian Kiteley will both work with me and are more than aware of the limitations and problems of experimentation. One simply cannot be experimental based on a desire to be performing new speech acts in verse and prose. On emay improvise or is always traditional in that a work is always comparable to one other. I think we can agree that we haven't left form behind and that we don't want to and that (quite possibly) we cannot. Epistemology is a help here, by the way. Poets--even those most concerned with objects--tend to forget that they use language. No matter the argument discourse about poetics, poetry, prosody tends to incorporate a bit of modesty that prose artists reject. The typical prose artist struggles to see beyond the work itself at any given time and often offers ridiculous claims about the field. Their statements are either totally solipsistic--useless--or overwhelmingly world-encompassing--colonialistic. (See DF Wallace's statements about Irony and contemporary (American) novel--if I recall properly, he claimed he was going to quit because everything was terribly ironic. Sure, this is an ironic statement. Nevermind that a reader can find irony of this sort anywhere; DFW's critique incorporates the most flawed vision of Irony--its most debased and typical form. Wallace's humor, alas, is for the market. Utterly exchangeable as a quantifiable form without quality.)

But I digress. To return: the literary artist cannot address IT. All writer's know IT well--that thing we cannot write but write around. IT drives the text. IT is in consciousness and behind consciousness. IT fuels the return of the repressed but is not the result of that return. IT is visible and invisible, opaque and translucent. I think of IT as analogous to the "splash of red" Maupassant's madman sees in "Le Horla." IT has a quality not quantity, and that is how we address IT to each other--through prose and verse. Consequently, we only modify Its qualities in language. The philosopher is in many ways dedicated to addressing our limits by iluminating those same limits, therefore taking us closer to IT with language. In this manner, we all write forward together.

The arrow again. Broken yet

swift and accurate.



Laura Carter said...

Fab fab post, Gary. I love it.

Gary Norris said...

an honest thank you.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for your post Gary. Just a quick correction. I wasn't quoting Wittgenstein on white chickens. To my knowledge he doesn't talk about white chickens. Wittgenstein says, "If you do know that _here is one hand_, we'll grant you all the rest" (OC§1) in response to G. E. Moore, who used the fact that he had one, even two, hands as a kind of epistemic bedrock. Something he "knew" and could not be mistaken about.

Replace Moore with the WCW of the Red Wheelbarrow. I've never been entirely happy with my appropriation of W.'s sentence (maybe I'm not entirely happy with the sentence.) Maybe this would be better:

If you can imagine _the white chickens_, I'll grant you all the rest.

I think this raises the right issues in regard to our discussion. In T., the obvious point of contact is "We make ourselves pictures of the facts." W. says nothing about this making (poiesis?), although "so much depends" on it. Where Wittgenstein might lead us astray in T. is in leading us to suppose that the picture is made by some other means than the proposition. This leads us to think that there is a (mental) picture of the fact somewhere that constitutes the sense of the sentence. But, I would argue, the articulate image is immanent to the proposition (and the fact). This immanence amounts to how it was made, and this is the act of composition that the literary artist engages in.

Jay said...

There are so many good points here, and so many good points in Thomas's posts, that it's difficult to choose what to (attempt to) respond to. But I suppose that's how conversations work -- one finds a few footholds in the speech of the other and goes on from there . . .

So, to start, I think Thomas quite succinctly states what I tried to get at by denying a clear thought/language distinction: “the articulate image is immanent to the proposition (and the fact).” As for what we’re trying to do by “steering Wittgenstein away from himself” I like what Gary has to say about the artful silence illuminating or “taking us closer to IT” and what Thomas has to say about the silence articulating “the silence between [political] injunctions.”

Truth be told, Gary and Thomas, I’m finding myself more in agreement with both of you than I have been in previous posts (which is good in a fundamental sense, but disappointing in another way because the debate was/is a lot of fun). I’m wondering where to go here from here (and perhaps this is as much of a personal question as it one about the trajectory of our conversation) . . .

Inasmuch as Wittgenstein’s aim in the Tractatus (and elsewhere) is to refute solipsism, then the project of deriving a poetics from the Tractatus/Wittgenstein might imply that there exists a poetic analog of solipsism. Is this the case? If so, how could it be characterized? As the notion that I have unique, purely interior access to the meaning of my poem? Or the complementary notion that it’s pointless to talk about what a poem means or how it works because it means something different and unique to everybody? A language poetry era lecture by Michael Palmer comes to mind (I read a xeroxed copy a few years ago and can’t recall the title or the book in which it had appeared) in which he rails against the poetry of the “little, bourgeois ‘I’” – poetry which presupposes the subject/narrator as an unproblematic, transparent given. Could this be poetic solipsism?

I suppose I’m also interested in finding more literal analogs of the major components of the picture theory. Here’s one take, incorporating some of Thomas’s thoughts on poetry and political acts (sorry, Thomas!). First a summary of the picture theory proper, then a rewrite:

A proposition’s articulateness amounts to its being picture of a possible state of affairs in the world; and it shows but cannot say the logical/pictorial form that it must have in common with reality in order to represent it. That propositions have logical/pictorial form means that the elements of the propositional picture stand in the same determinant relation to one another as the elements of the state of affairs. (Because a mere set of names isn’t determinate, it lacks logical/pictorial form and is thus inarticulate).

A poem’s articulateness amounts to its being a projection of the silent truth of (possible) impasses and injunctions within historical-political world; and it shows but cannot say the poetic-projective form that it must have in common with the truth in order to project it. That poems have poetic-projective form means that the associative play (e.g., metaphor, metonym, word-play, free unconscious association, etc) among elements of the poetic projection enacts the evolution of the social-political-historical situations and injunctions from which they are projected. (Because a mere set of associative elements doesn’t enact the evolution of any possible situation or injunction, it lacks poetic-projective form and is thus inarticulate).


Thomas Basbøll said...

No need to apologize, Jay. I like the way you work. (And thanks for the plug on your blog, by the way.) I’m not sure I can offer you a disagreement here, but I’ve had a closer look at your rewrite, and I think some of your proportions are off, just a little. Try this.

“A [scientific] proposition’s articulateness amounts to its being a picture of a possible state of affairs in the world.” (Articulating an _actual_ state of affairs, then, is what we call “making a discovery”.)

A political proposition’s articulateness amounts to its becoming a picture of a possible moment in history. (Articulating an actual moment in history is called making a decision.)

Note: Scientific affairs are “static” articulations of being. Political moments are dynamic articulations of becoming. Another note: when I talk of “history” and “the world” I don’t necessary mean the Big Time. Now:

A philosophical remark’s articulateness amounts to . . . ?

A poetic strophe’s articulateness amounts to. . . ?

That’s how I’d set up the analogies you’re looking for, for a start. I think it’s likely to lead to problems if we try to find more direct analogues for “propositions” and “poems” qua tractarian “picture”. The reason for this, as I mentioned earlier, is that philosophy has been much less effective at producing definable “works” than poetry. There is nothing in philosophy that corresponds to “the poem”, which is to say, there is no such thing as a physical object that is articulate in a distinctly “philosophical” sense (and rarer still, if I may indulge in a joke, is a psychological subject that displays such articulateness). But there is something that corresponds to the strophe.

What I’m interested in (obsessed with) is precisely this problem of what makes a fact, like a group of words, articulate. And the answer, of course, is “language” or “meaning”. And the question then is, okay, HOW? And what makes this articulateness so damned “philosophical” or “poetic” or “scientific” or “political”.

“In ghostlier demarcations,” no doubt, “keener sounds. . .”

Russell put it something like this: what must one fact (like a sentence) be like in order to be a symbol for another fact (in order, i.e., for the sentence to “stand for” or “represent” that other fact). Well, that’s of interest when we’re talking about the logic of scientific assertion. In the case of the logic of political injunction, we’d ask: what must one act (like a sentence) be like in order to be a symbol for another act (which it will stand for or represent).

But philosophy and poetry are non-representational precisely in their demarcation from science and politics. Their insistence on remaining silent if need be, I guess.

Could we say, then, that poetry articulates “impossible moments in history” (the impasses you speak of).

Philosophy articulates “impossible states of affairs in the world”?

Philosophy SHOULD articulate concepts; is that what I’ve just defined? I’m not sure. Poetry SHOULD articulate emotions, however, and here I like the “impossible moment” as a definition of the emotion (as distinct from the motion that actualises the moment when possible.)

I’d take issue with these fragments.

“a projection of the silent truth of (possible) impasses and injunctions within historical-political world”

“in common with the truth”

But I don’t think I understand them. A poem need not have anything in common with the truth. “Silent truth”?

Then there’s this, which I think is (you asked for it) the OPPOSITE of what I think:

“the poetic projection enacts the evolution of the social-political-historical situations and injunctions from which they are projected”

Poetry does not enact anything, and certainly not an evolutionary process. We have to leave dynamism to the political struggle with history, just as we have to leave stasis to the scientific detente with the world. (Took me a while to find that word, “detente”, but I like the result.)

The strophe and the remark (the level where poetry and philosophy ARE comparable) somehow occupy the interval, the joint of the articulation. The apperture, perhaps, of the alleged projection. It is the projectivity of poetry that I take issue with I guess. Oooops. I hear the big guns rolling out.

Jay said...

I hesitate to explicitly state "scientific" proposition because the Tractatus also concerned itself with ordinary language propositions -- e.g., "Have you seen my glasses?" "Yeah, they're on the kitchen table." And I think your definition of a proposition as something which asserts the existence of states of affairs suffices to prevent us from mistaking it for a remark.

I think you make a good point about the difference in scale between a poem and proposition. Strophe works for me as the poetic equivalent to a proposition. This raises the question, though, of what happens with regard to propositions when many pictures are assembled together to make a larger picture. Does the larger one accomplish its picturing in the same way as the smaller ones? Or is the notion of a "larger picture" just a metaphorical way of talking?

The fact that you're still obsessed with how meaning happens I take as an indication that Wittgenstein hasn't cured you of your philosophical illness. :) Seriously, though, if we take him at his word, then isn't this precisely what can't be said but can only be shown? And doesn't this mean that you'll never be able to satisfy your longing to represent to yourself how it happens, that your longing is really the product of a fundamental confusion? I ask because I'm curious as to where you part ways with Wittgenstein (if you do) on this and because this is precisely, in my opinion, where Wittgenstein (possibly) becomes profound, where he can have significant implications for the way we conduct ourselves intellectually (for lack of a better way of putting it).

I haven't mentioned it previous conversations, but I'm going to disagree with you on the expression of emotion as the primary function of poetry. It just goes a lot "deeper" than that for me, and is as close to something spiritual as I generally get. Poetry (and art and music, etc) opens onto a kind of infinity for me, and maybe "truth" isn't the best word, but it feels right to me and I could only substitute it with something else that (possibly) designates an infinity, such as "the real" (or something along the lines of "impossible moments of history" -- impossible meaning novel events which no "political proposition" could adequately put into words. I think some of the reading I've been doing on Badiou is starting to sink in . . .)

As for poetry enacting things, I say this because poetry unfolds in time. Pictures generally don't. One strophe elaborates another, counters it, engages in some kind of dialogue or interaction with it. The strophes are generally (again, there are exceptions) not just static elements that could have been encountered in any random order; they interact.

On the other hand, I may be missing your point. I'm intrigued by the notion that "the strophe and the remark . . . somehow occupy the interval, the joint of the articulation. The aperture, perhaps, of the alleged projection." Are you saying that poetry isn't the medium of the projection but rather something like the lens which focuses it?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I’m reminded of T. S. Eliot’s closing remarks in “Tradition and the Individual Talet” where he “proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism.” It is actually by trying to understand this essay along with some of Frege’s papers on concepts and objects that I seized on the idea that poetry presents emotion, just as philosophy presents concepts. (I am not, let’s say, trying to represent anything to myself, rather, I am trying to make myself presentable.)

I think you, too, should force your poetics to stop short of “deeper” appeals to the “infinite”, i.e., metaphysics and mysticism. The whole point, to my mind, is to find something finite, limited and useful for poetry to do, without becoming prosaic and/or instrumental (political poetry, “poems for peace”, etc.)

In the Tractatus I think this is put very ably by saying that the mystical is really just a very large feeling, a picture, as it were, that is just too big to install workably in your emotional apparatus (to big to put in a poem). The feeling that “it coheres all right, even if my notes do not cohere” (Pound, Canto CXVI) is what Wittgenstein calls the “mystical feeling” of the “limited whole” (Pound's notes here are our strophes and remarks, emotional and conceptual notations). The mystical, then, is the limit of poetic presentation, and is not the aim; it is the horizon against which the rest is possible. And I would argue that science and politics are no different in this regard, i.e., they too must work against an ultimately mystical background, a limit at which our thoughts and feelings bring “the whole thing” into the picture. But an experience that is always geared to the horizon is, I’m afraid, totalitarian. Which has always been the problem with “the sublime”: it emphasises the total meaning over the sense of detail.

So perhaps the interval I’m thinking of is occupied precisely by approaching and then STOPPING SHORT of metaphysics (in science) and mysticism (in politics), an act that produces the remark (in the philosophical interval) and the strophe (in the poetic interval), thereby avoiding religion. (I think Laura might have something to add here.) We must remain “absolutely modern”, yes?

As to the medium vs. the lens, I have to admit I'm not quite sure what metaphors best apply. Robert Lowell, I think, wrote somewhere that the painter's mind is not a lens, his hands tremble to carress the light. Eliot proposes the metaphor of a catalyst. Pound invoked the pattern a magnet makes in iron filings. What I really want to say is that the poem is just those articulations there on the page.

PS. I’m not saying we should not be religious. I’m sometimes very religious. I just think we should avoid it in our poetry.

Jay said...

If Wittgenstein doesn’t so much teach us about reality but rather how to comport ourselves as thinkers, if his remarks have first and foremost an ethical intent, then you are quite right to raise concern that by talking about the infinite in poetry I’m constructing my poetics in an unethical way. While I agree that Wittgenstein would probably think I’m talking nonsense, you make a couple of additional leaps that I’m not comfortable making.

First, I’m not sure that talking about the infinite is reducible to metaphysical speculation. Second, I’m not sure that either of them necessarily constitute totalizing gestures.

I’d like to start with the notion of a totalizing gesture. I usually think of these as gestures which attempt to encompass the world as a whole, the kind which are likely to produce that “mystical feeling”. Strange as it may sound, this isn’t what I had in mind when I hastily defined poetry as a projection of something infinite. What I meant was something more like limitless, endless, or even infinitely divisible. Not a limited whole, but rather something unlimited and to which the concept of “whole” couldn’t possibly apply. You spoke of “an experience that is always geared to the horizon” but that notion of infinity presupposes a horizon in the first place, and then, yes, I’d agree, that’s probably totalitarian. I’m not talking about the “he’s got the whole world in his hands” kind of infinity (or the Hegelian “he’s got the whole of history in his head” kind of infinity), but infinities along the lines of the following:

The “extensional” infinity of the landscape, say, in a painting of a landscape, it’s “going on forever” beyond the frame.

The “intensional” infinity of the city (or the cityscape), its division into worlds within worlds.

The infinity of the loss of loved one who has passed away.

The infinity of relief that accompanies forgiveness.

The infinity of an institution, its endless proliferation of regulations and laws (similar to the infinite divisibility of the city).

The infinite novelty of something experienced for the first time.

There’s a sense in which all of these are merely metaphors, or in which they’re only “potentially infinite”, or in which they merely exceed our ability to grasp them. “ No matter how long I live, no matter how deeply I grieve, I will never cease to grieve.” “I can’t conceive of an end to this landscape – as soon as I think of it ending in an ocean, I think of another landscape beyond it, and I could continue thinking in this way for the rest of my life.” “Nothing could have prepared me for what an earthquake feels like.” But I want to say that, in ordinary language, that’s sometimes precisely what “infinite” means.

As for poetry presenting “truth” . . . what I intended (but didn't state) was along these lines: that something always eludes our grasp of a situation and, moreover, this something may come to bear on what follows from the situation, on what the situation eventually comes to mean (it’s “truth”). Whatever you call this something, maybe poetry “expresses”, or “embodies” some part of it.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think you've got a hold of something important here. I've only got time for a short remark.

Tony Tost once posted a nice, terse aphorism on his blog that ran (if I recall)

The sentence converts grief into language.

I think I'm saying that we're consigned to horizonal experience, there is always already a horizon . . . and an ecstacy . . . a being-between-the-interior-and-the-horizon (I think I get that more or less from Heidegger).

I want to introduce the notion of "definity", a bringing-to-the-end. This happens in language.

The sentence (the strophe or the remark) defines grief.

This cannot, of course, happen in the moment of loss, which is infinite in the sense your propose AND intractable to poetry (if I'm right). And ordinary language does indeed operate on the basis of these show-stopping infinities.

When I speak of "definition" I mean this not as we encounter it in dictionaries, but in musculatures, i.e., embodiments. Bodies are finite.

The totalizing gesture is not, you are right to correct me, geared to the horizon but BEYOND the horizon. I'm not sure that we can negate the horizon, not by poetic or other means, but there is the (totalitarian) attempt to make people "feel" that they can (even must), as it were, clear a space ABSOLUTELY.

Poetry, by contrast, affords us greater precision in our emotional apparatus.

Poetry does not bring grief to an end, but it does indicate the horizon of our grief, the hope that we can ALSO do something other than grieve.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Something's been bugging me. I finally brought my copy of the Tractatus home from the office and looked it up. Early on in this discussion I had said: 'it seems to me that [Wittgenstein's] translators really did him a disservice here by translating "Bemerkungen" as "propositions" instead of "remarks". After all, this obscures an important connection between the Trac. and the Phil. Investigations.' Well, that was unfair to his translators (Pears & McGuinness). Wittgenstein calls the numbered sections in the Tractatus "Sätze", which is translated as "propositions" throughout and wholly correctly. In the Investigations he calls the numbered paragraphs "Bemerkungen" (remarks). I was making a mountain out of the following molehill in the footnote to Trac. 1 on the numbering scheme: Pears and McGuinness translate "Bemerkungen zum Satze. . ." as "comments on proposition. . ." That is, some of the propositions are comments on others (the decimals indicating the relevant subordinations). This could have been translated "The propositions n.1, n.2, n.3, etc. are remarks on proposition no. n." (i.e "remarks" instead of "comments" for "Bemerkungen") and that was the allegedly "important connection" between T and PI that had been lost in translation. I'm not at all sure it's that important. (Nor even whether it justifies this correction.)

But I think my memory was simply adjusting to my bias. That is, I prefer to see the whole of the Tractatus in the light of the Investigations and to let this light strip it of its assertive "propositional" nature. We end up with numbered remarks, and remarks on remarks. Much more in the spirit of the work, I think, but not, as I had thought, in its letter.

Henry Gould said...

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.

Glazov-Corrigan, in her book MANDELSTAM'S POETICS, outlines how that poet conceived of poetry as the entwining of two distinct strands - the verbal matter and the poetic impulse. She shows how Mandelstam gradually developed his concept of the latter in relation to a shared journey of writer & reader, speaker & listener. I like this notion of poetry's dual, Janus-like quality: it's an image-architecture, certainly - a vision; but simultaneously its an impulse deeply grounded in a living, changing (human) encounter.

I don't know if this is relevant to your sophisticated discussion - feel free to pass over in - silence!