POETRY’S NEXT BIG THING: THE BRAIN!!!!

According to the New York Times, science is coming to the humanities:

To illustrate what a growing number of literary scholars consider the most exciting area of new research, Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky, refers to an episode from the TV series “Friends.”

(Follow closely now; this is about the science of English.) Phoebe and Rachel plot to play a joke on Monica and Chandler after they learn the two are secretly dating. The couple discover the prank and try to turn the tables, but Phoebe realizes this turnabout and once again tries to outwit them.

As Phoebe tells Rachel, “They don’t know that we know they know we know.”

This layered process of figuring out what someone else is thinking — of mind reading — is both a common literary device and an essential survival skill. Why human beings are equipped with this capacity and what particular brain functions enable them to do it are questions that have occupied primarily cognitive psychologists.

Now English professors and graduate students are asking them too. —Patricia Cohen, The New York Times

This is good news.

It’s about time “figuring out what someone else is thinking” became a concern of Letters.    For too long “figuring out” and “thinking” have been absent.

Perhaps the divine eros of Dante and the ratiocination of Poe will return and the silly acadademic fads will be banned forever.

The New Critics fancied they were doing science, but they forgot to ask why paradox and ambiguity and symbol existed; blinded by their rejection of origins (“Intentional fallacy”) and aims (“Affective fallacy”) for the sake of the pure text, the New Critics were, in reality, hopelessly unscientific.   So much for structuralism.  Psychoanalysis concerns itself too much with  drives and not enough with thoughts.  Marxism burdens its advocates with the impossible job of inventing ideal governance, of forming an economic Plato’s Republic that always finds itself rejecting a great deal more than poetry.

Ironically, poetry was perhaps the only thing Plato got right.

Brain science, as anyone in the field will tell you, is still very primitive.   But if the new trend gets us to see the poetry (and art in general) as one planet among many, and to see poetry as natural and selfish and not merely benign, to study human nature in a truly global context of secret motive, where matching wits and competing is just as real as the material of  which the universe is supposedly made, then this is a good thing.

Science does not have to invalidate art or make it subordinate; quite the contrary.

It is precisely because fiction carries knowledge, and is not knowledge itself, that humanity in general take any interest in it.

Fiction is not some indirect means to a greater reality or the truth, fiction is not a window to the truth.  Fiction exists as a socialized address; it speaks to us in the act of its speaking, and thus is reality which speaks.  Art does not depict reality, or point to reality—it is reality.  It is reality speaking.  The opinion another holds regarding us is as real for them as it is for us, and how that opinion is expressed resembles a fiction because this is fiction’s realm, but this resemblance is not a casual one, but actual.  If we water fake plants, we still water them.  Accident can determine how another feels about us, but a feeling expressed is never accidental.  Reality is accident, but art never is.  Since carrying knowledge is a real function, the idea that we never access the knowledge itself matters not; in fact, it peaks our interest because the inaccessibility of knowledge replicates our experience of reality.  What is our experience of reality?   Reality is an experience we are constantly experiencing but never finally knowing.   It is by experiencing fiction, by experiencing what merely carries knowledge  that we finally know anything at all, and this is why fiction is our only means of knowing—because reality is a fiction which carries itself (its reality, our reality) ever further, without ever resting in knowledge.

Here is the Times again:

They say they’re convinced science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature’s very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?

Plato was the last great scientist of fiction.  It was fiction’s reality that Plato feared, in banning it from his Republic.  Plato’s attack on art remains the greatest homage to art in literature.  It is by supposing that reality is fiction and that fiction is reality that we better understand both.  Aristotle’s approach was to treat art as if it were a worthy component of reality; thus when Plato warned that art watered the passions, Aristotle claimed that art served the state by purging the passions, but Aristotle’s catharsis counter was nothing more than sleight of hand—for nothing is purged when it springs into existence; Aristotle made art a toy, a tool, of reality, but Plato knew it was more.

Before a poet reading this gets a swelled head—a poet friend in college enjoyed quoting Plato that poetry was something “divine”—we should remember that most poets are helplessly Aristotelian in their approach: their poetry is ‘about’ this or that; their conception of poetry is that of an illustration or an example of reality, but not reality itself.

Partial descriptions of reality are the soul of science; religion is impatient to disclose the secrets of the whole; devotion wants the answer, and only fictitously can such a thing be given.  Evolution is scientific by its very definition: scientifc knowledge evolves; it is acquired slowly; but knowledge cannot be partial, nor can the factual be partial; by a rude paradox, then, we find religion is more factual than science, since no fact can be true if facts keep evolving; religious truth, by attaching itself to what is unchanging, eclipses scientific knowledge in all but a few studious and lonely minds.

I do not mean to say that religious truths are true in any objective sense, but to the individual mind—which is how knowledge, as far as we know, is known—religion is true as reflected in social reality (to most of us, the highest reality and truth),  guided and comprised of symbols of behavior, a fictional morality, if you will, which significantly influences all human thought and action.

Again, the Times:

Ms. Zunshine, whose specialty is 18th-century British literature, became familiar with the work of evolutionary psychologists while she was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the 1990s. “I thought this could be the most exciting thing I could ever learn,” she said.

At a time when university literature departments are confronting painful budget cuts, a moribund job market and pointed scrutiny about the purpose and value of an education in the humanities, the cross-pollination of English and psychology is a providing a revitalizing lift.

Jonathan Gottschall, who has written extensively about using evolutionary theory to explain fiction, said “it’s a new moment of hope” in an era when everyone is talking about “the death of the humanities.” To Mr. Gottschall a scientific approach can rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half. Zealous enthusiasm for the politically charged and frequently arcane theories that energized departments in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s — Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis — has faded. Since then a new generation of scholars have been casting about for The Next Big Thing.

The brain may be it.

Again, it’s way too early to tell, and really quite doubtful, if “the brain may be it,” but the “evolutionary psychologists” mentioned in the article think broadly enough in terms of human motivation that thinking about literature might acquire wings after so many decades of trends which feature narrow, earthbound pursuits of the  pure text, lumbering politics, and self-centered psychology.

Art has been tamed by all these fads, over-shadowed by them, and perhaps the ‘next big thing’ will end up doing the same.

So let’s take this opportunity to speak rationally and scientifically once more about art’s importance.

Art’s divine function is to mirror life sufficiently and then distort it so that a new reality is created in the cognitive and emotional life of the audience, and this distorting can be horrific or beautiful or comic, depending on the character and aim of the sculptor.  The cognitive or emotional life created in the audience does not merely reflect life; it is something new.  To be familiar, it must reflect life up to a point.  The necessity of this familiarity should serve the art, not the other way around.  When the art merely serves the reflective necessity, it will impress (in the way all similitude does) but not elevate the audience.  Art which makes no effort to reflect life fails on this very account.  This failure can manifest itself in a variety of ways: lack of personality, of action, of form, of duration, of emotion, of subtlety, but these demerits are qualities, not particular elements of life.  The artist uses clay, not life, to build up his art; the clay can be anything so long as it holds an impression, but the manner of artistry belongs to the will of the artist.  The merit of the work will be found in its unity—its faults will exist in parts, or in those spaces, pauses, and gaps where mere life (sans art, sans science) shows through.

As far as what Phoebe tells Rachel, “They don’t know that we know they know we know.”   This reminded me of how I always admired the Beatles’ first big American hit: She Loves You.

This is a perfect example of how art is, more than anything else, cunning expression.

The lyrics of this song somehow manage to celebrate love while excluding the lover from the song.  The typical love song is “I love you,” in which the man addresses the woman, or another common variation is “you don’t love me,” the Petrarchan trope, types of addresses which Shakespeare had so much fun twisting about  in his sonnets.

With “she loves you,” we have something which is many, many levels more complex than “I love you.”  Yet, on the surface, it’s simple enough to work as a happy love song.  Yea, yea, yea.

However the ‘next big thing’ plays itself out, let’s hope we see more of the following quotes in english classes:

The orange ray of the spectrum and the buzz of the gnat (which never rises above the second A), affect me with nearly similar sensations.  In hearing the gnat, I perceive the color.  In perceiving the color, I seem to hear the gnat.   –Edgar Poe

Colors and grief, memories, the expected and the unexpected, this tree and the fluttering of its foliage, its annual variation, its shadow, as well as its substance, the accidents of its shape and position, the remote thoughts which it brings to the edge of my wandering attention—they are equivalents.  Any one can be substituted for any other.  Is not this perhaps the definition of things?Leonardo Da Vinci

Thomas Brady

21 Comments

  1. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 6, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Thanks for all that, Tom — I promise you I will spend a whole lot of time with this huge new offering. I did see that same NY Times article, and thought as well that it might be good to discuss it on Scarriet. On the other hand, I felt we were already in the midst of it ourselves, and had more material than we could handle already, critical, philosophical, and poetic.

    So I just want to be sure that new visitors to Scarriet realize we are discussing this same topic on the thread, “MUMBO-JUMBO?” “PARADOX?” “AMBIGUITY?” “IRONY?” “SYMBOL?’

    ~

    I’d like to throw out one new old thought which might be useful, and a poem to go with it:

    One of the most extraordinary and, I think, liberating aspects of the New Physics is to have demonstrated empirically something that poets have always known, and exploited. IT’S ALL THERE EVERYWHERE — the bewilderingly large is fully present in the blindingly small, and one moves over into the other and illuminates it.

    Poets have always known that human beings could get to the heart of the matter in two ways, and that each of those ways served the same purpose. They could expand into the all-encompassing, the epic, for example, or they could contract into the smallest, most private prayer or utterance — indeed, cultures all over the world have developed some of their most powerful oral arts around pure sacred sounds, spells, mantras, and, of course, in more recent times, the lyric.

    Like modern scientists, poets have always known that the microcosm contains the macrocosm, and vise-versa, and that by concentrating on the particular they could break through to and illuminate the most complex, most engrossing, most unifying of all truths.

    Here’s how Ted Hughes says that, a touchstone poem for me:

    Thrushes

    Terrifying are the attent sleek thrushes on the lawn,
    More coiled steel than living – a poised
    Dark deadly eye, those delicate legs
    Triggered to stirrings beyond sense – with a start, a bounce,
    a stab
    Overtake the instant and drag out some writhing thing.
    No indolent procrastinations and no yawning states,
    No sighs or head-scratchings. Nothing but bounce and stab
    And a ravening second.

    Is it their single-mind-sized skulls, or a trained
    Body, or genius, or a nestful of brats
    Gives their days this bullet and automatic
    Purpose? Mozart’s brain had it, and the shark’s mouth
    That hungers down the blood-smell even to a leak of its own
    Side and devouring of itself: efficiency which
    Strikes too streamlined for any doubt to pluck at it
    Or obstruction deflect.

    With a man it is otherwise. Heroisms on horseback,
    Outstripping his desk-diary at a broad desk,
    Carving at a tiny ivory ornament
    For years: his act worships itself – while for him,
    Though he bends to be blent in the prayer, how loud and
    above what
    Furious spaces of fire do the distracting devils
    Orgy and hosannah, under what wilderness
    Of black silent waters weep.
    ………………………………………..Ted Hughes

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 6, 2010 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing the Hughes, Christopher. That’s a good choice. Now excuse me while I poke this nasty Englishman in the eye…he makes me see red…

      Ted Hughes should have tried a little tenderness.
      What did he know of Mozart’s brain?
      Sensistive Ted was able to see himself small,
      Ravished by the quick stab of a terrifying thrush,
      See himself small, big, haughty, indifferent, terrifying
      To his own wife. Sensitive Ted. Harrowing, furious,
      Prayerful, loud, in the wilderness, a little frightened.
      I read his poems in awe when I was young.

      • Christopher Woodman said,

        April 7, 2010 at 2:31 am

        Tomasbrady wrote:

        Ted Hughes should have tried a little tenderness.
        What did he know of Mozart’s brain?
        Sensistive Ted was able to see himself small,
        Ravished by the quick stab of a terrifying thrush,
        See himself small, big, haughty, indifferent, terrifying
        To his own wife. Sensitive Ted. Harrowing, furious,
        Prayerful, loud, in the wilderness, a little frightened.
        I read his poems in awe when I was young.

        When I said “Thrushes” was a touchstone for me, I was admitting that it had been with me for a long time — 40+ years, I’d guess. During that time it had come to be a kind of portmanteau for me, a whole nexus of perceptions and hunches that weren’t at all easy to hold together. Indeed, I used the poem like one of those Renaissance memory structures in Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory— to access huge general ideas about art and creativity that I scarcely understood and could therefore scarcely get my mind around. The poem had became almost occult for me, I think, an alchemical retort in which my steamier hunches were still brewing…

        And I confess, Tom, that when I got it up there this time, finished my post and clicked on submit, I realized I didn’t like it as much as I used to, that it didn’t read quite so well, and that it was even a bit theatrical. But really, what I was admitting to myself is that I had moved on, that I’d outgrown the poem, or at least outgrown what it had meant to me. Because that’s not to say the poem is “crappy,” what is more that I’m better than it is, God forbid, as a poet or person — just that what I knew in the past wasn’t quite up to what I had wanted it to be. Like Linus without his blanket, I’m no longer young — I’ve outgrown yet another old touchstone.

        But we have to be gentle on ourselves sometimes too, Tom — you’re much too harsh and censorious — on yourself too, I suspect. I have no suicides in my own past, i.e. have never had intimate contact with someone who killed himself or herself. On the other hand, there are a whole slew of them in my mother’s family for four generations, and I look and look and look but still don’t know what happened what is more who was at fault.

        I just know I’m still under that shadow.

        Then I look at my own life. Though there haven’t been any suicides, there have been upheavals in my personal life, for sure, and some of them have never stopped bleeding. One of them in particular haunts me to this day, a divorce from the time when I first met “Thrushes,” and I still don’t know what happened! Some say I was to blame, some say I wasn’t, some say I did my best — and who am I to possibly know? I bleed, but do I know what happened? Or can I staunch my children’s blood?

        That too was a high stakes marriage, closer to Hughes and Plath than anyone would ever want to be, and set in Cambridge as well, that glamorous, that high-powered, that perverse — and it went up in the most terrible smoke. And one of the reasons Ted Hughes poem is a touchstone for me is that the “orgy and hosannah” of the last lines right down to the “black silent waters weep” describes it.

        And don’t we all have terrible things in our lives we don’t fully understand, that we may or may not have been responsible for? Do you really want to assume that Ted Hughes was responsible for Sylvia Plath’s death, or that he didn’t try hard enough not to be? Do you really think he might have succeeded with a “little tenderness,” for example, as you suggest — or maybe you meant a hug?

        ~

        Thrushes are not what you think they are. They’re closely related to our big American robin (the English robin is tiny like a wren), and they’re enormously aggressive, as are Englishmen (think Empire). I can’t think of any creatures more aggressive, yet we Americans have a fantasy about them both, thrushes and Englishmen, as romantic, decorative and well-bred, birds and men for the lawns of our waspiest American Dream, Masterpiece Theatre. Well they’re not, they’re precisely what Ted Hughes says they are right down to the “more coiled steel than living.”

        Christopher

  2. Desmond Swords said,

    April 6, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Brain science, as anyone in the field will tell you, is actually fairly advanced Tom.

    Take no notice of the Times article, it is merely hack work from the bottom of a knowledge pile, making noise about stuff clearly not the journalist’s field of expertise.

    Someone who has watched only the 2004 movie and not the extended DVD (2006) version of Down The Rabbit Hole: What the Bleep do We Know?

    Rather than familiarising themself over several years with the wider epistemological sweep of knowledge this award winning 2004 film explores in a combination of ‘documentary-style interviews, computer-animated graphics, and a narrative that posits a spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness, the journalist has seen just one short movie and thought, neat idea, I’ll pass myself off as knowing all about the new thing I’ll try and make out was my idea all along, and not me trying to come across as being au fait with the day to day ideas of people who work at the cutting edge of the space and Science industry.

    ~

    Over a fictional narrative about a deaf photographer, played by oscar winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin, various neurologists, molecular biologists, anesthesiologists and talking heads from the upper academic echelons of theoretical physics; explain in layterms, the scientific abc’s of advanced Science, that make for a fascinating two hour visual experience. Very intellectually stimulating.

    Any half qualified scrabbler on the rags could string together some basic piece using brain versus duh, erm, yeah, blah blah – after watching What The Bleep Do We Know, which is what’s happened here, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover.

    I thought on watching this film, how poetry as the final epistemological arbiter, compared to the Science we have now, is a poor see through relation. Atrophied from its ancient size.

    Once it was the poets and hierophants who conveyed in our mumbling jumbo to captivated sheeple willing to agree the earth was flat, thunder a god called Thor, water and earth a goddess called Gaia, what theoretical physics and neurology now proves fictional, and not the logical, scientific ‘knowledge’ the voodoo caste of metaphysical custodians, dressed up in formal raiment, told us was the what, why and how of material reality, in our not too distant past.

    The poet trying this on now and going for a totally straight face routine of, do you know how knowledgable I am about God because I have a few ditties and a chair at the Academy, can never work again, I’m happy to report.

    The question Celan causes one to ask: How can there be poetry after Asuschwitz?- can be appropriated as a model to make another one: how does poetry as a vehicle of knowledge, fit in with string-theory and theoretical physics?

    It’s all very jolly having poets do their shtick, but the priestly pose in a Critic pose you are so set against, the faux authoritative sleight of hand that, no matter how quick, clever, entertaining and deceptive the prose; when measured by the light of contemporary Science, dissolves into a very minor creative branch of material utility for all but the most scrupulous scholars au fait with a quantum consciousness present unseen and effecting us all in the Theory of Everything Michio Kaku is making strides toward knowing and proving to us, with the real poetry in our world today.

    Thinking from a Japanese American who the Hungarian father of the H bomb, Edward Teller, discovered in 60’s America and secured a Harvard engineering scholarship for, such the intellectual brilliance of this ‘poet’ scientist doing far, far more interesting and relevent thinking about the ‘real’ world than the entire 10,000 souljahs in your AmPo army slogging it, snarling round a dried up well for the few funding spots such a trivial activity as making verse, is provided with by the instruments of State.

    Have a gander at this neuroscientist, telling us in part ten (of 14) of the DVD on youtube:

    ‘The Hypothalamus is like a little mini-factory and it is a place that assemblescertain chemicals that matches certain emotions that we experience. And those particular chemicals are called peptides: a small chain amino acid sequences. Our body’s basically a carbon unit that makes about 20 different amino acids all together, to formulate its physical structure. In the hypothalamus, we take small chain proteins called peptides and we assemble them into certain neuro peptides, or neural hormones, that match the emotional states we experience on a daily basis.’

    Richard Dawkins said: ‘the authors seem undecided whether their theme is quantum theory or consciousness. Both are indeed mysterious, and their genuine mystery needs none of the hype with which this film relentlessly and noisily belabours us’, concluding that the film is ‘tosh.’

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 6, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Mr. Swords,

    You are correct. The Times article is mere journalism.

    You are right to see through it.

    I assure you, brain science is primitive. We may know the brain’s weather. We do not know the brain.

    For the poet, there is no authority, not Richard Dawkins, nor Giant Bardic Celts who lived long ago.

    You can be inspired by others and admire the wisdom of others, but if you answer to any authority, you are no poet.

    There is indeed an impulse to bow down to the scientific wonders of the universe and call poetry a vanity, but maybe tomorrow. There is something in poetry’s delicacy that informs a sensitivity without which the world would be a hellish place. Perhaps poetry is a vanity, but it is a pleasant and soft and comfortable one. I know this is pure frippery even as I utter it, but I have a brick in my hand. Watch out. I will defend my comfortable pillow to the death.

    When you say the Ampo army is “slogging,” I think you are projecting. You, Desmond, slog. They drink wine and eat cheese. Let’s give the Ampo army a chance. Maybe they will come up with something, or bring something up from within themselves. Let us not hector them all at once. Let us try and distinguish them from one another and love the best of them and whip the rest. Otherwise they will retreat into a frightened herd. Foetry.com almost did that. But new pleasantries arise and the best will be found on a hill, singing. And all the sheep in the meadows below…

    Thomas

  4. Desmond Swords said,

    April 6, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Hughes will be laughing in faeryland, unconcerned about the threat to his reputation from the satirical squib by the online avatar Thomas Brady.

    The attack on Hughes above reminds one of the darts and barbs delivered by cyberville’s Anonymous doggerelists, to the objects of their disfavor, on lit-threads throughout the poetry village. The obvious rebuttal is to say, erm, but Ted’s poetry is clearly superior in quality to our own, and to be taken seriously as his assassin, one need write better verse than Hughes, which I don’t think Brady does, Graves

    You speak of ‘Ted’, a dead man you know only through Letters, making you ‘angry’, seeing red and inferring the prosecution of him by you as Brady – as a transgressor of some fundamental poetic doctrine – rests on some ‘moral’ basis, that you know he had been cruel to his wife. You, not knowing him, with zero human connection, take it on yourself to defend one of his dead wives, another ghost you don’t know. How very convenient. No mess, nothing of the living to sully the straight clean lines of righteousness and thought in the rarefied laboratory of Brady’s critical composure, safely in their graves Tom can spout any old rubbish and fake it as an all American champ Brady, touching down for…c’mon, admit it, you’re fucking scared of being yourself aren’t you, boy?

    Easy way out Brady, to comnfort ourself we’re a superior moral being and vehicle who denigrates the authorial talent of dead poets and people who had more intelligence, wit, fame and fortune than us – isn’t it? Dress ourself up in the thought-cop rig and start pontificating on the morals of this one or that one being a dead candidate for our scaffold and chopping block, just because we know everything there is about them, from a book. These people we don’t know, Ransom, Crowe, Eliot and the rest of the good old boys.

    In fact, the whole planet of poetry bores except ourself, isn’t it ‘Brady’, too fearful to use your own name in this forum set up to take the fight to Foetry HQ, Harriet.

    ~

    Y’all have to help one out, I’m confused. Are we still at war, or a love-in with the AmPo army from Harriet Thom?

    You don’t like me dissing your AmPo souljahs, do you Graves?

    You have no qualms sticking the critical boot in yourself, but not the English johnnie who agrees with you a bit too much, hey. the nasty brit. But you said we need more like me and Cowell Tom, remember, to let you lot know the truth about how poetically disabled y’all are over there, with your pathetically juvenile system that has no definitive source you can teach yourselves about, hence all this confusiomn and wankery at HQ, that one voice in the village caused to be closed down for debate. De dums. Get over it and praise one as your saviour.

    You assure me, brain science is primitive. We may know the brain’s weather. We do not know the brain. Total bollocks Brady, utter tosh. What you mean is you know nothing much about the brain. I, on the other hand, can assure you, I know more about this than you because I trained in medicine for many years before I dropped out of the straight world to become an artist.

    But that won’t affect you, going again there with the sweeping statements, proving only what limits your own brain has on, not only neurology, but poetry and dán.

  5. Wfkammann said,

    April 7, 2010 at 2:29 am

    To practice meditation you take a bit of consciousness off in a corner to observe the rest. Without that cord you cannot meditate. If you write the first thing that occurs to you, Tom, you risk shallowness and mindless repetition. Plato, Aristotle, Poe, Dewey, James…. We needn’t only expound (who cares?) but we can hone our view on the minds of others.

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 7, 2010 at 6:05 am

    I was intrigued by the illustration you chose for this Thread, and traced it to an article by Deepak Chopra — hardly what you, Tom, would call a “scientist.” The article is called “At Last Scientists Are Discovering The Soul,” and is reprinted in that huge, sprawling occultist domain called Red Ice Creations — from Chariots of the Gods to Ron Hubbard! You can find the article with your illustration here: http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/scientistsoul.html

    I personally find this sort of writing very hard to take, because the discourse is so fanciful yet at the same time so limited, and reductive. Yes, such discourse has a long and distinguished modern following, including one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, but still it doesn’t fly for me — indeed it never gets off the ground at all, and I find myself shivering. No comfort, no transcendence whatsoever, no brief even.

    And I’d like to say why — but it’s hard!

    The sort of discourse I’m talking about is part of what Rudolf Steiner and many other early 20th century occultists tried to establish as “Spiritual Science.” In fact, what ended up by getting established is what Trungpa Rimpoche, the Tibetan Lama who founded the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, shrewdly called “spiritual materialism,” — Trungpa wrote a whole book on how, from a Buddhist perspective, you could “cut through it.” (The book is called Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (1973) by Chögyam Trungpa, and it’s excellent.)

    My own feeling is that I’d rather go crazy like Ted Hughes or Ronald Wallace and write poetry, because metaphors don’t need any strings attached, no science or linquistics, epistemology or credentials or footnotes. For in poetry you can say anything you like, after all, as William Carlos Williams said about Ezra Pound. (“Why, he can say anything,” his friend said — and whatever you think of him, he was right!)

    ~

    I was very surprised when a friend sent me a copy of a book called Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels, the well-known theologian and scholar of the Gnostic Gospels. Shocked, would be more like it. What interest could I, a poet, have in that sort of seminary crap?

    And I was stunned, how it touched me.

    Because what Elaine Pagels does is set out how a well-trained, disciplined theologian can continue not only to study theology but to live by it, even long after his or faith in any sort of benevolent God or an after-life has been lost. And she shows you that you don’t do that juggling feat by saying, oh, it’s all just “as if,” it’s all just a parable or a metaphor. You do it by coming to realize that metaphor is a higher truth even than gospel, much, much higher even than science! That what you imagine as a poet is!

    That’s a hard thought — does it resonate with any of you visitors?

    ~

    What I want to say to you, Tom, is similar to what I think both Desmond and Bill are saying to you too. Poetry’s next big thing is not the brain but what we do with it.

    Christopher

  7. Desmond Swords said,

    April 7, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Take no notice of one’s performance Graves, tis all but theatre and show, sleight of hand enacted for the readers of the one true critical debate – done but for the beneift of one’s Reader only, ladies.

    And one thinks we are getting there Bill, because of the hard-go at not holding back in the expression of what’s on our mind at any given time of composition. Not letting political considerations, such as who we ‘know’ in person and/or print, limit how we behave as contstructed entities in genderless print; psychic persuaders and agitators, performance dogerrelists and instigators on stage at the forum of Letters.

    It’s all for the pleasure of our readers, nowt personal Brady, but in one’s imagination, romping through the dales and flowery glen, cliched cack-handed doggerelist, Desmond’s words, Molach’s honor, at the summer camp where it all goes on, colleagues in a master of fine art army, 10,000 strong and counting:

    stupid america, see that
    chicano
    with a big knife
    on his steady hand
    he doesn’t want to knife you
    he wants to sit on a bench
    and carve christ figures
    but you won’t let him.
    stupid america, hear that
    chicano
    shouting curses on the street
    he is a poet
    without paper and pencil

    Rigoberto González.

    Seeing red Tom, speaking at AWP about how despite our incredible numbers, Chicanos/Latinos are left out of the national conversation about race, which is a dialogue between black and white.

    Angry Berto, crazee mad, bad and dangerous educator, his pedagogic colleague Craig Santos Perez

    ” i am soooooo sick of….

    people like this. and it was so refreshing to read rigoberto’s recent post. imagine: a talented writer who actually loves teaching and working with students! for me, i entered academia because i wanted to learn–of course–but also because i love teaching (having been an educator for almost 10 years now). my recent trip to my homeland renewed my love of teaching having engaged with almost 400 high school and college students within the span of 5 days.”

    These two one can be very proud of Graves, because they overcame tough racial odds and are still facing prejudice and appallingly casual unthinkingness by the Opressor baby. Don’t you forget it Brady, nor any of the other fighters for our cause of being heard in Letters, Mister Graves, alphabetically correct, ship-shape source, all in Denver, where it’s getting sorted.

    Linh Dinh.

    ‘The poetry ghetto is tiny. Sooner or later, you will pretty much meet just about everybody. In Denver this week, you can probably do it in a night, if you know which after hour karaoke bar to pop in. In such a cozy community, even a vaguely negative review can have nasty consequences. You have just made a lifelong enemy, someone who can deny you a grant, job or reading invitation down the line. With such a puny pie, you gotta lick each crumb before someone else does. Pen a puff piece, however, and you have just gained a new ally.’

    There’s only one deabte in AmPo Graves, who’s getting what.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    April 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Des,

    Re: Ted, you protest too much. You assume there’s a ‘real’ Ted that I am persecuting and this assumption handcuffs real criticism, which is invaluable.
    Your empathy is misplaced; there is no ‘real’ Ted which I persecute with my criticism. There is only the Ted we ‘see’ in the poem, which is fair game.

    You err in the same manner by taking your assumption of how much ‘they know’ of the brain and placing it beside your assumption of how much ‘I know’ of the brain. I believe it would be more profitable if you looked to your own ‘brain.’

    I did see that by Linh Dinh. Nice stuff. Everybody’s getting on the Foetry train. Harriet’s beginning to sound like Foetry.com….

    Tom

  9. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 9, 2010 at 1:25 am

    This little piece of sarcasm just doesn’t work, Tom, nor does it lend ammunition to your crusade against the New Criticism in general and against close reading of the text in particular.

    Because “Ted” doesn’t appear in “Thrushes,” Tom — he ‘s simply not there at all, autobiographically, yet you trash the poem because you believe Ted Hughes was responsible for Sylvia Plath’s death!

    There is most certainly a real Ted, or at least there was one, but only you, Thomas Brady, are suggesting he is there in the poem, “Thrushes,” and that what you call his lack of “tenderness” toward his wife invalidates it. Indeed, you are persecuting Ted Hughes with your misplaced criticism precisely as the New Critics cautioned us against. Similarly you persecute T.S.Eliot every time you read a poem of his because of what you think he did to his wife, though nobody else knows for sure, and you persecute William Carlos Williams because he allowed himself to be published in The Dial and The Dial slept with Ezra Pound and his girl friend all at once. So biographical concerns are major for you — and poems stained by associations with authors you deem morally reprehensible in their personal lives don’t stand a chance.

    In actual fact, I can’t remember any poem by Ted Hughes in which he does name himself, or recount the details of his personal life — with the conspicuous exception of the poems in “Birthday Letters,” of course, and I don’t think anybody would be so insensitive as to suggest Ted Hughes was using himself as a textual gimmick there, or that he was exploiting his personal tragedy for aesthetic purposes.

    Christopher

  10. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 9, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Here’s the way you, Tom, put it in the 3rd to the last of the 30 odd ‘March Madness’ articles. Called “University Officials Outraged by Scarriet’s ‘March Madness’ Tourney,” you put your case as if your imagined audience, wild with enthusiasm for the sport, of course, all agreed, intoxication being everybody’s favorite.

    In fact nobody agreed or disagreed, as there was no discussion on Scarriet during the whole series.

    Now that it’s over I think it’s important to look back at what was said [some of this passage is quoted at the beginning of this article, so we’re right on target]. Needless to say, what it says is also reflected in Thomas Brady’s blunt dismissal of Ted Hughes:

    The affective fallacy, so-called, by which the New Critics attempted to muder the Romantics, was summed up this way: “We might as well study the properties of wine by getting drunk.” (Edward Hanslick)

    But March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astutue critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

    The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious heirarchies do not belong in poetry, not artifically, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

    Even Pound confessed Letters was for the health of the many: “so is it [literature] durable and so is it ‘useful;’ I mean it maintains the precision and clarity of thought, not merely for the benefit of a few dilettantes and ‘lovers of literature,’ but maintains the health of thought outside literary circles and in non-literary existence, in general individual and communal life.” –How To Read. Even the great crackpot crank himself was not stupid on this point.

    So in this spirit have we given the world March Madness. The four remaining poems by Bowdan, Collins, Kulik and Livingston, are highly moral in this sense: they all depict loss in a highly artistic manner; loss is the chief fact of life; poetry which depicts loss beautifully and imaginatively makes us stoic in the face of it and helps strength and pleasure combine in our souls; pardon the grotesquely simple explanation, but morality is not pretty; poetry’s use is to make it beautiful.
    http://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/university-officials-outraged-by-scarriets-march-madness-tourney/#comment-1443

    These sentiments really worry me, as similar ideas in the mouths of demagogues and dictators become so pernicious. The implication is that art has a duty to the people, that art is for the people, and that it has an obligation to look after the people too, and keep them happy. More than that, beauty is a balm for hurts, and that poets have an obligation not only to write beautifully but to behave beautifully too, to be models. Morality, of course, is achieved at the end of a big stick, but we’ve got art, and specifically poetry, to cover it in a sock of velvet, and make it beautiful.

    Meaning is elitist and professorial, and not good for the people who crave beauty, and deserve it.

    Morality is medicine, poetry is honey, put them together and you can keep everybody quiet. And that’s nice.

    This is the secret of control, or at least that’s what I think Tom is saying.

    ~

    So Thomas Brady ends up with his own choice of FOUR poems, the Best of the Best out 1,500 that were already the Best in America, don’t forget — they won the World Series of the century! And what do these poems have in common, according to Tom, the supreme legislator and deus ex machina? “Morallity,” he tells us, and this, combined with his dismissal of “Thrushes,” seriously worries me.

    Tom hates “Thrushes” because the author, Ted Hughes, “makes him see red.” And why? Because he lacked “tenderness,” and had he had more of it Sylvia Plath might not be dead.

    Case dismissed.

    Ditto William Carlos Williams and Eliot. Declared immoral, uncaring, elitist. Took money. Did influence. Don’t read them as they’ll poison your minds. Dead.

    ~

    What I’ve just said is key to all the disputes on Scarriet, I think, and I think we need to look into all this before we get side-tracked again, even if it just baseball.

    ~

    I’ve tried to set the stage in this comment as simply as I could, but of course I’m very much involved, being one of the founders of the site. I’m also a bit non-plussed by the direction Scarriet has taken, and need some help (or a beating, you name it!).

    Isn’t it time some of you visitors came in? What do you make of all this?

    Anyone out there from Harriet? What do you think now that you’re closed and our cows have come home?

    Christopher

  11. Desmond Swords said,

    April 9, 2010 at 6:18 am

    Here here Tom – I mean Chris.

    Harriet has got more exciting as a Reader venue, most certainly sailor.

    Before Trav clicked that mouse snuffing out deabte on that fabulusly fantastic and all round wow forum of all round

    er

    Po-mo Of Everything Theory: Senate AmPo.

    … it had got very boring. Because people weren’t sharing correctly. Trav, one need apologize to. And his bosses, because one was experiencing the effect of one’s usual bi-polar behaviour. Obsessed with Trav (and if the trith be known) his bosses began communicating to me via back-channel (bc) and we sorted everything out, vis a vis the Pomo Theory Of Everything question.

    ()

    Anyway, live and in person – not six foot under unable to speak – poets in Dublin today, Tom, it’s like this -see – everything flows according to the theory of everyone, not just the one.

    And me and Woodie, like cheese and fucking chalk you ****, we are not 21 () unlike Brady; and we just want to love poetry and be real about it, right to the final breath, Graves.

    We have only a forum of Letters to sport as us three passionate, commited, complicit protaganist actoary hammy chaps, operative in da word moan.

    You are a groovy anonymous guy Brady, really hitting the heights of your complex blah blah baseball blah blah football blah blah Poe a try and not much else.

    This can mean only one thing.

    You are sincere in your love, both professional and amatuer. More importantly perhaps, than stepping up to the play as some unreal buffoon from NY ah yeah plazzy gal’s moan of contentional energies who’s lingo i-stick’s fucking wiki larrghh, as J’d say. Moan,

    At least we are being read.

    Alan, Chris or Graves, link to Scarriet’s traffic site please. One is confused and if the numbers prove it’s me they’re reading and not a plastic, well Segais Tom English magician, sit nack, relax and float down stream

  12. Jan Hammerquist said,

    April 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Yeah, thanks for all that, Tom. “Plato was the last great scientist of fiction” ?! …”the individual mind…is how knowledge, as far as we know, is known”— WOW … “still primitive” — why, yes, O yes!

  13. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 12, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Thanks for coming, Jan — wish you were here. Wish I wasn’t still on Scarriet.

    http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/35937/now-the-people-have-the-power

  14. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 12, 2010 at 4:41 am

    If you haven’t seen it, the gist of the dispute between Bob Brady and myself is explored in some depth here: https://cowpattyhammer.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/mumbo-jumbo-—-“paradox”-“ambiguity”-“irony”-“symbol”/

  15. Anonymous said,

    April 12, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Memory of April

    William Carlos Williams

    You say love is this, love is that:
    Poplar tassels, willow tendrils
    the wind and the rain comb,
    tinkle and drip, tinkle and drip–
    branches drifting apart. Hagh!
    Love has not even visited this country.

  16. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 12, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Peace on Earth

    William Carlos Williams

    The Archer is wake!
    The Swan is flying!
    Gold against blue
    An Arrow is lying.
    There is hunting in heaven–
    Sleep safe till tomorrow.

    The Bears are abroad!
    The Eagle is screaming!
    Gold against blue
    Their eyes are gleaming!
    Sleep!
    Sleep safe till tomorrow.

    The Sisters lie
    With their arms intertwining;
    Gold against blue
    Their hair is shining!
    The Serpent writhes!
    Orion is listening!
    Gold against blue
    His sword is glistening!
    Sleep!
    There is hunting in heaven–
    Sleep safe till tomorrow.

  17. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 12, 2010 at 8:06 am

    The Disputants

    William Carlos Williams

    Upon the table in their bowl
    in violent disarray
    of yellow sprays, green spikes
    of leaves, red pointed petals
    and curled heads of blue
    and white among the litter
    of the forks and crumbs and plates
    the flowers remain composed.
    Coolly their colloquy continues
    above the coffee and loud talk
    grown frail as vaudeville.

  18. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 12, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Oedipus II

    From Ted Hughes’ Adaptation of Seneca’s Oedipus (from setting by Stephen Albert)

    All is well
    I like this darkness
    My father has been paid
    What he was owed
    All is well.

    I wonder which god I’ve pleased
    Which of them has brought me peace
    Given me this dark veil
    Pleasant

    The light
    That never let me rest
    And followed me everywhere

    All is well
    At last you’ve escaped it
    You killed your father
    It’s abandoned you
    It’s left you your new face
    The true face of Oedipus.

  19. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Proletarian Poet

    William Carlos Williams

    A big young bareheaded woman
    in an apron

    Her hair slicked back standing
    on the street

    One stockinged foot toeing
    the sidewalk

    Her shoe in her hand. Looking
    intently into it

    She pulls out the paper insole
    to find the nail

    That has been hurting her