Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Draft: Ottawa et al.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Hölderlin.  Well, I always think about Hölderlin. Also, about the gods, which are of course related.

But lately, I've been thinking about what Hölderlin talked about as the Wechsel der Töne, the changing of key or tonality that characterizes the rhythm of his poetic thought: not the rhythm of his diction, but the rhythm of ideas or, as he called it in good Kantian fashion, the rhythm of representation.

I've been trying to embrace this way of thinking; I'm not wholly satisfied with it; nonetheless, here's as draft of one of my more recent attempts to think about how to change the tonality of ideas, and how the rhythm with which these ideas are presented might characterize a poetic way of thinking.

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Ottawa et al.

During our ceremonies we wear the bells we used to wear,
we call them vermilion, place roses on the chairs
we sit in, sat in.
You think I’m being obtuse.

Hephaistos’s mangled leg was propped atop the chair
of the row afront. His mind sharpened
itself in its forges.  He dreamed of a net,
devised its subtle clasps, buried
its leads beneath the leaves that were
falling in the corners of his absent-minded mind,
and on the earth, because it was November.

How can a mind be sharp and loose?
Where do the knife and the sieve meet?
This is a technical problem;it is being invoked
for purely pragmatic purposes here.
There’s something that calls for cutting and binding,
demands that something be found to
make Ares and Aphrodite howl,
call the gods to howl with laughter.

There are ceremonies, the roses which have been
blooming as long as primates, still sometimes
bloom for awhile, and there are ceremonies
that commemorate the length of this blooming.

You think I’m thinking irresolutely.
You say I use words loosely.
It’s tough to talk about nets.
--- Why do you want to talk about nets? Who are you devising to ensnare?

No, it’s not that. We’re thinking about nets,
Not making one ourselves.
Hephaistos, the lame god ill-favored by his parents
Had once devised a peace, it’s true.
Now he sits restlessly.  He is sitting above you.
Or he is listening to you think.
You are thinking about the net he made.
It was so fine it was invisible so that
At the proper time it could cover Ares and Aphrodite up,
reveal what they’d wanted to hide.
It was so fine and so sharp it
Cut into their naked flesh even while
It was so strong that it held even the gods
In check, check-mated.

--- Why are you thinking about nets? Who cares about Ares or Aphrodite?

It’s early November, and the Earth is being embraced in a red and orange net,
or else it’s the girdle of Calypso (misunderstood if somewhat loose woman)
or perhaps it’s the leaves in which Odysseus
(cunning, crooked mind / Athena’s ape)
buried himself for warmth after escaping Calypso’s island and Poseidon’s rage.
The ambiguities are multiplying,
You slip into the world only you still believe in.

Perhaps it’s just because you are in a room
hearing words and thinking things and it’s excruciating.
You are tied tight, tethered by sharp, invisible threads
that pull on your heart; occupy your brain.
You’re devising a way out, not in.
The mind loses itself remembering when it wanted to forge a net;
then it sees itself in the Earth again,
mistakes the leaves for roses,
sitting in chairs,
ceremoniously forgotten,
dreams of forgiveness.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Genuinely Modest Proposal

Dear Mr. Boehner:
Now that your little stunt has backfired here's what you do today:

First thing, you tell the Tea Party freshmen to go fuck themselves. Then you introduce and work with mainline rank and file Republicans and all Democrats to pass a very simple, genuinely bipartisan bill. Here's what that bill does: it raises the debt ceiling by $1 trillion dollars so that the White House can make the payments Congress has directed it to make.

Here's what it doesn't do: anything else. No spending cuts. No tax hikes. You can address those in separate bills. SINCE THEY ARE SEPARATE ISSUES.

The Senate will pass the bill today; the President will sign it today.

You will have done your job. And then you can have your silly little debate about austerity measures.
It's called putting your country before partisanship --- which is why we can be pretty confident you won't do it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ideas Man Returns to the Mythology of Eros

After the difficulties of Seuss I am returning to the Mythology of Eros.  But I figured out how to do an audiorecorder, which I prefer to the webcam.  Sorry to those of you who'll miss my handsome mug.  Still, you kids who are coming in late should scroll down and listen to the earlier installments.

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V) Lamentation to Maria

O madre de dioso,
O madre dolorosa,
You know the places that I sleep,
You know the comfort that I keep.

If now I ask that you go home,
Know that I will not alone.

A grotesque boast,
To mutter to the mother of the sacred host.

A selfish reason,
To assail the mother church with treason.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Doctor Seuss Challenge, Day Three: My Music

Day 3: My Music

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In the faraway land of Deserotes
Young Ammon slaved away amidst the notes
Sang church humns, played piano, viola
Not well mind you, but enough to know a
Pattern when it emerged. He let a groan
Escape against this weary, pious tone.
He had no sense of pop or Madonna
But caught The Cure and was a goner.
The New Wave carried him out, ten years late.
He listened to The Smiths, had nothing but hate
For the retrograde tie-dyes of his peers,
Fled to Mexico in the midst of their jeers,
Chilled in the Alameda, hung with the punks,
Danced to Norteño, punched with the drunks,
Returned to Deserotes, saw the flannel
Knew they'd finally discovered the channel
Where the future played.  Still, he had a sneer
As he told them. "I've been listening for years."
But then the Gavin-Rosdale-A-Tron came
(A cunning machine the industry made)
and sucked. It was the death of an era.
Am. retreated again, didn't care a
Lick for rock, took to pop, worse the better:
Spice Girls, 'N Sync, why not Celine Dion?
But then fate fooled him. He read Thomas Mann.
Back to strings, now Messaien, Schönberg
Only then Bach, Beethoven and Schubert.
And then Apple invented the IPod
That was it. It was the end of genre.
Depressed kids music as well as old school
Iron and Wine, also Ladies Love Cool.
Even the pre-punk wasn't all bad.
Sure there was junk like Cream, but then they had
The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen,
Tom Waits, even Dylan was cool oh and
Bowie. But then you'd always known Bowie,
Ziggy Stardust, the Man from Mars, so he
Should have showed you there was always much more
Than the same tired crap that you'd heard before.
There's music enough. You have ears to hear.
Just don't take the shit they shove at your ears.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

31 Day Doctor Seuss Challenge Day 2: Your Love

You get a twofer because I started a day late.

Day 2: My Love

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This way for Aphrodite's menagerie.
Right through this tent.  Oh the birds that you'll see!

The Front Door & Back Door Crunkamathunk
Opens its heart till it hurts, then gets drunk.
(That's a lie. It really just loves itself.
Everything else is a mere prize for its shelf.)

The Splendid Melancholy Gadzooki
Dreams of nothing all day long but beauty.
It can't leave this room.  We can't let it glimpse
The traffic of life out there with the pimps.

Here's the Muffled Green Hooded Stravinschick
Which worships only the purest music.
The Delphic bird can't sing no more.  It's heard
The sounds of Heaven autotuned. Absurd
As it sounds every Muse it's known has flown
To aesthetic chopshops.  Now they're all clones.

What's that? This is about love? Silly me.
Scratch all that.  Well then, hmm... Okay, let's see.
Family, friends, other such happy words
Leave all that other sad crap for the birds.

31 Doctor Seuss Challenge: Day One

So we interrupt my intermittent poetry on the ancients to participate in my friend Dr. J's 31 Day Doctor Seuss Challenge, in which each day we'll feature a different theme presented in Seussian verse.

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Day One: My Job

Ladies and Gentleman, step right this way.
See the absurd sight of Professor A.
Nobody ever knows quite what he says,
But they think it's whatever comes into his head.

Little do they know of his master plan:
Convert the whole world into Hölderlin fans.
He's at it in class and out on the town,
His shirt always untucked beneath his gown.

He writes words on pages.  Pay them no mind.
He's overcommitted, always behind
On the review that's due, his book's precis
the poems he's promised his good friend Leigh.

He says things in places.  Give them no heed.
It's just the stuff he wishes you'd read.
He dreams things are otherwise than they are.
Just let him follow this otherworld's star.

Ladies and Gents, we know.  What can we say?
It's not much. That's why he barely gets paid.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I can now blog from my phone. Expect my posts to become correspondingly more inane.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6


Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I've thought that the masterminds of the right were being intentionally blind.  They are starting to behave so stupidly that I'm starting to wonder if it's not just a ruse.  I still think they know what they're doing, but we'll see.

Since they are masters of the metaphor, we'll begin with a metaphor.

When the Montague and Capulet boys decided to play at their vendette, they didn't dream of killing Mercutio.  Duels rarely end in death (go read your Tolstoy, kids).  It's just games boys play in order to play at being men.
No one wanted funny Mercutio, who wasn't even really a Montague, to die.  Still, when he slipped onto Tybalt's blade, he died, and he died because they played at vendette.

Yes, those Montagues and Capulets were both to blame, it's true.  Still, Tybalt bears a little more responsibility, don't you think?

Actually, I don't care much about blame, but I do care a lot about responsibility.  I've been maintaining ad nauseam that I don't care about causation.  Causation is a straw man that the right wing is gleeful to latch on to, so they can avoid the question of responsibility.

No one wanted Mercutio to die.  Not Romeo, who'd leaped in to stop the fighting, not the Capulets who stood by and watched Tybalt and him fight, certainly not the Montague boys who were cheering him on in their little game, but not even Tybalt, the elegant cat, who knew how to fight a duel, but wasn't interested in a street brawl.

Still, his death was totally consistent with the game that they all were playing.

Tybalt didn't mean to kill him. He'd just been pretending.

But, I hear you object, Sarah didn't kill anybody (except some wolves, but c'mon!)  Glenn didn't kill anybody (nor will he unless you are one of the zombies who comes for his gold in the apocalypse he warns us of daily).  Sure they used violent metaphors.  But so did the other side (maybe not as many, maybe not as cleverly,maybe without the wide, wild-eyed conviction but still..)  And, anyway, they were just playing.

I've been attacked left and right (well, mostly right) for being outraged at the Tea Party, for having the gall to think the political assassination, the act of terrorism, we witnessed on Saturday, should serve as a wake-up call for us all.  This is cheap political opportunism, I've been told.  This isn't a game.  And anyway, I lose points for breaking character, for playing the outrage card when I was supposed to play the card of grieving solidarity.

Whether it'll be a wake-up call for the Tea Party (and I use this term to refer to the amorphous constellation of hate that's taken over the Republican party) whether it'll be a wake-up call for them, I don't know.  I very much doubt it.  I do hope it'll serve as a wake-up call to regular Republicans and conservatives who finally realize that they don't share the Tea Party's violent, apocalyptic and nihilistic world.  I'm waiting for them to prove my tasteless joke in the previous post wrong.  I fear I'll have to wait quite a while.  I fear they're more committed to what they think they are supposed to believe than they to their own human sensibilities, to their sense of human dignity.  I don't know whether it'll serve as a wake-up call for moderates and liberals.  What I've mostly heard from the left is shock, and outrage, the sounds of slowly waking up.  But the Tea Party pundits tell me it's more of the same, more of the old, tired game.  And as masters of the game, I shouldn't discount what they say.

They know what they're doing with their words.  Except when the dagger slips.

I hear what you're saying --- it wasn't even their dagger!  I hear you; I know.  I'm sorry.  I'm bad with metaphors.  I've always thought metaphors work through mechanisms other than causation, more through, for example contiguity, the principle that when two things touch one another, move in the same direction, share goals and tropes, do time together, they come to share the same identity.

"Is this a dagger I see before me, it's handle towards my hand?  Come, let me clutch thee."

Ah, Macbeth, you shy, weak fool.  You can't quite grab it can you even when it's proffered you, and when you do, you back off, you wimp out, you fucking pussy.

You force your wife to unsex herself.  She knows what she's doing.  She knows whether the dagger is proffered you or you wield it yourself, it's the same.  It's the principle of contiguity, and either way it yields power.

And yes, your desires and dreams can bathe you in blood.

Tybalt weakens, feels remorse, and lets himself die in the game of vendetta he's playing, which Romeo briefly takes up again when he forgets himself or that he loves Juliette (when you're young, forgetting you must love Juliette might be the same as forgetting yourself).

But I forgot, I'm talking in metaphors, which have no relationship to the truth.  Not even when those metaphors come true.

We said those things but we didn't mean them.

Didn't you?

If you didn't mean them then, then why don't you repudiate them now?  Aren't you so lucky you've had this test run, that you've seen what the America you dreamed about would look like if people actually listened to you?

You are absolutely right.  Jared Loughner was crazy before you ever met him, before any of us ever met him.  It's not your fault he happened to do what you said.  When he does it, that's an action.  When you say it, those are just words.  And words are weightless and meaningless.

This is proven by the fact that he didn't act on your words.  He was doing something else, his own thing, which just so happened to match what your words dreamed.

But that's not what our words meant!  Or anyway, we didn't mean the ones that sounded like what he did; we must not have meant that.

Then why not denounce them?

After Ft. Hood, after 9/11, reasonable Muslims could say --- these mad acts have nothing to do with what we value, what we espouse, what we believe.  There is no connection between what they did and what we say.  They didn't have to say "it's just a metaphor," because there was no metaphor there.  Yes, we denounce radical Islam, which is why we've never said things that make it sound like we espouse it.

When James Lee went on an eco-terrorism rampage, environmentalists on the left could say --- that has no connection with the environmentalism we espouse.  There's no contiguity.  The America of his paranoid fantasy has no relationship to our reality.  We reject eco-terrorism, which is why we don't pretend to embrace it.

You'd have to be pretty clever to be able to say --- oh no, we don't reject anything because we didn't do it.  Sure, it looks exactly like what we've dreamed of.  Yeah, it was our dream.  Oh, it was horrifying.  No, we won't renounce our dreams.

For the record, I denounce violence on the left and right. I reject violence and I reject demands for violence.  I'm not an absolute pacifist; I accept that there are times violence is necessary, but I think this is only to prevent more violence.  And I think there's always a strong prima facie case against all violence.  I personally reject the more violent fringes of the left (which are frankly far more tiny and far more marginal than their right-wing counterparts), and I've never claimed I didn't.  If it turned out that I embraced a form of violence that entailed consequences I didn't' want, I hope I'd have the moral courage to reject my earlier stance.

It's difficult for me to understand what's so controversial about this.  Here's a good heuristic rule:  if someone refuses to denounce something that seems totally consistent with what they espouse, if they instead deflect blame and ask why they ought to denounce it, if they keep on acting the same way, pretending nothing has changed, keep the rhetoric consistent, maybe it's because they don't actually have a problem with it.

We didn't do it!

Well, why not? You said you wanted to.

But that crazy beat us to it!

Don't worry.  You'll still reap the benefits of what he did.  You already have, Lady Macbeth.

No, I don't accuse Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or any of the other Teabaggers of killing 9 innocent people, of murdering an innocent nine year old girl.

But I do accuse them of dreaming about it.  I accuse them of considering this an acceptable price to pay for their own dreams of power, their own paranoid fantasies of glory.

I do not accuse them for actions that they did not commit.

But I do accuse them for their words, and for their thoughts.

We live in a free country.  We have free speech, ostensibly, no matter how much the forces of violence try to muzzle their critics.  We have free thought, ostensibly, though we rarely choose to use it.

We are still morally responsible for what we say and what we dream.  Taking that responsibility --- it's not something I or anyone can force you to do.  Even if I wanted to use violence against you, it wouldn't do any good.  Violence doesn't speak with  a moral vocabulary.

But I can, and will use that moral vocabulary to demand that you take responsibility for your words.  And no matter how much you conflate those words with your own words of violence, with the little games you play so cleverly, I won't back down.

Here's what I will continue to say:

If we find our dreams coming true, if we say something in play and it really happens, if the thing that we said we wanted horrifies us, if our dream turns out to be a nightmare, then we have a responsibility to wake up.

If the Tea Party and their yea-sayers and toadies are more concerned with their own victimhood then their responsibility, maybe it's not because they are too stupid to wake up.  Maybe it's because they are already wide-awake.  They see in daylight the dream that they've held in their hearts.  They see the world as a violent place.  They say "let there be violence."  And, lo, there is violence.  They are outraged that you demand they pretend not to rejoice. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

They didn't cause it, no, not yet, but they have already dreamed it for a long time.

I can't stop them from spreading their lies, for pretending that they don't know what a metaphor is.  But I can wake up, and tell them to stop playing with death.  That is what I am committing to.

And you can too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ideas Man is Puzzled

As conservatives have gone on the offensive for the clearly absurd notion that their violent rhetoric has any relationship to the horrifying violence we saw over the weekend, I've wondered why they don't adopt an obvious strategy.

See, conservatives keep on saying "there's no evidence of a causal link" between the things that Palin, Beck et. al. say and the act of this particular crazy.  That's true-ish.  But that's not the claim that I have been making.

The claim that I am making, and that I've heard most liberals make is:  regardless of why this particular assassin did what he did, the part of the G.O.P that has been associated with the Tea Party has in fact invited this sort of violence.

We don't need anymore evidence to know this is true.  The Tea Party has been trading in violence since it's magical inception from out of nowhere (except the pockets of the Koch Brothers and the recesses of Fox News) in 2009.  It's been violent rhetoric, it's been displays of force, disruptions of civic events, threats of violence, calls for violence since then.  We don't need to know anything about causation or motivation to see that this fits in with the violent, apocalyptic and extremist us vs. them ideology of the Tea Party, because that information is already out there.

The truth is, though, that the Tea Party isn't the whole of conservatism.  It is very easy to be a conservative and not buy into the ideology of the Tea Party.  So instead of adopting the absurd position that there has been no violent extremism in the G.O.P., why aren't regular rank and file conservatives willing to adopt the same move?

So here's the thought experiment I've been indulging in.  Please note that this is a thought experiment: it is a counterfactual hypothesis, but there's a point to it.

Let's say Al Qaeda hadn't been responsible for 9/11.  Let's say it had turned out to be some other group that may or may not have had any sympathies with Islamic extremism.  Nonetheless, it fit in perfectly with the pattern of violence that Al Qaeda had called for and established.

Would we have been surprised to see moderate Muslims (and again, let me be clear --- I mean here the vast majority of Muslims --- bear with me here) say Look, whether or not Al Qaeda had anything to do with 9/11, we personally find Al Qaeda distasteful and disgusting.  Their violent rhetoric has nothing to do with our conception of Islam.

So why aren't Republicans willing to say the same thing now and say, "Whyever the assassin did what he did, we don't personally subscribe to the political violence that the Tea Party openly practices and advocates?"

For the exciting answer, go to Ideas Man, PhD's fanpage:

(Warning, the joke linked to is extremely offensive and in horrible taste).

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Poetry in Translation

 In the rivers north of the future I cast the out the nets that you, trembling, weigh down with stone conversant shadows. (Paul Celan --- from Atemkristall.)