Lucifer's Valet


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 31 December 2011

Pup is up. That is to say, I’m in a productive phase, and an occasional feature of a productive phase is memorizing poems while I do the laundry. The latest of these would be Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (The eyelid has its storms)”:


The eyelid has its storms. There is the opaque fish-

scale green of it after  swimming the the sea and then sud-

denly wrenching violence, strangled lashes, and a barbed

wire of sand falls to the shore.

Or, in the midst of sunset, the passive grey lips: a

virile suffusion of carmine! itching under a plague of

allergies and tears, memories of the first soothing oint-

ment press the cornea to desperate extremity, the back of

the head, like a pool pocket, never there when you stare

steadily and shoot.

A man walked into the drugstore and said “I’d

like one hazel eye and a jar of socket ointment, salted.

My mother has a lid that’s black from boredom and though

we’re poor–her tongue! profundity of shut-ins!

And oh yes, do you have a little cuticle scissors?”

Purchase to dream, green eyeshadow, kohl, gonorrhea,

of the currents at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

This poem had been a favorite of mine since my undergraduate days & the collected O’Hara was out of print & I’d stand in the stacks reading through the library copy.  Mostly I like the first phrases of the last stanza w/its romantic evocations and such. Then I read the Marjorie Perloff book on O’Hara & she singles this poem out as one of his failed efforts on account of it being too much not about anything. & I’d singled it out, from the vast welter of poems in the collected, as one I liked! Oh well, file that with the Dept. of But I Like That Song!

So despite Perloff I’m memorizing the poem, which means speaking the poem, lots of speaking it. & I don’t like how I speak poems. My tastes tend to the declamatory, or at least a muted sense of the theatrical. Not as freaky as Ezra Pound, but I wish I were as freaky as T.S. Eliot. & not surprisingly the part I’m having the hardest time voicing is the most declamatory, the dialogue in the third paragraph, esp. the mock elevated passage (“her tongue! profundity of shut-ins!”).

And all of a sudden I hear a voice who can do the whole passage. It’s Christopher Walken. No, not Christopher Walken himself, but Walked as done by Jay Mohr.

Now, mixing high culture & low culture is just fine. Even O’Hara-esque. But some low is too low.


Posted in Culture Vulturing, Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 17 November 2011

So I heard the story of how Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, like he’d been told he had cancer and a year to live, and he wanted to leave his family something for them to get by, so he wrote these four novels, one of which was Clockwork. That was heroic.

So then I heard that it was lie, that he’d never had any cancer, and it was all just some story. He was just another fucking liar. That was bullshit.

Then I was thinking, yeah, it was a lie, but that’s what he did. He was a writer. He told stories. Some of them went in books, some of them went in interviews. These things happen.


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 10 September 2011

Reading around in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism:

More of Beiser on the young romantics:

The central strategy behind the philosophy of nature was to surmount the persistent dualisms of modern philosophy in reexamining the nature of matter itself. According to the romantics, the source of these dualisms arose from the Cartesian conception of matter as inert extension.

All of which could be true. But it would take some philosophical super-genius thinking to overcome the dualism. Short of that, you’re left w/some kind of philosophical fiat:

Rather than heterogeneous substances, they now become different degrees of organization and development of a single living force….As Schelling put it in some poetic lines: ‘ [M]ind is invisible nature, while nature is invisible mind.

The fiat sounds better if you set it in a neat figure of speech. Or it takes on something that could well be super- genius thinking if you work it into a several thousand page edifice, à la Hegel (for my taste, the genius of Hegel lies in those occasional jokes he throws out, like “the Spirit is a bone.”) & it’s not as if it took some later development to recognize the dodge here. It is a move, as Beiser points out, that “Kant and Fichte would have rejected as ‘dogmatism’ or ‘transcendental realism’.”

But I think there’s something more here than just philosophical naïveté. Jean Hyppolite, at the beginning of Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, takes the argument from the other end:

If knowledge is an instrument, then that implies that the subject and the object of knowledge are separate. The absolute would then be distinct from knowledge. The absolute could not be self-knowledge, nor could knowledge be knowledge of the absolute. The very existence of philosophic science, which actually knows, is a refutation of such presuppositions.

This reminds me of the bit where Kierkegaard asks why he should argue for the existence of God when he knows Christ has saved him. As far as poetry is concerned, and poetry is the thing I’m concerned about, or more to the immediate point, as far as the categories of Romanticism and Romantic Modernism are concerned, the issue seems to hinge on a distinction like that of  mythos vs logos, taking mythos as the construction of meanings, and logos as the deconstruction of them, by various philosophical means.

So the Young Romantics’ fiat, their short-cutting the Gordian knot, is the kind of ham-handedness concomitant with humanism and the re-enchantment of the world. It’s a symptom of the meaning-making project.


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 1 September 2011

Sometime just before the middle of the 80’s, I took Barry Stroud’s upper division Hume class. Stroud was not a flamboyant teacher. The class was not a barn-burner. We had two primary texts, the Enquiry and the Treatise, & we read a bit more than 100 pages of the first and a bit more than 200 pages of the second. In 15 weeks. You know when Homer compares Hector’s charge against the Greeks to a wildfire tearing down a hillside? We were not wildfire tearing down a hillside. More termites gnawing, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, halfway into a couple of important books. We were parsing something fierce, questioning the validity of each statement Hume was making. & finding that just about all these statements had some serious problems, philosophical validity-wise.  & since Hume’s whole project is an exercise in philosophical validity, these statements weren’t quite doing what Hume wanted them to do. In other words, Hume wasn’t quite saying what he meant to say. (You too can get this lesson yourself  Stroud’s s book.  Another similar exercise would be Jonathan Bennett on Kant.) The conclusion from the course would be that it was very difficult if not impossible to extract from Hume’s philosophy accurate propositions, not about the world, but about Hume’s philosophy! Everything that could be said would have to be extensively qualified.

For a contrast to this querulous incrementalism, there was the class before us. It was a History of Ideas class, a survey of the Enlightenment. It’d make for a better story to say that Martin Jay was teaching it, but to be honest I don’t remember who it was. What I do remember is that a large group of folks from the history class (History of Ideas was a hot thing at the time) would leave the room, and a smaller group of folks from the philosophy class (Hume was not hot) would come in, to find all of the chalkboards, two walls worth, crammed with an outline of whichever monumental thinker of the Enlightenment had been the subject of that day’s lecture, and a couple of harried lingerers rushing the last of their notes into the binders. This class was burning brush-fire quick through a whole era of thought. Each day we’d walk in to find yet another philosopher reduced to four or five dozen propositions.

Now here’s where our joke came in. Stroud would come into the class, after the last of the history students were gone, and  scan the board. (Now that I’ve done some years of my own teaching, I think he was mostly annoyed at having to muck through erasing two big boards’ worth of chalk.) He would look through all these propositions, and single out the most ridiculous of them, the greatest over-generalization or the most logically preposterous claim, point to it and  turn to us, without saying anything. & we would quietly guffaw. & after Stroud was done erasing two walls of chalking, we’d start  cutting the next paragraph on the syllabus into sawdust.

If you prefer a moral equivalence version of things, you could say that there’s this big steep hill & two kinds of bicyclists. One kind likes grinding uphill in bottom gear. It’s slow work, but you’ve got time to look at little things like loose rocks in the asphalt. The other kind likes screaming downhill in top gear. It’s very fast & very exciting. Note that both kinds of cyclist are doing something difficult.

Maybe I didn’t tell this joke that often because it’s not that funny. Humor in analytic philosophy tends to a dryness comparable to borax. However, the moment captured in that image, when Professor Stroud pointed at a sentence and turned to look at us,  returned to me often in moments of seminar distress. While in the grips of a vertiginous panic induced by the theoretical sublime (which did not occur, strange to say, during discussions of the Kantian sublime), I could see that impassive face, not even smiling, & amidst the tumult find a still point.


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 18 August 2011

Reading around in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism:

Fichte’s solution to this dilemma is his concept of striving….This concept is the very heart of the early Wissenschaftslehre, which Fichte even called “a philosophy of striving.” According to this concept, the absolute ego, which creates all nature, is not a reality but only an idea, the goal for striving of the finite ego. All that is left for the finite ego is constant striving, the ceaseless struggle to make nature conform to the demands of its rational activity.

Frederick Beiser

I always thought that when Allen Grossman said “per impossible,” he meant something like this. It’s a trope found all over the twentieth-century, such as in, according to Bruce Fink, Lacan.  It’s a hallmark feature of humanist thought, perhaps a distinguishing feature of Romantic Modernism, so you could call it Humanist Modernism, and the stuff that refuses all this striving “applesauce” could be called Anti-Humanist Modernism. But that kind of naming is no fun. (“Anti-humanism” is a term I first ran across on T.P. Uschanov’s old web site, the Icy Frigid Aire. The term is one of those things I read once then spent years trying to guess what it meant.)


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 15 August 2011

Reading around in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism:

The negative meaning of “idealism” implies that most things that are commonly taken to be real are not so in fact, that is, they do not exist at all, or at least not in the manner that has been assumed. The positive interpretation of “idealism,” in contrast, involves seeing the term as adding rather than subtracting significance, as emphasizing that, whatever we say about the status of many things that are thought to exist at a common-sense level, we also need to recognize a set of features or entities that have a higher a more “ideal” nature.

Karl Ameriks

In other words, the re-enchantment of the world. Adding to it meaningfulness. W/the Modernist turn, this project can no longer be announced directly. It must be done by other means, one of which was to announce the impossibility of the project. This negative version would be similar to what Eliot said of Baudelaire, that his atheism was actually a kind of faith, for someone with a real lack of faith wouldn’t be talking about God at all.


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 14 August 2011

Reginald called himself a “Romantic Modernist.” What did that mean? It may seem an oxymoron, but  there’s something to it.

What I’m weaker on is the Romantic part. So I’m going to work on that part. From a particular angle: what part of Romanticism carries over into Modernism?

Of course I’m only concerned with poetry.


Posted in Hermeneutic Friendship, Narcissistic Self-Loathing, Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 13 August 2011

(1) I will do something. I promised Reginald I would do something, & I want to start doing that.

(2) I will do nothing interesting. Ray and Peli are interesting. But if I keep worrying that nothing I can say is interesting, I won’t be able to do something.

(3) Some of the things I will do will be very basic. The kind of things a clever undergraduate should know. However, I want to put down some foundation, stuff to build up from. This stuff could be kept in journals & off the internet, but in the interests of (1), that is, to help me establish the habit of doing something, I will put it here. & it’s not as if more people will read this than might read my journals, esp. if I keep leaving them lying about.

Not that I’m entirely embarrassed by simplicity. Once I wanted to write literary criticism the way Wittgenstein wrote philosophy. Of course, this was just a notion. I lacked all of the requirements for such a project, most importantly, the drive to do it. Still, Wittgenstein seems to show that basic considerations can be important. These days I’d call it a means for the re-enchantment of the world.


Posted in Narcissistic Self-Loathing, Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 2 September 2010

What Robert Hass’s poetry meant to me (in large part).


Posted in Loci communes, Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 1 September 2010

Chilton said to Robert Gordon, “Most of the Big Star stuff was searching for how to get through two verses without saying anything really stupid….” (John Jeremiah Sullivan)

Wittgenstein seemed to be operating by a similar principle. He wrote many book’s-worth of stuff, but only found less than a hundred pages that were sufficiently not stupid to publish before he died.

Similar scruples in a less talented writer leads to long silences.