Archive for November, 2012

Interesting Counternarratives (Faulkner’s ‘Was’)

November 29, 2012

Counternarratives are a dime a dozen, so the keyword here is ‘interesting’. I can go into a rant here, as I’m but a ball of hate, to the effect that the basic annoying thing about the world is big, sloppy, counternarratives, dull counternarratives, and the fact that people think they are interesting when they aren’t. I think this is related to what I earlier called the ‘infernal wheel’ of the consciousness and the subconsciousness (as narrative and counternarrative). But I will spare you that rant, that negative definition.

An ‘interesting’ counternarrative is, to give a vague definition, a counternarrative that preserves the details of the original text (memory, experience, etc.) while giving it the sense of the uncanny. For example, in the last essay, I spoke about how I resisted the urge to write a follow up to the ‘Perhaps’ essay, despite the fact that it had a central, glaring hole (that of assuming a fundamental neurological subconsciousness) and this was out of a sense of despair at being able to read it. So, the uninteresting counternarrative here would be the conceptual one, the one where I’m forced into, unwittingly, a severe conceptual error for various reasons. (Similarly, ‘psychoanalytic’ narratives of guilt and repression would be uninteresting.) I go on to say that I looked to ‘the dream’ in order to remember the past, and that is what I here call the ‘interesting’ counternarrative.

A few words on ‘Ode to Nightingale’, incidentally: we all but came out and said that the first few stanzas of the poem were awful. They in fact would be awful if it weren’t for the fact that the speaker takes up and dismisses various cliches of internality (‘the blues”, “escapism”, “nostalgia”) at a pace resembling that of the flight of the nightingale itself. But there is still something ‘interesting’ about those moments, considered now as moments of dramatized failure — moments when one attempts to reach out for something but misses, landing instead at the cliche we spoke of — which always makes me think of the pathos behind the incredibly touching Racine play “Phaedra”. There is then a kind of irony or disavowal in the very speaking of the words, and furthermore momentary flashes that seem to shine through at the very moment of failure, when one says exactly what one wants to say. In that essay, we actually only touched upon the third stanza in OtN, the one about escaping the world and its woes, we pointed to the misanthropic tendencies of this stanza, but this, while personal, is not quite ‘interesting’, and this is basically because it is too tied down to content, it’s not self-reflective enough.

But let’s talk about Faulkner’s story ‘Was’. There is a dominant ‘white’ story there, told through the eyes of young Isaac I think. “Isaac”: this reminds me how the first counternarratives that one gets in that book are all Biblical — starting with ‘Isaac’, onto ‘Moses’, as well as the names of the two brothers,Amadeus and Theophilus — literally, ‘Lover of God’ in Latin and Greek. In general, the American South was sort of cast as a retelling of the Bible, in its very reinterpretation of the Bible, one that was not at all theological, but rather somehow more visceral — ie, one consisting of names, puns, and actual events rather than of ideas. Cf, the movie ‘Frailty’, where Bill Paxton plays a serial killer who takes his visions of God far too literally, or so it seems. I’m also reminded of Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, which seems to be a similar effort.

But that is the first counternarrative we encounter, and possibly the main reason for Faulkner’s fame, but actually, perhaps, not the most interesting one, at least, not in its current form. “Was” culminates in a poker game between two plantation owners Beauchamp and McCaslin, with the cards being dealt by Tomey’s Turl, the escaped slave. The hand is overwhelmingly in Beauchamp’s favor, but he, eyeing the half-black, half-white hand of Tomey’s Turl, folds. I think they were playing seven card stud or something, I don’t remember — anyways, all the cards were dealt face up — there was no question of bluffing. It was a question of which story would win out, since Poker is all about stories, in fact, about peicing together the highly concrete elements in a deck of cards in order to create a narrative. The fact that the elements being peiced together are all ‘the same’ (all cards are the same) is highly significant, it’s a way of thinking about the arbitrariness of a subconscious counternarrative that is not physiological but rather narrative. And in fact, the most significant element of the card game is the introduction of a *third* element in an infernal dichotomy. It is this third element that in fact ‘wins’, despite, oddly enough, the hand never being revealed — Beauchamp folds.


Dreams and Hyperconsciousness

November 28, 2012

Let me indulge in yet another theoretical post… yet another day of procrastinating, it feels like — that’s what blogs are for, right?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about … dreams. Not dreams analysis or anything, but, feeling miserable and annoyed,  and at an impasse, I would fall close my eyes and hope that my dreams would bring me some insight — at times I feel like only the dream can carry me foward.

Well, full disclosure, I like being miserable and annoyed, I mean, not in that I’m a masochist, in the same way that we all do. We like to feel like we are in the midst of a struggle, we like that feeling of being annoyed, it makes us feel manly. See, for example, Breaking Bad or something. And this dream feeling — it arises from my belief that I need to come into contact with the past, some pressing need to reconstruct the past.

To reconstruct that past when I felt like I was on the verge or at a threshold. In my notes — and this blog is highly useful to me in this way — I have identified four moments, in the last month or so, when I had this feeling, four places that I wish my dreams would carry me — (1) the paranoia essay (“The Danger of Reading”), (2) They Hyperion essay (“A Review of Keats’s Hyperion Poems”), (3) the subconscious essay (“Perhaps”) and (4) “Theory and Meaning” and a few drafts I have here about the construction of the subconsciousness.

I mean, I’m not saying that we should go back and closely examine these essays and maybe construct some sort of personal philosophical development — almost the opposite. I’m saying that these essays are somehow lost to me and only accessible perhaps via the dream. (Cf, Keats’s “Do I wake or sleep?” in Ode to a Nightingale that seems to express a similar sentiment.) 

I mean, I feel like I cannot read these essays right now… you know, I have a draft here that deals with the “enormous error” of the “Perhaps” essay — basically, it assumes an absolute, fundamental, positivistic, neurological, subconsciousness. And this is indeed an error, conceptually speaking at least. But I had, correctly, also repressed the essay dealing with the error, because, though at one point it may have felt like progress, I know now that it isn’t (“the error of error” I once called it). The “Perhaps” essay still stands despite this central error, and this is because I remember there being an eagerness there to go forth.

This is related to my introduction here, where I apologize for yet another theoretical essay. Actually, this is all I write here, I never actually go forth. Maybe when I do I will no longer need to the aid of this blog. But this blog is, actually, quite literary in the sense that it is a series of stands made at various thresholds, in response to theoretical problems which are actually highly personal. Well, highly personal as opposed to empirical I mean — theory seems to have a will of its own, it dreams up of new possibilities and new ideas, but it is, alas, perpetually in the dark — I am always looking for these ways to break out of theory: “historical significance”, “rigor”, “truth” of some form or another. But I never emerge into the light of truth, but nonetheless there are dream-like visions at these thresholds, still in the dark but yet strangely phenomenal (– and I’m always reminded of some infamous Keatsian expressians here — “tuneless numbers”, “unheard melodies”) .

I feel like all this could be wrong but I hope it isn’t. Let’s talk a bit about what sort of pragmatic consequences (I mean, in terms of reading and analysis) these thoughts will have.


I had been thinking, in OtN, in the last note, about Keats’s sense of guilt, about how “flight” also refers to the way in which he abandons “the blues” and various other “impasses of subconscious-conscious configurations”, to put it in an overly conceptual way. This I regard as a kind of “hyperconsciousness”, where Keats is aware not merely of the images before him but also of the stakes involved — that is, I’m making the distinction here between observing feelings (“my heard aches”, “a drowsy numbness pains my sense”) and the stakes — what the blues or escapism implies, the “meaning” that they bring, the implicit hatred of meaning, the mapped out and set subconscious, and so forth. The problem with the blues is that it proposes a subconscious that is entirely filled out, where everything already has a meaning. Well, this is how we would put it in our own conceptual and openly misanthropic way — which Keats isn’t. (Question: If Keats isn’t openly misanthropic, then how does he conceptualize this “flight”?)

The second, closely related form of hyperconsciousness seems more positive, I refer to the way in which the poem subtly responds to, refers to, or turns itself to, opens itself up to the figures “at the border of theory and phenomenality” if that makes sense … it probably doesn’t.

I mean, theory seems to have it’s own path — I called it “highly personal”. We are not talking about, for example, a theory of a black swan — in which case the phenomenality would be pretty much directly related to it. But rather, we are sort of looking for more indirect things, traces — for example, at the end of Heart of Darkness, there is this passage about how the whisper of the leaves seemed to call out to Marlow: “the horror, the horror!”….

… basically, I imagine a dream that would “cut into” OtN, and, in a moment of mutuality, the latter would also turn towards and respond to this dream… TBC

Theory and Meaning (Ode to a Nightingale)

November 26, 2012

‘All people want is to be understood, but that’s already too much.’ There is something fundamentally wrong with ‘meaning’ — which is always related to the human, to bad TV shows, and to time. Meaning is something that begs or pleads to me in an annoying way, it’s something that I am bored of or something that I want nothing to do with. Another misanthropist thought: thinking back to the times I’ve been threatened with violence, what infuriates me the most is the air of beggary about it. Meaning is too godamn liberal.

Now consider ‘theory’. Theory always implies practice, maybe some moment when theory becomes visible, but at the same time it develops independently. Theory’s independence comes from its link to *memory*, in that sense it is related to the subconscious. When theory finally enters into ‘practice’, or into the world, there is at that moment a threshold that is formed. When theory encounters practice, and when theory and practice begins to feed back into one another, then that is meaning, which we hate.

There’s something that happens when theory and practice transforms into meaning, something is lost. Yet, there is that pivotal moment when one is on a threshold that is quite interesting and, hopefully, also historically significant. Or, actually, the real interest we have in this threshold is it’s ‘communicability’, it’s universality, the way in which there is a convergence towards it regardless of starting position, which is the cause of its historical significance.

Let’s talk about Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” in this context, we will be interested in two things:
1) ‘Figurization’, becoming a figure
2) Keats’s progressive rejection of ‘the blues’ and of meaning

In speaking of (2), I’m reminded of that ‘Hyperion’ essay I wrote, where we derisively referred to the modern style as a ‘laugh track’, which is what I call here ‘the blues’. Stanza I is ‘bluesy’: “My heart aches, as though of hemlock I had drunk …”. Particularly interesting, actually, is the 3rd Stanza, where Keats aknowledges, and in aknowledging, dismisses, escapism:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.


Away! away! For I will fly to thee …

So what’s interesting here that flight or escape here at least refers to Keats’s flight from the form of escapism itself. Now, escapism as a trope is, in fact, highly sentimental, one escapes because what’s really there, the causa prima, is the misery of the real world. But escapism as trope, as meaning, is also a part of this very misery.

More genrally, in OtN there is in each later stanza some desire to abandon the earlier stanza and this is the awareness of Keats (or rather, of the speaker) that he is entering into a realm where the stakes are already set (I remember here the first line of “Phaedra”: “The case is set”), where there is harmony between the consciousness and the subconsciousness, where reflection yields fruit only because they are filled with meaning.

This passage resonates with me, there is actually a growing sense of misanthropy here that seems to relate to what I called ‘begging and pleading’ earlier. There is the sense that it is not their fault but it takes a great deal of restraint not to blame them.

I wrote this in Facebook the other day:

Today I feel to have glimpsed a world that I was never even aware existed, of new things and happenings that await categorization and cataloguing: the haphazard construction of the subconscious via the interplay of action (always concommitant with blindness), dramatization, and retrospection, the infernal wheel of the interplay of the subconscious and the consciousness. The key difference between my model and psychoanalytic ones is the extreme simplicity of the mind: it is purely memory association — the subconscious is formed by yet unseen happenings without any need to postulate any particular physiological substrate.

What’s interesting here is the self-conscious but nonetheless sincere dramatization of a ‘threshold’, to a world of hidden happenings, a world, however, which is emphatically theoretical rather than emperical, but which at the same time is characterized by a strong *phenomenal* component (which we called, ‘practice’) — to have ‘glimpsed a world’, which in fact is not merely metaphorical here. And this is really the turn at stanza IV as well, where the previous stanzas could be characterized as a kind of stutter, perhaps.

(TODO: talk about the redeemed error of a positivistic subconsciousness in the previous essay)

This phenomenality is the vision of agency — at once theoretical and phenomenal. It is the sorting through the traces of this agency…



November 20, 2012

We *perhaps* have access to the truth of our past. If we reflect on the incredibly complicated behavior of animals (even lower animals) then we realize that we may or may not have access to the truth of our past. There are a few considerations when thinking about animal memory:

1) Neural, not genetic — genetic programming concerns gene manipulation, but all complex behavior (‘instinct’) must be neurally programmed — even if the animals don’t have parents which it can immitate. “Mother nature”, in its original sense, refers to the way in which animals lacking a mother (some birds, insects, frogs, or various orphans) are guided nonetheless by a nature that acts in a motherly role. It speaks of the indispensability of motherhood to all maturation, since –despite sloppy thinkings to the contrary — instinct cannot be transmitted genetically, but must be reprogrammed in each individual case onto the infant mind.

2) Behavorial convergence — Of course we may not know the exact structure of the minds of animals. Certainly, we aknowledge that, though many animals have minds and think, they probably don’t share any similarity in concepts (however we want to define this, neurologically) despite similarities in behavior, eg, motherhood. In fact, its quite possible that there is a great degree of interspecies variation in ‘concepts’ as well — why not? — despite great convergence in behavior. These two facts together mean that we need to construct an explanation for a mode of programming that differs radically in ‘concepts’ but that would nonetheless gravitate towards certain ‘expectations’. (Yes, I insist on using the word ‘concepts’: there is no thinking without conceptual thinking — similarities, differences, metaphors, and so on — even in insects — these are fundamental neural processes that can be reproduced in abstract neural networks.)

This is great, this means that we can draw a straight line between, say, the complex reproductive behavior of the jewel wasp to the way in which Marlow anticipated Kurtz in Africa, that ‘motherly jungle’ (Something to the effect of — “that river led me towards only one thing — Kurtz … he was just a voice to me…”)

Now consider: is this ‘gravitate’ metaphor reliable? Do we or all organisms with a brain, ‘expect’ certain things? And finally, do we, and in what sense, do we “have access” to this expectation? (Since, as it stands right now, this gravitation — and thinking, and metaphysical philosophy itself — if it exists, would be purely ‘mechanical’, it does not require any ‘awareness’, as ‘have access’ suggests.) But *perhaps* we do — perhaps we have reflective access to our subconscious. There are many reasons for doubt however.

The existence question — Gravitation speaks of a certain emotional resonance at particular moments. Yet, on the other hand, there is the retrospective principle that says that *all* moments can be characterized by this feeling (eg, “awkwardness”?) That is, how do we know whether a feeling (which guarantees that moment) is genuine, or merely a retrospective contrivance? Yet I have a feeling that a lot of these feelings are ‘Hollywood inspired’ — I mean, having false memories / amneisa is pretty much a standard plot device.

And consider also that there may be very little difference between retrospection and anticipation, as long as it is ‘genuine’. Well, I mean, the difference is that retrospection is ‘reflective’, what I mean is that there is very little difference between memory and anticipation. This is actually a key difference however — the idea of retrospection as being *reflective*. What this means is that it gives us some *very narrow* room for manipulative freedom, some way of rewriting history while retaining that essential sense of honesty there, some way of intervention. But the figure here is that of an subtle adjustment rather than one of big bold ideas.

I have a few interim drafts here that deal with the difference between “horror” and “wakefulness”. (Incidentally, a few years ago, without realizing the full significance, I unsuccessfully proposed the word ‘morning horror’ to The idea here is that, despite the fact that they almost refer to the same sort of moment of insight, wakefulness refers to a mystical unity while horror refers to … something darker. Horror, I claimed, involved a non-transcending transformation, wakefulness involves a moment of transcendental understanding. (And certainly, what we often *call* horror would in fact, by this definition, be wakefulness, if that horror leads to a new way of life — well, its quite hard to be precise here.) The task of the historian is to make the subtle adjustment from wakefulness to horror.

(TBC: Thinking beyond paranoia and mnemonic overload, general forms of horror / wakefulness)

Some thoughts about hockey and math

November 16, 2012

I tell people now that if I ever breed hockey would be non-negotiable for my spawn. You know what they say about kindergarten — It feels to me like everything important about life I’ve learned playing hockey — and fairly late at that — I started in my late teens. I’ve learned to hate, I’ve come to yearn for people that think like me, I’ve learned what kind of person I instinctively become, about how we should and shouldn’t approach a task, what is and isn’t admirable, about how much pretension and idiocy there is. I have a lot of issues with hockey’s “implementation” of course, or what people (falsely) think it is, but there seems to me to be a big, glorious and irrefutable idea there. If hockey were Christianity then I’d be a 7th Day Adventist or something (and not Catholic). This glorious idea may not actually be something that young minds can understand, so … I’m not sure how resolute I am in this.

This somewhat random observation comes as I, somewhat randomly, get a chance to reflect on math… I don’t think the whole competitive math circuit has taught me nearly as much. It may partly be an issue of timing — there are some pretty sophisticated ideas in hockey (not strategy or anything, but in a philosophy of life sort of way) that I, at least, could not have understood as an adolescent, I feel. But I realized today just how much I have come to hate the whole community of math, with it’s utter absence, I feel, of reflective thinking. I don’t think I’d encourage participation in my kids — then again, I wouldn’t encourage the whole high school hockey thing either — I loved high school — but the older I get the more negative my attitude towards it becomes … I guess I’m saying that my view of my teenage years is not the least bit nostalgic, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself.

Hating math has been an eye opening experience for me, it feels good to be able to say it, like in a cheesy psychological breakthrough sort of way. I always have had a sort of respect for math, what I called “the math problem” (ie, what is math, what does it deal with, etc.) had always been in the back of my mind. Today however I feel ready to dismiss it.

… of course, we always have to make compromises in life, we always need to do things that we don’t find all that pleasant. I think I’ve overhead someone say — “Underemployed? Who isn’t underemployed?” I’ve made plenty of compromises, somewhat different than what others have made. So when I say I’m ready to dismiss it, I guess I’m saying that, while there are a plenty of interesting things to say about math still, dealing with all that would not, you know, be a necessary piece towards enlightenment, but something more resembling labor, something worthwhile in some sense but not all that pleasant.

I actually began to think about math as a sort of break from thinking about what I call “subconscious programming”. This is at once a deceptive yet useful term, since the subconscious is not a thing (like the brain, neurons, or the consciousness is) and there is nothing that physically resembles programming (the writing of code which can then be converted into action onto a substrate) occurs, and yet it points to a set of phenomena that definitely resembles programming on some substance — I’m talking about something which holds communities together, something which one feels one can transmit, some overall coordination in behavior, some coordination in time, causation, and so on — some “heart of darkness” maybe. I will eventually want to talk about the “brutish method” of subconscious programming, I get the impression that the key difference between subconscious and more traditional forms of programming is that the methods seem far more blunt. But anyways, I had mostly been thinking about my recent experience in reading Keats and dealing with the forgotten threshold idea when I got the feeling that my set of examples was too narrow — something like this must be applicable to math, I thought to myself.

Well, now that I hate it, let me try to give a hasty explanation. What I discovered, to my mild surprise, was that it wasn’t really all that hard, and that the mapping (from Keats to math) in fact occurs quite readily. A large part of the difficulty is the way in which mathematicians — or the spokesmen of math, at least, that one tends to be exposed to — tends to obscure the role of the community. There is a community there, and there is a sort of community spirit that guides everything, even if it insists on churning out things in the form of absolute truth. If you feel like something should be true, math is not there to test it or to prove you false — if you feel something to be true then you will discover some system for which it is true, and that process is in fact the most interesting and radical parts of math. There is a sense that math is not falsifiable. The key word here of course is feel — clearly, we don’t mean, “appears”. This is a fascinating question — what does truth feel like? Or what does interesting feel like? — but this is a question that is not fundamentally different from what we were asking with Keats. For one thing, this word “feel” (like the word “subconscious programming”) is at the same time deceptive and useful, we pointed out that it is not an aesthetic sensation but more like a “culmination” — and our task, as we described it two entries ago — was the working out of the fragmented narrative and historical elements of this culmination.



Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale

November 14, 2012

The unspoken condition we’re trying to fulfill here is the delivering of a historical account that would be applicable to all intelligent beings. That is, we’re trying to avoid anything that would merely be technically interesting, ie, such as economics, which concerns the manipulation of specific behaviors — which means we are avoiding, for the most part, usefulness or pragmatism, but that isn’t because we’re trying to be cool. At the same time we are avoiding simply claiming that we are barbaric or prehistoric, we are reading as usual… reading as usual, but we always have an eye out for maintaining a general historical significance.

In the time since the last entry (“The Structure of the subconsciousness”) — I mean, I think it’s still 100% relevant for me — but I think that what sticks out for me is this notion of original pain that has surprisingly gone unacknowledged. We pointed out that “A Review of Keats’s Hyperion Poems” in fact, predictably, made no reference to “The Danger or Reading”, even though it seemed to be confronting the problem laid out there, that sense of the unreadable. The general account we want to give here consists of a moving towards and then away from this moment of insight, so that this moment forms the center point or anchor of cultural memory. But this moment itself is only a solution to an every earlier moment, which is the sense of pain, which is the “seizing” of consciousness. (Which we identified with instinct, memory, and stimulus blocking.) Conrad has a great words for this, “culmination” — (misquoted) “My meeting with Kurtz was the culmination of my experience and seemed to shed some kind of light on everything”.

All these thoughts relate readily to Ode to a Nightingale — well, indeed, since they are our general theory of the world they would relate to all poems — but that would involve sort of “reading between poems” and establishing some ordering of poems, as we did in Hyperion — but with Nightingale these issues are explicit.

… there is a process I just realized must exist, which is “selection”. The “key” or the insight is part of the way in which we select which disruptions are interesting out of the totality of life’s stimuli that bypass consciousness. And furthermore, consider that logic and thinking are very low activities — if (and this is the very first principle of philosophy) we never have access to the world as such, then we have access to it via thinking (ie, as opposed to “perception”). Note that this first principle does not merely mean some mechanical filter, as we tend to think — we don’t realize the radicality of this principle until later, but it places a limit on what we can say scientifically about our experience, since we are not merely mechanical aesthetic machines, our response to the world and how we perceive it must be called thinking. Corollary — that thinking, philosophy, and the subconscious are concomitant — ie, there is no unphilosophical (eg, animals) — “the myth of the unphilosophical”. To live intelligently is to think (ie, as opposed to some precise activity involving concepts, writings, ideas, etc.).

What this means is that this insight also rewrites history, it definitely readjusts even the past so that it is seen as leading up to it.

There is much in Nightingale that supports our theory, starting with the overall melancholic tone of forgetting but wishing to remember — this entire poem looks back on a moment of insight which must be lost — cf, Keats’s “Beauty must die” — ie, I merely want to emphasize here that there is sort of a circular process here, of remembrance, towards and away. We can also, certainly, name moments when Keats is before this insight, anticipating it’s arrival. The effort here, however, is a historical account that would understand the link between selectivity, stability, and specificity here, in this account of the “portal” or threshold.

The most striking moment in the poem is probably the final stanza, “forlorn”. Actually, the last two stanzas are both really good:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown;
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: — Do I wake or sleep?

The difference between “vision” or “dream” is quite interesting, it seems to open the question between seeing, thinking, and memory. But the dramatization here is the sudden re-encounter with oneself in the depths of one’s fantasy, which has the effect of shocking oneself out of this loop. The image is quite interesting, a man dreaming his a butterfly, who dreams he is a man — who suddenly experiences this shock of identity or recognition. The moment occurs when Keats encounters this figure, oddly enough, of the “casement” — a window — or rather, a window that opens like a door, a door-window, related also to “case”, container, frame. The suggestion here seems to be the recognition that the nightingale doesn’t so much transport one to distant lands, as transport one to a window where one looks out on distant lands — foreign windows.

1) What’s the difference between vision and dream, are they related in the man / butterfly sense?
2) Keats here describes a moment of shock, where one seems to see the portal itself. But the portal is merely a culmination, and not a phenomenological experience — the shock is the shock of return. What causes this moment of recognition, of idenity (isomorphism) between Keats and the figure in his layered dreams?




The Structure of the Subconscious

November 13, 2012

The “dismissal of conscious knowledge” argument wants to argue for the dismissing of all conscious processing (for our interests) thus: consciousness is really an impasse, it’s a reducing of everything to what we already know, it is a way of forgetting and avoiding disruption, that it was evolved as a powerful way to block stimuli rather than to receive it. The more we think about consciousness, and its original function in nature (as a way of warding off stimuli, increased efficiency), the more we wonder how new ideas can ever enter the brain. Let’s remember that evolution is only interested in linear progress, and consciousness, with its emphasis on focus, may in fact significantly enhance evolutionary specialization, as a kind of “secondary imprinting” besides genetic imprinting. But consciousness is geared towards rapid imprinting and it’s characteristics reflect this function. What we see in animals as “instinct” is not, of course, genetic — behavior is not genetically encodable, generally speaking, it would be like … sculpting a bust with a sledgehammer, I guess… decent metaphors escape me. The “subconscious” (we don’t know what it is yet) is probably not evolutionary at all.

But the subconscious is not merely the penetration of the consciousness, because there has to be some broader structure. If you feel pain, that in itself is not all that interesting — we get into Pavlovian responses or something — but if feeling pain somehow makes you believe in God, then that would be interesting.

The last few entries in this blog is really a pretty good model for the complicated formation of the “subconscious”. I started (“The Dangers of Reading”) with a moment of scarring that penetrated the block of consciousness — but at that instance, I said that Keats was “unreadable”. Many contemporary critics would agree with me. After all Keats died at a very early age, and a lot of his work was written in his early twenties, and there is no genius of poetry like there is in music (ie, Mozart). But the more recent essay (“Review of Hyperion”) generated a great deal of buzz in … my community … it generated a lot of buzz in the prestigious circle of thinkers consisting of me, myself, and I — anyways, I liked it, but it was very much linked to that earlier moment of failure — and perhaps it’s symptomatic that no reference to that earlier entry was made. That’s because the belief and excitement was genuine — I genuinely believed in a breakthrough. Honesty is always linked with blindness. You can’t experience something and know how you experience it at the same time, nor can self-knowledge ever be present to oneself for this reason. You can only reflect on a past moment when when — as Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction says — you felt the touch of god, but by the time of reflection the feeling or the euphoria is gone. In any case here would be no excitement at all in understanding Keats if Keats was easy to understand in the first place, and the degree of euphoria felt there was enormous precisely because Keats was so unreadable and it seemed to open up such a vast region.

But the recent essays get at the complexity of the “subconscious” — it is not, of course, some new logic there, but it is a distortion of our life. In our hierarchy of memory, from genetic memory, to conscious memory (which is in fact “instinct”), we append … personal memory and cultural memory, which is in fact implanted in the distortions of consciousness. There is no culture without pain, perhaps.

… this project, assuming it lasts, is still in its infancy, for me.

The Indecipherable Medium

November 6, 2012

I’m constantly writing drafts and I have a few here that begin with something along the lines of, “I think that my last essay on Keats’s Hyperion poems to be the best thing I’ve ever written…”. What’s so exciting about that entry is that it is like a door opening onto Keats earlier works, works which we (and many critics) considered to be “unreadable”. And, by extension, a door opening onto all of literature and perhaps life in general — it basically gives us a license to go after the “indecipherable”. Most people still tend to read, picking up bits and pieces that excite them, that they can “talk about”. I know this sounds either naive or condescending but — I used to be the same way — after all, I considered no writing to be bad writing, I counted the pages and the words I wrote — they really piled up. I would write when I had some insight into the text, some way to link the text with other things, write until I would burn myself out. So this is not going after the “indecipherable”, it’s going after what I understand. But with that last essay, I felt like I finally had some solid reason to go after the difficult sections of Keats, the most Keatsian sections of Keats, even if this insight was prompted by an unkeatsian Keats: namely, that the idea was that there is some link between the present and the past, that all the elements of the “easy” or unkeatsian Keats was in fact already present back then, that there are figures and intentions in that difficult section — in fact, intentions which had not yet been heard, which we cannot amuse ourselves with and speak at length to.

… some time ago I spoke about feminism as “isomorphism”. That is, not the elevation of cliched “feminine” traits but rather the mapping of the male onto the female. Yes, for the longest time, the male was considered the human as such — but they are in fact right. All good traits are masculine. The task of feminism was not to insist on an independent category but rather to understand the female as already espousing these traits (or as being more masculine). But, the point is, what we forget there, and our amendment here, is that this “work” of feminism necessarily involves the indecipherable and not merely narrative inversions. That is, the task of feminist reading would not merely be the weaving of an ever more elaborate story that would invert the male and the female — this is doomed to fail — but rather, as we mention here, the focusing on the difficult parts of the text and the attempt to establish intentionality there.

… I feel the need to emphasize here, as I reread all this, and as election day nears, that I hate… certain… liberals with a passion. I’m not sure if my ideological position really needs all that more clarifying, I can’t imagine this paragraph being all that surprising. Nonetheless — I obviously have no problem with Irish Catholic democrats or anything, nor with female liberals, nor with the more respectable liberals… and I’m certainly not suggesting I belong in that group or have anything really in common with them, but rhetorically I would favor the so-called rednecks. I have no great problem with racism (anti-Asian? anti-black? fine with me), guns, or anti-intellectualism. On the other hand I have gotten into fist fights with hipsters and urban liberal types — but that might be mostly because I see them as completely non-threatening physically. I have to pick and chose, after all, I’m far from intimidating myself. I guess you could say I’m pretty mainstream in terms of rhetoric — which doesn’t mean that I agree with them. I mean stay the fuck away most other redneck stuff, because it is shit — like country music or football.

… but, moving on, I don’t consider this reasoning wrong, I still consider that last essay to be extremely important, but we do need to amend it. As it stands, there is the feeling of pursuing a hunt here — to return to earlier works, with a renewed understanding, to focus on the indecipherable, and to bring forth hidden intentions or images. But actually, I’m slowly beginning to realize that there is really nothing there… I have two models I want to put forth.

1) Retrospective and the prospective — In the same way that the present is retrospective, turns towards the past which it would hope would yield insights, the past turns towards the present. The past is constantly behaving as thought things were there, but this is a kind of genuine hope — before these things or beliefs become justified, metaphorized, or rationalized  And the present is turning towards the past, towards the indecipherable, hoping to find something there. But in the middle there is nothing — well, not quite nothing. There is that medium which allows the two to meet — and this will be our primary question.

2) Planted pieces — this is almost the same thing but on a smaller scale. There is, for example, in the Heart of Darkness, this notion of past being like a dream that cannot be recovered. In this case Marlow has no “direct access” to the past, as we do with Keats (cf, eg, Boy of Winander), but nonetheless his recollection of that time is being shaped by this double play, despite the fact that he tells the entire story retrospectively. There are elements he leaves, then, planted, that would tend to link up these things.

There is an interesting expression in a draft here that I like, it goes that “language developed in the bosom of culture”. And indeed with are talking about culture here, the link between past and present, young and old. Language must be thought culturally, in between two things, and not merely physiologically. … as we were saying, the entire question here is of the medium.

A Review of Keats’s Hyperion poems

November 1, 2012

I wrote this a few hours ago on Facebook,

Keats’s “Hyperion, A Fragment” and “Fall of Hyperion” — considered as a single work — are well worth the hour or so they take to read. The premise is AWESOME: they are two failed attempts (the latter a revision of the former) to finish his final grand project, an epic poem about the fall of the titans and the rise of the Olympian gods. The pathos of failure, the maturation of style, the shift from an epic narrative to a dreamt story, the increasing sense of bitterness and renunciation, the possible shift in sympathies, and his own impending premature death combine to make this not only touching but also formally unique.

There is the feeling of exploitation here, certainly, this recommendation reads like an elevator pitch. It’s impossible, perhaps, to separate the premise from true aesthetic enjoyment, whatever the later may mean. There is the sense that what makes Keats so amazing is precisely how uneven his poetry is, there are bits and pieces that stand out and then long passages that seem all but impossible to read. The lingering question for me, as I finally discover a work of Keats that I unequivocally enjoy, is whether I am not simply attached to a set of cheap premises.

What makes Keats’s poetry so difficult is precisely it’s sensuality. There is an absence of characterization, which makes the Fall of Hyperion in some sense the most accessible but also the least Keatsian —

— I remember a similar experience with Star Trek, I’m a big Star Trek fan but not a Trekkie or anything. Anyways, my favorite episode is actually the pilot, which was so different from the rest of the series that it gives a purposiveness to everything that came later. You suddenly realize that everything is intentional — well, I suspected as much, of course. It turned Star Trek into a kind of attempt or an experiment — the main character became, you know, the writer. Once you watch the pilot, it becomes possible to read, for example, the brown color of Kirk’s uniform.

— and so this occurs with the Fall of Hyperion too, where we have Keats finally, it seems, experimenting with characterization and intentionality. There is a central speaker that guides us almost — in retrospect — like a laugh track. We come to experience the world indirectly through him, we feel his bitterness, or his muteness, or his pathos. We realize, with a tinge of embarrassment maybe, that this was what we were after all along, and that this is how we make sense of things, ie, not as they appear to the imagination but rather as mediated by a figure. So, for me at least, this most unKeatsian poem seems to throw the rest of his work in a new light. It seems to make clear all the things that he was avoiding, or maybe even all the things that were already there. The feeling is very much like La Belle Dame Sans Merci, where the knight wakes up with memories of the pathos of the belle dame (“Her hair was long, her foot was light, and her eyes were wild”, “she wept full sore”, “I set her on my pacing steed, and nothing else saw all day long”) but very little recollection of anything else.

Or rather — even if the fall of Hyperion makes it clear what sort of style Keats had been avoiding — cf, also, This Living Hand, where there is a central speaker as well — it’s not simply that this is a moment when Keats accepts defeat or establishes a newer style. This later style is in fact primarily melancholic and in fact looks back on the earlier poems — the inplication is that everything was already there. Sp the implication is not victory of a new style, nor is it the response to criticism, but rather that of a complement. I’m always reminded of Wordsworth’s Nutting

… I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky. —
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch — for there is a spirit in the woods.

— I’m probably belaboring the point but the idea here is that the earlier poems were, despite being barely readable, somehow what was really important, precisely where the action was taking place, even though they were almost unreadable.

1) Is power (ie, in society) formed precisely by the linking of the future and the past?
2) Is that earlier time (of childhood) real? Were there really spirits there? Or does this question only make sense in retrospect?