. . . Lawrence L. White

. . .

A nice cool glass eliminate

Lawrence L. White seems a bit harsh on D. A. Boxwell's gallant defense of Rose Macaulay:

Irrespective of the novels' comparative merits, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is a much snappier title than "And No Man's Wit." I can't get from "and" to "no" without adding an "uh" & sounding like Chico Marx. & since when is the Air Force Academy an exemplar for higher education in the humanities?
Well, being as Boxwell is a Professor of English at the Air Force Academy, I think it would be impolitic of him to claim otherwise. And Boxwell's topic is comparative war fiction, after all. And Chico was Freedonia's Secretary of War, after all.... Still, there's really no excuse for the background image on that page.

. . .

The Blasted Stumps of Academe

Lawrence L. White simultaneously kicks off our end-of-school special and continues our previous thread in high style:

I spent several days composing a response to your comments re Curtis White, but couldn't make sense in my own head. As Adorno also says, the aesthetic is inarticulate. Though he claims philosophy is necessary, he recognizes that the artwork always withholds its best part. It's a perfect marriage: one party claims the other can't live without them, the other party knows it.

One of the few ideas that have made sense to me in this dreadful canon debate is John Guillory's suggestion that instead of thinking of canons we should think of syllabi. It's an inescapable fact: only so many books can be assigned for the term, or, for those who have survived their educations still reading, only so many books can be read. (Mr. Bloom acts as if he has read everything, which is his claim to greatness, 'cause none of the ideas he's had about these books amount to squat.) You have to make choices, though you don't have to, or may not be able to, explain them.

Just as there is are Great Works syllabi out there, so too are there Race-Class-Gender syllabi. & both can be automatized. Try to get an American Studies PhD w/out reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. & try to read any of this stuff the way someone like Spicer would read. I bet my copy of Aesthetic Theory (w/marginal notes throughout to prove I read the whole thing) someone out there is doing a Race-Class-Gender critique of Updike, & is thorougly kicking old Johnny-boy's ass. Yes, he deserves it, but aren't there better things to do w/your time?

I want to read books that are smarter, truer, more beautiful (&, as Adorno & Stein point out, beautiful can be ugly) than I am. Criticism that's superior to its object is masturbation. & as my pa told me, beating off is a fine hobby but you don't want to make it your life's work. One of my fellow students did a master's thesis on Fern Gully. Kicked its ass up one side & down the other, undoubtedly. (Which reminds me: Derrida can avoid the topic of greatness because it goes w/out question in France. The question on the bac is about Rimbaud, not Asterix.)

The example of Spicer's reading -- wide, idiosyncratic, passionate -- shames me when I think of all the time I have wasted in graduate school.

  Bent over the old volume

. . .

The Indefinite Conversation, cont.

Lawrence L. White kindly points us to T. P. Uschanov's Icy Frigid Aire:

There's so much to like here. At the risk of revealing myself as an exoticist, I confess I find the very idea of Finland intriguing -- European culture on the tundra -- as well as his ethnic background, and his use of the old English academic schtick of initials instead of names. Nice theatrical touch. Who wouldn't like a grad student who calls himself a "philosopher"? They're not that many professors with such moxy. He is also a non-tedious example of how to use the web to express intellectual interests. It's as if he invited us into his apartment, showed us the views outside the window, what's on the bookshelf, the record player, his desk. (Showing instead of telling us what he likes & doesn't like.) Google searches for Mr. Uschanov's name come up w/even more. For a while, at least, he seems to have been everywhere talking about everything. There aren't many entries for 2001. Pages on the site have been updated recently, so I don't think he's burned out. Perhaps he has had to buckle down at school.

Although there is not much of his writing on the page, it's good stuff. I think his two Wittgenstein essays are first rate, & the music writing snippet is interesting, especially for not going on too long.

Uschanov is indeed a online treat. On Usenet alone, he quotes Shangri-Las interviews, runs a Golden Oldies Lyrics Quiz, and supplies helpful reminders:

But philosophy isn't love of truth. In Greek,
    "agape" = 'love, affection'
    "philia" = 'friendship, comity'
Which means a world of difference.
A guide to personal misuse of Uschanov's longer essays:

. . .


Regarding our imaginary adventure, Aaron Mandel worries us:

I think the implication of the "A in B" title scheme is not just that everything turns out okay, but that A, the sympathetic star of some extended series of episodes, comes out of B essentially unchanged. At least, that's why I found CNN's slogan unnerving: it's reversed.

And, less whimsically, it implies gently that the anthrax came from outside America, while I'm starting to hear serious mumbles to the effect that the perpetrators may have been domestic terrorists.

While, regarding our Worst Episode Ever, Lawrence L. White reassures us:

Locating predictability as the turning point is, dare I say it, Wittgenstein-like: if you can't move the rock, find a different spot for the lever. One consideration: note that the legal problem is only interested in things after the fact. Examples from law seem tainted with a particular pathology, akin to the pathology of taxation-phobic voters preferring to spend more on punishing folks than on the less expensive & more effective (crime-prevention wise) technique of educating them.

I liked the entry because I have what Wittgenstein characterized as the philosophical illness. & I felt bad to think I might have infected you. I am, in part from the Wittgenstein treatment, mostly free of such vexations. Meaning I wouldn't think to try to think about those things again. Which is another reason I find Uschanov fascinating. In his case the medicine stokes the disease.

Yes, muddling legal responsiblity with determinism seems unnecessary (except, as I indicated, in the case of an omniscent omnipotent judge). Already the central ethical problem of punitive justice is that past events can't be undone. Why make matters even more difficult for our dear caretakers by asking whether future events can be?

To retreat to ordinary English usage: Could an individual change something that's already happened? No, that doesn't seem meaningful. Could she change something that hasn't happened yet? Certainly not -- if it doesn't exist, it can't be changed. Can she be part of something happening? Certainly she can, and the only way around that is to radically redefine what "she" refers to. That's where "free will" comes in, but (unlike schools) courts can have nothing to say about the present tense (except "I object!" or such like)....

As for personal regret, the "philosophical illness" holds even less terror than anthrax. No, what really bothered me about my post was first, that it seemed misshapen as argumentative prose, and second, more damningly, that it seemed redundant: that I'd added nothing to what was already available, even if we restrict ourselves to the Web.

Referring to the Bill of Artifactual Values kept in my wallet at all times:

  1. Best is to make potentially inaccessible work accessible: to publish & to lend. (Thus the obsession with the DMCA and so forth.)

  2. Next best is to publicize relatively unknown work & ideas or actually produce (heavens!) new work & ideas.

  3. Next best after that is to show new aspects of relatively available work & ideas -- to add to their audience or to their interest or at least to what might be considered their "understanding."

  4. But utterly indefensible -- vacuous in itself and friend to future vacuity -- is to throw more of the same thing into a pool of existing same thing. Art is perfectly justifiable in the age of mechanical reproduction; cover bands less so. (Therefrom springs my antagonism towards group products ranging from "academic canons" and "postmodernism" and "doctoral programs" to "news media" and "pundits" and "awards shows.")
It's a strictly additive morality based on a loosely Kantian metaphysics: anti-consensus, aestheticizing, disputatious (albeit and alongsides welcoming correction and contradiction), potentially anti-groove, perhaps dangerously-near-solipsist. But mine own. And by its light I sinned where neither Lawrence L. White, T. P. Uschanov, nor Ludwig Wittgenstein had.

. . .

By writing out a puzzle, Lawrence L. White finds the solution (and as a side-effect shares it):

In the latest issue of Context a piece on Kathy Acker brought to mind an old problem.

Ms. Wheeler talks a lot about Acker's ambitions (to change the world w/words) but not much about how she carried it out. & the ambitions are read straight off. Any clever workshop student knows "show, don't tell," and, as Marx put it, "every shopkeeper can distinguish between what somebody professes to be and he really is."

To be fair, there's a lot to say about stated intentions. You can at least repeat them. There may not be that much to say about the means art uses. & of the little that has been said, most of it is painfully obvious. But maybe that's okeh. Maybe there should be less talking about poems & more reading them.

Then I noticed how I had not managed to avoid my own problem. Wittgenstein says, somewhere, something like what is needed is not new theories but reminders of what we wanted to do in the first place. So reminding yourself which problems are bothering you might not be a complete waste of time.

Better yet, why not make talk about poems as interesting as the most interesting poems?

. . .

Now it feels all lumped up again.. JAIL

Lawrence L. White writes that our recent serial on comic poetry glanced off a thought much on his mind:

What if the non-sequitur were a legitimate figure of speech?

I take this thought to be a lesson of Gertrude Stein's work. I'm sure Mr. Weinberger counts Stein among the better angels. "Cubist simultaneity" would be her invite to the party. But one thing perplexes me about his list of virtues: two of them are based directly on pictures, and maybe even the third (one creative writing teacher suggested to us that dreams were more like rebuses than stories). None of them are about language. & I thought the lesson we all got from Cezanne was that your medium was the truest path into the problem.

[...] I do mean the "what if" part seriously. There's an odd triumphalism to a lot of Language poetry proponence. As if it really did move mountains. Now I'm not saying that Stein wasn't one heck of a triumphalist, but the parts I like (there are plenty available) are when she's wondering if she's managed to get her latest contraption off the ground yet & if so how long it's going to stay airborne.

Seriously or not, I'm not sure a what-if is necessary. The non-sequitur, like other approaches to nonsense, is already "a legitimate figure of speech" in the living language. It only seems exceptional within the bounds of purposefully restricted discourses such as funeral orations, or shareholder reports. To bring it into those restricted areas isn't to overcome the quotidian but to enrich (or corrupt) with the quotidian.

True, the power fantasies of poets and theorists (and science fiction writers and superhero comics and hiphop MCs and so on) are laughable. But, far from being an attack or a defeat, deflation reveals the true nature of their achievements.

And, as you say, worrying aloud about the impression one's making while in the midst of purposefully restricted discourse is a deflationary technique mastered by Gertrude Stein as well as Robert Benchley. (Which may hint at why my readings of Derrida have been unusually benign.)

I'm aware of my tongue! Unable to stop fretting about one's own place in one's own medium -- doesn't that send us back to Cézanne's school?

Before and beyond any other response they might elicit, Manet's paintings (like Stein's writings) were funny, mocked (more-or-less warmly) even by friends and supporters. Accordingly, the affections of caricaturists and parodists often sided with their irresistible target rather than with their hostile employers. Marcel Duchamp said that when he was a cartoonist hanging out with other cartoonists (not to insinuate that Duchamp ever stopped being a cartoonist), "The conversation centered above all on Manet. The great man that he was." Or, in Baudelaire's reassuring words, "the first in the decrepitude of your art."

I'm trying to avoid terms like "Postmodernism" -- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, found the lyric stance as distressingly risible as Frank O'Hara or Jack Spicer ever did. But I suppose it might be true that one would need ever higher doses of delusion to avoid self-consciousness after the printer's devil has stopped tapping at the casement window for new installments. Just us and the medium, all alone by the telephone.

. . .

Francis at the Mitchell Brothers Theater

Lawrence L. White extends the popular series:

Jessie Ferguson is okeh with lack of consensus in "pure aesthetics," but how are you going to keep it pure? & I'm not talking about keeping the non-aesthetic out of aesthetics: how do you keep the aesthetic out of sociology, history, etc?

I have this idea (one that I can't explain or justify to any acceptable degree) that it's all about poesis, that is, "making" in a general sense, "creation," as in things made by humans. Things such as society. That the poem and the economy are variants (mostly incommensurate) of the same drive. That "I'm going to put some stuff together" drive. To go kill me that deer. To clothe my child. To flatter the chief. To exchange for some stuff that guy in the other tribe put together.

Does this insight have any practical application? Not that I relish exposing my reactionary tendencies (yet again), but among those practicing sociological versions of aesthetics, the cultural studies crowd, I'd like less of the scientistic model let me tell you how things are!— and more of the belletristic model here's something I wrote! I would like to practice good making in criticism. (& as an inveterate modernist, I'm willing to call obscure frolics good making.)

But what of socio-economics? Is that supposed to be more like a poem, too? Perhaps there are other models. If I can throw out another murky notion to cushion my fall, Wittgenstein seems to say as much when he speaks of "grammar." I always took that term to contain potential pluralities, as if every discipline had a somewhat distinct way of talking, of presenting evidence, making inferences, etc. Which is not to say everything goes. He also spoke of needing to orient our inquiries around the "fixed point of our real need." Not that there's much consensus on that. But let me offer a suggestion: the inability of the English Department to come to a "consensus" severely debilitates its ability to ask for funding. Because the folks with the purse do want to know what exactly it is that you do.

Let me try it from another angle, through another confusion, this time not even so much a notion as a suggestion. Allen Grossman, the Bardic Professor, once reminded us that "theater" and "theory" have the same root. He, too, seems not to have said something Bacon didn't know. Grossman, though, as a reader of Yeats & Blake, wouldn't take it where our Francis wants to go. Perhaps the Baron Verulam's heart might be softened by this plea: isn't the point of the socially inflected sciences to make things as we "would wish them to be"? For example, don't the "true stories out of histories" serve to help us order our current situation, despite Santayana's overstatement of the case? (John Searle once told us in lecture that the drive behind philosophy was nothing more radical than simple curiosity. I found the answer to be unsatisfying philosophically and reprehensible politically.)

I like those questions.

To add a trivial one, though: Hasn't the English Department's problem always-already been self-justification? Poetry and fiction weren't very long ago exclusively extracurricular activities, and it takes a while to explain why it should be otherwise. Isn't jouissance its own reward? Or do students pay to be titillated and spurred forward by the instructors' on-stage examples? (No wonder consensus isn't a goal.)

. . .

Flogging the Dead Bardic Mule

Some weeks ago, prompted by our defense of poor W. B. Yeats, Lawrence L. White sent a mixed message that I nevertheless easily understood. I regret not having previously forwarded it to your attention, especially since it in some respects anticipated later postings here.

Some time afterward, he provided a gracefully tentative response to the gracefully cautious David Auerbach; again, I've been tardy in passing it along.

But it's a mean sin that blows no sinner good, and my lethargy netted me a quote (filched from John Holbo's pocket) which I think will let us tie a pretty red ribbon around both those discussions and "Isn't It Grand, Form, To Be Bloody Well Dead?" besides.

First, White:

[...] Winters always ends up sideways. Yeah, Yeats is a dope. You know what? Poetry is dopey. Getting up in front of everyone (even if behind the screen of the printed page) & singing w/out music is at the least an unusual gesture. I'd go as far as call it preposterous. Certainly one should never risk the resulting social censure w/out the excuse of drunkenness or misanthropy.

I read Winters as an undergraduate. He was my teacher's teacher, & I thought it'd help me figure out what was going on. I learned a lot, but I always stumbled over the "poetry is the highest thought" thing. Man, like, I was reading Kant at the time! I think Fulke Greville is an awesome poet, but a thinker? (What is thinking? asked the man in the funny lederhosen (funny not because they were lederhosen, funny because he'd designed his own costume of what he thought peasants should wear). Let's say it's ideas unable to call on help from song or story.) Kant is 1,000 times more exacting, more exquisite, more voluptuous a thinker than any poet. For proof, compare his reasoning ability to the reasoning of Winters (the latter being the rational synopsis of the poetry). Not that Winters is by any means a fool, but he'd have a hard time getting a PhD in philosophy from the work he's submitted so far.

The metaphysics I rely on day-to-day owes much more to Kant than to Yeats. On the other hand, I re-read Yeats much more often than Kant. Luckily, my metaphysics is capable of explaining that difference.

For some reason this makes me think of the sign of the "We Three" inn -- do you know it? the painting of two jackasses?

Yes, poetry seems ridiculous even to those of us who love it, even to those who engage in it. But the classical prototype of all such comic butts is the philosopher: a role defined by its distance from quotidian value.

... to be continued ...

. . .

How Burton Can Change Your Life

I read once of a man who was cured of a dangerous illness by eating his doctor's prescription which he understood was the medicine itself. So William Sefton Moorhouse imagined he was being converted to Christianity by reading Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, which he had got by mistake for Butler's Analogy of Religion, on the recommendation of a friend. But it puzzled him a good deal.
- Note-Books, Samuel Butler


Lawrence L. White:
Wittgenstein (I may only have 1 pony but you can't make me stop riding him!) wanted to use a quotation from Bishop Butler (who wrote the Analogy) as the motto for the Philosophical Investigations: Everything is what it is & not something else. Which leads to the musical question: who has more respect for difference: the one who feeds everything into the differance meat-grinder, or the one who takes a look at each individual thing & asks, how is this unique? & after that number we have the big dance scene.

LW ended up settling for a quotation from this guy named Nestroy (these Germans & their library-full of culture!), which went something like, "Everything that appears to be a great step forward later tends out not to have been as big a deal as you thought." I'm not sure how I'm going to block out that scene.

. . .

Implausible Deniability

It's an odd thing about science fiction, given its world-diverging goals, that so many of its professionals have difficulty coming to terms with the existence of usages, tastes, and experiences other than the ones they find most familiar.

Then again professional analyzers of the beautiful and profound are often mean motherfuckers, and computer programmers, slavish go-betweens swatted down by both masters, are often strikingly arrogant, and professional Christians are often bloodthirsty and intolerant, and professional iconoclasts dish clichés, so maybe it's just an odd thing about professions.

Or not odd. We want our lives to sound difficult and be made easy.

That's why most sf ages as badly as most of the mild epiphanies of mainstream fiction and poetry: they all lower the cost of supermundanity by cutting corners on the real.


What then of professional epiphanists?
PS: Don't go there

More fool I, who would gladly move to Toronto if they weren't so persnickety about employing USAnarians.

Is this an obituary for Kurt Vonnegut?

Not that I know of the last time I read Cat's Cradle, I still liked it.

Lawrence L. White writes:

I just finished the Sutin biography of Phillip K. Dick, & found myself puzzled: for someone who believed that all we take for reality is an illusion, old Phil had some pretty common & unswerving ideas about gender relations. Oh well. Humans! What are we going to do w/them?
Re: PKD. I know, it was very deflating when I learned that the "dark haired girl" was Linda Ronstadt.

I haven't read the biography, but friends have told me that pretty much any not-too-tall woman with dark hair he met would be the "dark haired girl" to Dick.

. . .

Nothing Personal : Interlude

From Carve Her Name with Pride :

For Teddy Adorno and Sylvia Plath


Lawrence L. White critiques:

Man, that's one tough workshop. But it's got an excellent teacher-student ratio!
and Hold the Epitaph.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.