Edwin Arlington Robinson


Rereading Edwin Arlington Robinson can be a cause for celebration. His voice is distinct and full of that quiet ferocity that quickens the mind. As in his poem on George Crabbe:

George Crabbe

GIVE him the darkest inch your shelf allows,
Hide him in lonely garrets, if you will, —
But his hard, human pulse is throbbing still
With the sure strength that fearless truth endows.
In spite of all fine science disavows,   
Of his plain excellence and stubborn skill
There yet remains what fashion cannot kill,
Though years have thinned the laurel from his brows.
Whether or not we read him, we can feel
From time to time the vigor of his name  
Against us like a finger for the shame
And emptiness of what our souls reveal
In books that are as altars where we kneel
To consecrate the flicker, not the flame.1

Harold Bloom would say in his usual laconic exuberance of Robinson: “It is not that Robinson believed, with Melville, that the invisible spheres were formed in fright, but he shrewdly suspected that the ultimate world,
though existent, was nearly as destitute as this one. He is an Emersonian
incapable of transport, an ascetic of the Transcendental spirit, contrary to
an inspired saint like Jones Very or to the Emerson of “The Poet,” but a
contrary, not a negation, to use Blake’s distinction.” (Poets, 239) Which is only to say with Nietzsche – that he was in love with fate’s, “amor fati”. The Love of Ananke or Necessity gathered his flickering flame into its dark knot.

We know that he received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1922, followed by two more in 1925 and 1928. In his time he was considered the greatest living American Poet. T.S. Eliot was barely recognized and Wallace Stevens was just embarking. Hart Crane had yet to make his mark. Even the likable and cantankerous Robert Frost was still a spellbound poet of the wilderness of New England. While William Carlos Williams was in his early years as a doctor. So many great poets of that era: Marianne Moore, H.D., Elizabeth Bishop… a feast in the world of landscape and the mind’s proclivities.

Beyond the favored poems of “George Crabbe,” “Luke Havergal,” “The Clerks, along with the remarkable “Credo,” “Walt Whitman” (uncompleted or abandoned), and “The Children of Night” we have the darker tones of Robinson’s later years influenced by Emerson’s late essays in Conduct of Life: “Eros Turannos” and “For a Dead Lady,” both of which even now convey an almost Frostian tone as they waver between a full blown love of Ananke (“Fate”) or Necessity and the Orphic Seer’s deep and abiding essays on “Experience,” and “Fate”.

But I admit a weakness. To me the poem that I keep returning to is “Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford”. It’s a little too long to add to this short post, yet I leave a little of its lustre as a singular spark of its power to raise the dead among the dead:

He’ll not be going yet. There’s too much yet
Unsung within the man. But when he goes,
I’d stake ye coin o’ the realm his only care
For a phantom world he sounded and found wanting
Will be a portion here, a portion there,  
Of this or that thing or some other thing
That has a patent and intrinsical
Equivalence in those egregious shillings.
And yet he knows, God help him!
Tell me, now, If ever there was anything let loose  
On earth by gods or devils heretofore
Like this mad, careful, proud, indifferent Shakespeare!
Where was it, if it ever was? By heaven,
’Twas never yet in Rhodes or Pergamon —
In Thebes or Nineveh, a thing like this! 
No thing like this was ever out of England;
And that he knows. I wonder if he cares.
Perhaps he does.… O Lord, that House in Stratford!

What he said of George Crabbe might be said of him as well:

In spite of all fine science disavows,   
Of his plain excellence and stubborn skill
There yet remains what fashion cannot kill,
Though years have thinned the laurel from his brows.



  1. Robinson, Edwin Arlington (2015-01-21). Delphi Poetical Works and Plays of Edwin Arlington Robinson (Illustrated) (Delphi Poets Series Book 46) (Kindle Locations 1992-2000). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

What is Wisdom?


“What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun?” 
…..– Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher

Should we who have seen too much
seek out the dark or light; know
the wisdom of Job, or laughter’s
rash intrepid gleam – Aristophanes;
break a horse, tame it’s might, seek
the holy cowl or Mammon’s pride.
If I wear a Lamborghini’s smile,
a crocodile upon my feet, a serpent’s
tail around my waist, a diamond clasp
upon my tie, will this change me
to a gentlemen or the devil’s hind;
if I strut upon the stage, wink
my way to Hollywood, woo the woman
of my heart – a model from New York,
will this give me what I want, a life
both quick and sure, full of pleasantries
and days of leisure and affluence; or shall
I order death upon a battlefield, turn men
to dust with armament and war, take nations
down into the pit with me where love
has no honor nor grace a reckoning undone
in a little room; or shall I live my life for lust
and pleasure, or would you have me be wise
beyond measure, give my substance to the poor,
strip the rich of all their burdens, cast a doubtful
eye upon the world and pass it by;  or say:

“This is no place for you or I
to live out
our lives, no world
at peace where trust 
is bread
and mortal truth our daily fare,
where prayer is kindness
and those who
hold power
give it back a thousand-fold,
and deem their work as nothing;
where men
and women are finally equals,
sharing in all things; 
where children
grow up early wise and strong,
to know and be at peace with everyone,
only this that is the outer
garment of their minds and lives,
the given breaking over each
and every fractured moment of the times:
the savant and the fool come home to roost;
human bonds of trust bring joys at last,
and paradise is just another word for Love.”

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Life is What it Is


“Nothing is got for nothing.”
 …..– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What goes around, comes around.”
Emerson on the street. Just the way it is.
Get up, walk outside, look around –
do you see it, this muck we name existence,
this life we live: turn around in your flesh,
start again, think again, be again
something other than you are:
Emerson called it Self-Reliance,
becoming other…
(on the street they just call it
“becoming real, man…” That’s all.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Love’s Majesty


Her face so clear and bright. The high
cheek-bones, the fading brow –
slight the overlay, brown and blackening
to midnight; topaz, the eyes, shaped
to far stars crossed among cypress nights;
the tender embraces of the auroras kiss –
as duplicitous as the touch of her lips upon mine.

……This is the violence of love, the loss
that belies the fatal eclipse of days,
leavenings of an order temporal to desire. 

A life behind barbed time, faceless and nameless;
body slumped to nil, the hungered expression,
a temperate intelligence hidden and
veiled to a more than feminine resilience;
a caustic remembrance, an admonishment
that almost kills, but knows
with a knowing
that silences such thoughts,
disturbs our
observances, and casts doubt

on all we presume or can; a truth so real
it can only find you condemned by pride;
self-satisfied premonitions of a good life
gone south among so many lost winters.

……She will not allow you to frame her,
impose your calibrated geometries
across the years of her dark reign,
bring her to some resolution of love
beyond desire. And, if you touch her now
in this thought what terrible price will you
of necessity, pay? Her irrevocable majesty
strips you clean, your intrepid mind
disburdened by nothing less than everything,
dismayed by a sudden transparency, naked
to the sun, accosted by one’s immodest claims
of bravery; a dishonor too quick to refute,
a tryst calculated and guaranteed, absolved
of the traces that would counter her sovereign legacy.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

In Times Such As These


It could be like that at times:
squeeze of a hand, fellow-feeling,
sympathy, shoulder-tap – saying,
“Trust the impossible world!”

Just before the balance shifts
things turn chaotic, confused;
(confusing the abstract Real
with its suspect dependency
the executioner – gun in hand,
complicit, deadly – shakes
the earth and leaves lose
their way among the seasons:
winter’s white drafts enframe us;
thought goes blank; the eye
in the eye turns opaque
as obsidian); men go under,
life swerves downward
and inward toward nullity:
that which no longer believes
things in-between upsets
the balance and the truce:
outside and inside, crosswise
pass each other, disturbed, lost.

When relations shoot the gap,
touch the visible dark, a seal
against day’s brash light; things
go North, suffer the sun’s burden,
rush the turbulent lights of dawn.
A sudden reprieve from the harsh
news of reality brings one back
to that inner order of one’s being;
a staying hand, a gesture
that says it all in defiance of silence,
bringing memory and pain to a pitch,
revealing our darkness: bare and violent.

Can justice be balanced in such acts as these?

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things



After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

from Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens

Deleuze would once describe Minor Literature as the language of sense that is “traversed by a line of escape”. He’d go on to restate this simply as the point when “language stops being representative in order to now move toward its extremities or its limits”. For Stevens all of poetry had become a “minor house” a place of no place, a heterocosm that “badly needed paint”. Nihilism itself was first an imagining of emptiness, an act of destruction that as Nietzsche admitted would in turn require a greater act of creation to come. A reevaluation of all that had come before. An act of imagination that would require nothing less than everything.

Ours is a time when even the “absence of the imagination” itself is in desperate need of a paint job. Stevens did not say reality must be reimagined, that would be to reenter the cold nihilistic wasteland of the mind where thought is only a “sadness without a cause”, a reflection without its object, an objectification that leads to the endless patternings of mind chasing itself not the Real. This is not some revisioning of the world, but a vision of first things, being and becoming – of entering into a relationship to the plain sense of things without reflection or mimesis, where we must learn to stop the world and listen silently to the hum of things without us. Listen and see into the impersonal force of things in their becoming-minor; their lines of flight and movement. We must forget ourselves in things, then and only then will we discover the kernel of our self-becomings without the mirror of language.

Alain Badiou in The Age of Poets gives us a reading of Steven’s poem Description without Place. What he describes in this essay is of an art which speaks outside itself, which conveys the sense of things outside of language as happenings and acts. He’ll quote the beginning of this poem:

It is possible that to seem – it is to be,
As the sun is something seeming and it is.
The sun is an example. What it seems
It is and in such seeming all things are.

What seems is and what is seems: appearance and reality are not two things, nor one; there being no one-All, no Platonic world of archetypes and pure forms separate from the things of sense. As Badiou will relate it this is a question of being qua being and appearing – to be and to appear – appearing precisely in a place without description, in a tangible world in no need of words or descriptions just the silence of non-reflective knowing-without-knowledge. The sun is, and it is something seeming, and in poetry, we must name ‘sun’ neither the fact that the sun is, nor the fact that the sun seems, or appears, but we must name ‘sun’ the equivalence of seeming and being, the inseparability of being and appearing. And finally, the equivalence of existing and not existing.1

As T.S. Eliot once said in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock which Stevens echoes:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Admonishing Eliot whose fantasia of metaphors quicken false perceptions rather than a sense of things Stevens tells us “No turban walks across the lessened floors.” Language cannot carry the burden of reality or the Real anymore. Our metaphors are destitute of significance. Our signs no longer refer to anything external. We live in a prison house of our own making, and contra Vico we no longer know what we have made, nor can we. Caged in a Platonic cave of shadows we assume is real. Yet, the Real is that false semblance, the tissue of abstract thought that overlays our minds, a world of illusive tracks leading nowhere. We are living contradictions. The gap between us and knowing is now laid down by false trails. The greenhouse is crumbling, the chimney falling to one side; we are left to our own devices in a world wiped clean of our linguistic signs. A world where it is “difficult even to choose the adjective / For this blank cold” kenoma, this vastation. A nihilistic world of phenomena possibly, but not one that we can sit still in and bewail our fate in some sorrowful diatribe. No. We must admit that the enlightenment culture of Reason has failed us:

A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

We’ve spent two-hundred years trying to get it right, trying to inhabit the scientific paradise of objectivity and pure description but it has got us no further than this emptiness of our late civilization. Science has moved from the visible to the invisible; it would make visible the invisible as if it could bring forth the secret of the Demiurge through its mathematization of reality. The Platonic matheme has taken on a priority in our time with its shifts between set and category theory, the vagaries of specialized and artificial languages that have replace reality with its semblance.

Badiou will go further, saying,

The eye, the concrete vision, is not in art the true sight, the real vision of beauty. The real vision of beauty is indifferent to the eye. It is an act of thinking. But Stevens does not agree, and I do not agree either. In the work of art, there is not the absolute dependence of appearing on a transcendent being. On the contrary, we have to fix a point where appearing and being are indiscernible. (The Age of Poets)

This is the work of imagination, of fixing a point where appearance and being are at once both and neither, indiscernible. Robert Frost would say this is the confusion of things as they are. By this we must remember that confusion etymologically was once a libation to the gods that brought forth truth rather than our common use of the word as a perplexity. When Stevens says:

………………………………………..The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence…

To express the silence of things without us, to speak the “plain sense of it” outside reflection, outside thought is to let the thing speak us and change us. As Badiou will tell us this is precisely the goal of the pure [poem]: to institute a new world, not by the strength of means, like images, painting, colours, and so on, but by the minimalism of some marks and lines, very close to the inexistence of any place. The poem is the perfect example of an intensity of weakness.(ibid., I changed drawing for poem!) This notion of “weakness” is portrayed by Adrian Johnson in a recent interview:

…transcendental materialism portrays nature as “weak” in the sense of it being a detotalized, disunified non-One/not-All of distinct, heterogeneous levels and layers of beings shot through with and riven by a thriving plethora of antagonisms, conflicts, fissures, splits, and the like (as paradigmatically embodied by the “kludge”-like central nervous system of human beings. (see Interview with Adrian Johnson)

We as subjects are caught in this detotalized conflictual world of antagonisms, fissures, splits etc. where as Stevens suggests “It is difficult even to choose the adjective / For this blank cold, this sadness without cause”. Slavoj Zizek in a pertinent statement relates it this way:

The subject observes reality from an external position and is simultaneously part of this reality, without ever being able to attain an “objective” view of reality with himself included in it. The Thing that haunts the subject is himself in his objectal counterpoint, qua object. Hegel writes: “The subject finds itself in contradiction between the totality systematized in its consciousness, and the particular determination which, in itself, is not fluid and is not reduced to its proper place and rank. This is mental derangement [Verrücktheit].”2

On becoming rat is this sense of being caught in a trap, fuddled, beleaguered, conflicted haunted by a world of shadows we cannot quite apprehend; we are sadnesses without a cause, effects wandering among the ruins of reality. Caught between the openness of the world and the closure of our mind and consciousness we scuttle around in the tunnels of the Real like rats in a maze. As if each of us were a rat caught in a burrow, a tunnel vision hidden in the darkness of our city lives forgetful of what lies outside our mythical Plato’s cave. So enamored of our virtual worlds, our illusive grasp of the shadows flickering across the networks of our economic lives we forget we’ve taken the shadows for reality. As if the State and its Laws were proscribed, the enforced truth of our lives rather than an imagined thing, a world of poetry. But we are neither Platonists nor Idealists that the world is split in two, no we live in an unbinding of things that do not need us and live out their destinies oblivious of our thoughts and worlds.

Being and event, appearance and reality, becoming and subject or the sense of things as pure contradiction:

“Contradiction” is not only the Real-impossible on account of which no entity can be fully self-identical; “contradiction” is pure self-identity as such, the tautological coincidence of form and content, of genus and species, in the assertion of identity. There is time, there is development, precisely because opposites cannot directly coincide. (Zizek)

Because opposites can never find closure, because there is no completed system of the world, a description that would finalize and pin the tail of the donkey with a meaning of meaning; rather we live in movement and motion, becoming minor in a time without boundaries, a space without description. Badiou will describe it this way: “To adopt the principle of materialism means to admit that, at a minimal point of appearing, there is a kind of “fusion” with the being which appears.” Zizek frowning on this fusion of thought and things will present the gap or point where being and appearance meet:

This inexistent is the point of symptomal torsion of a world: it functions as a “universal singular,” a singular element which directly participates in the universal (belongs to its world), but lacks a determinate place in it. (Zizek)

Is this not to say that we who move through time like marks and lines, intersections on a plane of inconsistency (Deleuze), we who are the concrete particulars, the “universal singulars” of subjectivation and consciousness who participate in this world yet have no actual determinate place in it; are we not the contradictory thing that is a “sadness without cause”? Creatures whose fixed and stable identity is none other than pure contradiction of being and becoming, motion and process. Or as Stevens will say many times in his poems. Are we not always the ones saying “farewell”? That the names we would give to things, to the sense of things will remain impermanent, contradictory, and incomplete? As if the Demiurge had not already botched it all, heaped the ruins of things against his own dark and imponderable anteriority?

Suddenly we walk away from our everyday inanity into the strangeness of this natural sense of things without us and we realize we must like Adam in the morning begin again from the beginning, realize for the first time that we must see things again for the first time, know with a knowing that is devoid of knowledge, an unknowing that perceives the barely perceptible darkness in things become visible for us in its pure firstness, its existence-as-appearance; being as the barely invisible visibility of the seen, more felt than known, more known than mentalized? But we cannot stop there we must allow this great silence to once again inhabit the House of the Poetry, reenter the world of language where being and existence relate to each other as something strange and new. Where the plain sense of things “imagined as an inevitable knowledge, / Required, as a necessity requires”. In that moment the knower and the known move in an evental time of motion of change, of happening and event; and, as we are changed so is the sense of things. But who is the changer and who the changed?

  1. Badiou, Alain (2014-11-04). The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose (Kindle Locations 1826-1829). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 8055-8059). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Marianne Moore: The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing


The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing

is an enchanted thing
…………like the glaze on a
……………..subdivided by sun
……………..till the nettings are legion.
Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti;

like the apteryx-awl
…………as a beak, or the
kiwi’s rain-shawl
……………..of haired feathers, the mind
……………..feeling its way as though blind,
walks along with its eyes on the ground.

It has memory’s ear
…………that can hear without
having to hear.
……………..Like the gyroscope’s fall,
……………..truly unequivocal
because trued by regnant certainty,

it is a power of
…………strong enchantment. It
is like the dove-
……………..neck animated by
……………..sun; it is memory’s eye;
it’s conscientious inconsistency.

It tears off the veil, tears
…………the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
……………..from its eyes—if the heart
……………..has a face; it takes apart
dejection. It’s fire in the dove-neck’s

iridescence; in the
of Scarlatti.
……………..Unconfusion submits
……………..its confusion to proof; it’s
not a Herod’s oath that cannot change.

from Marianne Moore Complete Poems

Enjoy your thanks giving (if you’re stateside, that is…)!  I’ll be back next Monday…


The Monsters from the Outlands


The monsters from the outlands arrived today.
I stood at the city gates eyeing their sad faces
And knew each one as she passed me by.

Their masks seem more transparent than the sun.
Their eyes full of gold and amber light break
Across our lives somber tones in fear and trepidation.

At night we hear their embattled wings adrift
Upon the supernal sea, coursing over the winds
And autumnal silences, snow bound l

Floating above indistinguishable from night’s insolvency.
Their furtive looks and glances speak of worlds
Long thought dead among our translated lives.

Theirs is not the hideous strength of some dark
Longing tribe, more than fear brings these monstrous
Exiles back from their dark angelic wars to us; something

Moves in that emptiness at the edge of our knowing –
Hovering over our black imaginings, nameless and unknown;
Like a future foretold but left unrecognized in the folds

Of some blackened pool of doubt where hateful things live on.
One came to me out of that fog and bog. I knew her wickedly,
Not by name but by her unnamed fabulations, her enframed mind. 

She moved around my humble abode like a mute stone
That will not speak a word, nor hear what cannot be undone.
Deaf, dumb, silent our two abysses could not breach

The vast indifference of our solitudes and evasions.
I fed the fire her bones and tears; her elemental life.
She came back at daybreak emptied of her light.

We slept among her nightmares and ecstasies.
She cut those snaky locks, said she was tired
Of all those stony looks; claimed mirrors frightened her.

We lived under the sign of coiled integrity
Till that morning I saw her cold eyes staring
Up at me from the shattered basin (mirror fragments

Lying there like her fractured mind’s eclipsed
imprimatur) filled w
ith sea-red anemones.
All day I called her name out in the city square.

They say she is elsewhere, traveling to the lost cities
among remembrances.
I burn to see the moon
Lifted in her blameless gaze, a fiery light undiminished

By time or prophecy; fatal and uncertain as those stars
That enfold her i
n the depths of their midnight haze and blaze:
Defiant to the last she strides the outer rim of thought,

Her quest undone, self and soul locked in nightly vigil
Till the daemon rises from her eyes into mine;
And I like some forlorn lover lost and blind

Follow her to the sea’s edge and lean my ear
To the fierce old mother intoning her deep sounds:
Music of love and war, human and inhuman doom.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.


Between Badiou and Valery: The Poetics of Subtraction and Dissemination


I like those lovers of poetry who venerate the goddess with too much lucidity to dedicate to her the slackness of their thought and the relaxation of their reason.
…….– Paul Valery, The Art of Poetry

Paul Valery makes the point between philosophical language and the poetic utterance in his essay The Poet’s Rights over Language stating that for poetry to remain distinct and at variance to the transitive power of intellect and its propositional expediency it must “preserve itself, through itself, and remain the same, not be altered by the act of intelligence that finds or gives it a meaning“.1

Yet, none other than Alain Badiou will tell us that poetry is receding into the ether, disappearing among its own forgotten traces, that culture and civilization are no longer tempted too the feigned art of secular gnosis, the untapped light of its disquieting thought.

Poetry, alas, is receding from us. The cultural account is oblivious to poetry. This is because poetry can hardly stand the demand for clarity, the passive audience, the simple message. The poem is an exercise in intransigence. It is without mediation, and thus also without mediatization. The poem remains rebellious – defeated in advance – to the democracy of audience ratings and polls.2

One wonders if Badiou is ridiculing the democratic impulse, or bewailing the fact that we’ve all become morons unable to decipher the difference between poetic language and the mass mediatization of reality that seems so pervasive in our degraded civilization of Rock stars and Hollywood Prima donnas. Badiou like a good Platonist seeks the Good Life elsewhere, somewhere between the purity of the matheme and the condition of Love.

Continue reading

Alvin Feinman: The Poetry of Loss and Begetting


Harold Bloom once spoke of his friend Albert Feinman saying of his first book of poetry that its “central vision is of the mind, ceaselessly an activity, engaged in the suffering process of working apart all things that are joined by it”. 1 I was surprised that his poetry seems hard to find now. I remember years ago reading through his early works and thinking how powerful his vision is. The late Reginald Shepherd on his blog has some information and tribute to this fine poet we should remember. I noticed his complete poetry will come out July 2016. I look forward to it. Shepherd citing Bloom relates this poetry as “a tragedy of the mind, victim to its own intent, which is to make by separations”. Shepherd says Feinman like Yeats was a poet of the mask, but that his masks were “more alive than the great mass of mere faces”.

Below is one of my favorite of his poems, Pilgrim Heights with its self-deprecatory irony, its knowledge of poverty or lack that spurs us on and outward – “unable to bless”; and, the tonal quality of the Mind’s light caught between “blade and tremor“, “stillness and glare” where the fatal kenoma, the vastation of emptiness resides out beyond the “sea’s eternal licking monochrome“:

Pilgrim Heights

Something, something, the heart here
Misses, something it knows it needs
Unable to bless—the wind passes;
A swifter shadow sweeps the reeds,
The heart a colder contrast brushes.

So this fool, face-forward, belly
Pressed among the rushes, plays out
His pulse to the dune’s long slant
Down from blue to bluer element,
The bold encompassing drink of air

And namelessness, a length compound
Of want and oneness the shore’s mumbling
Distantly tells—something a wing’s
Dry pivot stresses, carved
Through barrens of stillness and glare:

The naked close of light in light,
Light’s spare embrace of blade and tremor
Stealing the generous eye’s plunder
Like a breathing banished from the lung’s
Fever, lost in parenthetic air.

Raiding these nude recesses, the hawk
Resumes his yielding balance, his shadow
Swims the field, the sands beyond,
The narrow edges fed out to light,
To the sea’s eternal licking monochrome.

The foolish hip, the elbow bruise
Upright from the dampening mat,
The twisted grasses turn, unthatch,
Light-headed blood renews its stammer—
Apart, below, the dazed eye catches

A darkened figure abruptly measured
Where folding breakers lay their whites;
The heart from its height starts downward,
Swum in that perfect pleasure
It knows it needs, unable to bless.


  1. Harold Blooom. The Ringers in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition.  (University of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (1971))

Reza Negarestani asks What is Philosophy


The ultimate task of humanity should be to make something better than itself, for what is better than us cultivates itself through our pursuit for the better. Liberate that which liberates itself from you, for anything else is the perpetuation of slavery.
– Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit

In a recent e-flux journal essay Reza Negarestani asks What Is Philosophy? It appears he’s concluded it is a piece of technology, an application, a program – “a collection of action-principles and practices-or-operations which involve realizabilities”. He’ll tell us early on that questions of philosophy can only be addressed as a “deeper cognitive enterprise” as if this new technological system were like those followers of AI just a matter of adjusting the code, the algorithms. As he’ll tell us the “primary focus of this cognitive program is to methodically urge thought to identify and bring about realizabilities afforded by its properties…, to explore what can possibly come out of thinking and what thought can become”.

This is the philosophy of the new philosopher as Promethean Engineer, producing the cutting edge algorithms of a new culture of artificial life-forms adapted and adapting to the philosophical programs and axioms of a future existence replete with the normative tasks of a thought ruled by the inner necessity and dictates of science, math, and artificiality. The philosopher-as-engineer or developer encodes and decodes the algorithms of the (artificial?) brain as if it were a “cognitive program” run on the Mind producing certain operations given like objects in a standard Object-Oriented application with hidden properties and events/methods just waiting to be called into service. He offers three philosophical programs for his cognitive application:

  1. the ascetic program;
  2. the program whose primary axioms are those that pertain to the possibility of thought;
  3. the program as artificial and normative enterprise that rigorously inquires into its operational and constructive possibilities.

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Stefan Zweig: On The Daemonic and Tragic Worlds


Reproduction and death condition the immortal renewal of life; they condition the instant which is always new. That is why we can only have a tragic view of the enchantment of life, but that is also why tragedy is the symbol of enchantment.
……– Georges Bataille

From Stefan Zweig’s The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche:

“Daemonic” — this word has had so many connotations imposed upon it, has been so variously interpreted, in the course of its wanderings from the days of ancient religious mythology into our own time… I term “daemonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction. But in those of common clay, this factor of our composition which is both precious and perilous proves comparatively ineffective, is speedily absorbed and consumed. In such persons only at rare moments, during the crises of puberty or when, through love or the generative impulse, the inward cosmos is heated to boiling point, does the longing to escape from the familiar groove, to renounce the trite and the commonplace, exert its mysterious sway. At other times the average man keeps a tight hand on any stirrings of the Faustian impulse, chloroforming it with the dicta of conventional morality, numbing it with work, restraining its wild waters behind the dams of the established order. By temperament and training the humdrum citizen is an inveterate enemy of the chaotic, not only in the outer world, but in himself as well. In persons of finer type, however, and above all in those with strongly productive inclinations, the unrestful element is ever at work, showing itself as dissatisfaction with the daily round, creating that “higher heart which afflicts itself” (Dostoevsky), that questioning spirit which expands with its yearnings into the abysses of the limitless universe.

Whatever strives to transcend the narrower boundaries of self, overleaping immediate personal interests to seek adventures in the dangerous realm of inquiry, is the outcome of the daemonic constituent of our being. But the daemon is not a friendly and helpful power unless we can hold him in leash, can use him to promote a wholesome tension and to assist us on our upward path. He becomes a menace when the tension he fosters is excessive, and when the mind is a prey to the rebellious and volcanically eruptive urge of the daemonic. For the daemon cannot make his way back to the infinite which is his home except by ruthlessly destroying the finite and the earthly which restrains him, by destroying the body wherein, for a season, he is housed. He works, as with a lever, to promote expansion, but threatens in so doing to shatter the tenement. That is why those of an exceptionally “daemonic temperament,” those who cannot early and thoroughly subdue the daemon within them, are racked by disquietude. Ever and again the daemon snatches the helm from their control and steers them (helpless as straws in the blast) into the heart of the storm, perchance to shatter them on the rocks of destiny. Restlessness of the blood, the nerves, the mind, is always the herald of the daemonic tempest; and that is why we call daemonic those women who diffuse unrest wherever they go and who open the floodgates to let loose the waters of destruction. The daemonic bodes danger, carries with it an atmosphere of tragedy, breathes doom.1


  1. Zweig, Stefan (2012-06-07). The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (Kindle Locations 226-251). Plunkett Lake Press. Kindle Edition.

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Imagination of an Atheist


I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantasy,
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things…

– Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

Mont Blanc gives us the Shelley who’d recently been kicked out of Oxford along with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg for publishing the scandalous pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism (1811). On a road trip in France he’d stopped off at the Hotel in Chamonix and Montanvert and caused another grand episode in scandal back in his homeworld of England when he signed the register “Democrat, Philanthropist, and Atheist”. Egalitarian, lover of human kind, and defiant unbeliever: a son of the ‘radical enlightenment’ (Johnathan Israel). A poet of that revolutionary process, which effectively overthrew all justification for monarchy, aristocracy, and ecclesiastical power, as well as man’s dominance over woman, theological dominance of education, and slavery.

The notion that the Mind itself would become the site of the Sublime which Longinus once described as consisting “in a certain loftiness and excellence of language, and that it is by this, and this only, that the greatest poets and prose-writers have gained eminence, and won themselves a lasting place in the Temple of Fame”.1 This notion of loftiness and excellence of language would come under the rhetoric of eloquence in later ages, a high-style that would lift up and register the hyperbolic and metaphoric over the literal and mundane, the symbolic and mental icons and images over the realist embellishments of naturalism. Freud would subsume it under the concept of the Uncanny.

Yet, during the age of the Romantic Philosophers and Poets the notion of eloquence would align itself with naturalism and imagination against Enlightenment Reason. Burke would separate the sublime and the beautiful saying they are mutually exclusive. Burke suggested ugliness as an aesthetic quality rather than beauty (a Platonism staple) in its capacity to instill feelings of intense emotion, ultimately creating a pleasurable experience. Burke would emphasize the effects rather than the causes of the Sublime, emphasizing the physical pain and pleasure effected not upon the mind but upon the passions of the body. This would revise once again that age old battle between materialism and idealism with a difference, that now the battle would take place in the human Mind itself rather than on its objects; an effect of the object upon the mind’s passions rather than as cause of an Idea constructed by the Mind. For two hundred years we’ve been playing out this battle in ever more darkening confrontations until the very power of Mind itself and the Subjective

Consciousness that once was the glory of Romantic Imagination has vanished into the recesses of the neurosciences and speculative philosophies of our own dire era. If I go back to Shelley its because he above all worked through many of the dilemmas of our own era, with its skeptical and ironic deconstructions as well as its atheistic tonalities of Gap and the Real. It was the British Romantics rather than the German Romantics that provided a difference that makes a difference. The work of Goethe, Novalis, Heine, Hölderlin followed a different path than that of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and their heirs. This is not the place to trace and compare the two worlds. Rather I want to take up the singular work of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

One difference comes quickly; that between Coleridge and Shelley. Coleridge, a bookish traveler, had lifted a statement from the poetess Sophie Christiane Friederike Brun and used it in his own, saying, “Who would be, who could be an Atheist in this valley of wonders!” Coleridge who would abandon his pagan youth of poetry for the mantle of Christian priest and critic tries unsuccessfully to ironizes Shelley’s atheistic impulse. He was speaking of Mont Blanc. Shelley on the other had actually travelled to this location, so was speaking of what he’d actually seen with his embodied and material eyes. This marking of the Hotel’s register was a pointed attack on the kind of poetry that seemed unoriginal and marked by a complacent and sentimental quality rather than the freedom from the past that Shelley’s sublime was seeking to convey.2 Jaeger on whom I rely for this aligns Shelley’s vision with what Jonathan Israel in his voluminous history of the Enlightenment termed the ‘radical enlightenment’. Here Shelley opposed his mentor William Godwin by relying on a poetics that believed the “only way to grasp mental revolution is through the mediation of the outward scene” (Jaeger).

One remembers Wordsworth in the 1805 edition of the Prelude saying:

Imagination – lifting up itself
Before the eye and progress of my song
Like an unfathered vapour, here that power,
In all the might of its endowments, came
Athwart me! I was lost as in a cloud,     
Halted without a struggle to break through;
And now, recovering, to my soul I say ‘I recognize thy glory.’
In such strength Of usurpation, in such visitings
Of awful promise, when the light of sense
Goes out in flashes that have shown to us
The invisible world, does greatness make abode,
There harbours whether we be young or old.
Our destiny, our nature, and our home,
Is with infinitude, and only there…3

In the above the natural scene all but disappears before the power of the Mind and Imagination as if to say the world is nothing, infinitude is all. Against such vaporous wanderings in the invisible Shelley would have us rather see in the natural world itself the reflection of Mind and Imagination rather than to either annihilate the world or to cut ourselves away from the world in some solipsistic inner-world of experience.

Jaeger brings up another point that before actual atheism appeared in the tracts and pamphlets of apologists it was first a construction of refutation among detractors who used the argument of atheism to refute not those who disbelieved in God but rather as straw man to further their own apology for God’s existence. Ultimately it would be Descartes on geometric method, designed and implemented to combat the very habit of scholastic disputatio that had constructed atheism as a rhetorical position. One could further say that it was from Descartes that the divide between scientific consensus as centered in the institution was contested with the securing of knowledge coming under the banner of cognition and the cognitive rather than dogmatic institutionalism. It was also in this era that religion itself came under the naturalists eye as if it were one more thing among things to be scrutinized, tabulated, compared, and analyzed; as if it were a natural object in the world with a history and a multifarious existence and plurality.

Jager will cite David Berman’s authoritative History of Atheism in Britain where the notion of atheism became available because the frame of religion and its background had shifted allowing the two to be separated and critically appraised for the first time since the Greeks and Romans. Whereas in the age of the Church the notion of beliefs was invisible, a part of the very fabric of one’s existence in the world, now the notion arose that people began to understand themselves as agents who have beliefs. Beliefs were objects one had and could be thought and reasoned about; one could distance oneself from one’s beliefs and think through one’s relations to these once firmly held notions. As Jager says:

Concerned with policing thoughts and boundaries, doctrinal belief gradually disinvested in the social whole and withdrew from the network of activity, practice, community, and routine where religious thoughts had been embedded. Largely the product of a zealously reform-minded Christianity, this process of disenchantment ushers us into the modern secular age. (ibid.)

As William Blake would remark on this turn of events in which the Epicurean Freethinker’s arose out of the very frame of Christian apology as a negation that took on the aura of a new secular belief system bounded by Reason and Imagination.

In The Necessity of Atheism Shelley’s borrowings, references, and allusions offer a crash course in free-thinking radicalism completely in line with the narrative of atheism as intellectual heroism. He’ll cite Michael Scrivener’s Radical Shelley and Martin Priestman’s Romantic Atheism which martial the influx of Lucretian metaphysical materialism from the Renaissance onward as the leitmotif underlying the radical enlightenment project that came late for Shelley. Jaeger sees in Shelley’s inscription of “Democrat, Philanthropist, Atheist” the radical enlightenments stance of egalitarianism, love of humankind, and the occupation of atheism in the realms of State and Society displacing the ancient régime and religion. “What if atheism were not about cognitively held beliefs or nonbeliefs but about postures, arrangements, dispositions, embodied techniques, or disciplined actions?” asks Jager. In other words what if atheism was a way of life, an active form of life rather than like dogma a set of beliefs one could dispute or qualify? What if atheism were one’s mode of being in the world not some carefully reasoned belief system one adhered too and preached on Sunday to a congregation?

In fact Jager will use the analogy of Occupy to describe Shelley’s use of atheism in his poem of Mont Blanc:

But if the “occupation” of atheism is instead about how one organizes one’s  time, then a different set of concepts comes into focus. For occupations, understood temporally, involve the entire self in the organization of experience. And they centrally concern what one does with one’s body—how it is trained, organized, and adjusted, what experiences it pursues and cultivates, what experiences it forecloses on—and what potentials it activates. (ibid.)

The notion that atheism occupies one’s time, space, life as a mode of being in the world rather than a set of beliefs of concepts in one’s mind presents a notion of embodied action rather than Idea. Rather than an idealism of the Idea Jager is implying that Shelley’s was a poetry of event and action, of the enactments of bodies in the world rather than mental reflections in the Mind. As Jager tells us the point Shelley was making is to picture what it might be like to be a part of an “embodied collective, a communal voice louder than the sum of its individual parts”. This is closer to those materialists like Badiou and Zizek who seek the a collective subjectivation. As Badiou remarks there is only one political subject. This is the subject that demonstrates the Real of fraternity. In other words, a true political subject is someone who identifies with the collective “we” of a truth-procedure which posits equality. This subject is not so much opposed by a reactionary subject, as opposed by the inertia of an existing regime. A political subject thinks collectively. It cannot stop thinking collectively for long enough to name or define what it is doing. (Alain Badiou and Politics)

Of course such an unthinking collective subject seems a contrary construction of Badiou’s materialist subjectivist discipline rather than a natural object in the world. Almost as if Badiou had constructed such an object as an example of his Platonic matheme much as Descartes once announced the cogito whose evaluations of res extensa or outer-sense and the inner-sense of res cogitans would form a dualistic and embattled system. Badiou seeks a stable concept that can like set-theoretic form an embattled line against the big Other of either God or Nature. Shelley would not worry about either, but would enter a dialogue of the unknown that wavered and oscillated in the Void between; neither harboring one or the other as a ballast against themselves.

One remembers Shelley’s third section of the Mont Blanc where he describes the wilderness as having an inhuman voice:

The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,
So solemn, so serene, that man may be,
But for such faith, with Nature reconcil’d;
Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood
By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.

Here the poet tells us that it is the outer form of the mountain itself as natural process, voice, and utterance which repeals those religious and disputational “codes of fraud and woe” that few understand, but that the wise and great and good seem to decode through careful perusal and critique, as well as empower through the passionate and informed potential of the body’s own embodied life in action and being. Shelley’s was a naturalist’s atheism – part skeptic, part materialist-idealist that took the outer form of things as symbol and icon of the truth revealed not as Idea but as being in its multiplicity as both potential and possible action and event.

Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin
Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky
Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing
Its destin’d path, or in the mangled soil
Branchless and shatter’d stand; the rocks, drawn down
From yon remotest waste, have overthrown
The limits of the dead and living world,
Never to be reclaim’d.

Here the emptiness of existence, the blankness of things, Mont Blanc follows Lucretius in registering the entropic decay of everything into that final tomb beyond which nothing moves, and all is loss. Before the power of this impersonal universe of death and necessity nothing triumphs, not even men:

The race
Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling
Vanish, like smoke before the tempest’s stream,
And their place is not known…

And, yet, in this darkness at the unknown limits of time and thought something exists, a power: “The secret Strength of things / Which governs thought…”. Is this ‘Strength of things’ that of Will or Mind? Is Shelley of the camp of Nietzsche and Bataille, or of those who impose the Idea from German Romantic philosophers on through phenomenology and beyond?

In our time the battle between materialism and idealism seems to situate itself over the gap between Mind and the Real. Where as Idealism seeks to suture the Idea onto the Real whether in subjective, naturalist, or objective Idealisms; materialism seeks to maintain the gap, crack, or blank space between reality and the Real perturbing or disturbing thought just there where things get stuck, obstructed from reflecting either their potential or their active truth. Is this war between perspectival motions in philosophy a Mobius strip that returns upon itself like the Mind upon Mont Blanc?

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?



  1. Longinus (2009-10-04). On the Sublime (Kindle Locations 282-283). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Colin Jaeger. Unquiet Things: Secularism in the Romantic Age ( University of Pennsylvania Press (November 6, 2014))
  3. Wordsworth, William (2004-09-30). The Prelude: The Four Texts (1798, 1799, 1805, 1850) (Penguin Classics) (p. 240). Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.

Herman Melville: The Palsied Universe


Ishmael’s meditation on the great Albino whale, Moby Dick, conveys that influx of Shakespearean power and will – both mythic and rhetorical of which this sea beast of Melville’s became symbol and icon; a glimpse into Ahab’s tragic destiny, as well as a piercing of the dark veil that separates us from the Real.

Coming upon the passage below from Ishmael’s meditation, “invisible spheres were formed in fright,” I’m always reminded of William Blake’s The Tyger:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Another passage that has always haunted me is from that dark and somber evangelizer of the Christian faith, Saint Paul wherein he mentions the inscrutability of God’s darkness and evil in the universe, where “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Raised a Christian, yet choosing a militant and atheistic materialism I admit this heritage’s mark on me and its dark shadow against which I’ve labored most of my life. The notion that there is a wall of darkness against which one cannot penetrate with  one’s Mind, an inscrutability of things which even now haunts philosophers under the guise of the Gap and the Real, and a number of other metaphors, similes, and synecdoche’s still troubles me.

Materialists in our time seeking to know why we exist, why we have consciousness, why our minds cannot comprehend their own existence, why we seem to be bounded in a great ignorance surrounded and blinded to the truth around us of the world and ourselves seek through words what can never be spoken or written with words. We seem to be left with poetry, symbol, iconology – the force of rhetoric and mystery. Our concepts which try to tie thought and being into some strange form of Order forever fall short of their goal. We stand before this impenetrable darkness without rhyme or reason, dumbfounded by our ignorance even after two-thousand years of philosophical bric-a-brac. The sciences, too, with all their investigative techniques seem far from comprehending the details of the Universe or Ourselves. Between a materialism that reduces everything to a monistic One-All (Naturalisms) and those that seeks a Two – a transcendent subjectivation that is in excess of our theories and our rhetoric to know or ontologize (Badiou, Zizek, Johnson) we wander in circles between a stark realism (Meillassoux) and a dark materialism (Deleuze, De Landa). The battle between the sciences and philosophy goes on…

But without adieu I give you Melville’s meditation on the merciless force of our impersonal and heartless universe, where God is both non-existent and extinct, and the only inevitable force is the unbounded energy and will of the universe itself in all its destructive splendor. A universe that is neither a big Other to be worshipped nor a great and singular master of Evil or Demiurge, but rather an inexplicable oscillation in a Void where thought and being struggle against each other, endlessly under the auspices of our modern scientific cosmos:

…..Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.
……But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous— why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.
……Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows— a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues— every stately or lovely emblazoning— the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge— pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

In the above the trope of the intransigent blank Harold Bloom tells us it is an ultimate image of our  Selfhood, one that survives from two prime English prototypes, Shakespearean and Miltonic. In Shakespeare, the blank is the center of a target, perhaps evoking the mark forever missed, the hamartia of Athenian tragedy, as when Kent cries out: “See better, Lear, and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye.” Milton, invoking the Holy Light at the commencement of Paradise Lost, Book III, laments: “Presented with a universal blank / Of Nature’s works to me expunged and rased, / And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.”1

The notion in both sequences is that there is a blindness in the Mind or Eye that cannot penetrate the darkness of the natural universe, that we are forever chasing shadows in a realm where humans shaped to an environment of light and survival will always be forced to inhabit a less than adequate, even kludge-rigged knowledge of the world. Like Ahab on the ‘fiery hunt’ we plunder the universe with our technologies seeking to master and control the unknown forces that deign to destroy us, and like the men of the Pequod we follow our tragic course to our doom-eager ends.


  1. Bloom, Harold (2015-05-12). The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime

Badiou: The Poem as Guardian


…the poem is first and foremost this unique fragment of speech all by itself subtracted from the universal reportage. The poem is a halting point. It stops language in its tracks and prohibits its squandering in the vast commerce that is the world today. Against the obscenity of ‘everything to be seen’ and ‘everything to be said’, the showing, polling, and commenting of everything, the poem is the guardian of the decency of the saying.

 – Alain Badiou,  The Age of the Poets

Ars Poetica: Shelley and Neruda


Can we have a non-ideological poetry of the oppressed? One that is no longer aligned with the outmoded idealism-as-materialism, or inverted Hegelianism of Marx and his descendants? Can we divest ourselves of the theological conceptual matrix  implicit within Marxism? Badiou followed Plato into a mathematical philosophy of subtraction, while those like Zizek and Johnston seek out a philosophy of the Void and Life. Materialism is itself in a state of confusion these days. Meillassoux in his speculative materialism speaks of a god(s) that might one day arise from hyperchaos. De Landa and the new materialists seek a vitalization of matter in the post-Deleuzian flux. Where does poetry fit in? Below I take a look at that skeptical idealist Shelley whose secret history of the cyclic poem of humanity pervades us still; and, that of the Marxist poetics of the ‘impure poetry’ of Pablo Neruda who fused earth and politics in a collective poetry of people and land.

Even yesterday when I was reading Badiou’s essay Poetry and Communism on Lana Turner what struck me sadly is how even this late and belated defender of materialism is mired in Platonism and Rousseauism. I wrote a post of it. Of course in the essay he is speaking of Paul Eluard where Badiou tells us that “for him, as for Rousseau, humanity is fundamentally good natured, with a good nature that is being destroyed by oppression through competition, forced labour, money. This fundamental goodness of the world resides in the people, in their obstinate life, in the courage to live that is theirs”. In another place he’ll say of Eluard’s poetry:

This is what we can call poetic communism: to sing the certainty that humanity is right to create a world in which the treasure of simple life will be preserved peacefully, and that, because it has reason on its side, humanity will impose this reason, and its reason will overcome its enemies. This link between popular life, political reason and confidence in victory: that is what Eluard seeks to confer, in language, upon the suffering and heroism of the Spanish war.

This whole notion of a new world, an Adamic world of simplicity based on reason, popular imagination, and the confidence of the Good Life. Idealism pure and innocent, but hopeless. Yet, Rousseau was not totally to blame for this erroneous conclusion which seems to have become a part of the false mythologies surrounding his life and writings.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, like Shaftesbury, also insisted that man was born with the potential for goodness; and he, too, argued that civilization, with its envy and self-consciousness, has made men bad. In his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Among Men (1754), Rousseau maintained that man in a State of Nature had been a solitary, ape-like creature, who was not méchant (bad), as Hobbes had maintained, but (like some other animals) had an “innate repugnance to see others of his kind suffer” (and this natural sympathy constituted the Natural Man’s one-and-only natural virtue). It was Rousseau’s fellow philosophe, Voltaire, objecting to Rousseau’s egalitarianism, who charged him with primitivism and accused him of wanting to make people go back and walk on all fours. Because Rousseau was the preferred philosopher of the radical Jacobins of the French Revolution, he, above all, became tarred with the accusation of promoting the notion of the “noble savage”, especially during the polemics about Imperialism and scientific racism in the last half of the 19th century. Yet the phrase “noble savage” does not occur in any of Rousseau’s writings. In fact, Rousseau arguably shared Hobbes’ pessimistic view of humankind, except that as Rousseau saw it, Hobbes had made the error of assigning it to too early a stage in human evolution. (wiki)

As A.O. Lovejoy will relate it for Rousseau, man’s good lay in departing from his “natural” state – but not too much; “perfectability” up to a certain point was desirable, though beyond that point an evil. 1  The point Lovejoy makes is that for Rousseau the remedy was not in going back to the primitive but in reorganizing society on the basis of a properly drawn up social contract, so as to “draw from the very evil from which we suffer [i.e., civilization and progress] the remedy which shall cure it.” (ibid.)  So it was the notion of civilization-as-progress that Rousseau and Hobbes were against as if the civilizing and educational process could legislate and mandate the Good Life.

Yet, the notion of “perfectability” of Man is itself another of those Protestant inheritances  we need to expunge. All of our moral and ethical notions need to come under scrutiny and as Nietzsche once concluded we need a full and complete revaluation of values in our time. Does the poet have a place in this process of revaluation? Shelley the poet, skeptic and Platonist had his own issues, yet his defense of poetry still brings with it one of the most powerful truths – that poetry is about invention; in fact, that it is “inventive and creative faculty itself” (Shelley, Defense of Poetry). As Shelley in an opportune moment states it:

We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave. (see Defense of Poetry)

Here he is critiquing Immanuel Kant’s notion of finitude and the circumscribing of the limits of thought, etc. The notion that we are bound to our own limited notions and slaves of our facticity. German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) discusses facticity as the “thrownness”  (Geworfenheit) of individual existence, which is to say we are “thrown into the world.” By this, he is not only referring to a brute fact, or the factuality of a concrete historical situation, e.g., “born in the ’80s.” Facticity is something that already informs and has been taken up in existence, even if it is unnoticed or left unattended. As such, facticity is not something we come across and directly behold. In moods, for example, facticity has an enigmatic appearance, which involves both turning toward and away from it. For Heidegger, moods are conditions of thinking and willing to which they must in some way respond. The thrownness of human existence (or Dasein) is accordingly disclosed through moods.

Shelley against facticity would offer the inventive faculty, Imagination, saying that it reproduces the “common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration”. For Shelley poetry was about change and transformation, about disturbing the minds and awakening the sleepers from their lethargic enslavement to facticity. To do this he felt that the “most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature”.

For me the key is in this “accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions”, which aligns well with much of Nietzsche, Bataille, and others who investigate the power of active willing, of that excess and wastage, of communication and reception. One must counter all these idealizations with a materialist practice that as Pablo Neruda once sang to us brings us those “banging of objects that call without being answered”:

Between shadow and space, between garrisons and virgins,
endowed with a singular heart and fatal dreams,
impetuously pale, withered in the forehead
and in mourning like an angry widower every day of my life,
oh, for every drink of invisible water I swallow drowsily
and with every sound I take in, trembling,
I feel the same missing thirst and the same cold fever,
an ear being born, an indirect anguish,
as if thieves were arriving, or ghosts,
and inside a long, deep, hollow shell,
like a humiliated waiter, like a bell gone a bit hoarse,
like an old mirror, like the smell of an empty house
where the guests come back at night hopelessly drunk,
and there’s an odor of clothes thrown on the floor, and an absence of flowers
—or maybe somehow a little less melancholic—
but the truth is, suddenly, the wind lashing my chest,
the infinitely dense nights dropped into my bedroom,
the noise of a day burning with sacrifice
demand what there is in me of the prophetic, with melancholy
and there’s a banging of objects that call without being answered,
and a restless motion, and a confused name.

– from Ars Poetica, Pablo Neruda – (The Poetry of Pablo Neruda)

Here the poet delivers us a poetic testament in the tradition of Lucretius and Ovid that shifts us between darkness and the emptiness, between the void between things and the subtraction of being from nothing. Here the poet is the conduit for that which is in process of farewell, an elegiac and nostalgic wisp of that restlessness and confusion that is the world in all its burning and prophetic clamor. Yet, the poet is keeper of this knowledge – of earth in its never-resting motion and its sensual and experiential materiality; its physical and mimetic, mirrored powers and dispositions. All this density drops down from an ‘eternity of death’ (Eluard) where the poet “hopelessly drunk” in time receives the dead wisdom of ancient poets and makers who would reinhabit the house of the living poetry with communication, with messages of other days “burning with sacrifice” in an excess and exuberance of the common life of earth. The demand of poetry for Neruda is that it awaken the “banging objects”, – the voices of the oppressed, the excluded, the forgotten of the world who “call without being answered” to a new time, a new collective life in love and liberty. Here in the poetry of our residence on earth comes the “restless motion” of a “confused name” – a name that will know itself as the victory of a retroactive nostalgia from the future that lives in the present triumph of collective necessity. (Badiou)

Neruda’s poetry was seeking  a project for an anti-modernist strategy, ‘Toward an Impure Poetry,’ targeting the elite aesthetic modernisms of Wallace Stevens, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Octavio Paz, and others: ‘Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand’s obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it’ (Neruda 1961, 39). But this is not naive empiricism or vulgar pragmatism. What Neruda accomplished in this ‘impure’ craft is the discovery of ‘anticipatory illumination,’ or, in Ernst Bloch’s words, the Marxist poet ‘makes the world become aware of an accelerated flow of action, an elucidated waking dream of the essential’ (1996, 88). In the artistic dream-work, absence and presence are articulated in a productive synthesis. Rene Jara calls Neruda’s quest for the presence of what is absent, that call for a more intense life, the key to the principle of composition in his major works: ‘The world takes on form through a mechanism of contiguities and displacements that arises from the polyvalence of worlds and the constitution of an alternate symbolic process that springs from a preconscious figurative plane prior to the semantics of definition’ (1992, 149). (see A People’s Poet)

Ultimately Neruda would say of his craft and poetry: So let no one worry when I seem to be alone and am not alone, I am nobody and I speak for all…”. He tells us he is of another order of poetry and poets:

Perhaps my destiny is different
My militant fighter’s chest
moved me toward guerrillas in the government

to gain with the ardent patience
of truth and the working class

the Law of the poor.

  – from The Sea and the Love of Quevedo

 Maybe this is what we need now in our dire moment, a militant poetry, a fighter’s poetry that moves in the motion of the restlessness of things and people, that seeks out the ‘Law of the poor’ and the ‘patience of truth’ that comes with a deep solidarity among the working classes of the world united by a poetry and voice of awakening to change, real change. But one that is no longer bound to vanguards and elite intellectuals, but rather of the people and their struggles round the world to create a world worth living in rather than this hellish paradise of the rich and tyrannical archons of a fetid wealth system of systematic accumulation without expenditure.

Against the poetry of the Sublime and Solitary Neruda offers the base materialism of “human connections” where poets and our “earthly struggles” share the common way of men, women, and children walking alongside each other in the struggle to create a new life among equals and friends, brothers, sisters, and comrades sharing in the destiny of things. We do not seek some ‘other’ world, some elsewhere beyond. No. We seek only to retake what is the common world of all, rather than the property of a few. We empower the multitudes and the multiplicity of humans in solidarity to live in acknowledgement of this monstrous universe, not to cower before it or fear it but to know it as it is rather than to change it into what it is not. We are not Idealists seeking estrangement from the world, but are materialists seek to live and exist in the universe on its terms without the support of some big Other (i.e., God or Nature). Not some pie in the sky idealism of afterings and more-than-human knowledge of some divine order; but, rather of the common life of the world – of men and things, the place we live and breath in, now and always.

Liberty is your own forest
dark brother, don’t lose
the memory of your sufferings…

 – from Canto General, Toussaint L’Ouverture


  1. Originally published in Modern Philology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Nov., 1923):165-186, Lovejoy’s essay was reprinted in Essays in the History of Ideas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, [1948, 1955, and 1960], is also available on Jstor

Vergil’s Leaves of Longing and our Age


In Vergil’s epic in Book VI, lines 303–314, always admired by readers through the generations I recite:

Here a whole crowd came streaming to the banks,
Mothers and men, the forms of life all spent
Of heroes great in valor, boys and girls
Unmarried, and young sons laid on the pyre
Before their parents’ eyes—as many souls
As leaves that yield their hold on boughs and fall
Through forests in the early frost of autumn,
Or as migrating birds from the open sea
That darken heaven when the cold season comes
And drives them overseas to sunlit lands.
There all stood begging to be first across
And reached out longing hands to the far shore.

In a time of grief and pain, of death and darkness what can one do? What response to the unknown around us? As I reread Vergil’s dark epic of struggle – as I have over the years, repeatedly, I kept thinking of all those who have sought to evade death and corruption, to seek out better worlds of life and light; of those who have always out of suffering, pain, and war sought to discover a place in the sun where darkness falters and death no longer holds its sting.

Meditating on the people of the Middle-East and Europe – both refugees and sequestered, native and foreign who are both going through such troubling times as these; of my own back yard where people from the Latin worlds of our southern borders have come to us for refuge and safety from drug lords and enslavement; of the pain of terror and the dread of the unknown that seems to pervade both worlds I’ve oscillated between silence and anger, despair and dark wisdom. Thinking on our leaderless nations who seem to forever think that retribution and war are the only path to glory and safety. As well as on those extreme groups such as ISIS who believe in their deadly mission to destroy their own world and the worlds of others with their misguided vision of an extreme Islamic jihad. ISIS like many utopianists seek to annihilate one world and create another. Like all idealists they know only the law of their Idea, and will live and die by its false premises, propositions, and systems of belief and subterfuge. Seeking what they perceive is the only way, they would kill and slaughter all who stand against them; or who believe differently than they do. If the Prophet were here today what would he say and do? I do not presume to know, but I do not think he would condone such acts as are leading our world toward another atrocity, rather he would seek out wisdom and the path of conciliation that comes from a deep knowledge of our lives on this earth. Maybe at this time in our lives we need to return to the roots of our visions, seek out the visions of those ancients that once strove to know life as it is and can be, rather than giving way to fear and violence, retribution and swift (un)justice. We need another way, another path.

We have lost that true ability to communicate, to speak to each other without our ideological blinkers. Instead we forcibly stand against reality with our illusory politics, left or right. We withdraw into our ideological shells like ministers of hate rather than caretakers of life. We no longer know how to lay down our words and pick up our lives together. We have lost the art of knowing. We live in the ignorance of media fictions that twist and shape our desires to the momentary alters of our vanity. We believe we have thrown off our ancient histories and their dark wisdom as if our modernity is free of some terrible stain, when in fact we are bound to the drives we once named, gods. We are driven by forces we no longer control toward futures we have no ability to know or supervene in. Ours is the age of loss, the time of forgetting when humans gave up their truth for lies. Our intellectuals have failed us. Our leaders have failed us. Will we fail ourselves, too? Is there not another way, another path toward peace in our time; or, shall we forever darken our world with pain and suffering, with defeat.

There is an ethics of life in which two humans begin to listen rather than speak past each other. A communication that does not repeat itself, but speaks from within us, that gathers us together in something else – something new where we begin to overhear ourselves in the midst of our changing, our transformation. Love is not an enfolding, but rather a separation that holds us together in communication; it does not horde or accumulate, but rather exposes itself to waste and wastage, to excess – to expenditure. It allows us to reach through the illusions and inhabit the appearances as they appear immanently in that space where knowledge becomes love. One does not transcend, one provides that distance that lifts up and knows truth.

Virgil was an Epicurean both by temperament and by spiritual and philosophical conviction. Epicurus and his Roman disciple, the poet Lucretius, saw the human being as too flawed to will either personal happiness or a just political order. The Epicurean-Lucretian elitism preaches release from ignorance as the only salvation for a rational few; empire cannot save anyone, for it is founded upon the illusion of civic virtue. Going within the self is the Epicurean path to the only truth that matters: personal, individual, disillusioned, denying transcendence. Virgil has no hope, and his only belief is the faithless faith of the Epicureans, who accepted human suffering as inevitable, except for that rational remnant that could abandon all illusion. 1

Can we abandon our illusions? Can we accept that no one nation or peoples owns the truth? That our lives like the leaves of Vergil are spellbound on the dark shores of life forever longing for the farther shore? No matter how beautiful an image, it is a false transcendence toward another world, an elsewhere; a utopian longing for a better world. Rather than a seeking after such false worlds beyond we should begin living in ours; to live without those ideological blinkers that keep us struggling against each other. Maybe if we could take off our political and religious, philosophical and cultural illusions we could meet each other as naked humans in a universe of impersonal relations that could care less about our squabbles amongst ourselves. Maybe then we could sit down and reason together, communicate; and begin something new, something unwarranted; something unheard of before – maybe we could touch base with what is and remains oldest in us, the truth within us that is our life immanent and without appeal.


  1. Harold Bloom. The Epic. (2005 by Chelsea House Publisher)


Alain Badiou: Epic Poetry and Communism


The communists’ poem is first the epic of the heroism of the proletarians. – Alain Badiou

Harold Bloom once defined epic poetry ancient and modern as a form of heroism transcending irony. It is guided by a persistence of vision, an antithetical spirit that strives and wars against nature and man, that seeks to free itself from one world and create another. From Homer and Vergil, Dante and Milton, on down to the mock epics of Pope and beyond, to the Romantic natural epics of Wordsworth, the parodic myths of Shelley, Keats and their inheritors, on down to the modernist prose epics of our age: Proust, Joyce, Mann, Broch, Lorca and so many others. As Bloom will remark the authentic mark of all achieved epic poetry is above all a “longing for sustained vision”. 1

The philosopher Alain Badiou will offer an appreciation of those epic poets of another breed, of communism, of atheistic materialism rather than skeptical ironists and romantic idealists, modernists of prose or poetic testament, saying that “communist poets rediscover what in France Victor Hugo had already discovered: the duty of the poet is to look in language for the new resources of an epic that would no longer be that of the aristocracy of knights but the epic of the people in the process of creating another world”.2 And, of course, by people he meant the poor, the excluded, the proletarians of the earth. He will provide a short list of communist poets he deems necessary: in Turkey, Nâzim Hikmet; in Chile, Pablo Neruda; in Spain, Rafael Alberti; in Italy, Eduardo Sanguinetti; in Greece, Yannis Ritsos; in China, Ai Qing; in Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish; in Peru, César Vallejo; and in Germany, the shining example is above all Bertolt Brecht.

Continue reading

Unnaming the World


The folklore of names and rivers.
The curriculum of undoing the abstractions.
One has one’s priorities.

Each day he would remember:
delete the remarkable cities.
What is a thing to be unnamed?

Not that it was required.
Nothing is ever asked of him in that way.
When the call came he knew what must be done.

One just knows. Things have a reputation.
One must keep up appearances.
The appointment came, belatedly.

Waking up with the swallows, the oak –
a great black-horned antlered night, gone!
Emptied, undone the sky looked blankly on.

He shut the curtains against that light.
Walking – crackling snow. Stars.
Breath beating its wings.

The village of white trees, abandoned.
The pond mirroring neither sky nor him.
A sound in the distance, forgetting itself.

It would be like that.
A Tailor of imaginary theories.
Death would come peddling a suit of stars.

He stood in the unnamed place.
Watched it dissolve, come back.
He beheld the solace of ordinary things.

The city traffic started up, again.
The light changed.
Nothing would be the same.

The irony was not without repercussions.
But he knew that.
Sometimes it was better that way.

Decreation is a difficult and lonely enterprise.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Andrew Marvell: The Pastoral Art of Love and Death


Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
– Andrew Marvel, from To His Coy Mistress

Who will forget those passages in Isiah where God speaking to his prophet tells him to cry, and his prophet asks, timidly What shall I cry? The Lord answers:

All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. (Isa. 40:6–8)

The trope of the withering and fading grass over which the lord’s spirit “bloweth” has seen its way into various poets down the ages. One remembers that most distinct of poets Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass where in Song of Myself he rhapsodizes on this trope in echo of Isiah’s withering grass that has become a people:

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green
stuff woven.
Continue reading

Samuel Johnson: On Poetry as Invention


The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights. …

Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind than things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel the imagination…

From poetry the reader justly expects, and from good poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension and elevation of his fancy…

Pleasure and terror are indeed the genuine sources of poetry; but poetical pleasure must be such as human imagination can at least conceive, and poetical terror such as human strength and fortitude may combat.

 …………….– Samuel Johnson On Poetry

The Silent Muse


At times I’d like to rub the sky away,
rearrange the stars and blow the night
to day; but life is not like that,
never was. The mind is a paltry thing,
a simpleton among lost nights
and days; it lies against the Self,
hallucinates this emptiness; makes
believe the world is whole and real.

Strangeness holds us in its spell,
contradiction cracks us till we smile;
the wooden puppet dancing
on the shelf, turns a blank eye
across this transparency; a labored
throng shifts quickly down
the pebbled beach like clowns
into the green-leafed sea, vanishing
into this glass world’s bankruptcy.

I reach out and touch her face,
realize I’ll never know the truth
from space; yield up these traces
under uncertain waves, till spume
laves me from the foaming shoals –
throws me down upon this cracked world,
where sea and sky shed their swag
and lift me into the cold and blue.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Emerson: The Book of Fate


The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages,— leaf after leaf,— never re-turning one. One leaf she lays down, a floor of granite; then a thousand ages, and a bed of slate; a thousand ages, and a measure of coal; a thousand ages, and a layer of marl and mud: vegetable forms appear; her first misshapen animals, zoophyte, trilobium, fish; then, saurians,— rude forms, in which she has only blocked her future statue, concealing under these unwieldly monsters the fine type of her coming king. The face of the planet cools and dries, the races meliorate, and man is born. But when a race has lived its term, it comes no more again.

 ……..– Emerson, The Conduct of Life (Fate)

A Black Day in Paris


…………..– for the fallen dead and living

How does one respond to violence?
What answer in this bitterness, this defeat?
Why? Why this hatred against order,
such rage of young men – unthinking,
followers of a spite and hate?
Victims of another order of doubt?

Dark the ways of such extreme men as these.

………………………And, what of these,
fallen ones, these children –
fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters,
sons, daughters: victims of such savagery?

One wants to answer this not with violence
but with something else, something full of light
rather than this dark habitation of cruelty
and despair; yet, what can be said,
how give voice to pain, mourn the dead –
stand against such infamy?

To blame is to fall back into that rational universe.
No. Moral tribunals will not answer such crimes.
Haven’t we guessed yet that this is not about that?

Security? Can there be such a thing in this life?
Haven’t we already forfeited our secure truths,
forgone the comfort of safety in a world such as this?
Did we ask for this? Was this what we wanted?
How ignorant to think such things, to even give shape
to an illusion, a lie such as that?

When did we give up our humanity, enter another order of being?

There can be no message, no communication in violence;
this sacrifice of innocence has its repetitions, its histories.
No there will be no word to save us from such dark worlds.

Can their be a politics beyond rage?

Where to begin when beginning is not an option,
when communication fails and language ends in nihil?

This is not the time to question but to mourn and be:
a time for remembrance and forbearance,
a time for grief and families, for children and old men,
for mothers holding their dear ones, for fathers
standing with their comrades in tears; for women
everywhere who see such acts as these by men;
a time of silence not words, a time to live and care,
a time to reach out and dare, to touch
each others lives, give back a measure of the light.

…….Love, not death is the only answer to violence;
yet, love does not exist in such times as these
when men go down in such defeat against the light.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Robert Frost: The Most of It


He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

from Robert Frost’s Poems

Here the poet’s testament arises at once fatal, solipsistic, and negative; nihilistic and gnostic both – the mark of the mind’s call and answer against the indifference of the immutable power and effacement of the universe that neither needs us nor will respond to us or our humanity. Yet, he begins in the illusion of “thought”, rather than knowledge: “He thought he kept the universe alone…”. He did not know this to be fact, but rather surmise; an illusory event of the mind in its “mocking” realization that nothing natural answers the mind’s deep call, the voicing of the poet that seeks something in the blankness of the natural that will respond in like kind. Rather than the poet’s solitary speech, the “copy speech”, the echo from the far cliffs with their mindless reflection of the mind’s turbulence, the poet seeks a “counter-love” something unnatural in the natural, a power equal or greater than his own – an originary response out of this indifferent universe.

Yet, here he is closer to Lucretius than those acosmic gnostics, seekers of some acosmic power beyond this catastrophic order of time. Instead we are in the kenosis, the great emptiness where the nothing that is responds not as one wishes, not even as one needs, but rather – as Lucretius once realized, in the only way the universe can – naturally and impersonal – the way of things; that hard law of time and the energetic forces immanently circulating throughout the cosmos. Useless to our human mind, but bound to the cosmic rather than the acosmic shock the mind expects, the earth goes about its own business oblivious of our human designs or intentional (phenomenal) consciousness and its passionate and needy illusions; its false beliefs.

Here the poet’s nihilism and mocking spirit taunt the universe until suddenly out of the dark morning a fatal response is heard not seen, an invisibility arising out of darkness and in appearance: a power “crashed” and “splashed” – a great and terrible being from the natural order, a “buck” appeared in appearance, manifest in the light of the natural eye rather than the mind’s inner light. Natural came this answering power from a realm of impersonal indifference. Only in and through the order of appearance-in-appearance can this great power, a force of nature whose power pushes, crumples, pours, stumbles, and forces its way through the embattled and conflicting world and in a moment passes, lost among the indifferent things of the earth; “and that was all”, nothing more. This is no Platonic Idea manifesting itself out of another order, not even an Idea within this order – to one side of the things appearing. No. This is the order of no Ideas, of things as they are without Ideas. Things that do not need anything other than what they are, immanent and without purpose or design; without telos or some final cause. A world that is not human, a non-human world that will not answer our deepest call because it does not know we even exist. Only we are lonely, only we seem incapable of facing the harsh truth of things as they are in this realm. It is only us, the humans who afford such erroneous labors of the mind and heart, who are not at home, homeless in this fatal order on non-meaning and being, who most of all are afraid and fearful, and powerless before the fatality that is the universe without-us.

This is the gospel (good news) according to Robert Frost. There can be no other, not even a big-Other. We are alone in a realm that does not need us, and furthermore does not even know we exist. What does exist is the magnificence and strangeness of things and us. We who are inexplicable even to ourselves, we who exist in a realm both open and incomplete, a realm that is full of conflict and struggle, gaps and cracks; a realm that has produced this anomalous and accidental thing called mind out of the mindless indifference of things. A realm without purpose or meaning that yet has produced out of the repetitious cycles of collisions and metamorphosis, dust and stars this accident of time named humanity. We are the inexplicable indifference of things seeking a meaning that is not there, struggling against the power of the universe of things with an answering power of the mind – at once natural and strange. Alone, mocking, ironic – we who are homeless seek a home in the non-human Order of things.

The Iron Gate


We came to the mountain like men a hundred years ago.
Stone-fed, ridged, black rock facings above, hard skies – empty

but for the sun breaking over the rim, deep clefts, shadowed;
voices murmuring from a past no one would believe:

men and women below these peaks, gold hungry
after worlds below these dark hills where brightness lit metal

among these dank tunnels, iron staked halls;
and, sullen men worked miles and miles, fire-born

under a curse none could throw or share, only keep.
Now time and doom release the sun from its harsh measure,

and men who never believe know earth is always stripped bare
as this rift paradise – shut and locked the hinged gate cracks.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Against the darkness…


Men like that don’t exist anymore. Those great towers
live on like toads gathering before a squall sets in.

Dust drifting in from those desert dreams
with their promise of change. But no change comes.

Only these dry years bleeding into these empty pits.
We worked hard under that sun, running the steel,

clasping the chains, screaming against the deepness
rising up like some shadow of desire, bolting for the blue.

No one could have known it would go south,
sink down toward unknown borders, turn

away along those broken fissures of ghostly arroyos.
What remains? Rust and this cracked sky, thunder

against the night, lightning pacing the bitter rains forward,
and this squat hut where I hold the darkness, fiercely.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Lost and Found


He would wonder at this strange thing, life.
Would the house he built survive the coming flood?
Most of us never think of that moment when things
fly away, when they seem to know its the last day.

We keep to the rhythms, working steadily,
forgetful of the passing smile, forgetful of those images
that seem forever to hide among the pages, driftwood
laving in the waves between push and pull, insecure.

We gather up the fragments into a sheave, let slip
the twisted tinsel of our momentary pleasures and dislikes;
the fabricated musings that break across our slowing lives,
the questions that will never be answered, explained.

But even that doesn’t bother us much now, this knowledge;
knowing what we know now, knowing too much as it is.
We’ve entered a new innocence, discovered a new clarity,
found a path into the knotted wood where being lost is being found.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Samuel Johnson: The Critic as Keeper of the Lights


A critic must follow his taste or his whim, whimsically, tastefully, moving where he is moved, often wrongheaded, no doubt, but true to his instincts—and on occasion he must throw caution out with the bathwater. He should never dismiss the past as merely old fashioned, or believe with a sense of revealed religion that something brand spanking new must be the real thing. Nor should he think the old ways sacrosanct and new ones just upstart pretenders. He should be, in other words, ready to raise his hand against all, yet happy and untroubled at being surprised into joy.
….– William Logan, The Savage Art

Nietzsche once described the art of the lie as the supreme vocation of the priest and the philosopher, seeking above all “the intention of taking in hand the direction of mankind”.1 The literary critic unlike those great Lawgivers, the priest and philosopher, harbors no telos for mankind, rather she is more prone to that lesser art of whim which dazzles us by its tantalizing tidbits and grotesqueries, seeks to entertain and enliven our drab days, rather than broker some sublime passage of strange days among gods or monsters, philosophers or mice. Instead the critic is that arbiter of taste and excellence, the curmudgeon of lost days, the artificer of echoes and gleams, lights and lustres from the past, broker of ancient minds; a traveler among the lonely alcoves of forgotten books and libraries who brings us a smorgasbord of foreign and domestic delights to tempt and allure us toward that strange kingdom of the imagination – what Borges once delightfully called, the Library of Babel. The babbling tongues of the dead that seek to enlighten and trouble our minds with their dark treasures and farces, romances and tragedies, the epics of ancient warriors and lovers, sea-farers and traders. A world at once human and monstrous that brings us both the marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny truths of our species.

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Fredrich Nietzsche: Quote of the Day!


Active Nihilism” an ideal of the highest degree of powerfulness of the spirit, the over-richest life— partly destructive, partly ironic. …

Modern pessimism is an expression of the uselessness of the modern world — not of the world of existence. …

The concept of decadence. — Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it.
……….– Fredrich Nietzsche

The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part Five


Norman Cohn in his influential book The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages offers us a glimpse of the aftermath of failure we might term the Great Crisis of the human project we like to mythicize as Western Civilization. For Cohn a social struggle is seen not as a struggle for specific, limited objectives, but as an event of unique importance, different in kind from all other struggles known to history, a cataclysm from which the world is to emerge totally transformed and redeemed. This is the essence of the recurrent phenomenon – or, if one will, the persistent tradition – that we have called ‘revolutionary millenarianism’.1 As Pellicani will surmise the crisis seems to follow a tri-fold pattern – a crisis of legitimization, of redistribution, and secularization that dissolved the ancient patterns of political, economic, and religious tradition based on their closed systems of hierarchical and authoritarian modes for the modern progressive open systems of egalitarianism based on freedom, equality, and emancipatory and collective sociality.2

William Blake the English poet of the new Jerusalem once remarked through his character Los that “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans”.3 He’d explicate on this sayin,

Striving with Systems to deliver Individuals from those Systems;
That whenever any Spectre began to devour the Dead,
He might feel the pain as if a man gnawd his own tender nerves.

What Blake called systems later philosophers would term ideologies those subtle systems of power and rhetoric that enclosed their political worlds within a mental cage of thought, belief, and habit to form and shape a mode of life that reinstated the legitimacy of political power, secular power, and – for lack of a better term cosmological power in society to bring about a sense of absolute meaning and destiny for a people.

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The Gnosis of the Political Revolutionary – Part Four


In the face of illegitimacy power reigns by fear; and fear turns its ugly mask upon the host that spawned it. The French Revolution that burst asunder the chains of tyranny in turn fell to its own twined agonies of terror: a fear that rapidly became hysteria, transforming the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of both the elites and the masses. In the end, no one was able to control the Revolution; it became autonomous; something “other” than originally intended.1 Robespierre and Saint Just will go down in history as the scourge and desecration of the revolution, the men who spawned the terror and killed Marat and Danton, while imprisoning Paine and many other former philosophes and revolutionaries.

Where counterrevolutionary and Counter-Enlightenment writers like Antoine de Rivarol declared the Terror the fruit of la philosophie moderne, adamantly claiming Condorcet had been forced to take poison by “his brothers in philosophy,” Constant, Roederer, Creuze-Latouche, Say, Louvet, Naigeon, and many others proclaimed Robespierre “le chef ” of the Terror, contending that he was neither a republican nor an adept of la philosophie moderne but, on the contrary, the Enlightenment’s foremost enemy.2 Brissot not only proclaimed a “holy war” against reactionary Europe for the “renewal of the faceoftheworld,” heal so declared that the Revolution “was in need of great betrayals.” And massacres—added Danton—so that a “river of blood” would flow between the republicans and the emigre´s. From then on, a perverse logic took possession of French society: the logic of fear, conspiracy, suspicion; in a word: the logic of a state of siege. (Pellicani, p. 31)  It was dominated by fear because it was an illegitimate government in form and in substance: in form, because it came into being illegally; in substance, because it did not have the support of the vast majority of the French population—the monarchists, the Girondists, the feuillants, the indifferent—and in deed was even perceived as an usurper.

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