Henry Miller: An American Original

 

What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature.
……..-Henry Miller, Black Spring
From the little reading I had done I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were moulding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing. They had no illusions about duty, or the perpetuation of their kith and kin, or the preservation of the State…
……..-Henry Miller, Sextus

Can anything original come out of America? We ask ourselves that question, and don’t ask who “we” are; if you have to ask then you’re already one of those secondary creatures who’ve given up the ghost. “The moment you have a ‘different’ thought you cease to be an American.” – Tropic of Capricorn

Maybe that was it all along. Different. Henry wanted to be an original, but in the end he became Henry Miller the fantastic assemblage of author, street urchin, comic nihilist, braggart, lover, madman, liberator, climatologist (but not of that weather you’re so used too, no this is the weather of the mind, a stormy, cloudy, dark and tempestuous world of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis… the weather of the spirit struggling to be born.). Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus would say of men like Miller:

Strange Anglo-American literature: from Thomas Hardy, from D. H. Lawrence to Malcolm Lowry, from Henry Miller to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, men who know how to leave, to scramble the codes, to cause flows to circulate, to traverse the desert of the body without organs. They overcome a limit, they shatter a wall, the capitalist barrier. And of course they fail to complete the process, they never cease failing to do so. The neurotic impasse again closes—the daddy-mommy of oedipalization, America, the return to the native land—or else the perversion of the exotic territorialities, then drugs, alcohol—or worse still, an old fascist dream. (AO, pp. 132-133)

If anything we – I mean “we” Americans know how to fail. We’re pretty good at it, too. Yes, drugs, alcohol, death, suicide – and, yes, that dream of imperialism, police brutality, mass surveillance, CIA, NSA, and who knows how many black ops and sink holes of well funded secretive governmental and corporate clandestine operations both within and outside the good ole U.S.A – even Obama dreams of endless nights over America. Look at our current presidential campaign (or not?): Hilary, Bernie, Trump, Bush, Rubio, Cruz… sounds more like a car add, doesn’t it? This is the smorgasbord of divisive in-fighting corporate owned politicos from Left or Right, all owned or already part of the elite rich… yep, handing it to the Demos or the Republic is like a waffle-maker, both sides get us burnt, and the syrup laid on thick is just too bitter-sweet.  As if “America” was some kind of mythic paradise – believe me, it isn’t, at least not anymore. Was it ever? Oh, maybe in our – as Henry would have it, literature.

Maybe a Huckleberry Finn ride down the Mississippi with Mark Twain… but, of course, he knew he wasn’t writing history, he knew he was telling America its own story, the story of innocence and experience, a story of con-men, rogues, scoundrels, surveys, twisted and perverse bandiers… a world ‘out of joint’, yet one that from a boy’s eyes was full of life and light all the same.  Miller, like Twain was writing about ab alternate life… a hopeful, more optimistic version of America than the worldly darkness of our pragmatic reality: a farcical and demented perversion of life closed off in the cave of economic despair and servitude. Yet, he did it with the straight face of innocent cynicism that knows that it knows what it knows, but says it as it is – a pessimists guide to Optimism. The sort of guide that takes your rose colored glasses off and says, here Madame is the real deal, take a gander, see if you like what you see… it’s your life! Henry would describe it as the American Nightmare, and in his bitter work about his life in the Telegraph Message Service in Tropic of Capricorn would relate all the merciless power and corruption of life under capitalism not through the lens of some Marxist ideological truth but as a man who’d lived it, breathed it, sucked it raw… then spit it out and escaped its mesh for the expanse of unbounded life. If anything our dear Henry taught us how to speak to ourselves, to look outward into thy neighbors eyes, ears, mouth, and speak, share, wonder, laugh; and, then go home and remember the leavings of life, the traceries of love in the gutter of time, remember what it once was to be human…

When Henry, and I say Henry because whoever he is he is not that creature of flesh and blood that vanished into the dustbin of history long ago – no, this is the living, breathing, fictional creation that still strides the stage of time and eternity like some kind of rancid piece of shit with a smile attached: a smile at the foot of a ladder, per se? Oh, you think I’m harsh. No. This was a full blown mythic blowhard who invented himself whole-cloth out of the threads of insanity – that is, modern day humanity. Where to begin? “I am a patriot-of the Fourteenth Ward, Brooklyn, where I was raised. The rest of the United States doesn’t exist for me, except as idea, or history, or literature.”1 Just there where everything begins – in the street, in youth, in those first inklings that one is alive, one is freeborn, one can do or say what one pleases. Howl at the moon, run wild in the streets.

To be born in the street means to wander all your life, to be free. It means accident and incident, drama, movement. It means above all dream. A harmony of irrelevant facts which gives to your wandering a metaphysical physical certitude. In the street you learn what human beings really are; otherwise, or afterwards, you invent them.

Invention. Isn’t that what the essence of the American is: this power of invention, and the ability to reinvent one’s self or identity over and over, to make of one’s self a project by which the ego is slowly divested of its fears, neurosis, psychosis and one begins to hear in the abyss of one’s inner void the truth of the Subject, that other one has always been there (not as some substantive form, but rather as the Void), the one you never ever allowed to surface, much less enter into conversation with or become? But even the Subject hiding in the shadows of the unconscious isn’t some “essence” – some substantive thing, much rather an emptiness – or, even better a Pleroma, a fullness: an abyss always moving, churning, flickering, sparking, productive… Maybe the self-as-project – as something in process rather than as something unfolding as from the kernel of an apple core; but, rather as a poetic making, a poem of life; an invention out of the nothings of one’s strange revels, aspirations, conflicts…

In my dreams I come back to the Fourteenth Ward as a paranoiac returns to his obsessions. When I think of those steel-gray battleships in the Navy Yard I see them lying there in some astrologic dimension in which I am the gunnersmith, the chemist, the dealer in high explosives, the undertaker, the coroner, the cuckold, the sadist, the lawyer and contender, the scholar, the restless one, the jolt-head, and the brazen-faced. – Black Spring

I came upon Henry Miller’s early Tropic of Cancer trilogy along with Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn each of which offered a glimpse of Miller’s fictional personae wandering through an alternate Paris and America during the early years of the last century. As a teenager in the sixties, about the time we were passing Terry Southern’s porn novel Candy around Jr. High, I came upon these works of Miller not through friends but in my old man’s (lol, Father, Dad, whatever…) garage where he kept a bunch of pin-up’s (oh yea men seemed to have these fetishes and territorial areas, off-limits to the women of the house, at least in the southern climes of West Texas in that era of dementia between the Korean police-action – posh! – and the Viet Nam war – the 50’s – a dream between two deaths). I’d found a box full of old pulps: noir, porn, and these early modernist books with Wyndham Lewis, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc. – along with Henry Miller.

One passes imperceptibly from one scene, one age, one life to another. Suddenly, walking down a street, be it real or be it a dream, one realizes for the first time that the years have flown, that all this has passed forever and will live on only in memory; and then the memory turns inward with a strange, clutching brilliance and one goes over these scenes and incidents perpetually, in dream and reverie, while walking a street, while lying with a woman, while reading a book, while talking to a stranger . . . suddenly, but always with terrific insistence and always with terrific accuracy, these memories intrude, rise up like ghosts and permeate every fiber of one’s being. – Black Spring

More than anything it was the name that drew me to the book. Barely a teenager, just turned thirteen, I thought the book was an adventure story in the tropics. What a surprise I had coming. I remember being a little befuddled by Miller’s language which to this day still bubbles away in automated idiocy like a machine gun that no one can stop or plug up.  Now don’t get me wrong I loved the stuff as a kid. I kept his book under my mattress with my cartoons and other strange science fiction pulp stars, etc. What hit me was the sheer exuberance in his writings, the words, the glossolalian madness that seemed to wander off the page in incomprehensible syllables, adjectives, verbs, phrases: sentences that never ended, but seemed to wander and zig-zag through timeless realms of some mythical land of Paris. I had no idea Paris was a real place. Yep, even if I’d been taught such things in geography as a kid I let knowledge float in and then right back out again as if it meant absolutely nothing – and, for the most part it meant just that as a kid, nothing.

Reading Black Spring later on was like reading my own life backwards:

Nothing of what is called “adventure” ever approaches the flavor of the street. It doesn’t matter whether you fly to the Pole, whether you sit on the floor of the ocean with a pad in your hand, whether you pull up nine cities one after the other, or whether, like Kurtz, you sail up the river and go mad. No matter how exciting, how intolerable the situation, there are always exits, always ameliorations, comforts, compensations, newspapers, religions. But once there was none of this. Once you were free, wild, murderous…. (BS, KL 19)

Restless, wandering, with friends or not I was a true street-urchin, a creature that hated the indoors, hated to be home, hated school, hated almost everything but the streets – in the streets was “adventure” around every corner. And, boy, did I get into some iffy situations as a youth. Haha… whoosh!, I sometimes wonder how I made it out alive. Either way it was in books like Miller’s that I first found my own voice, a sort of pitter-patter of mush and slop now that I look back at some early writings (yep… my Mom – bless her soul, kept a box of this crap! ). I remember taking my first foray in story building to my mom and thinking she’d be so happy. Of course she was, she smiled, looked puzzled, scratched her head, looked at me, then hollered at my Dad who – as usual, was sipping a beer and whiskey on the couch watching some baseball game on the tube: “Z…, what have you been giving this boy to read lately?” Of course he looked up surprised: “Not a gawd dam thing! What you got there, boy?” He looked at me bleary eyed. Mom of course grabbed me and took me to her sewing room and asked me about certain words – of course, it was the cuss words that seemed to drift out between every fourth word that caught her attention.

We live in the mind, in ideas, in fragments. We no longer drink in the wild outer music of the streets-we remember only. Like a monomaniac we relive the drama of youth. Like a spider that picks up the thread over and over and spews it out according to some obsessive, logarithmic pattern. If we are stirred by a fat bust it is the fat bust of a whore who bent over on a rainy night and showed us for the first time the wonder of the great milky globes; if we are stirred by the reflections on a wet pavement it is because at the age of seven we were suddenly speared by a premonition of the life to come as we stared unthinkingly into that bright, liquid mirror of the street. – Black Spring

Well needless to say I didn’t use those words much after that, and we never talked about it again either. Silence is golden, they say. Silence is a belt two-inches thick walloping one till one can neither cry or speak – that’s silence. Of course Henry Miller had nothing to do with this. His writings were beyond all this. Even now when I read him from time to time its the energy, the aliveness that one absorbs from this man’s strangeness. Not that he was all that original. Of course he didn’t give a shit about originality, to him that was literature. A sort of decadent, ingrown enterprise that ended somewhere after Henry James and the Symbolists. Those were the artists of some intricate mental masturbation to Henry. Miller once spent a year reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and realized it was all wrong, it was a book of the dead, a brick mason’s book, a book put together like a building, brick by brick, but in the end was a tomb, a mausoleum rather than a place for humans to inhabit. No. For Miller it was the people of the street, the people of the American Nightmare – the working class stiffs who seemed to be buggered under the anvil of commerce without ever knowing life existed. It was the real live flesh and blood humans that mattered, the people one knew and loved that counted, that stayed with one through the thick and thin of it.

No, for Miller it was the people of the street that mattered, not the refined parlor shenanigans of some upper-crust citizen of nowheresville:

The boys you worshiped when you first came down into the street remain with you all your life. They are the only real heroes. Napoleon, Lenin, Capone-all fiction. Napoleon is nothing to me in comparison with Eddie Carney, who gave me my first black eye. No man I have ever met seems as princely, as regal, as noble, as Lester Reardon who, by the mere act of walking down the street, inspired fear and admiration. Jules Verne never led me to the places that Stanley Borowski had up his sleeve when it came dark. Robinson Crusoe lacked imagination in comparison with Johnny Paul. All these boys of the Fourteenth Ward have a flavor about them still. They were not invented or imagined: they were real. Their names ring out like gold coins-Tom Fowler, Jim Buckley, Matt Owen, Rob Ramsay, Harry Martin, Johnny Dunne, to say nothing of Eddie Carney or the great Lester Reardon. Why, even now when I say Johnny Paul the names of the saints leave a bad taste in my mouth. Johnny Paul was the living Odyssey of the Fourteenth Ward… (BS, KL 22-28)

No matter how dark my days may get, there in the back of my mind I remember Henry Miller romping through the world full of exuberance, his voice like a street Whitman – singing something like Kafka’s Tale of the Flying Tub that suddenly and exuberantly begins to fly on its on … fly up and up and away… a line of flight that never ends… never yields, a joyous and painful ride, an explosion of jouissance… In the end Henry Miller became Henry Miller – a human among humans, a being that seems to keep of flying, exuberantly on and on like a bird toward a happy place. “Imagine having nothing on your hands but your destiny. You sit on the doorstep of your mother’s womb and you kill time-or time kills you. You sit there chanting the doxology of things beyond your grasp. Outside. Forever outside.” Let the Outside in, my friends… “keep the aspidistras flying” as Orwell used to say. “Keep on keeping on,” as Vonnegut told us. “Fail, and fail better,” as Zizek reminds us. Or, let us give the last word to Henry:

Done with his underground life the worm takes on wings. Bereft of sight, hearing, smell, taste he dives straight into the unknown. Away! Away! Anywhere out of the world! Saturn, Neptune, Vega-no matter where or whither, but away, away from the earth! Up there in the blue, with firecrackers sputtering in his asshole, the angel-worm goes daft. He drinks and eats upside down; he sleeps upside down; he screws upside down. At the maximum his body is lighter than air; at the maximum tempo there is nothing but the spontaneous combustion of dream. Alone in the blue he wings on toward God with purring dynamos. The last flight! The last dream of birth before the bag is punctured. – Black Spring

Well the last bag was punctured long ago, dear Henry Miller, and we’re sitting here with the pus infested remains of the American Nightmare. A world we can longer fly away from any longer. No. No we have to watch while the fat lady sings her last song before the lights are turned out on the human species. And, oh yes, they will be turned out, it’s just a matter of when and how… that is up to us, those of us who still give a dam, who still keep on keeping on, hoping beyond hope that people will wake up out of their dreams and see reality around them as it is, not as it should be. Maybe then instead of changing  reality they might begin by changing themselves. Do you think? They’ve already done a bash up dammed job of reality… the only thing left is to either tip the balance toward life or extinction? Which side of the balance are you on, huh?

The questioning faculty! That I never abandoned. As is known, the habit of questioning everything leads one to become either a sage or a skeptic. It also leads to madness. Its real virtue, however, consists in this, that it makes one think for himself, makes one return to the source.” –Plexus: The Rosy Crucifixion II

Maybe in the end that’s all we have: the source of thought itself, that secret place you don’t even have to search for, quest for, look for in the dark corners of some forgotten earth; no, it’s right there inside your head where it always was, ready and waiting for you to begin again… Are you ready? Where two or more are gathered a thought is born, gathers itself into an egregore – an infinitesimal movement, an idea, a meme that seems to arise out of nothing, yet can in its small way turn the world around, bring humans together in active participation toward each other and the earth around them, form a bond and a challenge, a song of the earth and its power, a dance upon the rock of silence and its noisy blessing, a movement into not out of the mind that breaks the spell of ignorance and gives us back again our lives, incomplete and open to possibility within the impossible.

“To look at the world, no longer from the heights as Aeschylus, Plato, Dante and Goethe did, but from the standpoint of oppressive actualities is to exchange the bird’s perspective for the frog’s.” – Henry Miller, Plexus

Maybe its time for the frogs to croak in the darkest of times… I can hear them… is that the lyrics by Shameless I hear… “There is one thing you should know by now / That we got nothing – Nothing to lose…”

Stop to fool us, stop to change us
U won’t break us anymore
We won’t take it anymore

On another day, in a foreign land, there will appear before me a young man who, aware of the change which has come over me, will dub me “The Happy Rock.” That is the moniker I shall tender when the great Cosmocrator demands—“Who art thou?” Yes, beyond a doubt I shall answer: “The Happy Rock!”
…….– Henry Miller, The Rosy Crucifixion

 

 


 

  1. Henry Miller. Black Spring (Kindle Locations 13-14). Kindle Edition.

Robert Frost: The Most of It

frost-si

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.

Samuel Johnson: The Critic as Keeper of the Lights

Samuel_Johnson

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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Jules Verne: Acceleration, Science, and the Future

jules verne

In 1863, the great novelist Jules Verne undertook perhaps his most ambitious project. He wrote a prophetic novel, called Paris in the Twentieth Century, in which he applied the full power of his enormous talents to fore-cast the coming century. His biographers have noted that, although Verne was not a scientist himself, he constantly sought out scientists, peppering them with questions about their visions of the future. He amassed a vast archive summarizing the great scientific discoveries of his time. Verne, more than others, realized that science was the engine shaking the foundations of civilization, propelling it into a new century with unexpected marvels and miracles. The key to Verne’s vision and profound insights was his grasp of the power of science to revolutionize society.1

Science as the engine of progress and development, of modernity as it has come down to us is central to the underlying myths of speed and accelerationism. Jules Verne could be considered the father of Accelerationism. Frank Borman an astronaut on Apollo 8 would comment: “In a very real sense, Jules Verne is one of the pioneers of the space age”. Books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and An Antarctic Mystery, Mathias Sandorf, Journey to the Center of the Earth would each inspire scientists like pioneering submarine designer Simon Lake, and other maritime scientists: William Beebe, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Ballard, and Jacques Cousteau; rocketry innovators Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth; explorer Richard E. Byrd, after a flight to the South Pole; Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer; the preeminent speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel;  and others like Fridtjof Nansen, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.

Even Marx himself would understand that science is the engine of production and progress:

“…the entire production process appears not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. [It is] hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment in this process. As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it appear in the further development of capital that it presupposes a certain given historical development of productive forces on one side – science too is among these productive forces – and, on the other, drives and forces them further onwards.”2

 This notion that the cycle of the production process is driven by applied science as a productive force, and that it is a continuous force driving it in a progressive form of continuous process is key to Marx’s understanding. Instead of capital as the driver of production as many assume, Marx would describe a combination of social labour and the “technological application of natural sciences, on the one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination of total production on the other side” (ibid). These two forces would ultimately lead capital to “its own dissolution as the form of dominating production” (ibid).

Marx as he begins to diagnose the power of science and machines tells us that at first the power of machines to take over human labour was martialed not by the machines, but by mechanizing the worker, but as he says the rise of machines in industry arose by “dissection – through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of the machine, and his own labour capacity devalued thereby” (ibid).

Even now we hear many workers in the labour force worried that robots and intelligent systems will make them obsolete. In From Watson to Siri we discover that as in early Fordist era machine takeovers we’re facing it again:

“…in the infancy of the 21st century, a new revolution is reshaping the American economy, what we might call the “A.I. revolution.” … machines employing natural language processors, voice recognition software and other tools of artificial intelligence are proliferating, just as textile mills and, later, assembly lines proliferated and fundamentally altered the American economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, American workers won the race against machines by using advances in technology to usher in a new era of consumerism and mass production. This time … we must learn to co-exist with machines, rather than race against them.” (PBS/Need to Know)

It is also interesting, continuing with Marx’s essay, that real wealth creation depends less “on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology or the application of this science to production” (ibid). Again the engine of science and knowledge applied is the driver and engine of wealth creation in which the human worker become more of a “watcher and regulator” of the production process done for the most part by machines. What Marx is ultimately driving at is that humans as scientists and knowledge workers whose “understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence in the social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and wealth” (ibid, 62).

The point that Marx is making in contradistinction to many labour theorists is that wealth is produced by promoting less labour time and more free time for social individuals who thereby become artistic, scientific, educated in free time:

“The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of its penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created.” (ibid, 63)

 By this of course surplus labour is the labour performed in excess of the labour necessary to produce the means of livelihood of the worker (“necessary labour”). So that the exploitation of surplus labour or making individuals work more than is needed for their basic needs should be put to an end, and the input of wealth distributed to the mass of workers to further their education so that through their artistic and scientific creativity and inventions industry would benefit greatly. As Marx will pointedly tells us the capitalists have no clue, that instead of opening up free time for the workers and giving them an opportunity to further their artistic and scientific education, they force them to work longer hours than is necessary to survive:

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form: hence it posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question life or death – for the necessary.” (ibid, 63)

But remember Marx had previously told us that the development of the social individual is the “great foundation-stone of production and wealth”, not surplus labour nor labour time as the source of wealth. The point of the contradiction comes into play in that the capitalists use the powers of science, and the resources of nature as the engine of wealth creation in collusion with the social combination and social intercourse independent of labour time employed on it (ibid, 63). Yet, on the other hand they play the blind-man’s card and have us believe that labour time is the measuring rod for the social forces created, and limit it as the created value of value (ibid, 63).

Yet, Marx will almost surprised by his own analyses remind us that it is the human brain freed up to produce knowledge for the society that is the lynchpin of wealth, and that the “creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally” which leads to people being able to pursue artistic and scientific education etc. Yet, the capitalists in contradistinction to their own practices, invert this logic and take hold of the surplus labour to force workers not into free time for education, but to produce excessive material products for the market and as Marx suggests, if it succeeds too well it “suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital” (ibid, 64). The point here is that the capitalist is his own worst enemy, and the cycles of bust and depression, inflation, etc. are brought about by the fantasia of the capitalists.

Ultimately Marx’s diagnosis would be that as the contradiction continues to produce these same cycles of boom and bust over and over and over again, it is up to the workers, not the entrepreneurs and bankers (Capital), to appropriate their own surplus labour (free time): Once they have done so- and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. (ibid, 65) This will lead Marx to his final point, that real wealth is the combined or total productive power of all workers, and the measure of wealth is not labour time but “disposable time”. Instead of the capitalist who bases wealth on labour time, on the exploitation of the worker beyond his necessary time he needs to support himself and his family, he is force to “work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools” (ibid. 65).

Instead as Marx will tell us what should occur is the saving of labour time, of turning it into free time, of education and productive time for family and life thereby allowing workers to ultimately accumulate knowledge for society: “this process is then both a discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming, and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society” (ibid, 66).

As we move into an era of artificial intelligence, smart cities, technocapitalism the need for creativity and higher performance and inventiveness has come more and more into play, and as Luis Suarez-Villa will tell us this is becoming a era in which creativity itself is becoming the greatest commodity: “The commodification of this most intangible and elusive human quality has characteristics separating it from the commodification of other resources in previous stages of capitalism.”3

In my next post I’ll introduce some of where Luis Suarez-Villa sees our brave new world of technocapitalism is taking us. All of this as lead in to Kaku and others as to the direction of capital, acceleration, and science as they merge and form the new worlds ahead.

1. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Random House, 2012)
2. Fragment on Machines. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. editors Robin Makay and Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 357-359). Kindle Edition.

Benjamin Noys on Accelerationism & Counter-Accelerationism

I want to suggest that the starting point for any political sensibility, by which I mean the sensibility from the left, is to break with the fantasies of Real forces of acceleration.
– Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities

Just finished reading Benjamin Noys’ new book Malign Velocities. It’s a work one could finish in an afternoon, yet it is packed with some interesting and insightful historical and critical nuggets. His blog No Useless Leniency has been a mainstay for lively thought for a while now, and his earlier work The Persistence of the Negative is an excellent critique of Continental philosophy.

The notion of Accelerationism has a distinctive history, which of late do to Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics (here) has revived certain tendencies within leftist theory concerning its investment in Marxist ideology and practice. A good book that incorporated many of the historical texts as well as later commentary from both left and right is the #Accelerate# the accelerate reader (here) edited by Robin Mackay, Armen Avanessian. I’ve published several essays on this and other aspects of Accelerationism in my Speculations on Philosophy page (here). Nick Land has the majority of links to most web related information (here).

Noys work does something worthwhile in that he gives a nice history and summation of current thought concerning accelerationism, as well as offering his own counter-accelerationism critique and positive thought on what is to be done in our current moment. If you know nothing of accelerationism this would be a good place to start. If your a non-philosopher, but would like to get your hands dirty and understand some of the current controversies and aspects of political and social philosophy as it is being touted by some on the left or right this would be a good introduction.

Noys makes no qualms, he’s politically on the left and his discourse stays within the perimeters of Marxist ideology and economic thought. Yet, he also sees accelerationism as part of something greater and perplexing, perverse. As part of that tradition steaming from Nietzsche, Bataille, Italian Futurism, Surrealism, Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death, and finally given a new formulation within the work of Nick Land and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) at University of Warwick in the 1990’s. It would be the work of Land that influenced his decision to write this work, that and the notion that Land and the CCRU crew abandoned the humanistic traditions in favor of a new “post-human state beyond any form of subject, excepting the delirious processes of capital itself.” Land’s sense of a full blown Deleuzeguattarian accelerationism along with an investment in neo-reactionary thought would force Noys to term their work as “Deleuzian Thatcherism”.

What I enjoyed is that he kept the polemic to a minimal, and delved into the history and commentary with both an equitable and even handedness, never falling into personal attacks nor castigating what he in fact finds a little distasteful. He seems to utilize the old ironic stance of placing accelerationism within a realm of “fantasy” which is opposed to the Real of production. One might assume he was formulating the Real as part of the Lacanian Real, but instead as he states it “the Real is capitalized to indicate this is not the ‘real’ qua reality, but rather the excessive force of production that is that is only ever cooled-off to form the apparently ‘real’. I would have like to see him actually go into more details in a critique of Land’s only book, A Thirst for Annhilation and his recently published essays in Fanged Noumena, but for better or worse he adds a small appraisal in chapter four of this work.

A better way to understand this production of the real is to realize it is fundamentally incongruent with Freudian and Lacanian models of the unconscious. Freud and Lacan see the unconscious as symbolic, fantasy laden, and dramatic ­­ filled with semiotic puzzles and ancient Greek theater. Hence, for both authors desire is associated with lack. That is to say, desire desires that which is fantasized, repressed, wished for, or absent. Desire is engaged entirely with that which is lacking and needs to be represented. Hence, “desire gives way to a representation” of that which is lacking ­­ the phallus, the Oedipal escapade, the ideal “I”, etc.. But for Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus the schizoid, as a figure of nomadic thought and life is incapable of experiencing lack. For him or her the unconscious is always productive and never fantastical. Desire itself produces the real and creates new worlds. So instead of desire as ‘lack’ we have desire as a positive force or power that is creative or libidinal (i.e., a drive without intention or goal).

In some ways this agon over concepts of desire as lack or productive fullness; as an absence seeking the big Other, the represented One: Freud, Lacan, Badiou, Zizek, etc.; and, the other tradition from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze and Guattari, and Nick Land is central to our era. This battle over desire and its force is at the heart of accelerations as well. As Nick Land will tell us in A Thirst for Annihilation we should return to Schopenhauer, not Hegel for our understanding of Desire:

“It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide… it is Schopenhauer. With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as a energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive” (8). 

I’ll not go into detail of Noys confrontation with Bataille, which is part of his section on Terminal Acceleration in which he confronts Jean-Luc Goddar’d films and Bataille’s ‘excremental vision’ as he terms it after certain remarks in Bataille’s works such as The Literature of Evil, etc. If there is one fault in Noys book it is this inability to tease out the conceptual frameworks of the various accelerationisms. He does a great job of skimming the surface layers, but because of his investment in Marxist ideology his mind seems blinkered to read everything toward some counter-accelerationist teleology or resistance without ever truly lifting and separating out the various forces of the Right and Left Accelerationisms except as history and economics, politics and cultural critique – not as philosophies vying for the mind of our current era. 

Yet, as Noys will tell us in his preface his plan “is not to offer an exhaustive account of accelerationism, but rather to choose certain moments when it emerges as a political and cultural strategy”. So we have to accept that this is more of political and cultural critique, rather than a philosophical critique of the conceptual frameworks of the various accelerationisms. I’m not going to give a full reading since much of the material has been covered by many parties. I just want to highlight a few nuggets here and there. Over and over he reiterates that at the core of accelerationism and an ideology is this sense of the merger of the human and machine, whether in economics, politics, social, or cultural life. Noys believes we should stay with the economic realm rather than the fantasies of hyper-accelerated capitalism, understanding how our own machinic nature intersects and links us to the realms of labor and production. He argues that even in the cyberpunk phuturism of fiction and music and economics of High-Frequency Trading (HFT) we see a postmodernism with a ‘passion for the real’. He sees that the aesthetic appeal of accelerationism lies in its sense of jouissance – a sense of perverse enjoyment that seeks a fusion of pleasure/pain or masochistic immolation. At the heart of this sensibility is desire and death, flux and flow – the need to accelerate faster and faster to the point of annihilation. At least this would be the classic form of it found partially in Land and others.

Noys will not take on the task of a critique of his left compeers except to say a few words about Williams and Srnicek’s manifesto, except as baring on the dromological effect of speed (Virilio) they see in traditional accelerationism. His main critique of them is their inability to ‘ground’ their critique of Landian or other forms of accelerationism. He’ll call their move to ‘open a space of possibilities’, or as Brassier and Negarestani later (and they are never mentioned) following Sellars/Brandom in a normative turn toward notions of ‘navigating the space of reasons’ and offering negotiations of ‘give’ and ‘take’ between various strata of society, politics, culture, etc.  He says with it we could speak of an “accelerationist critique of accelerationism”.

Yet, he doesn’t go into any depth into their actual program. Even the work of Land is not fully explored, but is rather caricatured. I felt the early part of the book, the historical reflections and distillation were excellent. His knowledge of Marx seemed basic and flowed with the usual scholarship of labor and labor-power and dead labor, etc. He uses examples extensively from Marx and others to bolster his critiques. Most of his critiques were of early ancestors of the concept of acceleration, teasing out the threads of the concept in discussions of various forms of acceleration: Futurist, Communist, Cyberpunk, Apocalyptic, and Terminal. Each of the various strands weaves a tale of a runaway capitalism that seems bent of merging either with the cyborg posthuman worlds, or allowing some H.P. Lovecraft fantasy of Shoggothic monstrous minds  merging out of the future-past into our moment. This interplay of fantasy and the Real is like a dialectical leitmotif running the gamut of the essay. Each of his historical moments and commentary were spot on and handled with finesse. He is well read and has a good grasp of the material. But in the end I wanted to know beyond the negative critique what he might offer as part of his positive program, his counter-accelerationist agenda.

What he discovers is that tracing this heritage of accelerationist and anti-accelerationist discourse we discover a “strange convergence on nostalgia: nostalgia for a vanishing possibility for socialists slow-down, itself a terminal slide away from socialism, versus capitalist ostalgie that can only fill our absent future with past dreams of acceleration.” He tells us accelerationists see the problem but not the solution, that they opt for an integration with the machine, with capitalism as an accelerating process in which humans are to be integrated. That this is a ‘moving contradiction’, yet it is not a solution. Instead accelerationism seeks to integrate and ultimately move toward oblivion and extinction, which “bypasses the problem of consciousness, awareness, struggle in a logic of immersion.”

Against nostalgia and a revitalization of past accelerationism in whatever form, modern or postmodern, he tells us we need to begin by recognizing the basic contradiction at the heart of the accelerationist agenda. Caught between a terminal future or a nostalgic return to an impossible Fordist past we seem bound to a runaway train. Noys tells us we need to act now, and rethink the traditional problems that workers and labor face in their lives daily. He would have us struggle for the ‘decommodification’ of our lives, fight against the privatization that seems to be forcing the burden of health-care and other public services onto the individual as if this is what they wanted, when in fact it is what the larger capitalist entities want. If they force the individual to pay for their own services then the cost is off their shoulders. He tells us we need to protect public services, benefits, and social support systems that help sustain them.

A counter-accelerationist move he informs us would begin in disruption of acceleration itself and all its capitalist machinery. I kept thinking of the my favorite environmentalist book The Monkey-Wrench Gang and Aldo Leopold for some reason. The notion of gumming up the works and slowing the system down using various tactics came to mind. Yet, he doesn’t suggest we decelerate, or withdraw, instead what he says is our task is to “collectively sustain forms of struggle and negation that do not offer false consolation, either of inbuilt hope or cynicism and absolute despair.” Instead of falling into Land’s trap of “Transcendental Miserablism” we need to track it, understand its failings, and seek ways to obviate its effects.  Ultimately we need to face the fact that we are in the midst of integrations, immersions, and extractions. Capitalism is already seeking to merge us into new forms of posthuman and trans-human machinic worlds. What we need is to realize:

The tension of these moments requires a collective sense of past struggles and of struggles to come, a recognition of that possibility of work as it has been shaped not only by capitalism but by resistance.

Whether you agree or disagree Benjamin Noys needs to be read by those who value current struggles and resistances. His work is clear, incisive, rigorous, and has that measure of intellectual honesty that we need in this time between times.

 

1. Benjamin Noys. Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism (Zero Books, 2014)

 

 

Poetic Thought for the Day (8/26/2014): Poetry as Labyrinth & Glass Bead Game

As I began thinking of today’s topic I was reminded of Herman Hesse’s classic satire of Majister Ludi or The Glass-Bead Game which became back in the sixties an instant classic about the power of imagination divorced from mundane society and religious worlds as well. A sort of secular utopia for people devoted solely to aesthetics, history, science, art, and poetry as a pure form of contemplative practice. Much like zen but in a secular mode in which there would be yearly competitions among various participants who would play with knowledge as if it were a vast cosmos to be played like a grand symphony of symbols and meaning unconnected to the real world of commerce and everyday life. Instead of a utopia, this is in some ways the perfect dystopia of the Platonic realm of Ideas and the German Transcendental world of Idealism. For unless we connect our words back to life of what use are they. This was the point of the end of Hesse’s novel as well, which I will not relate just in case someone has not read it. Do that! Read it. Well worth the time and effort.

My second image was of Jorge Luis Borges’s image of the labyrinth, a vast cosmic library of knowledge and wisdom that houses everything that has happened, could happen, or will happen in the universe in a great labyrinth in which there is no entry point, nor exit but only an endless series of infinite digressions and assays into a world that repeats itself right down to the letter on each and every page. Except that the pages and letters on them change every moment of every second of every day forever.

Christopher Lyndon in an interview with Harold Bloom would remind Bloom of his original title of An Anatomy of Influence, which is his latest offering or study of poetry through history. Lyndon would say that Bloom himself is the living labyrinth, “because it so elegantly represented not literature so much as the surging search-engine of Bloom’s overstocked head. Influence anxiety, as he likes to say, exists not between the artists but between their poems endlessly bumping into each other in readers’ memories, none vaster than his own. “Let’s face it, Harold,” I had said to him most of two years ago, “the living labyrinth is you!” He answered with a long laugh, and then: “A nice trope, my boy.” (see here)

The notion that each reader becomes a attached, hooked into, or plugged into a vast living labyrinth of poetry and poems that are continuously jostling, touching each other, battling in now this person’s mind, then another, each poem like a little catalyst sparking ever more poems in this ongoing game brings both Hesse’s and Borges’ worlds together. One could say that each of us is connected to that vast labyrinth of information, the world of words is for us the universe of meaning that connects us to both ourselves and to the actual forces in the real world around us. At every moment that we invent or create new meaning we transform the possibilities of our world for good or ill. We have magical powers to create or destroy with our words. We may think words have lost their power and become degraded by our modern capitalist societies and democracies, but in truth these open societies have actually broken down the monopolies and allowed the free reign of information to all. The battle of knowledge to shape and invent possibilities of knowledge and participation are endless in this new world. Yet, it’s not to be taken lightly, for one could discover that language is sick and desolating again, falling into isolated enclaves of power, bound by false engines of control and manipulation just as easily.

Ultimately the challenge is to make sense of this vast labyrinth of information, and that is the responsibility of poetry to build, to make an order that is at once instructive and delightful in which to house human meaning. Otherwise we can be like the modernists and postmodernists and accept that nothing is nothing, and meaning no longer has a place in time. But to except that is to accept that we, too, are mere nothings. This to me is Beckett’s End Game. Nihilism.

But for me this is over, the age of nihilism has taken us as far as it can into that subjective sphere of nullity of world and self; now we begin anew, we once again take up the task of reinventing our humanity and our meanings, but accepting that we are not the center of creation, but only one of the inheritors of a vast labyrinth in which we all play a Glass-Bead Game with time and our future. But this time it’s not some contemplative escape into pure or ideal worlds of play, but a very real engenderment of our participation and creation of a future worth living in. Poetry being the House of Being and human meaning is also the labyrinth in which we all wander and work with each other in continuous struggle or a process that is ever changing and growing and becoming future and us in us and earth.

   That’s my thought for the day!

 

Poetic Thought of the Day: On the Inevitability of Poetry

Decided it was time to start up something new. Each day I’ll try to come up with a short post on poetic terms or thoughts connected to poetry. It want be a full blown essay, more of a daily meditation on poetry and poetics. Something to make you sit up and think about things. This one will post for today and tomorrow. I have readded the menu to my top navigation bar: Poetics & Daily Thoughts on Poetry. This will hold both my essays and these new daily thoughts on poetry. Enjoy!


 Inevitability

Today is on the inevitability of a great poetic line. What makes a line memorable. We’ve all come across such lines that just seem irreplaceable. Christopher Marlowe, in Doctor Faustus (variously dated between 1590 and 1604), referring to Helen of Troy, or as Marlowe had it ‘Helen of Greece’:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

All three of Marlow’s lines are memorable, but the one that even school kids seem to know by heart is “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?” As many know Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare’s only true rival in theatre, and it was against his influence that great Shakespeare himself would do battle to the death to become the dramatist and poet that he became. Of course I do not mean literally that Shakespeare killed Marlowe, of course not, Marlowe was killed some believe in a bar brawl instigated at the behest of spies whom he was keeping an eye on. No Shakespeare was so enamored of Marlowe’s witchery with words, his hyperbolic use of phrasing and memorable lines that inevitably this would have a deep impact on the young Shakespeare’s own plays as in Richard III.

Yet, the question for most common readers is: How can I tell that a poem I’m reading maybe for the first time possesses the quality of authentic inevitability, that it is authentic poetry? Several questions arise:

  1. What does it mean, and how is that meaning attained?
  2. Can I judge how good it is?
  3. Has it transcended the history of its own time and events of the poet’s life, or is it now only a period piece?

I want to use one poem as example from Wallace Stevens Of Mere Being:

Of Mere Being

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Reading this poem almost forty years ago I never would have thought what lay behind it. I felt the power of it, something inevitable in that last line, but for the life of me could not think why it made such an impact on me to the point that it was etched into my soul. Sometime later it came to me. Two poems by William Butler Yeats that have over the years haunted me: Byzantium and Sailing to Byzantium. From the first this:

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the starlit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

From the second this:

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Both invent an artificial bird to displace a sense of death into immortal mortality, both gather in this sense of the inevitable battle against the natural fate of humans. In Yeat’s we see an almost grotesque menagerie of baroque and decadent imagery, while in Stevens we get a delicate almost Paterian or Willdean ethereality for this same process. Yet, both become inevitable in the sense that once the poems were spoken and written they have become a part of our inheritance. They will last because they are inevitably great poems that we cannot forget, nor even want too. They challenge us to a greatness that has yet to be overtaken by other poetry, and may well not reach it that way again. They make us reread them over and over through the years because as our knowledge grows the meanings we gain from such poetry broadens and deepens, opens up new vistas of thought and feeling. Against the poetry of what I call throw-a-ways that once written might be fun to read once, but once read their meaning is instantly known and remembered, filed away in one’s memory like so many other facts that can be used or not. Great poetry on the other hand keeps us returning to it, it is inevitable, and forces us because of its changing meanings to change with it, and grow into its world, its heterocosm of strangeness.  This is the inevitability of poetry.

The poems by Yeats and Stevens seem to feed into each other, as if they had tapped into some common stock of poetic power or pool of imagery and figures, as if they both were coming to us from some alternate world of thought and being as if inevitably. This tip of the hand comes in Stevens “In the bronze décor, / A gold-feathered bird / Sings in the palm, without human meaning”, which with its sense of the artificial atmosphere and the inhuman bird pointing to nihilistic universe, and with it using the “palm” as a staging device instead of as in Yeats “golden bough” transforms the metaphor from the one to the other in an inevitable masking of the Yeats’ metaphors into the “palm at the end of the mind”. Yeats coming before Stevens in the modernist appeal and power of the era was for Stevens the inevitable rival against which this poem was invented as a way beyond the relations encompassing him. In this I think Stevens in his Lucretian mode won the battle, although I must admit to a liking of the grotesque and macabre to which Yeats is the inevitable player and master of a late romanticism and high-aesthetic stylization. Yet, behind both poets stands the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson the English poet whose high-aesthetic poetry was so elegant and refined, so full of sorrow and embellishment, almost crystalline.

1. Stevens, Wallace (2011-05-04). The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 10908-10920). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Yeats, William Butler (2008-06-30). COLLECTED POEMS OF W.B. YEATS (Kindle Locations 5158-5162). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.