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Via Negativa

whiskey river
with hidden noise
Witold Riedel
Wittgenstein Jr
September 03, 2015

Footbridge at Passy
Henri Rousseau
d. 02 September 1910


Poetry and the Memory of Fame
On accidental anonymity.
Thomas Mccarthy


This high companionship of self-indulgence is hugely underrated in modern teaching. It needs to be taught again. Poetry, the best poetry, the most purposeful poetry, arises out of the fullness of the self. It is not the result of a given program, an agenda, a canon. The dynamic noise of a poetry workshop, its communal imperative, does compel young poets to be clear rather than complex, to be social rather than desolate. But the best education in the poetic art must oscillate between the two — between the need to dream fiercely and the need to communicate. Our personal temperament is an essential part of our technical equipment as poets: it is the one part of our equipment that we cannot teach to others, though many of us yearn to do so as we grow older. Our temperament is the thing that will die with us, leaving traces only in the best work. Technically — I mean from the standpoint of writing new poems — all the historic suffering of the Irish nation has no more moral weight than the anonymous cadaver on the dissecting table of Gottfried Benn. The materials available to a new poet are that simple, that open, that personal. Have courage, I would say to any new poet; have courage while your poem invites you into itself. This fullness of being — the vain clarity before a poem begins — must have been what the twenty-five-year-old André Gide meant when he wrote in his Journals:

The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. Essential to remain between the two, close to madness when you dream and close to reason when you write.
In other words, the fullness of your self is available from the start: dig into it with your pen, exploit it. For poetry’s sake, keep dissecting the self until you find the infection that is interesting. Be open to technique, I advise younger poets; by all means, learn everything new that can be learned about a poetic effect, about what the phrases do when they are layered together on the page. Understand that a poetic tone shared and recognized across the English language is part of the Esperanto of our modern era — we search for a tone that reassures us of the author’s modernity. Far from avoiding new work from young writers, most editors yearn to find something new, yet something with an assured and seriously polished tone. But temperament, the personal atmosphere of your life as a poet; that is something the gods have given you at birth — throw a security cordon around it — it is yours for life, through all the fame and, more usually, the persistent absence of fame.

via The Page


Henri Rousseau


Our Book of Failures
Lisa Donovan

We are in a middle land. In the middle land there’s no counting, no chanting. In the middle land there’s no scratching, no licking, no shuffling of feet. Here, in the middle, we talk about the breeze; this breeze, here. We are in the middle land and there’s no one here—not me, not you. Here in the middle land we change our figures out of this into sand. From sand we fall—we are falling. In the middle land we are without telling. In the middle land there are only questions. We question, here, in the middle land. In the land we are without speaking. What does it mean to speak? We are in the middle land. There’s no light. What is light? Are you in the middle land? You are in the middle land. You don’t know light, don’t know dark. You, in the middle land, don’t know speech—are without name. What name? No name. You are collapsing, no, collapsed in the question. What does it matter? In the middle land you are here. You have never arrived. You are. You are. You are. In the middle land you are sand. We can talk only of the breezes. Hush now, we haven’t yet slept, are now sleeping. That’s a lie.


Henri Rousseau


Donald Trump, Countersubversive Demonologist
Kurt Newman


In so many ways a book ahead of its time, Ronald Reagan: The Movie, And Other Episodes In Political Demonology (Michael Rogin) provides the contemporary scholar with all of the tools necessary to situate Trump as a Populist. Rogin’s focus is on a certain tendency in American political theology that he calls “countersubversive demonology.” Ronald Reagan––failed movie cowboy, enthusiastic Hollywood Red hunter, relentless fantasist of latter day Central American Plans San Diego––serves as the anchor of Rogin’s text. But Rogin deftly moves from the Iran-Contra hearings to Jacksonian bloodlust, from the Frost/Nixon interviews to the anti-Catholic and anti-Masonic manias of the nineteenth century: discovering extraordinary continuities among varied efforts to weed out threats to the body politic by developing detailed knowledge about demons, monsters, and ghouls.

Ronald Reagan: The Movie, And Other Episodes In Political Demonology is also a comparatively early example of a work of American historiography that takes seriously Ernst Kantorowicz’s research on the “King’s Two Bodies.” Implicit in Rogin’s discussion is the articulation of the idea of the “King’s Two Bodies” with contemporary theories of biopolitics (the various analytical projects that take their cue from Foucault’s insistence that in modern political formations, the human body tends to become the medium of state power). Countersubversive demonology feeds off of the oscillation between the two bodies with which sovereignty is concerned: the body politic and the given fleshly body of the subject. A threat to one is a threat to the other; porousness or vulnerability to pollution of my body becomes a crisis of the state’s abstract body; the unwalled border between the United States and Mexico becomes something like an anti-vaccination.

Not all countersubversive demonologies are Populist. And not all Populisms are countersubversive demonologies. But Populism and countersubversive demonology work very well with one another. The process is described elegantly in the writings of Claude Lefort and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. If we begin with the idea of the “King’s two bodies,” taking that split between abstract sovereign being, on one hand, and the ordinary reality of people, on the other, as constitutive of the political form called the state, we can identify the “problem” that Populism seeks to fix. Many experience the gap between the “King’s two bodies” as traumatic: tremendous libidinal energies can be mobilized around the project of closing the split, making “America,” for example, exactly identical to America (the complex entity in which some of us live). The work of closing this gap between the two “Americas” requires an object around which intentions may be organized. We might say that the relative virtue of different strains of Populism follows from the character of the chosen object and the choices made by Populist politicians regarding its mobilization.

Countersubversive demonology is what happens when the Populist desire for a positive object-cause fails, when no suitable object can be found. The same intense will for suture, the same drive to erase all remainders, leftovers, or holes from the conflation of “America” and America are at work: but lacking the proper object, attention turns to the alien element that has settled in our midst, working in secret to frustrate the longed-for cohesion. As Rogin notes, this anxious search for the polluting or infecting agent is a will-to-knowledge (and the knowledge it produces tends to have a distinctive, repetitive, compulsive character), The countersubversive demonological imagination, Rogin further observes, is often drawn to mimesis: in order to know the enemy, one must think like the enemy. Thus the extraordinary staying power of reactionary drag in American political life. The strangest thing about this mimesis is that it yields no empathy.


Carnival Evening
Henri Rousseau

September 01, 2015

Max Peiffer Watenphul
1896 - 1976


Fernando Pessoa: A Disputed Heteronym

Beyond Another Ocean
Notes by C. Pacheco
Translated by Chris Daniels

            To the memory of Alberto Caeiro

In a fevered feeling of being beyond another ocean
There were positions of a living more clear and limpid
And apparitions of a city of beings
Not unreal but livid with impossibility, sacred in purity and in nudity
I was the gateway to this null vision and the feelings were only the desire to have them
The notion of things beside themselves, each with their own inwardness
All were living in the life of remnants
And the mode of feeling was in the mode of living
But the form of those faces had the placidity of dew
Their nudity was a silence of forms without means of being
And there was wonder at all reality being only this
But life was life and it was only life

Often my thought works in silence
As smoothly as a greased machine moves without a sound
I feel good when it so moves and I immobilize
So as not to break the equilibrium that allows this to occur in me
I foresee that it is in these moments that my thought is clear
But I do not hear it and it works stealthily and in silence
Like a greased machine driven by a belt
And I can hear nothing but the serene sliding of the parts at work
Sometimes I recall that all other persons must feel the way I do
But they say it gives them a headache or causes dizziness
This recollection came to me as could any other
As for example the recollection that people do not feel the sliding
And they do not think what they do not feel


Feeling poetry is the supposed way for one to live
I do not feel poetry not because I do not know what it is
But because I cannot live supposedly
And if I managed it I would have to follow another way of conditioning myself
The condition of poetry is not to know how it is one senses it
There are beautiful things that are beautiful in themselves
But the inner beauty of feelings mirrors itself in things
And if they are beautiful we do not feel them

In the sequence of steps I cannot see more than the sequence of steps
And they follow as if I saw them really following each other
By the fact of them being so equal to each other
And since there is no sequence of steps that is not
I see no need to illude ourselves about the clear meaning of things
Otherwise we would have to believe that an inanimate body feels and sees differently from us
And by being too admissible this notion would be uncomfortable and futile

If we are able to cease movement and speech when we think
Is it necessary to suppose that things do not think
If this manner of seeing them is incoherent and easy on the wit?
We ought to suppose and this is the true way
That we think by the fact of our being able to do so without moving or speaking
As do inanimate things

My Motto Is: ‘Translation Fights Cultural Narcissism’
Chris Daniels in conversation with Kent Johnson

My Pessoa translations are just as much a heap of scraps as the contents of the famous trunk. While I certainly will be leaving out things here and there, I refuse, in the texts I do translate, to make any sweeping editorial decisions, which always distort the true nature of Pessoa’s heteronymic poetry by normalizing, condensing and cutting; I’m insisting that it be published in all its fissured confusion. Reading Pessoa in a critical edition can be maddening. He’s even more a poet of variants than Emily Dickinson. His celebrated clarity and simplicity are interspersed with false starts, incoherent marginalia, and drunken scrawl that threaten to overwhelm everything... So I allow the uneven, fragmentary odes of Campos to be uneven and fragmentary, and the unfinished poems by Caeiro to be unfinished. It’s only fair that Anglophones be able to experience Pessoa in a way that at least approaches the Lusophone experience. Until this is possible, our understanding of Pessoa will be deeply flawed and his stature as one of the truly great modernist poets will be perceived imperfectly.


Max Peiffer Watenphul


"Suffering is the sovereign common denominator":
Interview with Leon Niemoczynski, part 2


When it comes to the American pragmatists, for example, philosophical ecology, environmental aesthetics, theories of the body and sensation, theories concerning the environment, theories about habit and embodiment, are still undergoing transformation and change. A lot of what the American pragmatists (and process philosophers, and naturalists) were saying in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries helps to clarify those burgeoning contemporary areas of research happening today. Why not read, modify, and use them to new ends? I mean, just reading Peirce and then flipping to a book written by Deleuze or Meillassoux is a matter of translating the language, but a lot of the ideas and outlook are the same. What Peirce and Meillassoux cover with virtuality and contingency is nearly identical. Metaphysics in the American tradition has always been realist, naturalist, friendly to the rational and natural sciences, is process-oriented, and thus is a great lens certainly to help get clear on the issues of debate today. I would encourage anyone to just dig into some of these figures – especially Whitehead – and see what you find.


I think living with chronic pain has definitely allowed my thinking to encounter the "bleak" or darkest corners of existential – and even deeper than that, ontological – explanation about suffering itself. Well, there is no "explanation," just indifferent fact that in its own tones of address to humans, or to the living, is dark, within the realm of despair, suffering, agony, melancholy, depression, and bleakness. Just "depths" of agony and the lack of a universe answering back to an explanation for why, or how, suffering is the self-reinforcing motor for life.


I remember Hartshorne in an interview stating that unlike Schopenahauer he believed that "life in general is basically happy….[S]uffering is secondary and satisfaction primary in the lives of creatures." I disagree with this. This sort of talk, and I've heard this recently, says "Pain is good. It helps us remember we are alive." That's true but only partially true, and if you think that, then you haven't suffered severe pain. I think that this sort of thinking, what Hartshorne said, loses track of what is deeply tragic in the world. For me it directly links to the problem of evil. Pain and evil, suffering, are related.

"‘Perceptual universes’ abounding all around of us" :
Interview with Leon Niemoczynski, part 1

Speculum Criticum Traditionis
open letters on philosophical praxis

Leon Niemoczynski blogs at After Nature


Max Peiffer Watenphul


He speaks of myriapod thoughts. Of swarming thoughts, like a disturbed ant’s nest. He speaks of thoughts crawling on a thousand legs. He speaks of thoughts rushing through him like centipedes or millipedes.

He speaks of thoughts thought by chaos inside him. Of thoughts thought by madness inside him. He speaks of thoughts that shouldn’t be. Of thoughts in continuous SOS. He speaks of thoughts of agony that are the source of agony. Thoughts of pain that are themselves pain.


And what do they want, these thoughts? What do they ask for, these thoughts? What do they ask of him, from him? Are they what he must embrace if he wants to think like a philosopher? Are these philosophical thoughts that swarm inside him? Is it philosophy itself that crawls within him?

  -  Nietzsche And The Burbs

August 31, 2015


Charles Tomlinson


from The Return
Charles Tomlinson
1927 - 2015

            IV. The Fireflies

I have climbed blind the way down through the trees
(How faint the phosphorescence of the stones)
On nights when not a light showed on the bay
And nothing marked the line of sky and sea—
Only the beating of the heart defined
A space of being in the faceless dark,
The foot that found and won the path from blindness,
The hand, outstretched, that touched on branch and bark.
The soundless revolution of the stars
Brings back the fireflies and each constellation,
And we are here half-shielded from that height
Whose star-points feed the white lactation, far
Incandescence where the single star
Is lost to sight. This is a waiting time.
Those thirty, lived-out years were slow to rhyme
With consonances unforeseen, and, gone,
Were brief beneath the seasons and the sun.
We wait now on the absence of our dead,
Sharing the middle world of moving lights
Where fireflies taking torches to the rose
Hover at those clustered, half-lit porches,
Eyelid on closed eyelid in their glow
Flushed into flesh, then darkening as they go.
The adagio of lights is gathering
Across the sway and counter-lines as bay
And sky, contrary in motion, swerve
Against each other's patternings, while these
Tiny, travelling fires gainsay them both,
Trusting to neither empty space nor seas
The burden of their weightless circlings. We,
Knowing no more of death than other men
Who make the last submission and return,
Savour the good wine of a summer's night
Fronting the islands and the harbour bar,
Uncounted in the sum of our unknowings
How sweet the fireflies’ span to those who live it,
Equal, in their arrivals and their goings,
With the order and the beauty of star on star.

Charles Tomlinson obituary
Poet and translator who bridged the cultural gap between old and new worlds
Michael Schmidt

DH Lawrence was his witness that “all creative art must rise out of a specific soil and flicker with the spirit of place”, to which Tomlinson added: “Since we live in a time when place is threatened by the violence of change, the thought of a specific soil carries tragic implications.”

John Betjeman said: “I hold Charles Tomlinson’s poetry in high regard. His is closely wrought work, not a word wasted … ” For the American objectivist poet George Oppen, “it is [Tomlinson] and Basil Bunting who have spoken most vividly to American poets”. Tomlinson bridged the vast gulf between old and new world poetry, and was an heir equally of Dryden and Williams, Coleridge and Pound. His 16 collections of poetry, books of essays, translations and anthologies are a core resource for English writers and readers of the last half-century, yet he has been more honoured abroad than at home.


Repelled by prescriptions – formal, political, religious – he maintained an alert interest in other poetries and other arts: music, architecture, sculpture, painting. He was an accomplished graphic artist. And he never tired of travel in space and language, though he always homed to his cottage in Gloucestershire, and to an English enriched by his translations from the Russian of Fyodor Tyutchev, the Spanish of Antonio Machado, César Vallejo and Octavio Paz, the Italian of Giuseppe Ungaretti and others, and the French poets. Jacques Roubaud, Edoardo Sanguineti and Paz collaborated with him on Renga (1979), a poem in four languages. His translations represented a significant second body of poetic work.


Julian Alden Weir


Silence In The Library
Marie Elia

Naming is powerful. A name can be a gift or a burden. Choosing or discarding a name can make you feel free. A nickname can make you feel loved or crushed. What people call you shapes how you see yourself, and teaches you how to navigate the world. But the moment you name something, you limit the possibilities of what it can be. Librarians and archivists who catalog and describe collections have the great responsibility of choosing names for things that provoke interest and further understanding. We call this “creating access points” – little lights to guide you, from whichever direction you might approach. But what if the roads were built ages ago and are no longer passable? Or what if they lead in the wrong direction? The limits of language, particularly the specialized, slow-to-evolve jargon of cataloging librarians and archivists, can create more barriers than pathways. Naming a thing with the wrong words can cut off various paths; it can silence necessary questions. In a choose-your-own-adventure text, this would be the part where you would die, have to start over again and opt for a different route next time.

I’m an accidental archivist.


Lengthening Shadows
Julian Alden Weir