Monday, March 25, 2013

The Rabbit Hole of Argument

     Recently, while working on a paper, I came across a problem: argument is a difficult task to do well and do thoroughly. I believe I am good at argument. I have been creating what I believe to be effective arguments for quite some time. However, if one resists the urge to create a polemic, and one endeavors to do the question at hand justice, argument becomes arduous. Ups become downs, lefts become rights, and at the end of your paper even though you are saying the same things you are saying them differently. You may have convinced yourself of the opposite polemic, you may have found something else that catches your eye in the argument, you may not know where the hell you are.

     So how does one combat this? Its hard to out-think yourself. Even harder is it to contend with your own cleverness. A good argument is like shadow boxing in a mirror except that the person in the mirror is real. If you construct your argument well enough you will win, but chances are if the argument is that one sided that victory is the goal, then you are only defeating yourself.

     This may sound strange, I know, but I have come to the conception that one needs an argument that ends in illumination instead of  definitive conclusion. A definitive conclusion is binary, has an opposite, and that opposite can be argued with anything, refuted with anything, including ignorance. If you say, definitively, that x=y you automatically leave out the possibilities that x could equal anything else at all. No matter how good your argument is, no matter how all encompassing your argument is, you leave out possibilities.

     Science is a place where argument has absolutes. Earth has gravity, things fall down, the end. But could there be a case where this is not true? Perhaps not, but perhaps yes. People thought that, without a doubt, large boulders in certain areas of the planet where left by the great flood. You know, the one with Noah. Well wouldn't you know it people eventually found out that Ice Ages were the cause? Large flowing rivers of ice, glaciers, came and carried things, grated against mountains, and left deposits.Things changed. Science changes. That's what the word theory means. Theory is a well tested hypothesis that seems irrefutable. They use the word theory because it is mostly proven, but there could always be another possibility. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if this years science fiction will be next years science fact.

     So where do we go from here? Where do I go really? I am somewhat talking to myself. I hope you are listening. Well, we go to a place where our conclusions seem strong, but allow themselves to be illuminating rather than finite. This is hard to do when constructing a good argument but it should be where good argument leads. Those arguments that I have found most revealing and most explosive are the ones where the explication speaks for itself, and the author takes no definite path down a "side" to create a polemic. Instead those great authors let what they say speak for itself. They hand you the magnifying glass and say "see, look! it's right there" instead of painting you a picture. Reading articles like that always leaves me electrified, like I had discovered something incredible on my own instead of being led there by a bridal.

    If all I have said about argument is true, one thing is also true: I have a longer way to go down this path than I originally thought. Going back and re-reading the argument I am currently creating I see so many more possibilities, so many avenues, and so many more voices that would help add to my own and, in turn, refute my own. Its going to be hard to go out on this limb, but the prize seems worth the risk.

Good arguing Loafers....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Baudelaire on Poe

Mr.Poe, Where Is America?

In a class on Gothic literature in America it is inevitable that you will read Edgar Poe. Although the class I am currently in only takes a cursory glance at Mr.Poe, it was enough to embroil my imagination. Reading many of Poe's stories led me to ask the question "where is America?" Poe sets his locations in Europe. His most enchanting and prolific protagonist, Dupin, is a Frenchman and the "Pit and the Pendulum" is set in Spain. Yet it was reading Poe's ""The Man of the Crowd" coupled with a wonderful essay by Robert Byer, that made me search for more about Poe and specifically led me to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire translated much of Poe's work into French and was an ardent defender of Poe's work. In his essay "Further Notes on Edgar Poe" he touches on many subjects. Most exquisite is his reading of America and why it was, at the time, not a fertile ground for the Imagination. Much of the rhetoric has to do with Baudelaire's own stance against "progress" but much of what Baudelaire says makes sense in the culture created in the industrial revolution and the culture expressed in "The Man of The Crowd". Industrial capitalism coupled with democratic identity simply does not leave room for the realm of the imagination to flourish. This needs to be unpacked and perhaps defended more than I am willing to do in an informal forum such as my own blog. Sufficed to say, what is meant is that Poe sought alien scenery for his tales because America was a hostile ground for his exact tales.

Baudelaire states that in America "it will always be difficult to pursue at once nobly and fruitfully the profession of man of letters without laying oneself open to the slander and calumny of the impotent" and that "what is difficult enough in a benevolent monarchy or a regular republic becomes well-nigh impossible  in a kind of nightmare chaos in which everyone is a police-constable of opinion and keeps order one behalf of his own vices--or of his virtues" (101). He then goes on to list the problems with the American state including pious hypocrisy, slave owning scandal, and bohemianism. These issues shied Poe away from engaging his tales on American soil. Nathaniel Hawthorne even confined most of his stories to New England--and in many of them subjects such as the crushing of the Native American, or the brutality of the slave trade--are virtually invisible. So Poe, who wanted to engage in ideas of the mind and radical ideas of modernity, was put upon to use another climate: Europe.

In tales that take place in Europe, Poe could explore the creation of the uncanny. Europe has a dense and long history. Thus Poe could explore the idea of progress, of the old and the new clashing, of replacement, in a climate that had been experiencing it for years.However there could be even more reason, or no reason at all, why Poe would refuse many of his stories the setting that was his birthplace. Yet, noticing at least that Poe had chosen against America, can lead one to ask the question of why.

In my own project over the next few months, I intend to tackle this question and have been led to some insightful materials on the subject. Stay tuned, whoever it is that reads this blog!

Baudelaire, Charles. Trans. Mayne, Jonathan. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays by Charles Baudelaire. London, England: Phaidon Publishers Inc. 1964. Print.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I haven't written in this blog for probably well over a year and a half and not for lack of things to say. It seems to me that, though I love poetry and could now create a vary viable collection of criticism on Wallace Stevens, I need to do more than just criticism to keep me writing. I need a place to openly field ideas. Perhaps a place to talk about what I am currently working on or reading or whatever. 

So why not this blog? Why stick to one thing? I began thinking that the life of an academic was creating a body of work that could speak for you. Something along the lines of "so and so's reading of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest shows their natural talent for close reading and attention to America's post colonial discourse". Yet after spending some time in a graduate program, and observing one of my professors who is often on social media, I have come to the conclusion its more about the conversation and less about the speech.

So what does this mean for this blog? Well, it means several things. First I will be more regularly  posting my ideas on not just literature, but the state of education, the state of the world, and the state of my state. Secondly I may start using this as a grounds to air ideas about what I am currently working on--this means its gonna get sloppy--and what is currently on my mind. Thirdly, I will still analyze literature and put up some critical ideas on poetry, but this may be the back burner.

Hopefully changing my ideas about what this blog is all about will get me writing again. If anyone is reading this then thank you, feel free to comment whether positive or negative, and stay classy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Final Whitman Project

The notation on this one should say "Whitman's speech goes where..." I goofed.

Now go and Release your Barbaric YAWP!!!!!

Final Thoughts:

What can i say, i mean what can i say? I don't really know. I wish i had had more time to go to virtual office hours but, unfortunately, they were during another class i had. Umm. Shit, Well i like the format of blogs.I think being able to say what you think in a less-academic environment was really beneficial to our learning process. I wish it had been more cohesive and more community based. Group work is tough i know, but the feedback i got from other students throughout the semester was awesome. When someone reads your blog it feels like you were offered the last slice of pizza at a birthday party: it feels fucking great.

Smaller class size. Wow, i know that aint happening. But i think with a class like this that is set up in a way to have a great community potential. A smaller class size would rock. Maybe even make it a seminar course. OOOOH, that would be slick.

I woulda liked maybe more time on other american poets (not frost though, seriously, frost is more played out than that Gotye song right meow) . Sandburg was cool, levine was cool, ginsberg is always cool. Its not that Whitman doesn't have a large enough body of work to look at, and its not that he is so simple that we plowed right through it but it is more of a matter of fatigue. His lines sprawl across the page and his lists are sometimes tautologically numbing. Still love the guy, but serious.

More twenty five dollar words. Here is one for free from me to you. Aposiopesis: When  a sentence is deliberately broken off in the middle and left unfished.

Thanks for the Great Semsters Hanley, have had some great classes with you. I graduate to morrow. See you all in h....

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Whitmanian Friends

Well my Whitmanian Friends, the semester is comign to a close. I will ost my final project up on this blog but after that it will no longer be a Whitman blog. I intend for it to become a "poetry" blog, since i read a lot of poetry. Would like it to be communal too, with comments and feedback. If you would like to say something, add something, disagree, be disgusted, amused, depraved, anything, here is the place.

I will eventual post the first analysis but probably only after the final project is posted here. Thanks for a great semester.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lebowski, Sigur, McDunnough, Whitman

Well I can't get the images to sync up the way i want so fuck it!

       So what do Lebowski, Sigur, McDunnough and Whitman have in common? Well they all belong to narrative structures that are trying to figure out what American life is all about. Whitman is the creator of one of those narratives and the other three are the created.. 

So lets get into some sweet deets. I won't lie to you, it has been a while since i have seen these three movies, but i got an iron trap upstairs and i have seen them many a time.

Instead of boring you with an in depth analysis of each character or at least a analysis of what they represent i am gonna lump it together. If you have questions or want me to expand on a train of thought, comment. 

The Cohens choose stories that try to explain and shape america. In "Raising Arizona" we see a common lower class family trying to be a family. They get mixed up with the higher classes and hijinks happen. Raising Arizona is really a commentary on class, and social structure in america. It also explores the facets of wealth and life and how to live in the country with next to nothing. 

This same thing is explicated in "The Big Lebowski. The significance of money is played up, class warfare is played up, and different ideas of identity are played up. Lebowski is a symposium of the clashing of american values and ideas of the 20 years leading up to it. Vietnam, desert storm, nihilism, bad art, the eighties. It is a spewing forth of that esoteric culture that comes from the insanely rich and the insanely poor that inhabit the desert down by that shady oasis they call L.A.

No Country for Old Men is true to the book written by McCarthy. But even then, and this is why i add this, even then it is simply a study on how the world is changing. How America is no longer simple, and no longer pure, but instead has horrors in the night. Money, once again plays a large roll. Antone Sigur represents the ultimate unknowlable. The ultimate other. Foriegn, powerful, malicious, deadly and sadistic he has his own code of laws he sticks to. His morality is not ours. It is a movie (and book) of accepting that we cannot know everything. That things change and leave us behind.. 

So what does this have to do with Whitman?

Whitman tried to capture all of America, and so do the Cohens. 

Sure if you are a base degenerate you think about how Lebowski loafs and leans. Sure that's a point to make. Yet more poignant is that Lebowski navigates a land of delusional and shifting America. He tires to live his life his own way, a very American way, but the horrors of war have split his nation. He is Whitmanian in that sense (post civil war). Furthermore he collects aspects of America around him on his journey, The Rich, the abstract artist, the Vietnam vet, the bowling buddy, the fledgling dancing landlord, all these characters and caricatures of hope.

Raising Arizona is a play on the nuculer family. No Country is a haunting look at the dark under belly of corporate greed and violence.

All these things emobdy America, and thats what Whitman tried to do.

Im sorry, but i am done for today. No Editing. Sorry if it is sloppy. Good day, 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Poetry, Yes

It has been a bit since my last post. I don't know why. There were things that needed blogging about certainly. Perhaps it was some sort of inexplicable funk that left me wordless and write-less as well.

This week our class will be discussing Sandburg and Rukeyser and, though part of the Sandburg group, i found myself wanting to delve deeper into Sandburg than perhaps we can in the allotted time. First and foremost i have always been a Sandburg fan. His poetry is concise, imagistic, beautiful, and real. He is a Whitmanian poet, there is no doubt. The alussions to Whitman and his symbolism are dotted throughout the poetic landscape of Sandburg. Yet that isn't really what i want to talk about. I'd rather talk about the differences. A one Professor Hanley had said that those differences may be more intriguing to look at than those similarities.

First Thoughts:

In 1855 edition of Leaves Of Grass we have the Preface in which Whitman explains to us why America must not only accept his poetry but understand that there is a new language of America, and there is the birth and coming impotence of the American bard. Whitman uses this preface to set the reader int he right mood to accept his poetry.

A line provides a small summary "I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or origionality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains" (viii).

Whitman is as he is throughout the book, He seeks to pull the reader in and destroy the artifice of poetry that he feels creates a barrier between him and the reader. Nor does he believe his style, his "originality" will cause a barrier either. He believes precisely that he has created a style of poetry in which one can be brought in right up and understand him at a fundamental level.

The book then continues on with "Song of Myself" in which Whitman brings us to him and he shows us, like Virgil to Dante, America and himself. He has worries about being comprehensible throughout the poem and he tries to bring us closer and closer.

His project and Sandburg's are alike in that Whitman focuses on some aspects of Americans but the difference is that while Whitman is setting up a mythology of the American Bard who speaks about America, Sandburg is instead exploring, expanding, and explaining the mythology of The People.


"'The people is a myth, an abstraction.'
And what myth would you put in place
of the people?
And what abstraction would you exchange
for this one?
And when has creative man not toiled
deep in myth?


'Precisely who and what is the people?'
Is this far off from asking what is grass?
what is salt? what is the sea? what is

Here Sandburg recognizes that there are metaphysical perplexities involved with his and Whitman's projects. He furthermore directly aligns his project with Whitman's by showing and creating a metaphorical connection between their two primary questions. They are tackling a similar question, but where Whitman uses nature metaphorically to represent much of what he is trying to figure out Sandburg shows us that he will not hide the subject his is talking about in this way.

Sandburg understands that he is creating a mythology of the people or at least collecting the mythology of the people and showing it to us in his art form. Whitman was trying to create an institution of American poetry. Whitman was creating the figure of the American bard. Sandburg cannot recreate Whitman's project but understands the fundamental similarities between what they are trying to accomplish. Sandburg is conflicted. How does one make space for oneself in the cannon when you come to the realization that you are trying to figure out the same problem as a predecessor ( Harold Bloom has some interesting essays on this topic)?

Well you do what Sandburg has done, you recognize that previous work, and though you may love it, you reject it.

Whitman had told us that he wouldn't let his poetry have assets that rest like a curtain between us and him. Yet near eighty years later Sandburg shows us that some of Whitman's metaphors may indeed get in the way of us and him. The question about the grass may as well be a question about the people. We are the 29th bather and we are the people, yes.   Yet instead of writing to create the new American bard as Whitman had done, Sandburg writes for the people, and to show the people.

These are some ideas that aren't fully formed yet. Only more reading of each poet could truly fortify them. But from what i have read this is one of those things that seems to speak to me. I am not saying that Whitman never wrote for the people, or about them, but his intentions were slightly different than Sandburgs when it came to the people.

I'm sure i will eat my words on some of this or edit it at a later date but we shall see.