idol worship
August 23, 2014

Another month, another reading list. The summer is coming to a close, so I’ve been rushing to get through the last of my leisure reading before classes start next week. As much as I love the challenge of reading philosophy, I will certainly miss being able to dedicate a large portion of my waking hours to immersing myself in fiction and poetry. This month, I’ve been obsessed with a few writers in particular. 

Anne Carson:

Men in the Off Hours

Haruki Murakami:

A Wild Sheep Chase
Norwegian Wood

Jeanette Winterson:

The Passion
Written on the Body

Weight
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
The PowerBook

I will continue to read these three authors religiously, Winterson for the intensity of emotion that comes through in her writing and for her wonderfully queer characters, Murakami for his strangeness and disregard for the boundary between fantasy and reality, and Carson for her ability to mix academic scholarship with poetry in genre-defying ways. I know that I will have Carson to turn to when I am challenged to do work in philosophy while continuing to be a poet, and I am glad to have her words as a guide in my future writing endeavors.

If it’s pure, raw feeling you want, though, look no further than Winterson’s writing:

“This is where the story starts. Here, in these long lines of laptop DNA. Here we take your chromosomes, twenty-three pairs, and alter your height, eyes, teeth, sex. This is an invented world. You can be free just for one night.

Undress.
Take off you clothes. Take off your body. Hang them up behind the door. Tonight we can go deeper than disguise.

It’s only a story, you say. So it is, and the rest of life with it – creation story, love story, horror, crime, the strange story of you and I.

The alphabet of my DNA shapes certain words, but the story is not told. I have to tell it myself.

What is it that I have to tell myself again and again?

That there is always a new beginning, a different end.

I can change the story. I am the story.”

(from The PowerBook)

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meditations on first philosophy
July 4, 2013

(in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated)

“I will therefore make a serious and unimpeded effort to destroy generally all my former opinions.”
– Descartes, First Meditation: Concerning Things That Can Be Doubted

 

I’m setting out 
to disprove God.
Who am I? 
A trick of the light.
Look too hard, 
and I’m gone.

 

blank verse
May 12, 2011

Philosophical Fragments

I’ll tell you now what (I think) is most sure,
above all else and even beyond god:

This moment, now, is all that we can hold;
it’s all that is most real to searching hands.
And do not try to reach out past yourself,
for self alone is all that you can grasp.
Embrace it, hold it close to you, my love,
hold you to you and never let you go,
and I, by all the most unchanging things,
I swear to keep me close to that in me
which most of all is mine and me myself,
and so, when we in double sureness touch,
your self and I can know we are, in truth.
So kindle your own deepest eager youness,
and in the moment, I would have you glow
so I will see the trueness that is you.

So wander wild if you must
and stretch out past yourself to find the World,
but know that when absurdities and terrors
haunt the night and when you’ve lost whatever
truth you thought you had, know that
you are always there within yourself –
know that such a loss is just a way
of losing self to self and heart to mind
and know that in your labyrinthine soul,
you are the path of every maze you walk.

an ars poetica
April 5, 2011

As a student of philosophy in the newly forming post-postmodernist epoch, it is hard not to question the purpose and value of writing poetry.  What “work” is my poetry attempting to do?  What work should it be doing?  Does it need to do any work at all?  Does its meaning reach beyond the bounds of my necessarily subjective authorial point of view?  Does it need to reach beyond those bounds to have meaning for me and a different, though no less significant, meaning for others?  These are the types of questions I run into.

I will admit my greatest fear as a poet to you: I am afraid that my poetry has no purpose outside of myself.  In asking these philosophical questions about the purpose and meaning of poetry, I am struggling with the possibility that while the act of writing poetry may have great personal significance for me, the poems themselves, when sent out into the world, do nothing.  I am afraid that the beauty, complexity, and the deep emotional resonance in my poems exists only for me, the poet.  And it may be that as I age and change, the poems of my adolescence will lose their meaning, even for me, and simply become empty words put together by a naive teenager who thought they sounded good.

I am afraid, then, of an inability to reveal and explore certain universal, timeless, and essentially human themes in and through poetry.  Postmodernists tell me that such themes do not exist.  They tell me that every experience is inevitably subjective, relative, hemmed in by the bounds of its time and place.  “God is dead;” grand overarching themes that give our lives a sense of direction and purpose have been shot down; the gun is in the hands of Foucault and his contemporaries.

Despite the force of the postmodernist argument, I cannot deny my feeling that there is something we all have in common as humans, something that cannot be written off as a product of imperialist western thought.  Shakespeare wrote of love, and challenged us: “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”  And has anyone proven the error yet?  Has anyone risen to proclaim, “No, Shakespeare, your conception of love and your portrayal of it in poetry does not speak to my own human experience.  You are in error.  I have never loved.  So be it!”  I repeat his challenge; let the man who has never loved speak now.

Poetry is a tuning fork.  The poet carefully constructs it so that, when the tines are struck, it rings out and gives sound to a true, clear note.  Within every human, there is an infinity of strings, stretched to their fullest extent, and we pluck them from time to time and let a music flow out of our being into the world, and when a poem is brought close to us and sounds its note, a part of us resonates and sings out, in tune with the poem.  Perhaps we do not all possess the same strings.  Perhaps we are all tuned differently.  But can I deny that the poems that I hold closest to myself are those that make me think, “I have known this feeling in myself, as this poet once did, and knowing our commonality, our shared humanity, makes this feeling all the more beautiful.  It makes my being sing”?  Can I deny this?  Never.

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, said in his novel, Timequake, that “a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.”  The best poetry does this.  It makes us aware of things that exist both outside of us and because of us, of things that make us human and that we as humans make.  These are the things that give our lives meaning; they let us know that there is more to our limited experiences than purely subjective knowledge.  We are a part of something greater than ourselves; poetry shows us this.  It sounds a chord within us that we cannot mute.

free verse
March 1, 2011

In the Night (when philosophy is all we have left)

In a dream, you asked me what I was doing.
“Versifying the unspeakable,” I answered
(poetically, dramatically, ever so theatrically).
Your dimples started showing when you laughed at me;
I shouted that Plato
wouldn’t have been such an asshole
(surely, not silently, certain undeniably).
And then, because this is what dreaming is for,
I saw you for yourself
and nothing more.
I saw the secret nature of your very human heart
(and Hobbes would have liked what I saw there).
I saw the
(civilized methodized habituated theorized)
aura of the World as we know it
back away from your brain
leaving nothing
but this animal who lives in my dreaming,
crouching with the other primates in the dark.
“Who’s laughing now?!” I shouted,
but your dimples weren’t showing this time.
And the Form of Plato,
casting shadows in the dark,
floated by, scratched you behind your ear,
shook my hand, and
(magically, quietly, without doubt, verifiably)
winked and disappeared.

I woke up then and,
feeling oh so generous despite your dimples,
gave your Humanity back to you
as you slept, snoring, in the night,
the form of your Form familiar
to the inner nature
of my very human heart,
beating out a rhythm in the dark.

Albert Camus and the lyrical
February 27, 2011

The title of my blog is taken from Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, published in 1956, the year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  The narrator of the piece, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, is at one point describing drifting in a boat around the islands of Greece, and stops himself, saying, “Hold on, I, too, am drifting; I am becoming lyrical!  Stop me, cher, I beg you” (97).  Despite this momentary aversion to lyricism, there are many instances in the novel that struck me as lyrical, even, ironically, the narrator’s astonishment at his own lyricism.  I wanted to share some of those instances with the hope of sparking others’ interest in Camus’ writing.

“It always seemed to me that our fellow citizens had two passions: ideas and fornication.” (6)

“Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in this darkness.” (12)

“I have never felt comfortable except in lofty places.” (23)

“I never had to learn how to live.” (27)

“I was made to have a body.” (28)

“Something must happen – and that explains most human commitments.  Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death.  Hurray then for funerals!” (37)

“In a general way, I like all islands.  It is easier to dominate them.” (43)

“Ah, this dear old planet!  All is clear now.  We know ourselves; we know of what we are capable.” (45)

“We are all exceptional cases.” (81)

“…modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress.”  (84)

“I have never been really able to believe that human affairs were serious matters.” (86)

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing.  It’s not navigation but dreaming.” (97)

“But the keenest of human torments is to be judged without a law.” (117)

“Truth, like light, blinds.  Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” (120)

“My great idea is that one must forgive the pope.  To begin with, he needs it more than anyone else.  Secondly, that’s that only way to set oneself above him…” (127)

“False judges are held up to the world’s admiration and I alone know the true ones.” (130)

“…the portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror.” (140)

“What can one do to become another? Impossible.” (144)

“It’s too late now.  It will always be too late.  Fortunately!” (147)

(all quotes from: Camus, Albert. The Fall. trans. Justin O’Brien. Vintage International, 1991.)

Poetry: a new service of Carleton’s social thought department
February 2, 2011

Yes, I have started a poetry blog.  Don’t judge.  That is to say, don’t judge me for the fact that I have chosen to not only write poetry but also share it.  Really, the blog’s subtitle says it all.  You can judge the poems themselves all you want.  Comment to your little heart’s desire.  In the midst of all the judgment, though, I hope that you do take some time to enjoy reading the poems and the inevitable philosophical musings that will accompany them.