Thursday, May 12, 2016

A preview of things to come

I wouldn't blame you if you thought this blog was defunct. I treated it as such.

Well, I'm bringing it back. I'm not going to lay out what it is, exactly, but this may prove useful.

Foucault and Deleuze in conversation, 1972

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stillborn Poetics

As I've had the damnedest time returning to this blog after a long hiatus, I'm abandoning the poetics series as initially conceived. The more work I put into it, the more it seemed to balloon in necessary length, and I just do not have the time or energy to write a dissertation-length study of these figures and the mythological apparatuses they used in their poetry.

I'll still be writing posts about poetry, perhaps even delving into the things I've mentioned, but I cannot do it in a systematic fashion. That is far too ambitious for this blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I apologize to readers for my inactivity over the past month, though doubtless some viewed my silence with relief. As the semester comes to its conclusive whimper, I'll be finally following up on those promised entries in the poetics series.

In the meantime, you can check out my appearance on Phil Sandifer's delightful podcast.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Miscellany 2: Coming Soon and Remarks on Prosody

Expect a riveting post on Levertov's enjambment!
Look, another one of these! But more tightly focused.

Upcoming Poetics Series
I'm still hammering away at ideas for a series of posts about poets, poetry, and poetics. I hope to come out with one soonish, but I'm starting with Robert Graves, and haven't been reading the White Goddess in long enough chunks to slog through the damn thing. 

I was originally going to restrict the series to a study of personal mythology and poetics, specifically Graves and his White Goddess, Yeats and A Vision, and D. H. Lawrence and Apocalypse. Now it threatens to be observations and commentary on all kinds of poets, poetry, and poetics. I even have thoughts on prosody! But I'll probably still start with the original idea. 

More than likely, given the queasy political associations of those poets, I'll probably delve into what Rexroth after Joseph Freeman called the "fascist unconscious" common to many modernists of the first half of the 20th c., which'll require me to reread Simon Casey's interesting (if not entirely persuasive) study of anarchist elements in Lawrence's work, Naked Liberty and the World of Desire, which certainly complicates the more common identification of Lawrence as a proto-fascist. My intuition is that the tension in Lawrence's work between anarchism and fascism, and his fidelity as an artist, is part of why his work remains important to me in a different way than that of other politically unsavory poets like Pound or Eliot.

It occurs to me that Robert Duncan's H.D. Book would fit as well. Oy. This threatens to turn into the basis for a thesis or dissertation, and I have no intention of following it that far.

Some Observations and Remarks on Prosody
a. Stress accent in the English speech stream is not binary but scalar. The most common way to capture this quality, following Jespersen, is with a scale of four, from lightest to heaviest. A good example word would be superimposition:
 su | per | im | po | si | tion
  4 |    1 |    3 |   1  | 2 | 1
(Really hard to get the spaces to line up. Sorry.)

Unfortunately, having inherited our prosody from quantitative verse (where the meter is based on vowel duration) and awkwardly applied it to cover stress accents, we often think in binary terms. To my ear superimposition sounds like three trochees, but each foot weaker than the last. But it's difficult to talk about these gradations within the language of traditional prosody.

b. Syntax, somewhat restricted in analytic languages such as English, affects the distribution and degree of stress accent within a speech stream. For us poets who respect line breaks when reading, we could count the line as a distinct speech stream.

In principle, one should be able to predict how syntax will distribute (and to what degree) the stresses within a line, though individual variation must be allowed for.

A good understanding of the relation between syntax and stress accent can allow a poet to turn plodding old iambic pentameter to uses outside the sing-song shit.

This is why I can admit that Robert Frost, a poet whose work I don't enjoy, was able to write metrically regular lines that more closely approximated natural speech than many modernists who aimed to capture it in free verse. This is his greatest technical achievement. Of course, a combination of plain speaking, metrical regularity, end-rhyme, and a pastoral theme can also be a potent sleep-aid. Blank verse serves Frost's fusion of natural speech and iambic pentameter particularly well as the elimination of end-rhyme is a prophylactic against sing-song reading.

b. Or at least it should be—contemporary readers unaccustomed to reading poetry aloud seem to find a way to read damn near anything in a sing-song intonation.

Trying to get away from sing-song intonation is a major motivation behind breaking out of the strict iambic. Thus free verse.

c. Speaking of, I think poets who write in free verse would be rewarded by the study of prosody, even the deficient prosody we've inherited. Being aware of all the musical techniques at one's disposal can help avoid enjambed prose atrocities like Bukowski's poem Bluebird. The best free verse always has a strong sense of music. See Tim Seibles for a very musical but stridently free line.

d. Seibles, a poet I studied under and count as an important friend and mentor, also has a good ear for the tension between natural speech and verse. If a natural intonation is carried too far, it can become as musically dull as a merely functional prose line. His line breaks do just that—break the speech stream, and therefore emphasize the internal music of the line. At a reading, the effect is obvious. That dogged respect for the break is a defining feature of his readings. I'm an ardent advocate too due to my tutelage under him.

e. Of course, one can emphasize one or the other as needed for the poem. Tim also retains a lot of natural intonation in reading his poetry. But the line breaks interrupt the stream enough to make the boundaries of the line clear.

f. All this talk of prosody said, I should not be taken as a New Formalist. I have no interest in some kind of programmatic return to traditional forms. If anything I'm a modernist. All the early modernists had a sense for prosody and an interest in expanding the musical repertoire of English verse.

g. Allen Ginsberg spent a lot of time thinking about Pound's prosody in the Cantos. He claimed that Pound was striving for a truly quantitative meter, measuring a line by the duration of its vowels. Pound did have a great ear, so it doesn't seem impossible to me. English does have some contrastive vowel duration, despite our intuitions. You'd probably think of diphthongs first, or vowels before sonorants (nasals: m, n, ng; liquids: l, r), but there's more to it than that. Compare bat with bad, bit with bid, and bet with bed. The vowel before the voiced stop is longer.

So it's conceivable that one could manage a quantitative line in English, but it seems like an arduous process whose results might be so subtle as to resemble the inaudible regularity of syllabic verse—which sounds to our iambic ears like free verse.

h. I'm trying to work with accentual verse now. More on that later.

i. Lines almost never occur to me in pentameter. Tetrameter and trimeter are the natural lengths of my process for some reason. I haven't a clue why. To write pentameter, I always have to add something in that wasn't part of the initial discovery of the line.

I'll get back to this stuff in a later post.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pound on Perri

Take the serious side of Disney, the Confucian side of Disney. It’s in having taken an ethos, as he does in Perri, that squirrel film, where you have the values of courage and tenderness asserted in a way that everybody can understand. You have got an absolute genius there. You have got a greater correlation of nature than you have had since the time of Alexander the Great.
 – Ezra Pound, Paris Review Interview

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Backwards, Forwards

First, I'd like to congratulate everyone involved on the launch of Eruditorum Press. Now you can get Phil Sandifer, Jane Campbell, Jack Graham, and Pex Lives all in one place. I've updated my links list to reflect this exciting development.

Second, Shabcast 10 is up! Three solid hours of conversation with the intelligent, funny, inimitable Jack Graham of increasing Shabogan Graffiti fame. It's received some positive responses on social media, so I imagine you'll enjoy it. I may try to follow up on some things mentioned in the podcast, especially those places where I was less than clear.

It's also a late response to Kevin and James hoping to bait me and Jack into an anarchism vs. Marxism debate way back in the Hammer Frankenstein episode of Pex Lives. It turns out we get along famously, so my pals at Pex Lives can go screw. Oh, and hating the Caretaker is a sign of character and sound judgment. Recognizing the substantial overlap between Marxists and anarchists, especially in these beleaguered times for the radical left, is worthwhile. That's not to say the differences are unimportant, but it's not going to be my focus in addressing capitalism (in my small way), first because I find sectarian debate often tiresome, and second because I already had an internal debate on the subject years ago when I moved from Marxism to anarchism. Each are plural anyway, so teasing out the differences between libertarian Marxists and communist-anarchists (to name two of the closest) seems an exercise in angel-counting.

Besides, I've already rented out too much space in my brain to gothic horror and 1970s children's television, so I'm probably no longer capable of debate. Christ, how did I end up here? knowing more about Peter Cushing credits than points of divergence in rival Maoist groupuscules.

Four paragraphs in, and I haven't gotten to the point: Jack has a wonderful new post up, so go read it. I'm going to address only the last few paragraphs, but that shouldn't be taken to mean the rest isn't important to his argument. I'm just going to be focusing on a few aspects of it in connection with some things I've been thinking about lately.

I have a weakness for dusty old things and mouldy literature more in keeping with being an apolitical small c conservative than a supposed radical. Yesterday I got to hold an Anglo-Saxon coin from the reign of Edgar I, and I found it exciting as hell. I don't know why I should. It was a small, lightweight, insubstantial little thing, misshapen and crude. None of the gleaming practicality of a modern nickel, something with more bearing on my survival than the ugly, unimportant little thing I regarded and touched with the reverence due a holy relic. I'm overstating that reverence, of course, but I don't give my loose change a thought when I handle it.

Different too was my reaction to handling some Third Reich pennies minted in 1938. Hardly a Luger or an SS uniform, just small things as insubstantial as the Anglo-Saxon coin or the nickel in my pocket, but Christ, the horror of touching it. An object from a brutality much less remote than medieval England, and thereby felt more acutely.

But that brings me back to the nickel, a coin minted by a government responsible for some terrible crimes in my own lifetime. It's rather like the old point made by phenomenologists that what is closest to you is the hardest to see. The coin of an empire that counts me as a citizen passes from my hand without comment or thought. (To anticipate a reaction: I am not pulling a Godwin's Law here.)

So part of what generates the horror in touching the Nazi penny is not only in its nearness, but its distance. It's easier to see than the Anglo-Saxon or American coins. It's a kind of metaphorical maximum grip (to abuse a concept from Merleau-Ponty). I am ideally situated in respect to the penny for it to show up as an object of horror. The nickel, too close, shows up for me only in its being as practical equipment to further other ends, and Edgar's coin, too distant, shows up as an artifact, an end in itself for my appreciation and reverence. I suppose if I were a dealer in antiquities I'd appraise it from the standpoint of the artifact's market value, but I never look at old things in that way.

To avoid the danger of any of these coins becoming the Zahir, I'll turn again to Jack's post.

There's a point where we can go from recognizing brutality in the past to projecting modern brutality into the past. The strain of fantasy we see in Game of Thrones has brutality as its major theme. I remember coming across this post and thinking it had a good point: GoT has a lot more to do with colonialism than with feudalism. I'm interested in hearing what Jack might have to say about this as it's got a double edge to it: you could see such a move as progressive if it uses the projection of modern brutality into an imagined world with the trappings of medieval history as a way of criticizing that very recent horror (making it distant and easier to see), or as a potentially reactionary normalization of the brutality of the last few centuries by suggesting it's an essential fact of human nature and not the consequence of specific social relations and material history. I'm not familiar enough with Martin's work to make a judgment on this account—I've only seen the show and have a lot of distaste for it, similar to my issues with Walking Dead (to give a near-SF parallel), so I'm not the best judge.

What often interest me in the European Middle Ages are the conspicuous ruptures in its history, contrary to the popular narrative we've received from the victorious bourgeoisie depicting it as a monolithic church-state union setting a tone and not abating until Martin Luther's constipation caused the Reformation. Things were a lot weirder than we often recognize. For a radical perspective on these ruptures, you can look to books like Kenneth Rexroth's Communalism, Raoul Vaneigem's Resistance to Christianity (both in the links list) and Movement of the Free Spirit, and even Kropotkin's Mutual Aid. You have all these strange instances of communalism popping up throughout the period, sometimes contemporaneous with the quiet stirrings of what would become the bourgeoisie, and being in the medieval period, often framed in religious language. All of this could be overstated, and of course the protagonists of these communalist struggles were all defeated and the normal order restored, but there's still a shock of anachronism when we read about them.  

History in the gothic is a bit trickier than in SF and fantasy, I think. The gothic can be haunted by the past (numerous examples) or the future (Frankenstein is modern, after all), or one in the guise of the other (as in Moretti's reading of Dracula). That's part of its appeal and power. Folk horror (and despite the hype on the blogosphere, and being a concept coming from Mark Gatiss, I do think it's a legitimate genre distinction) has its own duality at times. In the paradigm example, The Wicker Man, you have the horror of a revived pre-Christian paganism, but damned if I and most of my friends don't have more sympathy for the pagan islanders than for the Christian cop.

How did we get here? To the capitalocene extinction as Jack calls it, to the technic (Gestell), to the constant instability of our age, to the world and human being as resource (Bestand)? It's an incessant question, cropping up in progressive and conservative contexts as people feel increasingly untethered but not liberated. So we turn to history to find the guilty party. Some philosophers go back as far as Plato and lay the blame on the invention of metaphysics, though that was itself the consequence of a change already underway before Plato and his puppet Socrates. Is it Descartes instead? He's certainly responsible for a lot of what I'd consider bad philosophy. But we could look materially, and identify it as the capitalism, itself sprung from the soil of feudalism as institutional consequence or as elaboration of the dialectic, your pick. Or it's the industrial revolution, or it's the invention of agriculture, or even the human phenomenon of language as some primitivists will tell you. I think this question is the founding question of the Neopagan movement, where the locus is identified as the conquest by monotheism. Sometimes it's in the service of positing a golden age and a subsequent fall from grace. Many people have a sense of a wrong turn in history. For conservatives, it's the outrage of increased social equality, for progressives, the recognition despite that increased equality, we are still subjects of capitalism, and capitalism has a history, an origin.

We don't have to go as far as the medieval period to find a candidate for the wrong turn. We can look at the 20th c.—it's familiar enough in the way most anarchists mourn the Spanish Revolution. The sense of loss as located in the recent past seems to permeate all of hauntology in its various guises today as blogosphere philosophy, academic and critical fad, or musical genre. Mark Fisher, in his book Ghosts of My Life, identifies it as a longing for lost futures, a distinctly progressive counterpart to nostalgia:
Haunting, then, can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or—and this can sometimes amount to the same thing—the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. The spectre will not allow us to settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism. 
What's at stake in 21st century hauntology is not the disappearance of a particular object. What has vanished is a tendency, a virtual trajectory. 
. . . 
Popular modernism was by no means a completed project, some pristine zenith that needed no further improvement. In the 1970s, certainly, culture was opened up to working-class inventiveness in a way that is now scarcely imaginable to us; but this was also a time when casual racism, sexism and homophobia were routine features of the mainstream. Needless to say, the struggles against racism and (hetero)sexism have not in the meantime been won, but they have made significant hegemonic advances, even as neoliberalism has corroded the social democratic infrastructure which allowed increased working class participation in cultural production. The disarticulation of class from race, gender and sexuality has in fact been central to the success of the neoliberal project—making it seem, grotesquely, as if neoliberalism were in some way a precondition of the gains made in anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist struggles. 
What is being longed for in hauntology is not a particular period, but the resumption of the processes of democratisation and pluralism for which Gilroy calls. Perhaps it's useful to remind ourselves here that social democracy has only become a resolved totality in retrospect; at the time, it was a compromise formation, which those on the left saw as a temporary bridgehead from which further gains could be won. What should haunt us is not the no longer of actually existing social democracy, but the not yet of the futures that popular modernism trained us to expect, but which never materialised. These spectres—the spectres of lost futures—reproach the formal nostalgia of the capitalist realist world.  
This casting back into the past for an answer to the common question is a desire to rewrite the present for the sake of the future. If we can just identify where it went wrong. . . but it can't just be one thing, one moment, can it? Still, I think the sense of a wrong turn can be useful to progressives. I'm not particularly attached to the idea of historical inevitability, nor progression in discrete stages. The usefulness of inevitability as a Sorelian myth doesn't seem current anymore. I cite Sorel here because I want to bring out the multivalence (or is it ambivalence?) running through the whole discussion—like history in Jack's post, Sorel can be used for leftist syndicalism or rightist fascism. The wrong turn as indictment of the present haunts 20th c. poetry. Ever notice how most of the major figures of (the first half of) 20th c. modernist poetry are either socialist (typically Marxist at that), anarchist, or fascist? Or weird combinations of the three/atavistic quasi-pagans like D. H. Lawrence or Robert Graves? A complacent figure like Wallace Stevens, an insurance executive by day, is unusual for the period. I suppose it's trite and a commonplace notion to blame it all on the first World War, considering how modernism predates it, but the war is probably responsible for the explosion of modernism in poetry. Despite some turning to the peculiarly modern, brutal conservatism of fascism, that turn still seems to have come from a dissatisfaction with the way things were.

That's changed in the neoliberal decades. As a radical and poet, I'm always disappointed in how complacent contemporary poets can be. Sure, many of them, perhaps the majority, are liberal, even on the left wing of their respective establishment liberal parties, but few are radical. Just on an aesthetic level, and feel free to attack me for this sentiment, I'd prefer a lunatic fascist like Ezra Pound to a milquetoast liberal, just to have a good enemy to rail against. Instead, I get another person talking about electability, not making the perfect the enemy of the good, and other platitudes. I'm fine with amelioration, but there has to be some analysis of root causes and proposed solutions to systemic problems.

I got off on a bit of a tangent there. This is already threatening to be TLDR, but I'll continue to dig my grave with a glad heart.

Perhaps this is a good place to talk about the Norman Yoke.
And this appears cleer, For when any Trustee or State Officer is to be Chosen, The Free-holders or Landlords must be the Chusers, who are the Norman Common Souldiers, spread abroad in the Land; And who must be Chosen: but some very rich man, who is the Successor of the Norman Colonels or high Officers. And to what end have they been thus Chosen? but to Establish that Norman power the more forcibly over the enslaved English, and to beat them down again, when as they gather heart to seek for Liberty. 
For what are all those Binding and Restraining Laws that have been made from one Age to another since that Conquest, and are still upheld by Furie over the People? I say, What are they? but the Cords, Bands, Manacles, and Yokes that the enslaved English, like Newgate Prisoners, wears upn their hands and legs as they walk the streets; by which those Norman Oppressors, and these their Successors from Age to Age have enslaved the poor People by, killed their younger Brother, and would not suffer Jacob to arise. 
O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and holds the People as much in bondage, as the Bastard Conquerour himself, and his Councel of War.
– Gerrard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649)
I was reminded of this when listening to the new Eruditorum Press Season 9 Podcast. In the episode, there's a brief discussion about the Meddling Monk attempting to prevent the Norman Conquest (and the great suggestion that a series following the Monk would be the better one). Jack remarks something to the effect that the Monk succeeding wouldn't have been a bad thing. Sounds like the Norman Yoke. Now, it's a notion fallen out of currency and often called discredited, so I don't want to claim that Jack holds that opinion, but it's worth considering as one of the many potential wrong turns I've been yammering about this whole time. That's not to say I endorse identifying it as a wrong turn—I haven't bothered to unpack that notion and see if it's worthwhile—but it's an established paradigm for the concept.

By a happy accident, Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake arrived in the mail the same day I listened to the podcast. Of course, I haven't read it yet, but I have read some of the material in the back of the book outlining his intention in writing it. It's a peculiar book, written in a pseudo-Saxon reminiscent of Alan Moore's similar attempts to capture the language of a distant past in his Voice of the Fire. The novel depicts the guerrilla struggle of Saxons against the Normans in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. I think it's telling that the protagonist Buccmaster is a pagan, and this despite the long history of Christianization in England. Really ties in, doesn't it? You can get a good idea of the background of the novel by reading this piece by Kingsnorth. It's fairly short, and I know the reader is begging for such mercy after slogging through this post.

In an opportune aside, one of the first things you usually hear about the Norman influence on the English language is the distinction between the animal in the field and the meat on the plate. Cow, pig, and sheep are Saxon words from Saxon farmers raising the animals for consumption by the Normans, who in turn eat beef, pork, and mutton. I think it's wonderfully apropos that the pig David Cameron is alleged to have fucked was dead—it became pork, fit for the ruling class.

I was going to talk about technology and the disposable in Jack's post, and also about how an experience of the seasons is different in the country than the city, but that'll have to wait for another time as this is already too long.

I'll wrap it up by returning to the perennial blog obsession: 1970s children's television ephemera. So, Shadows: The Inheritance. I can't expect anyone to have seen this, but it's only 25 minutes long, so take a look. It's a strange little episode, but it fits perfectly into the ideas under examination here and in the original post. Young Martin, under the influence of his dying grandfather, has visions of an ancient pagan dance performed by men wearing antlers. As a consequence, he rejects the future of capitalist aspiration (in insurance of all things) foisted upon him by his upwardly striving parents, and goes to the country to follow his own way doing something not terribly useful to the capitalist society surrounding him. I think it's ambiguous how progressive this is, but it's certainly a refusal to participate in the prevailing order. It would take another post for me to tease out a full reading of it—I think the grandfather's relationship to the deer is especially interesting. In lieu of an analysis at this time, I just encourage you to watch it with these themes in mind.

This was supposed to be a brief response to Jack's post, to be followed by an examination of personal mythologies in the poetics of W. B. Yeats, Robert Graves, Wallace Stevens, and D. H. Lawrence, but I'm so exhausted after writing this that it'll be a while before I get to that subject. Much to the reader's fortune. If there are typos and a lack of clarity, I apologize, but I haven't the time or energy to revise this.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Maypole at Merrymount

Better than the alternative, I guess.
After this they fell to great licenciousnes, and led a dissolute life, powering out them selves into all profanenes. Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a schoole of Athisme. And after they had gott some good into their hands, and gott much by trading with ye Indeans, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing & drinking both wine & strong waters in great exsess, and, as some reported, 10li. worth in a morning. They allso set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days togeather, inviting the Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddes Flora, or ye beasly practieses of ye madd Bacchinalians. Morton likwise (to shew his poetrie) composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to ye detraction & scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-polle. They chainged allso the name of their place, and in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it Merie-mounte, as if this joylity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, (as follows to be declared,) shortly after came over that worthy gentlman, Mr. John Indecott, who brought over a patent under ye broad seall, for ye govermente of ye Massachusets, who visiting those parts caused yt May-polle to be cutt downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonished them to looke ther should be better walking; so they now, or others, changed ye name of their place againe, and called it Mounte-Dagon.
– my ancestor, William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
Yes, humorless and wretched William Bradford is one of my ancestors. I thought I'd post this as I was reminded of it again when writing my last post.

Oh, and here's Morton, the lord of misrule himself, on the event:
The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit, (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage name to Ma-re Mount, and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages,) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemne manner, with Revels and merriment after the old English custome; [they] prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Iacob, and therefore brewed a barrelll of excellent beare and provided a case of bottles, to be spent, with other good cheare, for all commers of that day. And because they would have it in a compleat forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drumes, gunnes, pistols and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there eredted it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80. foote longe was reared up, with a peare of buckshorns nayle one somewhat neare unto the top of it: where it stood, as a faire sea marke for directions how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-re Mount.
And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readines made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which, allthough it were made according to occurrents of the time, it, being Enigmattically composed, pusselled the Seperatists most pittifully to expound it, which, (for the better information of the reader,) I have here inserted.
Rise, Oedipus, and, if thou canst, unfould
What meanes Caribdis underneath the mould,
When Scilla sollitary on the ground
(Sitting in forme of Niobe,) was found,
Till Amphitrites Darling did acquaint
Grim Neptune with the Tenor of her plaint,
And causd him send forth Triton with the sound
Of Trumpet lowd, at which the Seas were found
So full of Protean formes that the bold shore
Prsented Scilla a new parramore
So stronge as Sampson and so patient
As Job himselfe, directed thus, by fate,
To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.
I doe professe, by Cupids beautious mother,
Heres Scogans choise for Scilla, and none other;
Though Scilla's sick with griefe, because so signe
Can there be found of vertue masculine.
Esculapius come; I know right well
His laboure's lost when you may ring her Knell.
The fatall sisters doome none can withstand,
Nor Cithareas powre, who poynts to land
With proclamation that the first of May
At Ma-re Mount shall be kept hollyday.
The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists, that lived at new Plimmouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea, they called it the Calfe of Horeb, and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount.
The Riddle, for want of Oedipus, they could not expound; onely they made some explication of part of it, and sayd it was meant by Sampson Iob, the carpenter of the shipp that brought over a woman to her husband, that had bin there longe before and thrive so well that hee sent for her and her children to come to him; where shortly after hee died: having no reason, but because of the sound of those two words; when as, (the truth is,) the man they applyed it to was altogether unknowne to the Author.
There was likewise a merry song made, which, (to make their Revells more fashionable,) was sung with a Corus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a daunce, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung and filled out the good liquor, like gammedes and Iupiter.

Drinke and be merry, merry, merry boyes;
Let all your delight be in the Hymens ioyes;
Jô to Hymen, now the day is come,
About the merry Maypole take a Roome.
Make greene garlons, bring bottles out
And fill sweet Nectar freely about.
Vncover thy head and feare no harme,
For hers good liquor to keepe it warme.
Then drinke and be merry, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Nectar is a thing assign'd
By the Deities owne minde
To cure the hart opprest with greife,
And of good liquors is the cheife.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Mellancolly man
A cup or two of 't now and than;
This physick will soone revive his bloud,
And make him be of a merrier moode.
Then drinke, &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
Give to the Nymphe thats free from scorne
No Irish stuff nor Scotch over worne.
Lasses in beaver coats come away,
Yee shall be welcome to us night and day.
To drinke and be merry &c.
Iô to Hymen, &c.
This harmless mirth made by younge men, (that lived in hope to have wifes brought over to them, that would save them a laboure to make a voyage to fetch any over,) was much distated to the prcise Seperatists, that keepe much a doe about the tyth of Muit and Cummin, troubling their braines more then reason would require about things that are indifferent: and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of Ma-re Mount, to overthrow his ondertakings and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane. But because they presumed with their imaginary gifts, (which they have out of Phaos box,) they could expound hidden misteries, to convince them of blindnes, as well in this as in other matters of more consequence, I will illustrate the poem, according to the true intent of the authors of these Revells, so much distasted by those Moles.
Oedipus is generally receaved for the absolute reader of riddles, who is invoaked: Silla and Caribdis are two dangerous places for seamen to incounter, neere unto Vennice; and have bin by poets formerly resembled to man and wife. The like licence the author challenged for a paire of his nomination, the one lamenting for the loffe of the other as Niobe for her children. Amphitrite is an arme of the Sea, by which the newes was carried up and downe of a rich widow, now to be tane up or laid downe. By Triton is the fame spread that caused the Suters to muster, (as it had bin to Penellope of Greece;) and, the Coast lying circular, all our passage to and froe is made more convenient by Sea then Land. Many aimed at this marke; but hee that played Proteus best and could comply with her humor must be the man that would carry her; and hee had need have Sampsons strenght to deale with a Dallila, and as much patience as Iob that should come there, for a thing that I did observe in the life-time of the former.
But marriage and hanging, (they say,) comes by desteny and Scogans choise tis better [than] none at all. Hee that playd Proteus, (with the helpe of Priapus,) put their noses out of joynt, as the Proverbe is.
And this the whole company of the Revellers at Ma-re Mount knew to be the true sence and exposition of the riddle that was fixed to the Maypole, which the Seperatists wer at defiance with. Some of them affirmed that the first institution thereof was in memory of a whore; not knowing that it was a Trophe erected at first in honor of Maja, the Lady of learning which they despise, vilifying the two universities with uncivile termes, accounting what is there obtained by studdy is but unnecessary learning; not considering that learninge does inable mens mindes to converse with eliments of a higher nature then is to be found within the habitation of the Mole.
– Thomas Morton, New English Canaan

Saturday, September 5, 2015


First, I have to thank my fiancée Kim for design-tweaking and the incredible title graphic, drawn from the fantastic A Field in England. I almost selected something from Doctor Who, but given I have yet to write anything about Doctor Who, I thought this choice was more in keeping with the theme of the blog as I've been half-assedly developing it. Still, the pun in my title demands that one day I try to address something Who-related.

I also have to thank Jack Graham as I've stolen his choice in post title font for my own. An additional thanks to Jack is in order as it was my appearance on Shabcast (soon to be uploaded to the Pex Lives stream) that inspired me to create this thing.

I've been reasonably busy with school and personal philosophical research (that doesn't sound pretentious!), and I haven't had the time to sit down with a cultural work and concoct a deranged and inappropriate take on it. So, in lieu of a full post for everything I've been thinking about lately, and although the review of Retrieving Realism is long enough to count as a full post, I thought I'd jot down some things in this post without fully developing them, which isn't too different from how I do a regular post anyway. Here goes.

Retrieving Realism by Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor
I don't intend to provide a full philosophical review of this work. I imagine it'll be forthcoming on NDPR sometime soon. I'm not as familiar with Charles Taylor's work as I should be, but Hubert Dreyfus is almost wholly responsible for my orientation in philosophy apart from political philosophy and perhaps whatever I possess that approaches ethics.

Reminds me, I'd like to investigate possible resonances between Deleuze's reading of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Heidegger on ethos in Letter on Humanism, and whatever a Marxian ethics might look like. I would exclude anarchism from this investigation, I think, as it's more amenable to a traditional ethics. Not sure if this blog would be the appropriate place for that, but hell, it's not in the main line of my philosophical interests, so maybe something off to the side is the best place to put it.

Back to the topic at hand. Dreyfus's approach to phenomenology made the work of this tradition accessible to me. I was already familiar with and heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, but Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty were foreign to me. Heidegger's Nazi baggage didn't help matters—it was an obstacle to reading and appreciating his work, and it remains problematic as it always should be for anyone who reads and draws upon Heidegger. Dreyfus made me take Heidegger seriously for the first time.

I can pinpoint where it all started: it was running across this series of videos that introduced me to the phenomenological tradition. I downloaded and listened to his lectures on Division I of Being and Time, went to the original texts, and eventually read the work of the American Heideggerians, many of whom initially studied under Dreyfus. While there are areas where I disagree with Dreyfus and prefer the work of his students, his approach remains foundational to my understanding.

Now we have 2015's Retrieving Realism. As an encapsulation and further development of Dreyfus's life's work, and as an introduction to the issues that interest me most in philosophy, it has my highest recommendation. I am so steeped in philosophy that I don't know how comprehensible it would be to a neophyte, but I suspect it's much more approachable than any of the major thinkers (Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Todes, and Gadamer) it draws upon, save Rorty. There is some jargon used, which is hard to avoid in philosophy, but Wikipedia or either of the philosophy encyclopedias on the internet would probably do the trick to get one up to speed where something is unclear.

Giving it my highest recommendation is not to say that I think it's a perfect work—I can see where the passage from deflationary realism to robust realism is problematic. But the concluding chapter introducing a sense of pluralism to this robust realism addresses some of the reservations I have about such a move. While endorsing the possibility of science providing a neutral description of the universe as it is in itself, it also suggests that such a causal description does not exhaust all the possibilities of perceiving and engaging the universe. It affirms the notion in Heidegger's essay The Origin of the Work of Art of the "earth" of existence, the part of things that seems to escape us or be inexhaustible in our thinking, perceiving, and interaction. That sense of "earth" is still present in this realism.

I think it's a valuable contribution to the surmounting of the opposition between relativism and scientism. In this connection, however, I feel I ought to link to this review of the book that raises some worthwhile objections from a Rortyan point of view. If I were trying to write a properly philosophical review of the book, I would have to delve into my own criticisms and some possible responses to that review, but for the purposes of the blog, I'm more interested in singling it out as a possible entryway into this kind of philosophy.

In that vein, I'd also suggest as a followup Heidegger and Unconcealment by Mark Wrathall, one of Dreyfus's former students who was also partially responsible for this accessible documentary. Wrathall's book is an in-depth treatment of an important concept in Heidegger's thought that also draws upon Merleau-Ponty among others. I suppose I could also recommend William Blattner's introductory book on Being and Time, although I have (serious) qualms about his interpretation, but Wrathall's book has the advantage of drawing upon later Heidegger.

Observation on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Holographic Moriarty is a Cartesian nightmare. Not a nightmare for Cartesianism, but a nightmare from it. The cogito is liberated from its deceiving demon only to be deceived again.

That is all for now.

Kill All the Gentlemen
Has anyone taken time to compare M. R. James' Martin's Close with actual Old Bailey Sessions Papers? There has to be some overlap between fans of the one and scholars of the other. I can't claim more than a passing familiarity with the Sessions Papers, so I might not be the one for the task, but it seems worth investigating. I think Martin's Close, a less remarked upon James story, is due a thorough examination on other counts as well. I'll offer a sketch of some angles on it, and maybe someone else will take up the task:

a. The despicable squire is brought to justice. This doesn't seem to be in keeping with the times and my (albeit meager) familiarity with the Old Bailey proceedings. This justice, though, comes as the consequence of a supernatural intervention by the ghost of his victim. The corpse is submerged in a pond, throat cut. The spirit of the peasant victim returns to haunt the living gentleman, an act of God's revenge. What does that say about James and his time versus the historical setting of the story? Is God, acting through the return of the repressed, the only means of justice in that time? Is framing it as God's revenge, a move made by the attorney, an attempt to recuperate the vengeance of the peasant?

b. Martin's Close is set in Sampford Courtenay, Devon, site of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion, a rebellion whose reasoning was expressed in the wonderfully succinct slogan, "Kill all the gentlemen and we will have the Six Articles up again, and ceremonies as they were in King Henry's time."

Here, we have rising from the grave rather than an uprising, a seeking of justice on the individual rather than the social level. But hell, isn't that the way plenty of horror plays out? The setting invites exploration of how the story plays out against that history. The gentleman is killed, and on Innocents' Day.

c. The Hanging Judge George Jeffreys, responsible himself in part for the bloody suppression of a rebellion, appears here. We can probably dispense with the notion that it's a mere cameo for the sake of the setting, given the story is so focused on vengeance and justice. Naming Jeffreys as the judge draws attention to that theme. Perhaps the Hanging Judge is the pivot for a reading.  

d. Class, power, gender, ableism. So much to piece together.

e. The judicial framing makes it an unusual story in M. R. James' oeuvre. Is there anything interesting, on its own terms, in that divergence?

f. Was Ann Clark pregnant? Would that mean anything for our reading?
Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view, I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it, and there is much blatancy in a lot of recent stories. They drag in sex too, which is a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it.
– M. R. James, Some Remarks on Ghost Stories
Another divergence?

g. The Prayer Book Rebellion makes me want to reread The Uncommon Prayer-book with an eye to possible resonances. Probably not there, but why not look?

Seems perfectly normal to me.
The Maypole: A Rough Sketch of Some Lines of Inquiry into Folk Horror
a. What is its relationship to the gothic? To the weird?

b. The survival of the premodern. Why is it horrific? More pointedly, why is it not horrific? Why am I and others so damn sympathetic to the pagans in The Wicker Man even with the human sacrifice?

c. In that vein, Shadows: The Inheritance. There's nothing horrific about that one to my eyes. Spooky, maybe. If anything, it invites readings along the lines of Eigentlichkeit and Crowley's True Will while also opening up examination of the city/country distinction and the role of aspiration in a technic capitalist society.

d. The etymological connection between pagan and peasant.

e. The horror of folk horror seems to rest in part on communal practice as well as anachronism. It's a kind of collective rebellion against modernity.

f. The distaste of modernity for the premodern, for the peasant.

g. The restructuring of agriculture and the corresponding obscuring of agriculture's role in our lives, a kind of repression. Urban people eat the fruits of agriculture but have spare personal experience of it. In the United States we are even expected not to acknowledge, to see the migrant laborers responsible for providing that food. Some useful comparison with The City & the City on that point, perhaps—call it The Country & the Country if you like.

h. Hey, it's primitive accumulation! Remember me?

i. Capitalism, Marxism, anarchism, and the peasant. Are all of these too modern to deal with the question of the peasant? Too technic? Is the industrialization of agriculture a good thing after all? What the hell does folk horror have to do with all of that anyway?

j. Rexroth and Vaneigem on communalism and rebellion as expressed in Christian heresy.

k. Religion and radical ideology is a question worth exploring in connection with folk horror. Is there a possibility of a retrieval of certain premodern ways of being for the sake of the struggle against capitalist modernity? What about indigenous spirituality, so much closer to the present than all this European paganism, indeed very much still present?

l. The Wicker Man and science. Lord Summerisle is almost a gothic aristocrat, yet he's also the descendant of a man of science. What seems to have been put in place for the convenience of his (cynical?) scientific ancestor is embraced with sincerity by Lord Summerisle.

m. Drawing on Rexroth: religion as belief versus religion as practice.

I'll end this here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How to Succeed in an English/Literature Class

This notion that the verbal text is constituted by concealment as much as revelation, that the concealment is itself a revelation and vice versa, brings Nietzsche and Freud together. Freud suggests further that where the subject is not in control of the text, where the text looks supersmooth or superclumsy, is where the reader should fix his gaze, so that he does not merely read but deciphers the text, and sees its play within the open textuality of thought, language, and so forth within which it has only a provisionally closed outline. He catches this notion thus: “There is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure. . . . At that point there is a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unravelled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream.” Derrida’s “advance” on Freud here can be formulated thus: this tangle cannot be unravelled in terms of, and adds nothing to the contents of the dream-text within the limits set up by itself. If, however, we have nothing vested in the putative identity of the text or dream, that passage is where we can provisionally locate the text’s moment of transgressing the laws it apparently sets up for itself, and thus unravel—deconstruct—the very text. This illuminates the lines in Freud that follow the passage above: “This is the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown. The dream-thoughts . . . cannot . . . have any definite endings: they are bound to branch out in every direction into the intricate network of our world of thought.”
– Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Translator’s Preface,” Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida
Nothing to do with the broader philosophical implications or with Derrida's thought, neither of which interest me all that much, but just a handy method for producing a reading of damn near any text you come across in an English or Literature setting at university. Find the navel, and you've got your paper. It's pathetically mechanical, really.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

School commitments

Just a note to say I may not be able to pick up and return to things I've started to explore on here, particularly when they require a lot of preparation and research. I've entered university again, and it's making some demands on my time. I think it's worthwhile still to put down a kind of placeholder for things to be thought. Then when I have time again, I can return to the work.

The other thing I should note is that school requires me to be on a laptop for much of the day, and computer screens often give me a headache. So that's limiting my writing on the blog.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A for Eigentlichkeit

One of these days, gotta hit on the ocular metaphor and epistemology
I have no interest in equating artistic authenticity, in the sense of verified authorship, with Eigentlichkeit, a different concept altogether.  

I can't say I have an interest in authenticity in the philosophical sense. There has been some rehabilitation of Division II of Being and Time after being neglected a bit by those who came up under the Dreyfus interpretation of Division I. It's a problematic concept for me, though, and has lent itself to the kind of idle talk attacked in SZ. One of these days, if I can muster enough will to read Adorno again, I ought to give Jargon of Authenticity a good read.

So why the title? I thought it'd be funny.

Instead, I want to elaborate a little (in a very loosely organized way) on the other theme I found in F for Fake, and in so doing I'm not looking to offer anything particularly original, but just to make it a little more explicit.

Welles does a lot to point attention to editing in the film, to break down the passive acceptance of representation in cinematic storytelling. Part of this serves to develop the theme of authenticity, but it also points out how a work of art relies on all the ways it departs from being a good picture to be a work of art. Phenomenologists like to point out that what is closest to us is hardest to see, often using the metaphor of a pair of eyeglasses. We always already live in a familiar, intelligible world, and that immersion makes it difficult to examine just what we're always already immersed in.

As I said in the podcast, drawing on the two essays I cite in this post, (especially representational) art both shows up as something in our everyday intelligibility, while drawing attention to the ways it escapes that intelligibility. A representational painting isn't just a picture of something, it's also pigment and brush strokes and canvas. You could say that when we go to view a painting, we aren't only looking for an accurate representation. To anticipate a counterexample: even in the case of a photorealist or hyperrealist painting, the degree of accuracy itself becomes uncanny. That quality of earth (to use Heidegger's term) is just as present, as (to name just two reasons) we're drawn to reflect on the technique involved and thereby again the materials used.

Even in an actual photograph, it's the drawing of focus that shows up the tension between the familiar, the intelligible, and the unfamiliar and uncanny. Part of this comes down to the technique employed by the artist involved in photographing e.g. an ordinary gas station, something which in our everyday comportment we wouldn't give much thought to. We can be given to wonder at the gas station. We can start to see how our everyday intelligibility is founded in something that escapes that intelligibility.

Running out of time, unfortunately, so I'll have to start wrapping this up. In the future I'd like to get into some more ideas, not directly germane to F for Fake, but following on from the above. So I'll offer a sketch of what I may discuss in the future.

A question, I suppose, is doesn't the tension or strife in an artwork connect to something in the nature of a representation of any kind? A representation has its content (it's a picture of a cat on the mat), but the picture isn't its content, and the truth of that content is something that lies outside of the representation. You have to go and check if the cat is on the mat. To borrow a bit from early Wittgenstein, that it isn't the state of affairs it depicts is an important part of what makes it a representation.

So where do representations, pictures whose content has a truth-correspondence, depart from the artwork? I think it is in the nature of representation, as the concept exists in our current context, to smooth over (repress, suppress) that which escapes us, that which isn't exhausted by representation. I'd like to connect that to how we are now given to representations, calculative thinking, etc. and where Heidegger on these subjects seems to have some kinship with Debord's notion of our mediation by images, probably by touching on The Age of the World Picture and What Calls for Thinking?, just to start.

I can't promise consistency between Heidegger and Debord on these thingsthey're coming out of vastly different philosophical and political backgrounds. But I do think they're both hitting on something essential to our times.

And to be honest, putting a former Nazi into dialogue with a libertarian Marxist amuses the hell out of me. I am a perverse thinker. I promised you unhinged ruminations!

At some point I'll also need to get into how my account of what Heidegger says about art is incomplete, and defend (against Dreyfus, though I love his work) how the van Gogh example isn't a bad one, despite how it doesn't accomplish all the things a Greek temple might.

Finally, I have to admit that the way I've phrased some things might lend itself to bad interpretations of these concepts. In my defense, I'm trying to get across these philosophical notions to people who probably aren't terribly familiar with them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

For James: Art

Just some references for a conversation we had on F for Fake.
In poetry, as in all the arts, both the constructive and communicative aspects are tremendously raised in power, but they do not differ in kind from ordinary speech. Only the aesthetician who brings to the arts considerations from elsewhere in philosophy, from ontology or epistemology, can postulate a different realm of being with its own kind of communication in poetry. Hector with his wife and child, Piccarda’s speech to Dante, the ghost of Hamlet’s father, these are all, however exalted, in the same world as “Please pass the butter.” Furthermore, medieval and “vulgar” aesthetics are perfectly right when they speak, as Plato and Aristotle did, of the Art of Cooking, or the Art of the Saddler. The only difference in the Fine Arts is that they are finer — and they communicate more, and more importantly. Albi Cathedral is the sum total of the work of its bricklayers as well as of the plans of its architects. As construction, the difference is simply one of degree. There is no sure point at which you can say, “Beyond is Fine Art.” Instead in the constructive activities of men you have a continuum, growing in refinement, intensity, scope, depth, and splendor. Here Thomas Aquinas and his modern followers are right. 
Furthermore, certain works of art in recent years have taught us that you can apprehend even the simplest speech or simplest plastic arrangement, or, to take somebody like Webern, even a fugue on two notes, with the intensity of an artistic experience if you want to compel yourself to do it. Yoga and other mystical gymnastics involving the faculties of attention have always done this. You all know the modern photographs of hop-scotch squares on sidewalks, torn signboards, broken windows, piles of lumber, and similar things. What the photographer is doing is focusing attention on something that was not actually structured in the first place. It is the attention which creates the structure. You can train yourself to see the clouds of Tiepolo, the mists and mountains of Sesshu, in any water-stained ceiling. 
Gertrude Stein did this with words. You say poetry is different, disinterested and structured. It is not the same kind of thing as “Please pass the butter,” which is a simple imperative. But Gertrude Stein showed, among other things, that if you focus your attention on “Please pass the butter,” and put it through enough permutations and combinations, it begins to take on a kind of glow, the splendor of what is called an “aesthetic object,” and passes over into abstract, architectonic poetry. This is a trick of the manipulation of attention. Pages and pages of Gertrude Stein are put together out of the most trivial speech, broken up and used “architecturally” to the point that ordinary meaning disappears, not from the sentences, but from the very words themselves, and a new, rather low-grade but also rather uncanny kind of meaning emerges.
– Kenneth Rexroth, Unacknowledged Legislators and Art pour Art
And I've uploaded a good introductory piece on Heidegger's The Origin of the Work of Art.

The whole of Rexroth's essay is well worth reading. It's one of my favorite essays.

If that piece on Heidegger strikes you, I'd recommend tracking down the original essay. It's been printed in several books—the best value for someone new to his work would probably be the Basic Writings collection.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Michael Ripper: Suspicious Innkeeper

Naturally, no one is willing to go out after dark, though no one will explain exactly why. And they’re not willing to give her a room at the inn, which is often the case with these grumpy locals, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The landlord yells at you not to go out after dark and then, a breath later, yells at you to get out because he’ll not rent a room to the likes of ye! What does he get by not renting out the room? I mean, they’re often shown later regretting their decision and going, “Well, what would you have had me do?” How about give her a room and then see her off in the morning with a smile? 
Marianne eventually finds a sour old woman named Baroness Meinster who is willing to give Marianne a place to stay for the evening. Now all of a sudden the landlord has all sorts of rooms for rent and pleads with Marianne not to go. What’s with these guys? If you went and ordered a pint of ale from them, they’d yell, “We’ve no ale for the likes of you!” as they were serving you up a pint of ale. Every one of them is loopy as an outhouse bat.
– Keith Allison, Teleport City review of Brides of Dracula
It's funny that this passage comes in a review where Ripper doesn't play the suspicious barkeep, but it's a perfect description of his role in so many of those Hammer films.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Dossier Found in Saragossa

Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time
Apologies for the forced title, but I wanted to hit on something I see in Mr. Arkadin, a touch of the gothic, particularly in the scenes set in Spain early in the film.

(I don't think a deeper connection is there to be drawn between Mr. Arkadin and The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. The latter, incidentally, is one of my favorite gothic novels, written by Jan Potocki, who reputedly committed suicide by silver bullet because he thought he was a werewolf.)

But what appeals to me in those scenes is the setting of what Rexroth called Black Spain. The penitentes wearing capirotes, the Goya masquerade, the castle, and Arkadin himself all lend gloomy gothic mystery to the film. Of course, Franco's Catholic despotism weighs like a medieval nightmare on 1950s Spain, and that's where Arkadin situates himself.

Arkadin is something of a gothic villain, a vampire in his castle. In the traditional account, the vampire returns to feed on its family and friends, and Arkadin, now a successful capitalist, murders everyone from his criminal past, something foreshadowed in his dream of the graveyard where tombstones mark the end of friendships. He even has a network of spies in place of Dracula's network of gypsies.

It's common to read Mr. Arkadin in terms of capitalism. It's a reading that occurred immediately to me and became firmer as the film went on. But I haven't found anything on Arkadin as a vampire, though it was something I saw upon his entrance in the masquerade. Maybe it just brought to mind Hammer's Kiss of the Vampire, which has a masquerade too. Arkadin claims not to know his age, making him as ageless as any undead bloodsucker, although we learn that this amnesia is part of a pattern of deception, of effacing one's past.

There is a pivot point here between the two readings. I watched the film (in the comprehensive edit) for the first time last night, and it was only this morning as I was writing this that I remembered something Jack Graham introduced me to, Franco Moretti's reading of Dracula as monopoly capital. I'm not sure I have the energy to get terribly in depth here, but I want to get these ideas down while the memory is fresh. I'll be appearing on an upcoming Pex Lives Orson Welles retrospective, so perhaps I can elaborate in more detail there. Moving on.

Arkadin is a kind of underworld Charles Foster Kane, and the journalist conceit of Citizen Kane is present too: Van Stratten travels and interviews people about Arkadin's past, although Van Stratten only poses as a journalist, in line with the pattern of deception in the film.

That deception, that effacement of the past, is found everywhere in the film, and not just in Arkadin himself. Van Stratten resembles an early Arkadin and tries to set himself on the same path. He's a man of many deceptions who erases his past, down to denying his father's surname, just as Arkadin has assumed a false name. Their origins must be obscured. A successful criminal is no longer a criminal.
Arkadin: Criminals aren't ever very amusing.
Nagel: It's because they're failures. Those who make real money aren't counted as criminals. This is a class distinction, not an ethical problem.
Capital must deny its origins in criminal expropriation. It effaces its history, its brutal primitive accumulation, and sells a lie, a false representation. It does this not just to workers, but even to the inheritors of its privilege, like Raina. Van Stratten unearths the repressed criminal history of vampire capital. But he doesn't really drive a stake in its heart, does he? He doesn't destroy it. It just passes on to Raina, and he's deprived of participating in it. He always aspired to capital.

Upon the revelation of Arkadin's past, what do we have? The empty plane. We see capital's self-representation as it really is, hollow, but somehow capital remains in motion, though we're given a moment of hope here as the plane eventually sputters out and crashes. A moment of hope that doesn't amount to much, for what do we get during the credits?

One of these days I gotta write about class struggle in Scars of Dracula

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why I don't follow through on a reading

It's probably because I refuse to be held responsible for the oscillations of my lunacy. Better to muddy the waters with multivalent readings than pursue a thesis.

In an academic context, I would stick with a reading, produce arguments, generate counterarguments, address those, and neatly conclude. But here, I can let that go, and enjoy the freedom of the form.

I could make a manifesto from this flaw.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Eternal Return of the Repressed

Is this about the illegitimate offspring of the 1969 American Tour?
"Nobody ever leaves the circle. Not until the day of release."

I hope I can assume anybody looking at this blog has seen Children of the Stones. If not, as always, go watch it and come back.

I first came across it in connection with folk horror, and it does have a lot of the vibe of folk horror. But this is folk horror with a science fiction (maybe even a little cosmic) twist, and driven by a Nietzschean theme: eternal recurrence.

If you've watched it and don't have a clue what happened, there's always the Wikipedia page for a decent summary. I wouldn't feel too bad about being confused—for a kid's show, it can be pretty baffling. I got it down pretty well my first go-through, but I also wasn't dividing my attention between multiple screens the way most people would these days.

(Some of the creepiest music of any 70s TV by the way—I think it may have even inspired Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, which is a great record for any horror aficionado.)

I was happy to see Phil Sandifer covered it. He touches on the major points. What interests me here about the show is the eternal recurrence theme. If you haven't heard of the eternal return of the same:
The greatest burden.—What would happen if one day or night a demon were to steal upon you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “You will have to live this life—as you are living it now and have lived it in the past—once again and countless times more; and there will be nothing new to it, but every pain and every pleasure, every thought and sigh, and everything unutterably petty or grand in your life will have to come back to you, all in the same sequence and order. . . The eternal hourglass of existence turning over and over—and you with it, speck of dust!”. . . If that thought ever came to prevail in you, it would transform you, such as you are, and perhaps it would mangle you.
(as quoted in Vol. II of Heidegger's Nietzsche)
The unconditioned and infinitely reiterated circulation of all things.
Of course, Milbury's burden is not quite Nietzsche's—these events don't happen in exactly the same way every time. There's a tension between the linear time outside of Milbury and the cyclical time within it that produces variations in the recurrence. You could see it along the lines of an ascending spiral, almost repeating but never in precisely the same place, or you could see it as a kind of deformed circle, like Matthew's damaged bicycle wheel.

Still, it's close enough in concept to evoke either the same horror of inevitability or love of necessity that we find in the original. That's the two-sided quality to the eternal return—if you have that kind of Nietzschean resoluteness, then you have amor fati, the love of fate, where you see beauty in the necessity of things and appropriate the eternal recurrence, make it your own and will it to be ever so. As Heidegger puts it in What Is Called Thinking?, "The will is delivered from revulsion when it wills the constant recurrence of the same." If you don't, if you are uncomfortable with your life as it is, then you're condemned to repetition. If true, the same will recur regardless, but in amor fati, you appropriate the return, while those who are out of love with fate would perceive the return as a monstrous burden.

Children of the Stones plays with that dichotomy, but viewed from the perspective of the burdened. After all, our protagonists are horrified by the cycle, but the native villagers who have come to accept the return are the Happy Day People. I'm tempted to say brainless Happy Ones, but they're depicted as having exceptional intelligence. I suppose the idea is instead that they've been deprived of their will by Hendrick's brainwashing.

Yet there's a reading against the grain to be made here. Each villager is brainwashed by being exposed to the light from the supernova, the ultimate cause of the cycle. Is Hendrick really controlling them or just exposing them to the knowledge of the light? Maybe knowing is transformative. Just living in Milbury before being exposed to the light has some startling effects on outsiders—Matthew's psychometry is enhanced, and a farmer's son turns into a regular Alfred Tarski. Why couldn't the change in attitude be attributed to the light itself and not Hendrick's manipulation of it? Light is the most common metaphor for gnosis, so we could read it as a gnostic experience, i.e. that Hendrick is merely bringing them into knowledge.
Khabs am Pekht!
Konx om Pax!
Light in Extension!
(from the Neophyte Ritual of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn)
Margaret says after exposure that she feels "light, powerful, whole." Maybe it is a Happy Day after all.

Heidegger says Nietzsche's eternal recurrence springs from the "most stringent confrontation with Platonic-Christian modes of thought," where the Platonic means that "whatever is measures itself on what ought to be," and the Christian that all things were created by God, and so beings are creatures.
Both doctrines assume preeminence, each considered alone and both taken together in their various mixtures, because two thousand years' worth of tradition have made them habitual for our ways of representing things. Such habituation remains definitive even when we are far from thinking about Plato's original philosophy, and also when the Christian faith has expired. . .
(from Vol. II of Heidegger's Nietzsche)
The Christian faith has expired in Milbury—the church is deconsecrated, and the notions that go along with it are challenged by the eternal return, which is itself the result of a pagan, pre-Christian (pre-Platonic for that matter) past.

Science is pressed into the service of Hendrick's druidry, which is the sort of conscious thread running forward from this past. I'm not sure quite how to unpack the role of science in Children of the Stones. It's something that sets it apart from most of what people call "folk horror." Adam's science is used to stop and restart the cycle. Adam also comes to accept some peculiar New Age notions over the course of the story—he accepts Matthew's psychometry, and eventually the ley lines. Hendrick seems to have achieved a better fusion of science and (for lack of a better word) magic. He's something of a psychogeographer as well, even designing his special chamber to exploit the properties of the stone circle.

Milbury's peculiar psychogeography comes both from its own native stones and from the transformative stellar light. Does Milbury gather the fourfold—earth, sky, divinities, and mortals? It's out of balance. There is no mortality in Milbury. The gathering happens only with the simple oneness of the fourfold, and that has shattered in Milbury, so the gathering is deferred. But much of Hendrick's goals (in his speech to Margaret and Sandra in the chamber) echo the ideal of gathering the fourfold. Perhaps Adam and Matthew are there to repress (once again!) the pagan society. After all, they don't halt the cycle so much as restart it, which keeps the gathering deferred. One could make the case that Adam and Matthew are custodians of the cycle, not its enemies.

Who is trying to break out of the circle? Hendrick, by bringing forth the light from the past. The Brakes are there to circumscribe the light (it was between a car pun or a circle pun). If Hendrick brings forth the light to all, that would be disaster. Gnosis is for the few and secret.

And of course Hendrick is called a magus. The holy word of the magus above the abyss, as it crosses the abyss, sounds like the vilest blasphemy to those who hear it.

I said earlier that time outside of Milbury was linear, but I'm not sure it's as cut and dry as all that. Adam and Matthew come from outside of Milbury, but they're clearly playing out the roles of the two strangers in the initial event that kicked off the cycle as depicted in the painting. So what drives two outsiders to participate in each reiteration of the cycle? Furthermore, Hendrick is Litton is the druid, but both Hendrick and Litton are arrivals from outside Milbury.

Maybe the supposedly linear time of the outside is just cyclical time on a larger scale, somehow compelled to kick into the smaller cycle of Milbury in order to keep it going again, a contribution that seems to be what contains the Milbury cycle and prevents it from breaking into the larger cycle (or is it linear time?) outside.

It seems that the day of release is forever deferred because the Milbury cycle will always draw in the two people needed to close the cycle and start it again. It will always be postponed and the cycle will continue to repeat in Milbury, never really threatening the outside.

It's funny how the snake is associated with the Sanctuary and escape from the cycle, given how easily the snake lends itself to representing the circle (as in the ouroboros) or any deviation from a straight line as it coils and slithers. Perhaps the snake is a clue that there is no escape, and that time outside the stone circle isn't as linear as it may seem.

I've sketched several contradictory readings of this work, so I'll leave it here and maybe return to it later.

"Nobody ever leaves the circle. Not until the day of release."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ideas for future posts

Footnotes to Plato my ass.
Hello all,

So I've started a number of posts and just left them in draft form for the minute. I'm toying with continuing my rash and utterly inappropriate Heideggerian reading of A Field in England, a post about why I'm so sympathetic to the pagans in the Wicker Man, and something about Nietzsche and Children of the Stones.

Any requests from my practically nonexistent readership?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Building, Dwelling, Tripping

Heavy Metal(lurgy)
I thought I'd post a few thoughts on Ben Wheatley's film A Field in England. If you haven't seen it, you'll want to do that before reading.

I can't give this any kind of reasonable structure. It's a ramble. I find if I try to compose this as an essay, I remain with a blank page. So here goes.

Before leaving the field, Whitehead literally assumes the mantle of O'Neill—an outward sign of inward transformation. After the ordeal of his degradation and derangement at the hands of O'Neill, and his mushroom trip, he becomes a master, even saying as much.

Though Whitehead breaks his oath (under coercion by O'Neill), his attainment transcends that of O'Neill because it still comes as the culmination of the Great Work. O'Neill forsook prayer and devotion, traditionally the inner work of alchemy, in reaction to a world turned upside down, and its pockets with it.

If I can map this onto Crowley's A∴A∴ structure, O'Neill achieved Adeptus Exemptus and turned away to become a Brother of the Left Hand Path. Whitehead's mushroom trip, the solve, reaches the coagula stage when the split-screen fuses back into one (with a sickening, very biological sound) and leaves him higher up the Tree of Life, having successfully crossed the Abyss. O'Neill, despite his seeming power, never managed to recombine the dissolved components of his inner matter as he eschewed the inner work. All that remains for him is death. He is toppled and effaced.

Upon his attainment, there's no sense that Whitehead is returning to his apprenticeship under his master—he's taking the manuscripts and mushrooms and striking out with his companions into the real world outside the hedge and mushroom circle, back into the battlefields of the English Civil War.

But what the hell does any of that have to do with the English Civil War?

I'm going to look at this from a Heideggerian angle while borrowing some terminology from Albert Borgmann as well. At this point, rather than spend time explicating those ideas, I'll direct the reader to this piece by Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, which is a good introduction though not without its problems.

O'Neill rejects the focal practices that Whitehead still embraces, the prayer and devotion of inner alchemy, and rejects too the premodern master-apprentice model in favor of command-labor. I don't want to overreach and say O'Neill stands for capital as I'm not sure they've really reached that point (or that I can really produce a decent Marxian reading!) but it's clear that he sees those around him, and the world in general, in terms of resource (Bestand, or standing-reserve), which is an important part of modernity as Heidegger sees it. Incidentally, Heidegger's word for this quality of modernity, Gestell (usually translated enframing), even has a slight hauntological aspect—it's another word for skeleton, and hell, the only treasure they find in the pit is a skull.

The focal practices of traditional alchemy are forced to the margins by O'Neill—Whitehead's natural gift is stripped of its archaic religious trappings and literally harnessed to serve O'Neill in his acquisition of the treasure, a treasure that presumably (I believe there are some lines in the film about what he wants to do outside the field, but I can't recall them) just sits in the Great Chain of In-Order-To. Whitehead is a human resource for tapping another resource that'll doubtlessly lead to some other damn resource, all endlessly interchangeable and replaceable.

I'll admit I haven't thought through this angle enough to produce a fully coherent reading, but I wanted to outline a few things and maybe return to it later. There's something here of a retrieval of the premodern, of marginal practices, as a form of resistance to modernity. In this period, of course, those practices weren't nearly as marginal.

A bit from an interview with Wheatley that I wanted to highlight:
"Magic became science, effectively," he says [...] "The Puritans were trying to iron paganism and magic out of Catholicism. Splitting up and melding ideas. There are two really important periods in British history where we actually made a difference to the world – the civil war and the industrial revolution – and I think at that moment in England, anything could have happened. Everyone was starving, and they were basically killing God, because they were killing the king, God's representative; they were writing their own rules. As O'Neil[l...] says, 'This country's at the edge of something, it could become anything.' That's what got us excited about the period. It's a time when people were thinking hard and radically."
I hadn't read this before I started thinking about solve et coagula and focal/marginal practices and how they relate to the film, but I'm happy to see that "[s]plitting up and melding ideas" is mentioned by Wheatley. The survival of paganism into modernity is a central theme in folk horror, and what is paganism but a marginalized focal practice? The Wicker Man is famous for making its pagans seem sympathetic and reasonable for all their marginal, premodern practices.

There's something else here too, to the way mushrooms are used differently by O'Neill and Whitehead. For O'Neill, mushrooms are there to sedate labor into acquiescence. For Whitehead, mushrooms awaken. It's unclear whether O'Neill ever uses mushrooms himself. I think there's a case to be made that he hasn't, or at least not in sufficient quantities, given how Whitehead responds to them. My own reading is that the mushrooms are the treasure in the field, and O'Neill is oblivious to that potential awakening.

I'm leaving the ramble here, and I'll pick it up later. I'm just glad I managed to write something on this damn blog. Feel free to comment.

P. S. I ought to make something of the mushroom brew and how spagyrics in plant alchemy are the foundation for higher forms of alchemy such as mineral or animal.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

If you think the blog's title is bad,

I have other choices for you: Imitation Ab-Crab, Phusis from the Deep, Enemy-in-the-World, the Sontaran Existentiell, Rootless Logopolitans, the Strife of Earthshock and World, A Magus on Your Loo in Tooting Bec (just search the link for Tooting Bec—it's pretty amusing), Lamp of Invisible Ghost Light.

Pretty wretched stuff overall. I just went with one that was easy to remember.