The primary outcome of popular pressure is not so much to shift policy as to shift public presentation of policy.
—Nulle Terre Sans Seigneur, “Rough edges of the New Deal revolution,” Carlsbad 1819 (19 August 2017)
(If you made it through the Bush & Obama presidencies, the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, et. al., without some variant of this insight rooting itself in your parahippocampal gyrus, please commit the above to memory. Policy is an increasingly hyperreal object that “condemn[s]” the voice of democratic subjects “to futility, to obsolescence, and … to obscenity.”)
Do not, gentle reader, think that I’ve forgotten about my earlier unsavory post on this subject, or my equally unsavory commitment to a post on “hyper-racism” in The Book of Mormon.
I haven’t forgotten. I’m actively avoiding it, so I don’t have to write sentences like these:
“[ineffectual prepositional clause of moral handwringing], there is a wealth of textual evidence, especially for Mormons, suggesting that otherness, racial paranoia, discrimination up to the point of genocide, and neo-speciation—that is, exit pursued at the genetic level, either through isolation & time, gene-editing, or divine intervention—these are capital-D Divine tools used to achieve the ends of providential Xtianity. God smirks (yes, He smirks) when he reads (yes, He reads) a passage like the following, from Parkman’s The Oregon Trail (1849),
For the most part, a civilized white man can discover but very few points of sympathy between his own nature and that of an Indian. With every disposition to do justice to their good qualities, he must be conscious that an impassible gulf lies between him and his red brethren of the prairie. Nay, so alien to himself do they appear, that having breathed for a few months or a few weeks the air of this region, he begins to look upon them as a troublesome and dangerous species of wild beast, and if expedient, he could shoot them with as little compunction as they themselves would experience after performing the same office upon him.
“because his plan of cursing Native Americans with a sore cursing, so that ‘they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance,’ is working out just fine.” I don’t want to write stuff like that.
But I should at least, in light of recent news that the first human embryos have been edited in the U.S., draw your attention to poet Ronald Johnson, and his farsightedness when he said that “the old God may have had his home in church, but the new one lives at M.I.T.”
He’s right. Except that he’s wrong—the location has changed, but it’s the same God up to his old tricks. Any guesses on who’s going to get scourged?
The Tower and The Winding Stair, despite the vagaries of New Criticism an the scholarship on Yeats done under its egregious influence, will be studied increasingly as what they are, as much monuments of Romanticism in English poetry as are Jerusalem, The Prelude, Prometheus Unbound, The Fall of Hyperion, or later, Look! We Have Come Through!, The Bridge, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.
—Harold Bloom, Yeats (1970)
(Another good English Romanticism reading list from Bloom. [Previous list at Ss-34/10,000.] This one, fellow pedagogues, is a teachable sequence. It’s also particularly helpful if you were, as I was, wondering on which of Lawrence’s three great volumes of poetry—Look! We Have Come Through!; Birds, Beasts and Flowers; & Last Poems—to focus your limited time.)
Can it be that there is an intrinsic, causal connection between long poems and wide open spaces?
—Thomas M. Disch, “Onegin’s Children [Review of David Budbill’s Judevine, Mark Jarman’s Iris, Charlotte Mandel’s The Marriages of Jacob, Les Murray’s The Boys Who Stole the Funeral, & Frederick Pollack’s The Adventure],” The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters (1995)
(Disch answers this, his question, in the affirmative:
The example of Vikram Seth notwithstanding, I think it more than likely. Country living promotes longer thoughts and patient, sustained achievement, such as gardeners undertake. City life is noted for its speed, excitement, and variety, and while these virtues are not antithetical to a long poem [Ashbery’s Flow Chart is a quintessential long poem in the urban manner], they may well make it harder for the urban poet to pursue the sober, steadfast pace that a long narrative poem requires. This difference is likely to be exacerbated by the different reading habits associated with the city, with its flow of new magazines, new faces, new lingos, and the country, where one may, at last, settle down with the Aeneid in all its rival translations. As we read, so may be aspire to write. Indeed, for someone harboring the ambition of writing a long poem, I can think of no more practical starting point than to change one’s address to somewhere in RFD. [emphasis mine])
Agency and intelligence are the same thing.
—@rec0nciler, , (20 July 2017)
[h/t @Outsideness. That tweet disappeared as I was making this post. Most Mormons, given our religion’s emphasis on agency & intelligence, would recognize this identity as expressing a very deep insight. A Mormon better drilled in our orthodoxy than I would be able to refine the overlap between the two through scriptural exegesis, probably citing these two verses somewhere along the way, but I am not that Mormon. I’ll just point—👇—to this sentence’s alphanumeric sum.]
Mountains are great poets, and one glance at this fine cliff scene undoes a great deal of prose, & reinstates us wronged men in our rights.
——Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Journal R (1842-1843), in Selected Journals 1841-1877 (ed. Lawrence Rosenwald)
There are simply too many poets and too little time to read them all.
—Thomas M. Disch, “Death and the Poet [Review of Peter Whigham’s Things Common, Properly: Selected Poems 1942-1980],” The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters (1995)
(Here, a supplement to Ss-35/10,000 & a reminder that even if you don’t stray from the page, the work is never done.)
One of morality’s dirtiest and most harmful little secrets is that it only constrains power where power is already weak for other reasons.
—Justin Murphy, “Feminism and the problem of supertoxic masculinity,” jmrphy.net (13 July 2017)
But the movie can’t escape that curse endemic to big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movies: The worlds they create on screen are almost always exponentially more interesting than the stories they tell.
—Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, “The ambitious War For The Planet Of The Apes ends up surrendering to formula,” avclub.com (7 July 2017)
(A follow up to Ss-35/10,000: even in the realm of screened media, the tension between watching & reading is becoming one of antithesis. Some further qualification—
Screen mediums oriented toward the presentation of worlds, like SF films or slow TV, and so made for watching or viewing, can be distinguished, à la Cavell, from those that, like live TV or streaming, present “event[s] standing out from the world,” open to a certain kind of reading: monitoring. One monitors both in hopes of a readable event occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films—and in hopes of no readable events occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films. Either way, one monitors at the expense of actually reading.
With respect to viewing & film, the screen is to SF films what the horizon is to environment-poems: it’s “a meeting ground between imaginative and perceptual vision.” On film, SF requires a very careful visual blend of imagination & realism, failures of which are now blamed on an imbalance of CGI & practical effects. But Ignatiy’s sentence is very precise. “Sci-fi” is already a name for hack-work in the realms of narrative & characterization, for the popularization of rudimentary SF conventions, and for their formulaic production. Sci-fi films transform SF worlds into series of events—plot points, character arcs, three-act structures, all of that Blake Snyder stuff—that stand out in such a way as to obscure the viewing process. That’s their curse. The narratives of the purest SF films, 2001, Blade Runner, Under the Skin, approximate a pure viewing experience: wandering through their environments, seeing things that you almost never see on film, in a sequence that mimics spontaneity, breaking the curse.)
People cannot be reading Charles Dickens or Henry James or Toni Morrison and at the same time watching television or a film on VCR, though some people may claim they can do that.
—J. Hillis Miller, On Literature (2002)
(A basic truth, but a hard one that bears repeating, especially if you teach any form of reading: reading, watching, and listening—or even the media consumption habits of protestantism, paganism, and fundamentalism—compete with each other.
ADDED: In case you need to see the above point, as opposed to reading it, here you go.)