Poetry is the sister of music, not science or mathematics

Every attempt at certain arguments reminds some of us of watching a particularly grisly and unfortunate accident in progress. Just because they are mentioned in the same sentences by the great and wise does not mean that these three things go together: scholarship, science and poetry.

Don Quixote, said to be the world’s first novel, makes the point mischievously. ‘Children,’ Cervantes has the arch-enemy of windmills pronounce in the translation Project Gutenberg carries, ‘are portions of their parents’ bowels,’ and must be acquainted with the ‘science’ of poetry – using the term when it had nothing to do with experimenting but meant something like ‘producing knowledge’. He continues:

Poetry, gentle sir, is, […] like a tender young maiden of supreme beauty, to array, bedeck, and adorn whom is the task of several other maidens, who are all the rest of the sciences; and she must avail herself of the help of all, and all derive their lustre from her.

But,

[…] according to a true belief, a poet is born one; that is to
say, the poet by nature comes forth a poet from his mother’s womb; and following the bent that heaven has bestowed upon him, without the aid of study or art, he produces things that show how truly he spoke who said,
‘Est Deus in nobis,’ etc. At the same time, I say that the poet by nature who calls in art to his aid will be a far better poet, and will surpass him who tries to be one relying upon his knowledge of art alone. The reason is, that art does not surpass nature, but only brings it to perfection; and thus, nature combined with art, and art with nature, will
produce a perfect poet.

Why the persistent over-reaching, the insistence that poetry is in some vital sense ‘the same as’ science – or mathematics, as Shirley Dent, an adventurous but sometimes petrifyingly quixotic blogger, argues this week in ‘Maths and poetry have a special relationship’ ? To summon Einstein saying, ‘Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas’ does not prove that the mental processes involved overlap more than very slightly – in that both calculus and Coleridge’s Xanadu involve distilled and concentrated thought, imagination, and abstraction.

Her first claim for their alikeness, that we learn to count numbers at the same age at which we first recite poetry, made me wonder why she didn’t go on to explain what precious insight potty training – also associated with that phase – has to offer into ‘One, two, buckle my shoe,’ or the failure to faint at the sight of a logarithmic table.

I blame the one art with which real poetry overlaps – poetry in which rhythm is always detectable – for batty, irresponsible knight-errantry like Dent’s. In Musicophilia, his riveting report on what neuroscience has to tell us about music’s meaning for us, Oliver Sacks says that

[M]usic calls to both parts of our nature – it is essentially emotional, as it is essentially intellectual.

. . . and . . .

[W] e have separate and distinct mechanisms for appreciating the structural and emotional aspects of music […]

So it is only one half of what music is that resembles the sciences. My guess is that it’s anxiety about the intellectual respectability of poetry in a technocratic age, and the hope of glamour by association with maths and science, that are driving people like Dent in their hopeless quests for commonality.

Modern science, like scholarship, is about patient and minute logical analysis. Sacks reminds us that those are types of mental effort that can push our brains too far in the direction of structuring and systematising, bypassing – and even degrading – our capacity to appreciate the wonderfully strange ways in which music splices together thinking and feeling. Even if there have been miraculous minds like Lewis Carroll’s capable of leaping across the divide, I’d suppose that what’s true of music is almost certainly true of poetry, as in this complaint of Charles Darwin’s that Sacks mentions:

Formerly pictures gave me considerable and music very intense delight. But now . . . I have almost lost my taste for pictures or music. My mind seems to have become a sort of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact . . . The loss of these tastes, this curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes, is a loss of happiness […]

. . . and this one, by Sigmund Freud, a few sentences later, explaining that though powerfully affected by some works of art, he cannot enjoy them without being able to explain them:

Wherever I cannot do this, as for instance with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.

Realising this young kept some of us from the formal study of art and literature – and in my case, was responsible for frantic and elaborate, intricate doodling in the backs of exercise books to shut out nearly all dissections of novels, plays and poems in school classrooms.

Anyone thinking about the difference between making art and its analysis might want to consider Ecclesiastes’. . .

He that observeth the wind shall not sow . . .

. . . or my most pressing reason for writing this post, which is adding the best words I’ve ever read about poems and poets, Robert Frost’s The Figure A Poem Makes, to the Geniuses section of this site. Here’s the most essential truth about poetry’s relationship to systematic thought:

Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields. No acquirement is on assignment, or even self-assignment. Knowledge of the second kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art.

That’s Cervantes’ idea too, said differently.

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48 Comments

Filed under Criticism, Music and words, Poetry, Psychology

48 responses to “Poetry is the sister of music, not science or mathematics

  1. elcal

    this music connection is interesting. i tend to think of both poesy and music having very illusive definitions, be they of taste or of particulars. Love that Darwin (by way of Sacks) quote, will post it up in my garret.

    However, i think there is something in the math bit. Not that I don’t agree that Shirl’s angle is wrong. I think arithmetic to Cervantes might have a different definition (it’s certainly not as rote as one, two buckle anyone’s shoe). The industrial division of thought and its subsequent labor seems to better explain Darwin’s (or Freud’s) lament. Something happened along the way that made math far more “technical”. Perhaps Einstein’s quote is a yearning toward this yesteryear.

    And Shirl’s dismissal of the Oulipo (like Roubaud, mathematician-poet) shows that she is unwilling to consider the few places where maybe math and poetry can get along. I think a lot of poetic tradition has been built on a mix of the Cervantes-esque inspiration and the structural games (perhaps mathematical) of form and syntax.

    But then, to say this last sentence makes it sound incredibly boring. perhaps scholars should just enjoy it all and keep quiet…

  2. wordnerd7

    @elcal,

    I think arithmetic to Cervantes might have a different definition

    Arithmetic is arithmetic, so I’m guessing that you meant to say mathematics there. And you’re 100% :)! right, of course.

    In Europe, modern calculus hadn’t yet been invented c.1600, when Cervantes published Quixote, . . . and nor had modern science.

    The industrial division of thought and its subsequent labor seems to better explain Darwin’s (or Freud’s) lament. Something happened along the way that made math far more “technical”. Perhaps Einstein’s quote is a yearning toward this yesteryear.

    Again, spot-on. What took over from the medieval scholastics’ obsession with ‘words, words’ in the advancement of knowledge came to be called scientific rationalism.

    It more or less began in Europe with Galileo (1564-1641), who was sure that ‘the book of Nature . . . was written in … mathematical characters or symbols.’ . . . Language came before the creation of mathematical symbols, and they were founded on it. But there was a marked forking of the road in roughly the time of Hobbes and Descartes (17th c) – and ratio (rationality) in the sense of a ‘counting mind’ became the byword for scientific investigation in the West. New branches of specialised language developed for scientific discourse, in addition to mathematical symbols.

    . . . The humanist tradition – of which the ‘sentimentalist’ Rousseau was a leading proponent – mostly became something very separate, and poetry is part of that.

    But then there’s the astonishing fact that Newton’s Principia was written in exceptionally convoluted and abstruse Latin, not maths symbols! I’m fairly sure that it was only completely rendered into those symbols a hundred years after his death. . . Still, language as a basis for mathematical reasoning, as he used it, is very different from language as a medium for poetry.

    As you say, Shirl’s got it all wrong, in her blog. . . This quotation of Newton, much as I hate to say it, reads like a fluffy attempt to cover empty space in an examination paper – since it has nowt to do with the price of eggs***:

    Shirley:
    Newton did not see his work as the answer to the grand book of the universe, describing himself “like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me”.
    (!!?!? . . . 🙂

    [back to @elcal] I think a lot of poetic tradition has been built on a mix of the Cervantes-esque inspiration and the structural games (perhaps mathematical) of form and syntax.

    Yes, some clever people have undoubtedly been playing inventive and stimulating games across the divide all along.

    to say this last sentence makes it sound incredibly boring. perhaps scholars should just enjoy it all and keep quiet..

    Well, I read you there as saying something else with which I’d warmly agree — that the scholarly analysis of poetry should stay in the scriptorium . . .. er, academy . .. I mean, should be reserved for discussions between scholars. ..

    What Sacks’ books proves, to my immense satisfaction, is that introducing poems to lay readers with analysis from the academic tradition (as on GU poetry blogs), and posts in the same style, actually leeches out pleasure and enjoyment from them . . . their thoughts and feelings. I droned on about my impression of that effect – without Sacks’ advantage of neuroscience for support — on many a poetry thread at the other place. Those people who think that the scholarly perspective is helping poetry to make a comeback are just plain bats, in my view. .. Or, like Darwin with music, they long ago lost the joy of poetry; unlike him, they can’t tell that they have.

    [*** @Des, I think we’re all beginning to sound a bit like you – especially on the subject of your heartthrob Shirl 😉 . . . I get the impression that the books blog eds are too intimidated by her to check whether her ideas actually make sense — sometimes she writes excellent blogs; sometimes they are amazing tosh, like this one.]

  3. Hello dear Wordy,

    Alright me being here?

    Off the cuff, I have read Shirley diligently for 2 years. I think in real life she would make fabulous company. She is probably a small person, a fast talker too with stimulating ideas and may be prone to interrupting conversations.

    But in a general sense from all she’s written (for 2 years), she’s often tried to attach poetry to mismatched situations and argue for the value of credibility. Sometimes, she relishes the outcome of any conversation with posters, sometimes she doesn’t.

    Shirley reminds me of an overly-fussy mother who doesn’t believe in self-reliance for a child because the said mother is too protective of her tot. Every action is seriously analysed…as if it may be in danger of being prone to a hospital visit at any moment.

    In this way, Shirley ready with a stock of bandages, fusses over her art. The thought of poetry, to read or write it has to be constantly structural and organised and always properly explained although she may have found it easier to just let her art run in the rain, breathe freely and to simply just be. To embrace poetry spiritually rather than technically, offers its own genius.

  4. seanmurray

    Not quite the topic, wordy, but: lit will either open itself up fully to music (and film; and online is the obvious place) or it will become as culturally relevant as ballet by mid-century.

  5. Odd that Shirley Dent has problems with the OuLiPo mob as Raymond Queneau’s heavily mathematical approach to poetry would be an ideal example to draw upon to make her point. It informed all his work and in the most part is used invisibly. I had no idea how tightly structured his novel ( and to my mind his masterpiece ) “The Bark Tree” is until I read what he wrote about it.

    He that observeth the wind shall not sow – nice phrase but it sounds a bit too much like guarding a patch to me as well.

  6. Shirley talks utter tosh because she is who she is, a Battle Executive for the talk factory called The Institute of Ideas, which is all about getting bores in front of an audience to pontificate on the noble art, as if what they are gassing about is gonna make the slightest difference to the planet and those on it who she and those in the same game, would dearly like to lead as chief prophet of their made up religions that say, yes, I know best coz I’m a know all git who chats theory feeling very important with myself.

    But have you noticed she is doing a Crummie and diving below the line, which was never her style when the blog first got started?

    This is not one of her better posts, and I am with Sue, in that I reckon she would probably be good company. I think she is a working class clever girl who did well, with a bit of plastic paddy in the mix, who is imitating the style they do to get on over there. What happens is, they go to uni and lose their accents and imitate the toffs to get on, and conceal their background, aping to be more middle than a lower and you end uo with ten people say, none of whom are from the bottom rung who speak posher than what they did as kids, all thinking they are the only ones putting on the act, where if they all just was honest, this comedic social delusion could be avoided. And the one toff in the mix, talks less posh than they did as a kid, trying desperately to be from the lower order, as they think its cooler, and vice versa.

    The problem with shirl is, she doesn’t do positive too much. The best post I read was when she was actually happy and celebrating some kids book, and we got to see who I reckon is the real shirl. I went into that gaffe as a direct result of her, after she poo pooed a do I was performing at, one of about 30 across the world, called Love Poetry Hate Racism.

    Now if i had my way, i would dicth the word Hate from the title, and the most comedic which no one picked up on was that the majority of the do’s happened on Hitlers birthday, which was a sheer random thing on the organisers part who didn’t know and when I asked him when we met at the In Sight of Raftery Poetry Festival in Kiltimagh in June 2007 to fix up the first All Ireland Live Poetry touring circuit, he tried to blather that he did know and it was some blah blah blah, but it was clear he hadn’t and was too embarressed to admit it.

    Anyway, the next year, Shirl had changed tack, talking about Politics and poetry, mentioning this very event, as if she was all in favour of it, no doubt assuming that no one takes a blind bit of notice about what she says in the first place.

    ~

    I reckon there has been a shift at the books blog, as McCrumb is making a real effort ot be a man of the people, as is Shirl, who before acted too cool and above us oinks. And notice how many poetry threads there are, clearly the writers thinking, if i write about poetry, i might get a few responses, because however you measure it, the Wild West days when the books blog first started, are well and truly over and there is a cadre of well established spammers, which only now, after two years, is settling down ionto some kind of civil arrangement. So all the toffs and competitors in the poetry biz, like Jane Holland and those like her, who thought, poo, nah, why write on a common blog with all the riff raff when I can appear once a year in some ailing national rag in print, have copped on that this is the future. That to get good at writing, isn’t about appearing once a blue moon in some print rag, but just trying and failing, falling flat on your arse. You look silly and sloppy and ineloquent at first, but slowly, you get better and making a tit of yourself in public, develop a thick skin and become unconcerned what others think and the ones who thought of holdiong back, the boat’s well out the harbour now and they can only look on enviously as the unknown spammers carve out their very public niche and now the chat is civilised and the old rant rant rant mode segued into summat classier, any newb coming in is gonna feel like an extra in the Rovers on Corrie (long running British soap opera) trying to muscle in on Norris and Rita.

    Coz now, there big dream of the new platform making it some thousand comments a day gaffe spectacularly backfired and thus the reason for Crumb and Shirl eating humble pie and getting down fighting for their comment share with the undisputed leader Carol and the dittie king WB Mills.

  7. wordnerd7

    @Suzan,

    Stop being so naughty. 🙂 . . . fits your mood in this marvellously wacky post: http://suzan-abrams.blogspot.com/

    Of course I’m happy to see you here — there was no reason to assume otherwise, just because I couldn’t cope with draft short stories appearing in a week with a hideously sensitive topic (race) and assorted other blog management problems. . . You know, I’ve never dreamed dreams of running an empire, even if @Des thinks we have that in common — !

    === In this way, Shirley ready with a stock of bandages, fusses over her art. The thought of poetry, to read or write it has to be constantly structural and organised and always properly explained although she may have found it easier to just let her art run in the rain, breathe freely and to simply just be. To embrace poetry spiritually rather than technically, offers its own genius. ===

    Yes, there’s a huge overlap there between your thoughts about enjoying poetry and mine . . . But I don’t think Shirley D is a poet or artist. More an aspiring theoretician, wouldn’t you say? . . . That fits the information about her that your @Des has given us.

  8. wordnerd7

    Oh — forgot to say how much I like the witch-in-boots on your site — her lower half is like an idea for an illustration I had some years ago . . . couldn’t get other people involved to agree.

  9. wordnerd7

    @Sean

    ===
    lit will either open itself up fully to music (and film; and online is the obvious place) or it will become as culturally relevant as ballet by mid-century.
    ===

    Yes I’ve finally seen that for myself — particularly after I watched your John the Revelator trailer. . . https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/printed-books-rip/

    Do you know that someone removed my comment from the YouTube site? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wjHrnqAY48. . . I don’t mind one bit, but that’s why I didn’t post again, as you asked us to — on @ISA’s site. . . I think the tone of what I said was all wrong for the spot (eg., ‘Cool shit!’ is something it will take practice for me to say and sound ‘authentic’) so please _don’t_ restore my old comment. : ) 🙂 🙂

    The next thing I’m going to have to do is actually buy the book.

  10. wordnerd7

    === Odd that Shirley Dent has problems with the OuLiPo mob as Raymond Queneau’s heavily mathematical approach to poetry would be an ideal example to draw upon to make her point. ===

    Dear @Alarming, I’m afraid you’re going to have to discuss that with young @elcal. . . Nerds don’t know from OuLiPo — I once wrote answered a post from someone with that screen name at GU saying what a treat it was to have someone genuinely Chinese blogging with us.

    . .. But yes, I did discover that movement after I googled for other posts by the brilliant exotic with an amazing grasp of idiomatic English . . . and so can see the sense in what you and @elcal say.

    Krazy Kat is in my library, .. . will report back anon.

  11. wordnerd7

    @Des,

    === But have you noticed she is doing a Crummie and diving below the line, which was never her style when the blog first got started?===

    Yes. But did you notice that _he_ only started doing that when you and everyone else helped to make it look as if this place, sharply critical of mercantalism, censorship and loftiness at GU, looked as if it might take off?

    === This is not one of her better posts, and I am with Sue, in that I reckon she would probably be good company. I think she is a working class clever girl who did well, with a bit of plastic paddy in the mix, who is imitating the style they do to get on over there. ===

    I agree, and would like to know more about this curious Institute of Ideas . . . As @Hazlitt said the other day, people are suspicious of intellectuals and name-dropping in Blighty, so I’d love to know just who was brave enough to found such a place (no time to google and dig today). . . In fairness, @Des, she’s told us about such a background herself. She doesn’t come across as personally pretentious, just intellectually so — when she insists on tackling subjects she doesn’t actually know very much about . . . Was amazed to find her trying to write about maths when I could almost swear that she once told us it isn’s something she’s any good at.

    === So all the toffs and competitors in the poetry biz, […] who thought, poo, nah, why write on a common blog with all the riff raff when I can appear once a year in some ailing national rag in print, have copped on that this is the future. ===

    I am picturing some of them saying this to themselves in the mirror, shaving or blow-drying their hair on the way to work. 😉

    ===The problem with shirl is, she doesn’t do positive too much. The best post I read was when she was actually happy and celebrating some kids book, ===

    I loved her girl-on-a-motorcycle post about To Autumn, even though — as I said on the thread — I don’t like the poem . . .

    === Coz now, there big dream of the new platform making it some thousand comments a day gaffe spectacularly backfired ===

    Had forgotten all about their new platform — and I think you’re absolutely right. Going there is like visiting a mausoleum, on most days, now — astounding, when you consider the power of GU’s name.

  12. It’s great innit, having gafes in which to jangle and gossip for larfs. I can’t help it, I have four sisters who can ruin a reputation less than 30 seconds out of earshot, and writerly types, arty ones, that’s what they like doing, and I am OK, with a healthy store of valid targets to feel aggreived by, in the game of slag ‘n go..

    But seriously, now there are various outlets for different types of gossip, you can spread yourself about. I have a round with designated lamposts I surf ‘n squirt on, in a more or less extemporised practice, reacting to what the latest blather is. Some high brow, others lower, and learning how to swivel on a sixpence.

    You may have notced atf is a meastro at this. S/he can say one thing ans return with a totally opposite stance, sounding utterly sincere. I think thius is the key, to understand that words and action are two seperate entities, and not to take the chat too seriously, and try to write happy and positive, as the negative road is a self fulfilling prophecy, and getting a career moaning abou the GU, long term is a bad move as the only people bothered, are a small pool who feel aggrieved. I know, as I took it very serious, the horror of my abuse at the hands of the mods, the battles I fought, the injustices, and all over what? My family being rounded up and gassed to death? No, over whether line four was really a way into the deeper reaches of some arcane theoretical aspect of a bleedin poem.

    Once you chill and spill it happy, that’s the way to do it. Just like that.

  13. wordnerd7

    @Des, yes @atf is certainly versatile . . .and takes unexpected positions sometimes . . .

    === No, over whether line four was really a way into the deeper reaches of some arcane theoretical aspect of a bleedin poem. ===

    Precisely. : ) . . . I can’t think of a more certain way to kill off any capacity to love verse.

  14. My dear Wordy,

    In answer to your earlier question, I haven’t noticed Shirley’s poetry as much as I have in retrospect, her ‘specialization’ of it. In many ways, she probably uses the books blog as an experiment and the posters who offer opinions as guinea pigs to see how an idea is received and answers probably get thrown back to the Institute to be gauged at further length. Sometimes, she writes on personal issues when she feels intensely about something eg. when the page’s format was changed, and that’s when Shirley is herself. I’m just guessing here but don’t think I’m far off the mark.

    *******

    As for the other bit, my intention of posting that ‘piece’ was only to make a point to atf about the technical apititude to that bit of writing on the Zanzibar. She had earlier asked for some info and I wanted to pass it on. My writing was not meant to curry favour with any audience or to desire one, using your site. In fact, it was just such a one-off nothing thing and please feel free to delete whatever remnants are left of it, Wordy. I would be comfortable with that.

    I apologize unreservedly that I added to your distress. I had not read that particular exchange with Pink.. so didn’t know what was going on. I’m balancing 2 highly different worlds at the moment… Africa and Europe and often have to conduct a paradigm shift in my own mind.

    I do adore your web presence, a thin layer for shrouding your real personality and having read you too, for 2 years, wouldn’t give up this friendship so easily even if I am clearly one of the lesser players about. I appreciate and respect it.

    ********

    Des you want to be careful that Mary in Rome doesn’t read what you said just now about sisters.

  15. wordnerd7

    . . . Yes, who would believe that wicked @Des has a sister who works in the Vatican . . . 😉 . . .

    @Suzan, I’m intrigued by your interpretation of what SD is doing. Maybe you’re right. I would worry, though, for both her and the IoI. Who could take them seriously after ‘experiments’ (if that’s what they are) like that? . . . Of course those of us who already know her work will read SD again, in the hope – I mean expectation — that she’ll return to the standards of her better posts.

    === In fact, it was just such a one-off nothing thing and please feel free to delete whatever remnants are left of it, Wordy. ===

    I wouldn’t dream of doing that. One of these days I’ll get around to reading the story – when the associations with that perfectly horrible day have worn off. . . Even in the midst of the chaos, though, I did wonder about this possibility:

    === I had not read that particular exchange with Pink.. so didn’t know what was going on. I’m balancing 2 highly different worlds at the moment ===

    . . . since anyone can miss vital paragraphs, reading on the road. . . Absolutely no apology necessary.

    === even if I am clearly one of the lesser players about. I appreciate and respect it. ===

    You know that that’s not true at all. Even this daft spot only had a pulse on some days over the Christmas holidays because of you – and as GU’s books blog fades, . . . well, think of how many threads you kept going virtually on your own. Actually, all of us old-timers did that more than once – and after weighing what he said, I agree with @Des about it being unlikely that such an improbable and mutually stimulating group will form over there for a long time, if ever. . . Some scraps I’ve learnt about who’s who ( I mean, _was_ who) behind the screen names make that a virtual certainty.

    . . . Overall, what most astonishes me about you is your transformation by @Des in just a few months. You used to be so alarmingly fragile. . . Now, you seem to have the wisdom of ‘Consider the source’ engraved into your very bones. I sense that you now think, exactly as you should: . . . hmm, if X with no obvious needs unmet — and, unprovoked — feels obliged to attempt to wring my neck, yet again, when I am no one famous or powerful, poor old X must be the most miserable blogger alive. . . . VERY WELL DONE, DES. . . . BRAVA, SUSAN 🙂

  16. Thanks very much, Wordy.

    Maybe experiment is too harsh a word. I think the thought of Shirley – who I’ve noticed is always kind – bouncing off ideas with added enthusiasm from one platform to the other, better fits the bill.
    I didn’t mean to make Des look conspicuous but forgot to close the code for ‘bold’.

    As for the transformation bit now that you bring it up, I think that I should thank my foes for it. Mockery is the best gift they could have given me because if you have the gumption to withstand any public humiliation and all that trolling especially when you’ve done nothing wrong, then you will rise from the ashes. I’m having a grand time at the present so let it all continue from a far distance. I’m cool with it. 🙂

  17. elcal

    wordy,

    i laughed when i initially saw that reply to OuLiPo, mostly because i thought the same thing you did. then i remembered something i’d read about those Frenchies somewhere and “got it”.

    personally, i’d rather we have a GUlag with Shirley and McCrum and not Chas or JHE. Chris Power is still around, another intellect i respect. I know we all like to poke at folks like Crumb and Dent, but i have a feeling they are a bit less stubborn, bit more open-minded, than some others. of course, dissenters wouldn’t be dissenters if we didn’t, well, dissent. (unfortunately, though, that mentality almost got me afoul of 3p4)

  18. ElCal I agree about Chris Power – very good choices, well read, able to condense things into a short piece and prepared to come below the line as well. Not that I think I’m superior or know more ( certainly not the case ) but I think we all like it when the blog author isn’t a distant voice and is prepared to join in the developing debate/row/ blah.

    With some of the writers like Mark Lawson you get the feeling they feel their blogs are like tablets down from the mountain and they have said all they have to say on the matter. So we get offered half thought through essay ideas or indeed half an idea at times that cannot be challenged directly. I suppose he has too many media engagements to mix it with the likes of us.

    I also like Michael Rosen as well despite his odd, stubborn defence of Katie Price.

  19. ISA

    What I have discovered is that you can know something. Then you can actually realise that you know something. Then you can really know something, and so on.

    In the same way you can write a biography about the life of someone great and then someone else can write another on the same person, and on and on. The whole process resembles a hoovering vortex.

    I suppose one element of the artist verses the scholar is the emphasis on experientialism.

    Or take the meaning of a simple word in another culture.

    “Rimbombante.”

    As in, her poems are somewhat “rimbombante”.

  20. wordnerd7

    @Suzan,

    Admirable stoicism on your part, but you _have_ come a long way and would you deny that @Des has helped you not to take any of that babyish mockery so seriously? : )

    . . Someone mostly uninvolved, usually perceptive and doux . . . who I imagined would know better, doesn’t seem to realise that cross-cultural misunderstandings don’t just arise from differences in linguistic usage but from confusion about social conventions .. . You didn’t grow up in Britain; don’t have parents who were educated in or spent much of your own life in the UK, so sometimes seem lost about what is and isn’t acceptable to say about oneself .

    Watching Des lark about isn’t much help, since so much of his I’m-the-greatest-poet-that-ever-lived shtick is a colossal windup and _he_ knows exactly what limits he’s crossing. . . Then . . . your prose style, when you write most spontaneously, is as colourful, full of feeling and cheerfully maximalist as other writing I’ve read from Southeast Asia – v. different from anything British, and to be assessed in its own terms. . . You move back and forth between ways of being. Some of us understand this; others are confused about how to judge you and lashing out in their bewilderment. . . You’re doing exactly the right thing, in developing a thicker skin.

    As someone — @ISA? – said (as best as I can remember) the other day, you are a model of kindness and generosity. No other labels will stick.

  21. wordnerd7

    @elcal and @Alarming,

    . . . I went looking for my gullible post addressing an echt Chinese comrade, 🙂 , and to my disappointment, found I was more cautious than that 😦 . . . _But_ the conversation took place on one of the best of the best of Shirley Dent’s blogs – which even she enjoyed enough to come below the line and, as @Suzan says, be kind and appreciative. . . It was a post on Chinese poetry, and there her shading and cross-hatching were fine and sensitive: ‘. . . I think we are gravely mistaken when we confuse writing poetry with acting politically. But great poetry undoubtedly pricks and probes political consciousness, . . .’.

    wordnerd7
    Comment No. 1188676
    June 27 8:25

    @OuLiPo, you are the one blogger-comrade here who has registered as possibly Chinese. Only I’ve barely noticed that since the first post by you that caught my attention . . .on a ‘favourite lines’ blog, I think – . . . and your contribution was the Japanese classic about the frog jumping into the old pond, if I’ve remembered right. . . [. . .]. . Anyway, it seems fitting to be reminded on a blog on Chinese poetry that our lone blogger with a name that looks Chinese has mostly contributed posts on the same subject.

    . . . But of course you might only have picked an unusual screen name to entertain us . . . 😉

    […]

    [a bit of googling on that occasion turned up:]

    où, Li Po?
    Où maintenant, Li Po?
    chez Li Bai?
    chez Du Fu?
    Dites moi vite
    et fort
    en lettres de fumée sainte
    où?

    Qu’est-ce que l’Ou Li Po ?
    Odyssée (France Inter), 12 Juin 2003
    Article mis en ligne le 3 janvier 2006

    […] C’est l’Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, un atelier de poètes et de mathématiciens fondé en 1960 par le mathématicien François Le Lionnais et l’écrivain Raymond Queneau.

    ____________________________________

    ShirleyDent
    Comment No. 1187852
    June 26 21:11

    I’ve very much enjoyed reading all these comments, particularly the discussion between wordnerd and alarming about stereotypes – unfortunately we do have to contend with recent media coverage that has tended to portray China and the Chinese people in a very monolithic way (although there are some great exceptions – I loved Chinese School on BBC 4). The reality is very different and what I thought before was confirmed by going to China: the solutions to China’s problems (and there are undoubtedly problems) have to come from the Chinese people themselves. When we start seeing them as ‘no different from people in the West’ as wordnerd put it, this doesn’t seem like such a strange or impossible thing, albeit a difficult and complicated one for China itself.

  22. wordnerd7

    === What I have discovered is that you can know something. Then you can actually realise that you know something. Then you can really know something, and so on.===

    Well @ISA, that’s coming at knowing exactly like a poet, I’d say — more like Frost than any scholar-bore . . . One of the best things about having visual artists comment on literature on this particular blog is the freshness that their perspective brings to the discussions.

  23. wordnerd7

    @ISA:

    An example of the insight and deepening of experience that another kind of artist . . . as opposed to professional litcritter . . . can bring to literature . . . I found this tidying up (or trying to) yesterday:

    Randy Kennedy in the NY Times, Nov 2, 2008:

    Eric Karpeles’s book, “Paintings in Proust,” is the first to focus on the works of art that inspired Proust’s novel.

    … As Karpeles, a painter, points out, Proust names more than 100 artists, from Bellini to Whistler, in the novel and mentions dozens of actual works from the 14th through the 20th century, making the novel “one of the most profoundly visual works in Western literature.”

    In its pivotal moments, paintings often play supporting roles, as when Charles Swann, a leading candidate for fiction’s most tortured character, wills himself into love with the faithless courtesan Odette de Crécy partly because she resembles a figure in a Botticelli fresco: “The words ‘Florentine painting’ did Swann a great service. They allowed him, like a title, to bring the image of Odette into a world of dreams.”

    Mr. Karpeles has now helped translate the dreamlike visual passages of Proust back into the images that inspired them. His guidebook “Paintings in Proust,” just published by Thames & Hudson, makes up a kind of free-floating museum of the paintings, drawings and engravings that figure or are evoked in the novel. Even for those who have never scaled the 3,000 pages of Mount Proust, the book presents a lush coffee-table snapshot of the artistic spirit of Third Republic France as filtered through Proust’s keen sensibility, formed mostly in the Louvre, with excursions (real or imaginative) to Florence, Venice, New York and London.


    Example: P’s mention of a painting by Whistler (which also demonstrates incidentally the difficulty of translating Proust and retaining any magic):

    === But just as Elstir, when the bay of Balbec, losing its mystery, had become for me simply a portion, interchangeable with any other, of the total quantity of salt water distributed over the earth’s surface, had suddenly restored to it a personality of its own by telling me that it was the gulf of opal painted by Whistler in his “Harmony in Blue and Silver,” so the name Guermantes had seen the last of the dwellings that had issued from its syllables perish under Françoise’s blows, when one day an old friend of my father said to us, speaking of the Duchesse; “She has the highest position in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; hers is the leading house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.” ===

  24. If you read “Against Nature” by Huysmans it’s a virtual name-check of contemporaries that the author found interesting or ( if you are being cynical ) one of the finest examples of log-rolling in the late 19th century. His descriptions of Odilon Redon’s work are still some of the best written about that artist and all concealed within a wonderfully perverse story-line.

    For me Bruno Schulz is the nearest I’ve read to an author reproducing the act of painting as writing ( if that makes sense ). The way he describes detail and background is extremely visual. It has a sort of shorthand which mirrors the decisions you make as to what to put in and leave out in drawing.

    Schulz was a marvellous illustrator too but oddly ( like Grass ) the drawings never intrude on the mental images I get when reading his prose. As an example of what I mean Tenniel’s Alice is how I see the characters or Shepherd’s Winnie the Pooh but Schulz’s drawings are an additional pleasure rather than fighting the words for headspace.

  25. wordnerd7

    === For me Bruno Schulz is the nearest I’ve read to an author reproducing the act of painting as writing ( if that makes sense ). ===

    Yes, it makes perfect sense, @alarming — and that’s a steer of very particular interest to me. (What you said has something in common with the idea of synesthesia, which is also fascinating). . . . So Schulz is on my list, now, and I never say that lightly, anticipating, ‘wordnerd, did you ever get around to — ? etc.’ . . . some day in the future.

  26. “Street of Crocodiles and other short stories” is the book to look for. I don’t have the publisher to hand but there was a non-Penguin version which has the drawings included.

  27. wordnerd7

    Thanks — my library’s online catalogue says that the one copy of ‘the complete short stories of’ in the network, . . . contains ‘The street of crocodiles — Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass’ . . . but it’s out and not due back until the 17th. . . Some psychic rival borrower anticipated that you would give me this valuable information and made a pre-emptive strike. Obvious, innit. . . Will try abebooks next.

  28. Hi Wordy,

    Before I reply what you wrote, just wanted to say that I do know something about a Li Po. Hang Li Po. She was said to be a beautiful princess sent to Malacca, a quaint historial town in Malaysia – at the time known as Malaya and which was once ruled by the Portugese, Dutch and later the British. Li Po was sent to Malaya in the 15th century by an Admiral called Cheng Ho – always elaborately dressed – who had very good trade ties with the harbour in Malacca that specialised in merchants, spices, silks and such. He moved in very high circles and engaged in famous voyages to the Far East. Malacca of course has its predominantly Malay (Muslim) culture. Cheng Ho brought along Li Po in her role as a fair and beautiful maiden to marry a popular Malay sultan, the Sultan of Malacca at the time called Mansor Shah. This was to signal good relations between China and Malacca.

    The Sultan already had several wives but fell deeply in love with Li Po, built her a palace and later a memorial to her name. She came with many servants (a few hundreds) and along brought along a taste of the exotic Ming dynasty to the Malacca Sultanate. I still remember how my classmates and I, all found Li Po to be alluring and enigmatic as the Malay teachers would always portray her, while studying history in school.

    Here’s a link for more information, Wordy:
    Hang Li Po.

  29. Wordy,

    Another Li Po. Legendary Chinese poet (male) in 8th century China.
    Also, for an example of one of his poems, Li Po (poet).

  30. The above link to the Chinese poet Li Po doesn’t work. Trying once more, over
    here.

    Wordy, if the link doesn’t work again, the url to copy and paste is:

    http://homepage.uab.edu/yangzw/libai1.html

  31. Wordy,

    For what you had written earlier, well, you are just too kind and I thank you sincerely.

    The thing is I have been a traveller for 10 years. To have carried Masai babies or stand at the base of the Kilimanjaro, to be having coffee in Temple Bar, Dublin or to be walking the streets of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur all in the space of the last 2 straight months isn’t an ordinary life at all and that’s just a fraction of my days. And for anyone to even try to analyse this and because the individual is unable to do it; scorn at such unconventional freedom is just a waste of time. I myself can’t define my own movements.

    So thanks for understanding. Saying which I have always enjoyed living in London, Melbourne and Dublin. I feel most at home in these cities and have had absolutely no problems with anyone and definitely nothing remotely close to a certain ‘situation’ last year.

    Wordy, Des has been wonderful indeed. He often attributes my emotional upheavals to ‘theatrics’ and uses just 3 golden words.

    Stop yer moanin.

    I often feel Des and I have stepped out of a very dusty George and Mildred script. 🙂

  32. seanmurray

    Wordy —

    1. Mind I sent you and obooki thon Bruno Schulz story ‘The Comet’ yonks ago? That’s the best short fiction I’ve read, only Borges and Gogol coming close (Alarming: ‘Another fucking list…’). He’s sometimes described as a cross between Kafka and Proust and that about sums him up.

    There’s a cracking Schulz story here called ‘Spring’ (translation isn’t great though):

    http://www.schulzian.net/translation/sanatorium/spring01.htm

    I’d disagree with Alarming about one thing. For me Schulz’s best work is in his second book ‘Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourclass’, plus of course ‘The Comet’, the last thing he ever published. He’s one of the few writers I know of who never stopped improving. And then he was shot dead by a Gestapo officer and the manuscript of his only novel The Messiah disappeared.

    2. John the Revelator’s been getting some nice reviews.

    Irish Times:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0124/1232474677769.html

    Sunday Independent piece with strange undercurrents:

    http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/the-book-according-to-peter-1622879.html

    Check out the breaktaking snobbery and idiocy of the ‘scaldy/quiddity’ comment in this review in the dear old Daily Express:

    http://www.express.co.uk/features/view/83599/John-The-Revelator

    Cathi Unsworth will soon review it in our beloved GUlag.

    Baron, if you’re out there —

    Roberto Bolano’s 2666 is really quite something. Still way too much stuff about writers, but it is in a different league altogether to By Night in Chile and The Savage Detectives. Years since I’ve read a modern novel with this degree of complexity.

  33. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, . . . sorry, Mildred . . . this is going to mean a wholesale mental reboot, I’m afraid. 🙂 And Des as _George_, . . . frightening. You won’t mind if I say that this is a bit inconvenient, Millie, will you? I mean, I’ve been visualising him as Alice doing the time-warp for all these years.

    Thanks very much for those links. What was so special about Li Po, did your teachers say? No time to hop onto that url yet, but I will . . .

  34. wordnerd7

    @Sean, I do remember something like that appearing as an attachment, long ago – but I’m afraid I never got round to investigating Bruno that time. . . All a matter of timing, yes? . . Anyway, you’re on record as his first recommender.

    Thanks for the links for John the Revelator . . .I’ve only skimmed paragraphs with details about the book because I don’t like to know much in advance. Your trailer was perfectly judged for people like me . . . and it obviously encapsulates the book very well, because it somehow conveyed some of the qualities the reviewers/ profilers are talking about now. And to think that it was just two minutes long is amazing. Examples of what you prepared readers for:

    Irish Times:
    === yet Murphy succeeds in making his lively, evocative story that bit different,===

    ===Religion plays its part but not in the traditional Irish way. For once, there is less of the guilt and more of the sheer wonder===

    ===John quickly wins the reader: “Every day after school I dragged my schoolbag home like it was a younger brother.”===

    . . . I’m going to be holding my breath for Peter Murphy, though, hoping that the hype doesn’t get out of hand. This, even if true, is getting awfully close: ‘John The Revelator is a work of near genius.’ . . . How I wish for PM’s sake that he could run off somewhere remote and write his next book, ignoring the fuss and nonsense.

  35. Sean & WN- The Picador edition “The Fictions of Bruno Schulz” ( unearthed eventually last night ) I read has all his work in it plus his glorious illustrations.

  36. Hi Wordy,
    It was an unusual marriage at that time. A Chinese maiden from faraway China being wed to a Malay Sultan from an Islamic Sultanate.
    She embraced the Islamic faith readily and history records Hang Li Po as a beautiful woman.
    From susan and not Millie, if you please. 🙂

  37. wordnerd7

    @Suzan,

    I think you need to correct this impression of Li Po’s:

    Journeying is hard,
    Journeying is hard.

    [read that via the link you posted for us]

    And, given your interest in Iran and Iranian women, thought you might want to read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/fashion/08love.html?ref=fashion&pagewanted=all

  38. Sean interesting too that Schulz inspired one of the best filmed-versions-of-a-book in the Quay Brother’s “Street of Crocodiles”. In fact I’d put it near the top of a fucking list of best books on film.

    I saw the film 20 years ago ( or more ) and read the book after seeing it. I really like the film – it has the same sensory qualities but exists as an independent piece of work which is not always the case.

  39. wordnerd7

    @Alarming,

    This doesn’t seem surprising, given what you said about his talent for conveying painting as writing: ‘one of the best filmed-versions-of-a-book in the Quay Brother’s “Street of Crocodiles”.’

    . . . Hang on to your Picador. I found a mention of some edition on sale for $400 last night . . . An $11 Penguin is on its way to me..

  40. seanmurray

    Yeah the Picador edition’s the one I’ve got. And the Quay Brothers’ adaptation is superb. But that’s what’s so frustrating about. It’s usually animators, musicians, film-makers, etc who’re reaching out to incorporate lit ideas and so seldom the reverse. There remains that horrible sniffy attitude of the cravat/fedora brigade: ‘Well, we simply don’t *do* that sort of thing.’ And so the artform continues its slide into irrelevance and onanism.

    Des, if you’re there —

    The official launch of John the Revelator is at Dubray Books on Grafton Street tomorrow night at 7. Why not come down and we’ll have a reminisce about the Wild West days on the booksblog? I’ll be the hipster with splendid hair.

  41. BaronCharlus

    Thanks for the tip, Sean. I am checking in, all, but having a funny time of it in the 3D world so need to withdraw for a while!

    All the best

  42. Sean I agree but I also wonder if to some extent that’s always been the case. A new way of doing things ( e.g dada, surrealism, absurdism, pop-art, beat etc. etc ) arrives – the mainstream remains resistant to it and it takes the old guard dying off being replaced by a new guard who’ve grown up with these forms to start slowly introducing them into the mainstream. This process has probably accelerated these days with the arrival of middle-men and college courses.

    In many ways I think it’s good for the artists if they do remain slightly apart from things even though certain aspects of the mainstream ( avenues to get work shown or read, more money ) are useful.

    My area of work – street theatre – is an odd one. We play to huge audiences who are full of curiosity, who seem to have no problems with some extremely strange performance ideas and who are not the fedora/cravat brigade. So critically we don’t exist or if we do we are generally something to scrape off the bottom of the shoe. I suspect the word street theatre immediately conjures up the worst of the genre – mime statues, vacuous stilt-walkers and hippy jugglers – in most people’s minds. Mine too! But it’s a very interesting mongrel of an art-form and there’s a lot of those kinds of mongrel art-forms sniffing around at the moment.

    But although we do get funded we still seem to slip through the net of thinking of most Arts Council officers so in some ways it’s better to remain a token, shadowy presence.

  43. seanmurray

    Alarming —

    I’ve put a link to the Whalley Range Allstars on my website. Do let us know if you ever perform in Ireland.

    One problem with literary fiction, I think, is that it still believes itself to be mainstream when it hasn’t really been so for decades. Like opera, ballet, pop, jazz, blues, classical, sword-smithery and pyramid-building, it is an industry almost wholly trading on former glories.

    For me, still the most exciting moment in the arts in recent memory was the whole Trainspotting/chemical generation craze, when this great artform briefly stopped just preaching to the converted. Prison inmates reading lit fiction… Security guards reading lit fiction… Lit fiction readings at raves… Nary a cravat or fedora in sight!

    It’s why I’ve never wanted to over-berate the Brutalist crowd. Their hearts are in the right place, I think. The real enemy, if there is one, is the mindset responsible for the ‘scaldy/quiddity’ comment I mentioned above.

  44. Thanks Sean although I can’t help wondering what your usual visitors will make of us if they follow the link! – the problem with the Brutalists for me was the hyper-activity of the press releases which didn’t seem to match what was on offer. But as you say youthful (-ish in their case ) energy is never to be sneezed at.

    Good luck btw with the launch tomorrow. I thought I’d posted this sentiment earlier but it hasn’t appeared and I’m undergoing a bit of short-term memory confusion at the moment so perhaps I didn’t.

  45. seanmurray

    Cheers, man.

    Though in actual fact I’m seething with envy and have arranged for Mr Murphy to be battered senseless in cinema toilets on Wednesday.

    Richard Tull

  46. Thanks very much sean. I think I may well pop along, as it will no doubt be filled with an eclectic mix from the ranks.

    cheers

  47. wordnerd7

    Thank you so much, @Sean and @Des, you have perfect instincts for making your comrades feel far away and left out of _all_ the fun. . . [sniff . . . 😦 ]. . . @Des, I hope you realise that the only way you can make up for such outrageous insensitivity is to give those of us unlucky enough not to be invited a complete account of the revels for the Revelator – every detail of the scene, please, and especially the hipster hair and anything equally embarrassing, here or at your own site, . . . as you like.

    Please will you both on my behalf wish Peter Murphy the very best of luck – in which, at the risk of being repetitive, I’ll include escaping the hoopla soon enough to make good progress on his next book. 😉

  48. wordnerd7

    Well, I can’t say I didn’t wish that we had this comment on Shirley’s blog on our thread:

    FrankLeeme
    08 Feb 09, 4:44am (about 19 hours ago)

    I see ‘Fib’ poems being no more mathematical than any other metric foot. Furthermore I don’t don’t see pure maths as being poetic at all.
    http://mathematicalpoetry.blogspot.com/2008/02/is-pure-mathematics-poetic_15.html

    Cheers,
    Frank

    . . . I followed his link and found this:

    We may choose to argue that mathematics contains elements of poetry such as rhythm and pattern. Yet one may argue that it is not maths that has poetic elements but poetry that has mathematical elements. For the sake of argument, let us say that poetry possesses the mathematical element of pattern. I would like to make the point that it is difficult to get excited about these metric patterns when taken out of the context of poetry and view in only the light of mathematics.

    . . . And then – an amazing discovery! Pure mathematicians have blog brawls just like ours — and hissy fits about poetry! : ) !

    (from a post by ‘Kaz Mazlenska’)

    I have watched you argue your case with the new-poetry group and there is little consensus in fact Marcus got kicked out of the group because he could not stand your definitions of poetry and behaved in such a manner that it got him removed. I am not saying that you are wrong I am just saying that as soon as someone defines art or poetry someone else comes along and creates a trend against it. (you should know you are the new one trying to redefine poetry) … bottom line is that defining things is easy getting everyone to buy into it for any period of time is the difficult part.
    Thanks for your comment
    Kaz

    ;). . . :). . . 😉

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