30/12/2022 0 Comments
On reading poetry on a train
I travelled by train from Auckland to Wellington and a journey that would have taken two hours on the high speed trains they have in Japan or four hours on a TGV in France took twelve hours, most of which I spent reading. Perhaps it was in one of the books I was reading on the train, Topeka by Ben Lerner, that there was a description of a young man travelling with a backpack full of a few essential items including a book of poetry. I was not reading poetry on the train, I was reading fiction, because I was reading to take myself out of the present moment of travelling into a world in which, unlike while you are travelling, there is narrative, things are continuing to happen they way they aren't happening to someone just sitting on a train for hours. If fiction takes you out of the world you are in, or out of your own experience, poetry seems to me to have a different kind of effect, if anything making you, while you read it, even more present in your own reality, even as you are transformed by the voice of the poet. Talking to friends recently about lyric scale, I found I could no longer really back my own claim about lyric scale as somehow answering the climate crisis's problem of scale - having the opposite qualities in terms of scale isn't any kind of intervention or answer. Perhaps the different kind of reading experience that poetry offers, in comparison to fiction, is also, if not an answer to crisis, valuable in the way it insists on presence - on the present tense of the moment, and on the presence of the person reading, even as it seems to bring into the present words written at some other time?
28/12/2022 0 Comments
On the location of thoughts
It is strange to think that there was a time, or there were cultures, perhaps are still?, in which thoughts were believed to originate in other parts of the body than the brain, in the guts for instance or in the heart. What would it feel like to imagine you were thinking from the heart, would it feel any different, would the thoughts feel less located in the head, behind the eyes? There may be some scientific truth to the idea that thoughts originate in the brain, to the extent that the mind is a construction of activity of the brain ("Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that when a subject believed a statement—whether it was religious or not—activity appeared in an area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex" https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/belief-in-the-brain/), but it makes no more real sense to think of thoughts as being located in the head than it does to think of them as located in the heart. They aren't material things that can be there behind the eyes, and why behind the eyes except that I, my self. looks at the world through the eyes and so I am locating myself there? And if sometimes I think of thoughts as being behind the eyes, sometimes I think of them more as floating, floating in a kind of cloud around the outside of my head, and when I think of them as floating, I think of the word floating too, so the idea of where my thoughts are becomes an idea that involves the sound of an o, the sound of the f and the l, the whole two syllables of the word floating, its balanced up and down rhythm, but most of all, its soft extended o sound. Thoughts float and then they float in language. And since we wouldn't have thoughts without language - memories, anticipation, feelings, most of what gives rise to a sense of self, but not thoughts as such? - then it makes more sense to think of thoughts as residing in language than in the head. So where is the thinking self located, in the body or in language, is language the extension of self? This takes me back to the idea of the self as residing in the things of the world, in what we experience, consciousness not as an experience of the apple but located in the apple itself, and the "self" of a hen, for instance, being not only the body of the hen or its movements through space but the worm it eats, the light on a leaf it sees, the dust between its feathers, its companions on the roost at night (http://www.annajackson.nz/on/on-consciousness-and-the-world). This is my understanding of Manzotti's theory of consciousness but I can't remember how language figures in it - perhaps it doesn't, perhaps language is regarded as a second order event, a descriptive tool for discussing consciousness (and consciousness theory), nothing to do with consciousness itself. Yet for all the ways the self, through consciousness and through language, extends beyond the body, I still want to hold on to an idea of the self, a self doing the thinking even if, unlike the body which is so precisely located within the world, I can't say where my thoughts exist, except for this one, which now exists on this screen, and perhaps will exist in the mind - in the head? in the heart? - of someone reading it one day.
27/12/2022 0 Comments
I remember when a friend confessed to being ashamed of how much she thought about clothes and I was surprised at her feeling ashamed of something I thought of as an accomplishment, the way she always looks so beautifully stylish in an original way that has a kind of consistent signature to it, and an accomplishment especially because she makes a lot of her clothes herself, or finds vintage clothes she often tailors to fit. She felt it was frivolous, which is something she doesn’t feel about her art or her writing, but I saw the way she dressed as an equally inspiring aesthetic achievement, reaching probably as great an audience, and a more diverse audience, an audience, too, of players, all of whom are getting dressed, too, every day, with more or less aesthetic purpose. So I was interested to see a paper on style by philosopoher Nick Riggle that starts by questioning the distinction between style and method he finds a number of artists making, and questioning, in particular, the idea that style is the expression of personality. I think his idea of personality is rather too limited - an artist might be timid, he argues, yet his art might be bold - as if personality were a series of introversion/extroversion, conscientious/unreliable, timid/bold sets of oppositions. I’d still like to think more about the idea of art (and especially poetry) as the expression of personality. But the argument he is heading towards, that style is an accomplishment, not just an expression of self anyone can’t help but have (like the textual habits - to elide or not to elide a vowel - that can determine contested authorship) but the expression of values, realised in a particular art form - and including dress, the furnishing of a house, the selection of music - is also an idea I like and would like to think more about. And I am interested how the word “style” rather than the word “voice” to talk about the way in which a poet writes immediately makes it easier to think of style as an accomplishment, rather than something anyone would have (or has to “find”). Still, there is such a gap between the idea of style and the idea of value - ideals that might be ethical as well as aesthetic (and what is an aesthetic ideal? apart from beauty? and what does it mean if we have to achieve an original idea of beauty? although in fact perhaps that is exactly the project). How might a moral or ethical ideal be realised as a way, a style, of writing? What can this mean?
These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.