Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
"Had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything's perfectly alright now. We're fine, we're all fine, here now, thank you. How are you?"
Which, given my level of computer literacy and technophobia, is actually a pretty good, and fairly diplomatic, description.
The point: it might be a little while until I can really post something new.
In the meantime, enjoy this bit of awesome poetry-ness (Peter O'leary and his theory of Apocalypticism in poetry is going to be a subject of a future post):
Thursday, June 23, 2011
However, I can not help myself. Maybe its because I spent many years as an ardent atheist, or maybe its because of my ongoing interests in philosophy (particularly mystical and ethical philosophy, and their intersections), but I just can't seem to quit thinking about these kinds of questions. And while I accept the criticisms of my Sufi siblings, and understand that such speculation can lead to indulging my nafs as well as increasing my confusion, I also feel like its important given the current and ongoing discussions about the roles of belief, disbelief, secularism, etc. in our cultures, and in the emerging globalized culture.
With all of that in mind, I wish to offer a philosophical description of how I ended up with my current ideas on God: way back when I was an atheist, and in college as a philosophy major (so, 10 or so years ago), I was reading some book for class and came upon a maxim, something to the effect of "Anything you say about God is wrong." Though I had certainly heard phrases like this before, I'd never really thought about it. Eventually, my thinking naturally led to this realization: if everything you say about God is wrong, then saying "God exists" is wrong; similarly, saying "God does not exist" is wrong. Continuing, in the nature of the Buddhist Four-fold negation, I then came to: saying "God both exists and doesn't exist" is wrong, as is saying "God doesn't both exist and not-exist". Instead of rejecting this as illogical, I just asked "okay, how could all of these statements be 'true', even if only contingently?"
What I arrived at was this: God, meaningfully called, would of necessity wholly transcend while being imminent within any such dialogical notions as "existence" and "non-existence", "conscious" or "unconscious", "personal" or "impersonal", etc. This, of course, is reliant on the definition of God as of necessity being absolute and infinite, which sets up the pairs "being" / "non-being", "absolute" / "non-absolute", "infinite" / "finite", etc., while reliant on notions of "transcendence" / "non-transcendence", "imminence" / "non-imminence", etc. Altogether, this shows God as consistently retreating from any possibly conceptual category, leading our thinking about God into something somewhat like what Douglas Hofstadter has called a "strange loop". God, as such, then can not be objectified / de-objectified, conceptualized / de-conceptualized, or identified / unidentified.
Altogether, what this means that if you ask the question "Does God exist?" then any answer, in the affirmative or the negative, or even an agnostic shrug, are all contingently true and contingently false, but can not touch upon any absolute truth.
This, of course, is nothing new. Hegel tried (and, in my mind, more-or-less failed) to present a logic to this idea, its been speculated on at length in the negative theologies of Christianity (e.g. Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, etc.) and Buddhism (e.g. Nagarjuna's "sunyata", the emptiness that is empty of emptiness), and is rooted in scriptural text such as the Qur'an's wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan ahad (112:4, "and there is nothing that could be compared with Him" in Muhammad Asad's translation) or the Taoteching's dao ke dao fei chang dao (Chapter 1, "Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao" in John C.H. Wu's translation). Finally, of course, it is the philosophical explanation of the principle of Unity of Being, particularly as expounded in various ways by Ibn Arabi, Suhrawardi, and Mulla Sadra*.
However, it was new for me. I arrived at these conclusions through my own speculations, assuming that they were only really discussed in Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Taoism, which, in my total misunderstanding of them, I'd identified as "atheist". To find it rooted and explored in the whole of the Christian (let alone the Jewish and the Islamic) tradition, was a shock. So, the question is: why isn't this incredibly open and inclusive idea explored and discussed more, especially when discussions about God, religion, atheism, etc. are not only prevalent but explosive?
Dong Guo Zi asked of Zhuangzi: "Where is this thing we call Dao?"
Zhuangzi said: "There's no place it isn't."
Dong Guo Zi said: "I hope you can tell me more than that."
Zhuangzi said: "It exists in crickets and ants."
"How could it be in anything as low as that?"
"It exists in common weeds."
"Could it exist any lower than that?"
"It exists in tiles and bricks."
"It couldn't exist any lower than that?"
"It exists in shit and piss."
When Dong Guo Zi didn't respond, Zhuangzi said: "Your questions didn't really touch on the substance of the matter. When Inspector Huo asked the superintendent of the market why he stepped on the fattened pigs, he told him that the further down his foot went the more he found out about the pig. If you keep pondering about where it can't possibly be, you'll never be rid of looking for more things where it can't be. Perfect Dao seems to be right, and so do expansive words. 'Entirely', 'everywhere' and 'all' are three different words for the same reality. They point out the unity of all things. [...] Things in relation to one another are joined without boundaries, but things do have certain boundaries, so it's said that things are restricted by those boundaries. There are no boundaries that can restrict and boundaries are non-restrictive. There are terms like 'fullness and emptiness' and 'submission and aggression.' What becomes full or empty is neither full nor empty. What becomes submissive or aggressive is neither submissive nor aggressive. What becomes introverted or extroverted is neither introverted nor extroverted. What becomes accumulated or scattered is neither accumulated nor scattered."
Saturday, June 18, 2011
However, the problem is this: like all geniuses, his work is often uneven. On the one hand you have the brilliance of a poem like this:
takes over everywhere before names
this taking over of sand hillock and slope
as naming takes over as seeing takes over
this green spreading upreaching thick
fingers from their green light branching
into deep rose, into ruddy profusions
takes over from the grey ash dead colonies
lovely the debris the profusion the waste
here — over there too — the flowering begins
the sea pink-before-scarlet openings
when the sun comes thru cloud cover
there will be bees, the mass will be busy
coming to fruit — but lovely this grey
light — the deeper grey of the old colonies
burnd by the sun — the living thick
members taking over thriving
where a secret water runs
they spread out to ripen
Unfortunately, on the other, there is complete tripe like this:
Let my verse be high and dry until
your mind flows in its own waters.
Let my rimes flow then into a rivering
until the feeling fires I mean
the whole to shine! It is a song of praise
in which the wound into its river runs
and winding shines from time to time,
dark and daylight glimmering
with hints of an ever happening rime.
It is a painting of the ephemeral
where what we took to be water glares
and in the heart of a solar mirror flares.
And yes, I know: its really, really well written. But its still a terrible poem: all cliche and silliness. It reads like some terrible hunk of horror foisted on us by the likes of Robert Frost or Sylvia Plath.
But I forgive Duncan these kinds of foibles (unlike Frost and Plath, who are both on The List... which will be discussed another time), because I appreciate the fact that he was a poet dedicated to experiment; dedicated to restlessly playing with words and rhythms, exploring the possibilities of form and content.
So, with all of this in mind, I was psyched, yes psyched, when the University of California Press finally released Duncan's The HD Book earlier this year. Never mind that its $50 (a price that has Duncan, a lifelong anti-capitalist anarchist, rolling and spitting in his grave, for true), and never mind all the Academic Hogwash that has surrounded the book and its legend for decades, I was just excited to finally read the thing...
And, well, huh.
The blessing and curse of this book is that I'm not even sure where to start talking about it. It has been compared to both Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project and Louis Zukofsky's Bottom: On Shakespeare, which I get. But, in truth, it supersedes both of these books in terms of innovative structure and in terms of successfully conveying the plethora of themes and possibilities embedded in the potential of such genre-busting, expectation overhauling badassary.
I'm more inclined to compare it to the ongoing work of Susan Howe, particularly the Howe of The Birth Mark and The Midnight. In all of her work, but in both of these texts in particular, Howe manages to defy the genre expectations of poetry and prose-criticism to create open field texts that expand the possibilities of meaning implied by words-in-themselves and the spirit that underlies them. In much the same way, Duncan, in The HD Book, is able, through his examination of the poems and prose of HD and how her work relates to his own working-poetics, to ground out the restrictions of language by exploding meaning and opening the potential of words toward both infinitely transcendent and imminent expansion.
Contra this, both Benjamin and Zukofsky get bogged down in labyrinths of language (a la Derrida), trapped in their structures, trapped in their assumptions. I think this is due to the similar sets of presuppositions each of them carried: both were girted with a Marxist-Leninist conception of materialism, with perhaps some Spinoza and/or pantheistic readings of Jewish mysticism thrown in for good measure, that locked them out of the openings they were looking for.
Duncan and Howe, on the other hand, are both more "spiritual", for lack of a better word, in their outlooks, allowing the possibilities of infinity, and hence the possibilities of transcendence-through-imminence / imminence-through-transcendence. Howe, from "Silence Wager Stories" (from The Nonconformist's Memorial):
Battered out of Isaiah
Prophets stand gazing
Formed from earth
In sure and certain
What can be thought
Who go down to hell alive
is the theme of this work
I walk its broad shield
Every sign by itself
havoc brood from afar
Letting the slip out
Glorious in faithfulness
Reason never thought saw
You already have brine
Reason swept all away
Disciples are fishermen
Go to them for direction
Gospel of law Gospel of shadow
in the vale of behavior
who is the transgressor
Far thought for thought
nearer one to the other
I know and do not know
Non attachment dwell on nothing
Peace be in this house
Only his name and truth
Duncan, from The HD Book:
The drama of our time is the coming of all men into one fate, "the dream of everyone, everywhere." The fate or dream is the fate of more than mankind. Our secret Adam is written in the script of the primal cell. We have gone beyond the reality of the incomparable nation or race, the incomparable Jehovah in the archetype of Man, the incomparable Book or Vision, the incomparable species, in which identity might find its place and defend its boundaries against an alien kind. All things have come now into their comparisons. But these comparisons are the correspondences that haunted Paracelsus, who saw also that the key to man's nature was hidden in the design of the larger Nature. We are a variation among variations in the music of a natural intent in which evil as well as our good plays its part, becomes a term of the good of the totality in process.
It is through this simple, but profound, foundation in their approach to the work of poetry that they are, I believe, better able to articulate not only visions of liberation that would make Benjamin and Zukofsky jealous, but also connect that liberation into the very structures of their work. Indeed, it would seem that only through the spiritual quests they each enact in their life / work, and the inifinitude of possibilities such a quest intrinsically entails, are they able to so thoroughly interlace form and content, and thus succeed where so many others have failed.