Saturday, May 04, 2019

On poets

Another Karen Chamisso poem

On Poets

They try to make it hard, the poets
With their initiating ha ha ha
And the laws concerning the breath/wind
In and of words, subtracting snorts and swallows
The whole mucousy richness
As the silverware clinks tink tink tink tink
On expensive plates
That one would like to break

They try to make it hard the poets but still
I decided to be one – since
The gate door is unlocked – and it was always only meant
For you
The joke prosody plays on the tongue
goes: knock knock? Who’s there?
And the answer, child, is iamb.

Thursday, May 02, 2019


In the new novel I am writing, much depends on a poet, Karen Chamisso,  I figure my last novel, which I still haven't placed with an agent, was all about the Bush era, and for that I needed a political murder. For the Obama era, I have decided my guttering candle that will light my way through the murk will be a poet who is also the heiress of a fortune made by her father in the bug extermination trade. You'd be surprised. So I've been writing Chamisso poems. This is one.

Claire taught me the larger gestures
The kabuki theater of entrances and exits
In sky high boots at the Killer club
Sweeping into the backseat of the taxi at 2 a.m.
The seriousness at the center of silliness
A moral position, stoic,
Enduring the battering of ten thousand bragging boys.
Claire taught me the larger gestures but
Claire died. They dragged her body from the river.
She chose the largest exit. And though I see and feel
The moral position, I can only visit, stricken.
They buried her in Alpharetta.
Oh Claire. Honeychild.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Buridan's internet

Buridan’s ass would doubtless have hated the internet. The same old blues, he’d think, multiplied infinitely. Or perhaps, and this is the bet every Internet marketer and Google stockholder makes, he would have loved it, as craving becomes an addiction to choice. We begin by looking for the cheapest price, and we end by spending hours looking at Airbnb pictures and commenting on how they could possibly thought that photographing a corner of the bathroom was of any interest to the curious renter.
This is, at least, my experience. I become more asslike as I realize that possible worlds are unfolding before me in cosmic vistas, that one of my childhood dreams – invisibly entering a house – is being realized on a frightening scale, and I have merely to put the cursor on another link to send another shot to whatever part of my brain that is dedicated to invidious comparisons. However, there’s a point, a sad point, in which the whole expedition upon which I have embarked – to find, say, a cheap Airbnb in X – begins to lose its purpose, in which the best price, or the best looking rental, or the best location, or the best references, loses its practical side, because nothing, it turns out, is exactly, every jot and tittle, what I want, even if, before I began the expedition, my desires were of a vagueness… It becomes, instead, an indicator of more – of the “there must be more” that so often besets the poor commoditized consumer, in fatal foreplay with his own want-y self.
John Buridan, like any medieval worth his tomes, left behind a considerable amount of text. However, there is no textual anchor in that corpus for the ass story, although there are plenty other paradoxes. The story goes like this: an ass is driven to stand between two exactly similar bales of hay. If we suppose that the ass simply acts on a calculation that serves to maximize his desire, he would find no reason to prefer one to the other. Thus, he would continually stand there, calculating, until he starved to death.
Buridan apparently used this parable orally, when teaching his students, and it was passed down after he died so that it was known to Spinoza, who is one of the first to mention the story.
Crucially, the ass is between two parity products. Two bales of hay that are composed of just the kind of saliva inducing stuff that donkey’s crave. The donkey has found a strange spot in the human universe, an equilibrium spot, where there is no more reason to chose bale “a” then to chose “b”. Being a mule calculator, an asinus economicus, the mule has obviously read up on ranked preferences and is way ahead of Kenneth Arrow on the impossibility of the three candidate rank ordering, at least if we are to satisfy certain classical criteria, such as Pareto optimality.
Buridan’s ass has spawned, as such things do, a whole subliterature in philosophy. Many return to Spinoza’s analysis in Ethics II, 49:
“I am quite ready to admit, that a man placed in the equilibrium described (namely, as perceiving nothing but hunger and thirst, a certain food and a certain drink, each equally distant from him) would die of hunger and thirst. If I am asked, whether such an one should not rather be considered an ass than a man; I answer, that I do not know, neither do I know how a man should be considered, who hangs himself, or how we should consider children, fools, madmen, etc.”
Spinoza’s suggestion that the equilibrium state is kin to such extra-rational states as childhood or madness could be seen as a throwing up of his hands – a narrowing of the anthropological interest, of the human all too human. But I take it as something other than a philosophical defeat; to me, this signals a moment in the history of philosophy:  a transformation of what used to the whole goal and morality of the sage’s exercise in refusing to want, in ascesis. See the rest at Willett's!

The synthetic progressive

I have been searching for a term to encompass one of the great features of capitalism – the non-necessary synthesis. I guess I will call it ...