Tuesday, January 30, 2007

if only they did this to living writers

this is review of hart crane is quite entertaining:

January 28, 2007
Hart Crane’s Bridge to Nowhere

HART CRANE Complete Poems and Selected Letters.
Edited by Langdon Hammer.
849 pp. The Library of America. $40.

Before Hart Crane’s leap into the Caribbean that fatal April noon in 1932, he folded his jacket over the ship’s rail with impeccable manners. Striking out into the glassy sea, he was seen no more, dying younger than Byron but older than Shelley. Not being a seagoing breed, poets rarely die by water — Shelley drowned in a sudden squall; but he had written 1,500 pages of poetry, while Crane left only two very short books and the shards of a third. The hope for a homegrown American epic that died with him has never entirely revived.

The precocious son of a wealthy Cleveland candy manufacturer (Crane’s father created the Life Saver mint but sold the rights cheap), Crane dropped out of high school and persuaded his parents to send him to New York, where he hoped to make his way as a writer. Wearing the scarlet A of ambition, at 17 he confidently predicted that he would “really without doubt be one of the foremost poets in America.” In fact, Crane was soon published in some of the best little magazines. He impressed his friends, not just with his bulb-eyed and brutish good looks (there’s always room in New York for a handsome boy with manners and a wild streak), but with his canny critical judgment. He was a fan of Pound before “The Cantos” and Joyce before “Ulysses,” and was terrified by Eliot before “The Waste Land.” As early as 1920 he was recommending, before either had published a book, Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore, whom he referred to as “Marion” (Crane’s deranged spelling offers one of the quiet comedies of the new Library of America edition of his work).

Most of Crane’s short life was spent scuffling for money. His tightfisted father kept him on an allowance at first, but expected Crane to get a job. The poet tried various fits and shifts, finding employment most frequently in advertising (writing copy for, among other things, a new synthetic leather called Naugahyde), though at times he was forced back to Ohio, where he spent an unhappy Christmas selling candy from an Akron drugstore counter. No doubt his father saw this as his son’s first step toward inheriting the family business, but the experiment was not a success.

Crane’s early poems showed more style than talent, and from the start he was attracted to an obscurity that left some readers cold:

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

It helps only a little to know that this dreadful mess was called “Chaplinesque.” One of Crane’s friends later knocked on his door with Charlie Chaplin in tow, and the three went out on the town until dawn. Having learned this, a hundred American poets will begin odes to Angelina Jolie.

Crane was mystified, as most obscure poets are, when readers found his poems difficult — after all, they were perfectly clear to him. His obscurity was not that of Eliot or Pound, not a layered and allusive language whose intrigues deepened the more one examined it. Crane’s language, when not a matter of tangled metaphors (he mixed them almost more often than he mixed drinks), was a schoolboy code for which an English-Fustian, Fustian-English dictionary would have proved helpful. He came by his obscurity honestly — he didn’t read Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose style might have influenced him, until far too late. When you clear away the clutter from his verse, often you find only banalities — Crane flinched from Eliot’s dour observations and pince-nez disillusion, wanting to embody a rhapsodic vision of poetry it was difficult not to glaze with sentiment.

Crane tried on various identities as a young man and failed at most of them. He was frank about his homosexuality only with close friends — his sexual appetites were voracious and involved far too many sailors. (The definitive work on the United States Navy’s contributions to cruising has yet to be written.) Crane dreamed of being a poet much more often than he sat at his desk and wrote poems; and he was forever complaining in letters that he had no time to write, though he found plenty of time to drink. He conceived his major poem, “The Bridge,” as early as 1923 but made only desultory progress toward it. (Remaining drunk all through Prohibition proved surprisingly easy.) It was hard work, avoiding real work; but Crane became an expert at writing cadging letters to his divorced parents and playing one against the other.

Forever broke, dramatically threatening to slave away on the docks or drive a truck, Crane took to writing begging letters to millionaires, or at least one millionaire, and got lucky. The financier Otto Kahn, the major shareholder in the Metropolitan Opera, offered to loan him $2,000 to write “The Bridge” (Kahn also backed Gershwin and Eisenstein). The poet was soon ensconced in a shabby house in upstate New York, spending his benefactor’s initial installment as if it would last forever (on snowshoes, as well as wood carvings from the Congo, among other things) and asking for advances on the remainder. Kahn hardly lacked the wherewithal — his fireproof castle on Long Island grew to 100,000 square feet, and his 80-room Fifth Avenue mansion was stuffed with old masters.

Crane usually bit the hand that fed him, but you have to like a poet whose revelation of his own genius occurred in a dentist’s chair (“An objective voice kept saying to me — ‘You have the higher consciousness. ... This is what is called genius’ ”). He told his father that critics believed his first book, “White Buildings” (1926), would be the most important debut in American poetry since “Leaves of Grass.” These critics, who happened to be his friends, loyally judged him by the poems he had yet to write.

Chronically out of sorts, creatively ill (his life would have been far happier after the introduction of decongestants), prone to “enthusiasms” we might now call mania, argumentative, often spectacularly drunk, Crane would have gotten on anyone’s nerves. He had spent most of the millionaire’s thousands when he departed abruptly for his mother’s ramshackle plantation off Cuba (his family owned houses all over the place). There, after much grouching and complaint, he completed half of “The Bridge,” which he saw not as an epic but as a “long lyric poem, with interrelated sections.”

It would take Crane three more years to finish the poem, spending months in California as companion to a neurasthenic stockbroker, squandering an inheritance from his grandmother on a trip to Paris, his drunkenness meanwhile growing wilder and more uncontrollable. When “The Bridge” was finally published in 1930, Crane felt betrayed by the mixed reviews it received from Allen Tate and Yvor Winters, his old friends, who had begun to have second thoughts, not about Crane’s gifts, but about his ability to profit from them.

Much of “The Bridge” seems inert now —overlong, overbearing, overwrought, a Myth of America conceived by Tiffany and executed by Disney. Crane imagined the Brooklyn Bridge as a mystical symbol for art, for history, for America, for any old thing; in this spiritual version of Manifest Destiny, he threw his poem backward to Columbus and worked forward to the invention of the airplane. The canvas was broad, but its success would have required a language less Alexandrian than Crane possessed. At his best, he stayed just this side of wild-eyed prophesying, though his grandeurs might easily be mistaken for grandiosity:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty —
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
— Till elevators drop us from our day.

This is a beautifully managed passage; but even Crane’s most thrilling lines can be cloying, always an adjective too rich or a noun too boisterous, the most beautiful stanzas naïve as history or infused with a crude faith in progress almost embarrassing now. He was drawn to a high-amp schmaltziness he must have taken as the proper emotional tone for a visionary.

Crane wanted to drag the language of Marlowe and Webster into the Jazz Age. Beneath his jewel-encrusted lines, however, the poem seems trivial, its ideas torn from the daily paper or the pages of a high-school history textbook:

While Cetus-like, O thou Dirigible, enormous Lounger
Of pendulous auroral beaches, — satellited wide
By convoy planes, moonferrets that rejoin thee
On fleeing balconies as thou dost glide,
— Hast splintered space!

We have no long poems this close to being great that are greater failures. (Why do American poets so often lose their bearings, and their taste, when writing about America?) The poem’s creaky swiveling through time, its brassy versifying and its phony demotic seem dated now, not because Crane was heavily indebted to “The Waste Land” (despite frequently disparaging Eliot), but because he learned so little from it. Reading “The Bridge” is like being stuck in a mawkish medley from “Show Boat” and “Oklahoma” — you’d buy the Brooklyn Bridge to make it stop. Critics since have tried to make a case for the poem, for the coherence of its incoherent parts (criticism, like poetry, is often wishful thinking); but “The Bridge” remains a fabulous architectural blueprint that wanted a discipline Crane could never provide.

The poet’s last year was spent on a Guggenheim fellowship in Mexico (we are lucky he left nothing of his projected epic on the Aztecs). He behaved so badly that his friend Katherine Anne Porter ratted him out to the foundation, which almost terminated the fellowship. In his final months, exhausted and miserable, he began an affair with Malcolm Cowley’s estranged wife, an older woman Crane called “Twidget,” and wrote a homosexual friend that he had “broken ranks” with the “brotherhood.” Perhaps the romance was merely a sign of his boredom and mental exhaustion — it did nothing to slow down his secret pickups and Jack Tar chasing.

The Library of America edition, edited by Langdon Hammer, contains more of Crane than most readers will ever need. The poems take up so little space, this well-edited volume has been pieced out with more than 500 pages of letters (Crane was an energetic correspondent though rarely one memorable or even bearable — great ones don’t usually whine so much). E. E. Cummings once remarked that Crane’s mind was “no bigger than a pin”; but Crane had a sharp critical temperament that appears to best advantage in his letters: “God DAMN this constant nostalgia for something always ‘new,’ ” he wrote, and “I detest a certain narcissism in the voluptuous melancholics of Eliot.” The edition’s scattershot notes are helpful, but the chronology of Crane’s life averts its gaze from his athletic philandering and the exact events leading to his suicide — he had been badly beaten during the night by a sailor he propositioned.

Crane still makes young men want to write poetry — his best lines are extraordinary, even if there are few major poems, or even very good ones. He failed to write the poetry of the American continent Emerson was calling for before the Civil War: if the ideal seems naïvely nationalistic now, the country was once younger and less cynical. Crane was no innovative genius like Whitman; he was perhaps closer to a peasant poet like John Clare, an outsider too susceptible to praise and other vices of the city. Defensive about his lack of education, a Midwestern striver out of a Sinclair Lewis novel, Crane tried to make it among the big-city literary men, gripping a rum in one hand and a copy of “The Waste Land” in the other. Had beauty been enough, he might even have succeeded.

William Logan is a poet and critic whose most recent books are “The Whispering Gallery” and “The Undiscovered Country.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ethical realism

by day brown

may be a new trend in politics and culture. Underlying it, is the tacit agreement that there are fundamental flaws in the system of values and/or those who must manifest them. There is an overt call for more moral action. But *whose* morals?

Shakespeare has Caesar say:"You will have to forgive the man Mercutio; he is a barbarian who thinks the customs of his tribe are the laws of Nature." But what *are* the laws of Nature? We have history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, etc that all try to tell us what one group or other, at one time or other, thot those laws were. Part of the problem however, is that the very people giving us these reports have been themselves, bound by the customs of developed cultures, which were, in turn, evolutions of the very barbarism Shakespeare refers to.

The results have been a lotta spin put on the data. After 100 years of anthropology, only recently have researchers actually taken the sacred psychedelic potions shamen have been providing all these years, and thereby gotten a missing handle on where the tribal head is at, as well as some understanding of the psycho-phobia that their own academic traditions have suffered from ever since Bishops began burning witches for providing similar potions.

One of the effects of the hippie use of these same potions was a skeptical view of the claims of scripture, for which Christian control of the legal process demanded repression just as the Christian Bishops had begun doing nearly 1500 years ago. And archaeology has revealed the *original* sources of scripture in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Mithraic & Zoroastrian texts, and the earliest of all, Gilgamesh.

And yet, despite the obvious plagiarism, the claims that one Levantine text or other was divinely inspired goes so largely unchallenged that most voters dont even know the challenges exist. Which does reveal one of the Laws of Nature: if you tell men something that will pander to their egos, they will believe it, no matter how asinine.

Another law of Nature is that not only will men deceive themselves, they will try to deceive others. We have the video of Chimps in the jungle. We see how a chimp will steal food, hide it, and then try to deceive others about where it went. Nobody claims the chimps who do this grew up deprived in a ghetto. No, baby, this is hardwired in Chimp *and Hominid DNA*.

But contrary to what scripture says, not all Chimps & Hominids are like that. Not all men are such sinners that they need divine forgiveness. No, the primate field studies, which give us the term "alpha male" show us that it is *they* who organize the goon squads to go out into other territories, find a foraging couple, murder him and any progeny she may have, kidnap her, and gang rape her until she is pregnant again. But what do have, are the records, written by the scribes at the behest of alpha male warriors to craft a cosmology and a history that panders to their egotistical instincts. Which another Law of Nature says scribes will do.

The field studies show us the bloodwork from darted primates that show us that alphaism is handed down on the Y chromosome. The alphas expect their sons to be just like them, and a Law of Nature is, that they are mostly right in that. Video also shows us that it is the alphas who commit all the rape, 'domestic abuse', and warfare. And we can see cosmologies that have been crafted to offer redemption to the alphas. Furthermore, the DNA shows us that it is the daughters of the alphas who are the abusive and incompetent mothers. And now we understand why there are any betas left in the gene pool: it is their daughters who provide the love the young need. And it is the betas, both male & female, who adopt the abused and abandoned young.

And since we are talking about DNA here, another Ethically Realistic fact is that the ratio of alphas to betas in various gene pools varies, which has an enormous effect on development, or the lack thereof. Cultures which have high ratios of alphas use draconian methods to control the violence. We see abundant examples of this in history. But it is the cultures with high ratios of betas that are able to setup higher degrees of cooperation that have resulted in the military industrial complex that has been so effective against cultures that had a more warlike spirit, but lacked the innovation betas provide. Another Law of Nature is, that as the percentage of alphas increases, so does the problem of too many chiefs, but not enough Indians. They cannot cooperate, build consensus, or compromise; they tend to prefer dualistic scripture with simple good/evil choices since they lack the intuitive powers to handle ambiguity.

Certain Eastern traditions, that once had more betas, produced Vedic & Buddhist scripture that appealed more to the nuanced sensibilities of betas. Who, unfortunately, have entered monasteries for millennia, taking themselves out of the gene pools. The remaining jackasses have viewed women as no more than the ground to sow seed in, and have similarly sent off their more troublesome, smarter girls to nunneries, and used the stupid bitches to bear their sons. Then, in more recent times, advanced cultures have sent people in to help with development, and when they saw a talented girl, sent her off to some Western University to be educated. The smart girls never returned. The Law of Nature, which hands down intelligence more on the mtDNA has had the iterative, compound, effects we see, with the jackasses getting more stupid with every generation.

Thus we can see that the exquisite art and architecture done by their forefathers in early times was created by a much smarter class of men. But there are other problems in the developed cultures that again derive out of the DNA, genetically determined levels of various brain hormones like adrenalin, serotonin, dopamine... and the psychological effect they have, which is in turn driven by 150 or so neurotransmitters that are used in laying down new neural pathways in the mind during learning. And these neurotransmitters are often affected by environmental contaminants. Whatever else they are, pesticides used on food are neurotoxins. And while there is no immediate observable effect, which gave rise to the idea that they were harmless, they do interact, even at extremely low, homeopathic levels with the above neurotransmitters.

The result is an epidemic of autism, ADD, ADHD, and a quarterly increase in the pathology journals every quarter of more acronyms. The Law of Nature, that there aint no free lunch seems somewhat applicable; the easy way to grow food aint the healthy way.

But the upshot of all this, psychology, sociology, archaeology, anthropology, & chemistry, is that the Nature of Man is far more varied than any of the scriptures or other forms of received authority have claimed. The notion of Universal Laws of Nature needs to be stripped of these false assumptions, and more accurate rules, which can deal with the psychopathology, such as using meds rather than prison, would have better results.

But one more Law of Nature is, that the powers that now be have investment in these falsities, and may with their inflexibility, their convictions, fail to adapt to reality as seen so often in history, and lead to a total collapse of the entire power structure. It is certainly not upta us. We can study ancient value systems, like the pagan
Stoics, and consider them in light of the primate field studies, the DNA, and psychological experiments on group think or obedience such as were carried out by Milgram and Zimbardo... and gain a clearer eye to our own past and our own DNA endowments and challenges.

That will enable us to see the masses for what they are, more able to see when, and which direction they will move, not be swept up in disastrous mob action, but able to stand aside to let it all go by. All this may come to pass, but it wont come to stay. I dont advocate revolution; but we live in the Untied States of Denial of fundamental economic realities, like a 8.6 trillion dollar debt, that if there is a global intervention that wakes people up, they will be angry.

The Roman Stoic Epictetus noted that when someone proved him in error, he was grateful to no longer be thinking wrongly. But, he went on to say, that when he performed the service for another, he always went away angry. One of the most important Laws of Nature is that mass anger is dangerous shit... often caused by errors in Ethical Realism.

With results we see