Cyborg World

   To live in a world of measured construction is to build one's humanity out of the selfsame clay - that is to say, we have arrived at the age in which the human can only be constructed recursively as the constructor of the constructed (or, to make it more maddening, the constructor of the constructor.) This falls in line with what Derrida predicted nearly 40 years ago - it is an age in which the structure of structures has become the focal point of reality: the center is not the center and yet the concept of center abides. It is in this climate that Harold Bloom wrote a book of over 700 pages called Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. At first the concept seems ridiculous, but there is a definite science to it. The argument runs that before Shakespeare, characters were more or less flat in that they responded and changed to the external world. With Shakespeare comes the advent of the self-same listener or the self-same overhearer, characters with the psychological depth to manufacture thoughts fundamentally foreign to themselves (perhaps only because of the decay/movement of time) and to change because of overhearing their own thoughts. The redundancy that this model creates (replete with plays-in-plays and mirrors-in-mirrors) describes what Haraway calls "the cyborg [skipping] the step of original unity" (2192). It is a disunity, although a disunity of the fundamental self, that spontaneously overflows in selfsame interactions (like the grinding of plate tectonics) and creates new meaning, new worlds. The "fabricated hybrid of machine and organism" (2191) is a useful way of describing the modern condition in that we've isolated our ability to create identity from Nothing (the selfsame listener is also remarkably similar to the process of supplementarity) and thus we've arrived at "an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency" (2192). In place of this dependency comes fiercely intelligent pranksters who play with their self-invention: as Haraway says, "at the center of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg" (2190). The curious thing about the cyborg is that the reciprocity of its nature, the self-folding and self-faulting, allows for an extreme array of freedoms from everything except that very self-creating existence itself - this is much of the cause of the existential torment that wracks Hamlet until he finds peace in a sort of genius trickery of self-cancellation. There is much hope in the idea of discovering oneself at the interstices of 'self' rather than the hub however - the next frontier is unknown and yet we're incontestably headed there. I'll give the great poet Wallace Stevens and the good singer songwriter John Pine the final word.

Wallace Stevens - Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Stevens, Wallace. ""Tea at the Palaz of Hoon'." N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

 Haraway. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.

Post-Colonialism in Somerset Maugham's "Rain"

    “Rain” by Somerset Maugham occupies a murky place in 20th century literature which might be called the Postcolonial Novel as descended from the early modernist Joseph Conrad (although Achebe would argue that Conrad is reductive in his stock character natives.) The missionaries and settlers that the story follows are a small outpost of civilization against a vast wilderness that never ceases to encroach upon them (like the rain itself.) In fact, the rain is a metaphor which fires on multiple levels throughout the story: the muddiness which obliterates difference, the shelters built against chaos that are inevitably helmed by Strong Men, the cleansing instinct which is itself a wildness. The fundemental differences untamed in the Hawaiian wilderness become a perfect disorder for The Davidsons to cull and thus derive power from - in other words, the difference constituted by the natives is a heterogeneity  or "a place of in-betweenness" (2118) that makes asserting power over them easier because there is no central organization to defend the natives "whose identity is [their] difference" (2119). The Davidsons speak of “the depravity of the natives” with a certain eagerness because their power is derived from the ability to “other-ize” – if there is nothing to tame, then The Davidson's quickly lose power and become irrelevant. This quickly factors into the story as Mr. Davidson seeks to make the flamboyant Miss Thompson into an ascetic believer by (as we learn at the end) defiling her. Mr. Macphail has come to offer medical support and undercut the danger of Mr. Davidson which is ideology: when people can be “made to wear a pair of trousers,” then they can be made to do just about anything. The narrator says of Mr. Davidson that “the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire” which seems to suggest a false chastity; later the narrator says that “his sincerity was obvious in the fire of his gestures and in his deep, ringing voice” which undercuts the disparity between the gestures and the man. Mr. Davidson is a complex character who loses power when his ‘slave’ acknowledges his control, paradoxically breaking it by calling reference to its utter absence. The idea of confronting an Other and coming up against the inexorable wall of the Self is a thoroughly modern construct that peaks out of the best Victorian work and becomes isolated in a slew of 20th century literature. Miss Thompson, in becoming a clean slate, turns the rapacious Mr. Davidson back on himself until the "obliteration of the trace of [the] Other in its precarious Subjectivity" (2115) recoils on Davidson himself (because there is nothing left but his subjective position when Miss Thompson shockingly becomes the perfect, silent pupil.) Maugham's story "Rain" seeks to underscore what Spivak describes as the "explanation and narrative of reality [being] established as the normative one" (2115) by pinpointing the ordering instinct and tracing how devastating it can be not only in the matter of Others but when it is turned upon the fundamentally mysterious Self.

Or, in much simpler and more romantic terms, take it away Richie and Fela:

 Spivak. "A Critique of Postcolonial Reason." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.

Maugham, Somerset. "Rain by W. Somerset Maugham: Rain." N.p., n.d. Web. <>

Who Can Translate the Voiceless?

May Swenson - Landing on the Moon

   When in the mask of night there shone that cut,
we were riddled. A probe reached down
and stroked some nerve in us,
as if the glint from a wizard's eye, of silver,
slanted out of the mask of the unknown-
pit of riddles, the scratch-marked sky.

When, albino bowl on cloth of jet,
it spilled its virile rays,
our eyes enlarged, our blood reared with the waves.
We craved its secret, but unreachable
it held away from us, chilly and frail.
Distance kept it magnate. Enigma made it white.

When we learned to read it with our rod,
reflected light revealed
a lead mirror, a bruised shield
seamed with scars and shadow-soiled.
A half faced sycophant, its glitter borrowed,
rode around our throne.

On the moon there shines earth light
as moonlight shines upon the earth…
If on its obsidian we set our weightless foot,
and sniff no wind, and lick no rain
and feel no gauze between us and the Fire
will we trot its grassless skull, sick for the homelike shade?

Naked to the earth-beam we shall be,
who have arrived to map an apparition,
who walk upon the forehead of a myth.
Can flesh rub with symbol? If our ball
be iron, and not light, our earliest wish
eclipses. Dare we land upon a dream?

   May Swenson, a poetic predecessor of Marianne Moore, creates a poem that luxuriates in a full-bodied sensuality that really serves as a kind of displacement. The poem picks up from what Simone De Beauvoir called "a world where men compel [women] to assume the status of the Other" and it takes as its explicit subject the moon (which is often used as a symbol of the feminine and also occupies the 'weaker' end against its binary opposite sun.) An irony of the poem is that the moon first reaches down to "probe...some nerve in us" and is only then responded to by the male instinct which "reads it with our rod" - all we can glimpse in the moon is ourselves in a borrowed or "reflected light" and the "bruised shield" of the moon symbolizes the defense system which creates power through defining itself. Both the moon and the earth are lit by "glitter borrowed" and yet there is an independent exchange in which moon and earth bleed into each other, seek to define each other.  When Swenson writes that "distance kept it magnate [and] enigma made it white" she is describing the fundamentally opaque nature of the distant Other which offers no solution in and of itself and so becomes the grounds (or scaffolding) for constructed and oppressive belief systems (even to translate the moon by the rod is to subject it to the dominant.) Butler talks of the paralyzing "unanticipated agency, of a female "object" who inexplicably returns the glance, reverses the gaze" (2540) and yet Swenson reverses this formula in having the moon first glint it's "wizard's eye" which destabilizes even the fixed position of the oppressors themselves. It is interesting how the sun is removed from the equation and an earth which is lit not only by the sun but by the enigma of the moon defines itself not by the certainty of that sunlight but by the mystery of the moon (which fundamentally is earth's own.) Butler says that "gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real" (2541) and sex seems to be all construction in Swenson's poem as well - the moon spills "virile rays" and yet "on the moon there shines earth light as moonlight shines upon the earth" which constitutes not a fixed sexuality but a sexual tension that is as difficult to pinpoint as myth itself. As far back as Zoroaster the western world has been defined by the fundamental split in its binaries and Beauvoir bemoans the very feminists who seek to define themselves against males instead of position themselves in an "indefinitely open future" of becoming: she says, "what we need is an angel - neither man nor woman - but where shall we find one"? Butler updates this formula by describing "the body as a construct of suspect generality" (2542) and it is also so in Swenson's poem where nothing remains in the end (of all the highly-sexualized symbolism) but the dream we might land upon. The eloquent conclusion clarifies the immense freedom inherit in the feminist project:

"Can flesh rub with symbol? If our ball
be iron, and not light, our earliest wish
eclipses. Dare we land upon a dream?"

... which might be another way of saying, "if everything is constructed, then our dreams are no further (and perhaps even closer) to us than the approximations we try to describe them with." It is an open philosophy which privileges life, change, and the freedom inherit in our "ball [of] iron" self-referential slavery. We're already the Moonmen (and Sunwomen.) Hit it Bessy -

 Butler. "Gender Trouble." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
Beauvoir, Simone de. "Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex, Woman as Other 1949." N.p., n.d. Web. <>
Swenson, May. "Classical Poem: Landing on the Moon by May Swenson at All poetry." N.p., n.d. Web. <>

A Modern Poet from a Postmodern Approach

Wallace Stevens - The Auroras of Autumn

This is where the serpent lives, the bodiless.
His head is air. Beneath his tip at night
Eyes open and fix on us in every sky.

Or is this another wriggling out of the egg,
Another image at the end of the cave,
Another bodiless for the body's slough?

This is where the serpent lives. This is his nest,
These fields, these hills, these tinted distances,
And the pines above and along and beside the sea.

This is form gulping after formlessness,
Skin flashing to wished-for disappearances
And the serpent body flashing without the skin.

This is the height emerging and its base
These lights may finally attain a pole
In the midmost midnight and find the serpent there,

In another nest, the master of the maze
Of body and air and forms and images,
Relentlessly in possession of happiness.

This is his poison: that we should disbelieve
Even that. His meditations in the ferns,
When he moved so slightly to make sure of sun,

Made us no less as sure. We saw in his head,
Black beaded on the rock, the flecked animal,
The moving grass, the Indian in his glade.

          This is the beginning of Wallace Stevens' long poem "The Auroras of Autumn" and it comes down from a long tradition of theological thought and poetry. In theology (as is now the case in real, hard science) it is a common tradition that Something should rise from Nothing (or, as Shakespeare puts it in King Lear, "Nothing will come of Nothing.") The lack of fixity (because symbols require a matrix of other symbols to mean and so bear no relation to The Real) is a fundamental tenant of Postmodernism that sends us spiraling away from the center like a radial spoke away from the hub. What Stevens gives us is a parable of life, death, and most importantly movement that centers itself in its own decay. When Stevens' talks about "form gulping after formlessness," he is also describing "the structural necessity of the absence" (1696) which returns to the Hegelian concept of Ideas that can never contain their content and so must perpetually change like "the skin flashing to wished-for disappearances." In the disparity between our ideas "the bodiless" emerges (and seems somehow more Real than the body which seems to become static, representing only the current state of things and not the force that occupies them.) When Derrida calls for "the departure from the closure of a self-evidence," (1695) he is calling for the end of structures which do not acknowledge themselves as structures and explaining how art is only made from other art - however, it is an irony of post-modernism that Derrida must state his claim in hard words although it is a theory centered around uncertainty. If you start with doubt, it is inevitable that you will end in certainty, and that is the thrust of much of Derrida's work and a clue into Stevens as well. When Derrida says that "the play of substitution fills and marks a determined lack" he sounds remarkably similar to the occultist W.B. Yeats with the prophetic “I shall find the dark grow luminous, the void fruitful when I understand I have nothing, that the ringers in the tower have appointed for the hymen of the soul a passing bell.” In Stevens' poem, Aurora represents both the Borealis and the God of Dawn, making the title of the poem representative of a kind of negatively charged creation. The "substitutive significations which could only come forth in a chain of differential references" (1692) are like the "meditation in the ferns" which disallows the one-to-one relationship between signified and signifier although the play in the substitutions always express a desire that seems as real and tangible as the slough of skins or the image in Plato's cave.
 Derrida. "Of Grammatology." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
 Stevens, Wallace. "The Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens." Knopf, n.d. Web. <>
Shakespeare, William. "Shakespeare Quotes." N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <
Yeats, William . "Blue Hydrangeas." N.p., n.d. Web. <>

The Postmodern Condition - Critical or Hypercritical?

   The myriad-mind of postmodernism is a smoke and mirrors trick that's here to stay. According to Lyotard, postmodernism situates the artist as "condemned to generate a multiplicity in the space it inherits, and to give up the project of a last rebuilding of the whole space occupied by humanity" (1466).  There is a selfless nature to this kind of pursuit that is at odds with the steadying compass of morality, or as the Daedelus-like maze maker Jorge Luis Borges puts it: "There is nothing built on stone. Everything is built on sand, but it is our duty to edify as if the sand should be stone." In attempt to mimetically duplicate the "motricity" (1467) of the modern world, the "process of complexification" (1467) has often served to render postmodern works readable only by the elite few who can wade through the simulacra. Lyotard describes the difference of postmodernism from modernism as a "coming back or flashing back, feeding back, ana-lysing, ana-mnesing, of reflecting"(1467) - there is a self-awareness at work that announces itself as artist and so can build hybrid identity, grabbing from many sources to underscore the arbitrary nature of design - many postmodern works get bogged down though, creating artifacts eerily reminiscent of a Google search or Wikipedia article. Therefore Italo Calvino and his five memos for modern fiction become important (especially quickness which salvages the immediacy and pure entertainment of classical forms such as the fable.)
   As Baudrillard puts it: "the territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it" (1557) Therefore literature finds itself in a frightening situation where nothing 'fixed' is referred to except that very postulate of postmodern fluidity - in other words, postmodernism has become another construct which seeks to appease the others and become invisible. Peeking out from behind postmodernism are the agents of society that Foucault describes as "technicians of behavior" (1491). The "network of permanent observation" (1492) is a palpable absence that each of us carry like a Normative Handbook - perhaps the multiplicities we find ourselves drowning in today are only frightening because we hope to be justified by the same fragmented reality that is quaking beneath our feet (or, as Foucault says, power has "inculcated docility and produced deliquency by the same mechanisms") (1496).
    When I was a kid I had a dream where I was falling back into a mirror image of myself pushing forwards - I was forever falling into a mirror image of myself pulling out of it - and in that suspended state, I noticed in my peripheries a single eye watching without blinking. That seems a suitable metaphor for how the panopticon intersects with the multiplicities of modern man.

 Foucault. "Discipline and Punish." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print. 

 Baudrillard. "The Precession of Simulacra." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
 Lyotard. "Defining the Postmodern."  ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.

Borges, Jorge. "Jorge Luis Borges quotes." Thinkexist. N.p., n.d. Web. <>. 

Marxism: Where isn't it?

"That feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery." 

there are things we know are right, and good, and would be better for us to do, but constantly it's like, 'yeaahhh, but you know, it's so much funnier and nicer to go and do something else... who cares and it's all bullshit anyway..' the paradox is that that sort of tension and complication and conflict in people also makes them very easy to market to, because i can say to you 'feeling uneasy? feeling empty? .. here's something you can go buy or go do.' - 

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace speaks of an America ruled by the Pale King of desire (where cash is only a facade, The Player King.) Wallace speaks from a modern Marxist approach in describing how the "constant opposition" (657) that breeds social hierarchy has palsied modern man with so many choices that he defers to but one, the ability to choose in the first place (which he assumes is natural.) In other words, when there is "left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest,"
(659) an invisible organization is anchored against the seeming chaos of "constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbances of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation [which] distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones" (659). The arbitrary valuations of capitalism have become the last isthmus extended between people: they have "drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation" (659). These calculations can be measured to the dollar in capital as social relations are mediated by commodities which then become surrogates for the very people that create them, representing"social relation[s], existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour" (664). It is from there that the dollar becomes a key into a world built of more dollars leading to the"common expression of all commodities in money that alone led to the establishment of their characters as value" (667) - it is as if the labor system were an international language. 

Wallace Stevens - The Emperor of Ice Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

This poem by Wallace Stevens reflects a post-Marxian perspective in that it goes in fear of the abstract. Stevens follows Marx in writing a poem that "ascend[s] from earth to heaven" (656) and any spirituality culled from the lyrics is embedded in their very materiality (the poem is purposefully gaudy to achieve much of that immediate materiality.) As Marx puts it, "the phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process" (656) and Stevens is also rebelling against the idealism of Kant and Hegel when he describes the emperor of ice-cream, or the supremacy of the thing-in-itself. When he says "let be be finale of seem," Stevens posits a material reality that inherently contains all of the permutations the imagination can apprehend out of it while maintaining supremacy for the material (it is like Lacan's Real which is there but not to be touched although some of Stevens' work exhibits a sort of spirituality derived from always touching it, oblique as we may fashion ourselves.)

In terms of how the world might sound to Marx, I call upon the experimental composer Harry Partch and the materiality of a sound derived from self-invented instruments. Horrifying.

 Marx. "The German Ideology." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print. 
 Marx. "The Communist Manifesto." ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
 Marx. "Capital."  ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
 Stevens, Wallace. "The Wondering Minstrels." Blogspot. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

Reader-Response in Walt Whitman

                       Poets to Come

POETS to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than be-
   fore known,
Arouse! for you must justify me.

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.

   Walt Whitman is the man. Nearly a decade before reader-response arose as a prominent literary theory, Walt Whitman not only predicts it, but demands it, as he will not accept quietism, no matter who wears it. A poem, a novel, any writing, is living and must change as it travels from bosom to bosom. Part of Walt Whitman's peculiar genius is his perpetual looking ahead in anticipation of the reader; in fact, waiting ahead is one of the fundamental motifs in his work. One gets the feeling that he's so forward-thinking, his imagination so proleptic, that he's very often leaving his own pages. They say that what's best in poetry is what's elliptical, that is, what's written between the lines; Whitman, and reader-response, slightly tweak this formulation by bringing to bear the reader who brings his/her fundamental personality into the fray, enlivening what is effectively scribbled markings on a dead leaf of, well, grass (or a dead screen these days.) If there is a poem about a freight train that really MOVES, in the sound or syntax or meaning, that movement is still as nothing until a reader comes to it and starts shoveling coal. This doesn't mean that the text loses its weight to the reader - what it means is that the poet leaves "indicative words," fundamental figures to twist around like the poem were a spool, something to ignite the cognitive conditions that Kant describes. In many ways, reading and writing, although fundamentally lonely activities, are built to make our own fundamentally lonely conditions more bearable; you are there to build on the poets promontory, and somebody will build on yours, even if your output is only criticism or a paper in college, and meaning keeps moving this way. If I were to talk to you in the street, I'd have to be polite and only speak for so long, many comments about the weather, and our conversation would be pierced with phenomena occurring around us, and our fundamental anxiety about each other. From afar, when you only have the skeleton of my idea, the language of it, you can make it fundamentally your own and become closer to me and yourself a) because of the amount and density of content, and b) because you fundamentally make that content your own, and so, if not become me, at least stand in my lettered shoes. Also, in a fascinating way, reader-response posits classic texts as timeless, or at least those that last a long while - if a person can't wade through a text tomorrow, it must've been too strictly confined to its own to-day that Whitman describes, and that text becomes what's known as a period piece. A text that interacts with its readers or characters in fundamentally elliptical ways (Barthes describes the hermeneutic code, that of enigma, to be the privileged code of fiction) will sustain their investigation, and their search will often spill over into their own efforts, which is how many schools of literature are created. If any thing is for certain, though, it is that Walt Whitman is the man.

And so is Toru Takemitsu. Translate away -

Works Cited:

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York, New York: The Heritage Press, 527. Print.