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Showing posts from 2013

John Ashbery, "Popular Songs", Some Trees (1965)

“Popular Songs”, 10-11 “The involuted consonance (“car with the cur,” “gone to a longing”) of “Popular Songs” anticipates the wilful music of “Two Scenes”, whilst jarringly disjunctive lines point towards the novel-collages of The Tennis Court Oath.” (Shoptaw 30).   I will hand over to the authority of Shoptaw in fact for most of the analysis here.   So, Shoptaw notes the songs of the 1930’s that embedded throughout the piece: “Blue Blue Ridge Mountain”, “The Garden of the Moon” and so on.   He quotes Ashbery as saying: “it was written in an attempt to conjure up the kind of impression you would get from riding in the car, changing the radio stations and at the same time aware of the passing landscape. In other words, a kind of confused, but insistent, impression of the culture going on around us.” (Shoptaw 31, citing Ashbery).   This is actually a good general summation of Ashbery’s own sense of composition as a combination of an actual circumstance in ‘reality’ and the impositio

John Ashbery, "Two Scenes" from Some Trees (1956)

This is a poem about duality so in this sense the title actually refers to what the poem is ‘about’. John Shoptaw notes, for example, the phonic mirroring of the poem which he sees as an element later phased out as is the “linear introversion” to be found here. Thus we have the following phonic recurrences: “we see us as we”; “Destiny...destiny”; “News...noise”; “”; “-y” and rhymes of section 2; and “...old man/...paint cans”. This simple but subtle semiotic device is then developed structurally as well, as the title hints. So ‘scene’ 2 reflects back internally onto ‘scene’ 1. “Machinery” recalls the train as does the canal; general honesty recalls “truly behave”; “history” relates to “destiny”; “fumes” to the “air” in the “mountains” (cf. “Answering a Question in the Mountains”); “dry” speaks to the “water-pilot”. Finally there is an example of what we should call image logic or associative deduction which is perhaps, in the end, Ashbery’s greatest talent. The “warm and


Tarkovsky Poems

This article reminded me of my own poem inspired by Tarkovsky's 'The Mirror'.  One of the greatest and saddest films of all time.

The Minutes

Tarkovksy’s ‘Mirror’ won’t leave me alone, images unendurably sad. For minutes I can’t be held to account. Email can’t reach me, devices go blank. The rain outside a tautology. My shit stinks and I do not want to die yet immortality is not my thing. The dog in sorrow nuzzles a ball whose deflation is irresistible.   My son stirs in his sleep clasped to my arm. My daughter’s silence, symbolism’s shame. My wife drives alone through a northern night, and sometimes when I’m coming home from work, bundles of mist suspended like pale fish in waters implausibly dark and clear are snagged in the lure of my light and drown.   If I am not able, if I am not able, if I am not able to put in words all that you recount of that gay siege that childhood laid at your pantry door forgive me, I do not take dictation.   As I read my lips are seen to move, as I move my limbs are dangled on a string. I wonder what’s on breath’s nether side? A gravel

"The poetics of presentation: Lyn Hejinian's My Life project and the work of Giorgio Agamben"

Article just published in Textual Practice and available to view there for free for a limited period at

Under Glass: Agamben, Ashbery, Cornell and the Museum

As ever in Agamben's philosophical archaeology there are, according to him, two contesting theories of poiesis in the period of aesthetic modernity. The first concentrates on the role of the artist as god-like being of creation (the sovereign or common). The second on the art object itself as thing unto itself (artistic bare life or the proper). Naturally the two positions are connected in that, as we always see, god needs the world to give his power of making specific instances of operativity, while the world needs god to retroactively found its power of particular making. In this way then we can 'easily' read Agamben's first book The Man Without Content in light of one of his most recent, The Kingdom and the Glory . If we were to do this then we can say that the universal power of creation founds of course every specific object created, but that without these objects created pure creation remains merely a potential and thus inoperative. There is, therefore,

Agamben's Aesthetics Explained in 1000 Words

My previous work was concerned with the “Literary Agamben” although its primary interest was Agamben’s extensive work on poetry.   While indifference was a central part of that study, it was completed before the availability of the key works on method and language and so in some ways is deficient in answering the question as to the actual significance of poetry for Agamben’s work.   That said it is a detailed study of the question so I can allow myself the luxury of a very simple summary here, a kind of concluding statement on poetry which is perhaps missing from the previous book.             Poetry is a signature in Agamben.   It operates according to the logic of the common and proper by assigning prose to the realm of the common and the poetic or semiotic to that of the proper.   Agamben repeatedly talks about the signature of poetry in terms of the semantic/semiotic split, the age-old antagonism between philosophy and poetry, or indeed that between prose and poetry.   The s

Kant's Aesthetics of Communicability in 300 Words

Kant uses the idea of communicability in several texts, but its sustained development is the early sections of Critique of Pure Judgement where he develops his theory of what I will call here the indifferent universality of subjective taste, moment 2, and that aesthetic judgement is indifferently pleasurable, moment 4.  In the third critique, the second and fourth moments put to the reader a complex theory of communicability. Placed together the moments present the concept that every subject is capable of judging something as beautiful or not, and that in so doing they are also capable of communicating this judgement to every other subject through the establishment of a sensus communis of pleasure attained from aesthetic judgement.  Communicability then is the ability of every subject to make a singular judgement on an object as beautiful, and to confirm the validity of making such and such a judgement first because they gain pleasure from the judgement, pleasure gained from a

Agamben, Language, Communicabiity

Opening of the final chapter of my book Agamben and Indifference dealing with language in The Sacrament of Language. One of the earliest pieces of important Agamben criticism, Düttman’s introduction to Idea of Prose , attempts to delineate the key element of language for Agamben’s thought: communicability. Düttman concentrates on the Benjamin source for the term, specifically the idea that communicability communicates nothing other than language’s capacity to communicate.   It does this only through its praxis or act, its contingency, context, operativity and intelligibility.    Yet, at no point can language communicate its communicability it can only demonstrate it through its being a communicable medium or process.   This relates to Agamben’s interest in the Russell-Frege paradox of statement self-predication although as we shall see an important element of communicability is that it concerns compound linguistic series, not individual words.   Perhaps at this stage we should

Thomas Gray Archive : Texts : Poems : "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Thomas Gray Archive : Texts : Poems : "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" Just following a few Thomas Gray links on Twitter and thought is would be great to have a link to his finest work via the Thomas Gray Archive.  Tags: 18th century poetry, thomas gray, elegy

Agamben's Homo Sacer completed by The Kingdom and the Glory

The recent publication of Agamben's The Kingdom and the Glory is a milestone in his work, completing as it does Homo Sacer , and in contemporary political theory.  Unfortunately the text is long, for Agamben, and mostly made up of archival and philological observations on theology from the 2nd century on.  Dotted through the text innumerable brilliant observations on our politics but I am not sure how many will get through the text to find those.  Not to worry.  My forthcoming book, Agamben and Indifference, has a whole chapter that weeds out the theological detail and concentrates on its political significance.  Not through some hatred of theology, just because it is the politics that most of us are interested in. This chapter should appear as a separate article in Madrid soon.  Will post link.  Until then here is a taster... To say The Kingdom and the Glory is an advance on Homo Sacer suggests something about the earlier text lags behind the later work, which is not t

Deleuze and Badiou

I have been of the opinion for some years now that the future of philosophy and theory in general lies in the decision between the philosophical system of Agamben and Badiou around the use of indifference in both their works.  More than this a second comment is relevant which is that it is Agamben's critique of Derrida and his modification of Foucault that needs to be taken into account in contrast to Badiou's more compact critique and modification of Deleuze.  This is not to ignore the centrality of Deleuze to Agamben's philosophical archaelogy and his comments on potentiality which are mappable onto Deleuze's virtual but with significant modifications.  All in all what I mean is that we are now heading into an 'immanentist' century that moves away from the post-transcendental valorization of difference/alterity typical of Levinas, Derrida and all those philosophies of otherness and ethics that they spawned. This being the case anything that gets us to t

Gray's "Eton College"

Check out this excellent article on Gray's "Eton College...".  It is an amazing work in its own but with Lehman at the helm, all is clarity indeed.

The Thousand Club

Since I started keeping stats on this page, about five years ago, slowly some pages have achieved for me 'mythical' status in having achieved a 1000 page views. Remember that this is a highly specialised blog.  Contemporary poetry and contemporary philosophy are perhaps two of the most recherche areas in our culture.  Add the two together and the result is positively occult. So far only two pages have arrived there: and!/2007/04/postmodern-poetry-5.html Amazingly my highest rated page is about the most obscure collection by one of the most difficult poets of the modern era since Mallarme.  Perhaps only Prynne raises more eyebrows and questions. The other is about postmodern poetry, probably the least read and commented form of postmodernism and poetry.  In fact that article, it is in 9 parts, has had over 2500 hits.

Agamben's State of Exception Explained in 200 words

Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (2003) The purpose of this complex text is found in the final pages in the consideration of the articulation or relation between two types of power: auctoritas and potestas .   The assumption is that a state of exception suspends potestas of publically sanctioned governmental power, by applying auctoritas , sovereign power.   What Agamben discovers is that this state of exception is not exceptional but omnipresent, and that rather than there being two types of power, power is nothing other than the fictional and machinelike constant interaction between government requiring a sovereign to legitimate its decisions and sovereignty needing government to makes its power actual in the world. One can see here that Agamben is using Foucault’s governmentality, but suggests that this did not develop over time, but that sovereign and governing power are fundamentally inter-linked from the start.   His overall aim is to show the articulation bet

Agamben Explained in 800 Words

This is a combination of two articles on Agamben in general and then the system. This is because I feel strongly that Agamben's form of metaphysical critique only functions and makes a claim on originality and future significance because of the method. So if you have read the other two articles skip this. Or better re-read with a sense of their articulation.  Part One: Agamben's Philosophy Agamben’s philosophical project is the making apparent and then rendering indifferent all structures of differential opposition that lie at the root, he believes, of every major Western concept-signature or discursive structure. In this manner his philosophy can be termed a form of metaphysical critique that argues all abstract concepts are only quasi-transcendental, in that they are historically contingent not logically necessary. As such Agamben willingly participates in a tradition that includes Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida, thinkers he regularly engages with. Where