Rarely – but it happens – I feel on top of it:
Everyone has their place in the world, you see.
I may have just finished getting
My load of porn, of something strong
In the last few days (by which I mean
Being drawn to any old, lewd extreme)
And, one morning, I’ll know what to dream,
Backed by the invisible army
Time’s tested trials have set behind me.
I point it out as something curious:
An extraordinary homeopathic effect,
Exerted by certain women, upon spurious
Thoughts parading in man’s intellect.
The mechanism—without getting enmeshed
In problems philosophical or wanting to sound preachy—
Brings to mind that phrase of Nietzsche
“Let virtue sleep, it will awake refreshed.”
In any case it all only rarely happens
And, as always with this sort of potion,
Careful dosage is of the utmost importance.
Like a deficiency, an excess of such conjuring
(Hard to envisage as it might be)
Leads the malady into the chronic ring;
And after that, dear reader, you will concede,
The only remedy which can do no harm
Is that chill severity, the superego’s charm.
Having survived the world this long
And lived somewhat in it as well,
I prefer lofty thoughts expressed in song1
Which uplift the heart as they cast their spell;
So while on this subject of “serious chores”,
I would take the opportunity to dwell
On the travail and grand reward
Behind some natty shows and tells.
For example: a close skimming of De Tocqueville2
On the question of the different role
Befallen the individual
In times and places democratic
(As opposed to aristo-so, for those who haven’t read him),
Not unlike a knot’s reaching the comb
Can be quite jarring to the cerebral zone.
I refer especially to his thoughts
On the future course of Art
And of Poetry in particular3.
Incidentally, today I visited Xerox Parc4
In Palo Alto (and here I owe it
To those who might know Tocqueville
But perhaps not Xerox, to say a bit
About what sort of box it is:
A centre where some anthropologists,
Philosophers, “subject matter experts”,
Cognitive psychologists and A.I.5 folk,
All of whom share the belief that computing is a language—
And, seemingly, that life is not a joke—
Work together to develop theories
About how people learn, and to package
Them, thus responding to the need
By the company’s C.E.O.6 perceived,
That citizens engage in what they call
“Lifelong learning”…); I left there
Wondering on the one hand
What a lifetime’s having to play hooky
Might be like, a prospect rather spooky
Even for the most determined cad,
And, even more, what such purveyors
Of constant assimilation can truly have in common
With one whom caution bids him,
In dealing with others, to try to do them
First and foremost only the least harm.
For such, at least, is the poet’s calling:
To not pose the problems he tries to solve.
I do not want to spark alarm
But the need is urgent hands be extended
To these would-be-harmless-meddlers-
In-the-depths-of-others, before they drift too far:
Since it’s not likely anyone will stop them,
Let them by many be at least informed.
In a democracy, Tocqueville understood,
Liberty, equality, and brotherhood
Don’t always go together; as he was good,
He thought there was much yet to learn
And be affirmed in regard to it:
That people might from one another profit
In Spirit, and not just by what they earn.
Most local news never gets diffused
Beyond a certain border or radius,
And an efficient solution to a problem,
Discovered in some remote canton,
May not find its way to the attention
Of others who, because they grapple with it,
Think they are the centre of all the action.
And such is the rift now separating Wisdom
Even from the Nobel Prize of some,
That Poetry, at the head of all the Arts,
Must shift its mode of operation,
Wield its warring, addressive parts,
Found the bridge between the “Two Cultures”7.
The image of an open-faced, pretty little girl
Blowing kisses to a boy—one still in his anal phase—
Suggests itself as an example of that pearl
Of a Law of Nature which binds, and weighs
Upon, many an ardent humanist in the world.
Plato (in his Seventh Letter to Dionysus8)
Said lovers of knowledge should use scare tactics
To win people to their side, but now the fuss
Is everywhere and, for want of tricks,
Sophie’s lovers9 must be more audacious,
Put their several genitals on the line.
Let’s get Doctor Ruth10 to write a program
On how to optimise the orgasm;
Let’s dis-invent a technology—though it be late—
And withhold the secrets from the State;
But, most of all, let’s find a way:
The present moment is at stake.
One of the main reasons for the distance
Between the scientific and humanistic reigns
Is that few humanists understand Math
And the haunts on the scientific plain;
Par contre11, quite widespread among our white-smocked crew
Is the impression that what we in tweed do
Is arcane. Such Philistinism, I would argue,
Effects a stretching of human patience
As great as any ever to rack Science
Even during the Inquisition. The essence
Of the work of artist, writer, critic, scholar,
Is to kindle flames, consuming ones—
As can make hearts HOLLER—
That Humanity may not lose its name;
But the grey shadows of neglect
Cast on this fact by scientific bastions—
By their nobilities as well as peons—
Deep into societies spread disrespect
For true culture. The process has been going on
So intensively and for so long
One finds obstacles in the way,
In trying to cope with the phenomena,
That one could never have imagined. Eppur si muore12.
cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (1980), 1933-1934, “I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition. It must, as it seems to me, be possible to gather from this how far my thinking belongs to the present, future or past. For I was thereby revealing myself as someone who cannot quite do what he would like to be able to do.” ↩
Alexis de Tocqueville, author of On Democracy in America (1840). ↩
ibid., vol. III, part 1, chpts. 11, 17. ↩
Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center. ↩
Artificial Intelligence. ↩
Chief Executive Officer. ↩
cf. C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959). ↩
Tyrant of Syracuse, Sicily (430-367 B.C.). ↩
lovers of Sophia, or Knowledge; i.e. philosophers. ↩
a popular American sex therapist. ↩
Fr. “On the other hand”. ↩
It. “And yet one dies.” A play on Galileo’s “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”) which he murmured at the end of his renunciation—under threat of death, before the Inquisition’s tribunal—of the Copernican theory and embracing of the Ptolemaic idea that the Earth is the immobile center of the Universe. ↩