Category Archives: Humanities

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams


In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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Philosopher David McNaughton on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien


One of my buds at the university has this excellent website called What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? It’s devoted to interviews with contemporary philosophers, and the conversational blend of biography and perspective is always fascinating, at least to people like me. I’ve previously posted an excerpt from the interview with Michael Ruse.

In the latest interview, David McNaughton, who like Ruse is a philosopher at Florida State, talks about his love of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both of these Inklings, especially Lewis, make appearances throughout the interview. (McNaughton doesn’t name Tolkien, but he names The Lord of the Rings as a favorite three times.)

Happy Summertime!

Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, And Reporting


“Poetry is speech at its most personal, the most intimate of dialogues. A poem does not come to life until a reader makes his response to the words written by the poet.

“Propaganda is a monologue which seeks not a response but an echo. To recognize this is not to condemn all propaganda as such. Propaganda is a necessity of all human social life. But to fail to recognize the difference between poetry and propaganda does untold mischief to both: poetry loses its value and propaganda its effectiveness.

“Whatever real social evil exists, poetry, or any of the arts for that matter, is useless as a weapon. Aside from direct political action, the only weapon is factual reportage—photographs, statistics, eyewitness reports.”

—W.H. Auden, in “A Short Defense of Poetry,” an address given at the International PEN Conference in Budapest, October 1967

Image-Making, Image-Using


“We are far more image-making and image-using creatures than we usually think ourselves to be.” — Richard Niebuhr

Found here.

Charles Williams on Dogma


Charles Williams, one of the Inklings, wrote in an essay passage about religious dramatists:

“They might, in fact, take up the business of defining, with intense excitement, the nature, habits and mode of operation of Almighty Love, infusing into their excitement a proper skepticism as to its existence at all. It is not dogma that creates narrowness; it is the inability to ask an infinite number of questions about dogma.” (emphasis added)

That excerpt was quoted by W.H. Auden in his review of Williams’s posthumous collection The Image of the City and Other Essays, selected by Anne Ridler. Auden’s review of The Image of the City appeared in the January 31, 1959, issue of National Review.

The Late Pat Conroy on God & the Inklings


Margaret Evans, writer and editorial assistant to the late novelist Pat Conroy, within her column “That’s So Conroy:”

Did you know Pat had lately become enamored of fantasy fiction? He was fanatical about George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, and compared Martin to Shakespeare. He had also discovered C.S. Lewis late in life, and was so enthusiastic about him – and his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien – that he ran the idea by me, about a year ago, of getting a group together to travel to an Inklings weekend in Black Mountain, NC. (How I wish we’d done it.)

You might not know that Pat was very interested in God. Though he didn’t go to church much, he still considered himself Catholic, and he wrestled mightily. During our chats about the Inklings, he once told me he wished he had a writers’ group like that of his own. “Wouldn’t it be great?” he said. “For those guys, the question of God was always on the table. Maybe you struggled with the idea of God. Maybe you rejected it altogether. But the question was always on the table. It mattered, and it mattered a lot. So many writers I know today don’t even address the question. They’re not even God-curious. I still think that’s the difference between a great writer and a merely good writer. Great writers – whether they’re believers or not – are God-haunted.”

Pat Conroy was God-haunted. Maybe you didn’t know….

While out walking in the Cypress Wetlands last week – thinking about Pat, and how he adored this season – a cardinal zoomed across my path at warp speed, eye level, so close to my face I felt the wind on my cheek and heard its whoosh. His feathers may even have brushed my sunglasses; I’m still not sure. It was all so swift and sudden, so frightening and wondrous, I was left shaking as I watched the red bird disappear into the rookery.

They say a cardinal encounter is a visitation from a loved one who has passed….

 

Reality Check


More Santayana:

“Reality is more fluid and elusive than reason, and has, as it were, more dimensions than are known even to the latest geometry.” — George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty