Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guns and Verse

Trope of the gun rhyming in the first person gained a great amount of currency in the 90s. The most famous example is 'I Gave You Power' by Nas, 1996:

Before this, Organized Konfusion had done a less effective trope of the rhymer as a bullet in 1994's 'Stray Bullet:'

Tupac's 1996 'Me and My Girlfriend' is often erroneously assumed to be about him and a bandit lover of his. But it seems that the numbering in the song only makes sense if he's talking about a gun, 'picked you up when you was nine,' 'bought you some shells when you turned twenty two,' and 'forty five but she still alive.' He would've had to have known her for 36 years by his own account, though he only lived 25. Additionally the sexuality between him and his girlfriend becomes much more interesting and evocatively bizarre if she is understood as his gun:

But the trope wasn't created in the 90's. George Herbert's 'Artillery,' c.1630:

As I one evening sat before my cell,
Methought a star did shoot into my lap.
I rose and shook my clothes, as knowing well
That from small fires comes oft no small mishap;
When suddenly I heard one say,
Do as thou usest, disobey,
Expel good motions from thy breast,
Which have the face of fire, but end in rest.

I, who had heard of music in the spheres,
But not of speech in stars, began to muse;
But turning to my God, whose ministers
The stars and all things are: If I refuse,
Dread Lord, said I, so oft my good,
Then I refuse not ev’n with blood
To wash away my stubborn thought;
For I will do or suffer what I ought.

But I have also stars and shooters too,
Born where thy servants both artilleries use.
My tears and prayers night and day do woo
And work up to thee; yet thou dost refuse.
Not but I am (I must say still)
Much more obliged to do thy will
Than thou to grant mine; but because
Thy promise now hath ev’n set thee thy laws.

Then we are shooters both, and thou dost deign
To enter combat with us, and contest
With thine own clay. But I would parley fain:
Shun not my arrows, and behold my breast.
Yet if thou shunnest, I am thine:
I must be so, if I am mine.
There is no articling with thee:
I am but finite, yet thine infinitely.

Canibus has a response to LL Cool J in which he samples Nas' 'I Gave You Power' but it isn't as effective and it's my opinion that Canibus tends to go on longer than necessary to convey his point. It doesn't hold the trope tightly enough and is too boring to include here.

There are at least two troubadour examples of a similar trope, but the general sense of weaponry in verbal sparring is found throughout in that tradition. If those trobars are recognized for creating romantic love as we know it today, their additional contribution to the beautification of violence and instruments of violence should not go without recognition. Love and war are perhaps like blood, which, though blue inside us and red when released, is essentially one fluid. Bertrans de Born, c.1200:

A Perigord pres del muralh

At Perigord near to the wall,
Aye, within a mace throw of it,
I will come armed upon Baiart, and if I find there
That fat-bellied Poitevin,
He shal see how my steel cuts.

For upon that field I will make a bran-mash of his brains,
mixed with the maille of his armor.

Elsewhere, an Easter song from Bertrans quickly degenerates into a war chant. As early as the 'clamor' of birds, Bertrans' true inclinations are itching to be scratched:

Well pleaseth me the sweet time of Easter
That maketh the leaf and the flower come out
And it pleaseth me when I hear the clamor
of the birds, their song through the wood;
And it pleaseth me when I see through the meadows
The tentts and pavilions set up, and great joy have I
When I see o'er the campagna knights armed and horses arrayed

And it pleaseth me when the scouts set in flight
the folk with their goods
And it pleaseth me when I see coming together after them
a host of armed men
And it pleaseth me to the heart when I see strong castles besieged
And barriers broken and riven,
and I see the host on the shore all about shut in with ditches
And closed in with lisses of strong piles
etc., etc.

In another song, Bertrans argues for war, insisting 'there's too much peace about.' The compulsion to war has no cause save the unbearable stasis of peace. Bertrans' songs derive their energy from violence and war. His love songs are boring until, like his Easter song, they degenerate to war chants.

There are parameters in the warrior troubador's method that easily and not so superficially align with the efforts of newer rhymsters. I include here, to conclude, some of the most energetic:

Raekwon, Ghostface, U God, Masta Killah, and Cappadonna's 1996 'Winter Warz.' Cappadonna 'a-cometh' and, in my opinion, taketh the spoils of the raid:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Adventures of Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely, the 1975 film adaptation of Chandler's novel, has a 57 year old Robert Mitchum playing the role of 37 year old Philip Marlowe, private eye. Set in 1941, it seems that Mitchum--whose signature in noir as the shamus with class perpetually transacts in Marlowesque characters--is playing a role made and set for him a score of years earlier.

We see Mitchum trying to play his younger self. His movements were always clunky but in this movie they seem clunky and unoriginal--as if in trying to emulate his own awkwardness, he becomes less naturally awkward but doubly awkward because he keeps trying--an old man trying desperate to live the fire and days of a more stupid youth.

To add to the sum weirdness of the movie, there is a brief cameo by Sylvester Stallone, in which his character shoots and kills a violent, obese, dutch madame. Stallone too will later star in a film which will put him in a role designed to have him play a younger him: the recently released Rocky VI. Except that Rocky VI isn't set in 1976. It's just an older Rocky boxing again.

Philip Marlowe, in Mitchum's older, less agile hands, is haunted by the ephemerality of his name. There is no Marlowe in Mitchum's portrayal. It is Mitchum playing Mitchum, while the ghost of Marlowe moves between them. The ideational Marlowe, the tropological entity on the surface of the performance, is dead but evidently appearing in the convulsions of Robert Mitchum.

For some reason--whether the scenes, the portrayals, the premise; I don't know--the movie disturbed me. Marlowe, who becomes something like a ghost, is troublesomely haunting. Also--color movies set in times when color film didn't exist (but when black and white did) disturb me deeply.

For more Marlowe: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a CBS radio show running 1947-51. Ninety of the half-hour long, Old Time Radio episodes are available here for downloading:


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poetics of Cash

Wallace Stevens said that money is a kind of poetry and poetry is a kind of money. Currency--from the Latin currere, to course or run--is a state of fluidity as sensible in the immediate moment. Cash is only valuable in so far as its purchasing power is active in the immediate moment. Checks, redeemable only through a bank, have no, and are not, currency.

Late in his life, Ezra Pound would receive young poets seeking his mentorship at Rapallo with a single query. He'd show them a paper bill and ask them to tell him as much as they knew about money. Before learning anything about poetry, they ought know something about cash.

Currency is a collective effort and is contained by the claims of a society at any given time. Some words go out of fashion, lose currency, and maybe even get entirely forgotten. Money backed by no faith is no money at all. Florentines had a tendency to write collapsed lyrics of rivers and society ('like a spring, a prince is a fountain unto his people,' etc). Money and language are the underpinning in these kinds of figurations.

Poets, like princes, have a duty to currency in their trade.

It should then be no surprise to find so much of money in poetry. A group of friends in San Francisco put together weekly pod casts that have recently become increasingly topical. A few weeks ago they did a soul mix on the recession. Ive been interested in musical compilations hinging on specific subjects (money, aliens, etc). I responded with some good old American recession music. This is their site: http://crooksandgrannies.blogspot.com/

And here's my mix, which can also be found on their site: Edgar's rag-tag history of American soul recession music.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lincoln's Coonskin Cap

Robert McLaughlin's WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN: Leaders of the Nation in the Constitutional Eras of American History reviewed in the New York Times, Sunday, October 27, 1912:

The Article is titled 'WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN: Which of Our Two Greatest Countrymen Was the Greater as Statesman and Administrative Officers?' The transformational figuration of Lincoln is depicted in his shift from deer-skin breeches and a coonskin cap to the stately shawl and stovepipe topper we are now more accustomed to associating him with.

The then unknown Lincoln went to Cooper Union to deliver his address on the subject of stopping slavery's expansion to the western states in February 1860. Early that Monday afternoon, February 27, just before giving his famous address, he stopped into Knox's Great Hat and Cap Establishment at 212 Broadway, just above Fulton, where he bought his signature stovepipe topper.

Gave his speech that evening. It is now recognized that the success of the speech--its level-headed thinking and strength of oratory--catalyzed the kinetics of recognition and fame that led to Lincoln's presidency. The next morning, Lincoln's fifty-minute speech was printed in full, front page on the New York Times.

This post, however, is not about Lincoln. It's about coonskin caps. Daniel Boone hated them and never wore one. Lincoln, on the other hand, did. But he had to give it up before Cooper Union. That February, he indeed arrived in a coonskin and left, ready for the presidency, in a stovepipe.

The savage American better received in the courts of Europe as a wild man of the west than in the metropolises of his own nation? Ben Franklin charmed Europe as the rustic genius of the wilderness. But Mr Franklin never ran for president.

Where then does the currency of the American savage retain its charge? Was recently reading an article on the gastronomic potential of raccoon. I've eaten raccoon (in Guatemala City, Guatemala). It's a tough meat and maybe more worth its weight in rustic association than actual quality of meat. But I'm nonetheless annoyed with the responses after the article--noses in the air; gourmandesque feathers in a gross flutter.


Where then canst'ou find the great wilderness of yesteryears? Where some braised raccoon? Where gone old Brer, original countryman? I think it still possible to listen to Neil Young seriously. Where then hast'ou hid, fur hat for the world?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

La Soufriere, or Postcolonialism and its Discontents

Part I

Part II

Part III

In 1977 Werner Herzog, Edward Lachman and Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein traveled to the island of Guadaloupe upon hearing that a volcano there was about to explode and one peasant had refused to leave. They wander the deserted streets of the Basse-Terre and visit the smoking, sulfurous mouth of the volcano before finding three men awaiting their immolation at the foothills of La Grande Soufriere.

They wake the first man and address him in an oddly militaristic tone, "you have refused to leave the district, haven't you?"

He replies, as if to preclude all argumentation, by citing the combined, greater will of God and poverty. Herzog and his team, European huntsmen of history and passion, find that the poorest man has greater claim on the island than they do. The inverted sense of property and right to presence is resonant in the story that precedes this interview.

Herzog recounts a catastrophic volcanic blast in 1902 on the neighboring island of Martinique. 30,000 people died in an instant. The only survivor was a thief who was so incorrigible, constantly fighting the wardens and other prisoners, that he had been kept in an underground, solitary confinement cage. He had survived simply because he was the baddest guy in town.

Herzog's awe is compounded in his fascination with the impending, volcanic blast. The film team wanders the town waiting. They speak to the three men and hang on their words--listening like they watched the smoking mouth of the mountain. The peasants become the religious of voice of acceptance to wilderness and silence in spirit. The wandering, irresolute souls are Herzog, Lachman and Schmidt-Reitwein.

It is my standing suspicion that certain efforts of post-colonial paradigmatization are not meant to protect the colonized--who will continue living as they live, in their ecstasy or rage, wilderness or silence--but rather to protect the colonizers, who must post-colonially account for the reality of a greater, uncontrollable 'other' living in their midst.

Herzog speaks to the peasants in French but, rather than translate the dialog into English or German with subtitles, he dubs the dialog with his own voice, as if attempting to appropriate the sturdy words of the peasant for himself. But the language is not his own and when he speaks, we sense Herzog attempting to syncretize his purpose on the island with the presence of the peasant. Herzog is the indigene buffoon trying to mimic the words of his master.

One peasant asserts that they will all meet again in the bosom of God. Another says that he has stayed to, after he noticed that nobody else would, take care of the animals. The third asserts that 'the volcano is always above us.' Whether humanistic, animalistic, or geographic, each man, in his own manner, asserts a universality of presence. They take account for Herzog while Herzog struggles to take account of them.

Lawrence Buell, in his essay 'American Literary Emergence as a Postcolonial Phenomenon,' describes a problem that seems to arise in certain post-colonial situations, namely the expectation that artists be responsible agents for achieving national liberation, "which in turn bespeaks a specialized conception of art and an ambivalence toward aestheticism that threatens to produce schizophrenia." But it is precisely schizophrenia here that pressures eruption of greater power and awareness.

Herzog comes to the island to hear the words from the smoking mouth of passion. He finds that here, on the other side of his world, the smoking mouth colonizes him. What could he do to protect himself--to assert his presence--but stay on the island, and become one of them? Before a song which perhaps sang the mountain back to sleep (the volcano, in the end, never erupted), one peasant asks, "what have you got to lose?"

Parallels to all these thoughts can be found in another, more widely known, film, Lawrence of Arabia, and in the life and efforts of T.E. Lawrence in general.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nuances of a Theme by Shelley

It's a strange courage
you give me, ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!


Shine alone, shine nakedly, shine like bronze,
that reflects neither my face nor any inner part
of my being, shine like fire, that mirrors nothing.


Lend no part to any humanity that suffuses
you in its own light.
Be not a chimera of morning,
Half-man, half-star.
Be not an intelligence,
Like a widow's bird
Or an old horse.

-Wallace Stevens (italics by W.C. Williams as quoted by Stevens)

Considering the kind of mental activity beneath the categorical determinants of reason and imagination, typically characterized as a conflict between science and poetry, is a universal mind that is capable of all these faculties to equal degree. It has been noted from Shelley to de Man that the philosophic, logical mind uses as much of poetry as the poetic mind uses of logical system.

To refine my terms, I will introduce a broad definition of poetry from which a discrete definition of poetry wil be deduced. From the discrete, an index of identifiable qualia relevant to the larger, mental system as an expansive faculty will surface.

In his “Defence of Poetry,” Shelley defines the general sense of the poetic as “the expression of the Imagination.” Man’s creative adjustment to circumstance and existence is, in its most general exhibitions, harmonious and resonant of musicality and poetry. Creative adaptation is poetic exhibition.

The undeniable universality of creative adaptation as a faculty of the mind both stretches a nominal ‘poetry’ to fit a limitless range of disciplinary modes and excessively includes the amount of things that can be considered poetry. Like an angel with limitless capacity, Shelley loses the capacity to sense the limitation and strengths afforded by rigidity and finitude.

‘Expression of Imagination’ is overly encompassing a category. It precludes attention to specific factors such as tropology, tension of errant terms, and the expansive nature of poetic thinking. The expansive nature encases the other factors and is central to my definition. Rather than an expression, poetry is an expansion of the imagination.

When we read Williams as read through Stevens we extend them as through a prism. Williams' star was qualitatively naive. Stevens puts up a prism, as his star's light is saturated with qualitative factors, descriptors, modifiers. By expansive provocation, he brings forward the stupidity of Williams' star. An adorable, manly stupidity. That star becomes more radiantly our star. It is natural and dumb, human and unassuming. To create Stevens absorbs and in absorption expands.

False Science, True Science and Poetic Science

In a larger scope, poetic thinking absorbs even a certain kind of polity. In the BBC series, The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski, standing above a rivulet, which was once a dumpsite for the ashes of the Jews cremated at Auschwitz, distinguishes true science from false, pernicious science. The science of the Nazis was inherently false because it was attenuating and dogmatic. It was a reductively rigid, exclusive and wrong system by which to merit the value of certain people over others. Such, Bronowski says, is not science at all, but violence. True science is creative, expansive and inclusive. In this capacity, true science is qualitatively poetic. This peripherally answers a question posed by Derrida in Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Derrida, in the jacket note of the book:

Why is it that invention cannot be reduced to the discovery, the revelation, or the unveiling of truth? No more than it can be reduced to the creation, the imagination, or the production of the thing?

Invention is both discovery and creation because the expansive nature of the cognitive process that allows for invention is creating concepts and figures in its absorption of any revelation. The inventive mind creates to understand. It cannot, in fact, absorb information without creating. True science grows outward as an inclusive mode of apprehension. False science cannot grow outward because it is premised around exclusion. If the positive qualities of rhetorical expansion were not crucial to a correct understanding of the world, the difference between it and less inclusive modes would not be necessary to articulate.

False science is not only dangerous it is not poetic. The qualities of rhetorical expansion are condensed in poetic works. Poetic works, or the work that poetic works do, typify the way the creative mind apprehends the world. By greater study of poetic works, greater understanding of inclusive epistemological faculties follows. In a similar manner by which Gilles Deleuze politicizes the unconscious, Freudian mind, as exhibited in literary works or otherwise, I am suggesting that the political domain of cognitive processes goes beneath even unconscious storage of memory and repression. The political domain is an emanation of a mental operating process that is, in its manner of tropological apprehension and errant inclusivity, fundamentally poetic. Poetry is aligned with polity but not by Freudian auxiliary. Psychology is secondary to the primary, poetic, mental operating system. Poetry is the functional frame of the human mind when creating and understanding.

True Science is Poetic.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

De Man, Condillac, Borges and March

De Man illustrates Condillac's thinking in reference to abstractions that are extraordinarily fecund in being necessarily defective with an extensive passage from Ausias March, Catalan poet, which was quoted in the 1944 edition of Borges' Ficciones. The 1944 edition was divided into two halves, the first containing the collection published in 1941, El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, and the latter a collection of new fictions. The first half of this collection includes a story not published in 1941, but published alone in 1936, El acercamiento a Almotásim; a genius which skipped a generation.

I have seen the edition once, when visiting a library outside Barcelona in Mataro. The local library there had a worn copy--lesser funding affording them a serendipitous gift of stowaway surprise. I was fortunate to have translated it at that time (I was in that country to both evade some problems with the police in my own and to better learn the languages there by immersing and translating). I sent the translation to a few of my friends and am doubly fortunate that one of them still had it in their email inbox, because I have since changed emails and had no copy, carbon or digital, of my translation of the work.

De Man never mentions Borges but I do because in searching Ausias March for the stowaway passage, both in his homeland and here in the better fed libraries of New England, I've found no such composition. It would seem then that Borges' edition is the only edition, in addition now to mine. De Man must have read the passage in Borges, and Joanat Pujol, who quotes it in a survey of troubador, Catalan literature published in 1996, Senza Catala del quindicesimo secolo, have read it in either Borges or De Man. Ausias March, as an exemplification of the Condillacian genius for De Man, must be Borges going backward on the two--or, more recently, three. The passage follows:

I have hidden my death. It is written on a paper which I slipped in the node of a gray rose and in the same field where I found the rose I found the rabbit in whose ear the sound of the drying rose hid. And the rabbit ran around with the rose in his ear until he whispered it to a pig and my death went afterwards hidden in the headache of a pig, until one day when the pig was driven to slaughter my death fell in the xanthous smell of the rotting wood. And after a summer rain the vapors rose from the wood to a bush of low-crowding hyssops. The hyssops grew tall and colored the air with smells of honey and my death went quietly in the thought of their eventual withering away. It was found again in the eye of a camel that was drifting in and out of sleep in the greeny shade of a plastic tarp.

The tarp was eventually brought down and the camel taken again through the desert where my death was left behind along with some other merchandise because the camel couldn't bear so much anymore. It was then found by a group of travelling Bedouin who brought it all the way to Al-Faiym and in Faiyum it spent a September until it got tangled in the bending note of a pearish rebab. This note was then carried by a drunkish cavalryman to the doorstep of his unspeakable love but quickly back again to the tavern where he wrote his love's name on a napkin slipped in a groove under the wooden counter. And noone has ever found that note and it wouldn't much matter because he wrote it in an obscure, unaccented scrawl of classical Arabic. Moreover, when I wrote the note, I wrote it in a system of algorithms which do not iterate and which only I could ever understand.

Breaking News

Police blotter for 1/13/2009

Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 3:30 AM CST


According to police, a burglary of a vehicle was reported Sunday in the 1500 block of Matamoros Street.

A 27-year-old female complainant told police an unknown person broke the side window to her car and stole several items.

Police responded to reports of burglary of a vehicle Sunday, in the 8000 block of Springfield Avenue.

A 26-year-old man told police an unknown person had burglarized his vehicle and stole several items.


Silvestre Perez, 19, of 3318 Monterrey Avenue, was arrested Sunday on charges of failure to identify.

Perez was arrested in the 100 block of East Stewart Street and taken to the Webb County Jail where Judge Liendo set a bond of $500.

Edgar Eduardo Garcia, 26, was arrested on charges of failure to identify Sunday in the 800 block of Market Street.

According to police, Garcia was read his Miranda rights in Spanish, then taken to the Webb County Jail where he is to be held pending magistration.

Hector Medina, 42, was arrested and charged with resisting arrest, search or transport, a misdemeanor, Sunday.

Medina was arrested in the 1000 block of North New York Avenue.

Dora Alicia Medina, 53, was arrested on charges of theft under $50 in the 7600 block of San Dario Avenue on Sunday.

Edwin Alvarez, 23, was arrested in the 5300 block of San Dario Avenue and charged with theft of property Sunday.

Enrique Anguiana, 20, was arrested on charges of possession of marijuana in the 2900 block of South Zapata Highway on Sunday.

Alberto Davila, 27, was arrested in the 3000 block of Maryland Avenue on charges of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, Sunday.

Matias Robles III, 45, was arrested Sunday, and charged with assault of a public servant, a felony, in the 1000 block of North New York Avenue.

Salvador E. Garcia, 20, was arrested in the 1800 block of East Price Street on Monday.

Garcia was charged with theft of property.

Manuel Garcia, 30, was arrested in the 700 block of Masterson Road and charged with driving while intoxicated Monday.

Agustin Jaime Garcia, 20, was arrested in the 1300 block of East Hillside Road on charges of reckless driving Monday.

Jorge Noriega, 28, was arrested Monday in the 600 block of Sherman Street, on charges of theft of property.

Gabriel Jimenez, 50, was arrested and charged with theft of property in the 600 block of Sherman Street on Monday.


Police responded to reports of theft of property in the 5300 block of Springfield Avenue on Sunday.

According to a 67-year-old man, an unknown person stole patio furniture from his front yard.

A male juvenile was detained in the 5300 block of San Dario Avenue on charges of theft of property Sunday.

According to reports, the juvenile was taken to the Webb County Juvenile Detention Center.