Friday, December 28, 2012

Louis Zukofsky, etc.

Michael Johnson asks, "Did RAW mention Louis Zukofsky? If he did I missed it. Anyway, I know you enjoy LZ's _A_ and I've noticed the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets see Zukofsky as one of their gods. Do you also like the Language Poets? And if so, who/what books?"

I don't recall Bob every mentioning Zukofsky.  Something tugs at my memory about Pound's dedication of Guide to Kultur, but I don't think it marks a real memory of Bob.

I don't know anything about the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.  I scanned a copy of articles about them after I read your question, and I haven't even heard of any of them except for Bob Perelman, and I only know his name because of his interest in Louis Zukofsky.  I enjoyed this piece about LZ by BP - .  I particularly liked these lines:

"14. There’s also the progression of his last planned projects: at the beginning of his 8th decade he begins /80 Flowers/ with /Gamut: 90 Trees/ planned for the decade after that. Isn’t 100 the teleological goal there?

"15. (At this point, it’s hard to resist Ron Silliman’s prediction for the next project: /101 Dalmations/.).

"57. Pound remained the model of the poet for Zukofsky.

"58. /Prepositions/ was on Zukofsky’s desk when he died, open to his essay on Pound.

"61. Zukofsky carries Pound on his back, like Aeneas carrying Anchises out of burning Troy."

If I live  to 101 I may write a series of poems about dogs called 101 Dalmatians.

Did you know Zukofsky mentions Vico a few times in "A"?

On another note, there seems so much to read.  Reading about Samuel Johnson's friends in the eighteenth century, it seemed as though most of them had read many of the same books.  In the inverveening centuries, so many more books have become available that we have such a huge variety of texts to choose from.  I think again about Paul Schrader's essay on the film canon ( ).  I find it fascinating how we choose what to read.  It can take a lifetime to start to understand some writers (Pound, Joyce, etc.).  Over the years I've encountered various ideas of the literary canon.  I've spent a lot of time reading books perceived as canonical by Bob Wilson and Ezra Pound, but when I became friends with Rafi Zabor a few years ago, I found a whole new canon I had not read (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Proust, etc.).  I always feel humbled reading your terrific blog ( ) because you have so many books you regard highly which I haven't read, and you've read so many of the books which I value highly.

Robert Heinlein, discussing the difficulties he had in keeping up with advances in the sciences, quoted Alice, "The faster I go, the behinder I get."

Thanks for the stimulating question.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Who's Zelenka?"

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "I had never heard of composer Jan Dismas Zelenka until I read Schroedinger's Cat, the subject of your upcoming Maybe Logic Academy online course. Do you know if Robert Anton Wilson had a particular interest in his music and was trying to bring attention to it?"

I don't of Bob mentioning Zelenka anywhere except for that novel, as you say the subject of my new class at Maybe Logic - .  I don't think Bob had a deep interest in Zelenka, but perhaps he did.  I do know that anytime I hear Zelenka's music, I think of that novel.  I think I've only heard Zelenka's music on the Music Choice classical cable channels.  I don't recall ever hearing him live or on the radio.  It says something for the power of the novel, or at least its impact on me personally, that whenever I hear it I think of Frank Dashwood hearing it and wondering, "Who's Zelenka?"  If the novel took place in 2012, I guess he would just google it.

I don't recall ever reading about Zelenka in any books on classical music by Kerman or Rosen, etc.  I find it interesting how their maps of what they consider important in the vast history of classical music helps to shape my notions of what music to focus on, as do the models of Bob Wilson, Rafi Zabor, etc.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Trust to good movies then."

AC asks about my upcoming class at the Maybe Logic Academy ( ), "In this you give a movie recommendation for each week, are we to watch this a couple of times during the week, or just once. if just once, do we do it at the end of the week or at the beginning? Or is it just left up to the person to decide?"

I would leave it up to the individual.  I plan to start watching the movies at the beginning of November, and I hope to finish watching them all before the class ends.  I've seen them all before, but I look forward to rewatching them.  I also plan to watch some of the bonus material and alternative versions on the Criterion edition of Mr. Arkadin.  After I posted the syllabus I remembered Netflix didn't have The Magnificent Ambersons, but it just got rereleased and they acquired it.

Typically people from all over the world take the Maybe Logic classes.  I realize that some people might not have a chance to watch the films.  I suspect they will still enjoy the class.

Films greatly influenced Bob Wilson, and I hope the cinema component of the class will illuminate that.  Chinatown particularly influenced Schrödinger's Cat. 

I remember having dinner with Bob in 1995.  I wanted to talk about my Finnegans Wake study group, and he just wanted to talk about his Orson Welles study group.


AC asks, "I recently read a polemic of tolstoy's that detailed his many criticisms of Shakespear, particularly his (in tolstoys view) plagiarism (tolstoy accused shakespear of making them worse, where others said he made them better) of earlier authors. With the majority of people who sing shakespears praises, in the literary world, I was a little shocked that tolstoy criticsed shakespear.

"What do you think of this polemic and of Tolstoy?"

Well, I haven't read Tolstoy on Shakespeare.

Works of art seem to me like wells.  I know I've gotten water from some wells - I've read some books and enjoyed them.  I've heard good things about other wells but haven't yet enjoyed drinking from them - others I respect have said they enjoyed some books although I haven't yet enjoyed them much. For instance, James Joyce, Robert Anton Wilson, and Michael Johnson have all gotten more from the well of Vico's work than I have.

T. S. Eliot said immature poets borrow, mature poet steal.  I have very little first hand knowledge of Shakespeare's sources, but I do enjoy what Shakespeare did with them.  Shakespeare has a such a vast reputation, I don't think Tolsoy's criticism will keep too many people from experimenting with reading Shakespeare.

I love Tolstoy.  I'd never finished any of his books until 2006.  I had become friends with Rafi Zabor the previous fall, and he encouraged me to read War and Peace.  I remember reading an interview with him online where the interviewer said he'd gotten her to read War and Peace as well.  I just searched for that interview and found this letter to The New York Times instead:

"If, Mr. Keller, you have read only the new translation, you may be mistaking characteristics of Tolstoy for those of his translators—he is never, well hardly ever, even in the Rosemary Edmonds translation I am startled fo find myself having read five times through, the smoothest and most fluent of writers. Often, when returning to him after long absence, I am amazed to find how clunky and foursquare he can be—and then, hardly noticing the transition, I fall under his spell—his curious spell that appears to dispell, with its overwhelmingly observed and constant realism, one’s own suggestibility to spells: suggestible, ensorcelled, moi? Why, sir, I am looking at reality unmediated and complete!
"It would be too easy to say of Tolstoy that he is, oh, less subtle than Proust, less spirited than Stendhal, and so on down a distinguished line, to finish by saying that he is the best all-rounder. This conclusion, while perhaps correct, seems well beside the essential point. I usually revert to Proust’s observation—it works to set a genius to catch a genius—that people mistake Tolstoy when they point to his powers of observation, especially the observation of human beings as they are, as the key to his power. No, says Proust, overstating the case in order to make it: his characters are not the product of an observing eye but of a thinking mind; Tolstoy has seen the general Laws of human nature, and renders them in their consequent particularities, and it is in recognizing this quality in him, intuitively or otherwise, that we are convinced by his art as by that of no other author. (I paraphrase and interpret, a little. If anyone can find the exact quote from Proust, I’d be happy to see it again.)
I got my copy of the P&V translation only recently, and have not yet read 100 pages, and so far I seem to be enjoying the ride despite the obvious bumps in the road. Better still, I am tumbling into Tolstoy again, and notice how, even very early on—in small details such as Vera Rostova observing her beauty in the mirror and becoming more calm and cold; in the circulation of characters around the matter of Count Bezhukov’s will; in the earliest observations of the Rostov children and the first conversation between Prince Andrei and Pierre—already we, or I (since I know what is coming), see these people in the round as I see no others in literature, and already begin to see emerging (or, having shown its essential character quickly, it has already entirely emerged) Tolstoy’s singular and I believe unmatchable portrayal of the action and evolution of human character in Time.
Other author’s characters—even perhaps Proust’s—are more predictable than Tolstoy’s: they respond to something impacting upon their lives somewhat in the manner of billiard balls, and you can follow their trajectory and understand the phsyics of their motion without too much intellectual exercise; but in Tolstoy there is a mysterious quality within each character that alters and transmogrifies such simple patterns, and imparts to their motion in time what seems the full complexity of human life as we experience it, although we have probably failed to recognize the Proustian “Laws” that produce this largely incomprehensible motion.
"Tolstoy convinces us that he has comprehended it, which is why, with him more than with any other great writer, that when we read a perhaps too happily debunking biography, we are so shocked and sometimes delighted to find that he lived so much of his life like an uninstructible idiot. Never mind: before reading even 100 pages of this new version of his masterpiece, I feel my consciousness being expanded again, as Tolstoy paints his enormous picture in which, as we progress through it, the earliest details remain clear in our minds as we encounter a thousand new details, the entire composition held in focus in the author’s massive consciousness and duplicated by analogy in our own.
"As for the translation, I’m not sure, but I don’t expect to return to Rosemary Edmonds’ fine, fluent version, and will rough-ride all the way to the finish with Pevear and Volokhonsky—unless, as may happen, I can’t put War and Peace down and will be compelled to take one of its less bulky avatars onto the F Train and into town. What a pleasure it is to be riding in Tolstoy’s great carriage once again!
— Rafi Zabor"
He says it better than I could.  I also loved Hadji Murat and some other short pieces I read.  (I can't figure out how to get out of italics.  So it goes.)  Tolstoy struck me as so different from my idea of the great novel I had formed largely from reading Joyce.  If feel like my ignorance of Russian blocks me from a deeper understanding of Tolstoy.  One can spend years and years reading an author and barely scratch the surface.  I feel that way about Joyce and Shakespeare.  I've barely begun to read Tolstoy.  I sometimes feel as though I've barely begun to read.
Thanks for the question.
P.S.  I forgot.  About the time I read War and Peace Robert Anton Wilson started calling himself the last Decembrist, and he encouraged people to google "Decembrists + Illuminati".  It delighted me when I finished War and Peace to learn that Tolstoy began writing the novel to explain the origin of the Decembrists.  I love that synchronicity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Dr. Johnson asks, "I wonder what you'd say about the role of difficulty in reading books like The Cantos, Finnegans Wake, Ulysses, Zukovsky, Gravity's Rainbow, WSB, The Wasteland, the S-Cat Trilogy, even Illuminatus! (Just today someone on Internet labeled Illuminatus! as 'unreadable.')?

"Why do you think some readers ENJOY difficulty, while others not only dislike it, but disparage it?

"My main model has to do with personality 'types' and predilections, but I'm not wedded to this as my main model. What say you?"

I've thought about your question, and I don't think I have a good answer.  (You have a knack for asking questions I have difficulty answering.)  I think vanity plays a role. People like me like to feel superior by reading at books which seem difficult, alas.  I only had a slight interest in "difficult" books before I started reading Bob Wilson.  He got me interested in Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos, and as with the tar baby, I've had trouble letting go of those books.

I think part of the appeal of these kind of texts come from their sense of humor, a kind which seems to only emerge out of this kind of chaos.  (At one point late in The Cantos Pound say he'll have to study some Greek to write the poem, but so will the reader.)  I also have a fascination with what kind of book fascinates those whose minds fascinate me.  Bob remained fascinated by Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos for decades, and Tim Leary remained fascinated by Gravity's Rainbow for twenty-plus years.  I would like to understand what they saw in those books.

It struck me once thinking about the Jumping Jesus Phenomena that Joyce and Pound marked the first time that people lived through an information doubling, and they created styles of writing to try to deal with that experience.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Classic Coke

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Q. Who are your favorite classical authors, i.e. authors who wrote in ancient Greek or Latin?"

Answer:  Ovid.

Longer answer:  Ovid, Catullus, Propertius.

More reasonable answer:  Well, thinking about your question I realized how much Ezra Pound shaped my notions about classical literature.  He suggested no adequate translations existed in English for most Greek literature, so I've read very little Greek literature.  (It doesn't take much to get me to chose slack over study.)  I loved Pound's translation of The Women of Trachis by SophoklesI never finished his version of Elektra.  The book didn't appear until I had passed out of one phase of my Pound obsession, so I didn't have the drive to finish it.  I do love the excerpt from the Agamemnon translated by Dallam Simpson which Pound included in Confucius to Cummings.  And I love Tom Lehrer's theme song to Oedipus Rex.

I love Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis and Christopher Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Amores, although I've only read each of them once all the way through.  I've read bits of Gavin Douglass's Aeneid which fortunately just came back in print.  I would like to get that.  I plan to begin rereading the Golding in 2013.

I've just begun rereading the Zukofskys' translation of Catullus.  I've struggled reading a little Catullus in Latin, but I find it very humbling.  I have trouble with the scansion, etc.  For Propertius, I've only read Pound's "Homage."

I also like some of the medaeval scholastic writers, whom I don't really think of as "classical," but they did write in Latin (at least sometimes): Meister Eckhart, Richard St. Victor, Abelard, Scotus Erigina, but I've read very, very little of them.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Whole Tamale

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "It seems to me that an interest in or association with William Burroughs ties together much of America's avante garde writing. Do you know if RAW and Burroughs were friends, or if they ever corresponded? Do you know of Burroughs read RAW's work?"

Bob knew Bill Burroughs. They hung out at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 along with Allen Ginsberg. They sat in a bar discussing The Cantos. Bob Wilson and Bob Shea included both of them in Illuminatus! Bob told me Burroughs thought it appropriate that the great epic poem of the 20th century ended in fragments.

(ASU bought Burroughs' papers in 1983. I used to hang out in the Special Collections room of the ASU library going through them. I remember reading a cut-up Burroughs did of Canto I.  I met Burroughs in the Special Collections room on October 23, 1985, when ASU bought the papers. I found him the most intimidating person I ever met.) (I found Roscoe Mitchell almost as intimidating, and I found Richard Bandler intimidating in a different fashion. I trouble getting Burroughs or Mitchell to talk, but I felt like Bandler could see right through me.)

I talked with Burroughs about Robert Anton Wilson and Philip Jose Farmer, and he nodded his head and said he had read them, but not much else.  I certainly did not find him garrulous.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Beats me. I feel it done to me and weep.

Dr. Johnson asks, "Q: What are some of your ideas about reading poetry in translation? When I read Dante or Rumi, it's always a different English translation, and they always give a slightly different vibe from the previous translation. How much do you think is missed by reading a writer in translation? Thanks, I'll hang up and listen to the response on the air...I should add I'm a first time listener, long-time caller."

This seems like asking a virgin to describe sex.  I can barely read German, and I have less skill with Latin.  I've "read" some Goethe and Rilke, etc., in German and then read the English translations.  I have some sense of the music of German poetry, but I can only understand a word here or there in the German.  I've read even less Latin poetry.

1)  I initially have a Poundian response to this.  One can see poetry using the tools of melopoeia (sound), phanopoeia (images), and/or logopoeia (the play of words), etc.  One can translate melopoeia only in spurts (according to Pound), but one can translate a great deal of imagery (phanopoeia).  Logopoeia seems even more difficult to translate.  I've read and loved a lot of Pound's translation and those he recommends (Arthur Golding's Ovid, etc.).

2.  Rumi brings up the special problems of esoteric meanings, sufic, etc.  I don't claim to understand those esoteric meanings or how to translate them.  I think of the great bumper sticker, "God said it; I believe it; That settles it."  I find the Bible difficult to understand in English, and I have no understanding of the original languages, in their esoteric or exoteric meanings.

3.  I've become more agnostic about translations.  Read whatever works for you.  Two and a half years ago some tenth graders said they wanted to read Dante, so we put together a reading group.  I immediately thought in Poundian terms and thought of using either the Dent or Binyon translations.  My old copy of The Portable Dante had the Binyon translation, so I told them to buy The Portable Dante.  I didn't realize the more recent editions of The Portable Dante used the Mark Musa translation, who translated the poem into blank verse, which I suspect would have horrified Uncle Ezra.  Well, some kids had already bought the book when I discovered this, and it looked like both of the translations Pound had recommended had gone out of print, so I decided to go ahead with the Musa translation, and I ended up really enjoying it.  In fact, when a passage of Musa's translation of the Purgatorio really moved me, I thought I'd look up Binyon's translation to find an even better version of it, and I found the Binyon version a little old fashioned and less effective.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Unacknowledged Legislators of Humanity

Dr. Johnson asks, "NOW: to poetry: what, to you, would be some ways of demarcation between prose and poetry? I remember sitting in a bar in a run-down industrial area of LA, very late one night, and I was 22 or so, and a guy who described himself as a "bum" but was clearly a genius, laid out a very good case for Shakespeare's plays being "poetry," for Pynchon's novels as "poetry," for Nietzsche as "poetry," und so weiter. This very expansive model or poetry has always stuck with me. What seem your thoughts?"

Well, folks like Shelley discuss this a lot.  I tend to think of stuff marked "poetry" as poetry, especially stuff not in paragraphs.  Following Korzybski one can define poetry1 as stuff written with purposeful line breaks, stuff not written mostly in paragraphs.  (Admittedly, people like W. C. Williams Incorporated paragraphs of "prose" into their poetry, but those "paragraphs" make up a minority of a "poem" like Patterson.)

Poetry2 would follow Pound's definition of literature as language charged with meaning, great literature as language charged with meaning to the maximum extent.  Shelley, etc., liked to think of Plato as "poetry" in this sense.  Shakespeare switched between poetry1 and prose, but one could model it all as poetry2.  One could certainly model Pynchon and Nietzsche as poetry2 (even though Pynchon embeds some poetry1 amongst his "prose").

Operationally, I tend to read poetry1 out loud with no music playing; I tend to read prose silently, often with music playing.  I will sometimes read Finnegans Wake out loud, but I don't mind if I have music playing.  I tend to think the rhythms of music distract me from the conscious rhythms of poetry1.  "Prose" uses what Pound calls melopoeia, but to a lesser extant then poetry1, for the most part.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My New Maybe Logic Course

The Kindly Seer of Cleveland asks, "Could you talk about your Maybe Logic course on Schroedinger's Cat? Why did you choose to focus on this work?"

Well, I just did this write-up for the kind folks at Maybe Logic:

Schrödinger’s Cat:
A Chronotransduction

“Some have even proposed that Schrödinger’s Cat is actually a manual of shamanism in the form of a novel, but that opinion is, almost certainly, exaggerated.” -  Schrödinger’s Cat, pg. 12
I first discovered the genius of Robert Anton Wilson through his three part novel Schrödinger’s Cat in 1982.  Thirty years later it remains my favorite book, one which I think repays deep inspection and contemplation.  This class will examine the book as “a manual of shamanism,” using it as a tool for transforming our nervous systems and our realities.  Bob wrote this book after the greatest crisis of his life, the murder of his daughter Luna.  In the novel characters deal with tragedy, attempting to alchemically transmute the lead of their lives into gold.  Novelist Paul Chuey called this book “a pornographic quantum mechanics textbook.”  In the 1980’s I thought of it as a modern Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with the reader in the role of Alice, his or her reality warped by Wilson’s hologrammatic prose.  The tools Bob found useful for reimprinting the nervous system, pranayama, Joyce, magick, Beethoven, etc., each play a dynamic role in the novel, opening pathways for discovery for the attentive reader.

Well, Schrödinger's Cat an attempt to write a new kind of science fiction. New Scientist magazine, I'm happy to say, called it the most scientific of all science-fiction novels, which really pleased me very much. It pleased me so much I quote it every chance I can.
What I was trying to do with Schrödinger's Cat: Instead of going as far out as I could in my imagination, I tried to follow where modern physics is going (what are the main lines of interpretation of the universe in modern physics?) and just write about a universe that fits modern physics. And that is so mind-blowing it seems crazier than anything a science-fiction writer could invent. As a matter of fact, a lot of it does sound like science fiction.
-          Robert Anton Wilson,

This class will use the one volume 1988 revision of the novel.  The eight weeks of the course will examine the text in light of the eight circuit model of the nervous system.  The text gives many practical suggestions for reimprinting these circuits throughout the text.

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension One
Begin reading Book One: The Homing Pigeons, pg. 349 – 418
Each week of this course I would like you to listen to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 106 at least once, preferably with your eyes closed.
Please try to develop a first circuit practice for the duration of this course.  This could involve a half an hour each day of martial arts or yoga, or simply walking for a half an hour each day.
Movie of the Week:  Chinatown

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Two
Read pg. 418 - 486        
Add a half an hour of either pranayama or sitting meditation each day.
Movie of the Week:  Citizen Kane

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Three
Read pg. 486 – 545, 1 – 10
Add a half an hour of kabbalistic study each day.
Movie of the Week:  The Magnificent Ambersons

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Four
Read pg. 10 – 78
Add a daily fourth circuit practice.
Movie of the Week:  The Lady from Shanghai

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Five
Read pg. 78 – 146
Add daily cultivation of fifth circuit awareness.
Movie of the Week:  Mr. Arkadin

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Six
Read pg. 146 – 214
Add daily awakening of the sixth circuit.
Movie of the Week:  Touch of Evil

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Seven
Read 210 – 278
Attempt to metaprogram some aspect of your perceived reality.
Movie of the Week:  The Trial

Week/Circuit/System/Dimension Eight
Read pg. 278 – 347
Awaken to the possibilities of the eighth circuit.  Bob Wilson saw the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a skeleton key to the eighth circuit.
Movie of the Week:  F for Fake

Eight Ways to Listen to Beethoven
I.                     As for music – where did we first hear it, who sang or hummed to us, and against what part of her body were we held? - Prometheus Rising (revised edition), pg. 48.

II.                        We are not talking about mere increase in linear IQ – third-circuit semantic cleverness.  We are talking of also the kinds of right-brain intelligence that Nicholl acquired from Jungian neurogenetic research and Gurdjieff’s meta-programming techniques.  We are talking of say, Beethoven’s intelligence, which so disturbed Lenin, who could not bear to listen to the Appassionata (Sonata 23) because it made him “want to weep and pat people on the head, and we mustn’t pat them on the head, we must hit them on the head, hit them hard, and make them obey.”  More of Beethoven’s intelligence is needed, desperately, to create a signal that the current Lenins cannot ignore, that will make them weep, and stop hitting heads. – Ibid, pg. 277

III.                The left-handed, on the contrary, specialize in right-brain functions, which are holistic, supra-verbal, “intuitive,” musical and “mystical.”  Leonardo, Beethoven and Nietzsche, for instance, were all left-handed.  Traditionally, left-handed people have been the subject of both dread and awe – regarded as weird, shamanic, and probably in special communication with “God” or “the Devil.” – Ibid, pg. 98 – 99.

IV.                      “To me, the Hammerklavier sounds like an unsuccessful attempt at Tantric sex.  And the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies sound like monumentally successful attempts.”  - Frank Dashwood in Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy, pg. 426.

V.                         Beethoven, we remember, was left-handed.  Since the left hand is neurologically linked to the polymorphous right brain, one might say he was genetically inclined to right brain activities, that is, to sensing coherent wholes, to plunging into neurosomatic bliss almost “at will,” and to sensory-sensual raptness and rapture.  Everybody “knows” that the Sixth Symphony is “pantheistic,” but whether Beethoven was an ideological pantheist or not, that way of responding to nature is normal and natural right-brain Circuit V functioning.  That is, anybody on the Fifth Circuit will “talk like a pantheist” whether or not he has developed a “philosophy” about pantheism.  The miracle of Beethoven is not that he felt the universe that way – a few thousand fifth-circuit types throughout history have also felt and sensed nature that way – but that he mastered the third-circuit art of music with such skill that he could communicate such experiences, which is precisely what the ordinary “mystic” cannot do.   - Prometheus Rising, pg. 183.

This progression, from primate emotion to post-hominid tranquility, from “man” to “super man,” is the Next Step that mystics forever talk of; you can hear it in most of Beethoven’s later, major compositions.   Ibid, pg.  188.

VI.                       Beethoven, to cite him one more time, said, “Anybody who understands my music will never be unhappy again.”  That is because his music is the song of the Sixth Circuit, of Gaia, the Life Spirit, becoming conscious of Herself, of Her powers, of Her own capacities for infinite progress.   - Ibid, pg. 204.

VII.                    Mind and its contents are functionally identical: My wife only exists, for me, in my mind.  Not being a solipsist, I recognize the converse: I only exist, for her, in her mind.  Lest the reader exclaim, like Byron of Wordsworth, “I wish he would explain his explanation!”, let us try it this way: If I am so fortunate as to be listening to the Hammerklavier sonata, the only correct answer, if you ask me suddenly, “Who are you?” would be to hum the Hammerklavier,.  For, with music of that quality, one is hypnotized into rapt attention: there is no division between “me” and “my experience.”  -  Ibid, pg. 219.

VIII.            Mystics stammer, gibber and rave incoherently in trying to discuss this.  Beethoven says it for them, without words, in the fourth movement of the Ninth Symphony.  The words of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which Beethoven set to this virtually superhuman music, are a linear third-circuit map conveying only a skeleton key to the multi-level meanings of the 8-circuit “language” of the melodic construction itself, which spans all consciousness from primitive bio-survival to meta-physiological cosmic fusion.   Ibid, pg. 269

"Slowness Is Beauty" - Laurence Binyon

The Seer of Cleveland asked me weeks ago, "In one of your blog postings, you mention that you and RAW mostly talked about movies and books. Can you tell me if he talked about science fiction very often, and what he said about who his favorite science fiction authors were?"

Science fiction came up from time to time in Bob's letters and conversations.  I remember talking with him on the phone about my first science fiction class in August 2000.  He said he considered Heinlein the first writing to bring sociology into science fiction.

He used to write about The Valis Trilogy by Phil Dick.  I told him I thought of Phil's last four books as a cohesive unity: Radio Free Albemuth, Valis, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.  He said he agreed and that he'd referred to it as a trilogy because he had an omnibus volume called The Valis Trilogy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Rabinowitz Factor

Dr. Johnson asks, "What are some sources for the role of FORM in poetry? I've recently been delving into the history of the sonnet form, but I wonder if you could recommend some books or sections of books or articles on all sorts of poetic forms?"

Back in 1982 the composer Robert Rabinowitz asked me to write a brief essay on form to include with the program for a recital.  The piece included two haiku, one of which I remember:

Form a butterfly
with time and caterpillar
sole ingredients.

For years I've thought of rereading G. Spencer Brown's Laws of Form and Charles Rosen's Sonata Forms and trying to come to a deeper understanding of form.  I haven't really thought about poetic form for decades.  I do have some concrete thoughts on the sonnet, though.  Ezra Pound repeatedly said to write a sonnet a day for a year.  I found this a very useful experiment, and I can think of no better way of learning about poetic form.  I tried once for about five months and stopped.  Later I did it for a full year, so I wrote over 500 sonnets in those two periods.  I think I liked two of them.  Of course, while doing that I read a bunch of sonnets and a bunch of other writing in iambic pentameter.

For the history of the sonnet, I suggest reading the pre-Dante Italian poets in Pound's Translations and in Confucius to cummings, as well as Pound's essays on Cavalcanti and Dante.  Next, read Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation of La Vita Nuova, Dante's early poems for Beatrice before he wrote the Commedia.  (Pound suggested reading Rossetti's translation of La Vita Nuova before the Commedia, Eliot afterwards.  Eliot feared one would get a too Pre-Rafaelite image of Dante if one started with the Rossetti.)  The old edition of The Portable Dante with the Binyon translation of the Commedia includes the Rossetti.

Pound called Dante the second greatest literary critic after Aristotle.  La Vita Nuova, in addition to including great love poems, includes Dante's own analysis of their form.

After reading lots of Cavalcanti and Dante, etc., one can move on reading the sonnets by Shakespeare, The Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and a selection of sonnets by Wyatt, Spenser, Milton, Keats, etc.

Zukofsky's wonderful A Test of Poetry doesn't talk a lot about form, but I keep rereading it and learning from it.

Pound recommends translating poems to help learn about form.

I don't feel like I've completely answered your question.  Perhaps some more books or articles will creep into my mind.  Most of the stuff on form I like pops up in the middle of pieces on various poets,  Creeley's various discussions of Zukofsky's "A" for instance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Dr. Johnson asks, "What poet(s) make you laff out loud? And do you think it's necessary to say why/"

What a great question.  Pound, Zukofsky, cummings, Byron, Chaucer, Ginsberg, Landor, Eliot, Ferlinghetti, Paul Durcan, Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Stew, Gary Snyder, etc., have make me laugh out loud on occasion.   Poetry doesn't tend to make me laugh out loud as often as movies do.  If it did, I'd read more poetry.  I think in McLuhan-esque terms, "What do various media do well?"  Movies do chase scenes and slapstick well.  Poetry does other things well,

I find the English candy scene in Gravity's Rainbow makes me laugh out loud more than any other scene.

Humor seems beyond my understanding.  It doesn't seem necessary to ask why one finds something funny.  I think of the entry on "Bisociation" in Everything Is Under Control by Bob Wilson.

A Day at the Races

SatoriGuy asks, "I'm kind of a newb to poetry but I enjoyed the Charles Bukowski documentary Born Into This. Any thoughts on Mr. Bukowski's poetry?"

I've only read one of his books, back in the 80's.  It did make a mark on me, however.  Whenever I encounter a reference to a racetrack, I think of his writing.  It says something about his powers as a writer that he broadened my reality a little bit, making the world of the track come vividly alive for me.

Synchronistically, after reading your question I finished reading Geoff Dyers' Zona and encountered one passing reference to Mr. Bukowski.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Bard

The Blue Wizard of Oz asks, "Can you recommend, for someone mostly unfamiliar with Shakespeare, a good place to start to appreciate his prose or poetry?"

Good question.  I don't know.  I just found out I won't get a chance to teach my Shakespeare, science fiction or film history classes next fall, so I appreciate the change to ponder Uncle Bill.

Going to see quality productions of Shakespeare seems like a good start.  I love how after I see a Shakespeare production I think in iambic pentameter.  You could also watch some good Shakespeare movies.  (What constitutes a "good Shakespeare movie"?  Well, I love Orson Welles' Macbeth, Chimes at Midnight, and Othello, but I think they all bored me when I first saw them.  I love Olivier's Hamlet, Henry V, and Richard III too.  I remember seeing part of Olivier's Hamlet around second grade, and I liked the ghost and the poison in the ear.  Snobbishly I tried to memorize the "To be or not to be" soliloquy.)  (You haven't really appreciated Hamlet until you've read it in the original Klingon.)  (Just kidding.)  I also like the 30's version of A Midsummer's Night Dream with Jimmy Cagney and Mickey Rooney.  I also love Kurosawa's versions of King Lear (Ran) and Macbeth (Throne of Blood).

For the poetry, I remember reading comedies in a group of friends in college.  We read A Midsummer's Night Dream sitting on the grass, and we read Twelfth Night in my dorm room.  Some folks at the Maybe Logic Academy had talked about starting a Shakespeare study group.  I also like two anthologies of Shakespeare's poetry Ted Hughes edited.  I think you can easily get one called Essential Shakespeare.

I recommend getting a complete Shakespeare and just reading out loud.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ho, Ho, Ho

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "I thought it was charming that "An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson" included a poem written for your wife. Did she like the poem? Will you post one of your more recent poems?"

Yes, she loved the poems in the book.

         A little Christmas poem

We would wait in the hall
for my father to put Christmas records on
(Bing Crosby, etc.)   a stack of them on the record player
And then we'd open presents, one by one
youngest to oldest, which
I'd hand out.

In the joyous aftermath we'd eat
sausage and my mother's coffee cake
occassionally restarting
the music

Maynard G. Krebs

SatoriGuy asks, "As someone who knew RAW, did you ever discuss his writing process? I always find it mind boggling how many seemingly unrelated and esoteric references he could squeeze into his work. I guess what I'm asking is, did he have any special way of doing research or does it just come down to his genius intellect?"

As I recall, we didn't discuss his writing process that much.  Mostly we discussed reading and movies.  I remember he came down to Southern California in August 2000 for an NLP gig in Anaheim.  I came to visit him twice, and we talked about how neither of us had ever really gotten into Henry James, although we both loved Ezra Pound and he loved Henry James.  Pound said if one wanted to learn to write prose well one should read forty Henry James novels.  Bob later suggested to me that if I wanted to improve my prose style I should read Ulysses forty times.

I know Arlen Wilson liked to collect old encyclopedias back in the Roaring 20th Century.  Bob liked to look up facts in multiple encyclopedias and note the discrepancies.

I love this piece.  I used to have it hanging on my wall.  I got this copy from the wonderful


as a writer

by Robert AntonWilson

Most of the characteristics which make for success in writing are precisely those which we are all taught to repress. These characteristics are denounced by religious leaders everywhere, by most philosophers, and by many famous psychologists.

I refer to such qualities as vanity, pride, even conceit; to raw egotism and grandiosity; to the firm belief that you are an important person, that you are a lot smarter than most people, and that your ideas are so damned important that everybody should listen to you.

I have known a lot of successful writers and they all had these qualities. In contrast, the people I knew in high school and college who "wanted to be writers" but have never published anything since then, had all the opposite qualities. They were shy, and meek, and timid; they had the humility that all religions preach; they had a realistic sense that they probably were no brighter or more important than anybody else. They had irony- and balance and pragmatism, and they were not fanatics. That is why they are not writing anymore.

The successful writers I know are not only driven by vanity but are also fanatic personalities.

This is not only true of writers but of great creative persons in all fields. Michelangelo was an ego-maniac who attacked the Pope physically for trying to tell him how to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Beethoven was rude, domineering, stubborn as a mule and never for a moment doubted that he was the greatest musician in all history-and he threw furniture at people who annoyed him. Frank Lloyd Wright, when testifying in court, described himself as the world's greatest architect, and when his friends told him later that he sounded grandiose he replied that he had to tell the truth because he was under oath.

If you believe that the ego is a "delusion," that pride is one of the seven deadly sins, that humanity should be reduced to a herd of contented cows, then you might as well give up writing and all the other arts.

You cannot have too high an opinion of yourself because the world will always strive to correct you. The only thing most people hate more than success is self-confidence-a warning signal that you might be a success soon. This is not what they teach you in Sunday School, but it happens to be true: at any evidence that you might be a success, the envious will do every-thing in their power to destroy you. Therefore, there is no chance at all that a high self-esteem will go unchallenged; it will be challenged on all sides, daily. On the other hand, if you have a low opinion of yourself, nobody will ever correct it. You will have it for life unless you correct it yourself.

The second quality writers need for success, besides vanity, is love of writing itself. Nothing is fun to read that wasn't fun to write (which is a corollary of the basic psychological law that nobody enjoys being with you if you don't enjoy being with yourself. (Reading you is a symbolic form of being with you.] )

Few writers achieve overnight success, because few people in any field succeed immediately. This does not mean that you have to endure years of poverty before success. Poverty is a state of mind, based on inadequate self-esteem. If you believe in yourself, you are never poor; you are just temporarily short of funds. I was on Unemployment for six months once (1964) and on Welfare for two years (1972-1973) and I was never poor. I was waiting for the world to realize how important I am.

Besides egotism and love-of-your-­work, the only remaining thing a creative person needs is something that seems to, but doesn't, contradict self-esteem. This is belief in something greater than yourself. Michel­angelo painted for the greater glory of God and for the greater glory of Michelangelo, in about equal propor­tions. Beethoven's music is an outcry of passionate commitment to God, Life, Humanity and Ludwig van Beethoven, in equal proportions. James Joyce, who may have been the greatest writer of all time, said he never met a boring human being; this was because his faith in James Joyce was equaled only by his absorption in what other people could teach James Joyce about human psychol­ogy. Other great creative minds have been equally absorbed in getting mankind off this planet, or in Socialist Revolution, or in Feminism, or in whatever happened to seize their imagination.

Robert Heinlein has offered the only pragmatic rules for writers that make sense to me. The first is to finish what you start. The second is to keep on sending each piece out until you sell it. If it has been rejected even 1 00 places, make a list of 100 more, and keep on mailing it to one after another, until you do sell it. If you enjoyed writing it, somebody somewhere is going to enjoy reading it and enjoy it enough to publish it. Since I learned this rule I have sold everything I have written, including even my Ph.D. dissertation, which is the hardest kind of thing to sell to a commercial publisher.

But even these two Heinleinian rules of marketing will not avail unless you already qualify for the three psychological characteristics mentioned earlier-belief in yourself, belief in something greater than yourself, and sheer delight in what you are doing.

Rabbi Hillel put it all in a nutshell 2000 years ago: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

-Robert Anton Wilson

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Blue Wizards?

The Blue Wizard of Oz asked, "How would you rate Tolkien's poetry?"
It sucks.  No, wait a minute.  I just said that to get a laugh.  The Pound snob within me says that, but I love a lot of Tolkien's poetry, and I find it integral to The Lord of the Rings which I adore.  I particularly admire his ability to write poems in languages he himself created.

I just finished teaching The Lord of the Rings again last month, and we had a blast.  I got switched to a new classroom last summer, and I grumbled about it, but I did like the fact the I now had room for a bookshelf dedicated to Tolkien.  I have to the right of my desk beneath my large map of Middle Earth which my wife bought me years ago.  My old principal had a classroom set of The Hobbit, so I have 30 plus copies of The Hobbit which I have taught at least three times.  (I look forward to the new film, and I wonder if they will show the White Council attacking Dol Guldur.)

Tolkien seems to have little interest in post-Swinburnean developments in English poetry, but so what?  He had steeped himself in Medaeval poetry in a variety of languages, and that enabled him to build an unparalleled linguistic verisimilitude into his writing.  He wrote that he loathed allegory (perhaps a dig at C. S. Lewis) and that he preferred history, even feigned history.  His linguistic creativity enabled him to create his multi-layered feigned history of peoples with a vital oral poetry tradition.

I also taught his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a few years ago, which I enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Dr. J asks, "QUESTION: Aldous Huxley once noted - and this was when people had access to music on the AM radio! - That because music was so easy to access now, we take it for granted, and thus we tend to diminish its importance and not attend to it consciously as we did when we had to dress up and travel to the concert hall. What do you think of this idea? Does it relate to poetry reading in any way?"

I think Huxley's notion suggest a linear model with music's importance diminishing or increasing along a single line.  I think instead that the role of music has changed.  I love the story Pound tells of how Jefferson hired staff at Monticello who could play instruments so that he could hear music at dinner.  I think music seems very important to many people today, and the easy access to recordings has helped music transform people's lives in ways unknown to the nineteenth century.  I think of how jazz underpinned the Beat Generation and how music helped to shift innumerable paradigms in the 1960's.

I think poetry reading relates in that poetry gives us access to deeper strata of our human history.  Its oral roots go back to preliterate humanity.  I think of how Pound saw Homer as the end of a tradition, the tradition of thousands of years of oral poetry.  We still have oral poetry, but literacy has transformed our perception of it, much as how recordings have transformed our perceptions of music.

Reading poetry can also give us access to the transition from inflected languages like Greek and Latin to modern languages.  Canto One demonstrates this.  Pound took what he perceived as the oldest part of The Odyssey, Odysseus's trip to the Underworld, translated via a sixteen century Latin text, using the alliteration pattern of Old English.  The periplum voyage of this translation gives a history of English poetry, from its classical Greek and Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots via the Renaissance.  Poetry and music can both give us tours of other people's lives, time-binding as Korzybski said.


The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Can you explain again why you are listening to each sonata 11 times? I know you explained that before, but I can't find the answer."

I find it fascinating how much access we have to music in 2012 C.E.  For most of human existence, to hear music one had to hear live people (or birds, dolphins, waterfalls, etc.).  During my lifetime I've mostly heard recorded music.  Now, I love recorded music, but I think in a McLuhanesque sense our whole relationship with music has changed over the past 150 years.  (I love Paul Schrader's essay on the film canon which deals tangentially with this issue - .)  I remember reading an article about a guy who said his father had a life goal of hearing all nine Beethoven symphonies.  The father traveled all over Germany to accomplish this goal.  Now with recordings one can easily listen to all nine in one afternoon.

I have mostly used music as background for the past thirty or so years.  I have it on while driving, reading, working, etc.  I have tried over the past few years to spend more time just listening to music.  In Finnegans Wake the number 1132 shows up over and over.  The fact that the Big B had written 32 piano sonatas nagged at me for years, and I decided to listen to each sonata eleven times.  I find it hard to find time sometimes, but over the past two years I've made it through the first 23 sonatas.  I find it a wonderful legal means of consciousness alteration much like reading great poetry out loud.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beethoven, etc.

The Seer of Cleveland asked, "Is there anything you can recall that you learned about Beethoven from RAW that RAW didn't mention in any of his writings? How is your project to listen to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas over and over again coming along?"

I just started this blog yesterday, but I've discovered already that the answering process seems to take time.  I may think I've answered a question adequately, but I keep thinking of other ways to answer it.  I suspect Bob/Beethoven anecdotes will percolate up in my memory over the next few months, especially if I get to teach a Schroedinger's Cat class over at the Maybe Logic Academy starting in August.  (And reading Proust keeps adjusting my concept of memory altogether.)

When Bob came over to my house for our Finnegans Wake study group on a Thursday in March 1988, I put a number of Cd's on, mostly Beethoven.  I think he asked for the Fifth Piano Concerto (which I have playing right now) and the Triple Concerto.  I don't think I owned a recording of the Triple Concerto at the time, but in slavish fanboy fashion I bought one soon thereafter.  For a change of pace he asked for some Bach, so I put on Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations.  He may have asked specifically for that piece.  I don't recall.

A few days earlier Mark Johnston had interviewed him for Mark's zine The Mind Blaster (heavily praised by Ivan Stang) over at Steve and Vicky Snow's house.  Steve had Beethoven's Eighth Symphony playing and the Marilyn Chamber's film Insatiable playing with the sound off.  Bob had brought an Endomax brain machine which I think I tried first, and we had all stocked up on Guinness Stout, etc., for Bob's week-long visit.  I found that a most amusing evening.  At one point Bob interrupted an answer to glance at the screen and comment on the pool table scene.

Bob  told me that he once gave a talk and to introduce him someone played the "Ode to Joy" on a trombone.

He also said he once took LSD and listened to all nine Beethoven symphonies, taking a bit more before each symphony, climaxing with the Ninth at sunrise.

I once commented about liking a brief mention of Mahler in one of his books, and he replied he loved Mahler.  Reading books like Prometheus Rising and Schroedinger's Cat one gets the impression that he listened mostly to Beethoven, but he did listen to a variety of classical music.  However, the recent Boing Boing interview with his daughter brought up his obsession with Beethoven once again.

In the late 80's I became obsessed with basketball.  I had a pianist friend call up Bob during a radio interview and ask him whether the fact that the NBA had 23 teams at the time could help him in playing the "Appassionata" (Sonata #23). 

I have reached Op. 78 in my 11:32 project to listen to all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas eleven times each.  I've modeled the sonatas as parallel with the eight circuits of the nervous system, so I've almost finished the Sixth Morphogenetic Circuit, and I look forward to metaprogramming Beethoven shortly.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dr. J

I love Michael Johnson's Overweening Generalist blog. He asked:

"When you first encounter a new poet and you read him/her, do you consciously look for rhythm or other melopoeic aspects, structure, vocabulary, imagery, or the poet's semantic environment? (The easy answer is "Yes.")

Or do you just read them, and let whatever impressions your get wash over you before you "think" too much about what's going on?"

I do not consciously look for rhythm or their melopoeic aspects, etc. I usually read out loud and hope. I do not tend to read many new poets, and it takes me a while to appreciate a new poet. I think of Bob Wilson's article on Ginsberg in Coincidance where he talks about the challenges in finding Ginsberg's "Great Bass".

I think of works of art as wells. In some wells I have found water. In others people I respect say they have found water. In others I just don't know. I have found solace in the poetry of Zukofsky, Pound, Shakespeare, etc. I keep looking for it in Spenser. Kenneth Koch and Frances Yates suggest solace there.

In reading a new poet out loud, I delight in the sound, if I can. I mostly read poetry for a fifth/third circuit boost. In your words, I "just read them, and let whatever impressions...wash over [me]." If I like it, I read more. I tend to become gluttonous with poetry I love.

Uncle Ezra

Dr. Jackson asks, "2) Ezra Pound obviously wrote quite a few books over his lifetime. What should people read to get started on his work?"

I don't know.  I had a student read ABC of Reading in tenth grade, and it worked for him.  He also read The Cantos in our tenth grade honors class.  During senior year he borrowed ABC of Reading again to help him prepare for the AP exam.  I don't know if it helped him.  I think of the story I heard Carroll Terrell tell in 1985.  He recommended an undergraduate student read Pound's criticism.  The student did, and his grades in his English classes went down because the student shared Ezra's cantankerous opinions.

(I sometimes think of Ezra as the Yosemite Sam of poetry.  "Ya varmits, I want ya to read Ovid and Dante."  I think of T. S. Eliot of the Elmer Fudd.  "Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm saving Western Civilization.  Heh, heh, heh."  I yearn to become the Bugs Bunny of poetry, but I remain more of a Daffy Duck, a Scarlet Pumpernickel.)

I love Ezra's essay "How to Read" in Literary Essays.  That seems to me a good place to start.  I also recommend just buying a copy of The Cantos and reading it out loud and seeing what happens.  I fell in love with Ezra's prose before I could really uncrack the poetry.  I bought ABC of Reading after reading a bunch of Bob Wilson in late 1982 or early 1983.  I liked it, but I got stopped cold by the Chaucer quotes in Middle English.  In summer 1983 I read Pound's Guide to Kultur, and that WORKED for me.  In December I decided to "become a poet" and in a few months I changed my major from math to English.

(I fear this blog will seem narcissistic.)

The short Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (the old one, selected by Ez himself) has a lot of terrific poems.  I also learned to appreciate Pound by reading about him, especially writings by other poets like Eliot, Williams, cummings, Creeley, Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Bob Wilson, etc.

A Jackson in Your House

I love Tom Jackson's blog  He suggested I start this blog, for which I thank him.  He sent me this question:  "What do you read to keep yourself current on what's going on in poetry? Is there something people can do that doesn't involve a huge amount of time?"

Alas, I don't keep myself current on what's going on in poetry.  I don't follow any living poets.  (I sorta follow Barry Smolin, Ishmael Reed, Stew, etc.)  I took a Contemporary Poetry class in 1984 which introduced me to a bunch of poets from the 50's and 60's like John Ashberry and Frank O'Hara and Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.  Reading Robert Creeley led me to a bunch of other post World War II poets, but I don't keep current.  I did intern with Pete Fairchild in graduate school, which I really enjoyed.


I hope all goes well.  "I have nothing to say and I am saying it." - John Cage.  Please let me know if you have any questions about poetry, etc.