Pu das Bär. An Examination of Gender and Translation in a Cognitive Linguistics Framework

0. Introduction

Gender in Cognitive Linguistics (hereafter referred to as CL) is a largely neglected aspect, as it does not easily fit the “image”-schemas of Cognitive Semantics. CL’s various theories, from Construction Grammar (CxG), with its semantic companion piece Scenes-and-Frames-Semantics (cf. Fillmore 1977)[i] to Cognitive Grammar[ii] (CG), have steered largely clear of gender as a linguistic category.

This neglect is, at least partly, due to the fact that CL is concerned with syntax rather than morphology and complex constructions of varying degrees of schematicity rather than their less complex companions. What’s more, gender markings are usually regarded as a clear case of pure phonology (cf. Taylor 2002:333f.) “contribut[ing] little to the symbolization of conceptual structure” (334).

Yet this view has lately been called into question as the ideological biases in inflectional classes have been revealed (cf. Nesset 2001[iii]). However, gender as a “semantically based” (Langacker 2002:304) grammatical phenomenon has already been analyzed as early as 1991 in CG, as explicated by Langacker (2002).

This will be taken as the starting point for this investigation in the possibilities and impossibilities of translating gender. Approaches by Lakoff (1987) and Tabakowska (1993b) will be used, but central to this paper will be the Cognitive Linguistic view of gender, as the “translation muddle” (Hyde 1993:3) might profit from this perspective. After laying down the foundations for the arguments we will briefly examine the linguistic category of gender and how the Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis might be applicable to it. Only then will we introduce the text, which is to be used as corpus: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne[iv] and compare it regarding the character ‘Owl’ with the German standard translation by the esteemed Harry Rowohlt.

How categories of language influence understanding, writing or translation, if there exists something akin to a ‘faithful’ translation or if, ultimately, the Italian proverb that ‘traduttore traditore’[v] is right, these questions will be answered, though tentatively, at the end of this paper.

1. Cognitive Grammar

1.1. The framework (Spanish)

Clearly, CL “is not […] the same as cognitive grammar” (Langacker 2002:ix), but in this section we will not take CxG into account at all, as its description of gender is not as useful as the CG version. Owing to Langacker’s discussion of gender being mostly restricted to Spanish gender[vi], we will subsequently slightly adapt it in order to fit the German inflectional classes as well.

The first thing that has to be noted is that Spanish nouns have a very strict adherence to gender. Whereas in German gender seems to be largely arbitrary (not fully, cf. Köpcke and Zubin 1984), with nouns of different grammatical gender like Feder (female) and Kater (male) providing no clues for the speaker/hearer of German, who will have to consider the articles (die Feder but der Kater) before deciding upon their gender. In Spanish, on the other hand, the noun inflections can be absolutely relied on. The suffixes -o and -a mark male and female gender.

According to Langacker’s theory, they are “noun-forming suffixes, which implies that they are themselves schematic nouns” (Langacker 2002:305). The degree of schematicity they are assigned by the speaker varies according to context. In those cases where they are attached to animate nouns they correlate with semantic gender and mean “male creature” and “female creature” ([MALE CREATURE/-o] and [FEMALE CREATURE/-a] in CG notation) but when attached to inanimate nouns such as mesa (table), they turn into highly schematic nouns whose meaning could roughly be described as “thing” (cf. Langacker 2002:306; [THING/-o] and [THING/-a]).

Thus a Spanish noun such as [FEMALE CAT/gata] is a composite structure, with the components [CAT/gat] and [FEMALE CREATURE/-a][vii]. As “[i]t is usual for the composite structure to inherit its profile from one of the components” (Langacker 2005:169), it is probably [FEMALE CREATURE/-a] which provides said structure in our case, but CG theory is very sketchy in this area. The component providing the structure also usually provides a schematic substructure, matching the profile of the other component, which is called ‘e-site’[viii] (cf. Langacker 2005:169f.). One might suggest that [FEMALE CREATURE/-a] contains a schematic substructure requiring a noun.

However, difficulties may arise, considering that gender may not be computed at all but simply learned[ix], so that the specific units are learned and memorized in an inventory together with “the constructional schemas they instantiate” (Langacker 1991:183).[x] It becomes doubtful whether it is still viable to claim that the suffixes -o and -a are meaningful. Langacker’s changes in schematicity between gata and mesa sound suspiciously like an excuse to preserve his theory’s claims intact, especially as he is keeps the way the change is worked in the mind of the speaker/hearer of Spanish unclear.

Furthermore, and more importantly, he utterly ignores the possibility that even in inanimate nouns such as cerro (hill) the suffix -o may still signify ‘male’, cognitively speaking, as witnessed by a multitude of idioms and poetic uses (cf. Jakobson 1966 on Russian grammatical gender of inanimate nouns). In order for CG to cover this possibility, too, the schematic nouns have to be regarded as polysemous to the extent that -o for example will mean [MALE CREATURE/-o] and [THING/-o] both, even when referring to a table[xi]. The notation we will hereafter use is thus [(MALE) THING/-o][xii]. Whether the ‘masculine’ aspect is processed or not depends on context (cf. Chapter 1.3.).

1.2. The extension (German)

Whereas it might be sufficient for a discussion of Spanish to restrict the analysis to the morphology of nouns, this is not the case with German where close attention needs to be paid to the articles. Although Spanish articles agree in gender with the noun they precede, just as German articles do, in Langacker’s book (2002) articles are not discussed with regard to gender but with regard to grounding. This means “that the profiled entity bears some relationship to the ground in regard to such fundamental issues as reality, […], and speaker/hearer knowledge” (Langacker 2002:321). The la in the nominal expression la gata does not add anything semantically with regard to gender.

In a discussion of German, however, the article is more important as a marker of gender[xiii]. The ending -er, for example, can not be trusted to refer to one gender only, as it can be found both in [FEATHER/Feder] and in [TOMCAT/Kater]. Adding the article, however, solves this problem, making clear that the construction should not be [TOMCAT/Kater] but [TOMCAT/der Kater].[xiv] In this case the components would be [TOMCAT/Kater][xv] and [(MALE) THING/der][xvi]. The parentheses around ‘Male’ in the second component indicate the schematic substructure.

As in Spanish, the schematic noun [(MALE) THING/der] is a noun of varying schematicity, heavily dependent both on memorized meaning and context, as argued above. Also, the articles der (male), die (female) but not das (neuter) can apply to noun inflections such as the genitive in the case of der (cf. (1)) or plural in the case of die (cf.(2))

(1) Der Hund der Nachbarin ist krank.

(2) Die Kekse meiner Oma sind sehr lecker.

Note that the noun will be morphologically changed according to the particular requirements of the inflection in question, so that the composite structures [CATS/die Katzen] and [(FEMALE) CAT[xvii]/die Katze] can be clearly distinguished. In the instance of (2), die might be simply described as [THINGS/die]. Context, obviously, must play a major role in the construal of meaning in the face of such complex networks of constructions. An excellent context theory within the framework of CG is the theory of mental spaces.

1.3. Mental Spaces

1.3.1. Literary Space

The “meaning potential” (Fauconnier 2004:661) of grammatical gender in German is manifold. In this paper, however, we will focus on the two possibilities outlined in the framework: taking grammatical gender as a “cognitively entrenched […], necessarily schematic” (Langacker 1997:236) part of language, as far as inanimate nouns are concerned, or allowing for the cognitive processing of semantic gender, however this might work with words as die Feder.

The trouble with words such as die Feder is that common sense does not allow for the feminity of a feather, because, in the real world, a feather does not have biological gender. Yet, in Fauconnier’s theory linguistic expressions refer not to things “in the ‘real world’, but [to] things in a ‘mental space’, that is [to] a situation as conceived of by a language user.” (Taylor 2002:72). clearly, there are some situations where a language user may conceive of a feather as feminine, mostly in literary contexts.

The entity[xviii] designated by the noun (feather, for instance) is the instantiation of a ‘role’ in a certain ‘mental space’ (for the theory see Fauconnier 1984:63f.). This particular mental space will be called the literary space L, which refers not to any literary text[xix] but to a certain text. The role r1 might be ‘a friend’, ‘a servant’, or somebody else. The value r1(L)[xx], referring to the particular entity which instantiates that role in the particular space L. This space is created locally whenever the text is read and only during that time, r1(L) could, in our example, be Feather[xxi].

Yet there will be at least one other space that could be accessed by the same linguistic expression, which would be the default interpretation of the inanimate noun, it will be called the Thing Space (T). r1, obviously, would not work in this space, ‘feather’ would have to assume another role (r2) and a different value r2(T) of course. This means that depending on which space or role the linguistic expression is evoked in, its meaning is affected in direction of one of these spaces.

1.3.2. Blending Theory

The disparity of the two outlined spaces calls for two different roles and of course produces different values. However, as both sorts of spaces are needed, a slightly different approach has to be taken, such as Blending Theory (cf. Fauconnier 2004:667f.).

(3) “In […] blending theory, […] four mental spaces [are evoked]: two input spaces […]; a generic space, which abstracts the commonalities from the two spaces […] and thereby defines the cross-space mapping between the elements in the two input spaces; and a blended space, which creates a novel expressive effect” (Croft and Cruse 2004, 39; emphasis theirs)

Thus, the two disparate spaces blend in the understanding of the literary text, as both the featheriness of the feather and the gender of the person Feather are bound to be included in the understanding of the text.

2. Translation

Translation as a possible field of application for Cognitive Linguistics has been neglected for many years and even today there has little been published. Even though, as Professor Tabakowska, the foremost expert on this topic, rightly points out, CL has much to add to difficult notions such as translation equivalence[xxii] (cf. Tabakowska 1993b:73 et passim) CL concepts such as ‘imagery’ or ‘mental spaces’ could add a third level of interpretation, between a more abstract ‘meaning’ and the actual words.

The choices a translator has to make can be clarified to him by explaining the imagery that is created by certain grammatical constructions (cf. Tabakowska 1993a:796), for instance the importance of the definite article in a language such as English for a Russian translator, whose native language does not normally use the definite article except for special emphasis[xxiii].

This example is useful in demonstrating why mental spaces cannot simply be transferred, although they seem to be fairly unconnected to grammatical constructions. However, as we stressed above, it is grammatical contsructions that prompt mental spaces. To an English writer there is a difference between “seeing the owl” and “seeing Owl”. In the latter case, ‘owl’ might be a proper name. Whereas “the owl” in the former phrase would, in Fauconnier’s notation, needs only to be described as r2(T), without obvious ambiguities, the “Owl” in the second phrase can be construed both as r1(L)and as r2(T). In Russian, the word would both times be simply CABá, without an article, consequently, the ambiguity would be far more apparent.

Whether this difference in grammar mirrors a difference in construal and, ultimately, in thinking, is contested. The theory of Linguistic Relativism puts forward that very claim and, on top of that, denies the possibility of accurate translation.

3. On Linguistic Relativity

3.1. Gender

3.1.1. Grammatical and natural gender

English and German differ fundamentally in respect to gender, mainly because English does not have grammatical gender: “Gender in English is primarily a semantic category” (Hellinger 2001:107), which means, that for the most part, only those nouns are gendered that refer to a human whose gender is known. Yet this rule is not dependable, as there are not only exceptions such as social gender[xxiv] (cf. Hellinger 1990:61) or psychological gender[xxv] but it also seems that speakers of English “have a ‘folk theory’ of gender[xxvi] that enables them to assign gender to objects that lack natural gender” (Sera, Berge and Pintado 1994:287). Furthermore, it has been frequently remarked that in American discourse, “reference to women […] was much less frequent than reference to males” (Romaine 2001:161).[xxvii]

In German the issue is more straightforward, as every single noun is assigned a grammatical gender. Once assigned, it is usually fixed (cf. Bußmann and Hellinger 2003:145). Gender assignment is often taken to be arbitrary, yet “[f]or approximately 90% of German monosyllabic nouns, gender class membership can be predicted” (143). Moreover, some of the criteria for classification in English ‘folk theory’[xxviii] seem to be at work in grammatical gender assignment, too (cf. Sera, Berge and Pintado 1994:288).

Conceptually, we can describe these different criteria for gender assignment easily with the mental spaces vocabulary, recalling that linguistic expressions do not necessarily refer to ‘the real world’ but to mental spaces. One of the reasons why gender assignment in one’s own language is rarely questioned[xxix], might be that grammatical gender refers to a so-called base space, which is a default space (cf. Taylor 2002:72f.), representing “the mutually known world of the interlocutors” (Croft and Cruse 2004:33). Yet what people ‘know’ about gender, they learn early on, by learning their language (cf. Howard 2001:191).

3.1.2. Learning Gender

The question how gender is processed, especially by children, and the importance of the category of gender for the child’s understanding of the world is vital for the theory of Linguistic Relativity and hence has to be raised in this paper.

Until children are 2 years old, they assign gender randomly. Yet older children show a strong bias towards gender stereotyping (cf. Liben and Signorella 1993). There is strong evidence that children are “invited” (cf. Waxman and Markow 1995) by words to form categories, or at least they are alerted by words or labels to the existence of such categories (cf. Waxman and Gelman 1986; see also Spelke and Tsivkin 2001) early on in their development.

Grammatical gender is learned fairly early, compared to semantic gender (cf. Taylor 1989:247), and it takes children quite some time to form “stable shared conceptual systems” (Lucy and Gaskins 2001:280). During this time children possibly learn by learning language “that objects belong in categories” (Gopnik 2001:60) and as they “assume that giving the same name to two objects means that they share a common nature” (61), they might be predisposed to gender stereotyping by having been exposed to the linguistic category of gender.

In this context, it becomes highly significant that personalization in German children’s literature corresponds not only to grammatical gender but also to gender ‘folk theories’ (cf. Corbett 1991:94f.). If children learn their gender stereotypes through the books they are read as toddlers, it makes sense to compare two versions of one of the most famous children’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh.

3.2. Translation

3.2.1. Vertical and Horizontal Translations

The two versions about to be compared are not two drafts of the text but the ‘original’ text and the translated German version of it. This comparison begs the question of translatability. If a text can be translated easily, without losing anything, then any difference between the two versions must be due to bad translating skills. Even though the Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis, which entailed the impossibility of translation, has not been without influence in philology, within translation studies, there has never been particularly much interest in the hypothesis.

Instead, much effort has been invested into showing what a faithful translation might look like, by concetrating mostly on the idea of ‘vertical’ translation, which views translation “as containing two main processes: full comprehension of the […] text […], followed by production of the constructed meaning” (De Groot 1997:30). The exact phrasing, the grammatical and lexical aspects of the text get lost. Yet, as is often claimed, this technique is necessary for literary translation[xxx].

Yet, in view of the previous discussion of gender, the importance of a horizontal view of translation, which “construes translation as ‘transcoding'” (30) cannot be underestimated, as only in this way can grammatical structures be taken into account.

3.2.2. Translatability

The answers to the question of translatability revolve around the notion of commensurability, which refers mostly to the commensurability of the two conceptual systems (of the two languages at either end of the translation process). Understanding a text in a different language requires only few “correspondences in well structured experiences and a common conceptualizing capacity” (Lakoff 1987:312). Yet even that can theoretically be problematic, as Whorf argues:

(4) “A scientist from another culture that used time and velocity [instead of time and space] would have great difficulty in getting us to understand these concepts.” (Whorf 1956:218)

This is merely about understanding, not yet about translation. For a ‘good’ translation one requires “close correspondences across conceptual systems” (Lakoff 1987:312). Thus, a translation from English into Hopi or Yukatán might be difficult, with much being lost. This, however, need not concern us here, as our two languages are closely related, as they share many aspects, down to covert categories. Nevertheless, whether gender is translatable from English to German remains to be seen.

4. Translating Winnie-the-Pooh

4.1. Gendering Owl (English)

This section of the paper is concerned with The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and the depiction of gender within it, specifically of Owl’s gender. The characters of the book, Piglet, Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Owl and others seem at first glance to be removed from the sphere of human gender concerns. Yet, the book does not only contain a human character, Christopher Robin, there is also an explicit concern with gender, which is made clear in the opening pages:

(5) When I first heard [Winnie-the-Pooh’s] name, I said, just as you are going to say, “But I thought he was a boy?”
“So did I,” said Christopher Robin.
“Then you can’t call him Winnie?”
“I don’t.”
“Butyou said-“
“He’s Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don’t you know what ‘ther’ means?”
(Milne 2002:15)

For this paper, taking the eponymous bear as a focus would not have made much sense, we will later see why. Nevertheless, this passage shows that gender does constitute a concern in this text, or at least the text is not oblivious to it.

Owl is a male character. His gender is marked only by the pronoun ‘he’, which is used but rarely, usually he is called or referred to by his proper name, Owl. Which also is a description of his person, as he is an owl in most respects, there is no textual evidence that he is wearing something similar to human clothes. His human characteristics consist of him living in a tree-apartment, with a proper door and signs and -for a short time, anyway- a doorbell, and, of course of his speaking English.

Linguistically, Owl is an intersting case, as his name also refers to his biological nature. Owls, however, do not normally have a gender in English, so that Owl’s gender is an invention of the author[xxxi]. He could have had a female Owl as well, it seems. Yet, recalling English ‘folk theories’, it is probable that there is an intuition for native speakers of English to categorize owls als male, as they tend to characterize bears and elephants as male (cf. Corbett 1991:95). Linguistically, Owl is only marked by the missing article[xxxii]. A CG description as in Chapter 1.1. is out of the question.

Luckily, we also have the mental spaces theory. As a grammatical prompt for a mental space, the missing article and the gendered pronouns are sufficient to assign Owl to a role r, which could be described as ‘avuncular, wise friend’ in the literary space L[xxxiii]. The value r(L) would then be Owl.

4.2. Translating Owl (German)

In the translated version, the translation of the character Owl seems to have been pretty straightforward. He is called Eule, a proper name and a biological refernce at the same time. However, checking the gender of Eule, one notices that Eule is female.[xxxiv]

At first glance this seems to be simply a bad translation: Harry Rowohlt jumbled the genders. Yet at second glance this judgement is less convincing. In German, the owl, die Eule, has a female grammatical gender. Whereas in English Milne was, at least from a grammatical point of view, free to assign any gender he wanted to without sounding especially odd. Assigning Eule a male gender would have a strange ring to it.

Comparing the two texts linguistically, it will be noticed that as far as mental spaces are concerned, in German a second space is activated, which we will call the Animal Space (A). A female Eule is so much in accordance with its biological companion die Eule, that the role r2, which might be described as ‘flying animal which eats field mice” in space A, where die Eule is the value of r2(A). This unwieldy description can be evaded by creating a blending space. The input spaces would be spaces L and A and the generic space would contain feathers, a home in the trees etc.

If we take a look at the way Eule is linguistically described in the framework put forward in chapter 1.2., we can see why she would prompt this kind of mental space. In view of the fact that [OWL/Eule] is not a self-sufficient noun, that it is a component which needs the other component [(FEMALE) THING/die] in order to form a properly functioning composite structure, it becomes obvious why the Animal Space is triggered by the proper name Eule. However, would Eule have had a male gender, the distancing effect created by that deviation might be sufficient to tone down the nouniness of the word/name Eule.

Would this, then, have been a better translation? This is a hard question to answer, as there is a third aspect to consider, the intuition of the native speaker and ‘folk theories’ concerning gender. As these theories mostly closely follow grammatical gender, the German reader might be put off in a way that the English reader is not. It was said earlier in this paper, that the folk theories resemble each other closely, yet they are not identical.

The question of the right choice has to be, in the end, a pragmatic decision. There are risks both ways.

5. Conclusion

Whorf famously demanded of Western Knowledge “a re-examination of the linguistic background of its thinking” (Whorf 1956:247). What we have attempted to in the present paper, on a very small scale, is to examine the Cognitive Linguistic background of gender and translation, with the Whorfian question of translatability as theoretical backdrop.

What about thought and language? This question has always been difficult to answer and an answer will not be attempted here. However, the influence of language on gender as a category and on translation has been suggested. Especially the latter suggestion recalls a recent reformulation of the Whorfian Hypothesis, i.e. Slobin’s formula of “thinking for speaking” (Slobin 1990:75). We do not know how the mind would work in absence of language, but when ‘thinking for translating’, language almost certainly exerts its influence. A native speaker of Spanish, with possibly different ‘folk theories’ and different grammatical genders, were he called upon to translate the text from English into German, would he have made the same choice as Harry Rowohlt?

What about the children? Does reading Pu der Bär influence children’s stereotyping differently than Winnie-the-Pooh does? There are feminist translators, who certainly believe that, changing as they do sexist gender typings whenever translating a text (cf. Von Flotow 1997:24ff.). The present paper did not look for evidence and so it did not provide any, yet it did show which alleys one might pursue, were one to look for such evidence.

This paper has one big omission, cognitive semantics, because this would have been by far to big a subject for the scope of this paper. The recognition of the importance of inflections for cognitive processes may lead to a reformulation of cognitive semantics which includes inflections[xxxv], and not just gender inflections at that.

Then, maybe, will a truly multidisciplinary gender study be possible, as Pütz, one of the founders of Critical Cognitive Linguistics envisions it (cf. Pütz 2005:155f.).

Lastly, we return to the only question not answered: the question of translatability. True equivalence is hard to attain, if not impossible, that seems clear after trying to translate the simple word ‘Owl’ led to an ambivalent situation. Translation is only ‘possible’ if one takes a highly pragmatic view of translation.

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Van Berkum, Johannes J. A. 1996. The psycholinguistics of grammatical gender: studies in language comprehension and production. Nijmegen: Nijmegen University Press.

Von Flotow, Louise. 1997. Translation and Gender: translating in the era of Feminism. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Waxman, Sandra and Rochel Gellman. 1986. Pre-schoolers’ use of superordinate relations in classification and language. Cognitive Development 1: 139-156.

Waxman, Sandra R. and Dana B. Markow. 1995. Words as invitations to form categories: Evidence from 12-13 month-old infants. Cognitive Psychology 29: 257-302.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, thought and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, ed John B. Carroll. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press.

[i] For a brief but clear discussion of the relationship between CxG and Scenes-and-Frames-Semantics see Leino 2005.

[ii] Cf. Taylor 2002 for an easy but cursory introduction and Langacker 2002 for a more difficult yet more rewarding treatment.

[iii] It has to be stated that Nesset’s paper is very speculative, as he overcrowds his paper with feminist assumptions (drawn mostly from Beauvoir), which tend to muddle the clarity of his analysis. For a clearer (though less spectacular) paper on the same topic with comparable results see Howard 2001.

[iv] An author, who, interestingly, has discussed, as early as 1940, the intricacies of male and female pronouns (cf. Baron 1986:213).

[v] To translate is to betray.

[vi] For a brief survey of Spanish gender see Nissen 2002.

[vii] The components for [TABLE/mesa] would be, of course, [TABLE/mes] and


[viii] Short for ‘elaboration site’.

[ix] Although rules and lists do coexist in CG (cf. Langacker 1987:42).

[x] This claim that gender is not computed but memorized and stored in an inventory has since been significantly substantiated by evidence from anomic patients (cf. Van Berkum 1996:186n and Jackendoff 2002:215n).

[xi] Langacker does regard -o and -a as polysemous but only until they are attached to a noun. Then they seem to take on a single meaning (cf. Langacker 1991:185).

[xii] Notice that we did not lose the ‘creature’ part of the description; it is contained in the ‘(MALE)’ part. A difference between creatures or things needs no longer to be entered in the description.

[xiii] However, this does not mean that the definitive article has lost its grounding function, but, compared to Spanish, the function as a gender marker is strongly foregrounded.

[xiv] Cf. also: “By asking what gender a noun like German Tisch ‘table’ has, we may be missing the underlying form in the lexicon. The appropriate question may very well be ‘What is the gender of der Tisch?'” (Schwink 2004:5)

[xv] Of course, this notation of the component parts might be seen as being contradictory, yet it is not. It is just that [TOMCAT/Kater] is the only way to describe this component, you can’t put the ‘TOM’ in parentheses.

[xvi] In analogy to our notation concerning suffixes in the previous section.

[xvii] This example is difficult because cat as well as die Katze refers both to an individual cat of unspecified gender as well as to a female cat.

[xviii] The ontological status of this entity is unclear. It is not ‘in the world’ but it is not’in a mental space’ either.

[xix] “Literary text” does not mean here the material text ‘in the real world’ but the text as it is read and understood by one individual .

[xx] In Fauconnier’s theory this works like a mathematical function.

[xxi] The capital letter indicates that the word ‘feather’ might in this case be used as a proper name.

[xxii] A different angle than in Tabakowskas work is pursued in Scarpa 2002, where the focus is on specialized literature.

[xxiii] That means it is more like a demonstrative than like a definite article.

[xxiv] Gender determination through “Eigenschaften des prototypischen Referenten” (Hellinger 1990, 65).

[xxv] “affective attitudes of the speaker, which accounts for variation as in babyshe vs. babyit” (Hellinger 2001, 107f.).

[xxvi] This is actually reminiscent of an interesting point of Bickel, who claimed that whoever wanted to explain Linguistic Relativity had to take sociocultural practice into account, too (cf. Bickel 200).

[xxvii] Compare Whorf’s fascinating idea that covert grammatical categories such as the English gender system “are more likely to be ‘rational’, […] in accordance with […] nonlinguistic fact” (Lucy 1992:28).

[xxviii] Most importantly the artificial-male/natural-female division (cf. Sera, Berge and Pintado 1994:287).

[xxix] Cf. Whorf 1956:207ff.

[xxx] Many of these strange arguments are provided in Hyde 1993, an attack on the Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis.

[xxxi] And one of the human features of Owl.

[xxxii] The capital ‘O’ does not count, as the book has a very sloppy orthography as far as capital letters are concerned.

[xxxiii] Again, it has to be stressed, that these spaces are not ‘there’, they imply someone reading this text at this moment.

[xxxiv] Notice that Pu der Bär is a male character, just as in the original.

[xxxv] One of the most comprehensive works on cognitive semantics, Leonard Talmy’s Towards a Cognitive Semantics mostly ignores inflections.

Albert Hofmann ist tot.

Die höchste Stufe des Sehens, der Beziehung ganz allgemein zu einem Objekt und zur Aussenwelt überhaupt, ist dann erreicht, wenn die Grenze zwischen Subjekt und Objekt, zwischen Betrachter und Betrachtetem, zwischen mir und der Aussenwelt bewusstseinsmäßig aufgehoben ist, wenn ich mit der Welt und ihrem geistigen Urgrund eins geworden bin. Das ist der Zustand der Liebe. Die höchste Stufe des Sehens ist Liebe. Umgekehrt kann Liebe definiert werden als die höchste Stufe des Sehens.

“Lob des Schauens”, Nachtschatten Verlag, 2002

Albert Hofmann ist gestern verstorben.

Exaggeration of the Year

It’s Endangered Languages Week, and even though I can see there’s a certain urgency to it all, this is way exaggerated and can’t be much help, can it.

What happens if we do not reduce our language footprints?
[…] If we are not successful, the result will be even more serious than global warming; everyone will lose the opportunity to take part in mankind’s cultural heritage because most of humanity’s accumulated knowledge of history and the planet will be erased forever.


Common Sense (Blathery Rant)

I have talked to people recently who extolled the virtues of disagreeing with academic opinion, regardless of the soundness of yr arguments against the old position. They appeared to be entirely unfazed by the fact that the argument in these books seems to rely entirely on common sense, not on thinking or careful reasoning (for example this book).

Last night it occurred to me that the funny thing about most of these ‘rebellious’ attacks against the academic establishment is that they only work for a reader who is rather roughly or not at all acquainted with the ‘facts’. While it is true that many of these ‘facts’ are created by academia (and I would be the very last person to defend something like ‘objective historical facts’, indeed I think that to posit the existence of knowable objective historical facts means almost always a shoddy methodological framework) and that there is a strong intolerance against alternative theories, the carefully reasoned book that would actually have an impact on the generally accepted theory is rare. The only thing it actually does is stir up the uneducated masses without educating them first. It’s pure demagoguery, and not in a nice way.

This is anti-intellectualism at its worst. It may not look like this sometimes but take a closer look at the premises and you’ll see it. And Common Sense, as the instrument of such arguments, appears to me sometimes to be downright evil. I am not very firm on English etymology, but the German equivalent, “gesunder Menschenverstand”, which, roughly, awkwardly, translates as “healthy human reasoning”, shows how Common Sense works. It attacks things which are outside of a given societal norm, which, of course, reflects strongly the dominant anti-emancipatory ideas of a given society. Small wonder then that, say, in the realm of philosophy, books, nay, pamphlets abound which are bashing Feminism and any strain of postmodern/poststructuralist thought that is not in agreement with the dominant norm. The sick elements of society, if you will, channeling Agamben and Foucault here.

Thus, Common Sense often surfaces in the most evil of contexts. Antisemitic, racist literature is built on a foundation of ‘common sense’. The whole insidious concept of political correctness is built on ‘common sense’ as well, the idea being that, if we were really honest, we would admit that what is perceived as ‘pc speech’ is really only pc mumbo-jumbo. There is, as to modern antisemitism, an aspect of down-to-earth, almost agrarian, simplicity to the whole thing. Small wonder that both concepts can often be found in nationalistic ‘Blut und Boden’-contexts and in anti-cosmopolitanist arguments. It does not, though, usually make an appearance in islamophobic contexts, as the stereotypes directed at that particular minority are others. Debauchery, decadence, yes, but Islam is so strongly identified with a particular ethnic group that the particular nexus described above is never really activated. Islamophobia is, currently, a rather obvious affair, and so widely and fundamentally accepted, that it has had no need to hide behind a rhetorical veil yet.

The strangest aspect of this, though, is that even intellectuals, and those who are very much in favor of emancipatory movements, tend to view ‘common sense’ and the gesture of rebellion as an acceptable ally in the battle against orthodoxy and then proceed to attack nilly-willy those who work within orthodoxy, who urge others to try to read and understand what you are criticizing before you go off on a 200page commonsensical rant (or at least to be open to arguments from orthodox academia). Happened to me once here and several times in person. And no, this is not about left-wing antisemitism (think anticapitalism, think usury). And no, I have no answer to this, really. It baffles me, honestly. Did I mention that they are all really, really smart, some of them way, way smarter than this blog’s dim-witted excuse for an author? They are. You see me throwing my hands up. I have no answer. Do you have one? I’d love to hear it. A book you can direct me to?

Have a great week, btw., folks.


A fun story on Language Log

my granddaughter Opal’s recent writing of the word Embarcadero (the name of a street near where we were having breakfast at the time). She wanted to practice writing things, and she herself chose the word, for reasons I do not know. Her mother spoke the names of the letters one by one, and Opal wrote them down. As it happens, her pen was at the right edge of the page when she started writing, so she just went on from there, writing the letters in order from right to left, and writing each letter in reverse. Perfectly. We cheered this performance, but did tell her that it was backwards, and that other people might have trouble reading it unless they put it up to a mirror. She was somewhat offended by this. She almost always writes left to right, rarely reversing letters, but she seemed to be treating the direction of writing as a matter of stylistic choice.

If you’re a fault-finder, you’ll look at what she wrote and say that this performance was almost entirely wrong. But in fact it was almost entirely right. The only mistake was in the direction of writing.

Perloff Schmerloff

Interview from 2006

But on the whole, poets-as-reviewers are too biased; they have their agenda. To assign Charles Bernstein’s poetry to Glyn Maxwell, as the Times Literary Supplement did, is to ask for a negative review, and a snide one at that. The converse is also true: when Robert Pinsky is asked to review, say, Czeslav Milocz, he is obviously going to treat the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with whom he worked at Berkeley, with veneration. So one hardly gets an objective view. But I wouldn’t mind the lack of objectivity so much, if the reviewer were well informed and that’s too often not the case.

The nadir of reviewing, these days, is the New York Times Book Review. A recent issue carried a review of Elias Canetti’s posthumous The Party In The Blitz, the fifth installment of his autobiography, partly in note and diary form. I reviewed it for Bookforum, and found it to be fascinating. The Times gave the book to the notoriously snide, clever British (originally Australian) Clive James, a “big name”. I found his review almost libelous. He called Canetti a “twerp” and made fun of him. It was a case of THE REVENGE OF THE BRITS against a book by a Central European who dared criticize some of them. What a choice for reviewer!

Because, you see, Perloff is right and if James, whom I don’t particularly like myself, although he can be somewhat amusing, doesn’t agree with that he’s wrong. As easy as that. Because, you know, literary critics don’t have an agenda, why else would it make sense mentioning the poets’ agenda. Because, you see, Perloff’s proliferate output doesn’t show a clear bias every step of the way. No, wait…

Perloff Schmerloff

Interview from 2006

But on the whole, poets-as-reviewers are too biased; they have their agenda. To assign Charles Bernstein’s poetry to Glyn Maxwell, as the Times Literary Supplement did, is to ask for a negative review, and a snide one at that. The converse is also true: when Robert Pinsky is asked to review, say, Czeslav Milocz, he is obviously going to treat the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with whom he worked at Berkeley, with veneration. So one hardly gets an objective view. But I wouldn’t mind the lack of objectivity so much, if the reviewer were well informed and that’s too often not the case.

The nadir of reviewing, these days, is the New York Times Book Review. A recent issue carried a review of Elias Canetti’s posthumous The Party In The Blitz, the fifth installment of his autobiography, partly in note and diary form. I reviewed it for Bookforum, and found it to be fascinating. The Times gave the book to the notoriously snide, clever British (originally Australian) Clive James, a “big name”. I found his review almost libelous. He called Canetti a “twerp” and made fun of him. It was a case of THE REVENGE OF THE BRITS against a book by a Central European who dared criticize some of them. What a choice for reviewer!

Because, you see, Perloff is right and if James, whom I don’t particularly like myself, although he can be somewhat amusing, doesn’t agree with that he’s wrong. As easy as that. Because, you know, literary critics don’t have an agenda, why else would it make sense mentioning the poets’ agenda. Because, you see, Perloff’s proliferate output doesn’t show a clear bias every step of the way. No, wait…

Alice Walker on Obama

Alice Walker offering her well-reasoned two cents on Obama, Clinton and Whiteness. I’m glad to’ve been able to read it.

I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not.

I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black, white, yellow, red and brown – choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.

When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves. […]

But most of all I want someone with the self-confidence to talk to anyone, “enemy” or “friend,” and this Obama has shown he can do. It is difficult to understand how one could vote for a person who is afraid to sit and talk to another human being. When you vote you are making someone a proxy for yourself; they are to speak when, and in places, you cannot. But if they find talking to someone else, who looks just like them, human, impossible, then what good is your vote?

It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as “a woman” while Barack Obama is always referred to as “a black man.” One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.

I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others’ lives that has so marred our country’s contacts with the rest of the world.

And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States. My choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard. But she is not running for the highest office in the land, Mrs. Clinton is. And because Mrs. Clinton is a woman and because she may be very good at what she does, many people, including some younger women in my own family, originally favored her over Obama. I understand this, almost. It is because, in my own nieces’ case, there is little memory, apparently, of the foundational inequities that still plague people of color and poor whites in this country. Why, even though our family has been here longer than most North American families – and only partly due to the fact that we have Native American genes – we very recently, in my lifetime, secured the right to vote, and only after numbers of people suffered and died for it.

When I offered the word “Womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. But neither are we inclined to follow a black person, man or woman, unless they demonstrate considerable courage, intelligence, compassion and substance. I am delighted that so many women of color support Barack Obama -and genuinely proud of the many young and old white women and men who do.

Imagine, if he wins the presidency we will have not one but three black women in the White House; one tall, two somewhat shorter; none of them carrying the washing in and out of the back door. The bottom line for most of us is: With whom do we have a better chance of surviving the madness and fear we are presently enduring, and with whom do we wish to set off on a journey of new possibility?


Found this on openDemocracy

A comprehensive FBI report published recently has highlighted the threat from domestic, home-grown extremists from a variety of groups, including those on the “extreme fringes” of social movements such as the “Animal Liberation Front” (classified as “special-interest terrorism”) to far right groups which often take “racist and racial supremacy and embrace antigovernment, antiregulatory” platforms.

The toD verdict: Since 9/11 and the inception of the “war on terrorism”, the threat posed by “domestic terrorism” has been conflated with Muslims residing in the US. Yet, an astounding 23 out of 24 terorrist attacks domestic terrorist attacks that took place between 2002-2005 were carried out by ‘special interest’ terror groups. As the report points out, the greater threat arises from fascist, right wing groups.

Gettin’ yr morals on

Conversational Reading on William T. Vollmann’s new book, Riding Toward Everywhere

The problem is that he has a tendency to overdo it, as in, for instance, writing an entire book about hopping trains that has no real point to it and tries to play up the hobo life into some kind of American myth.

That’s not to say that someone out there couldn’t write a good book about hobos or whatever, but Vollmann isn’t the guy to do it. He has some kind of soft spot when it comes to whores/bums/etc and his sense of morals becomes way too facile


Der Pilger sollte ausreichend Geld für seine Familie hinterlassen, und keine Schulden; selbst wenn sein Nachbar Not leidet, sagt ein Hadith, muß er die Reise aufschieben. […] Am wichtigsten aber ist, daß der Gläubige sich vorab von seinen Lastern und Schwächen befreit. Die Hadsch wird ihn zwar von allen Sünden reinigen, aber sie wird nicht einen besseren Menschen aus ihm machen. Wer als Lügner oder Heuchler aufbricht, wird als Lügner oder Heuchler heimkehren. Die Hadsch ist kein Selbstzweck, sie wirkt nicht an sich.

aus Ilija Trojanows Büchlein “Zu den heiligen Quellen des Islam: Als Pilger nach Mekka und Medina” Malik, 2004.


Maureen Dowd on McCain

John McCain’s saucy mother says her boy was always a scamp and a hell-raiser. And one of the senator’s great charms is that he wore those appellations proudly.

So it was quite disheartening Thursday to see a McCain spokeswoman telling The Associated Press, in a story about how Cindy McCain helped her husband’s political career bloom with her multimillion-dollar fortune from the family beer business, that the senator is a virtual teetotaler.

“Senator McCain rarely, if ever, drinks alcohol,” Jill Hazelbaker averred.

McCain’s pals know him as a man who enjoys libations of vodka with little green cocktail olives. Over the years, at dinners with reporters, I noted he had the habit of ordering one double vodka and sipping it slowly. And there was that famous Hillary-McCain Estonian drink-off in 2004, when Hillary instigated a vodka shot contest and McCain agreed with alacrity (even though he later offered a sketchy denial).

Maybe now that he’s the presumptive Republican nominee, his campaign wants to put his vices in a vise and sanitize the wild side of the man whose nicknames in high school were “Punk,” “Nasty” and “McNasty.”

*cracking up*

Why ‘Shigekuni’?

This blog is named after a character in Mishima’s tetralogy. Here is a brief excerpt from a wonderful essay by the awesome William T. Vollmann on that character and Mishima

The reincarnated person can always be identified by a certain birthmark, and the identification gets accomplished by the other protagonist, whose name is Shigekuni Honda and who is a judge—perfect profession for a soul whose task it is to decide what might or might not be true and what existence means. […] Honda never succeeds in preventing anybody’s death agonies. Scrupulous, empathetic, intelligent, aching to understand, and ultimately impotent, Honda might as well be—a novelist. […]

[…] Mishima was ultimately more like Honda […], which is not a terrible thing: while he may be sterile, in the sense that he will not bring about any “great event,” his empathy will endure. Honda’s seeking, his sincerity, his fidelity to that not necessarily well-founded belief in the reincarnations, these are the strands of perception, conceptualization, and devotion which sustain the patterns of reccurrence into something permanent and precious.

The tetralogy’s end […] offers the prospect of something different, something not only as erotic as suicide, but perhaps more elusive, something worthwhile enough to warrant not killing oneself while one tries to uncover it. Very possibly, if The Temple of Dawn is any indication, this something could have been religion or philosophy. I wonder how feverishly Mishima hunted for it in his wood-clad study with its bookshelved walls. He didn’t find it, and that is why every year on November 25, the white-clad Shinto priests lay down prayer streamers on the altar, which resembles a tabletop model of round-towered castles, and the blood-red disc of the Hinomaru flag hangs above them in the darkness beside Mishima’s portrait.

Pope Benedikt XVI has a field day

*sigh* This Pope should get a Nazi medal or something. In the Post’s On Faith columns

But in condemning Nazi antisemitism before that Jewish congregation in Cologne, Pope Benedict defined it univocally as having been “born of neo-paganism.” That was true, a reference to the odd mysticism that underwrote the Teutonic myths on which claims for Aryan racial superiority rested. But Nazi hatred of Jews was born of two parents, and the other one – the long history of Christian anti-Judaism – the pope did not mention. This was not a slight omission. It is urgently important, in going forward into the 21st century, that the context out of which the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people grew, and within which it nearly succeeded, not be forgotten. The crimes of Hitler were not the crimes of Christianity, but the Final Solution depended, both for the recruitment of active perpetrators and for the passivity of a continent’s worth of bystanders, on the ingrained anti-Jewishness of Christian theology, liturgy, and tradition. You would not know that from what the pope said in the Synagogue in Cologne. […]

Benedict went to Auschwitz, he said, “as a son of the German people, a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation.” In Germany itself by now, there is an established tradition of a much fuller recognition of national complicity in the Nazi project. For a generation, Germans have declined to portray themselves as mere victims and dupes, and German church leaders in particular have been forthright in confessing their sin in relation to the Holocaust. In his portrayal of the past, both at Cologne and Auschwitz, Benedict is becoming a German apart.

And as a Christian? Here is how he defined the Nazi aim in murdering Jews: “Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people…by destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the tap root of the Christian faith.” As if to dramatize this astounding claim that the “ultimate” Nazi target at Auschwitz was the Church, Benedict greeted 32 camp survivors, all but one of whom were Polish Catholics. A lone Jew represented the more than one million Jews who died there. With no apparent embarrassment, the pope prayed, “Why, Lord, did you remain silent?”

[…] the dark legacy of Christian antisemitism began to be redeemed when the Second Vatican Council both repudiated the “Christ-killer” charge against the Jewish people, and affirmed the on-going validity of Jewish religion. The days of scapegoating Jews, and seeking their conversion are over. Or are they? When Pope Benedict meets with Jewish leaders in New York this week, the cordial greetings will be heartfelt, but so will an undercurrent of wondering. Why, under his authority, has the Vatican recently restored the pre-Vatican II Good Friday prayers for the conversion of Jews? Does this pontificate represent a retreat from Christian moral reckoning with the Holocaust? Does it intend to restore the lethal Christian conviction that God’s only plan for Jews is baptism?

Here is the complete English transcript.

Und hier ist die deutsche Version seiner Rede.

Vom Lesen

Ich esse Bücher. Wenn Bücher die Missionare der Vernunft und Kreativität sind (Ich gebe zu, “Missionare” und “Vernunft” in ein und demselben Satz beißt sich), dann bin ich der kraushaarige Wilde, der sie auffrisst. Ich verschlinge sie hastig, gierig, während der reichen Mahlzeit die Augen bereits nach dem nächsten auswerfend.

Ich lese viel und mit einer Gier, die dem hehren Medium “Buch”, das eigentlich eine entschleunigende Funktion in der modernen Gesellschaft erfüllen könnte, im Grunde schlecht bekommt. Ich lese mehrere Bücher parallel und trotzdem fällt mein Auge ab und zu auf ein ausgelesenes Buch im Regal und prompt falle ich auch über dieses her. Neue Bücher sind ohnehin sofort dran. Das führt zu der Situation, daß ich, trotz hohen Lesepensums, zu wenigstens einem viertel angelesene Bücher in den Regalen habe. Ich habe keinerlei ungelesene Bücher, aber mehrere dutzend angelesene. Im Moment versuche ich mich zwar von Neukäufen abzuhalten und endlich ein paar Bücher zu Ende zu lesen, aber das ist nicht gerade leicht, meine Freunde.

Ich verschandele Bücher. Gier ist ein schlechter Begleiter behutsamen Lesens. Ich bin zwar bibliophil bis (fast) zum Fetisch, meine Bücher haben kaum äußere Schäden, Knicke zum beispiel, dafür sind sie aber im Inneren gezeichnet durch dutzende Eselsohren. Eine Zeitlang wollte ich dem Beispiel einer guten Bekannten folgen und Zitate herausschreiben und archivieren, aber das dafür notwendige Innehalten im Lesen ist mir unerträglich. Also pflüge ich weiter durch die Bücher wie der ausgehungerte Wilde der ich bin.

Ich fresse Bücher und mit der Zeit entwickelt man einen feinen Gaumen, aber, seien wir ehrlich: ein echter Leser ist immer auch ein Schwein. Er frißt alles. Das heißt nicht, daß er unterschiedslos schlechte und gute Bücher liest, aber durchaus, daß er durcheinander hohe Literatur und das, was sich manchmal abwertend “Trivialliteratur” bezeichnen lassen muß, völlig zu Unrecht, und was ich Genreliteratur nenne. Sicher, auch dieser Begriff, will er hilfreich sein, impliziert eine Abwertung, aber besser wird es nicht. Ich lese nicht nur Kriminalromane, das wohl literarischste Genre, das auch elitäre Handkegenießer (Ich finde Handke fantastisch, aber darum geht es ja nicht) guten Gewissens lesen. Ich verschlinge Berge an Fantasy, historischen Romanen, Science Fiction, Horror. In den letzten Jahren zwar weniger als noch vor 5 Jahren, aber immer noch habe ich im aktuellen Lesestapel mindestens ein Genrebuch (in diesem Augenblick ist es Laura Lippman’s toller Roman “What the Dead know”). Ich finde, daß ‘trivial’ der falsche Begriff dafür ist. Sicher gibt es schlechte Bücher in der Genreliteratur, aber die gibt es auch in sogenannter Hochliteratur. Die wilde Freude am Fabulieren, die herausgeschrieene Lust am Erzählen und Erfinden ist in der Genreliteratur oft frischer und lebendiger, als in der zuweilen etwas müde wirkenden Hochkultur. Jedes Buch, und zwar jedes, kann einem denkenden Menschen, und daß das Denken beim Lesen wichtig ist, daß passives Lesen eine Verschwendung an Zeit und Buch ist, ist ohnehin klar, den Horizont erweitern. Trivial ist nur ein passiv aufgenommenes Buch, und das kann Beckett ebenso wie Stephen King sein.

Ich bin ein allesfressender Vielfraß, aber das ist nicht schlimm. Schlimm ist, daß meine Augen größer sind als mein Magen. So viele saftige Bücher und eine vergleichsweise winzige Menge an Zeit, um sie sich einzuverleiben. Heute habe ich mir die große neue P&V Übersetzung von Krieg und Frieden bestellt und zwei Biographien von Ackroyd, sowie die Tagebücher von Schlesinger, ohne eine Idee davon, wann ich diese 4000+ Seiten lesen will. Je mehr man liest, umso mehr wird einem bewußt, daß es noch unzählbare Mengen an Büchern gibt, die man noch nicht gelesen hat.

Und es kommt einem auch ein bißchen die eigene Meinung abhanden, die ich nur noch rhetorisch formulieren kann, fast alles was ich schreibe, ist dem Vorredner geschuldet, als Reaktion, denn je mehr man liest, umso schneller fällt einem auf, daß alles immer komplizierter ist, als man auf die Schnelle erklären kann. Auf jedes kurze Statement, so gut es auch ist, muß man eigentlich immer antworten: ‘ja, aber…’. Insofern ist eine eigene Meinung, die keine Reaktion ist, immer eine ungeheure Unverfrorenheit, eine wilde Ungeheuerlichkeit, an der man sich nicht versucht, weil sie einen bei den anderen Dampfplauderern immer ärgert und ist doch schon immer ein Dampfplauderer. Also liest man weiter, ohne all das Gelesene angemessen schöpferisch zu verarbeiten, um es ablegen zu können, man liest weiter und frißt sich immer mehr Material an und keine Diät der Welt hilft dem gierigen Leser da weiter.

Und dann sitzt man da, aufgebläht mit Büchern, Worten, Wissen, Figuren und hundertfachem Leben, und weiß doch nur, daß es immer und immer weiter geht, weiter, hinaus in die welt und in die Bücher, ich, die gefräßige Lesesau, der aufgedunsene Wilde mit dem Kraushaar und dem Herz voll Buchstaben.

The Right Girl

NYT on an interesting phenomenon

“I cannot tell you how many of the e-mails that we got from last year’s ‘Work Out’ reunion that were women saying, ‘I am married. I have never looked at another woman. I have a huge crush on Jackie,’ ” Mr. Cohen said.

The audience for “Work Out,” which returns to Bravo on Tuesday for a third season, grew by 25 percent last season, according to Nielsen Media Research, to 659,000 viewers, the median age of which is about 36.

“I’m from St. Louis,” Mr. Cohen said. “When I go home a lot of times I’m amazed by the suburban married women that are coming up to me and saying, ‘I’m in love with Jackie Warner.’ ”

This, women of St. Louis, is not news to Ms. Warner.

“They get crushes,” she said in her office at Sky Sport & Spa, her penthouse gym in Beverly Hills with sweeping views of the city and the Hollywood sign. “I have hard-core women that get major crushes. I have women that send me — this is the weird thing — I have women that send me photos of themselves with their husbands and three teenage boys or whatever — I’m just giving you an example — with a love letter attached.”

Other women, said Ms. Warner, who has trained the likes of Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway, hit on her during training sessions. Those who can’t afford the $400 an hour fee have joined social networking groups such as “If Jackie from ‘Workout’ hit on me, I’d definitely reconsider my sexuality.”

As a woman with the moniker LibbytheCute put it in the interactive magazine Zimbio.com. “I’m straight. Very straight, and even I would seriously consider batting for her team.”


Auszug aus einem Flugblatt

Bilanz von 27 Jahren Mullah-Diktatur im Iran: … 174 Arten der Folter, …

muß der mensch sein
will er nicht

durch monotone tätigkeit
von seiner arbeit
sich entfremden

ein wenig abwechslung
bringt pep
auch in ihren arbeitsalltag

[Inspiriert von dem zitierten Flugblatt und Kullas großartigem Ökonomischen Gottesdienst]

Aimé Césaire is dead

Obit in the NYT

Aimé Césaire, an anticolonialist poet and politician who was honored throughout the French-speaking world and who was an early proponent of black pride, died here on Thursday. He was 94.

A government spokeswoman, Marie Michèle Darsières, said he died at a hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and other ailments.

Mr. Césaire was one of the Caribbean’s most celebrated cultural figures. He was especially revered in his native Martinique, which sent him to the French parliament for nearly half a century and where he was repeatedly elected mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital city.

In Paris in the 1930s he helped found the journal Black Student, which gave birth to the idea of “negritude,” a call to blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage. His 1950 book “Discourse on Colonialism” was considered a classic of French political literature.

Mr. Césaire’s ideas were honored and his death mourned in Africa and France as well as the Caribbean. The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Mr. Sarkozy would attend Mr. Césaire’s funeral, scheduled for Sunday in Fort-de-France. Students at Lycée Scoelcher, a Martinique high school where Mr. Césaire once taught, honored him in a spontaneous ceremony Thursday.

Mr. Césaire’s best-known works included the essay “Negro I Am, Negro I Will Remain” and the poem “Notes From a Return to the Native Land.”


Ein Buch fiel / in deine
verdurstenden Augen. / Als
es den Tiefpunkt von überhaupt allem
erreicht hatte, / machte es

keinerlei Geräusch. / Ein Vogel
starb im Vorgarten, weil
sich der Winter noch / an das heranwachsende Jahr
klammerte. / Kein Blut fiel

in den Schnee. Dein Lied
machte keinerlei Geräusch / als
es den Tiefpunkt von überhaupt allem erreicht hatte.
Ich fiel

in deine verdurstenden Augen.
Ich halt mich fest.

History of Islam (paradoxe du bouquiniste)

On Helen de Witt’s wonderful blog I found this

Urvoy points out an oddity which he calls the paradoxe du bouquiniste. Anyone who spends a lot of time at secondhand bookstalls finds an image of the history of French thought in the 18th century quite different from what he was taught. In his studies they would have talked only of thinkers who were opposed to established religion, above all to religious orthodoxy; but in the bookstalls one finds a vast army of defenders of the faith, names one has never heard of, or heard of only as someone who criticised Rousseau… Since the Renaissance, he suggests, we have placed emphasis on originality, on individualism, so our intellectual history devalues whatever was typical of its time, rates highly whatever was at least self-proclaimed as original. Books offer us chapters on great individuals, with perhaps a dutiful chapter on background which the reader feels free to ignore.

In the history of Arab thought, on the other hand, the opposite is true. It has been written not by philosophers but by historians, and they privilege “representative” authors. The Arab philosophers who drew on the Greek philosophical tradition have just about managed to get taken seriously because of their immense influence on Scholasticism – but many Islamic scholars regard them askance as marginal thinkers. Attention was concentrated on the religious apologists, who were seen as expressing the essence of Arabic-Islamic thought. [I am writing this awkward English because paraphrasing DU, something I do very badly.]

Urvoy comments: the enterprise of setting out a collective structure of thought, with occasional detailed studies of individuals, is entirely legitimate. But isn’t there something odd about this radical antithesis between the study of Western and of Arab thought? Can it really be right for the Arabist to concentrate solely on writers whose equivalents he would despise if he were a specialist of the 18th-century in France?


This resonates with me, those who know me may know how deeply. William Styron on his love of books

“I read everything I could lay my hands on,” he remembers, some 50 years later. “Even today I can recall the slightly blind and bloodshot perception I had of the vaulted Gothic reading room, overheated, the smell of glue and sweat and stale documents, winter coughs, whispers, the clock ticking toward midnight as I raised my eyes over the edge of ‘Crime and Punishment.’ The library became my hangout, my private club, my sanctuary, the place of my salvation; during the many months I was at Duke, I felt that when I was reading in the library I was sheltered from the world and from the evil winds of the future; no harm could come to me there.”


Mein Chef schlägt mich
immer wenn ich mich bücke
ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gut.

Mein Chef küßt mich
immer wenn er sich bückt
ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gut.

Aber wenn ich meinen Chef
zurückschlage, mit all meiner Liebe,
dann weint er immer.

Ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gar nicht.
Das nächste Mal, wenn mein Chef sich bückt
bücke ich mich auch.

Soll er mal sehen, wie er damit zurechtkommt.


Mein Chef schlägt mich
immer wenn ich mich bücke
ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gut.

Mein Chef küßt mich
immer wenn er sich bückt
ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gut.

Aber wenn ich meinen Chef
zurückschlage, mit all meiner Liebe,
dann weint er immer.

Ich muß sagen das gefällt mir gar nicht.
Das nächste Mal, wenn mein Chef sich bückt
bücke ich mich auch.

Soll er mal sehen, wie er damit zurechtkommt.

Ahaaah, Religion!

Ich habe ja nichts gegen religiöse Menschen und ich entwickle gerade eine gewisse, sagen wir Religionsfreundlichkeit, aber wenn dann jemand, der konstant recht blöde an Sachverhalt & Vernunft vorbeiredet, erklärt, er sei religiös, glaube “an G’tt” (Zitat), dann sage ich still immer noch “Ahaaah, dehalb…”, wie es mir heute gegen halb 4 passiert ist, obwohl es eigentlich nicht fair ist. Nicht religiösen Menschen gegenüber (und ich kenne mehr intelligente Religiöse als intelligente Atheisten) und nicht blöden Menschen gegenüber. Hm.

Catholic Conversion

More on the Pope’s outrageous behavior. Susan Jacoby wrote last week

Benedikt has taken less trouble […] to conceal his dedication to a theology that regards other religions (not to mention secularism) as inferior. The pope’s personal baptism, at a widely publicized Easter vigil service, of an Egyptian-born Muslim, Magdi Allam […] is a case in point. Allam, in a column discussing his conversion, wrote in his newspaper that the “root of all evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.” […]

Allam, who once attended a Catholic school in Egypt, is persona non grata not only to most Muslims but to a great many secular Italians, who tend to view his conversion as an exemplary “out of the frying pan, into the fire” move. […]

Does anyone seriously think that the Vatican finances mission schools around the world because it does not hope to gain converts? In this regard, it should be noted, the Catholic Church does not differ from other proselytizing Christian churches that offer a wide variety of social services along with a strong dose of religious indoctrination. […]

The Catholic emphasis on conversion has remained remarkably consistent throughout history. Pope John Paul II’s canonization of the Carmelite nun Edith Stein, a German Catholic convert from Judaism who died in Auschwitz, is a prime example. Stein was sent to Auschwitz for one reason: she was born a Jew, and for the Nazis, no religious conversion wiped out the “racial” stain of Jewishness. Yet the church considers her a Catholic martyr–a position as offensive to many Jews, and as impervious to the fact of who was targeted for extermination during the Holocaust–as some of Benedict’s statements about Islam have been to many Muslims. Stein was murdered by the Nazis because of her Jewish “blood,” not her Catholic faith.

Of course, Benedict can get away with offending Muslims more easily at the moment than he can with offending Jews. Much of post-Christian, secular Europe is terrified of the Muslim immigrants in its midst and would probably love to see a population of Muslim converts to Catholicism.

"Good Female Fiction"

Ludicrousness at ABC, in this NY Times article

Kendall Hart “is a very aspirational character for women,” Mr. Frons said. “She’d come from a trailer park and had built up a cosmetics company, and we felt that was the stuff of good female fiction.”

Y’know. Not good writing or useless stuff like that. Asprational Characters. Right-o.

On sounding better in English

This was interesting to me because we, too, have ongoing discussions about the English language in mass media etc etc (a question which tends to be asked and answered on an uncomfortably nationalistic ground):

In the 1951 film version of Gershwin’s “An American In Paris“, Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan explains why he’s chosen the life of an expatriate:

Back home everyone said I didn’t have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here, but it sounds better in French.

In fact, “everything sounds better in French“, and in particular, “pop music sounds better in French“. Or at least, many English speakers have been telling themselves things like this for the past couple of centuries. You could look it up.

But the linguistic worm has turned, at least with respect to rock lyrics.

According to Bertrand Dicale “Pourquoi ces Français chantent en anglais“, Le Figaro, 11/26/2007,

Le temps est à l’anglais. Pas l’anglais phonétique et scolaire des yé-yé, auxquels les Anglais ne comprenaient rien. La langue anglaise qui se chante aujourd’hui en France est celle du folk contemporain ou de la pop élégante, une langue qui demande beaucoup plus que des cours d’anglais de terminale, et qui aujourd’hui rencontre son public, en France et à l’étranger.


I missed this article last fall, but yesterday I heard an interview on the BBC World Service with Julien Garnier, from the band Hey Hey My My, who explained (as I recall) that he prefers to write in English, because simple things sound more meaningful in English than they do in French. It struck me that there may be some sort of reciprocal “the other language’s grass is greener” effect here, where the extra effort needed to process a foreign language really does create more of (certain kinds of) meanings. (Or, more obviously, that simple poetic phrases are hard to translate.)

I’m not sure that this is exactly what Garnier said, and I haven’t been able to find the interview on line. The Le Monde article quotes him as saying « Les gens sont décomplexés quant à l’idée de chanter en anglais » (”People have lost their hang-ups about singing in English”), and

« On n’est pas contre les paroles en français, chanter en anglais n’est pas une revendication, assure Julien Garnier d’Hey Hey My My. Simplement, écrire nous est plus facile en anglais qu’en français. Il est difficile de trouver un langage vraiment pop en français. C’est génial de dire en anglais Here comes the sun (« voici le soleil », tube des Beatles) alors que ce n’est vraiment pas terrible en français. »


Of course, this didn’t go without rebuttal. Claude Duneton (”Voici le solei“, Le Figaro, 2/21/1008) begins by quoting Garnier’s quote […]. […]M. Duneton is Not Pleased. For him, this is not a matter of individual artistic choice. Nor is it a simple reaction to the forces of cultural prestige in a particular genre, similar to the forces that led the fictional Jerry Mulligan to try to paint in Paris, or the real Samuel Beckett to write in French. Rather, he sees this as a conspiracy organized by the International Music Industry and its French lackeys:

[…] il importe de montrer l’autre face, parfaitement avouée (contrairement à ce que croient les optimistes en France), de l’anglicisation calculée de notre pays. Un mépris évident pour la chanson française se dégage clairement des propos du journaliste, pour lequel la langue anglaise doit être la langue naturelle des peuplades hexagonales. Seule existe la chanson en anglais, nommée expressément music industry. Pas de mystère non plus : sans les quotas, si gênants, imposés aux radios par la France (la détestable « exception française »), notre chanson n’existerait plus. Elle serait reléguée au rang de chants folkloriques indigènes; c’est le but des entrepreneurs de l’industrie musicale : liquider la concurrence. […] la défense de notre langue n’est pas une marotte de vieux messieurs à parapluie ni de bonnes dames à chapeaux ; il s’agit de la protection vitale de notre identité la plus élémentaire, ainsi que de nos intérêts de base. Il s’agit de résister à une colonisation voulue et concertée pour des raisons platement économiques, comme toutes les colonisations sur la Terre.


Tough stuff. And it’s certainly lucky for the Hexagonal Tribes that M. Duneton was able to see the […] for what it was: a frank confession of the colonialists’ plans[.]

What kind of Anarchist are You?

What kind of Anarchist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Anarcha-Feminist

Anarcha-feminists put a strong emphasis on the importance of patriachy, arguing that all forms of hierachy can be traced back to man’s domination over woman. Although associated with the 1960s, the movement has its roots in the theories of Emma Goldman and Voltarine DeCleyre.









Christian Anarchist




Postmodern Poetry

1. Modernism.

1.1. What We Won’t Talk About

In discussions of Postmodernism, three aspects in particular keep turning up which are of no or only of passing interest to the present text. One of these aspects is the one pursued in Jameson’s approach to the problem of the postmodern. Jameson claims that a purely literary approach to the postmodern cannot possibly work, as all the characteristics of postmodern literature were already present in certain modernist tendencies. The salient feature for a periodization is contained in the “gesellschaftliche Standort” (Jameson 48) of these branches of Post-/Modernism, which means that in order to distinguish the Postmodernism of two authors with similar styles we have to take into account the position of these within their respective society. Differences arise from changes and shifts within the society, in other words, the meaning of these styles changes.

Jameson’s theory is not useful for this text, because the break in Delmore Schwartz’s poetry took place when WW II as still ongoing and major changes in society had not yet taken place. It’s true that Schwartz lived and wrote for about twenty years in post-war America, but judging from the few published books of verse, there is no textual evidence for a break in his work after WW II which might be due to a Jamesonian phenomenon. There are breaks, as we will see, but they are due to other, personal rather than public, events.

The second aspect involves the postmodern as conceived of by McLuhan and the dawning of the “electric age” (Brown 7; cf. Brown 2ff.), it is unusable on account of Schwartz’s total disinterest in the new media. The third aspect distinguishes between various ‘waves’ of Postmodernism “auf einer historisch beschreibenden Ebene” (Huyssen 17), classifying different sorts of Postmodernisms as they emerged one by one. This approach is of no interest to us because Schwartz’s poetry belongs to a time when Postmodernism had not yet gone through more than one phase, when it was still Post-modernism (cf. n.3).

Moreover, there are certain aspects of Modernism which have been highlighted by late varieties of postmodern theory, such as queer (cf. Nelson 86) or gender studies (cf. 84), or studies concerned with race (cf. 87ff.). These are issues that would invite close readings of Schwartz’s texts and distract from the main issue in the present paper, which revolves around the problem of periodization.

This is not to say that we can entirely dispense with postmodernist readings of Modernism, as we should not forget that an approach to that period is not possible except through the -possibly distorted- lens of Postmodernism, as the former is inextricably “bound up with postmodernist wrangling” (Goldman 8, see also Pütz 56).

1.2. “The Poem of the Mind”

In order not to get too caught up in this ‘wrangling’, it might be helpful to consult some of the early post-war criticism: one of the most famous texts, The Continuity of American Poetry, posits the existence of “a series of basic poetic styles” (Pearce 12) and of a continuous “twin impulse” (6) in American poetry, torn between freedom and community (cf. 5f.). What, then, might the ‘basic poetic style’ of Modernism be? Even a cursory overview of the period will provide an idea of the difficulties posed by this question.

Not only are as disparate a group of poets as Eliot, Pound, Stevens and Yeats considered modernist poets, lately, emphasis has been put on the “short-lived […] avant-garde phase of Modernism” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 3). These groups are stylistically diverse and hard to combine under the banners of ‘freedom’and ‘community’[i]. Yet the basic styles are “given to a poet to […] accommodate to his sense of the possibilities […] for living life fully in his culture” (Pearce 13). We will see that there truly is a twin impulse in modernistic Amercan poetry, yet the two opposites have been accommodated to the culture of Modernism.

The present paper will take as its starting point the “preoccupation with ‘external reality'” (Dembo 1), the “awareness that stable patterning is absent from the external world” (Keller 10) which took different forms within Modernism. I will start out with Wallace Stevens and his quest for “The magnificent cause of being / The imagination, the one reality / In this imagined world” (Stevens 25). Even though Stevens wrote his share of long poems, his way to deal with the “exterior boundary between the world of the poem and reality” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 26) only rarely extended to “structural organization [as] a way of knowing” (Bloom, American Poetry, 7), which makes him stand out in the company of his fellow modernists Pound, Stein or Eliot[ii].

Instead he resorted to a highly poetological poetry[iii], and endeavored to describe the difference between “things as they are” (Stevens 165) and what happens to them in the hands of the poet: “Things as they are are / Are changed upon the blue guitar.” (165) The important idea here is the distinction between reality and the imagination, and the difficulty of distinguishing the two, the imagination being “the one reality / In this imagined world” (25). If it is to cope with these difficulties, the modern poem has to be a “poem of the mind” (239), or, as Auden put it, a “painstaking adaption [from] Life to Art” (Auden 181). Poetry became “a cognitive tool” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 24) for understanding reality.

Consequently, concepts arose of a ‘purification’ of reality, which could be achieved through the act of transcending subjectivity (cf. Dembo 3). The Objectivists in particular wanted “all associational or sentimental value [to] be dropped from verse” (Ruland and Bradbury 241). This, however, is not a concept that applies to all of Modernist poetry or even to most of it. Not only did Auden, one of the leading High Modernists, write lines such as “I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong” (Auden 141) but also within bulwarks of Modernism such as The Waste Land there are passages that are moving precisely because they seem to be intensely personal such as: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (Eliot 39, l. 430)[iv].

1.3. Fragments of Modernism

1.3.1. The Difficulties of Fragments

This is not, however, the only instance of Modernism presenting a very disparate image at one and the same time. The “brokenness of modernist poetry” (Keller 258) seems to extend to the period as a whole, one might call it symptomatic. In the present paragraph we will examine another major disagreement within the modernist canon, which is the attitude towards tradition and technique. Auden attacked the Sonnett and “viewed Romanticism as leading to fascism” (Perkins 9) and, at the same time, he wrote the “Sonnets from China” (cf. Auden 183-195). Pound “constantly advocated renewal of language” and at the same time he “returned frequently to […] forms [of the Past]” (both: Strand and Boland 41).

As to compositional technique: some Modernists tried to mirror the fragmentation of the world in a poetry of fragments (cf. Keller 258), but the same poets, Pound being one of them, turned to music for “a model for […] a non-material harmony and coherence” (Bucknell 1) and attempted to create “controlling patterns” (Keller 10), for example the structure of The Cantos or the structure of The Waste Land; or a mythical superstructure, suggesting “a mythic timelessness” (Bell 15), an instance of which might be Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” (cf. Yeats 163f.).

Similarities, on the other hand, can be found in the modernist tendency of a “reification of poetic techniques” (Blasing 3), which means the belief of the correspondence between free verse and a free spirit or, conversely, a ‘reactionary’ form and a reactionary attitude. Even if modernist vers libre-writers take recurse to more traditional forms, these texts draw attention to them precisely because they are a rarity in these poets’ oeuvres. This heavy-handed attitude towards tradition seems to me a very characteristic attitude of Early and High Modernism[v].

Another similarity devolves from something that might be seen as another major disagreement within Modernism and concerns one of the two ontological dimensions of the poetic text, as outlined by McHale. He claims that “[p]oetry […] has a dual ontology, […] a two-world ontological organization” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 22; his italics) one concerning the exterior boundary of the poem, between the poem and the world. The other one concerns the interior boundary, to which we will turn now, which runs between the opposing pair of textual surface and the “ideational structure of the text, its ‘meaning'” (22).

According to Perloff, avant-garde writers such as Gertrude Stein emphasize composition over representation (cf. Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 54) and thus “impel the reader to participate” (25f.), a poetics Perloff calls “literalism”. A closer look reveals, though, that Stein actually explicitly repudiates the concept of literalism (cf. Keller 8f.) and that literalism, as described by Perloff, can also be found in the conceptions of New Criticism, specifically in the concept of the “heresy of paraphrase” (Keller 9). This leads to what the modernists all have in common, that is the shelving of the question of interior ontology in favor of the epistemological function of poetry, which concerns the exterior boundary (cf. the discussion of Stevens earlier).

1.3.2. Resolving the Difficulties

One might end here and state the difficulties of describing the “basic poetic style” (Pearce 12) of Modernism, as Modernism and modernist poets seem to be so divided over so many issues, with similarities turning up only rarely. Yet the major disagreements, between personalism and impersonalism and between tradition and the urge to Make It New, can be resolved without having to resort to some higher dominion such as ‘society’.

The question of tradition has been resolved to some extent by Harold Bloom[vi] by pointing out the problem of influence in the creative act, and the “desperate insistence” (13), ultimately futile, of the creative mind to be free of influence, which results in an anxiety. This tension perfectly describes the tension in modernist poetry. On the one hand, there is no denying the heavy influence of romantic poets such as Swinburne and Browning on the early poetry of Pound and Eliot (cf. Ruland and Bradbury 215), even less the massive influence of Whitman[vii] on vast parts of modernist poetry (cf. Trachtenberg 195). On the other hand, there is in early modernist poetry, equally undeniable, an impulse towards a new kind of writing, free from tradition. Taking our lead from Bloom, we can see that the urge towards the new, the “questing for fire” (Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 79) is eclipsed by the flood of tradition, which, in the end, is inescapable and accordingly turns up in the poetry of Modernism, too. This explains the long poems which amass references and quotations from the realm of tradition: they are an attempt to coerce the inevitable into new forms, an attempt at containing history, that which “they found in the post-bag” (Pound 41), in complicated structures such as The Cantos or The Waste Land, and thus overcoming influence[viii].

As to the question of subjectivity and impersonality, this time the solution devolves from the very principles employed by the modernist poets: it is true that much of Modernist poetry tends towards impersonality and towards “a certain neutrality of description” (Nelson 68). It is incontestable, too, that personal lines slip regularly in between the poetry. These two facts do not have to be incompatible, though, as both tendencies overlap in the area of the individual mind. The main thrust of Modernist poetry, as we saw, proposes a “poem of the mind” (239), which imposes order on a world without order. The focaliser for this process, in other words, is the individual mind, but for modern poetry, the individual mind is fraught with weaknesses, the poetry is “a tune beyond us as we are” (Stevens 167), therefore there exists an urge towards some higher ordering principle[ix], whether it be myth or the idea of an ‘impersonal subject’[x].

Thus, when writing ‘impersonally’, the modernist poets have not left the sphere of the individual mind yet, but split it into an objective, impersonal part, the ‘mind’, and a subjective part, which they declared superfluous. Yet the writing of poetry cannot be divorced from this subjective part, as it is us, who “choose to play / The imagined pine, the imagined jay” (184). Hence, the modern poem projects both aspects of the writing subject, yet it cannot own up to the coexistence of these two aspects. This results in a tension, a tension at least as intense as the tension between tradition and the new.

All these tensions practically ‘produced’ the poetry of Modernism, as every major development of that period can be seen as a way to cultivate a style capable of overcoming these difficulties. The major development was the ideology of the mot juste, of “the potential exactitude of words or metaphors” (Keller 255), the view of the “poetic language as incarnational” (Blasing 9). If language is exact, the question of how to separate the objective part of the mind from the subjective or tradition from the genuinely new basically become a question of penmanship. You only have to write it right in order to succeed. The major developments of modernist poetry follow logically from this approach, the structures being merely a special way of arranging words. The huge amount of innovative modernist poetry is due to the tensions, which made modernist writing so difficult on the writers.

1.3.3. The End

These tensions surely belong among the ” basic poetic styles” (Pierce 12) of Modernism. They are the “twin impulse[s]” (6) of modernist poetry and an impulse always implies a direction. Where postmodern poetry will have a multitude of impulses, which propel it in many directions at once, Modernism has two kinds of twin impulses, but they do not combine. Between the two opposites modernist poetry had to escape in the only direction possible: forward. It had to, in order to not get caught between Scylla and Charybdis. When one of the most perceptive readers of his period, Randall Jarrell, declared the end of Modernism, he wrote that Modernism had already “exhausted” its means (cf. Jarrell 259), an exhaustion the tensions and that curious dynamic obviously played a major role in.

Modernism yielded to its tensions, “all [the] romantic tendencies [were] exploited to their limits” (Jarrell 259). There came a point when this system of tensions which produced so many great poems did not produce more, because “Modernism is a limit” (259). A limit comprised by the two-dimensionality of its approach, which translated into a dynamic movement in one direction only, trying to be ‘more’: “more violent, more disorganized, more obscure, more -supply your own adjective-” (259). Until there was no ‘more’ to be had, and Modernism ended. Yet 1942, the year Jarrell wrote his essay, the New Criticism was fully under way.

1.4. The New Criticism

1.4.1. Making it Better

The New Criticism[xi], finally, is the last stage of Modernism. The New Critical poets strove to Make It Better, writing in a “densely structured [style], crammed with learned allusions, witty metaphors [and] verbal ambiguities” (Breslin 17). They were mainly influenced by Eliot, not by his style, but by his “set of attitudes and values” (15), his “wrestling to find the mot juste” (Perloff, 21st-Century Modernism, 159), which, as we saw earlier, had in some way been present throughout the whole of Modernism. In New Criticism, this notion resulted in the “well-wrought poem” (Keller 260).

Remembering the conclusions of the previous part, one might wonder how the New Criticism fits with the basic styles of Modernism, even whether it should be considered a modernist phase at all. After all, the theory of the New Criticism reigned over academic discourse on poetry until well into the 1970s, but most accounts of Modernism end at 1940 at the latest (cf. Goldman 21). However, it is hard to seriously indicate when the inception of Modernism takes place (cf. Riha 19), so why should it be different at the other end of the period[xii]?

If New Critical poetry ist to be modern in this paper’s reading of Modernism, it must display the same tensions as high-modernist poetry did, but the abovementioned allusions seem to be indicative of a freer relationship to tradition, as influence and predecessors become an integral part of poetry. New Critical poetry existed “[t]hroughout its whole career in an intellectual symbiosis with a school of critics” (Perkins 76). Through books on the ‘right’ way to read a poem, the New Critics both told the readers where and how to look for the allusions and imposed the allusions upon the writers. In this fashion, “a narrow orthodoxy had evolved” (Keller 260), a system far more closed than High Modernism.

This system, however, turns out to be just one more way to deal with the modernist tensions, as there is no freedom in the relation to tradition to be had: there is one proscribed way to deal with it and there are no alternatives allowed. Whereas the modernist ideal was a self-proscribed one, this one is imposed, more often than not, by an elite group of theoreticians on the large body of American poets, by usurping the categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Furthermore, the New Critical ideology comes with a whole system of rewards and punishments: inclusion into the American Canon or total exclusion from the academia.

1.4.2. Canonizing Modernism

The New Critics were the first to provide a cogent definition of poetry in the “institutional history of English departments” (Golding 71), so even though the dawn of New Criticism broke slowly, in the end it conquered academia, as it had nearly no serious theoretical competition on university grounds all around the country (cf. Perkins 6). This meant that they were also the first to really establish a canon of American poetry accepted throughout the United States. In light of the fact that “criticism creates or preserves canons” (Golding 75), the New Criticism was well equipped to carve its canon out of the bulk of American poetry, and in doing so created the parameters that decide which future texts can be included and which cannot be (wertungskanon?), it also revised the past, that is tradition, by emphasizing those lines of influence that they deemed good and healthy.

This canon, revolving around the idea of the good, that is, well-crafted poem, has of course changed, since what we today see as the Canon (with a capital ‘c’) includes much that was not included by the New Critics, i.e. Pound and Sandburg. These were re-introduced by later generations, who revised the Canon by re-defining ‘well-crafted’ and in this way included several other strands of tradition. Either poets that were completely revived after the war, such as Pound, or alternative canons, which developed in little magazines, such as Olson’s “Origin” and were later canonized (cf. Golding 114), or the alternative canons of women’s writing as well as African-American literature. These inclusions, though, represent exceptions to the rule rather than a change of rule (cf. Matthews 13).

2. Postmodernism

2.1. “Many Things At Once”

In the 1960’s, Postmodernism was suddenly there, unmistakably different from what was known as Modernism and it was “practically from the start, many things at once” (Bertens 4). As I have indicated at the beginning of the chapter on Modernism, it is not very helpful to talk about postmodern culture, as the results of such a discussion would not be readily applicable to Delmore Schwartz’s poetry. Instead, I will pursue certain lines of tradition and influence that show what Postmodernism was, which forms it took. In other words I will be talking about the actual poetry.

Following up the idea that “Postmodernism follows from Modernism […] more than it follows after Modernism” (McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, 5; italics are his) we can see that whatever forms post-modern poetry took in the 1950’s, it was nearly always a reaction to Modernism in its last incarnation, New Criticism. This style was dominating the idea of ‘literariness’ in poetry to such an extent that, in order to be able to work free from New Critical pressure, one of these new poets, Ginsberg had to deny his own literariness[xiii] on the one hand (cf. Breslin 55) and his immediate predecessors in poetry; he did the latter by constructing his heritage from prose modernists as Dos Passos and the ubiquitous Whitman[xiv] (cf. Ruland and Bradbury 327). Yet as many faces as Modernism had, Postmodernism has a similar amount of those. So many, in fact, that it is still uncertain which poet of the 1950’s is post-modern and which is merely late late modernist.

2.2. Against Form, Against Sense

2.2.1. Experimental Postmodernism or…

One group of poets that was nearly immediately recognized as postmodernist, once the theorization of Postmodernism was under way, were the experimental poets, Ashbery, O’Hara, the Black Mountain poets and others. Critics recognized that the new poetry “cho[se] to live on the frontiers of language” (Stepanchev 1), that it was “anti-symbolist” (207) and “presenting unmediated experience” (Breslin 55). Poets such as Ashbery “ha[ve] little of the modernists’ faith in the […] exactitude of words” (Keller 255), something that becomes clear when we compare Ashbery’s long, sometimes rambling poems with the tense exactitude of The Waste Land, or O’Hara’s detailed impressions that are not “exemplary and stable” (Keller 256) as are the details in modernist poetry. This new poetry celebrates “a world governed by randomness” (256): “arbitrariness is foregrounded” (McHale, “Postmodernis Lyric”, 29). Some strains of postmodernist poetry invents devices in order not to fall for the same tensions as modernist poetry, “textual machines” (26) for instance, which eliminate the subjective part of the mind completely and transfer the objective part to a machine-like device. They lead a “rebellion against form” (Bawer 127) and do not submit to “the commands of sense” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 164). This list could go on for pages.

The equation of postmodern poetry with experimental poetry has been so persistent that a book such as the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry features only experimental poets. Granted, it has to omit many poets due to the limits imposed by the criterion of size, but the omission of a whole branch of poetry is apparent: there is no poem at all included by Merrill, Lowell, Bishop, Berryman or Plath, all of whom are important American poets, all of whom are most certainly not avant-garde or experimental writers. Hoover, the editor of this book, admits his bias freely: “[a]s used here, ‘postmodern’ […] suggests an experimental approach to composition […]. Postmodernist poetry is the avant-garde poetry of our time” (Hoover xxv). He strikes out against tradition, especially against british influence (cf. xxvii) and traces its inheritance to the modernist avant-garde (cf. xxxix). Postmodern American poetry, according to him, needs “a home-grown idiom”[xv] (xxvii).

2.2.2. …late late Modernism?

This last paragraph states a poetics that should sound oddly familiar to us, as it restates in slightly modified form several of Modernism’s claims. The basic ingredient is there, pronounced as clear as possible: renouncement of tradition and the urge to Make It New. Hoover polemicises against other anthologies which represent a different sort of canon, one which is “more traditional, formal and refined” (Hoover xxvii). If we project, as I suggest we can, Hoover’s position as the opposite to this canon, a picture of a poetry emerges that wants to be “more violent, more disorganized, more obscure” (Jarrell 259).

More modernist than the modernists, this experimentalist view of Postmodernism buys totally into “a modernist aesthetic ideology” (Blasing 2) and the “modernist reification of poetic techniques” (3) we mentioned earlier. With Hoover’s simplistic view of postmodern poetry, it becomes hard to distinguish one clearly from the other, so that to some critics, quite understandably “the modern/postmodern divide has emerged as more apparent than real” (Perloff, The “New” Poetics, 164). The very existence of postmodern poetry suddenly becomes doubtful[xvi]. If we want a clear picture of Postmodernism to surface, we need to extend our approach beyond avant-garde poetry.

2.3. Open Forms, Open Minds

2.3.1. The Middle Generation and others

The Middle Generation “consist[s] of Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman and Lowell” (Bawer 3), sometimes Elizabeth Bishop is included whereas Schwartz is omitted (cf. Travisano). This group of poets are joined not for their formal similarities, but for their overall aesthetic approach, which can be described as a deviation from modernism. A deviation, however, not only from New Critical orthodoxy, but from the “basic poetic style” (Pearce 12) of the whole period. All of them started out as a very modernist breed of poets: “every line of poetry that they wrote during their early years was […] shaped by Eliot’s doctrines.” (Bawer 60) With Bishop and Jarrell this became not so obvious as both of them did not start to publish poetry until late in their careers when they had already crossed the line. The others, however, each published at least one modernist book of verse, until their poetry changed: Lowell published even two, Land of Unlikeliness (1944) and Lord Weary’s Castle (1946), Berryman published The Dispossessed (1948) and Schwartz In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938). Lowells second book as well as Berryman’s debut were not pitch-perfect modernist books, each carried the seed of Postmodernism within it. It was Lord Weary’s Castle which prompted Jarrell to exclaim that “Mr. Lowell’s poetry is a unique fusion of modernist and traditional poetry […]. [I]t is essentially a post- or anti-modernist poetry.” (Jarrell 213). And there, in a nutshell, are the characteristics of these early postmodernists.

Others, most notably James Merrill, have also written highly formalized poetry, leaning strongly on tradition, eschewing avant-garde aesthetics in favor of a free play with tradition and of the new aesthetic of the personal, as established by the Middle Generation (see below). They took part in the “movement from constriction to liberation” (Jarrell 211), they were able to take up different styles without having to gravely place themselves in a tradition (cf. Pordzik 28). Together with the Middle Generation poets they developed an openness that is all the clearer because they seem to be writing in closed forms. “Because [these poets] are not avant-garde writers, it is their participation in these trends that argues most persuasively for […] a genuine shift in attitudes” (Keller 14).

2.3.2. A Postmodern Aesthetic

In the following two sections we will examine this shift in attitudes. The poets discussed in the preceding two sections created “one of the earliest and most persistent […] aesthetics” (Travisano 9) of post-modernism, an aesthetics that consisted, simply put, of an openness of content (cf. 9). Whereas modernist poetry had been a “cognitive tool” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 24), and thus could not do without a determinate meaning, postmodernist poetry “undermines every sort of certitude” (Axelrod 265). Not only is there a “tolerance of uncertainty” (Keller 252), but also a whole process of active undermining of epistemological certainty is taking place in the postmodern text, clustered around two key strategies.

The first one could be called the attention/intention divide, stressing not the intention of the author but “the ‘attention’ that produced it” (Ashton 18). This development of “mak[ing] meaning a matter of someone’s experience […] rather than of someone’s intention” (13) is often traced to Ashbery (cf. 13ff.), yet I find that principle much clearer expressed in Lowell’s Life Studies (1959), where the protagonist of the poems[xvii] conveys line after line of experienced facts of his surroundings: “Screens as black-grained as drifting coal / Tockytock, tockytock / Clumped our Alpine, Edwardian cuckoo clock” (Lowell 163; italics his)[xviii]. There is none of that meticulous system of quotations as in The Waste Land, these are quotations, if you will, from life. Clearly, the world is something to be observed, but there is no longer a sharp demarcation between the world and the poem. The relationship of the two is no longer a central concern in this poetry. When in “To Delmore Schwartz” (cf. Lowell 157f.) Lowell misquotes Schwartz misquoting Coleridge (cf. Bawer 147), a strong unconcern with truth becomes obvious. He gives up, at least tentatively, his “personal control over the production of meaning” (Ashton 25).

This production of meaning is undercut as well by the strategy of erasure, as sketched out by McHale. Of the different levels this strategy can operate on, we will only pick one, “erasure at the level of language(McHale, The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole, 252; italics his). This kind of erasure involves “self-cancellation […] whereby poems ‘unmake’ themselves as they go along” (252). This implies a system of self-contradictions that extends the simple New Critical method of paradox. This erasure “is not in the service of some higher truth” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 42), quite the reverse, it leaves “a bitter impression of absence” (41)[xix]. This unmotivated erasure can be found particularly often in the poetry of Berryman. Meaning becomes hard to grasp in lines such as: ” […] where I am / we don’t know. It was dark and then / it isn’t.” (Berryman 32).

Apart from the question of indeterminacy, there are two other accomplishments of the postmodern aesthetic in the first two decades after WWII, the first of which touches the question of the personal/impersonal tension in Modernism. Postmodern poetry, as it is represented by the Middle Generation, “record[s] […] the soul under stress” (Gustavsson 123). One might argue that the brokenness of modernist poetry has exactly the same effect, but this would only mask the difference: the new poetry is more concerned with “individual psychology” (Keller 258). “[A]utobiographical energies play an increasing role” (117), something which hasALREADY been already implied in our discussion of the attention/intention divide, because it is not about the truth-value implicit in ‘true’ autobiography, it is more about the gesture of autobiography, the idea of ‘seen this, done that’. Through this leaning on the emotional part of the individual person, the modernist bias in favor of rationality has been dispensed with. This time it is about a “nonrational way of knowing” (Keller 115)[xx].

Postmodern poetry seems to be chiefly interested in feeling, yet the mind still has its uses in the new poetry. For instance when the question of tradition arises. The Middle Generation poets, as well as the other postmodern writers, recognized that it is impossible “to stand free of conventions” (Keller 12), they felt free to make use of tradition as they pleased because they were under no illusions concerning their capabilities of Making It New, so they appropriated whatever they deemed interesting and shed those parts of it that they considered boring. Against all expectations, however, this approach, as far as it related to past and contemporary styles, did not lead to the same kind of arbitrariness in form that dominated content (cf. McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 29). Form became the major concern of postmodern poetry, as “the epistemological function [lost] its priority [and] the ontology was foregrounded” (26), interior ontology, that is.

2.3.3. Postmodern Form

The question is not any longer how best to describe reality, it has rather become a question on how to make a poem, which words, forms, sound to employ. This explains why, although the content of the poetry of Postmodernism seemed to be a whole lot more liberated from constraints than previous poetry was, the poetry itself was remarkably complex and finely crafted. This has lead some critics to claim “a return to artifice” (Perloff, Radical Artifice, 27). This artifice does not necessarily imply a highly formalized poetry in the cenventional sense of the term ‘form’. According to Jonathan Holden “postmodern poetic form is predominantly analogical” (Holden 8)[xxi]. He seems to be making a point similar to Jameson’s discussion of the pastiche (cf. Jameson 62f.), but Holden’s point is more subtle. He concurs with Perloff in that artifice involves a “recognition that a poem […] is a made thing” (Perloff, Radical Artifice, 28; italics hers), but he extends the notion of formal categories beyond those traditional forms that everyone includes, such as the villanelle or the sestina, to a different type of formal categories (cf. Holden 7f.). One of his categories would be the “‘conversation’ poem” (9) or the lyric (cf. 10f.).

Conventional styles are “mentioned rather than used” (McHale, The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole, 11)[xxii] in postmodern poetry, this implies that the making of the postmodern poem involves new categories. Holden’s taxonomy, sketchy though it may be, matches our approach to postmodernist content brilliantly. He orders the formal categories “along a scale […] of their degree of ‘personalization'”, which makes perfect sense in a poetry that is to such an extent dominated by the idea of the personal[xxiii].

Returning to the lack of arbitrariness in form in postmodern poetry, we need to recognize that one of the centerpieces of postmodern poetics is the playfulness of its forms (cf. Perloff, The Dance of the Intellect, 176). By relying upon assonances, rhymes and traditional forms on the one hand, and Holden’s new categories on the other hand, the language of the poem is favoured over its content. The textual movements, as they concern “the coercive power of a rhyme-scheme or other sound patterns” (McHale, “Postmodernist Lyric”, 28) , become “operations of some sort of machine” (29), the formal aspect of the poem being this machine . Of course, this does not necessarily make the form determinate, but it further undercuts the determinacy of meaning on the level of content. Thus, postmodern poetry becomes a poetry of the personal without ever succumbing to a poetics of intentionality because of the multitude of textual strategies undermining the truth-value of the poetry.

[i] Although, interestingly, you might contrast Eliot and Pound along the lines of community and freedom, respectively. This, however, is not the subject of the present paper.

[ii] Stevens found his mode of writing early, settled into it quickly and changed little over the years, as Jarrell perceived correctly, talking of “his later mold in which he cast himself” (Jarrell 120).

[iii] “[S]o-called ‘intellectual poetry'” (Gregory and Zaturenska, 328) PUNKT?

[iv] Compare that to the impersonalized reprise in The Cantos: “These fragments you have shelved (shored)” (Pound 28).

[v] The idea of a American tradition of a new writing which results from a re-reading of tradition, as “creative reading” (Herd 34), has been examined as a possible modernist strain but it has proven to be unhelpful to any useful categorization of poety, as the great modernists are very divided on this issue (cf. Herd 35). On differences between Eliot and Pound in respect to tradition, see Rabaté 214ff. He shows that both have a strained relationship to tradition and it shows how they cope with it. In Eliot’s concept of tradition, which strongly smells of Jungian psychology, the other modernist tension, too, is implicated via the “individual talent” (cf. Rabaté 215f.).

[vi] I do not, however, concur with the whole of his theory, especially not with his psychologically tinged emphasis on the mind of the individual, biographical author. His theory is of some use inasmuch as it clarifies some general structures of influence and the violence of the new (cf. Vendler).

[vii] The fact that Whitman’s influence was not blocked as the influence from Romanticism was, can be explained by considering the modernist textual strategy of the reification of poetic techniques, as outlined earlier. The Whitman they appropriated was not the whole Whitman, but only the idea of an American tradition, new and free. It suited their other ideas well. The whole Whitman was not revived until the advent of the Beat Poets (cf. Trachtenberg).

[viii] Little did they recognize that the very idea of the new long poem was itself part of their romantic heritage.

[ix] I concede that it may be not so felicitous to quote Stevens in this context, who never succumbed to the “rage for order” (Stevens 169); yet the question of the poet’s mind has in modernist American poetry

never been expressed in a better way than in the poetry of Stevens. Similar expressions can be found in Eliot’s or Pound’s essays yet I am reluctant to use both essays and poetry by the same poet, without accounting for the differences that are bound to arise. This, however, is far beyond the scope of this paper.

[x] Basically, this is a Kantian approach: Kant talks of man as a “sinnlich affiziertes Vernunftwesen” and wants to separate the “sinnlich affiziert” part from the “Vernunftwesen”.

[xi] The principles of style in this period are virtually indistiguishable from the principles of criticism at that time (cf. Perkins 75f.), that is why I will adopt the term “New Criticism” for both phenomena.

[xii] Especially if, as I will suggest, modernist poetry was still written in the 1970s and possibly still is.

[xiii] Note the postmodern tendency towards a non-literary culture described by Renner (cf. Renner 13).

[xiv] Whitman’s influence seems to have increased even more (cf. Garrett 232: “Everybody claims him”) in the early decades of Postmodernism.

[xv] It is interesting how selective his view of tradition and influence is, especially British influence. Compare Diggory’s account of the way that some influential British poets immersed themselves in the American tradition of Emerson and Whitman and how this influence seeped into American poetry later on (cf. Diggory 11-31 and elsewhere).

[xvi] Notice that I do not call into question the validity of the term postmodern, but ‘postmodern’ means something else for each cultural subcategory. Brown in particular has argued that postmodern poetry treads on paths that modernist prose has long been using (cf. 8).

[xvii] These are supposedly autobiographical poems and the dates and names match Lowell’s biographyKOMMA yet I am uneasy with this designation. Nevertheless, the poems in Part 4 of Life Studies are clearly narrated by the same character, which in my view amply warrants calling him the “protagonist” of these poems.

[xviii] Certainly, in Ashton’s understanding, the experience is not communicated so plainly to the reader (cf. Ashton 24), but compared to the impersonal modernist poem, these are major developments; what’s more, Lowell’s progress is made in his poetry whereas Ashbery’s ideas are communicated in lectures and essays, in other words: outside of his poetry. The validity of poetological statements made in respect to one’s own works should be -and has been- severely questioned.

[xix] This, of course, does represent some higher truth as well. McHale tends to overlook these kinds of implications. Yet basically, his idea is sound. The point is, that the paradox, if that is the form the self-erasure takes, is not constructed so that it will yield some truth by being understood, as was the case with New Critical poetry which took its hints from the metaphysical poets such as John Donne (cf. Perkins 38). The postmodern paradox leaves the reader with a feeling about the world, but not with knowledge or even a semblance of such knowledge.

[xx] Compare Kristeva’s remarks on the ascendancy of a literature that partakes of “the asymbolicity peculiar to psychosis” (Kristeva 139). This stress on the value accorded to a major weakness of the mind fits well with our discussion.

[xxi] Holden recognizes the fact that there is an “analogical approach to form implicit in poetry of the High Modernist period” (Holden 16), but he resolves this problem by explaining the taxonomy of the postmodern variation of that approach, as we will see shortly.

[xxii] Cf. Jarrells observation that “‘The Quaker Graveyard’ is a baroque work […] yet all the extase of baroque has disappeared” (Jarrell 211; italics his).

[xxiii] So that even the impersonal becomes a category of potentially personal poetry.

Die vier Seiten der Medaille

Vernünftige Worte von Kulla zum Thema China, Tibet und die Olympiade.

So, wie es bisher aussieht, werde ich mich aus der Angelegenheit aber lieber raushalten, da ich ziemlich Gegenstandpunkt-mäßig keine Veranlassung sehe, mich hier in die Staatenkonkurrenz einzumischen. Weder mag ich mich vor den Karren von Leuten spannen lassen, die den Dalai Lama für zurechnungsfähig halten und China im Sound der französischen Regierung dazu auffordern, “die Gewalt gegen die Bevölkerung einzustellen” – Staatszweck, anyone? Noch halte ich die Selbstverständlichkeit dieses Staatszwecks für eine ausreichende Rechtfertigung jeglicher von den chinesischen Sicherheitsorganen praktizierter Schweinereien.

Dazu kommt, daß ich ehrlich unsicher bin, was genau eigentlich vorgefallen ist. Das spricht, entsprechend gewendet, auch wieder für beide Seiten, aus meiner Sicht eben für keine.

Mein einziger kläglicher Beitrag war das hier. Da sieht man mal wieder.

Die Gelbe Gefahr


Damian Hockney von der Londoner Stadtpolizei wird in der konservativen Zeitung “Daily Mirror” zitiert: “Solche Leute haben auf unseren Straßen nichts zu suchen. Wenn die Sicherheit eines solchen Umzugs nicht von britischen Kräften garantiert werden kann, sollte er besser gar nicht stattfinden. Wer hat diese Leute geprüft?” Sein Kollege Jenny Jones: “Ich würde gerne wissen, welchen Status sie haben und wie weit sie gehen würden. Sie sahen fies aus. Es war merkwürdig.”

Wie weit sie gehen würden? Hm. Unschuldige Leute auf Verdacht erschießen vielleicht? Ach nee, das wart ihr ja selbst.

Martin the Dread

Kakutani on Amis’ new book

Equally offensive are the eruptions of anti-Islamic vituperation […].

In this book Mr. Amis says that, going through airport security with his daughters, he wants to say something like: “Even Islamists have not yet started to blow up their own families on airplanes. So please desist until they do. Oh yeah: and stick, for now, to young men who look like they’re from the Middle East.”

Reviewing Mark Steyn’s controversial book, “America Alone” — which forecasts a dark future in which Old Europe falls under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism — Mr. Amis writes that “not a single Western European country is procreating at the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 births per woman,” adding: “A depopulated and simplified Europe might be tenable in a world without enmity and predation. And that is not our world. The birth rate is 6.76 in Somalia, 6.69 in Afghanistan and 6.58 in Yemen.”

Mr. Amis writes of an Islamist “death-hunger,” comparable “outside Africa” only to what existed in Nazi Germany and Stalinite Kampuchea. He suggests that the Islamist war on the West is “a kind of thwarted narcissism,” rooted in sexual frustration and anger at Islam’s impotence on the world stage (completely ignoring the experts like Michael Scheuer, the former C.I.A. officer and Qaeda specialist, who argue that Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war is a reaction to specific United States foreign policies like support for Israel and an American presence in Muslim lands). And while he writes that “we respect Muhammad” (just not “Muhammad Atta”), he makes gross generalizations about the “extreme incuriosity of Islamic culture” and the differences between Sunnis and Shias (“The Sunni are more legalistic. The Shia are dreamier and more poetic and emotional.”)

As for civil war between the Shia and the Sunni, Mr. Amis glibly declares: “We can say, with the facetiousness of despair, that it’s just as well to get this out of the way; and let us hope it is merely a Thirty Years’ War, and not a Hundred Years’ War.”


Many of the arguments in this book are deeply indebted to other writers. On Islam, Mr. Amis leans heavily on the works of Bernard Lewis, the Middle East scholar who influenced the thinking of some members of the Bush administration. And on the irrationality of religion, he leans heavily on the work of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Mr. Amis adds nothing illuminating to these writers’ thinking, while blindly accepting some of their more debatable assertions.

Well put.

Gail Collins on current issues in the primaries:

It was probably inevitable. The historic contest between a woman and an African-American for the presidential nomination is now all about white men.


Courting them is extremely tricky. It’s not like you can promise that under your presidency, more white men would be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Just dumb

Well. Yesterday I was poking fun at Nigel Beale’s absurd idea of how to read literature and art. This is from the first post of his on this topic.

Based on what we have here, what I know of Proust’s life , and my experience reading Holmes and Coleridge, Marchand and Byron, Ellmann and Joyce, Steegmuller and Flaubert, for example, I’m with Sainte-Beuve. Knowing about Coleridge’s life struggles, his politics, his relationship with women (and I’m relying on the accuracy of Holmes’ research), knowing Coleridge this way, enriched my experience of his work, influenced the way I understood it, and increased my appreciation and enjoyment of it. The text remains the same. Its intrinsic aesthetic qualities remain the same, what changes is my reception of them. Because of the biographical information additional layers of interpretation open themselves up to me. Because of the new tenderness I feel for the man, my reading is more sympathetic. Biography obviously doesn’t replace close reading, it augments it.

Well. If you look at yesterday’s post, you’ll notice that actually, in his case, as in most cases, it may open layers of interpretation, but it closes many many more. In my reading experience as a reader of literature and as a reader of literary criticism, inclusion of biographical facts almost always leads to a narrow interpretation.

I hold that the critic is free to consider biographical material for inspiration. But it can never, ever, turn up later as a way of argument. Beale doesn’t understand this crucial division, as is visible in his own abysmally poor remarks, for instance on Picasso. Moreover, such a biographical reading should never be mixed up with a marxist reading, such as Lucien Goldmann’s take on Racine and Pascal in Le Dieu Caché (which is fraught with errors of its own, but that’s a different story). I think I sorted the two out somewhat in this essay.

Biography, in short, doesn’t augment close reading, instead it hampers it. Thousands of essays done this way are ample proof of this, pick up any one of it, I have never read one that wasn’t frustrating, after all was said and done. If you want an example: Gwiazda’s book on Merrill and Auden is exasperatingly bad, not because the author’s such an idiot, but because you can see how the author’s bothered by the weights imposed on him by the biographical details, so much indeed, that the whole book reads like a bizarre experiment in bad literary criticism.

It’s a whole other kettle of fish, of course, when you are reading for fun. I have, personally, read dozens of biographies, I am currently aswim in the wonderful letters of Schwartz and his publisher Laughlin. When literary criticism is not concerned, it’s different. Then, often, it’s also less about the texts as texts, instead, the texts are part of the biography, even as the biography can never be part of the texts.

Nigel Beale, it appears, is a twat.

Dumb and Dumber

See someone making a good objection (discussing the innateness of artistic genius is somewhat dumb) and then jumping to equally dumb, no, wait, even dumber conclusions. Witness this and cry:

Why did Picasso depict women in such ugly, distorted ways in his paintings? Because Picasso is Picasso? Or because he treated women like tissues…soiling and discarding them in his wake. As Jean-Paul Crespelle writes in his book Picasso and his Women:”…Just as he kept old matchboxes or pencil stubs, so he kept his old mistresses ready in hand. Just in case…” Which is the more interesting response?

What a twat.

Lit Crit Bullshit and Literary Prizes

See? See? I continuously make a distinction between newspaper lit crit and sound Literaturwissenschaften. This, described in a perceptive article over at the Complete Review, is typical newspaper lit crit bullshit:

Over the weekend The Times was kind enough to make quite a fuss about Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies being named a finalist for the ‘WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year’. The issue they take with it, as explained, for example, in Ben Hoyle’s Katie Price shortlisted for WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year is that: According to her publishers, Price, one of the most commercially successful writers in the country, is a “brand” and it is impossible to quantify how much of the book she wrote.

The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members. Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: “I’m shocked. I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up. If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted. I am disappointed by the judges.”

And then there’s Erica Wagner’s commentary, asking: So is it fair — especially in a category that is so influential in the forming of future readers — to pit books that have actually been written by their authors (yes, it does happen) against books that have been, as the saying goes, ghosted ?
It doesn’t seem so to me.

[…] most of this to-do seems to us […] proof yet again that the publishing industry and too many reviewers focus on the wrong thing, the author rather than the book.
The award in question is the ‘WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year’. The operative word is book. But just as with the Man Booker and almost every other book-prize, the media focus tends to be on the author. But surely all that matters is the book, regardless of who wrote it.

[…] Nevertheless, it seems clear to us that as far as book prizes go — even silly ones like this one –, authors simply don’t (well: shouldn’t) count (except, of course, to the extent they’re part of the selection-criteria, insofar as the prize is restricted — as most usually are — by nationality, age, sex, or whatnot).


If we’re concerned with honouring authors, well, that’s what author prizes are for[…]. Personally, we’re much more for glorifying the work — but in the US and UK it is, bizarrely, the work that is usually given the prize (from Man Booker to the Pulitzers, National Book Award, etc.) but it’s the author who winds up getting most of the media attention.

Dealing with World War II

As a German I keep reading discussions (or taking part in them myself) on how my country is/was dealing with WW II. One of the complaints I hear most is the call to forget, to not resume talking about painful issues. People specifically complain about the fact that the issue of guilt is too often pressed. The fact that the following, from Japan (well, from the Guardian, actually), is not likely to happen here is why I kind of like painful issues and guilt. Seeing how some Germans talk about WWII I am happy that some sort of collective feeling of guilt is preventing hot water like this from boiling here.

Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe has won a major court battle over a book he wrote more than 30 years ago detailing how Japanese soldiers persuaded and sometimes forced Okinawan civilians to commit suicide rather than give themselves up in the closing days of the second world war.


The ruling was also a high-profile setback for a vocal lobby among Japanese conservatives who have long sought to discredit or censure material documenting Japanese excesses during the war, including government-supported prostitution, the rape of the Chinese city of Nanking and other incidents.


The plaintiffs, who were expected to appeal, filed the suit after discovering school texts portrayed the military as responsible for the Okinawa suicides, their lawyer Shinichi Tokunaga said. They made their claim amid a conservative-led movement backed by hawkish Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his successor, Shinzo Abe, to “soften” textbook accounts of wartime atrocities, or to deny any involvement in them by Japanese troops.

A government decision two years ago to delete textbook references to the Japanese military role in the forced suicides brought the issue to a boil on Okinawa, culminating in a protest by more than 100,000 people in September last year.