Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

English 101:

The "apathetic fallacy" or fallacy of attribution
of no feeling to that which cannot but feel
is endemic in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism.
Here is a common example: A young man
goes strolling after the first spring shower,
feels in every vibrant budding tree,
each whistling robin, each droplet on each petal,
in each salvo of tender and fiery greens -

feels a surging joy as vivid as his own
and writes a poem that says so. A critic who,
with little life of his own, is unable to feel
the life that surrounds him (only enough
to suspect it may be disruptive) - a critic
long sequestered in theories of biochemical
mechanics that comfortably anaesthetize
lacerations he's inflicted on himself and others -
and to whom even the young man's joy
is a possibly contagious rash,

such a critic, reading the young man's poem,
proclaims (as student pens wag busily),
"See how the poet attributes his emotion
to birds, trees and flowers? That
is the PATHETIC FALLACY!" (Students
circle these words for the next quiz.)

The critic's proclamation is a perfect example
of the Apathetic Fallacy: Feeling nothing himself,
he ascribes his absence of feeling
to all life. He assumes, for example,
that birds and leaves cannot feel joy
and that the young poet cannot feel
the joy of others. He does not say
(but cherishes the secret thought)
that even the young man's joy
is brain circuits on the fritz
or good digestion.

But this is unfair, calling it a fallacy,
for after the lecture, the critic
walks to his mud-spattered car
past dull grey-green bushes,
mite-ridden sparrows that jitter and hop
like wind-up toys - he is right:
it is a joyless world.

by Dean Blehert

Monday, April 19, 2010

Among the Missing

We must trust, even when there is no body
to see, no tiniest trace of the others,
that we are all here, all reachable,
not one of us ever irrevocably lost.

Otherwise we each become a child who plays
hide and seek so cleverly that none can find him
and we think we'll just stay hidden,
but at last wonder where everyone's gone
(we want to brag about the cleverness).
By then the seekers, deciding there must be
holes in the universe, become persuaded
that one can be utterly lost.

Then (innocent yet of death) we fear
for the persistence of play, invent lies
and compulsions to prevent others
and ourselves from leaving, say
WE ARE ALL ONE, so that there will be
no leaving, or say WE ARE EACH
there is no one else to leave.

Thus has our play been protected
out of existence, leaving us stuck
with each other in the barriers of the game
(turbulences, distances, rocks, bodies, aeons)
to the point where, even if we recall
our separateness, we can no longer
reach out to one another.

Like wind over water, we are perceived
only in what we create. In the quick, rippling
cross-currents, all perceptions flow,
come in question like the changing faces
behind the face in the mirror.

No creation can hold its creator, not
soft eyes nor hard poetry; no perception
can replace knowing you are here
and knowing I know.

by Dean Blehert

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Importance Of Deciding To Be Ernest

One day the Professor showed us how Hemingway idles in neutral when his imagination is disengaged: He has his protagonist do things. Instead of just coming home, Jake or Nick lifts the cab door handle, leans his head forward and levers himself to the curb (but in three sentences), stands there a moment, eyes shaded beneath hat brim, facing the house, turns, walks around the cab, reaches his left hand into his left pants pocket (which jingles), etc. And there are so many things to be done with cigarettes and shot glasses.

The sentences maintain that hollow Hemingway beat that could be numbness after pain or boredom or something taut about to snap or nothing at all (but we know it is Hemingway and it is good), and at some point the imagination engages and the story progresses.

Every writer (says Hopkins) has his Parnassian style, his fallback voice for riffing on and on when he has nothing to say.Some writers have nothing else, just the carrier wave, all cadenza, all jazz, variations on the theme of me talking that talk.

Some writers play hide and seek: Find me in my style... - no, good guess, but that was just a bit of crescendo or a reflection of your own silly mug, Reader; I'm over here...no here! (That old Nabokov Kafka Tristram Shandy Borges Melville slipperiness.)

Sheer nothing to say, persisted in, becomes something to say, Beckett hopes.

Well, why not? The style is the man. Ultimately, there's no escaping what we are. But ultimately there's nothing to escape. Imagination disengages when we neglect to decide to be what we are being. Then we are no longer where art is, before the beginning, pure cause, or at the beginning of what is, the decision to be. We have become the effect of old decisions inadequately recycled.

And what if, idling, we cannot find ourselves to decide newly to be? See Hemingway in his later work struggling - numb with the shock of cold - against the current back up that stream - not making it, having trouble remembering now what it was - losing hope of ever rejoining the beginning, where he can make new decisions...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why My Deserving Talent Will Never Make It to the Big Leagues

Recently I got a printed letter from a student interne
at Washington and Lee, saying that my wonderful talent
deserved to be represented in the new collection
of Virginia poets they are creating — and
eventually they might even have funding
to PAY poets for their work. So would I
send them, please, all my published books.
In the margin a handwritten note — looking
just as personalized on each of the 200 letters
(or 1000 or 10,000) sent out — says that it
would be great if I'd autograph them too.

I was tempted. But I wondered about a,
no doubt, form letter from someone
who'd never read a word of mine (I
suspected), yet began by telling me what my
talent deserved. I wondered too if I was
obligated by my address to become a
"Virginia Poet."

The letter included an e-mail address (for questions),
so after letting the letter ferment for three days
(not a word of it changed), I e-mailed her.
Why? Must have felt embarrassed at my cheapness,
felt a need to justify. I said thanks, but I'd given away
hundreds of copies of my books and never, that I knew of,
had that expanded my audience; that I found
people willing to pay for my books, who then
actually read them; that I'd written my books
to be read by people, not archived, but that
I'd be glad to sell them as many copies as
they pleased to buy. (I mentioned two other
universities that had purchased my work.)

The response, next day, was from the professor —
(I must have been too much for the interne.)
It said:

"Thank you for your thrifty and candid response.
I'm certain your decision is the best one possible
for all concerned."

(I could hear the gentle nudge on "all".)

Ooh, that venomously genteel snideness —
I remembered why I'd hated faculty meetings
during my brief academic career.

I thought of a dozen sharp answers,
but knew that ANY answer would just
make it worse. The whole exchange
stuck in my throat until, thinking of
Monte Python, I evoked an answer
so good that I didn't need to send it:

Dear Professor [name],
and candidly
I fart
in your general direction.

Cordially, etc.

Will this get to him somehow, perhaps
by spiritual telegraph? With what professorial
rapier thrust will he respond?
I am waiting for the other silken stocking
to drop.

Dean Blehert