More Ricochet Effect

The Ricochet Effect, which I spoke of in reference to John Keats and his Odal Cycle, seems to have two distinct significations. The one, I have enumerated: the quality of intense musicality, and melopoeaic mastery, in Keats’ verse, and the manner in which every word in the Odes ricochets against every other word, heightening their sense of exquisite formality. The second signification is this: the ricochet of the exquisite formality of the Odes against the narrative/thematic elements which animate the poems, which cause tensions and stresses to flare up and both abrade and illuminate the texts’ surfaces. In a way, the second signification of the Ricochet Effect, exquisite formality against narrative/thematic stresses/strains, sets Grecian Urn up as slightly more interesting than Nightingale. People take Negative Capability in Keats for granted, and forget how odd the thing is: Keats exerting his imagination to jump inside (so to speak) an inanimate object, as if it was both sentient and acted like a boundary between Keats as poet and another sentient world, so that the music sustains along an odd ricochet with what the significations of the language are.

A tangent point to dovetail with this, with even broader significations: Keats negatively capable stance before the world, in the Odes and elsewhere, as though the world he perceives has a quality of resonating and shuddering perpetually within itself, in a fashion which suggests both sentience and sensitivity; has more grounding in scientific fact then the flat-line, no-metaphysics model inhering in Modern and post-modern literature. As any particle physicist would be happy to tell you, the resonant, shuddering world is the real one. Modern and post-modern nihilistic landscapes, which erase imagination, emotion, and the capacity to create seriously musical language, are all accursed by the phoniness of pretending a world that isn’t there; a dead, flat one. The Ricochet Effect, in both of its major significations, has in-built Romanticism’s acknowledgement of a multiple/plural world, and a sensitive, responsive world; and the second signification, for Keats, creates all sorts of chiaroscuro moments, as major key melopoeaic harmonies devolve into minor key realizations of frailty, mortality, and overextended imagination, the price to be paid for living on Romanticism’s edge; attempting to balance as many different imperatives as possible, in poetry and in life. Neo-Romanticism carries an identical edge.    

The Loud Noise

High art, when created with rigor, intensity, and imagination, is the loudest kind of cultural noise. Why I often differentiate high and low art is simply complex and complexly simple: because low art is often put into the world to back up destructive forces and interests is the most major reason. Popular culture, for the duration of human history, is almost entirely in completely poor faith. Having grown up in the high maintenance Puppet Factory I did, I got to see first hand the sleazed out lives meant to generate pop culture personalities and interests. The first Puppet Factory rule is this: no individuality, no individualism, no individuals. Individuals are, as I have discovered, the most likely culprits of creating and putting into circulation the loudest (highest) noise. And high art at its best is a realm meant to service the individual, individualism, and individuals. When the loud noise happens, people begin to see through the Empty Spectacles churned out by the Puppet Factories and the School of Quietude they teach at. Why this is occurring to me now is that a century has begun which will, quite blatantly by 2016, not be completely an Empty Spectacle, School of Quietude century, and I feel a sense of excitement in the air that resounds loudly.

Loud noise is capable of scattering School of Quietude forces to the wind. Observe the flatulent ridiculousness of pop culture in 2016, with decaying standards so bent towards self-parody that the 1 billion views Adele (whoever she is, does anyone know who Adele is?) has on Youtube for one video are as good a signifier as any. Why the School of Quietude is so afraid of The Loud Noise is that the School of Quietude teaches us that obsolescence is the point of everything. SOQ is as completely nihilistic as it can possibly be. What makes The Loud Noise loud is that it is meant to be of permanent interest to the brighter, more cultivated portion of the human race. The nimrod quotient of the population— always huge— may remain interested in nothing but obsolescence, but it doesn’t matter. Nimrod-ism, and the nimrod portion of the population, are only there to create a context for individuals, and the individualistic, to subsist in generally. Against accusations of classicism and elitism, there is no good defense for individuals; that may be true; but, as I have said before, enlightened elitism and enlightened classicism are the backbone of the human race’s potentiality for solid progress. If this all seems to be coming out in a gush, a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, it is not just because Neo-Romanticism and Aughts Philadelphia are cresting into a more solid cultural position, but because I, at 40, am finally witnessing what Loud Noise does when let loose in the world, for the individuals, against the nimrods and SOQ. I like it.

It is true that these are things I would write and publish, without necessarily wanting to say out loud. People, even solid people, get pissed about the insistence on high/low art boundary lines, about classifying a huge chunk of the human race as nimrods, and about most pop culture consisting of Empty Spectacles (and no individuals). However, it is a miracle what a little Loud Noise can do, when let off into the air enough times in a row. The inversion works within high art parameters too, which manifests tons of its own Empty Spectacles and Schools of Quietude, which are even more insidious then Adele and the others around now that no one’s heard of (include pop politico morons like Edward Snowden, that is his name, right?), and which I have now spent twenty years fighting. The journey from Outlaw Playwrights in State College to Fayette Street in Conshohocken is a long one, and if I’m still here and fighting for the Loud Noise, it’s because the English Romantics gave me all kinds of templates for living the life I’ve led, and I read the right biographies and they stuck to my brains. Has this whole piece been merely a screed? Yeah, probably. But I want it to be known, for the record: by 2016, the tide in the US was turning, and the Quietude seemed, at least to me, to be in abeyance. The sturm und drang was starting to be about serious work done by people with serious brains for serious reasons, and the bimbos were imploding all over themselves. We’ll see what happens next.

Formality as Metaphor

If formality in serious art is a metaphor, then what it does it represent; what is it a metaphor for? There are no easy answers to this question; aesthetes may say that Beauty should signify only Beauty, and end in itself; but there is a deeper truth and mystery hidden in serious artistic formality. What the most rigorous forms in serious art represent, or are a metaphor for, is a sense of reciprocity between the highest and lowest levels of our mind; in Kantian terms, Sensibility and Reason (skipping, in this context, Understanding). For Sensibility and Reason to achieve some semblance of harmonious integration, what is tactile must be expressive of empirically provable principles. Thus, the John Keats Ricochet Effect we have discussed demonstrates that when language is carried through to its ultimate sense of musicality, a sense of shuddering resonance inheres for some readers which produces not only visceral pleasure but extreme intellectual engagement; again, the harmonious integration of Sensibility and Reason. Understanding or logic, which mediates the middle turf, helps us categorize the serious formality of Keats’ language from effect to effect, passage to passage, line to line. The effect of sublimity, created by Keats’ Ricochet Effect, situates consciousness as part of a larger whole, harmoniously integrated into other universes, including language universes. We see, also, in a chiasmus, how Reason can be situated within Sensibility and Sensibility within Reason; that integration and interpenetration of separate cognitive spheres can be activated by serious formality in art. These resonances, when created the right way, are the loudest noise that human artistic productions are capable of, and why the overall effect of twentieth century art, which was comparatively formless, is a School of Quietude.

John Keats' Ricochet Effect: Star Trek?

John Keats, especially in his Odes, both patented and mastered what I call the Ricochet Effect. What the Ricochet Effect amounts to, in serious poetry, is this: in the economy of Keats’ Odes, line by line and word by word, each word or phrase is made to ricochet, in exquisite, harmonious balance, with the words around it. In Shelley or Wordsworth, this is true of the end-rhymes and uses of anaphora, when they occur; what makes Keats special, and peerless, is that he effortlessly employs end-rhymes, anaphora, assonances, and internal rhymes to create a Full Spectacle of words ricocheting off each other in harmonious balance, so that no words, even “thy,” “thou,” “that,” and the like, remain untouched. Keats is, as I have incised before, a peerless verbal musician. But what are the implications of this formal innovation in serious art— the Ricochet Effect— and what does it mean, as manifestation of the highest kind of formality in serious art, for the Ricochet Effect to exist in the human world and in the human landscape, as a thing among things?

Keats did not live, as we all know, to see his work flourish in an expansive way. During the decades of obscurity following his death, the Empty Spectacles around poetry, the wheels spinning, one might say, continued unabated— names meant to be forgotten were cast up, prizes given to dolts and dullards, fame appointed to stooges and puppets as usual. The way the human landscape is configured, Keats’ formal innovation— what I call the Ricochet Effect, which implies totalized, comprehensive musicality in language— had to sit for a long time before it was pronounced worthy to live past the dolts, stooges, and puppets of the early-to-mid nineteenth century. The horror of the staging of Empty Spectacles while genius-level work just sits, waiting to be elevated, is that it means that for individuals who dare to create on serious levels, what is guaranteed, usually, is a thankless positions buried obscurely beneath the stooges, puppets, and dolts. Yet I wonder if there isn’t some wisdom to letting the most advanced kind of artistic work just sit, just sit there, emanating into the Collective Unconscious and all kinds of human economies, while the stage is cleared for its emergence. Serious artistic work, to be mystic, has a kind of sentience of its own— Keats’ Odes (for me at least) are sentient, and able to chop into whatever economies they choose to chop into, over a long period of time. If individuals who create seriously are willing to give up the drive for recognition, and just let their work sit, then the work can begin to do its own job of destroying the Empty Spectacles and puppet shows over a long period of time.

Serious forms in art, as I have said, are (I believe) sentient, or have a kind of sentience inhering in them. What is sentient in them is a second individuality, past the individuality of their creator. How the sentient forms reach out into the world is to find the individuals most receptive, and begin the process of altering their brains. If this sounds a little Star Trek, please forgive me…but the mysticism of serious formality in art is a little Star Trek, a little Vulcan. It is based on granting sentience, shuddering, resonant sentience, to whatever forms are high-maintenance enough, complex enough, and exquisite enough to carry it. Why I like Keats’ Ricochet Effect as a paradigm model is that, as I have incised before, it models not only serious formality but permanent avant-gardism— because the Ricochet Effect works so subtly that it changes every time we see it, Keats’ Odes can never (for me) leave the sphere of the avant-garde. The semi-sad conclusion: for the individual creators of serious formality in serious art, there may or may not be redemption or salvation. Often, unfortunately, there is not. But for the work itself, emanating seen or unseen, heard or unheard, into the world, there will always be a sentient sense of redemption and/or salvation, every time a new individual is reached, tormented, exalted, and brain-altered. More Star Trek soon.

from Ode On Jazz (Youblisher)

from Ode On Jazz

Issues Around Formality

Formality in serious art is one of the highest expressions of individuality known to the human race. Why it should be that form and formal rigor were misrepresented in the twentieth century— from the height of individuality into a snobbish, classicist ploy to maintain a priggish, Sunday School veneer to high art— is because the twentieth century was essentially, to employ America as paradigmatic, a Republican century, in which serious expressions of individuality were frowned upon in the high sectors, both in America and in Western Europe. Serious expressions of individuality were largely replaced with Empty Spectacles, and thus the degeneration of the century into a kind of School of Quietude. A Republican century, like the twentieth largely was, regards formality in serious art as one of the gravest threats to the hegemony of homogeneity, non-individuality, and the persecution of serious individuals as de rigueur; what part of me warms to talk about this, is that the Republican twentieth century is now over. Great God Almighty! Now that high ideals around issues of formality in art, and serious artistic individuality, are back in circulation, and the lives of serious artists and those who appreciate serious art need not be macabre (serious art does not have to be humorless, either), we can put our crosses and garlic away and look at the issues around formality which are more intriguing.

Like, for instance, who Mary Harju is— a serious formalist who I tend to think will be underrated over a long period of time, but who will nonetheless fail to drop off into nothingness. Mary isn’t, to be sure, dazzling the way Abby Heller-Burnham is; and, to shallower aesthetic minds, is easily dismissed as too derivative of Renaissance Humanism to be taken seriously as a major artist. Mary, to me, represents a certain class of artists— formalists— who are solid, and/or workmanlike, without being dazzling, yet whose work tends to endure while a surprising number of dazzling showmen/showgirls disappear. Yet this type of artist, and there are tons of them in different rooms at PMA too, have a strange karma— never to appear dazzling, but only solid; and yet to find their work enduring in a solid way, and in such a way to suggest that the expressiveness of mere formality, when executed in a rigorous fashion, is 60/40 correct as the approach to serious art in general. Innovation (maybe, and I am sort of playing Devil’s Advocate here) counts 40/60 less then solidity. Republicans and their Empty Spectacles throw the whole thing into the garbage, as they are taught to do in the School of Quietude; but in a more germane century, artists will have to decide for themselves what mere formality and formal rigor count for, even as I have a suspicion that Mary’s paintings may sneak up on some in an uncomfortable fashion over a long period of time.

4325 Baltimore Avenue ('04)

Jason cooking flounder on a filthy range,
   picked up at 40th & Walnut where Penn students
mingled w/ artists, Chomsky-ites, bums, mothers,
   where French bread for two bucks we’d carry
around for walks home down rustic mansion’d
    streets, fish-waft filling lovably threadbare
kitchen laden w/ mustard & crumbs— gone—

Mary’s Acme pesto pasta, Olive-oil Goddess
   she’d make a pot on pot in a pot & we’d
have a bowl from the pot watching hot
   French-flicks in the vivid living room, gone—
paintings, Mary’s evocations Dionysus & Apollo,
   Jason post-Dali post-structuralist Dada &
Derrida derived violences, submitted to smitten
    PAFA judges winking secretly at Jason’s tight
ass, Mary’s too, they screwed, we screwed, we
   all were screwing each other secretly, tenderly,
flecked w/ little chips from falling ceiling, gone—

parties on green-awning’d porch, weed midnights;
   butt-smoke, frost-breath, gun-stocked West Philly
cops stop to shock us w/ looks, putting no
   cell-bar cramps on druggy St. Steven, gone—
moments later I’d drag Mary into her wood-
   floored torrid bedroom & open-door fuck
her, hoping Josh & Kevin might spy
   us, one time on whiskey Mary’s diaphragm
got stuck inside her, I felt it, fucking her,
   we laughed, Mary’s hair then was
long down to her ass, raucous, gone—

Grace, Jason’s grace, a minx of jinxing, she from
   rich Connecticut knows Salinger reads my poems
at parties makes snot comments, silver-belted,
   out on the back porch in October wind we stood,
Grace, raven tresses Heaven-breasts innocent
   sex, girlfriend who had Jason by the face, ass,

I made scathing Spears comment everyone
   hissed, instead we put on Stones Kinks Elliott
Smith, Josh who played music, gone, now w/ Sara,
   jailbait date stealing cars & kisses, back-seat
caresses blonde tresses sun-dresses, trouble-
   starting, Kevin’s dread on my head, gone—

Kevin dumb chimp we called him big beast of
   a man writing bad songs doing Ritalin lines
raging through nights fucking Diana, gone,
   moans that broke us up, Oh Kevin Oh Kevin,
waitress of the hunt, Diana, blank stare, no cares
   or qualms taking alms from everyone, doing
laundry, Diana & me in lust discreetly, doors
   open, Bohemian dream-time—

apogee— everyone hot— everyone fucking, painting
   making music, boozing, drugging, sucking, humping,
leaning on nothing but the night’s promise, always
  more night, another line, another ride, time
to find out food, hues of mood, clues of color, love
  shape, O Lord we were the crux of ourselves,
our nexus the nexus, our moment the moment, all
  now reduced to ash, nothing but a shut window,
a fiery memory of an open one…