Twisting an Arm

Day 53: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

There once was a little frog named Josephine.  She had a pet human named Robby.  Every morning, she let little Robby out to play and do his business.  Robby’s favorite toy was a sack of paper.  He took this with him when he went out, wearing his red and blue hat with the yellow helicopter propeller on top.  Josephine spent most of the day playing twister.  In the evening, Robby came back in and Josephine fed him.  He was always naughty at meal time because he didn’t keep his food in his can.  It would end up in Josephine’s room.  She ate it so it wouldn’t go to waste.

One day Robby came home, and his face was bright red.

“You’ll never guess what happened today, Josephine!”

Josephine couldn’t guess.

“Freddy payed me five dollars, and I kissed Gracie on the lips!  It was so funny!”

Josephine couldn’t believe it.

“I told Freddy it was gross, and he couldn’t make me do it.  But then he gave me five dollars, and I thought it was funny, so I did it anyway because I thought it was funny.”

Josephine looked at him.

robby-and-josaphine

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Paradox

Day 47: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

So a while back I posted this word-cloud representing the frequencies of individual words in the love poetry of Cino da Pistoia.

schermata-2016-11-13-alle-18-02-25

My point in posting this was to illustrate Pistoia’s great obsession with death.  Morte is one of the most common words in his poems.  But Pistoia is by no means alone in this.  Many love poets have a similar morbid fixation.  The tendency can be traced all the way back to the beginning of love itself.

Love began around 1100 A.D.  Before that, it wasn’t really a thing.  Seriously.  I mean there was such a thing as friendship or erotic passion or fondness or charity… But “romantic love”?  The notion of some kind of noble or ennobling passion for which one should make great sacrifices—that more or less began in Languedoc around the turn of the second millennium.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
-Love Story

Could someone please tell me what on earth that line is supposed to mean?

Anyway, for as long as love has existed, the sentiment has almost always been accompanied by a sort of psychotic preoccupation with death.  Even the troubadours—the first true “love poets” in the modern sense—were like this: if Freud were somehow able to transcend the threshold of time and sit one of these guys down for a free word-association test, no doubt the pairing between the words amors and mortz would be as natural as it is automatic.

“And Rudel knew that she who embraced him was the countess.  And immediately he regained his sense of hearing and smelling, and he praised God that He had sustained his life until he had seen her.  And then he died in her arms.”

The association remains deeply engrained in our subconscious even today:

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.”

-Mary Oliver, from “In Blackwater Woods”

So that’s weird, isn’t it?

Anyway, Zak, you raise a good question:

“If we love others in part because there is potential to become beautiful and they are not yet there, how and when do we engage them in change?”

So basically, if we take poets seriously when they say that love is supposed to be some kind of transformative experience, how does that transformation actually work in practice?

The internet is full of opinions.  I don’t offer you an answer here because I don’t have one.  All I can say is that the collective wisdom of Western poets throughout history tells us that love is a kind of death.  Some people like to call it a petite mort.  However petite or not this poetical death really is, the concept creates something of a paradox: poetical death is also the (pro)creative impetus of new human life.

It’s not at all strange that romantic love suddenly became the central topic driving most Western literature after the middle ages.  Really, the sentiment embodies everything our society ever wanted out of a story.  Writing a good story is about having a vision and being willing to suffer for it.  Pursuing life, even at the cost of death.  That’s what the heroes in every epic have done since the dawn of man.  It’s also likely what we humans will continue to do for as long as this crazy little adventure of ours keeps us turning the pages.

Well, we’ll also continue to do other things… we’ll probably also keep pooping.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

You’re Ugly

Day 45: Friday

Good morning Zak,

I don’t have much to write today.  I think I’ll just use this entry to curate a few quotations…

Quotation 1

Since the middle ages mainstream love poetry has pretty much always centered around idealizing the beloved.  I think that’s basically what people mean when they talk about “romanticism.”  But as long as romanticism has been the dominate feature of secular literature, there have also been charming little reposes from it…

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;”
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

Lines like these make me wonder about Shakespeare’s love-life.  I mean, I know the last couplet of this poem is something of an apologia for the rest of the thing, but I still have trouble picturing this woman just falling into his arms as he tells her that her breath stinks (ln. 8).

However that may be, as poetry the sentiment is simply lovely.  Of course, this kind of anti-romanticism is predicated on the predominance of romantic sentiment in society at large.  It’s fun to call your mistress ugly in a love poem only because it goes against the grain of the genre as a whole.

Quotation 2

“I buy you rogaine
when you start losing all your hair,
sow on patches
to all you tear.”
-Ingrid Michealson, “The Way I Am

Apparently Michealson likes this kind of irony too.  I’m putting this song at the bottom of today’s entry.

Both of these quotations are about the outward appearance of the beloved.  Basically Shakespeare and Michealson are both saying the same thing: you’re not hot, but I love you anyway.

Or does “sowing on patches to all you tear” carry some kind of metaphorical meaning?  That’s a pretty jejune way of reading it… right?  I mean haven’t we moved past the days when everything in art was somehow supposed to signify something other than itself?

Quotation 3 & 4

“You take me the way I am.”

This is Michealson’s version of Shakespeare’s final couplet…

“And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.”

Both very charming little passages.  There’s something philosophically appealing about the notion of being accepted along with all of one’s flaws.  Warts and all, as it were.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel there’s some kind of deeply rooted fallacy in the ideological fabric that underlies this poetry… Both poems are reactions against romanticism.  If they cannot be called realist they are at least anti-idealist.  And yet, when I reflect on my own identity—the way I am—outside of any kind of idealist point of view, I must admit that I am not that satisfied with myself.  I have my reservations about the prospect of being taken precisely the way I am.

For sale, buy as is.

I’m going to just go ahead and give you my opinion here.  There is nothing truly poetic or beautiful about man unless it is his potential to become beautiful—not the way he is but the way he may be.  Let scientists and historians report the facts of nature and society; the duty of a poet is to look at humanity with an artistic vision.  To see not actuality but potentiality…

and preferably not to confuse the two.

Until Monday,

Tim

P.S. Consider this my confession: I dropped the ball, and we missed precisely two weeks of the daily blog.