Marjorie Perloff’s ‘Ironic’ Wittgenstein

God and religion are controversial topics nowadays as secular atheists decry the evils of a “God delusion” and Christian evangelists crusade against Darwin and scientific cosmology in the public schools.  It’s not often that public intellectuals wade into such dangerous waters to espouse religious beliefs, yet Ludwig Wittgenstein did just that when he returned to […]

W.B. Yeats’s Swan Song

One of the most beautiful passages in world literature is Socrates’s death scene in Plato’s Phaedo.  But the first instance of a “swan song” as a mournful lamentation is in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon.  According to the myth, the swan is a quiet, calm swimmer in placid waters until it prophesies its own impending death, then the swan’s soul sings a […]

That Silly Goose: Kurt Godel’s “Poetry”

In Wittgenstein’s Ladder, Marjorie Perloff makes the case that poets take Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ideas very seriously.  But not just poets, plenty of fiction writers (e.g., Thomas Bernhard, David Markson, and David Foster Wallace) and artists as well.  This is interesting because it can be said that professional philosophers nowadays take Wittgenstein less seriously than do […]

College Reading Lists: “What We Have Loved, Others Will Love”

First year reading lists, college reading lists, tend to stir up controversy.  The so-called Great Books have been challenged, tossed out, revised, and revisited in one form or another. Many colleges and universities have attempted to increase diversity and multiculturalism by revamping “traditional” (i.e., old-fashioned) reading material.  One tendency has been to refurbish humanities curricula […]

The 10 Best Books for College Composition

I’ve taught various levels of composition for over twenty years and finding a “perfect fit” composition textbook seems to be as difficult as finding an earthly soulmate.  Often we don’t know what texts to choose or where to turn for advice and suggestions.  In the end, textbook choices are more or less a compromise. My […]

Susan Howe’s Definition of Poetry

Ludwig Wittgenstein makes the following remark about poetry: “Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information.”  However, it seems that Susan Howe’s poetry and prose does in fact enact the language-game of giving information.  As is evident with her latest […]

Thinking about Robinson Jeffers Again

I’ve been thinking of Robinson Jeffers.  Recently, I came across a short documentary of his writing and family life in Carmel, CA.  He made recordings of several of his poems which are available, such as “Night,”  “The Day is a Poem,” “Wise Men in their Bad Hours,” “Hurt Hawks,” “Night Without Sleep,” “The Place with […]

Hermann Hesse on the Self…

“We always draw the boundaries of our personal selves much too narrowly!  We count as our selves only what we can distinguish as individual or anomalous.  But really we are all made up of the substance of the whole world–every one of us.”   “If the whole human race died out except for one single […]

Teaching Good and Bad Writing: The Truly Avant-Garde

Most good writing is clear, vigorous, honest, alive, sensuous, appropriate, unsentimental, rhythmic, without pretension, fresh, metaphorical, evocative in sound, economical, authoritative, surprising, memorable, and light. –Ken Macrorie. These days it’s not popular to talk about good and bad writing.  In textbooks and “how to” writing manuals we’re plied with rules, advice and suggestions, but aren’t […]