Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Robin Blaser's "Where's Hell?" (logopoeia)

Robin Blaser lecture, "Where's hell?" (June 19, 1999) 65:58

"A Robin Blaser lecture titled Where's hell? Blaser reads and discusses portions of his Great companion piece on Dante Alighieri, a poetic commentary on Dante's ideas and use of language. Blaser discusses the works and ideas of other writers including James Joyce, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ezra Pound." (Click here for source in the Naropa Archives.)

This is a 20 point homework assignment.
  1. Listen to the lecture and take notes. Write down what you think might be interesting, important, etc. There may be things to which you do not "get" the reference or allusion and there may be things that spur your own thoughts. Write them down. Pay attention to your mind and document it.
  2. Prompt A: Post your reaction to something specific and thought provoking in the Blaser lecture (though this is not a minimum, your post should be at least a couple hundred words.) Feel free to ask questions in this section as well, since everyone will be reading these posts.
  3. Prompt B: You should also respond by elaborating on another comment in the stream (about the same length--a couple hundred words as a minimum.)
You will be graded on the Malden High School Open Response Rubric.

Due Thursday, November 6th @ noon. Since this is a discussion and your voice is important to the communal dialogue, late posts will lose 2 points a day. Budget your time accordingly, especially is you need the school computers to complete assignment.


Kayla P said...

Though the views of Blaser were interesting in their own right, I found the views of another, which he had incorporated into his lecture, to be the most captivating. Though I listened to this part over and over in hopes of catching the name, I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. I’ll call him Al from here on, because that’s what it sounded like. Did anyone catch his name? The dialogue began with one person asking a question, with each answer leading to yet another question. Beginning with “What produces words?” and ending with where a man or woman is placed, this dialogue was very thought provoking. It immediately captured me, because the question of what words are is so difficult to summarize. Al seemed unfazed, and shot off each answer, calling words “a betrayer of the spirit.” This answer amazed me. When I began to think it over, that is exactly what words are. Each word we speak holds our feelings. Even lies, which may seem like they could not possibly betray truths in our soul, show the multifaceted emotions which we all possess. Everyone has had an outburst in their life, where words come spewing out, letting go of everything we’ve held on so tightly to. These moments are ones which undoubtedly betray our souls through words. When asked the next question “Who produces words,” answered with “The tongue,” I was yet again amazed by the answer. My answer, which thinking about it now, seems very third grade. People produce words, I thought. Yes, but more than that, the tongue helps us produce these words. They are shaped and crafted by the tongue. The tongue, of course, is a thorn in your side, the scourge of the air. I personally disagree with this part, because I don’t feel like the tongue is a curse, but instead more of a blessing. Yes, words are from the tongue and they betray our souls, but what is the point of having a soul if there is no one to understand it and commiserate with you? Air, be it a blessing or curse, is then told to be a garden for life. This is true both literally and figuratively. We cannot live life without air. It is humanly impossible. Still, who could live without speaking? Speech is an important part of everyday life which many take for granted. Even those who lack the means to speak still use gestures or other resources to get by. Following the questions that have led up to what air is one can assume that without air, there would be no life, no tongue, and no speech. But, then of course, the questioner goes on to ask what life is. Al replies that it is joy for the blessed, sadness for the retched, and a pilgrimage towards death, death being uncertain. I was amazed at the truth of all of this, as it is perfectly summed up. If you hate life, it will be long and harsh. For those blessed by life, it will be a jovial time. Death is always the unknown, something we work towards without wanting to or meaning to, something that cannot be helped, yet something that no one can describe. From there on, the questioner goes to ask about what man and woman are, but from words to death were my favorite parts. Blaser follows everything up by going on to talk about the damned. I thought that was an interesting way to sum it all up, because we are all ruined from the beginning, trapped with our own words, created by our own tongue, no part of which we can escape. This all gave me a different look into words, and how they play into life. At the beginning of the year, we had a paper about why we write. After hearing this, I feel like we write because it’s just another part of life, right up there with life and death, something unavoidable, programmed inside of us.

Mary N. said...

First off, Robin Blaser really keeps his audience in mind throughout his entire lecture. He appeals to their attention by making comedic jokes to maintain their interest. Blaser engages his audience by asking them questions every now and then, which snaps the reader back to attention. In addition, at the beginning, he puts himself down in order to gain credibility. For example, he is the one giving the lecture on Dante, but he shows the audience that this does not deem him any more intelligent or any more superior than they are.

In his lecture, he definitely refers to language and how language is formed multiple times. He speaks of the tongue and the mouth, but more importantly, how language directly connects to life, death, love, religion, and everything. What is really interesting is that Blaser shows us this connection very subtlety by quoting certain sentences from famous writers. These quotations exemplify the significance of speech and its relations to life and death.

From what I understood of the lecture, Blaser suggests that words exist through imagination and through living (human life) and words are stifled by death of the human life. For example, some time during his lecture, Blaser states that words are held by an “iced” house, in which, if it is to melt, words become slurred noises (this was when Blaser began to make sounds in different ranges that were not distinguishable as words). If you think of ice, you think of preserving something. A human living is preserving life in his body, his form; and because he exists, language continues to exist. However, as the ice begins to melt due to the exposure to heat (Hell), the “something” is no longer encased in ice, no longer being preserved. Language, then, ceases to exist.

This analysis gets me thinking about what Blaser says by the end of the lecture: “He leans over and whispers, ‘I live in hell.’” If you think about it, we truly live in hell. As I stated above, we preserve life in ice, but our ice isn’t permanent. (Not to be pessimistic here and all but) each day we pass gets us closer to death. Our ice is melting each and every day. The older we get (the more that our ice melts) the harder it is for our tongue to form words, to form language. So indeed, language does die along with the death of humans. Another way we can think of it is the root of a language. Blaser says that “the root of a language is exempt of guilt.” The root is where one starts, where one begins from. A human begins in the womb (which he talks briefly about at the beginning of the lecture). You’re innocent when you’re young; you’re exempt from guilt. As you keep living, you’re exposed to societal pleasures, beliefs, activities, etc and guilt starts to overtake you each time you act in a way that is not “innocent.” Someone who has guilt means that they have done something they shouldn’t have, which usually ends up being considered sins. Sinners end up in hell. Blaser also quotes Pippin and Albinus: “What is life?” “The expectation of death.” In a way, we anticipate death every day. If we didn’t expect death to occur any day, then we would not cross the streets carefully or “live our lives to the fullest.”

This new concept is very interesting to me: No one wants to believe that they are living in hell, or that they are living for death. Blaser presents this new topic without offending his listeners and without repulsing them either. By the end of the lecture, I really see his point of living in hell. So, yes, Blaser states that he’s going to bring us to hell and he really did.

Kristen W. said...

First of all, I wanted to completely agree with what Kayla was saying. She basically hit the nail on the head about my emotions towards that part of the lecture. On the other hand though, a different point stuck out to me in a way. The very ending remained in my mind. When Blaser said that the miracle of the world was the actual existance of language itself, I thought it was extremely interesting. At first I thought to myself, no I completely disagree with that statement. Then I thought a little more about it and I realized, without language, everything else would basically be in the world for nothing. Yes, birth is a great miracle, but without some form of communication between people birth is meaningless and pointless. So yes, the more I think about it I realize that it really is the the miracle of the world. The fact that communication and words are the one thing that ties people together completely astonishes me. While listening to this, I also noticed that the imagination was being brought up a lot. That made me immediately think of the title, "Where's Hell?" This is really up to the mind to interpret. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions on hell and what it is like. That is where imagination comes into place. The question cannot be answered by one mind, just as if some words cannot be defined. Different minds will process things in different ways and take things in different directions. Altough his lecture was a bit confusing to me, I did learn a lot about the foundation of language. Did anyone see any ideas that are similar to mine? I'm very curious to hear what others thought.

Mary N. said...


Just as you started off with language and concluded with death, I did the same in my post. I also found this to be extremely interesting how Blaser chooses to present language first and then to eventually steer us into believing that we all live to die. Answering your question about the man’s name, I believe it is Albinus. However, I struggled to catch it, also.

Anyways, in your post, you quoted “words are a betrayer of the spirit” and spoke about how words really do give away our feelings, our thoughts, and even our lies. I agree with you completely. I found this to be rather ironic, though because words and language are meant to be beautiful and are meant to be a form of communication between people. Words enable us to share our feelings, our thoughts, and our needs. Yet, Blaser decides steer towards the idea that words are traitors to human beings and are not allies. Don’t words usually let us say what we want others to know? Albinus (quoted by Blaser so we can assume he believes in this for now) says that words are traitors to our spirits if anything. This leads to a different idea: Words are only traitors if you can’t control what you speak. A person who has control over his speech only allows others to hear what he wants them to hear. So, are words betraying him? No, they’re assisting him in communicating.

Also, to elaborate on how the tongue form the speech: You pointed out that language comes from more than just people, it comes from the tongue. Getting even deeper into that idea: Language comes from the mind, the imagination of the people, who reproduces it with their tongues. Blaser often speaks of the soul and the imagination. He wants us to believe that language exists not because of the physical existence of human beings; rather, it is due to the spiritual existence of human beings. Only the spirit, the really deep down inside, can feel, can hear, and can think. Feeling, hearing, and thinking lead to a desire for communication.

To conclude, you wrote “Death is always the unknown, something we work towards without wanting to or meaning to, something that cannot be helped, yet something that no one can describe.” Yess!!! Great line. I also felt the same way after listening to Blaser’s lecture; I just couldn’t get it into the right words. You did.

Nice job =]

Jenny L said...

“Where’s Hell?” The title to Blaser’s lecture seems to foreshadow a topic that is philosophical, untraditional and even one that transcends the rational. The references he makes to past Roman and Italian literature confuses me and my lack of knowledge of both makes me feel as though I have failed to appreciate and fully comprehend what he was saying. However, throughout his lecture, the pieces he picks each embodies a philosophy on the view of language, words, love, and life. The part of the lecture that truly sparked my questions and thoughts was his selection of the dialogue between Pipen and Albinus. This simple conversation, in terms of diction, personifies innocence against the realities of life, faces the challenge of answering the lingering questions that never truly have answers and addresses the curiosity that persists throughout life. Through Pipen’s series of questions, a link and a bond is formed between everything in life, from words, to the tongue, to even air which are all then reconnected, like a cycle to, man and woman themselves. The innocent questions that Pipen asks are, however, quickly contrasted with bitter responses that seem to be from a point of view in which life has been lived and cruelties have been experienced. Not only does the dialogue create contrast, but it also calls attention to the temptations of life such as the reference to the “apple.”

Words, as Blaser addresses throughout the lecture, come in all sorts with variety in tone, use, and power to provoke emotion. Blaser provokes a topic of great depth; the question of words. Words translate ones thoughts or as Albinus would answer cynically, “words are the betrayers of the spirit.” Before listening to this lecture, words have always been something so natural that giving a second thought to its use seemed unnecessary. However, words, spoken or unspoken, are undoubtedly the connectors between all. It leads one to vulnerability as it reveals our deepest emotions yet they also lead us to power as they give us the ability to convey, convince, and control.

As Blaser continually addresses the idea of words and language through even broader ideas of life, death, and love, he finds subtle ways to intertwine them. He introduces ideas through the works of past celebrated authors, all of which raises awareness to the importance of language and the power of words. He accomplishes his delivery of such ideas through a light hearted, and sometimes comedic way, to engage the attention of the audience on topics that are very profound.

There were however, instances when I become lost as to what he is referencing. When Blaser says “Language as a fundamental amorous and poetic experience” I am confused as to his meaning. Does anyone have any ideas?

Mels1619 said...

Ok guys; well let me tell you that I am very impressed by your comments! Reading them helped me understand better the lecture.

To start off, I would like to say that it was a bit confusing to connect every idea after another but I tried my best. Blasser opens his lecture with "Imagination". He analyses how human beings has the ability to imagine certain things. Blaser compares humans characteristics to odd things such as the "soul" to a spider according to Socrates. Every movement, the soul responds to.

During half of the lecture, I began to question why was the title "Where's hell?" if he barely mentioned the term hell. But he did it in order for the listeners to ask that question, "where is hell in this lecture?" and on the second half of the lecture, Blaser begins to explain how we, human beings, are living in hell. We created hell. How? By expecting death every day. Hell resembles death so he makes a connection between those two terms. (Agreed with mary)

In overall, I liked the way he kept his listeners on track. He just didn't lecture the whole entire time without including the audience. Blaser would constantly stop and make jokes, in this manner, he used ethos, gaining the credibility of his listeners. Blaser's tone also changed. He would have a different voice whenever he introduced a new idea or whenever he wanted to entertain the audience.
The end of the lecture kind of scared me a little (devil's voice saying "Hell is here") but I believe it made the lecture more interesting. The way he introduced hell without offending anyone definitely contributed to the effect of his lecture.

One phrase that caught my attention was "the past is beforeus because it is known, the future is behind us because is it unknown". I think this is extremely true. We live in the past because we already know it happened and what we did and what we should not do. But the future is behind us because we don't know anything about it, we don't know our next decisions, its consequences, making the future to be less important than the past.

This lecture really touches many great points. Blaser had great explanation of his points and made the audience think twice about "where's hell" ...Hell is here.

Kristen W. said...

So I wanted to comment on what Jenny had said. First off, I did feel as if I didn't have a great understanding of the backround of the lecture as well. I was hoping that someone would feel the same way as me. I also did notice that there are many unanswered questions throughout the lecture as well. This is getting the mind to reach down and just think a bit harder than it normally would. At one point he said, "Who gets to receive the Body of Christ." Then he goes on to talk about a different topic. I found it interesting that he didn't spend too much time on one topic and he moved around and focussed on many different ideas. The conversation that you reffered to caught my eye as well. The questions were very deep and open minded, yet the responses were quite the opposite. They seemed bitter and unimportant. I think this may be used to symbolize the fact that there really isn't one correct answer to those questions. That is where the idea of imagination comes in. (which I discussed in my earlier post) I really liked how you reffered the conversation in relation to temptation and the apple. The conversation gives two sides to the story basically, and I never even thought to relate it to that. Life's temptations were discussed more in this lecture than I think i caught on to. Does anyone else agree?

I really enjoyed reading how you were thinking about how words connect people together. I was thinking about that as well and talked about it in my last post. Words have a different way of connecting people and expressing ideas. Once again this all leads to imagination. I really believe that was the central topic to this lecture. Even though at times he was a bit off topic and confusing, I feel as if many of us are getting bits and pieces that will help us all get the overall meaning of what Blaser was trying to say.

In your last paragraph Jenny, I think it may just be a way to show the different things and ideas that words can provide? I'm not completely sure though and would love to hear everyone else's response to that question.

Kristen W. said...

I just read the last sentence of Melissa's post and I really agreed with "Hell is here" because at one point, Blaser says that hell can be found on the surface of the Earth. That isn't where everyone would think that it would be. That's where the irony comes in. I really believe that he was saying that we create our own Hell in a way..

Ashley A said...

Based on the title of Robin Blaser’s lecture, I assumed he would be dealing with the ideas of life and death. Blaser opened his lecture by talking about a mother and her womb, which represents the beginning stages of life. He then continues by commenting on how speech is born in a household and from what I interpreted, Blaser connects language to life and how the cycle of life and language are both created. They both arise from a specific origin and they slowly evolve based on their surroundings and those involved. Blaser then states, “language is a fundamental … and poetic experience” and such is true with life. One cannot truly grasp and understand life until he has experienced the trials and tribulations life has to offer.
Although Blaser makes a connection between life and language, I continued to rethink the question and answer Blaser posed at the beginning of his lecture, which was something to the effect of: What is life? The expectation of death. I feel that Blaser may have been alluding to many ideas, one of which includes the idea that once life begins, the prospect of death is even closer. However, I don’t feel as if Blaser was hinting toward the thought of anticipating death every day of someone’s life, but since one knows that death is approaching after life, one should experience all of life’s possibilities. Referring back to the idea of life and language being connected, and if Blaser feels that death is an expectation of life, before any language dies out, it runs a course of usually being known and spoken by a good number of people. I think this reinforces the idea of just living life and having numerous people experience the joys one can offer without the constant worry of dying out. But just like every language and life that dies out, another one is reborn soon thereafter.

Mels1619 said...

In my last blog, I stated that I agreed with mary on her analysis of Blaser's hell here in earth. Mary, you stated that " No one wants to believe that they are living in hell, or that they are living for death" and I agree 100%. Blaser creates this new world to his audience about hell that probably many have never thought of and the way mary rephrased it, it made me like the concept more. It is amazing how if we think of our daily thoughts and actions, we could find a pattern that tells us we have been living in a whole different world.

As for you jenny, I feel the same way with the whole roman and italian literature. I don't have many knowledge on the subject so I feel that I missed part of the lecture.

I am still a bit confused with the concept of words. I mean, by reading Kayla's, Mary's, and Jenny's blogs, I understorod the purpose a little more but I feel that I can't still not say that Blaser focused extremely on only "words". I know where the whole idea is coming from and what the words represent but I guess I must of miss something in the lecture.

Jenny L said...

I notice that we both agree on the techniques Blaser used to engage the audience and the subtlety he uses in weaving examples into his lectures from famous authors. I believe that his technique is very useful and even necessary since he is addressing a topic that is rather broad and insightful. Throughout his lecture I found a lot of his ideas to be quite abstract such as the one you mentioned in which “words exist through imagination.” I really liked how you interpreted the ice analogy in relation to the title concerning Hell. Once you mentioned it however, I began to develop a different idea as to the idea of the ice. I see it more as a barrier around languages that keeps people away, however, ironically and contrasting accepted ideas, Blaser seems to say that Hell is where languages blend and become one. The barrier collapses.

I think you also did a really good job at connecting the many ideas Blaser presented throughout his lecture. You put into words what I wanted to address about the life and death topics Blaser incorporated. I find the view of Albinus to be pessimistically truthful as you have mentioned when he declared life to be “the expectation of death.” I don’t believe that the “Hell” Blaser refers to in his lecture was in the traditional sense that we all view it to be. Rather, he seems to be trying to say that Hell is where, like you have said, languages seem to melt away and die. He seems to be saying that a world without language would be very similar to Hell. Hell does not have to be a place for after death, but can be during one’s life time if language and words are neglected or taken advantage of. Throughout Blaser’s lecture, he seems to be praising the importance of language through examples of different time periods, of different universal concepts, and through the innocent point of view of Pipen.

When first listening to Blaser’s talk, I was very confused as to how to connect all the ideas, since they seem so different and sometimes even off topic. However after reading your views, I now have more ideas to use to interpret what he is trying to convey. You brought up some interesting

Jenny L said...

My comment is for Mary's post. Sorry I left out the "Hi, Mary!" by accident.

Andy V. said...

Like many of you, I had problems understanding what exactly Blaser was saying. He made many references to authors, books, stories, and people that didn’t connect to me. Meanwhile, I hear people laughing at moments where I sat there confused.

In the first few minutes, he talks about “what is a man?” or “what is life?” Blaser said that men and women are servants of death. Blaser also says that men and women are candles in the wind. To me it seem like Blaser was showing the mortality of people. He talks about how we are servant of death during our life. He also compares people to candles in the wind and how they can be easily extinguished.

Blaser made multiple references to language. He said that “the speech born in one’s house is that which we acquire without rule.” I am not too sure of the meaning of the quote, but it sounds like learning at our homes gives influence to how we talk later on. In our house we are not bogged down by rules and free to think for one’s self. However, I am not positive.
Blaser’s style of speech made it difficult to follow, but at the same time, it is entertaining. The part about the melting words and the awkward sounds made me laugh. Understanding him was hard to do because of his vocabulary, and like Jenny, I feel like I am missing parts of lecture because of the lack of background information.

Stephen said...

Hey, all. When I was listening to this lecture, I sometimes wasn't able to discern which text he was quoting from, or which passages he was reading. I gathered that he was discussing the Divine Comedy/Dante's Inferno. I was especially floored by the last few lines, where either a recorded, or an imaginary conversation took place between the writer (of the book Blaser is reading)and Ezra Pound. Pound says that "I live in hell." When the writer asks Pound questions that ask "what kind of hell," Pound answers "Hell is here!" ( or at least that's what I heard). This of course, ties in with the lecturer's title "Where's Hell?" Reading summaries of Dante's The Divine Comedy, it becomes clear that Dante developed lots of punishments to fit many, many crimes in Hell. Then, there is purgatory, and paradisso/heaven. Blaser compares Purgatory with poetry, saying that "Purgatory in fact is a continuous image of the poetic condition." I found it interesting that Blaser would draw connections between writing poetry/literature and being in Hell or Purgatory, reflected by the last few lines about Pound's conversation with the unknown (to me) speaker. Perhaps Blaser is comparing the need for expression of ideas, for the expression of one's work put to paper, to Dante's idea of evil. Reading summaries/synopses of THe Divine Comedy, one can see that people go to hell for the smallest of reasons: weakness in controlling desires for food and sex. Over and over again, Blaser repeats something in the idea of the "poetic condition is purgatory." Purgatory, according to Dante's version is a place where one can atone for one's sins. Maybe I'm reading into this a bit too much, but maybe Blaser is commenting on the theme of literary self expression = damnation.

Finally, it was interesting when Blaser mentioned Lucretius (I'm studying Lucretius in latin right now). While totally unrelated to my previous musings, I find it interesting that Lucretius, who is the classical agnostic/atheist of that time, who tries to use science to disprove religion, invokes Aphrodite in his lectures, the goddess of love. Blaser was commenting on the poetic understanding of love, but it was still very interesting. Sorry for losing you...

Ashley A said...

Although I made some connections between words and the idea of them being kept in an “iced” house, I think that Mary did an amazing job in analyzing the entire idea. Now, I understand how the melting affect of the ice causes the language to die out as well because the ice preserved the contents of the language. I think that this melting effect may be symbolic of the people who try to preserve a language or even a certain trend but as time wears on, it is evident that it will eventually become nonexistent. So I interpret the melting away of the ice as people who try to preserve a certain language, but as they die, the language dies (melts) with them.

I also agree with mels1619 when she commented on how Blaser tried to engage the audience by telling jokes and connecting them with the stories he was discussing. With the numerous occasions that he allowed himself to go off topic, I thought it was his was of identifying with the audience and going along with what Mary stated, this is Blaser’s method of not trying to act as if he is superior to the audience members.

I feel that his technique is one that a good speaker is able to convey because people are usually more attentive to individuals who allow their own personality to shine through, which essentially gives life to a potentially dry topic. I also noticed the subtle noises in the background, such as a creaking sound and in the latter part of his lecture, the beating of a drum. The creaking sound established a slow and soft mood and the beating of the drum, although very quiet, allowed for anticipation to build as to whom was living in hell.

The phrase, “the past is before us because it is known and the future is behind us because it is unknown” caught my attention as well. I think that it connects to the lecture in its entirety because people focus a great deal of effort on past events and mistakes made in the past that they forget about the future and how they have the power to change their future, as long as they move on from their past. I think that the ice melting idea also connects to this phrase because once someone begins living, he begins dying and if that person is so caught up in their past, his future will slowly melt away, along with all of the opportunities it may hold. By extensively focusing on the past, like mels1619 stated, it causes people to think that the future is less significant than the past.

Pretty Lady said...

Whoaa! I am at a loss for words. Not only did I find Blaser's words difficult to follow (and I'm still gathering my thoughts about the lecture), but you guys amaze me at your interest to this topic.. Whoaa!

Well, because I'm a little confused about this whole speech, I'm going to write a few quotes that struck me as I listened and I will elaborate on them.

"What is a man? A servant of death..."
One of the reasons I found this line so interesting was because earlier today I was reading the Bible (the book of Romans) and it said that we (men and women) are servants of God and that we must live according to His law. Blaser's theory is completely contrary to what I read and believe in!! (What are the chances of me reading both in the same day?!?!) But putting aside my bias (which isn't easy), I see where Blaser is coming from. The fact that we are living to die, makes us eternally bound to this "thing" which we have no control over.

"Discovering hell on the surface of the earth where the present might be found."
What I got from this quote was that hell is what we are living right now. Because I have unwillingly experienced some circumstances of death these last few weeks, I have been on a wild chase for an answer I didn't even know the question to. And after hearing that quote, it hit me. Hell isn't just something for the afterlife, but something we live everyday. These hell-ish ways of living only to end in death are pretty, well, hell-ish.

"One is born and dies a human being."
I found this quote funny. It's like WELL, OBVIOUSLY SHERLOCK! But of course, it has more to it than just that. What I think Blaser was conveying is that even though we look for words, and languages, and philosophers, and theories to express ourselves and learn from we are still just human beings--from being to end. Meaning that if we learn a lot or if we learn a little, if we understand mysterious things or if we don't have a clue what's going on, or if we are very experience or not experienced at all, we are still all human beings--and all ending in death (a common trait).

"Death of satan was a tragedy for the imagination."
One observation: If he's saying hell is what we're currently living, then satan is not dead. You can't live in satan's world and him be dead...

“Death is always the unknown, something we work towards without wanting to or meaning to, something that cannot be helped, yet something that no one can describe.”

In attempt to put my thoughts into words, what I understood from the lecture is that hell is where we live; here on earth. And though we attempt to live in this "hell," our end is death. We don't know exactly what it is, but we all run from it. Which seems ironic, because why wouldn't we want to leave this "hell"?
Blaser begins his lecture by going on about Plato and riddles, and intertwines this with some Biblical references and the Italian language. His connection of these topics skipped me, but what I did connect is that like his lecture, perhaps humans are living in this jumbled up life (which is also "hell"), doing things that aren't meant to be done, saying things that are unnecessary, and finding an answer where one cannot be found. His line "We are only beginning to write" and his incorporation of Plato's belief in reincarnation gave me the idea that because he links writing with life so much, that perhaps after so many times of a person being incarnated some unknown answers might begin to be answered (like "where's hell") and writing will take on a new perspective.

And that's all for now folks. I'm all out of ideas... LOL

Stephen said...

Hey! I just want to say that reading these comments is very insightful to me. I particularly enjoyed reading Kayla's and Mary's analysis of the idea that "a word is a betrayer of the spirit," or "the tongue is a scourge of the air." I definitely agree with your assessment on the power of language to reveal inner emotions. I agree with Kayla that words have the power to both harm and help a person, and that the tongue, for all its muscle, is a potent weapon. I'm asking myself why the author chose to use such strong diction: "word is a betrayer of the spirit." While I do get the general idea of what he's trying to convey, I don't know why this language is used. As others have noted, I also sometimes have trouble following what is happening in the lecture: is he speaking to the students? Is he reading from a text? I follow primarily through verbal cues and changes in tone.

Regarding the "melting" idea of the ice in Purgatory/Hell, I actually did some research (I know...silly Stephen) Apparently, Traitors, who are considered to be the "worst of the worst" kind of sinners, are punished by being frozen in a lake of ice in levels depending on the severity of their betrayal. Of course, I don't know if this is too relevent, since I'm having some trouble connecting it with our discussion. Perhaps this discussion grew out of Blaser's mention of this area of hell where people get frozen in lakes?

Tzivia H said...

I must concede that having concluded the lecture, I feel overwhelmingly dissatisfied- primarily at my confusion. I don't feel like all the ideas Blaser discussed cohesively connected. Or perhaps it's just my lack of understanding. Either way, the piece felt slightly disjointed meandering from a discussion of language to more of a focus on morality. I believe there is a tie between these two ideas, yet, it was never explicitly discussed.

"The poetic condition is purgatory," Blaser writes. According to his own Divine Comedy, purgatory is the interim between hell or salvation. One could note purgatory's commonalities to human life, where (according to those who believe) one simply lives before gaining entrance to heaven or hell. The implication is that poetry/writing is a nuanced entity. While language is praised as a form, Blaser rejects its potential superficiality, its potential to "pretend." He further discredited those who "sell words," comparing them to lawyers. This multi-faceted view of writing provides a reflection to purgatory rather than idealistically to heaven or cynically to hell.

By the conclusion of the lecture, Blaser quotes another stating, "the death of Satan was a tragedy of the imagination." He seems to suggest that passionate writing is fueled by adversity and pain. As Kayla discussed, "words are the betrayer of the spirit." In coalescing these ideas, one's spirit is more aptly affected by pain, which catalyzes what Blaser deems acceptable writing.

Mary brought up a very intriguing quote of Blasner: “He leans over and whispers, ‘I live in hell.’” She noted Blasner’s own inherent cynicism in conceding that each day brings us closer to death, which proportionately brings us closer to the death of language. I’d also like to point out the ice analogy. In listening to the lecture, I missed that entire quote, however, Mary’s ideas concerning the ice seem quite logical. Ice by definition is an impermanent entity and one can assume that Blasner wished to convey the evolving, even declining quality of life through the impermanent symbol. To continue this idea of living in hell: He claimed that writing is produced in a sort of metaphysical purgatory- which could be related to life (the interim before heaven or hell). If writing is produced during purgatory- life, and Blasner concedes that humans live in hell then writing is produced in hell. Assuming I am correct in my analysis, Blasner reiterates the point that misfortune fuels writing.


Cynthia R said...


After just having finished listening to Robin Blaser's lecture all I have to say is... very well then.

To start off I must admit that it was difficult at times to follow. Blaser would just go from one topic to another, often not concluding one idea before moving on to the next.

Something else I had difficulty was Blaser's constant references to some old stories, one of which is THE DIVINE COMEDY. Never having read it and knowing very little about it, I was lost with the allusions to the novel. I did, however, make the connection between THE DIVINE COMEDY and the title of the lecture, "Where's Hell?" I believe that both Melissa and Kristen, and a few more of you commented on Blaser's idea that we could be living in hell right now yet we might live in denial. Most people assume that this is life and when we die we eiterh go to heaven or hell. But what if this was hell? What if the life we live now is a punishment for what was done in a previous life? I am not saying these are my views; I am merely airing out what this lecture got me thinking about.

Anotehr thoguht that came to mind when listening to Blaser's lecture was his audience. I believe that Mary already touched upon the idea of how Blaser paid close attention to his audience. Most likely he spoke to a well educated crowd being that he used such an intricate vocabulary. His referneces to certain texts would also allow one to assume his audience is probably very familiar with these works. Balser's use of Italian (and maybe some latin...I have no idea) was interesting. I tried to pick up on the little Italian I knew and I am sure that I would have goten more out of teh lecture had i understood teh language beacuse often, when words or texts are translated from the original language they were written in, they lose some of their style. Finally, in reguard to his audience, I could tell that the audience, more so than I, was enjoying the lecture since i could hear their giggles. Someone, or someones however, must have seemd are bored or confused with the lecture as I was since Blaser would stop (mroe than twice) to ask if they (the audience or someone in it) was tired or needed a break.

My favorite part of the lecture was the riddle dialogue that Kayla already mentioned. It went soemthing like this:
-What is a word?
-A betrayer of the spirit
-Who produces words?
-The toungue
-What is the tongue?
-(didn't catch that)
-What is the air?
-A guardian of life.
-What is life?
-Joy for the blessed...
-What is death?
- An uncertain pilgrimagetears for the living, establishment of one’s will. Thief of man or woman.
-What is a man/woman?
-A servant of death...
-Where is he or she placed?
-Within 6 walls.
-What are they?
- Up, down, before, behind, right, left.

I am not sure why but this part was very interestingt to me. It made me think of perspective (specifically the morbid one of the man answering the questions). It was also intersting to see how all things were connected in some way.

A quote that Blaser read that also caught my attention was, "The speech born in ones house is that we acquire without rule." From what I understood, when we first learn to listen and speak as children, we are given no rules. We simply pick up on what we are surrounded by. This is where creativity flourishes wince there are no rules (ie. gramamtical) to limit or constrict our thought or way of communicating.

Writing, communication, and speech all bring me to what I thought was the main idea of the lecture. Through his references to Dante's work and other texts, Blaser meant to make a comment about language and the miracle (as he calls it) of its existance on this earth. Nonetheless I was still confused about this lecture. I fear that I mgiht have missed some of the deeper more symbolic aspects of teh lecture and clarification would be nice.

I must agree with Tzivia when she spoke of her dissapointment to the lecture. The thoughtprovoking title, "Where's Hell?" left me imagining a lecture with controversial ideas (or maybe more so than those discussed) and simply something more.

To conclude I will say that Blaser's way of speaking added to the lecture. His deep voice and slow paced talk brough tout the idea of hell, and how eternal is is. I am interested in reading THE DIVINE COMEDY now and hopefulyl it goes into the spirituality theme of my indie group.


Matt Z! said...

First off, I would like to comment on how Kayla basically said everything that I was going to say in her post, so now I have to totally reform mine. I wrote down the entire "What is a word?" lecture in order to comment on it piece-by-piece, but it seems as if Kayla has beaten me to the punch. No matter though.

To Kayla: I completely agree with pretty much everything you said in your analysis. I, too, found the lecture to be pretty depressing at the end, as it spoke about the walls that contain people, how people are nothing but "lanterns in the wind", and how people are "like apples". It was basically an extremely large discourse on how feeble and fragile human life is. Extremely depressing. I love your explanation of the line "words are a betrayer of the spirit", however I took it to mean something totally different. I remember reading either a story or a poem somewhere (I forget the name of it or where/when I read it) that spoke about how words completely obliterate the objects they wish to represent. I thought that the line "words are a betrayer of the spirit" meant that words actually betray the nature of the item that they wish to represent, due to oversimplication.

This leads me into my more personal discourse. Robin Blaser quoted Dante's "great book on language", whose name I could not phonetically grasp enough to attemt writing the title, saying "The speech born in one's house is that which we acquire without rule. The language for which we have no words, which doesn't pretend (like grammatical language) to be there before being, but is alone and first in mind, is our langague." To me, this quote relates back to the "words are a betrayer of the spirit" quote. To me, this passage from Dante's book on language is speaking to the fact that words aren't accurate representations of the items they represent. The TRUE language, which is spoken about in this passage, is the "language for which we have no words, which doesn't pretend." This language does NOT pretend to embody the essence of an object, as actual words do, and instead emanate the actual essence of the object. This is the true language. It does not "pretend, like grammatical language, to be there before being." I took this phrase to mean that the true language, unlike written and spoken language, exists as the primordial essence of the object itself instead of the symbolic representation of the object (a word, pictograph, hieroglyph, etc.) that has been assigned to it. I find this to be an extremely interesting concept.

I have read The Divine Comedy a long while ago, and I do hold it in regard as my favorite book. I would love to re-read it now with my more literary-inclined mind, and hopefully extract more meaning out of it than I did in the past.

Vanessa G. said...

Ello everyone...I just wanted to say that this lecture by Robin Blaser was I should say...inter-est-ting...in its own special way...

I didn't really understand what was going on. I knew he was speaking in front of a crowd. He would speak and then change into reciting different poems by different authors, especially when he mentioned he was influenced by Franz Kafka and Borges.

I found it interesting how he brought up Sophocles' interpretation of the compostition of the soul. He believes the soul is like a spider web and that the soul responds to every single movement made on the web. At first I didn't understand why he would compare the soul to a web--and even now I still don't know. But, my theory is that a web is spun with delicate thread from a spider and isn't spun in only a moment. It takes time and possibly even days. When you think of a web, you see the origin, then how it expands, it's like ripples in a pond. It starts off small then bigger and bigger. This is what I thought about when I analyzed a web, but relating it to a soul is a bit out there. My question is how would you comepare this analysis to a soul?

I would also like to know everyone's thoughts on Charlamegne's Alquin when he says that life is the expectation of death and how death is established at one's will? It sounds confusing, yes, but I would like an elaboration?

Michaela I. said...

Hey everyone, so although I couldn’t follow much of this lecture due to the elevated vocabulary, Italian references, and Blaser’s digressions. Amen to Kristen, Andy, and Alinne, etc. about how confusing the lecture was. I definitely feel that I didn’t have enough background knowledge to fully grasp Blaser’s topic. Anyway I did find the riddle story that Blaser opens with quite interesting. He mentions that one of the men engaging in the riddle conversation answers the question, “What are walls?” by describing the walls in terms of direction. Although walls are physical, tangible objects the man chooses to define them in terms of the abstract. He also describes the walls indirectly and leaves the other man to figure out what he is talking about. The way in which the man describes the walls is rather cryptic since the description could potentially apply to anything that fits the description’s criteria. I guess this is to show how multifaceted everything in our world is and how everything, including the physical, is in a world of abstractions. This connects back to the other idea he initially discusses about defining what we, as humans and souls, are.

I guess the philosophical points in the lecture really stuck out to me because another point I want to bring up concerns the discussion of the past and the present. He mentions that some ancient people viewed the future as behind us and the past as in front of us. This is because the past is already known while the future remains unknown. Is he saying that the future is irrelevant since it is something that we don’t know? We also don’t know about hell so is he saying that such abstractions and unknowns are irrelevant? I don’t know, maybe the point of the lecture was just over my head.

I missed the whole point about the “Where is hell?” question because I couldn’t figure out what his answer was. He did mention something about hell relating to the imagination and paradise is where “words wander”. Is he really taking about hell or is he using it figuratively? The reason I raise this question is because he relates the use of language and words to these abstract concepts.

To respond to some other posts, I agree with Cynthia and Tzivia about the fact that Blaser didn’t really come to a conclusion, (at least I guess he didn’t) about the title question. So, I too was somewhat dissatisfied with the lecture. Also, Matt focused on the fact that language was a major topic in the lecture. In retrospect, I’m thinking that perhaps this was actually the point of the lecture rather than determining where hell is. Matt mentions, “To me, this passage from Dante's book on language is speaking to the fact that words aren't accurate representations of the items they represent.” I agree with Matt’s theory and again this relates back to the abstract nature of some things and how words don’t sufficiently define things. I feel that this point connects back to the initial riddle story but my brain just isn’t making a coherent, complete connection that I can put into words.

sodaba said...

Blaser’s interactions with his audience and his funny remarks, made it easier for his audience and I to concentrate. He needed it because his lecture is so complex, and a little hard to follow at times.
Until the end of the story I did not understand why he titled the lecture “Where’s Hell?” and after hearing him mention death many times, I realized that I shouldn’t have waited to hear the word death or after life, because like he mentions at the end, we do live in hell right now.
I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments about the “What is a word?” question, but I kept trying to figure what his title meant, and why he used “Where’s Hell?”
When he said “I live in hell” at the very end, it just made me think about life, and all the unfairness that comes with it. It makes me wonder why he would make that statement. What would he be thinking about to make such a robust comment about his life? Maybe he thinks we all live in hell. But if he did, he wouldn’t go into so much depth about life, or beginning of life in the mother’s womb, or the importance of words that come out of someone’s mouth.

Vanessa G. said...

I would like to apologize on my preivious post...instead of Sophocles, I meant Socrates. Please and thank you.

Anywhow, I would like to start by agreeing with both Cynthia and Tzivia about how the lecture was disappointing. I also thought that it would be more of a lecture based on different ideas people would have on the topic: "Where's Hell". Although on the otherhand, Blaser did mention some ideas that sort of intertwined with the idea of hell. Using citations from other authors, Blaser touched upon the subject of the soul and life's stages. The soul is what would normally be either damned to Hell or ascending to Heaven. I found that he got more into it at the end around the 55 minute mark. He brought up the Italian man Luigi with an extremely long name from Venice. In the poem, he asked the man where he was living and the man did not respond--until suddenly he said he was living in Hell, in which he demonstrated by raising his hand to his stomach and up to his heart. This part of the body houses the interior being--the soul. He himself, in his own body, was housing Hell within himself.

Now that Michaela mentioned it, about the fact that Blaser didn't come to a conclusion about the question...it could be that it was done purposely. If you look at the way Blaser's lecture was, you would see that he beat around the bush a majority of the time...he was never direct about anything, in my opinion. Also, it could left unanswered because he left it up to his audience [which includes us] to decide for ourselves where hell is, since also there are so many other opinions.

CarlaC said...

I have to say wow i never would have looked at literature and poetry in that way. When ever we as people think as hell we have a tendency to see it as this place where these monsterous and evil creatures live. When i heard the Robin Blaser say that people are often sent to hell for giving into their passions and desires, it humanized the souls dwelling in this awful place. Also when he said that literature and poetry were like hell, in a way i completly agree. When you grab a pen and a piece of paper and write excatly what your feeling and thinking, you release all of your inhabitions and open your mind and heart completly. You think and say the words or thoughts that you would never dare to utter outloud. In doing so you are giving into a passion or desire to be completly and bruttally honest to your self and that in a way is just like a crime of passion. Sure writing down something you do not have the nerve to say and could probably offend others is not the same thing as killing someone for cheating on you, but commiting either of these acts requires passion. I found it a bit hard like we said in class to relate back with him to the texts he brought up but the way he described them i got the jist of it. All in all he showed the listener that literature is not just a pastime or a hobby it is something that consumes you, almost like a drug once you have a taste of what it feels like to be free in that way, you will never be able to quit it.

CarlaC said...

I have to say that i completly agree with stephens comment that "literary self expression=damnation" its true in literature you are able to write the words that could not be dared to utter aloud, create the world where anything is possible, and all things that are normally wrong or evil; can be portrayed as normal and can be justified. Like for example farenhiet 451 in the book firefighters did not put out fires they started them to burn books to hide knowledge. Literature was banned and a firefighter wanted to know what it was he was burning once he read them he was hooked, his want for knoweldge was forbidden and eventually was his downfall because in the world he lived in that was enough to deserve imprisonment or worse. That book is the perfect example of what Blaser was talking.