Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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


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.)

The text of this is later printed as "Great Companion: Dante Alighiere" in his book The Holy Forest. You can read it here.


This is will be scored as a homework assignment and be graded on the Malden High School Open Response Rubric. Due Tuesday, December 7th @ noon. Since this is a discussion and your voice is important to the communal dialogue, late posts will lose 10 points a day. Budget your time accordingly, especially if you need the school computers to complete 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 beginning, middle, and end of the Blaser lecture (though this is not a minimum, your post should be at least a few 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 few hundred words as a minimum.)
This assignment is mostly to get your philosophic and literary minds in working. Keep this in mind when you post. I hope you enjoy this lecture as much as I do.

And here's a clip of him reading some poetry if you are interested:


58 comments:

AlfonseF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlfonseF said...

During section two, there were some ideas that came up for a second time, carrying from section one, including the idea that all humans are the same, but there are also a few new topics that are brought up. In this section, Blaser talked at length about his work on Dante Aleghieri, as well as the nature of language, specifically the effects of poetry.
While discussing Aleghieri, Blaser made one comment that literally made me pause, write it down, then think about it for about two minutes before I started the audio back up. This comment was “Poetic is the language of mapless.” At first, I took this comment to mean that in poetry, anything can be said, and it can either have any meaning in the world, or it can have absolutely no meaning beyond face value. After thinking about the comment some more, I began to think that because it is “maples,” it has endless possibilities, but at the exact same time it has no direction whatsoever. So in order to for poetry to apply, or have a map and some sort of direction, we as readers have to depict the poetry based on our own uniqueness, if we want the poetry to have meaning.
Something else that stood out to me in the mid section of the lecture was what Blaser had to say on the subject of silence. One quote in particular was “word stop dead in the depths of bloody frozen silence.” This quote made sense to me the first time I heard it, and what I came to gather from what he meant was that when a person stops talking, when they have absolutely nothing left to say, then their life is over, and as Blaser put it “the human body is devoured. Going off of the idea of silence representing the end, there was another quote that seemed important. The quote was “selling words is like what lawyers do.” What I took out of this quote is that a person cannot tell another person what to say, and expect any meaning out of it, rather a person must create their own case, as all meaning is derived from originality.
Finally, Blaser made one more comment in section two that drew me in, which was that the “death of Satan was a tragedy for the imagination.” I had to really think about this quote to get an understanding, and what I came up with is that because of Satan’s death, there can be nothing but good in the world, but without bad who really even cares about good? So basically, I saw Blaser saying that because Satan is dead, there will be great boredom in the future, because there will not be any contrast between good and bad and right and wrong.

AlfonseF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlfonseF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlfonseF said...

After the first two sections, I was very anxious to see in which direction Blaser would take the end of his hour long lecture. It became clear just a few minutes into the third part of the lecturer that Blaser was going to continue on the topic of Dante, but for awhile Blaser stopped talking about language, and began talking about the idea of the afterlife.
Regarding the afterlife, Blaser says “Purgatory and Paradise are sign posts.” This quote popped out at me because at first glance I just figured that it was another metaphor that would go over my head. However, after listening to what Blaser said after this, then going back and listening to it again, I felt like I actually did understand what he was saying. Purgatory and paradise, being two forms of the afterlife that are entirely different, share a connection in that they offer people a way of life, those taking the purgatory road leading more self-centered lives, less fulfilling lives, while those that choose to pursue paradise lead more effective lives, and have more of an impact. Whether a person picks one or the other, their decision will determine how they live their lives, and ultimately how they will live their afterlives also.
Getting deeper into the third section, Blaser began focusing on the nature of poetry. For example, Blaser states that “poets who took the initial steps ran wildly into a dark forest.” Here, he is saying that the pioneers of poetry, or the first people to use language to express themselves, took the greatest risks, which resulted in the greatest rewards, as poetry is now a common form of self-expression, and had it been for the daring first poets, self-expression would not be nearly as strong today.
For the third time in the lecture, the idea of equality popped up. With about 14 minutes left in the lecture, Blaser read a passage from a poem that read “The Chariot hurded, rolled, and tethered over the wise, famous, aged, and youth.” The chariot, being symbolized as life and aging itself, affects every person, no matter who they are in life. Blaser builds off of this comment by saying “even Dante will be swept away,” which means that Dante, being the incredible person he is, will not be exempt from the rolling chariot known as life.
I found the last few minutes of the lecture to be the most interesting. The way that Blaser described the mysterious man at the end of the lecture made me make numerous assumptions on who or what the person could be. When the man revealed where he lives as “hell” it immediately occurred to me that the man was the devil. However, after he squeaked out the word “here is hell,” it made me think that the man was not the devil, but he was just explaining that EVERYTHING is hell, and we are all just “guests of time.”

AlfonseF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlfonseF said...

Just to start, this lecture is not nearly as boring as I had imagined it would be! To my amazement, Robin Blaser offered numerous ideas in the first third of the lecture that caught my attention, and even made me pause the audio for several minutes to write down, and actually think about exactly what was being said and its meaning.
During the first two minutes of the audio, Blaser made a comment about the nature of life and humanity, saying “it is hard to imagine… that our form floats.” This first made me think Blaser was saying that we as humans are always moving through life oblivious, and just going through the motions of life without understanding who we are. Then Blaser surprised me with a quote from Sophocles, which was “the soul is more like` a sponge…like a web.” This, although contradictory to what I imaged from the floating mind represented, made me see that Blaser saw life as one enormous learning experience, and humans are given the blessing of a mind to comprehend all of the wonders of the world, acting as a sponge, and absorbing information into the brain until its carrying capacity is exceeded.
The next topic in the first part of the lecture that really sparked my interest was when Blaser discussed the conversation between the son of Charlemagne, named Pippen, and Albinus. The conversation consisted of numerous questions asked by Pippen that were answered by Albinus; “what is a word? A betrayal of spirit. “Who produces words? The tongue. What is the tongue? A scorge of air. What is air. The guardian of life. What is life? Joy for the blessed, sadness for the wretched, and the expectation of death.” This conversation really made me think for a number of reasons. To start, Albinus’s answer “the betrayal of life,” made me think that he is a bitter, mean person, and his simple, one word answers, such as “the tongue,” confirmed my assumption. Another interesting part of this conversation was Albinus’s answer to what life is. Joy for the blessed, sadness of the wretched, the expectation of death. I took this as no matter who you are, rich, poor, important or not death is the ultimate stage that everyone must go through. Albinus also says that men and women are servants of death, and are all just guests of space. These responses made me further believe that according to Albinus, every person in the world is as useless as the next, and we are all put on the planet just to satisfy deaths hunger.
The last thing that caught my attention was Blaser’s account on an ancient Hebrew belief that “The past is before us because it is known; the future is behind us because it is unknown.” This was particularly interesting because personally I would think that the future would be before us, because we have yet to reach it, while the past is behind us because it is over, but I was intrigued by thinking of that idea in reverse, because what we already know we can see right in front of us, but the mystery of the past is in our rear view, and is unseen.

KKatz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KKatz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KKatz said...

Prompt A: In the beginning, Blaser starts the audience off with this abstract idea about the imagination of one’s self and how difficult it is to imagine our form that floats among things. I thought this was really interesting because, we have talked a few times in class about what it means to exist. We don’t really think in depth about how we come to exist, we think in terms of other people is how we exist. If other people notice you are there, then you must be there. You never really set yourself in a secluded place and wonder if you are really here. Blaser transitions this idea and relates it to language. How do we know where words came from? How do we know this word means one thing and this word means another? Blaser describes our language as words that “will float down the border like the human form itself floating someplace.” So, basically, if we exist, everything that comes with us and around us must exist? I think that is most of what we think. If I exist, then everyone and everything around me exists because I acknowledge and notice it.

In the middle, Blaser goes on a big rant about language and what it really is in terms of poetry to us as humans. He describes poetic language as “the language for which we have no words, which doesn’t pretend, like gramatical language, to be there before being, but is alone and first in mind, is our language, the language of poetry.” The language of poetry is much like our own language. It does not try to be anything else but the words that flow off of our lips. The language of poetry is its own as well; it does not have to make sense in an order but it somehow makes sense no matter how it is read. Somehow, as humans we understand and can explicate poetic language, just as we can understand the language of humans. Sometimes we may not know the language, but we know what a person is trying to say.

Towards the end, Blaser continued talking about language, but how it can be detrimental to the human mind and condition. Language is sort of a fundamental poetic experience. The loved experience for language is found in the poetics of unmapped territory. We don’t necessarily know where it comes from, but we indulge in it, we speak it, we read it. Language is an object of our knowledge as humans about aspects of living.

KKatz said...

Still Prompt A: The way poetic language and regular language differ, is that poetic language is not necessarily human. It does not work in the way the human mind works. It goes outside the boundaries of the norm to create something, that as humans, we can not escape and we want to indulge ourselves in. Blase has this idea that “we have been climbing in a forest fire of language in order to know ourselves.” Sometimes we have to experience the non-normal things in life to make it through to the other side. These language obstacles are un-escapable. And sometimes we can be “lost in the waves of the marvelous if we do not have the intellect to keep up.” Some us still don’t understand the existence of language and its affect on us. “Then, then what is life?” Sometimes we are filled with “an absolute.” We are afraid of “the universe of which human freedom might escape into a community of meaning.” And we dread “the shift of hell to our own surface , which changes the beginning and the end of time” and the “sacred power line of our totalities reverses.” We emersed in such language, we no longer have a sense of who we are, as humans or individuals.

KKatz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KKatz said...

Prompt B: I want to agree with Alfonse about the comment from Blaser, “Poetic is the language of mapless.” It is absolutely true! When you think of mapless, you think of like “no-where’s land” and unmarked and this abstract land. Well, to me, that is what poetry is. When I read poems, I am totally lost in and unknown world of language that completely envelopes my mind. And from then on, I feel like I lose control over the thoughts that my mind seeks out. So many people have different interpretations of poetry, and I think that is what Blaser meant when he said it is “mapless.” There are just so many ways it can be interpreted and there are so many meanings that are abstract, but distinct at the same time.

Another thing that Alfonse pointed out that made me think a lot was the “death of Satan was a tragedy for the imagination.” When I read this in Alfonse’s comment, I immediately remembered when Blaser said it. He said it with such power, like he truely believed this to be true. It brings up this idea of religion first in my mind. Without this character of Satan in religion, a lot of beliefs and ideas in various religious texts would be abstract or just non-existent. Satan was this anti-religious figure which many stories are based upon and which many heroic figures came to be because of defeating Satan. Without him, there are no heroic stories or figures, they are just ordinary people doing ordinary things, without this Satanic figure corrupting their minds. Now if I think in terms of poetry, I think Satan represents this “outside of the box” type of thinking. Many people think that poems have to rhyme and be linear and in order, but in reality, not all of them follow this pattern. “Satan” is the non-normality pattern, flow, and structure of certain poems that rebels against the norms of poetry. Without this “Satan,” poetry is very monotonous and unimaginative.

KKatz said...

Still Prompt B: One last thing I want to expand on that Alfonse mentioned was that “poets who took the initial steps ran wildly into a dark forest.” And Alfonse said that the first poets had the best work because they took risks. I completely agree because, not just with poetry, but with anything. The firsts are always the greatest. Everyone and everything after that is never quite as good because they know the consequences of the risks and the results as well and they don’t want to be doomed into failing. Sometimes taking risks is better than not taking them. The outcome of risk-taking is usually better than not. There is just so much adrenanline and blood-rushing feelings with taking risks on anything. For poetry, the big risk-taking was about the non-normal structure and subject of the poetry. Many people would not dare to go out of order that the language had bogged them down to. But the ones who did, produced the greatest works known to humans. I think this risk-taking is what makes humans today think the way they do. We have a better understanding of how things work and why because of the abstract ideas that are the underlying foundation of the great poems.

KKatz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Renee S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee S. said...

Prompt A: The hour in which I listened to Blaser speak absolutely flew by. I didn’t think that his lecture would be this interesting. I found myself, like Alfonse interacting with the audio. I had to pause the lecture and write down Blaser’s thoughts and mine as well. I even laughed out loud at some of the things he said and mentioned throughout his lecture and I imagined Mr. Gallagher in the audience laughing at the time. The fact that Blaser is comical makes him more personable and easy to listen to. I felt as though I was there.
I was first intrigued by the idea Blaser presented by Sophocles. He focused on the idea that a spider in its web reacts to the smallest movement. Our souls are the webs of the world. I thought that our souls are like webs because they entangle in each other and as humans, we react physically and emotionally to everything. What caught my attention most during the first section of Blaser’s lecture was the discussion between Pippen and Albinus.
“What is death?” Pippen said.
“ An inevitable event, an uncertain pilgrimage, tears for the living the establishment of ones will, the thief of a man or woman,” replied Albinus.
“What is a man? What is a woman?”
“The servant of death, a trenchant traveler, a guest of space.”
“What is a man or woman like?”
“An apple…situated like a lantern in the wind.”
“Where is he or she placed?”
“Within six walls.”

Renee S. said...

This really sparked my interested because Albinus replies with such dark answers. This made me think of the times in class where the question “what does it mean to exist?” has come up. We have discussed what we think it means to exist, but we are still unsure. This anecdote that Blaser included in his lecture explains that we continue to ask about the inevitable, about how we arrived here, and what our purpose is. As humans, we do not think about how we come to exist. As Kristina stated, if another sees us or hears us then we must exist, right? But how do we know that the world in which we live in truly exists. It may exist to us because we are living in it, but to others we may be invisible or made up. To me, it is very interesting yet scary at the same time to think about what is beyond the end of time, or how we were placed on the Earth. Also, what I was hung up on was Blaser’s idea that “the past is before us because it is known; the future is behind us because it is unknown.” I thought that the past would be behind us because we have experienced it, and the future would be in front of us because it is unseen and we have yet to enter it. For example, my father always tells me, “you have your whole future ahead of you.” What I think Blaser means is as humans, we cannot tell stories about the future and we cannot say what will happen 10, 20, 30 years from now. The future is behind us because we are always building on the past, or what is in front of us. Humans think about the future every day, so it is not uncommon. But, what is uncommon is telling stories from the future. We can recollect events from the past and that is why the future is behind us, because it is a mystery.

Renee S. said...

During section two, Blaser explained “a mind is a frying pan.” A frying pan is used to cook perhaps a various amount of veggies, meats or what have you. I think that the frying pan does in fact represent the mind and what we put into the frying pan are the variations of thoughts. Within the mind, these thoughts mesh together as the ingredients in the frying pan do, combining flavors. I think the mind is like a frying pan because the oil in it can splatter about, leaving a mark on the cook. The language that is heard in one’s lifetime can leave an emotional mark. For instance, Blaser describes “red words, green words, blue words, black words, golden words” that had melted after their presence. These words are like the oil in the pan because they are absorbed in all of the other ingredients, disappearing visually, but not mentally.
The last statement in Blaser’s lecture that left a great impact on me was the idea that “the death of Satan was a tragedy for the imagination.” At this point in the speech, I paused, rewound, and played again multiple times. I had to think about this and I finally came to a conclusion. Even though one would think the death of Satan would be good, it isn’t because it gives poets less to write about. It is one less anecdote to discuss the unscrupulous from the righteousness and the difference between good and bad morals. When I think of Satan in poetry, I think of an evil doing, a corrupted mind or horrible event. To begin with, not everyone agrees that God created the Earth and that there is a heaven and a hell. Satan in poetry allowed the thoughts and imaginations of religion run wild. Whether there is a Satan or not, his “death” not so much kills evil, but the imagination of the readers.

When I heard Blaser speak the “poetic condition,” I automatically thought about the human condition and wondered how the two were related. Do poets view social, cultural and personal aspects of life differently because they write with a different language?

Renee S. said...

Prompt B: I want to agree with both Alfonse and Kristina on the comment from Blaser, “Poetic is the language of mapless.” This is true because we in fact do not know what the future has in store for us. We can map ourselves out in the present to “get to the future” but how will we know when we have arrived there?

I want to relate to something that Alfonse wrote in his blog. From the lecture, Alfonse chose “purgatory and paradise are sign posts” regarding the afterlife. The word purgatory was mentioned more than once in Blaser’s lecture, so I had to look it up. Purgatory means a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven. It also means having the quality of cleansing or purifying. In his lecture, Blaser states, “The poetic condition is purgatory.” In Purgatory, by Dante Alighieri, “In the Inferno the damned are grouped according to the sinful acts the committed; in the Purgatory repentant sinners are grouped according to the tendencies that were the cause of their sins.” While in Hell, punishment was “retributive” but in Purgatory, “it is remedial. When Blaser states that the poetic condition is purgatory, I think he means that it teaches the virtue that is the opposite of the tendency to sin, an idea expressed by Alighieri. I also feel as though the poetic condition allows poets to confess “sins” they may have committed through the speaker. Often, the writer uses characters to directly express feelings or thoughts of their own.

Renee S. said...

Last but not least, I would like to comment on “selling words is like what lawyers do.” Alfonse, I agree with your statement. You cannot tell a person what to write or say so that they can easily find meaning. I like that you said, “a person must create their own case, as all meaning is derived from originality.” This brings me back to why were we placed on this Earth? Why do we exist? Religiously, God has a purpose for us all. If we were placed here to all serve the same purpose, then we would all be writing the same story. I did not really pay attention to this quote at first. But after hearing it I thought of a lawyer and their duty. It is said that lawyers are good at talking and rambling on because they do it for a living. Like lawyers, poets are meant to sell their words. They do not force their language upon you though because too much language can be detrimental to our minds.

How have we developed our minds to find meaning in language when we haven’t discovered how we got here and where it came from?

AlfonseF said...

To start off, I would like to a comment made by Kristina. Kristina said that “The way language and poetic language differ is that poetic language is not necessarily human.” This comment really grabbed my attention, because I can fully understand what she means when she says it is not human. She is not necessarily saying that it is an alien talking, but poetic language does not follow the same guidelines, and if it did than it would be simply language.
When I first listened to the lecture, Blaser made a comment about the future being behind us, while the past is in front of us. I made some assumptions about what it could possibly mean, however after seeing Renee’s explanation on the subject I would have to say it is a bit clearer to me. She said “The future is behind us because we are always building on the past, or what is in front of us.” Building off of this idea, It made me think of the saying “you are living in the past,” and the idea that if you can not put the past behind you, or in front of you I this instance, than you will never be able to turn around and see behind you, to see your future.
Another thing that was very interesting to me was what Kristina brought up on humanity, and the idea of life. She related back to Blaser’s lecture, and offered the idea of how we as humans are afraid of the future. I would definitely agree with this statement, because on a personal level, I definitely do not want to know what my life will be like I one year, let alone ten or twenty years. Kristina then ended on the line “We immersed in such language, we no longer have a sense of who we are, as humans or individuals.” After reading this, it made me think that if we refuse who we are, and do not take time to actually understand what our world is, and what is going on around us, then we will be left oblivious to life. After thinking about the quote more, I started to think that possibly it could mean that if we do not use our OWN language, and our OWN minds, refusing to let the “lawyers” sell us words, then and only then will we lose our humanity.
Continuing off of the idea of language, poetry, and the effects on the human mind, I would like to focus on something else that Kristina commented on. In particular, one quote that sticks out to me is “The loved experience for language is found in the poetics of unmapped territory.” In my previous blog, I analyzed that unmapped territory is like a an unending search for meaning, but it seems more like because there is no map, there is just a more broad area of opportunity for not only poets, but all people.
Lastly, Renee ended one of her posts with the question “Do poets view social, cultural and personal aspects of life differently because they write with a different language?” In an attempt to answer this question, I am going to say no poets do not see social, cultural, and personal aspects entirely differently. I do firmly believe that poets manipulate words, sentances, and stanzas in a way that seems “unhuman,” however I believe that every idea that a poet has is derived from average life, something non-poets experience every day as well. So to conclude my answer, everyone, poets included, has a similar grasp on life, but the ways in which some people express the same feelings and beliefs differ greatly.

brittanyf said...

Prompt A:


For the sake of linearity, I am going to discuss my favorite parts of the lecture in chronological order rather than in which struck me as most intriguing. Conveniently, however, my favorite part of the beginning of this lecture was the Giorgio (I tried, but could not catch the person’s last name) quote, somewhere around twelve minutes in: “The language for which we have no words, which doesn’t pretend, like grammatical language, to be there before being, that is alone and first in mind, is our language, the language of poetry.” I believe poetry is defined in its entirety with these few words. I ask you to consider the art of rhetoric; we might define it as the calculus of language. Fictional prose, meanwhile, though with fewer limitations, still involves those fundamental rhetorical strategies, but offers room for experimenting. Thus, perhaps we can label such works as the sciences of language, with some art-like qualities. Do not expect me next to claim poetry to be the art of language, for this is too vague. After reading this quote, I consider poetry the music of language. Music (lyrics aside), identifiable sound that often leave its audiences at a loss for words as far as summaries go, seems to me the purest form of art, that “which doesn’t pretend,” for even the common painter has to first sketch his ideas before he calls them art, has to draw in the fundamental line of the horizon before he can fully capture the magic of a sunrise. I am curious to hear how this quote affected everyone else’s personal definitions of poetry.
Later, around what I would call the second or middle portion of the lecture, Blaser refers in passing to “love’s reasoning.” He goes on to briefly define, at least in part, “the poetic” as “the language of the mapless.” This mention of the map, connoting to direction, and a poet’s lack of one, further reinforces my previous conclusion of poetry’s definition, in that it is the language without direction, without plan—pure instinct, pure feeling. Just as song is what feelings sound like, poetry is how emotions and this reflective thought that never seems to escape the deepest inner workings of our minds read on paper.
Poetry’s significance, then, I saw discussed most deeply in the conversation between Wittgenstein and Giorgio in response to Wittgenstein’s “to imagine a language means
to imagine a form of life.” As this man claims “the most appropriate expression of the wonderment before the existence of the world” is “the existence of language itself,” it sparks the question of what the world would be without language, thus leading one to arrive at the conclusion that without language, our greatest, most efficient form of communication, our primary connection to both our pasts and futures, the world would be incapable of progress and of discovery, of the sharing of knowledge and of the hope of recovery. Poetry, then, with language as our form of communication and therefore our primary form of interaction and therefore our primary creator is, at least through translation, not just the heart of or arts but the heart of our hearts—the very core of the representing of the most enigmatic workings of the human psyche—those we cannot predict, those which we reach without maps.

brittanyf said...

Prompt B:


Kristina’s claim that “poetic language is not human” caught my attention almost immediately, and so I’d like to respond to both this statement and Alfonse’s discussion of it. I believe poetic language and traditional language differ so drastically that they are near opposite—one involves premeditation, one involves nothing of the sort; one consists of formulas and taught strategies, the other follows no direction but that of its individual creator’s spirit. Despite this, I cannot dismiss poetry as a language of man, for it is, at least in my opinion, arguably the language truest to man. Poetry is language free from the influence of others, completely individual and therefore true no matter how real. Poetry, as I said earlier and suggested in my first post, like music, is derived from the spirit, whereas most other language is derived from the brain. Poetry is choice we make when we are torn between two paths, the laughter that explodes from our chests without any warning nor intention, smile caused by some select individual when we want so desperately to maintain bitterness. As such, as it captures so brilliantly what we cannot define, what’s cause we cannot identify, what’s source we cannot locate, poetry is the most primitive language of man, and therefore one of our purest representations of man. What differentiates poetry from other language is this essence of mystery, this lack of control, as it is born from the spirit, while most other language is born from the mind, which is, today, molded and shaped by any and all who can grasp their manipulative hands around it for even the slightest instant.

I would also like to touch upon Alfonse’s response to Renee’s question (“Do poets view social, cultural and personal aspects of life differently because they write with a different language?”). Alfonse answered: “everyone, poets included, has a similar grasp on life, but the ways in which some people express the same feelings and beliefs differ greatly.” While I agree with some of his response, I would like to qualify his idea. I, too, do not think that poets’ views on the social, cultural, and personal aspects—or any others, at that—are completely separate from those who do not write poetry. I have no doubt that they share many similar, if not almost identical past experiences and histories and therefore many opinions and emotions. Still, I do not think “everyone” has a “similar grasp on life.” In fact, I think poets may have a certain advantage over non-poets in understanding the more curious aspects of life—traditional and modern human nature, the inner workings of the human heart and mind, etc.—as they are more able in expressing them. In order to capture and express these most complex ideas, one must have some significant understand, and while there are likely many having/capable of having this level of understanding of man and his existence that simply do not wish to convey their findings through poetry, I believe that poets definitely have a more sophisticated understanding in at least some areas than the majority of those who do not write poetry.

10zin said...

What is Hell?

Prompt A
I was surprised that the lecture wasn’t as boring as I thought it would be. Blaser makes many jokes to keep his audience interested and intrigued. His voice is also not monotonous either; he talks at a leisurely pace and also calmly so people will catch what he is saying. While for some words he exaggerated them by raising his value and changing his tone to create emphasis on a certain word or phrase. I also found it surprising when he asked one of the audience members if they are ok or if they needed a break. It showed that he was caring and that he likes interacting with his audience. Unlike most speakers, Blaser talks TO the audience and not AT them.

“Dante’s hell purgatory are sign post of traditions which implicates us of shifts of landscapes...hell is where we are lost in the unredeemable time of our century.”

I feel as though that Dante’s quote basically sums up what hell means but that is not the only perception. The title itself “What is hell?” brings up many questions. It is funny because today, Deanna, Kyra, Sean, Josh, Nghi, and I were talking about death and what it means to die. (I don't know how we got to this topic but we did.) Some of us were talking about heaven and hell or being cremated or buried. This topic brought up the point about how do we even know that a heaven and a hell exists? Yes, i know it is a very sensitive topic and not everyone believes in the same religion or even in a religion. i like how Renee catches the whole idea of whether or not these “places” really do exist. I think it is very interesting but at the same time confusing. There are many questions left unanswered when the topic of death arises. We as humans don’t actually know if there is God, we believe there is but we don't know for sure. “Science also doesn’t prove everything. Theres always some holes.” -Josh Jerome
So if we can’t completely believe in science or religion. what do we believe in?

This topic of death brings me to the conversation between Pippin and Albinos (Excuse me for the miss-spelling of the names) and how it had this sort of naivety and innocence. It reminded me of a toddler asking a person question after question after question. Pippin brings upon the question “what is death?” and Albinos replies “ an in-evidently vamped, uncertain pilgrimage, tears of the living, the establishment of ones will, the thief of a man or woman.”
Death can be perceived in many different ways. Some believe that the soul goes to heaven or hell and others believe in reincarnation, while others believe that death is the end and that there is nothing else after. Whatever the belief, the only fact I know is that we will never be able to prove for sure what happens after death.

kisla said...

Prompt A:

Whenever I hear the word “lecture”, I automatically think of endless boredom, which isn’t the case in Blaser’s lecture “Where’s hell?” To me, the lecture seemed like an extended poem because of different elements and techniques Blaser chooses to use. Blaser develops a sort of rythm as he’s giving his lecture and whenever he quotes from specific authors or texts, he alters his voice to fit the characters stating the words (as in the Riddle dialogue of Charlemagne). Blaser also keeps his audience interested by making jokes every once in a while and occasionally making fun of himself.
Asides from Blaser’s tone in his lecture, the material he discusses is very significant and relevant to language, poetry, and the human condition itself. I noted the importance of the quote that Brittany also mentioned which was close to 12 minutes into the lecture, “The language for which we have no words, which doesn’t pretend, like grammatical language, to be there before being, that is alone and first in mind, is our language, the language of poetry.” With this quote, I feel as though Blaser was trying to express his own opinions through someone else’s words and thoughts. Poetry comes from the heart. The words are genuine and the emotions are honest and pure. There are no rules in poetry nor needs for a certain structure or certain punctuation. This can also be said about Blaser’s lecture and how he expresses his thoughts and interests freely without being restricted of anything really.
I loved the Riddle Dialogue that Blaser mentions at the very beginning of his lecture because it’s so philosophical and thought provoking that it made me want to think and question life. Pippin seems to be an innocent, naive child who is ready to soak up any kind of knowledge. Albinus seems kind of bitter and all-knowing, as if Pippin is pestering him with these stupid questions. Again, Blaser does a great job portraying these two characters with different tones. What really intrigued me the most was Albinus’s answer to Pippin’s question “What is life?” “Joy for the blessed, sadness for the wretched, the expectation of death”. That is a pretty mundane but accurate definition of life that makes you want to question yours as well. My absolute favorite quote from this lecture was “the past is before us because it is known, the future is behind us because it is unknown”. I really love that quote because it confuses me yet it makes so much sense still. I feel that Blaser did a great job in his lecture by describing several authors and their use of language.

kisla said...

I agree with Alfonse about the end of Blaser's lecture and how it was probably the most interesting part because of the suspense and mystery you feel about this strange man who you first think is the devil but you come to understand that he is just an average guy going through "hell". The phrase "guests of time" really haunts me in a strange way because it makes me feel that it's only a matter of time that we all experience "hell" in our lives. It's almost as if time will only tell what our fate will ultimately be.

What Brittany said was very interesting as well when she mentions the idea that "poetry is the music of language." I couldn't agree with you more. Poetry has a significant rythm that you can't help but enjoy reading and listening to as you recite the poem out loud. A poem is free of language restrictions which makes it that much more enjoyable for readers.

Gabby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabby said...

Prompt A:

For the most part I thought Robin Blaser's lecture was fairly interesting.
This lecture REALLY made me think: Are we a pigment of imagination? Do we really exist? What exactly IS the human form? When we die, are our souls really reincarnated.. or do we just say that? Because after all, none of us truly know! It's all about what we believe is said to be "real".
The first thing that interested me and made me think was around 2:35-3:05, when Blaser talks about Sophocles's idea about the soul being like a spider and Blaser sees it as "a web in a world". "Every single single single smallest movement, the soul responds." My interpretation was that as humans, we react to EVERYTHING, that's just what we do. We are practically the web and our souls are the spiders... We physically guard our souls, but never emotionally or mentally so we are always quicker to react emotionally than anything else.
I loved the conversation between Pipen and Albinus (4:25-6:28)
It seemed to me that Albinus was portraying that imagination takes over our minds and souls, Albinus being my first example. We all have different views and beliefs and Blaser makes Albinus' opinions known in this lecture.
There are many allusions within this conversation. For instance, I thought when Pipen says, "What is a man and a woman like?
Albinus says, "An apple."
It made me think of the story of Adam and Eve. It seems to me that regardless, death is expected and will always take over everyone's souls... we are nothing special and that is why death is powerful on earth.
However relating back to Dante's strong beliefs about his imagination of Christ, "but is it not the self that made this face so plain to our minds eye after him and certainly not his argument..."
I depicted the idea that imagination within a soul allows us to be controlled. Satan and Christ may be nothing but beliefs of our imagination. No one knows for sure where we end up when we die or what happens to our soul. It is all beliefs created within an individual's mind.

10zin said...

Prompt B
“the past is before us because it is known; the future is behind us because it is unknown.” Renee and i seem to think alike because this quote also caught my attention and made me question what this really meant.
I also was confused just like her, because usually we hear the past is behind us because we have already experienced it,and the future is in front of us because we have yet to experience it.
How i perceived this quote was that, we can see everything in front of us, mainly due to our eyes, therefore the past is in front of us because we have seen everything what has happened. Humans cannot see what is going on in the back of us unless you have eyes on the back of your head, therefore the future is behind us because we can not see what is going to happen. Yes, it is kind of crazy but that is how i interpreted it. It is so amazing how something so simple can be interpreted over a million ways. That is probably what makes poetry so special and unique because there is no one “right” answer because poetry can be interpreted in so many different ways.
I also want to talk about Alfonse choice of the statement “poets who took the initial steps ran wildly into a dark forest”. I completely agree with Blaser, Katz, and Alfonse. People who take risks want the greatest results which is what risk taking is about. I do agree with Katz, the first people who take a risk in a certain area are known as the greatest and are best known for the risk that they took. I feel as though risks are important; they are another way to reveal oneself and the limits one will go take and I believe that risks are essential in life. You have to take some risks in order to get somewhere. I never thought about this before but every decision one makes has some consequences. But the level of consequences varies depending on the difficulty of the decision. Therefore, we are always “taking risks”.

There is this one passage of democracy that i didn't understand.
“you can vote for a water glass of democracy on the side table, they never apologized for the time misspent”
I think what this means is that, you can ask for freedom and democracy but it is going to take time and the time it takes to get that freedom and democracy will never be given back or apologized for.

In Robin Blaser’s lecture there are a variety of topics covered, from the very existence of humans, words, languages, death, hell, to democracy. Now that I think of it, Blaser had covered so many topics and with depth in just an hour. If anyone can give an interesting lecture then its this man Robin Blaser.

HongC said...

I’m sorry, for I cannot tell a lie. That hour long lecture was excruciating to get through, for I am a visual learner and found it hard to follow as I could not put a face to the words- WHICH I might added to metacognitive process….. But here goes.

In the beginning of his lecture, Blaser provides these insightful short commentaries to get our philosophical minds churning. Of the most thought provoking was this concept of the ‘soul’ he brought up. However, it wasn’t his definition that intrigued me the most. The fact that Blaser said that ‘our source of the sense of the soul comes from Plato’s sense of the soul’ in our western religion which he said was “pure and whole”, you know, the “works.” It made me ponder, the sources of our thoughts and our beliefs are really are intertwined no matter how we struggle to be independent and declare our nonconformity, we never really are. We are not ‘independent’ independent thinkers. That digressed thought I had then was confirmed later when Blaser made a comment on how our souls are like a “web”- in which every small movement results in a serious movement of the whole web. Which I applied to the concept of independent and intellectual thought- one thought provokes the thought of another, until that thought triggers another spark, so on and so on. The human intellectual atmosphere are not comprised of the grand thoughts and declarations of ‘great philosophers’ as Plato, Sophocles, and such, it is the movement and connection of all human thoughts together that build this grand network of intellectual comradery. To put in metaphorical senses I guess what I’m trying to say is, it is not about the stops and final destinations of the train, but rather the tunnels and railways that lead one to another that are more crucial into better understanding the human mind.

Towards the middle of Dante, Blaser reads an except from Mandelstam who comments about the aesthetics of the Italian language, that Italian phonetics was like a “beautiful child” that it had a closeness to “infant blabbling, to some kind of internal Dadism” and from there, Blaser connects that sense ’phonetic epiphany’ that Mandelstam had to the way language was ‘colorful’ to Dante. Yeats commented on how Dante had made his “face hollow” but gave “so much color to language”. To me that is interesting for the fact that there’s this sense of separation of self and writing that exists. That the writer, or the artist must in a way sacrifice his own- weather that be his livelihood, his breathe, in order to pour that passion and ‘color’ to his writing. Writing is more complex than just writing than what we feel or think, it’s a physical emotion. That in the process of the writing rendering his self to his art, the art becomes magnificent and consequentially becomes its own existence.

Towards the end of the lecture, Blaser readers an excerpt from Sollers in which he writes “Dante walks and questions—perhaps the poetic condition is a matter of interrogation” in regards to Porguorio- or the Purgatory. In it he says that Dante, “walks” as if he, himself were language. of Which to be honest, puzzled me a bit, for I questioned this concept of the poetic condition and the role of the poet towards the finished masterpiece. Within this inquiry, Dante almost seemed to me to be like a martyr of the poetic condition. In which his words are his existence, and that the latter would seize to exist without the former. In which later on in the lecture, Amgamben asks to what degree is the “poet faithful”, in which that faith is a faithfulness to the “emptiness of language- faithful to what is the first in the mind. In which I understood as the poet needs to be faithful to his art in order for his art to be dynamic and ‘live’. A pretentious and superficial faith to this pure and “unmapped” poetic condition is fraud, but a fraud worse than a fraud to another, but a fraud of oneself. It is the existence and identity of oneself that is at stake.

HongC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
HongC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua said...

We as human beings are constantly trying to comprehend the life after death, which begs the question, is there even anything after this life of ours, and if so, how can we be so sure of it? What makes this contemplation of the after life all the more fascinating is the fact that we do not even fully understand the living, let alone what comes after it, and yet the human mind continues to pursue the unimaginable. This very topic is captured in the illustration of the conversation between Albinus and Pippen, as he attempts to ascertain the answers to many difficult and philosophical ideas. It caught my interest as Blaser read the conversation between the two, but what really stood out to me was the final two responses that Albinus provides for Pippen as he questions, “what is life”, and “what is death” ; Albinus defines life as “joy for the blessed, sadness for the wretched, the expectation of death.” This is significant because in this response, almost all the groups of the world are represented. The idea that though my life may be fine does not mean that the same holds true of the individual across from me. One of the most basic examples of this can be seen through the institution of thanksgiving, and how the pilgrims gave thanks for the plentiful harvest that was reaped as a result of help received from the natives, in essence making them those that are joyful as a result of the many blessing that fell upon them. However, this same joy did not apply to the Natives Americans, who were as much apart of the victory over extinction, and yet the only thing they were awarded was less land and less members- essentially making them the sad wretched ones. In this world, there are so many different perspectives and realities, that who’s to say which one is definitive. Are any of them more correct than the other? However, no matter what one’s life is like, one thing remains true of all living organisms, whether plant or animal, rich, or poor, happy or sad and that is the truth that we are all united by death. Albinus did not answer the question by reporting the qualities of a good life, or things that one must achieve in order to lead a successful life, but rather listed the facts that hold true to all of us.

The second response is what brings us into the unknown. Albinus goes on to describe death as “an inevitable event, an uncertain pilgrimage, tears for the living, the establishment of one’s will, the thief of a man or woman.” It is important to note the fact that he refers to it as an uncertain pilgrimage. I have often wondered why it is that we as humans cry for those that are dead; after all, it is not as though out tears will bring them back. It has been concluded that we cry because we miss those loved ones who are no longer with us. However, this takes me back to the idea of death being an uncertain pilgrimage. We have no idea of knowing what lies beyond the land of the living, so then doesn’t that make it selfish of us to cry for those individuals. Again, these are all questions that one ponders when contemplating the subject of death. It does not end here, because still prompted out of curiosity, Pippen asks what is man and woman, an Albinus replies, “the servants of death.” But that only leads to more questions that I have regarding the topic. A popular hip-hop song asked the question, “why am I fighting to live, when I’m just living to die, why am I fighting to see, when there is nothing in sight?” All these answers only lead to more questions that we as humans will probably never be able to answer, but a final question that I have regarding the topic is , what does it mean to live, and what determines this to be true?

Nidale Z. said...

Prompt A -

Can I just say, it was really hard to take down notes as Blaser was speaking, and this is coming from someone who has to do that all the time. I checked my quotes against the written version, but some of them may still be a little off.

I love this idea Blaser brings up, that the “soul itself is a web,” but I also think it contradicts some of the rest of what he says. After all, a web is diligently constructed; it’s probably the single most carefully constructed home/trap in the natural world. I think Sophocles’ assessment that the soul is “more like a spider” is far more accurate and works much better in terms of the rest of Blaser’s lecture. A spider moves frantically yet is extremely intelligent and much more resilient than we tend to give it credit for. Thinking of this in terms of the human soul – a web-like soul would be careful, formulaic, and useful, but extremely fragile; a spider-like soul would be all over the place, yet somehow also able to survive despite the human feet trying to stamp all over it.

I found Blaser’s comments on language interesting – this contrast between the language we speak and poetic language is one that is brought up often (“Kenyatta Listening to Mozart” comes to mind), but I think this is he version that makes the most sense to me – “The poetic is the language of the mapless.” Those who take direction too well, focus too much on grammar and rules, are far less able to construct “good” poetry than those who have the ability to forgo said rules and instead write organically. This whole idea that “the poetic condition is purgatory” adds to this; poetry, or at least good poetry, is meant not to be carefully constructed; rather, it is meant to purge the poet’s soul/spirit/whatever. Purging is hardly carefully outlined and plans; it comes sporadically, no matter how hard one tries to resist. This speaks to the control that poetry takes over the person writing it, something that is evidenced just by poetry readings (I’m thinking of Amiri Baraka and Regie Gibson specifically). The poet is not so much recording some type of concrete experience as he is writing “what is first in his mind, word by word and daily yet unformed” – in other words, recording thoughts without trying to twist them into something that looks like it makes sense.

I think Blaser’s focus on Satan (and, really, on evil in general) is fascinating. This whole idea that Satan’s death was a “tragedy for the imagination” forces us to consider what exactly sparks imagination, what the world would be like without that spark, and if killing Satan (in other words, annihilating evil) is worth living in that world. It’s an interesting stance – this idea that chaos is the most powerful force in our lives is not exactly innovative, but the idea that we’re better for it is. And it works in our lives – think about every invention ever created. How many of those were created because life was already easy? How many books tell the stories of happy people living happy lives where nothing antagonistic ever happens? How much art is the product of happiness and how much is the product of some other, much more negative emotion?

But my favorite part of the lecture was undoubtedly the end. Blaser’s assessment of language was, I thought, spot on. His use of Wittgenstein’s assertion that “to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life” forced me to think deeper about what exactly language means in terms of human relations – I feel that communication is probably the only reason humans haven’t died out yet, even if this communication sometimes backfires. It’s easily the most essential development of the human race – the possibility of a world without cars or agriculture simply does not compare to the impossibility of a world without some form of language.

Nidale Z. said...

Prompt B -

I agree with Tenzin about the lecture as a whole – Blaser almost forces his audience to listen to him; even without the jokes, his voice is very commanding and he has this sort of “I am saying something profound, so you must listen to me!” tone of voice. Luckily, what he says is actually interesting, so this tone is not as wearing as it has the potential to be.

Kristina, you said you thought Blaser was saying that poetic language is not necessarily human. I think he was saying just the opposite – that it is true human language, intrinsic to the human condition (ha ha) in a way that what we think of as “regular” language (i.e. the language we’re writing/speaking in right now) is not. As Brittany said, poetic language is embedded in our spirits rather than in our brains; it’s instinctive; it calls back to pre-over-thought language, when instead of over-censoring themselves, humans just spoke. I don’t necessarily think of the poetic language as a whole different language; I just think of it as unfiltered language. Though I obviously know it can be manipulated into having more meaning, this language is, on the whole, organic and free of the forced-ness prose tends to have.

I find Hong’s assessment of the idea that the human soul is like a web interesting; this whole idea that “every small movement results in a serious movement of the whole web” is not one I really considered when I was listening, but it makes sense. However, I do not necessarily buy into this idea that the soul is so fragile; do I think it is ever-changing? Sure. But do I think it is as constructed as a web, as formulaic and perfect? No. I think the idea of the entire “human intellectual atmosphere” being like a web is much more accurate, especially in terms of human relationships. But I do tend to agree with Hong’s assessment of the poetic condition; I think Blaser was definitely speaking about the “faithfulness” of poets to the poetic language, and though I don’t necessarily think the poetic language is as connected to individual identities as Hong seems to, I definitely see the necessity of “unmappedness” in poetry. This is, again, why I don’t get the soul-is-like-a-web thing – a web is probably the most precisely planned thing in nature. Though I do think souls are interconnected, I definitely do not think they can be as connected to one another as they would have to be to create a web. I think Gabby’s idea makes more sense to me – that our souls are spiders and we are webs, physically guarding our souls in a manner that is carefully constructed but also extremely fragile. Meanwhile, our spider-souls are allowed to react emotionally because they’re not quite so carefully constructed and are far from fragile. Or maybe I’m reading (listening?) too much into this – maybe Blaser/Sophocles just meant that both souls and webs are pretty.

Finally, I like that Tenzin points out that there “are many questions left unanswered when the topic of death arises,” mainly because we left the question in Blaser’s title unanswered.

Rachael S said...

I thought the lecture had many complex ideas about life, poetry and what we make of poetry. It was interesting to listen/read along to the ideas that Blazer had about poetry and the philosophy behind it. I found that though the lecture was interesting to listen to, noticing the difference between the written text was also kind of funny. Blazer had the tendency to go off on small tangents and ramble slightly, though he always returned back to his central idea. Either way, both available forms of the lecture were great as a point of comparison.

In the first section, Blazer speaks of the soul “…as Plato has given it to us which is the source of the soul as we think complete and whole.” Originally, I disagreed with this quote because I feel that though people think they are indeed “complete and whole”, there is also that negative human tendency to think “Look at me, I’m so evil.” As humans, we do not always want to be the “good guy” who does everything right and is looked up to. We seem to have this secret urge to be the villain and have a negative sub-level. Then, after thinking about it I decided to agree with Plato because if you think of it from a religious point of view, we are always seen as “complete and whole”. And, I think being complete and whole trumps being evil in this context.

Rachael S said...

This idea brought me to a topic in the second section, of good versus evil. I enjoyed what Blazer had to say and how he touched upon the topic. It reminded me of the concept that light does not exist without darkness because if you only have light, there really isn’t anything to discuss. I think Alfonse touched upon that as well. Towards the end of the lecture, I found the idea of being true to one’s own art very true. I think that is the only way for art to survive, the artist has to physically live what s/he creates, otherwise people will not fully believe in the art they have created.

Overall, I found Blazer’s lecture to be interesting. A little bit long and tedious in some parts, but overall fascinating. I feel the same subject matter could have been presented in a far worse way, Blazer’s mannerisms and specific “voice” added meaning to the entire lecture.

Rachael S said...

Part B:
I am going to comment on something Kristina and Alfonse both commented on. Originally, Alfonse commented about what Blazer said about poets “running blindly in a forest”. Though this is true for poetry, I think this also proves true for all types of writing.

Whenever authors, musicians or any person for that matter creates something completely new and unoriginal, they are “blindly” putting their work on the line, not knowing whether the public will accept it or not. I think it takes a great deal of courage to be any type of artist at all since you literally have to put your heart and soul, a masterpiece you were determined to finish, out there for the world to see. Sure, this is true with poetry as well but I think the whole idea of poetry is interesting in itself.

Rachael S said...

Part B continued:

Like, poetry is so interesting when you get right down to it. The poet is just taking words from their soul and putting them on a sheet of paper. These words don’t have to follow any rules grammatically speaking and they don’t even have to make sense. Maybe it’s the fact that poetry doesn’t have many conventional “rules” is what makes it so difficult for some people to write? I think humans need rules and boundaries, otherwise we are lost. So maybe that is why poetry is so foreign to us sometimes? Because we don’t know what exactly to expect from the poet since their options are limitless.

I think what Blazer said is exactly true. Poetry and all types of art forms are exactly like “running blindly in a forest”. There are many collisions that can occur, even some broken bones but the real question is, does the poet ever exist the forest? Not in the literal sense, but at what point does a poet stop running so blindly? Maybe when an artist is finally recognized, putting their work out there for the world to see doesn’t seem so scary anymore? Or maybe that’s what makes it even more scary, being a “somebody” who creates magnificent work and the high possibility that their work isn’t so great anymore?

João N. said...

One of the things that caught my attention was at the very beginning when Blaser references Borges’s “Mirrors,” and how it pertains to our “form.” He then proceeds to talk about the idea of the human soul according to Plato (complete, whole) and Sophocles (the soul is a web). I found this idea particularly interesting (and maybe even the duality of ideas or rather the very fact that there are different ways to perceive something like a soul) because I think it speaks about the universal aspect of literature, and how it is a gateway for us, as humans, to better understand our “form,” or nature. And here form can take several meanings: form can take the meaning of a more literal theme such as a race and a more abstract like destiny and relationship to a divine being.

Another intriguing idea Blaser brings up is when he mentions the successful receiving the blood of Christ, and later he connects it to capitalism. The idea is interesting and powerful in itself, it almost trivializes religion in a way, by showing men’s power to manipulate it, and the inherent injustice it creates. More interestingly, however, is the idea that language can create, challenge and redefine systems that have seemingly ruled human society for almost its entire existence. This is evident through the history of religion, which can be traced by cave drawings, and most notably religious texts like the Bible, which’s language has been a driving force to the formation of our modern Western code of ethics. Currently, as we speed towards secularism (maybe not the US, but certain European countries), it’s easy to credit literature, and writers who challenge the structure of religion, for this change.

Lastly, I thought that the poet’s faithfulness to the emptiness of language was a very interesting way to look at poetry. Mr. Gallagher asked what the role of the poet in society is, and I maintain that such role cannot be exactly defined, but I like the idea that at the very least, it is significant. And the source of poet’s power and significance may be derived from the way poets are faithful to the emptiness of language, which I take to mean the absence of meaning without human intention and also the way language can be “filled in” by poets: rearranged in ways not easily seen to convey what is new, all through innovation. This not only connects to what I have previously said about literature’s power to create/change systems but also shows that it is possible, and necessary, that this literature come in many different forms for accessibility and compatibility of cultures (how much can an American identify with the Qur’an?).Blasser’s comment on poetry symbolizes the “emptiness” that is writing without intent, and how useless it is when packaged in the wrong medium.

Brian said...

A.
After watching Blaser’s lecture (more like storytelling), I actually found it engaging because of his sharp and funny tone during a point where he read the works of Dante and some other writers. His voice sounded mystical like a philosopher trying to analytically express a theory.
In the beginning, Blaser referred to Socrate’s metaphorical meaning on a spider which he said that the “soul responds to every move . . . the soul is a web.” This makes me wonder that everything in life is connected, except for Hell, which Blaser attempts to answer by supporting his claim through another writer’s words: that the “poetic condition is purgatory.” I think there is a certain harmony in life where poetry plays a key role in trying to bring order. The poetic expression brings a delightful tone that “purgatory” would ease the pain of an individual. Moreover, people would feel the effect that poetry brings to everyone because happiness and order comes from it.
I really like this ancient Hebrew saying: “The past before us is known; the future is before us because it is unknown.” This explains the unpredictable nature of time and how the concept of life and death changes in respect to the individual. We, as humans, know that life exist because we are aware of it, but as humans we do not know when we will die. The “unknown” is something that is hard to penetrate because one has to die to be with the unknown, and that is when we do find out what it is. We learn from history of the known and acknowledge it, but when we die (to the afterlife) it is already too late to acknowledge the unknown. Blaser continues to elaborate that this would connect to the “Alpha-Omega” or the beginning and the end. The human condition and existence is only a cycle that keeps reoccurring on Earth.

Amanda N. said...

Prompt A:
The title of the lecture itself-What is Hell?-was enough to spark my interest from the moment I began to listen to the audio. The question, when you spend some deep reflection time on it, is such a deep and philosophical question that it seems astounding that we take death so lightly in our society, or, at least, do not give it much authority in our lives until much later in life. I suppose that is a good thing, as we do not want to fret about the onslaught of this absolutely inevitable fact of life, but perhaps further acceptance and contemplation of it, early on in our lives, would give us a deeper appreciation of life. Anyhow, this question reminded me of another question that we frequently discuss in class-What does it mean to exist? If you consider both of these questions, alongside one-another, they conflict with each-other. As I was reading the document, I came across these quotes, near the conclusion of it, that struck me as being quite interesting:

'I press on: "So where are you living now?" I continue, "Where?"
'At last he lowers his head, slowly, and put his mouth to my ear so that no one can hear us. His voice is a whisper, rasping: "I live in hell…Here is hell. Here."'

João N. said...

I like Josh’s focus on humans’ placed importance on what is unimaginable and impossible to prove. The limits reality places on each individual is relative, as the definition of reality can easily change, and in fact, is constantly changing. And I talk about reality not as in the physical the eyes can see and the hands can touch, but the filter through which all humans process it. The afterlife, as Josh points out, just happens to bring up the metaphysical, but there are other things much closer to us that we can not image. The intent behind a genocide, the effects of a volcanic eruption, and the list is infinite. My point is that reality is conveyed through experience, and in today’s intensely technological, diverse, globalized world, anything from geography to culture to religion can be a barrier impeding the existence of a universal reality. Furthermore, it is interesting how despite the existence of multiple realities, we are still able to recognize humanity (and sometimes not, as shown in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) and some kind of dialogue and understanding is possible.

What is even more interesting is the paradoxical existence of both different realities and the quest for what Josh labels as “unimaginable.” I think this alludes to the impossibility of human satisfaction, and if looking at it in the sense of the globalized world I spoke previously, to the progressively concrete reality we are collectively fashioning, which makes us incompatible with the environment. Technology and globalization have a powerful homogenizing effect, in addition to posing cultural and environmental threats: we are, everyday, becoming more similar to each other, aspiring to the same material goals, speeding towards war, all the while collectively destroying the environment that is vital to supporting us. The creation of different realities and the aspirations to define new ones (like the afterlife in Josh’s analysis) are in some senses very necessary, either because they have been around and ingrained in our system or because they combat the dissatisfaction we feel as humans, and when technology and globalization interfere with these imaginative borders and our ability to break them down with imagination, we get closer and closer to a meaningless existence.

Brian said...

B.
I thought Josh’s comment that “we are all united by death,” was interesting because I would never have thought of siding part of my conscience to death. But, that is the truth because everyone would eventually have to confront it. Although, Josh takes on a negative stance that probably many people would find uncomfortable to talk about, I think we should consider that the “poetic condition is purgatory” as a way to ease ourselves from fear of death. In addition, for people to be at a purgatory, I think people should express their concern to understand the condition of facing death because purgatory purifies people’s sins within them. Although, humans may or may never uncover what the unknown is, humans have come close to explain things to uncover universal truths that explain the working of nature. I think, in the end, language is collective group of words that work to become fitting to the human mind. Language, in terms of “poetic condition,” contributes to a search through the “uncertain pilgrimage” that can at least make people experience the lesser effect of purgatory (because we would or may never experience it all, and that poetry would do just that).

Philip said...

Prompt A

Beginning
“This won’t take two hours so I wanted to tak the dread out of everyone” *laughter*. Didn’t amuse me. It’s still an hour. My dread remains.
Blaser mentions that Sophocles equivocated the soul to a spider and its web. I’m inclined to agree, because, as he said, the smallest movement provokes a response from the soul. Under another light it could be seen that the soul is representative of emotion, or perhaps emotion is merely one aspect of the soul. Nonetheless, humans are prone to harbor a response to any type of action they bear witness to, whether or not they are directly affected. This is similar to the web of a spider as it shakes and rebounds ever so slightly whenever a moth or fruit fly becomes entangled in the lethal sticky trap.
At one point Blaser also mentions the “courage of poetry”, to which I had to pause for a second and clean my ears to make sure I had heard correctly. Personally I think poems are a tool for indirect social commentary. They can slander a politican, criticize society, and anything to that sort of effect while superficially disguising the attack with cowardly metaphors, similes, and figurative speech. That doesn’t sound so courageous. But that’s just me.

Middle
The mention of Dante’s and especially his Inferno peaked my interest. That’s because, despite being a poem, or divine comedy as it is commonly referred to now, it received a video game adaptation. And here’s the best part; the game was abysmal, and to boot it completely wrecked the poem’s literary value as a whole, failing to be a worthwhile adaptation. Dante himself was turned into some crusader savage with a scythe that ran around chopping up demons, instead of being an observant poet. Dante’s poems had discourse, according to Blaser, but I doubt it was meant to be that type of discourse. Ironically this has a somewhat profound message concerning modern society. Blaser said that Dante’s Inferno is “about irredeemable loss of intellect”. Giving Dante’s Inferno an abominable video game adaptation advocates modern society’s loss of intellect, and inclination for violence and cheap thrills rather than literary articulation.

HongC said...

Prompt B:

As I was scanning for ‘flamers’ in the blog posts, I came across Gabby’s question(s). She inquired basically the age old question of what it is to be real. To exist in the depths of our imagination, how do we realize our own existence? Those were the premises of her questions.

And to respond to that, I guess I have to say that from what I took from the lecture, what is real, is what we produce. Our ideas, our words, our passion- those are real. And through the confirmation of those ideas and thoughts through poetry and writing, we achieve existence. Although to clarify, my defintion and I’m sure Dante’s defintion of existence is not the existence of a physical kind, but the existence that could only be derived from the mental kind. “We think and therefore we exist” as once said by the famous Renee DeCartes. I believe the act of ‘thinking’- but in an open-minded and faithful way, we confirm our existence to ourselves and others as well. In the lecture, there was a point in which Blaser had said that the “close-minded meaning is the fundamental characteristic of the damned”, which I absolutely agree to the max. If we continually seek the confirmation of our existence through definitions and facts of others, then we exist, but in their eyes and in their worlds soley. We must exist to ourselves in our own worlds and minds before we could ever truly exist to another individual.

I also find B. Foley’s commentary on the crucial role of language into our development as humans. She says that ultimately that without language or poetry to be the main ways in which we communicate with each other, and that is the reason why humans have manifested into what we are now. I do agree to that comment to a degree as language does indeed place an important emphasis on the progress of mankind, but from this discussion, I’m seeing that the human thought process is more than just ‘words’, true the words drive the ideas but it is the faith and passion that these ‘words’ represent that people understand- and not the words themselves. To look at it analytically what purpose would words stand for it were not to translate our feelings and desires? The words- or language rather stands as a pedestal for our human emotions to our divine belief in our own supreme being.

Philip said...

Ending
Blaser seemed to touch upon the planes of Earth as a recurring theme in his lecture. Paradise, he generally avoided to explain but the other two, Purgatory and Hell, were elaborated on highly. Purgatory, he says, is a “continuous image of the poetic condition”. Combined with his earlier thoughts that language is “emptiness”, I’ve been trying to articulate what exactly his image of purgatory is. Sounds to me as though he envisions a blank state of mind – one where the physical world is cast aside in favor of intellectual endeavors and an isolated world where thinking prevails. Thus it would seem that Blaser thinks poets enter purgatory when creating poems. Rather than be a plane of existence, purgatory is more a plane of the mind separated from the rest of the world – the ideal place to employ the emptiness of language to create something tangible.
That section at the end of his speech, however, where he raggedly proclaimed hell to be at the heart of humans, just felt so damn contrived. Sorry.
Prompt B
In response to Kisla’s statement “Poetry comes from the heart. The words are genuine and the emotions are honest and pure.”
Perhaps poetry does come from the heart but it is not the exclusive genre in this right. I feel many if not all other genres’ authors put as much heart into their work as any poet can – maybe even moreso based simply on how novels trump any poem in length and thus require a longer emotional investment to fully realize. Though, I would concede on how I believe that novel writers are more prone to let the words stop flowing from their heart and instead change their motivation for writing into something more material. Like making money.
In response to Josh’s statement “I have regarding the topic is , what does it mean to live, and what determines this to be true?”
Such a simple question, yet no answer has been able to satisfy it – universally. I believe no man can think up one simple, broad, sweeping solution to such an inquiry. Instead, I believe each man – or woman – has to discover their own purpose in life through their own methods. Being able to determine if it’s true or not is a question beyond our scope. I think it is the obligation of an individual to affirm their own identity, to affirm for themselves that they are indeed alive, to affirm for themselves that they are acceptant of reality. Does that sound like a copout? It might be, because I don’t think a question like this can ever have an answer proven to be absolute.

Joshua said...

I was genuinely intrigued by the point that Gabby presented, in how she reiterated the fact that we as humans actually know nothing about death, but rather present these ideas that we have conceived about the subject. She maintained that as humans, it is in our nature to react for everything, including the unknown, and that’s what fascinates me: how do we react to something that we are unsure of? I can only compare it to a fight. The best fighters are able to anticipate the moves of their opponents, which then allow them to analyze the fighting style of their opponent, and develop a technique to counter the on coming attack, just as a vaccine deters against an oncoming sickness. They fight with such precision and accuracy, that they are able to doge, block, and counter the incoming blows; however not even the most skilled of fighters would be able to defend themselves from an attack that they could not see: there would be no way for them to anticipate the attacks, and furthermore, there would be no way for them to analyze, or counter the enemy. We as humans have no way of knowing what lies in the hereafter, and that disturbs us because we are constantly trying to be in control of the events that take place in our, and whenever we loose that sense of control, fear sets in. All of our notions about death are nothing more than an attempt establishes that sense of control, over the uncontrollable.

Xi Gao said...

Beginning: Although it was difficult understanding Blaser when he spoke, he really captured my understanding with his thoughts about existence. In the beginning, Blaser compared a spider web to a soul. I interpreted this metaphor as the spider web to our ideas because what is an individual without the ideas and opinions that one possesses of. With more ideas, we build on our web. Spiders at first learn how to make their webs and then use their webs as a way of survival. Similar to such uses, we first have to learn and gain knowledge in order to build our intellectual thoughts. We use these ideas in everyday life. Spider web is used by spiders as a way of survival but it also serves as death to its victims. One’s ideas can serve harm to another, similar to how people use their ideas to commit crimes, it is another’s trap to death.

Interpretation of the spider web connects to the next part of Blaser’s lecture when he uses the conversation between Pippen and Albinus. When Pippen asks, “what is life?” Albinus responds with “joy for the blessed, sadness for the wretched, the expectation of death.” It shows that human beings are all connected and so are our ideas. One man’s sadness is another man’s joy.
Albinus also defined man and women as “An apple…situated like a lantern in the wind.” The comparison to apples makes me think that like apples, human beings are just another simple object. One little being cannot change what happens to the rest of the world, factors that we cannot control but at the same time we still serve a purpose. People can also turn old and useless like apples which then we blow out like a lantern in the wind.
Albinus also states that people are placed within six walls. I thought the six walls were the six sense that human beings possess, sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, and unconscious. We live life and depend on these six factors to connect to the world we live in.
In the middle, I also liked how Blaser compared the mind to a frying pan because we process raw “topics” into our minds where they are interpreted into our own minds.
Towards the end, Blaser comments that “to imagine a language means to imagine a life.” I agree because each language spoken is a form of life, expression, and culture. For example, people in the Incan mountains speak Quechua, but as their population dies out, they lost their sense of culture. Without the language, life/ what they were no longer exists.

francesca said...

Listening to Blaser's lecture I found myself very lost and confused, but intrigued at the same time. He brought up so many ideas of what poetry is and what people see it as. I believe Blaser was commenting on the art poetry creates. It is so much more than words. And it is just a more complex way for those involved in it to express their criticisms and thoughts on the human condition.

Blaser refers back to poets of a long time ago, one being the italian poet Dante. In Blaser's eyes, there is no poet like Dante now. He talked of things that were hidden to many others.

In the beginning, I liked the quote: "who is concealed in the depth of our culture like a blind spot." I see this as Blaser commenting on how there are things happening everyday in our lives, that we do not see or refuse to see. However, things like this are what poetry is all about. Poetry takes the chance to express things everyone else is afraid to acknowledge. For example, things like..death, hell, the devil (all mentioned in Blaser's lecture) Blaser continues on talking of Dante's rebelling ways of writing. I liked how Blaser also comments on how the reader can easily get lossed or not understand Dante's poetry. This is art.

"'Mine eyes are sick of this perpetual flow of people, and my heart is sick of one sad thought—Speak!'" I also really liked this quote that Blaser takes from Shelley. It shows how fed up people get with the same old thing. How one sad thought that is never acted upon will always haunt the person. "Speak" shows that something should be done about this problem. Which is what poetry is, it speaks out against the things other people are too afraid to expose. This is what Blaser is trying to say and talks about, how daring poetry can be.

Gabby said...

Prompt B:

I want to say that I agree with Hong. I listened carefully when Blaser brings up Plato's sense of the soul. I also found it that we have individual beliefs, but we all think the same. For instance, as I said, we all, as humans have this one big interpretation of hell, Satan, God, heaven, after life, etc.

Hong also makes a good point in response to my questions asked from prompt A. From our own mental thought, we create a real depictions based on our interpretations; sacrificing of our imagination.

Also, I agree with what Kristina said about the thought that Blaser was conveying that poetic language is not necessarily human. I disagree because poets write from their own feelings/ expressions. It is a way of expressing oneself and their beliefs. Poets use their imagination to create a meaning behind their poem... Being that we are people, we use OUR imagination/ poets use their imagination, we are human so therefore the imaginative poetic lanuguage is created through the mental grounds of a human writer.

francesca said...

I agree with Renee on how listening to this lecture it made me think about existence. How do we know for sure we exist? To me, by being able to express our emotions to others can show that we exist because we are able to interact. I also have to agree with Renee about the quote saying: “the past is before us because it is known; the future is behind us because it is unknown.” I also thought that because we’ve already experienced the past it’s behind us, and the future is yet to come. However, what I think Blaser is saying here is that the past makes us learn our mistakes, therefore, it is before us because now we can use those lessons in the present. But the future is behind us because we are unable to see it, and our past contributes to what we have in our future.

I also agree with Nidale’s argument that Sophocles’ idea of a soule being “more like a spider” is more accurate in context of Baler’s lecture. Spiders are mostly feared by people. We try our best to avoid any confrontation with them. But with poetry, we are confronting the things that fear us the most, and that is what Blaser shows by quoting some of the writers’ works.

Xi Gao said...

I was also intrigued by the point that Gabby made about how death is in the unknown. No one knows what happens after death but for centuries now and in every culture, there are beliefs about the afterlife. In China, there are beliefs of going to the Eighteenth Layer of Hell or to Heaven along with stories passed on from generation to generation about these gods. Similar to the afterlife being unknown, the existence of gods, is also invented. However, literature is composed of great writing pieces that involve these topics. Not only are the authors trying to gain a deeper understanding, I also think they write about it for the morals and beliefs embedded in them. Is the story of hell about the horrors or about committing no sins. When authors write about religion and hell, they write with some of the same intensions as the ones pray to gods, to express their feelings, desires, and questions.

Alfonse’s idea that “poets who took the initial steps ran wildly into a dark forest.” The first poets who took the risks created the best works. I agree to the idea in every factor of life, the first to step up, the first scientist to invent pills, the first one to be brave enough to explore the unknown. But my interpretation is that it is not that they make the best work but they set the standard for all the others to follow. In a way they are leaders with courage to speak against the norm like writers in Europe who were once forbidden to write about another religion yet they did. They spoke against the church, the government, and stood for all the others to follow. Without the ones who were willing to step into the unknown, people today could not have build upon and improve.