Gertrude Stein |
Red flags the reason for pretty flags.
Ribbons of flags
And wearing material
Reason for wearing material.
Can you give me the regions.
The regions and the land.
The regions and wheels.
All wheels are perfect.
Gertrude Stein |
Why is the world at peace.
This may astonish you a little but when you realise how
easily Mrs. Charles Bianco sells the work of American
painters to American millionaires you will recognize that
authorities are constrained to be relieved. Let me tell you a
story. A painter loved a woman. A musician did not sing.
A South African loved books. An American was a woman
and needed help. Are Americans the same as incubators.
But this is the rest of the story. He became an authority.
David Lehman |
"My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way:
anyone who understands them eventually recognizes them as
nonsensical, when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb
up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder
after he has climbed up it.)" -- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus
The first time I met Wittgenstein, I was
late. "The traffic was murder," I explained.
He spent the next forty-five minutes
analyzing this sentence. Then he was silent.
I wondered why he had chosen a water tower
for our meeting. I also wondered how
I would leave, since the ladder I had used
to climb up here had fallen to the ground.
Wittgenstein served as a machine-gunner
in the Austrian Army in World War I.
Before the war he studied logic in Cambridge
with Bertrand Russell. Having inherited
his father's fortune (iron and steel), he
gave away his money, not to the poor, whom
it would corrupt, but to relations so rich
it would not thus affect them.
On leave in Vienna in August 1918
he assembled his notebook entries
into the Tractatus, Since it provided
the definitive solution to all the problems
of philosophy, he decided to broaden
his interests. He became a schoolteacher,
then a gardener's assistant at a monastery
near Vienna. He dabbled in architecture.
He returned to Cambridge in 1929,
receiving his doctorate for the Tractatus,
"a work of genius," in G. E. Moore's opinion.
Starting in 1930 he gave a weekly lecture
and led a weekly discussion group. He spoke
without notes amid long periods of silence.
Afterwards, exhausted, he went to the movies
and sat in the front row. He liked Carmen Miranda.
He would visit Russell's rooms at midnight
and pace back and forth "like a caged tiger.
On arrival, he would announce that when
he left he would commit suicide. So, in spite
of getting sleepy, I did not like to turn him out." On
such a night, after hours of dead silence, Russell said,
"Wittgenstein, are you thinking about logic or about
yours sins?" "Both," he said, and resumed his silence.
Philosophy was an activity, not a doctrine.
"Solipsism, when its implications are followed out
strictly, coincides with pure realism," he wrote.
Dozens of dons wondered what he meant. Asked
how he knew that "this color is red," he smiled
and said, "because I have learnt English." There
were no other questions. Wittgenstein let the
silence gather. Then he said, "this itself is the answer."
Religion went beyond the boundaries of language,
yet the impulse to run against "the walls of our cage,"
though "perfectly, absolutely useless," was not to be
dismissed. A. J. Ayer, one of Oxford's ablest minds,
was puzzled. If logic cannot prove a nonsensical
conclusion, why didn't Wittgenstein abandon it,
"along with the rest of metaphysics, as not worth
serious attention, except perhaps for sociologists"?
Because God does not reveal himself in this world, and
"the value of this work," Wittgenstein wrote, "is that
it shows how little is achieved when these problems
are solved." When I quoted Gertrude Stein's line
about Oakland, "there's no there there," he nodded.
Was there a there, I persisted. His answer: Yes and No.
It was as impossible to feel another's person's pain
as to suffer another person's toothache.
At Cambridge the dons quoted him reverently.
I asked them what they thought was his biggest
contribution to philosophy. "Whereof one cannot
speak, thereof one must be silent," one said.
Others spoke of his conception of important
nonsense. But I liked best the answer John
Wisdom gave: "His asking of the question
`Can one play chess without the queen?'"
Wittgenstein preferred American detective
stories to British philosophy. He liked lunch
and didn't care what it was, "so long as it was
always the same," noted Professor Malcolm
of Cornell, a former student, in whose house
in Ithaca Wittgenstein spent hours doing
handyman chores. He was happy then.
There was no need to say a word.
David Lehman |
for Jim Cummins
In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
twin. Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman,"
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform. Donna dressed
like Wallace Stevens
in a seersucker summer suit. To town came Ted Berrigan,
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell."
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's
latest: the Pulitzer. A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell,
pour something into Donna's drink. "In the Walt Whitman
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan,
pulling on a Chesterfield. Everyone laughed, except T. S. Eliot.
I asked for directions. "You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left. Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine
and you're there," Jim said. When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan
with cigarette ash in his beard. Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men's room walls. Beth had bought a quart of Walt
Donna looked blank. "Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura
of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she
returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan."
Donna was candid. "When the spirit of Ted Berrigan
comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell,
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine. Anne Sexton
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act. "I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt
Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan."
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine,
up a point and a half on strong earnings. Marvin Bell
ended the day unchanged. Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton,
not both. Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.
Kenneth Koch |
(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)
In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line—
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it's best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person's reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you're not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another—one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple—this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother's bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter's bag one finds oneself confronted by
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when "I love you" suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when "I'm full of doubts"
Hides "I'm certain about something and it is that"
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you're asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you'd have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.