On Pound’s "In a Station of the Metro"

In a Station of the Metro
Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.


I used to think the speaker of this poem was on a subway car in the Metro, flying by Metro stops and seeing the crowd beside the car. The movement would cause a blur where the clothed parts of their bodies might resemble a dark branch, and their faces, while indistinct, would be a bright and smaller part of that impression, like the petals on the flowers of certain trees.

I think the safer way to interpret this poem, though, is to say our speaker sees a crowd in the Metro station, and not care whether he is moving or at rest. There is a distance between him and the crowd, as the word “apparition” testifies. Apparition, while it has ghostly and spiritual overtones, is more closely connected with the Latin verb which means “to appear.” Our speaker knows the faces in the crowd through their appearance, not their actuality or totality in being.

With that in mind, we know there is some separation between our speaker and the crowd, even if the separation is not that of a motion/rest distinction. The major question can now be addressed: petals on a wet, black bough?

Aeneas needs a golden bough to take to the Underworld, and the golden bough is from a tree that is black as charcoal and lifeless in itself. Further, the bough isn’t totally golden; it has a dark underside to it that is of the tree it came from. Roughly, the metaphor invoked is that of how soul and body might relate: it could be that soul is this divine, precious, amazing thing, grafted onto this lifeless, decaying, common lump of flesh.

Now it is possible for this bough, without gold, to have been considered a noble image of the crowd. For Pound could have written “petals on a bough,” and we might have thought that he was invoking how individual faces, in their uniqueness, constitute the flowering of the human family (all from the tree image). But Pound chooses to give us the adjectives “wet” and “black” to describe the bough.

“Black” evokes death and I will leave it at that. “Wet” is the key to the poem. Water should be that which grants life, but here, it has soaked the tree, presumably making the flowers and the branch sog, weighted down with that which is its lifeblood. If the image of man presented in the bough is that of man as a bodily animal only, and if those in the Metro are a crowd going to work (why else does the Metro exist), then the wetness of the bough is evocative of how we weigh ourselves down by our overemphasis on survival, and how we truly are born free in a noble sense – we are part of Nature’s beauty – but have indeed put ourselves in chains.

Let’s Just Say Classical Music Is Dead, And Be Honest

Here’s a load of b.s.

Just because technology is making possible a collection of fine-arts performances that could not exist before doesn’t mean we’re not in severe cultural decline because of technology.

When you have synthesizers and sound effects, why play piano and Brahms? Why go perform blues guitar live when you can lip sync on a major television show?

And remember, the biggest impact technology has is not on the fine arts, it’s on our values. Technology is a product of wanting to acquire. In order to have technology, man has to conceive of Nature as something to be conquered. Method replaces discovery, for method need not be wholly right – its most important characteristic is that it is useful.

With all that in mind, let’s attack this stupid post for being the libertarian nonsense it is, and show that we are in severe cultural decline in one easy move:

If indeed technology allows for such a wonderful possibility, and we are enhanced as a people by this possibility, then why do we need bloggers dedicated to the fine arts to stumble upon it to introduce it to us? – Oh, that’s right, because the audience for this sort of stuff barely exists anymore, and the structures which created that audience are long gone. –

My blood is boiling because of the utter dishonesty needed to make these sorts of “look at how technology and democracy converge” type arguments that the whole of the Internet constantly repeats. Look, democracy requires love of equality and love of virtue. Technology cuts against both – I have noted that here and here.

And so to look at the mere possibility without seeing at what cost it has come – in order to get technology, after all, we have to educate in a way that means music appreciation and the fine arts have to be considered crap, as they are mere remnants of the old – isn’t merely foolish. It’s thoughtless, and it’s a disgrace anyone would post a blog like that without even trying to think of the larger issues. If one wishes to disagree with me, fine, but note that I’ve put the big issues and questions on the table, and not tried to dodge them by being a fucking cheerleader for idiocy.

technorati tags: , , , ,

Crushes? In Our 20’s?

You would think as we approach 30 the issue of “having a crush on someone” would be moot. After all, that’s only something that happens to children, right? – Only children get totally taken with how someone presents themselves. –

Well, last night I was talking to someone I consider very mature and he was describing how he had a “crush” on this one woman, and we started wondering aloud if we should have disposed of the concept of “having a crush” years ago.

After all, a crush is irrational in the extreme. It is spontaneous, connected only with the hope that someone might continue to excite merely by being themselves, and part of it is predicted on the thrill of newness. Most people don’t have crushes for years; it just happens here and there, and it fades away.

The deep problem with having a “crush” at this age is pretty simple: if passion is the only element that matters in love, then crushes are acceptable. One feels excited about someone, and that drives the attempt to create the relationship and sustain it. And when the excitement goes, the relationship ends and all the sustenance it had looks awfully hollow.

That we still have crushes, if we have them at this age, points to how shallow our conception of love may be. Why can’t we conceive of love as something that happens after a groundwork is laid down (god, I can’t say that without thinking of some dumbass thing I encountered where some Neanderthal said, “yeah, we need a foundation, I’ll pour the sex concrete” Oh yeah, I remember) – I mean, okay, a relationship is built first, leading to passion stemming from there? If that latter conception were how things truly worked, of course, world peace would probably be within our grasp.

Still, it’s worth thinking through whether there is a more mature conception of love that we were supposed to grow into, and whether “crushes” signify that we aren’t growing at all anymore.

Decline & Fall

Someone asked me about the faculty situation in the University the other day, and I gave my conspiracy theory response, which is as follows.

The big problem with universities is that none of them are hiring new faculty. The market for new PhD’s is terrible; the Chronicle of Higher Education consistently has horror stories where very well-credentialed, intelligent people have put 20-40 job applications to schools across the country and can barely get hired at a community college, if they get hired at all.

I surmise that the failure of academic jobs to exist has nothing to do with a lack of funds on the part of the universities, but rather a congruence of interests. There are two major actors involved in creating positions that need to be filled: the administration of a school, and the current faculty there.

The administration of any given school usually has business types in it, people who “know” from business that the way a cost-effective unit is run is that production is maximized and labor hours are kept to a minimum. You would think faculty are up in arms about this, but the same logic which leads one to want more power – and faculty, as we all know, are tyrannical by nature – also leads one to be paranoid about their standing. The safest position a faculty member can be in is that of being necessary to the existence of the University. The fewer in a department, the more indispensible – and there will be, of course, more opportunities for serving on committees, etc. – those faculty members will be. Also, to create a top notch academic department in a given field means a faculty member has to put aside his own ego, and admit someone is better, and try to pay that someone more than he is being paid. So why not eliminate the problem of having bright, thoughtful colleagues from the start, and just have fewer colleagues to begin with?

This congruence of interest is why I think the University, as an institution, is finished. We are expert at churning out mediocre academics that can barely even manage to be trendy nowadays; the most boring blogs I’ve read have been created by academics (my blog is boring, too, so I guess I’m not exempt from this). As always, the question of what needs to happen now, or whether I drew this picture correctly, is for you to consider.