Monday, June 1, 2009


There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold as the poet once said. "Moil" - one of my favorite words, seldom used. Except:

...socio-economic reality, profound as it is, is not all of reality. At the risk of appearing impertinent, I mean to extend this limitation of the reality claims to the whole range of humanistic studies - sociologism, anthopologism, and psychologism - which tend to become closures of our thought of reality: for example, the utilitarian claim, along with its historical development in socialism, that reality, physical and cultural, is entirely determined by the social; or, for example, going the other way around, the apparent psychological defence of the individual, which defines the real by way of a self that becomes ahistorical, like the traditional soul, but otherless - and "therapeutically triumphant." This version of humanism collapses into itself, wordless, leaves the large number of people who define it moiling... The disaster and danger of such total claims to reality, in which the complex discourses of a world and their relation to one another disappear in the hegemony of one of them, spread far and wide in modernity... [T]yranny - we have come to know it well in this century - results from an improper use of the discourse of social reality, unmeasured by other discourses of the real, in which wholeness is claimed, or, rather, imposed, and social reality is consequently dehumanized... [What we need is] a vocabulary to correct the hegemony of the social... -- Robin Blaser

Cicero says: In what concerns my association with men and things, I refuse to be coerced even by truth, even by beauty. -- Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future

Linh Dinh, in the NY Times blog:

Once, I washed windows after appearing at a community college as a guest poet. It would have been a hoot had one of the admiring students saw me vigorously wiping water before it could freeze on the window pane. “Yo, isn’t that the poet who came to our class yesterday?!”

There are pluses to being close to those who could help you.

Confronted by a torrent of bad news from our capsized economy, many people anticipate at least the kind of unrest that has already broken out in many countries, but we are so docile, really. Some people I know speak of heading for the hills and stocking up on canned food, potable water, guns and slugs — the bunker mentality. But instead of fleeing one another, like we’ve already done for half a century or so, shouldn’t we figure out how to be closer in every sense?

Pictured: Mother Europe Cares for Her Colonies by László Moholy-Nagy


Anonymous said...

I believe Arendt's quotation from Cicero makes him seem in sympathy with Blaser, when in fact his view was diametrically opposed. Arendt makes the point earlier in the same book you quote from:

"Outside the body politic, man's life was not only and not even primarily insecure, i.e., exposed to the violence of others; it was without meaning and dignity because under no circumstances could it leave any traces behind it. That was the reason for the curse laid by Greek thinking on the whole sphere of private life, the 'idiocy' of which consisted in its being concerned solely with survival, just as it was the reason for Cicero's contention that only through building and preserving political communities could human virtue attain to the ways of the gods."

Regarding the passage you quote, the sentences just previous put it in context: "What Cicero in fact says is that for the true humanist neither the verities of the scientist nor the truth of the philosopher nor the beauty of the artist can be absolutes; the humanist, because he is not a specialist, exerts a faculty of judgment and taste which is beyond the coercion which each specialty imposes upon us. This Roman humanitas applied to men who were free in revery respect, for whom the question of freedom, of not being coerced, was the decisive one—even in philosophy, even in science, even in the arts."

Cicero's freedom was not from "the hegemony of the social," which he prized, but from the hegemony of the specialists—to which all of us these days, from poets to scientists to philosophers to PlayStation addicts, have agreed to submit.

Don Share said...

Thank you for this great comment, Joseph. Blaser actually quotes at fuller length the passage from Arendt in the same essay I've sampled above, "The Recovery of the Public World." In that essay, he scruples over the word humanitas, finding something lost from its earlier incarnation in the Greek philanthropia, which, he says, had a different "melody," one of the "'fragility' of relations, social and individual." Arendt was his guide to a great extent; and much about contemporary "humanism" troubled him.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Blaser's essay but obviously need to track it down and add it to my personal moil...

brian (baj) salchert said...

Yes, and some are learning "how to be closer" in these rougher times.

brian (baj) salchert said...

Back in 1965/66 in the first book of an epic I intended to write, I used Moiland and Moilanders as substitutes for America and Americans.

When I saw "Moil" here it rang a bell
but that bell did not ding
in the alcove it should have.

Jordan said...

Yeah! I thought you were saying "moheling..."

Don Share said...

Well, check out the photo...