Ideogram at 10,000

Looks like the blog’s going to hit 10,000 hits today. Thanks, all, for coming by and staying for a bit. A second, an hour, I’m glad for your company.

This morning, a grab bag of thoughts from a shall we say historic week.


Norman Fischer, on Facebook:

Gotta learn to see the world through others’ eyes.


I am appalled, terrified, outraged. Ready to fight. How to keep your fighting spirit free of hate? Try to see the world through others’ eyes.

Which I can’t do if I decide the folks who elected Trump are all racist sexist jerks. They’re the hateful ones. . . . Our civic life needs to be more than a game of projective whack-a-mole with disowned psychic dark matter.

Challenge? There was loads of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, in that campaign. Heaping shit tons of it. Some Trump voters voted just for that, some voted for him in spite of it, and no one’s going to figure out the ratios.


In the Atlantic, headlined “I Voted for the Middle Finger, the Wrecking Ball.”

I am Southern. I am white. I am a male. I was raised Roman Catholic and now go to a Methodist church regularly with my wife and kids. I value the 2nd Amendment but do not own a gun. Every male in my family, save me, is currently serving or has served in the U.S. military. . . . Until recently, I attended field trips with my kids to our state capitol where the Confederate flag still flew, and I am genuinely glad we finally took it down.

He seems an eloquent, honourable man with whom I’d have as many agreements as differences. Not, for sure, my image of a Trump rally a-hole.

I have a Masters degree. My kids go to public school with kids of all races, colors, and creeds. Our neighborhood has immigrant families, mixed-race families, minorities, and same-sex couples. Our sports teams are multi-cultural, diverse, and play beautifully together, on and off the field. I have neither the time, energy, or room in my heart for hatred, bigotry, or racism.

I don’t think he’s just ticking the boxes here, I take him at his word, and reading this throws my stereotypes of the Trump supporter into sharp relief. Asks me, even, to compare them to other stereotypes we all agree are beyond the pale.

I do not hate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, or faith in any way shape or form. I like liberals, conservatives, and independents. I do not hate Obama or Hillary; I do not know them. I did not deny Clinton my vote because she lacks a penis.

Okay, then, if no “lock her up,” if not “Trump the bitch,” why’d you vote for him, when she’s so manifestly competent, and he’s a blowhard and a bigot?

I am tired of the machine rolling over us – all of us. The Clinton machine, the Republican machine, the big media, investment banking, hedge fund carrying interest, corporatist, lobbying, influence peddling, getting elected and immediately begin fundraising for the next election machine – they can all kiss my ass.

Maybe Trump won’t do a thing to change or fix any of it. Hillary definitely would not have changed any of it. So I voted for the monkey wrench – the middle finger – the wrecking ball. . . .

Go ahead: Label me a racist, a bigot, a hate-filled misogynistic, an uneducated redneck. But I turned down Yale, motherfuckers, I ain’t who you think I am.

I don’t know if this guy is typical of a small minority or a great majority of Trump voters. I do feel that his words are a net gain for civil discourse. Not that he remains wholly civil – he’s about to call a lot of liberalism crazy – but I challenge my liberal friends to translate their views this clearly into terms outsiders can empathize with. Whole article here.


Same time, though, I’m not backing one inch off my insistence that the man we’ve elected (wish I could say “they” but it’s all of us; wish I could cry “not my president” but we need to say how things are; see M. Colbert on this point; instead of refusing the present, shape the future, cry “impeach!”) is a threat to our democracy.

In a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine, Teju Cole invokes Ionesco’s play The Rhinoceros, which imagines the transformation of a liberal democracy into a fascist state as the change of villagers, one by one till almost all, into rhinoceroses.

Almost everyone succumbs: those who admire the brute force of the rhinos, those who didn’t believe the sightings to begin with, those who initially found them alarming. One character, Dudard, declares, “If you’re going to criticize, it’s better to do so from the inside.” And so he willingly undergoes the metamorphosis, and there’s no way back for him.

Gradually almost everyone’s assent is won. This is the “normalization” that Masha Gessen writes about. Cole makes the connection with devastating clarity:

In the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, the winner of the presidential election was declared. As the day unfolded, the extent to which a moral rhinoceritis had taken hold was apparent. People magazine had a giddy piece about the president-elect’s daughter and her family, a sequence of photos that they headlined “way too cute.” In The New York Times, one opinion piece suggested that the belligerent bigot’s supporters ought not be shamed. Another asked whether this president-elect could be a good president and found cause for optimism. Cable news anchors were able to express their surprise at the outcome of the election, but not in any way vocalize their fury. All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress.

The piece is called “A Time for Refusal.” Four years is a long time to hang in there but others in other states have hung in longer.


Ezra Pound used the ideogrammatic method to express indirectly, concretely, by assemblage, an idea he couldn’t state directly. What maybe I’m up to here? Ideogram of Post-Electoral Tristesse and Grave Resolve.

Ezra Pound, hurt by loss into fascist sympathy. And yet, and yet.


Put a safety pin on the left lapel of my blazer evening before last. It’s a complex act and I had to poke at my intention a bit first.

Is this about being seen by others?
—Well, yes.

Is that all it’s about?
—No, it’s also a reminder of my own intention, it brings it to the fore.

The part about being seen by others, is it to be admirable?
—Partly, yes.

Is some of the rest of it to say you belong to a tribe?
—Yes, there’s that too.

—Subtract wanting to look good and wanting to belong. Is anything left? Is any part of it not about you?
—There’s wanting to say I want to be of help.

How much of it is that part?
—Doesn’t matter. Not about amounts.

Wear the pin.

A woman knocked on my door yesterday morning, she was my neighbour, lived in the little apartment complex across the road. I vaguely recognized her. She was apologetic and embarrassed asking to borrow a buck fifty because her stomach was hurting. I was sort of confused but asked if five would help her and could she just get it back to me next week. After a moment I got it, she was going to the doctor and needed bus fare.

After she left I put a story together. A woman of about 30, Hispanic I think, in who knows what situation, herself, her family. This week it will have got more stressful, maybe a little or maybe a whole lot. And stress goes to the stomach, I know that myself, all too well.

All over the country, in addition to hate crimes, Klan rallies, protest marches – these major strains in the social fabric – there are also, and far far more, these minor stresses. Anxiety, irritability, acid reflux. (If the story I came up with is at all true.) Everyone’s baseline stress level has shot up, and is like to stay up, a good while.

I don’t think I’m an especially nice or generous person. Basically decent, and ethical, but not especially nice. But this week has made me feel a lot more tender towards people. If Donald Trump has given me that, I thank him.


One more stroke. Daniel Engber in Slate on racism. He says we’ve been conflating two different senses of the word – a nuanced textbook sense and a more popular dictionary sense. In the former, developed by the academy,

the term was broadened to include more subtle agents of discrimination, exploitation, and inequality [than overt prejudice]. Entire institutions could be racist, and systems could be racist, separate from the people who composed them.

In the past few decades, scholars have stretched the boundaries of the term even further. Now we understand that people, too, can be racist in subtle, systematic ways. Even if you disavow white supremacy, you might still be subject to its influence, as well as the unintentional form of racial prejudice that social scientists call “implicit bias.” You and I are racist, essentially, in ways we’re not consciously aware of.

The broader definition of racism as something systemic or implicit has flourished on the left and in academia. That’s for good reason: It allows us to talk about the nation’s most important social problems – police shootings, for example – in the most impassioned moral terms without labeling specific people as evil or malicious. . . . This more nuanced understanding of racism calls attention to persistent racial injustice while at the same time framing it in broader, more communal terms. It calls out the problem and invites solutions.

But textbook racism, however useful it might be as rhetoric, comes into conflict with the more old-fashioned dictionary definition of the word. Last year, social scientist Patrick Forscher reviewed the most-cited studies on prejudice from the past quarter-century and found that almost every single one of them treats bias as something implicit and unconscious rather than malicious and intentional. This puts the literature at odds with a public understanding of prejudice as the product of malicious feelings, the source of hate crimes, and an ingredient of classic racist ideology. “The gap between common and researcher understandings of ‘prejudice,’ ” Forscher wrote, “can create problems when researchers attempt to communicate their findings to the public.”

It’s a helpful distinction and one I don’t think – even though I belong to the academy and the coastal liberal elite – I’ve properly understood.

If I’m being honest, whenever I hear a friend, colleague, or acquaintance call a system or practice “racist,” my first reaction is defensive – I feel accused. As if I, as a white man who benefits from that structure, were being blamed for it. My second reaction is to swallow my first reaction, make sure no one sees it. (Let’s really just be honest here.) My third reaction, if I’m lucky and mindful enough, is to try to get past the first two reactions. But the terms on hand for doing so – “white fragility,” “white supremacy” – are charged enough that they tend to re-energize my defensive reactions, rather than cool and contain them.

And I’m a member of the coastal liberal academic so-called elite, committed to equality, diversity, self-inquiry, social transformation. If the cognitive burden sometimes seems too much – made heavier by misconstruals, category slips, and sometimes by the indignant anger of natural allies – then how must it feel for Jane or Joe in the heartland, not inducted into these niceties, but told to be straitened by them. “That’s racist,” they’re told; “you’re racist,” they hear.

To all those who found the cognitive burden too much, the self-monitoring and second-guessing too much, Donald Trump must have come as a great relief. “He just says what he thinks.” If we want folks to do the inner work of combatting prejudice, that work has to look doable, and if it’s going to look doable, there has, I think, to be more compassion and less shaming.

Liberalism needs the critique the Trump voter implies of it.


Last last thought. Implicit bias is, funny enough, a race-neutral process. I found myself with a new bias category Wednesday morning. White kid, short hair, scruffy beard, baseball cap, gangly walk – Trump voter. Asshole.

Stereotyping is a way the mind works. The red berry principle. (So is the anger flash. “Asshole.” I gave myself a pat on the head for it, there, there.)

You can’t purge yourself of it. There’s no point beating yourself up for it. But you don’t have to take everything you think seriously. Norman Fischer‘s good on that point too.


And, after all the week’s losses indignities and catastrophes, it’s this that makes me cry? Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton playing Leonard Cohen playing “Hallelujah.” Go figure.

Peace to you, friends, and strength.

Pound’s ideograms

Dear Don,

You asked me to think about the “sustained vision” one might find in (through) fragments but I have not got so far along as that. Instead I have been sinking into, plashing about in, the ideogram.

p 3 KyushunAm I silly to be pleased that the second half of my dharma name, Kyushun (kyu = “endless,” shun = “spring”) echoes characters found in the Cantos?

The second character, “spring,” is composed of two elements. The lower of them (three horizontal strokes joined by two vertical) is the character for the sun. It shows up in the Cantos in the ideograms for “dawn” (“bright dawn on the sht house / next day / with the shadow of the gibbets attendant”) and for “no” or “not” (“a man on whom the sun has gone down”).

Also recall Pound’s explication in ABC of Reading of the Chinese ideogram: man + tree + sun –> “sun tangled in the tree’s branches, as at sunrise, meaning now the East.”

The other element is I believe the character for “tree.” Without the three horizontals it would be the character for “person.” And so made visual is the kinship known since ancient days between human and tree.


Spring is the sun come through the roots of the tree. When Daidoshi named me I felt an arrow go through my forehead. All at once my name had been a truth of my life all along. The calligraphy above is his, on my rakusu.


Where does all this lead? Nowhere and everywhere. I want to notice just one thing, that Pound uses the ideogram in two ways in Rock-Drill, what I’ll call pictorial & ideational.

The pictorial is treated so magnificently by Kenner that little can be added. E.g., his unpacking of ling, “sensibility,” early on.

ling-1_ZhuDEn bas, as ground, the figure for ritual or witchcraft — compounded of the characters for doing things properly (this is appropriate witchcraft) and the waving sleeves of a moving officiant.

En haut, as gable & presiding air, heaven hung with clouds, beneath them three raindrops, together meaning “fall as the big drops fall on a parched day.”

These images and gestures, compounded thus, from sensual life, actual life, mean “the spirit or energy of a being, in harmony with the invisible and by ritual drawing down beneficence.”

Sensibility as the connection to (among) earth, human, & heaven, realized through right observance (right seeing, rites observed), that is, through te, or virtu.


This is (once more) embodiment. Combining stylized images of ROSE, CHERRY, IRON RUST, and FLAMINGO to make a word for “red,” rather than attaching a sound (“red,” “rouge,” “rousse”) whose relationship to the thing it names is arbitrary.

The ideogram offers, says Pound, a way for the mind to resist the lure of abstraction. A way to think generally, to trade in ideas, without losing contact with the actual, the concrete, the specific instance without which speech is just so much hot & circling wind.

Without, that is, making thought a game of moving counters here there & all about, matching & separating on the basis of putative likeness & unlikeness, which can only be credited when the actual features of a thing, its suchness, its particularity, have been planed off, and the gouge marks sanded & veneered away.

In the world itself, everything is everything else, and each thing is utterly selfsame. Not one, not the other, not neither, not both. Speech can’t reach here.


A practice that invoked an idea more directly than our speech can would be a gift of the mind to the mind of the first order. For Pound the ideogrammatic method is more than just plunking some Chinese calligraphy down in a poem. It is a new way of doing thinking.


Reworking this writing now, I see how I was starting to flounder. Pound’s grandiosity invoked my considerable own. Unexpectedly, it was Williams who came to speak to me more, in this work I did with Don. I’m leaving most of the flaws I see here as I see them. And of course all the flaws I don’t see have gone untouched.


Words are of course employed. They are made into images (or scraps of memory, or bits of overheard speech, or foreign phrases, or names from myth, or historical incidents) which are then built up, compounded, just as they are built up in a Chinese character or a film by Eisenstein. It is in the space between the images (or scraps of memory, etc.) that the spark jumps, the light flows, the wind roams about, & the mind finds itself.


One crafts the image precisely to make the space around it precise. This is all being set down too hastily. Let me try to work it out through an example. We might take this passage as a single ideogram (comparable in complexity to ling above):

“From the colour the nature
                    & by the nature the sign!”
Beatific spirits welding together
                    as in one ash-tree in Ygdrasail.
                         Baucis, Philemon.
Castalia is the name of that fount in the hill’s fold,
                         the sea below,
                                                  narrow beach.
Templum aedificans, not yet marble,
                             “Amphion!”

The first two lines invoke Heydon’s “doctrine of signatures” and work somewhat like the radical, establishing the general semantic (spiritual) sense of the ideogram. That sense is hard to spell out (real thoughts are) but it has something to do with vegetal power, and each thing fulfils its nature, and a thing’s nature is discernible.

At any rate, this is the sign under which, or the mood within which, the next strokes are presented. “Strokes” because, as in the ideogram, there is no logical or discursive linkage, space is left in which the mind may roam & flash about.)


The next element in the character, three strokes in three lines, entwines two stories with the same signatures, that of the Norse world-heaven tree and that of Baucis & Philemon, who, faithful to the gods, are spared the annihilating flood, & grow in old age into intertwined trees. Instantiations, not mere instances, of vegetal power, of earth and heaven conjoined (recall ling), and of truth to one’s own nature.


Thus far likeness, rhyme, homeomorphism, is building the character. But the ideogrammatic method, like Eisenstein’s montage, is about gauged differences, for only in difference is there a space for the mind-spark to leap.

The distance is marked by shifts in sense (syntax switches from fragment to full sentence) and rhythm (musical phrasing switches from mostly short syllables to mostly long) but our concern here (insofar as these things can be isolated) (that is at best an enabling fiction, at worst a wrong way of life) is phanopoeia.

We have left the trees and come back to the water. The scene is presented in three glimpses — a fountain encleft in a hill fold (and I sense here the sexual feminine, mate to the virile power of the world-heaven tree), the sea below, a narrow beach — in a staccato & yet fluid fashion that recalls the beach scene of Canto II. (One ideogram can call to mind another one hundreds of pages prior.)


The final strokes of the character draw it together, even as they extend and leave it open. “Templum aedificans,” building the temple. The temple of the Cantos, the temple in which Baucis and Philemon serve as caretakers, the temple the universe is, borne up & arranged by the world-heaven tree.

“not yet marble” because the original temples were of wood, the columns fluted tree trunks — suggesting (not saying) (real thoughts are unspoken) that the marble columns to come have virtu to the extent that they recall (but do not slavishly copy) their origins.

The last stroke, “Amphion!” Terrell: “Hermes taught him to play the lyre so well that when he became king of Thebes he fortified the city with a wall magically conjured up by his music: at the sound of his lyre the stones moved into place by themselves.”

The power of one rooted in his own nature. It joins earth & heaven & human life & gives one sway over wild beasts & field stones.


Does the whole canto, does the whole of the Cantos, fall into ideograms in this way? I amn’t sure. The white space after “Amphion!” articulates the sequence, asks one to look at it as a whole that reflects back on itself, but it is the only such space in Canto XC, and I wonder whether, if Pound meant us to read the way I just have, he would have scored the verse a bit differently. Anyway, I’ve only barely scratched the surface here. I do sense though that in its several formal arenas—melopoeia, phanopoeia, logopoeia, mythopoeia—the poem is a unitary project. Pound against abstraction. A title for a final paper?


Yeah plenty of floundering here along with a few honest gleams. Curious how an anti-system is just another system. But if you can’t put your errors and strayings on display in a blog post — well then what’s a blog for? Scheduling this one for Dec. 30. Happy, if somehow you’ve made it this far, new years all.


UPDATE. And the image up top, here it is big –
7132 - big

Ryoji Koie. A six-fold paper screen. Ink on paper and gold ground. Japan, 2013. An example of the hibi deisui (blind drunk everyday) style. Don’t know if that’s blind drunk or blind, drunk. More on him here (scroll down some).