hypothesis confirmed!

i don't know how i feel about empiricism, but this is pretty interesting anyway:

think back to my last post, bodily function poems. Last night, not two days after that post was written, I went to the restroom in New Dorm, and lo and behold, underneath the "if you sprinkle when you tinkle..." sign (which is printed in a childish, light-blue font), was a very serious looking black and white sign that read:
Please be considerate and keep the bathroom, shower, sink area clean.

Clean up messes that you are responsible for - whether it be toilet paper or bodily fluids.

I can't tell you how proud i was.

In this sign, we are addressed as responsible adults, and as such, we no longer "tinkle," but instead, "cause messes," which may or may not involve "bodily fluids."

There is fine print on the sign directing "you" to contact "facilities management" or "C.A.s" "if the toilets are clogged" or "for further complaints or information."

Perhaps it has become clear to the writers of the signs that we are no longer hapless children who inadvertently "tinkle" and forget to clean up after ourselves. Maybe we are finally to be held responsible for repeated infractions.

and the sign is much more authoritorian in another way: there is a threat of being inconsiderate if we don't follow the sign. in an anonymous situation, these methods: gentle, humorous suggestion, and appeals to responsibility and consideration might be the only course of action. at least, i can't see a middle ground. we would never rhyme about "bodily fluids" or write prose about "poo".

scott tells me the new sign also hangs in the men's restroom, where it will likely be peed on.


more on those god damn poetry readings

Was taking a look over at the Contemporary Poetry Review in an article about John Ashbery:
One problem presented by the semi-professional need for poets to deliver recitations of their poems is that it must be assumed that they are the best interpreters, if not necessarily the most gifted performers, of their own works. One might delight in the thought of James Earl Jones intoning oneÂ’s poem from the podium to awed audiences, but it is usually a whinier, less assured voice that the audience finally encounters. It is unfortunate that the aural revelation of a poem is often one of foggy meandering and droning rather than the warm illumination that should be expected. One finds in scratchy old recordings of Pound reading from the Cantos a tidier (or at the least quite amusing) understanding of some of the last centuryÂ’s most imposing and sometimes nearly incomprehensible poems. Even an otherwise undemanding poem by a poet today will be muddled up in the reading. The poet very often recites with a slight trailing up at the end of the otherwise randomly broken line, in a pompous, breathy seriousness that hardly befits the slightness of the poetry itself.
Hell yes. Well put says I. Seriously what is with the monotone poet voice? One even encounters it in College workshops, where poets (some of them even talented) deliver their poems like they were reciting from the phone book. I guess it's an image thing. Emo, maybe?
They come to witness greatness, fame, and finally, the clarification, elucidation of the poems, the revelation from the oracle.
This is what I've been telling people for awhile now. The mark of a good reader is the ability to elucidate what's being read. To have the voice ride across the piece of literature, highlighting with ARTICULATION and INTONATION the gradients of meanincontaineded within the work.

Michael Harper, a well known poet and professor here at Brown is the best reader I've heard yet. When he reads one has the feeling of "getting it" a feeling not to often felt at your average poetry reading. If you haven't had the chance to listen to him, there's a short video of a reading he gave at UC Berkeley. By short I mean an hour. In class he tends to drag on for long tracts of time telling tales of the glory days with Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden and Brooks. Apparently he had some disagreements with ol' Allen Ginsberg about something. Should try to find out that was. Office hours?


bodily-function poems

consider the following rhymes, to be found taped inside the doors of various bathroom stalls:
If it's yellow, let it mellow
if it's brown, flush it down. (Summer Camp Classic)

if you sprinkle
when you tinkle
please be neat
and wipe the seat!
(printed sign, girls restroom, New Dorm B, Brown University)

don't be rude,
flush your poo.
-The Managment
(handwritten in friends' suite in Grad Center tower C, Brown University)

I, for one, cannot imagine signs of equivalent explicitness written in prose:
If you urinate on the toilet seat, please clean up after yourself.

Please remember to flush the toilet after defecating in it.

Gross!!, right? No one would post, or stand for, such a sign.

I haven't developed a working hypothesis about this yet, but i'd like to start by examining the differences between the acceptable and unnaceptable signage above.

The most obvious of these is rhyme. Simple rhymed couplets in folksy meter seem to be standard fare. (slant-rhyme: poo and rude, is fine.)

The words used for bodily functions in the poems are of a different level of diction from my prose examples. 'poo' and 'tinkle' are not the same words as 'urinate' and 'defecate'. i'd characterize them as the words used between parents and children, who must often discuss such matters tastefully.

Who can say what words we use for bodily functions when we are alone in bathroom stalls? they are probably not 'poo' and 'tinkle', but when communication (from an authority?) takes place in the stall, it is couched in terms that are distinctly 'cute'.

And a definition of that terms is wanted. perhaps it is unoffensive, parental, endearing, even distancing? is there an implication in these signs that the management would rather not have to discuss these tender subjects? are signs on dorm kitchen doors also rhyming and cutesy, or is it only 'poo' and 'tinkling' that call for this mode of communication? these are questions for further research.


Wag the Poet

About a week ago, Cristi and I went downtown to a posh little cafe called Tazza to hear some poets on the faculty here at Brown read. It was a fundraiser for hurricane Katrina, or more aptly for those effected by the horrendous 'cane.

Now, I've tried to go to several of these readings. There was one several weeks ago, which due to my own ineptness at reading signs, I showed up mostly too late for. Just in time to hear this guy read some political poem about the situation in Iraq (*yawn*). The poem wasn't bad, necessarily, it's just not my style to indulge politics with poetry. The two, to me, have always seemed at odds. Politics is the doggerel of the masses. This is, of course, perhaps overstating it too much, but the discourse of politics--especially these days, and on these college campuses where "liberal-minded" students are flopping around proclaiming their hatred of Bush every time someone even thinks to say the word "government"--is self perpetuating. The very discussion of politics, supreme court nominees, taxes, war etc. just plays into the system of corruption that no one wants but everyone claims those who disagree with them are for. Poetry, and more generally all art, should be above these base arguments. Leave it for the pundits. Chris Matthews can write the Ballad of John Kerry. The real problems are more deeply rooted than the national political tit-for-tat. A piece of art that wears its political agenda on its sleeve can only become part of that discourse, a ball punted around by those trapped up in the dead end rhetoric of the national politic. The concern of art is the greater philosophical and metaphysical concerns of our time, the "politics" of it (if you want to call it that) will handle themselves.

This distracts me from the point I had wished to make: Poetry readings are very boring. Sitting in the back of the room listening to the poets recite there work, I was struck by how unmoving the whole event was. This frightened me. After all, studying poetry for four years in college has basically made it my milieu (for better or worse). I should be enjoying these types of things. I should be aspiring to read in front of audiences at trendy cafes, lecture halls and bus stops. But after a rash of attending these readings, I can't see why anyone would want to come hear me.

Wag the poet. The poems are wagging the poets. The poet stands before an audience, sidles up to the microphone, opens her book of poems and begins to recite. Hello! Recitation is not reading. Not even close. I like poems an awful lot. Most people do, I've found, despite the fact that most people spend .01% of their time on it. So why get up there, and just... PRESENT... the poem(s). Poetry reading is, at its root, an act of storytelling. This was of course sustained by the nature of the poems being read by wandering bards and minstrels. They were narrative poems. They were stories. Now, though, with most poetry experiencing the postmodern hangover, the poems do not tell stories themselves. This isn't bad. Far from it. But why not use the reading as an opportunity to deliver those anecdotes (stories) which contextualize the more abstract poetry of our times, and sell the idea that they are worth listening to (and not as daunting as they appear to be).

There are the slam poets. I hate slam poetry. So I'm not going to discuss it. Watch Def Poetry Jam and tell me what you think. That's a discussion I'd like to have.

... A poetry reading should be a gathering of friends, a time to unwind and listen. It should not be a time to sit in a room feigning rapt attention before an edifice of words that is for the most part delivered unemphatically and with supreme arrogance. I'd like to conclude with a quotation which I think sums up the "attitude" I witness at these readings:
"Peter Ackroyd's biography of Eliot claims that the first reviews [of The Waste Land] in England were "variously baffled and respectful"-- partly because of the notes and references, which left some critics mystified enough that they couldn't come out and say they didn't like the poem for fear their ignorance of his learned and sophisticated methods would be discovered."
Everyone, let's stop pretending we understand and start asking to be helped along. We'll all be the better for it.


our philosophy of language homework

well, we've come head-to-head with the enemy. an upper-level philosophy course purportedly all about language that has, so far, been all about truth, and i'd like to share and ridicule a "logical" "proof."

this is a real answer from our first problem set. the comments in brackets were not on our homework.

6) Given the definition of truth: For any proposition x, x is true iff [if and only if] (for some p)(x = the proposition that p and p). Does this definition entail the proposition "The proposition that John is bald is true iff John is bald."? Yes!

1. By the definition of truth provided, the proposition that John is bald is true iff (for some p)(the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that p and p).
[The proposition that p is a concept, keep in mind, and 'p' is a statement about the real world. a fact, if you will. from outside language. but i shouldn't have written it in quotes just there, because that makes it a sentence, which is different from either a fact or a proposition.]
2. By Assumption, the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that q and q.
[we all konw what they say about assumption...]
3. By Assumption, the proposition that John is bald is a true proposition of language L.
[oh ho! yeah, this seems like a good place to start.]
4. It follows from the given Equivalence Principle that if the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that q, then John is bald iff q.
[if the propositions are the same, then the facts in the world are the same. ?]
5. By 2, 4, and logic, John is bald iff q.
[don't ask me what logic is.]
6. By 2, 5, and logic, John is bald.
[don't ask me what logic is.[did i just state the same proposition twice?]]
7. By 1 and 6, and the Rule of Existential Instantiation, John is bald.
[honestly, i've forgotten what the REI is already, but it was very handy for situations like this, where we needed to be able to get from the proposition that John is bald to the fact that John is bald via our previous assumptions both implicit and explicit... clearly, if 'john is bald' is true, then john is bald. don't quote that.]
8. By 2 and 7, if the proposition that John is bald is a true sentence of L, then John is bald. (conditional proof).

there's a second argument to this proof, but we don't know if it's necessary or not... just to give you some idea, though, it begins with "1. By assumption, John is bald."

i'm so glad language is actually illogical. all this common sense makes my head hurt.