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August 13, 2021  

Poetism Part 7: Can you describe it all? Scott Stevens on the Cocteau Twins & Brigit Pegeen Kelly

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If the particular cannot be repeated, it remains forever lost; and this is why there can be no final closure to mourning. There can only be, alongside of mourning,​ learning to love new particulars ––Louise Fradenburg

 

In this week’s installment of “Poetism,” we’d like to ask about how words, poems, songs, and other kinds of art objects help bring life to a world. And by world, we mean a perspective, something experienced and understood in the innermost part of our being. Whether faced by inner solitude or loss, words attempt to communicate a state of affairs. But do they have to? Is there a way of placing listeners and readers directly into an experience without only describing it? Are there more direct ways of touching or “worlding” or elegizing? Or, in the words of this week’s poet, a moment: “Stands, the way a status / does in the mind.​​

 

Perhaps! And it is in this great abyss of a perhaps that this episode takes off. Our working theory is that the sonic qualities of words, and of language in general, can help transmit moods and sensations without the need for specific meanings. To ask such questions, Josh is joined by his college roommate Scott Stevens, a recent English graduate of Stanford University (and incoming Fulbright Scholar) who also speaks in Japanese and French. And, in the course of their dialogue, Scott they are assisted by the Cocteau Twins’ 1984 track “Amelia” off of Treasure as well as Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Field Song” from the collection Song (1995).

 

Over the course of their conversation, Scott and Josh touch upon the uniqueness of sound as a medium of communication, their difficulties of listening to the lyrics of a song, and poetry’s collective oral tradition.

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For more Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s two-part series finale on Rachel McKibbins, blackface, and FKA twigs.

August 6, 2021  

Poetism Part 6: Can you experience? Michael Leon Thomas on Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders

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The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

 

These lines, from the opening pages of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, emphasize unseen background noises as constituting an environment. The bees, working through the grass, create the biological condition of possibility for nature and the world, especially in their unseen state. And, so too, does the roar of London create the background chatter that allows the plot of the novel to take off. In this week’s installment of Poetism, we’d like to ask a similar question about our own age: what is the background noise that has made all this––society, labor, world–– possible?

 

Michael Leon Thomas, a professor of philosophy at Susquehanna University, joins Josh in the studio to tackle the vicissitudes and interisies of Alfred North Whitehead’s conception of philosophy alongside Pharoah Sanders’ 1973 album Izipho Zam, particularly the 28-minute titular track which closes the album. For Whitehead, a worldview is always in the process of emerging, and our language needs to follow suit. A reformed logician, Whitehead balks against a wholly systematic view of philosophy, suggesting that it is in the gaps, silences, and wetness of philosophy that something happens.

 

And to figure out what this something might be, we turn to Pharoah Sanders’ enigmatic, if expansive, composition which traverses through various languages, instruments, and cosmologies. The bandleader himself cannot be heard until the last third of the track, creating and leaving space (a society?) in which music creation can happen. In other words, it’s a slow reconditioning process.

 

Along the way, Michael and I talk about why he’s decided to spend his life with philosophy, how experience feeds into our listening habits, the postcolony of American, and why philosophy might have more in common with poetry than one might assume.

 

To read more about Michael’s work on music, check out an interview in Aesthetics with Birds.

 

Here is the 2016 Pharoah Sanders performance mentioned in the episode.

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For Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s episode on Brigit Pegeen Kelly and the Cocteau Twins with Scott Stevens

 

 

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