Andrea Zemel. Chronos, 2005
by Carlo Parcelli
My interest in Ezra Pound, especially The Cantos, began when, in 1967, at age 19, I attended a creative writing class taught by Dr. Rudd Fleming at the University of Maryland. I read a poem I had written wherein I attempted to advance its argument through source material with no commentary. After the class, Dr. Fleming took me aside and suggested I read Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Subsequently, I purchased a copy of the poem. In the morning, I was afforded an hour’s break between dropping my baby daughter off at the sitters’ and opening the record store directly off campus, which I managed in order to pay the bills.
I became an immediate enthusiast of Pound’s Cantos style. I could have not had a better Pound mentor than Rudd Fleming, who translated Greek drama with Pound for nine years while the poet was incarcerated at St. Elizabeths, here in Washington DC. I subsequently did a year’s independent study on Pound under Rudd’s tutelage. Our conversations grew into a lifelong friendship. We focused on our mutual interest in Pound as well as other High Modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Mel Tolson, David Jones etc., with a huge dash of Fleming’s favorite author, James Joyce.
But as a very young poet I had little to write about and I felt that, though admired, my first book Three Antiphonies (Proteus Press 1976), lacked substance even as it assiduously avoided the solipsistic, confessional pitfalls of the ‘selfie’ poetry that has for decades dominated the poetry scene.
This lack of substance quickly changed when I encountered Charles Olson’s list of suggested reading to Ed Dorn, called “Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn.” Olson had a stormy relationship with Pound, recoiling at his fascism, anti-Semitism and racism, and Pound’s unsavory alliances with bigots and crackpots like John Kasper and Eustace Mullins. Pound, sensing Olson’s distress, often taunted the younger man on his visits to St. Elizabeths.
In Olson’s “Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn,” one entry stood out for me: Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Whitehead’s book was my introduction to quantum theory and, through a young mathematician whose boyfriend was in charge of the day-to-day operation of the cyclotron at the University of Maryland, I began socializing with graduate students studying high-energy physics. This was the era of specious synthesis between Western scientific epistemology and Eastern thought, manifested in such works as Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters. Though I shared the young scientists’ impatience for such pop fusion, I was equally alarmed by how little concern they showed for so-called quantum paradoxes, e.g. wave-particle paradox, position momentum paradox and the gap between quantum states as witnessed in Planck’s energy packets. The quirky “realities” of Planck’s constant and quantum paradox elicited little concern among the young physicists. Niels Bohr’s “vizualization,” as he called it, remained stubbornly impossible, but over the decades following the Copenhagen Interpretation, several purely mathematical resolutions had been put forth which allowed the field to move forward, ignoring its assault on common sense.
Such concerns on my part, led me to the philosophy department, where I was graciously allowed to sit in on classes on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. I found Kant’s limits of perception and Hegel’s critique of quantity enlightening. I also began reading Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and, especially, Edmund Husserl, whose Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology became a key text for me. Also, there were works by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno especially the former’s Eclipse of Reason and their collaboration, Dialectic of Enlightenment.
There have been many physicists and mathematicians who voiced philosophical concerns about the paradoxes surrounding Quantum Mechanics and the Copenhagen Interpretation. Many are cited in Deconstructing the Demiurge: Tale of the Tribe and elsewhere in my work. These informed voices included quantum’s two progenitors, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. As regards quantum and sensibility, even a mathematician of the caliber of John von Neumann came to a rather specious, quasi-Zen conclusion when attempting to beat the perceptual dents out of the quantum paradox. There are too many voices weighing in on this subject to address here.
Suffice it to say that the above forms the backdrop, at least in part, to Deconstructing the Demiurge, my ninth long, Canto-like poem, of some 3,200 lines (also available on FlashPoint Magazine). Using Pound’s methodology in the Cantos, through Deconstructing the Demiurge I attempt to create an historical critique and trace from Newton and Leibniz and the Calculus to the accelerated use of what I call formalized systems (e.g. mathematization, quantification etc.) which have become the sine qua non, if not the ne plus ultra, of rational knowledge creation and validation, and which predetermine our reality, whether it be the mathematics that defined just what properties will constitute a Higgs Boson or the reliance on quantized field data collected by MACV during the Invasion of South-East Asia. In short, Deconstructing the Demiurge repeatedly takes you from the micro to the macro consequences of the mathematization of reality. As physicist Brian L. Silver confirms: by limiting the number of permissible variables “[w]e put in some physical facts, follow the rules for obtaining the needed results, and almost always get what we want.” By limiting the nature of nature itself, “[t]he comparison between the theoretical results and experiment is rarely disappointing.”
What Pitrim Sorokin described as “Quantophrenia” in the social sciences is extended to the hard sciences, including high energy physics and mathematics, both pure and applied. Rather than discovering the “secrets of nature,” the use of mathematics and its myriad, quantized systems of measurement create a dislocation from the natural world which, given the global paradigm, has become self-evident in its very ecology. It is my contention in the poem to demonstrate, as Walter Elsasser states, that the “[a]daptation of the homogeneous [e.g. the mathematical sciences] to the radically heterogeneous [e.g. nature]” is responsible for the destruction of the planet. The poem therefore is not an ethical judgment, but merely a series of epistemological observations in Pound’s Canto form.
From: DECONSTRUCTING THE DEMIURGE:
TALE OF THE TRIBE
If expressing the telic arrests the subject, Odysseus,
What in reality is cognized?
Taylor’s “implacable.ahistorical demands of objects.”1
The “pure fungibility” of the worker.
Telos steers cognition by thralls of scrutable power.
“Lights reception serving strictly the critical
Or evaluative by detecting
And eliminating bad moves.”
“The system is arbitrary in its basis.”2
Corpses choke the seven taxonomies.
Theory backdates the actual
Until, for economy, a system is installed
That presupposes the actual.
But as Meyerson knows, “Reality rejects the identity
To which reason would reduce it.”3
As quanta are absorbed unassimilated
Into the catastrophe of the discrete’s oligarchy.
Tautologies grappling midair, the cumulus
Of a positivist firmament.
“A reversal of figure and ground.”4
Evolving a core perfidy.
In reduction perception relies
Upon the medium of rigorous analogy.
So that what is
In the light that cannot be.
To seek advantage where
A shadow inhabits a “there.”
Empty the shape between state and state
That consciousness can only imitate.
The proximate intimacy with a “fundamental symmetry”;
Forcing “the Heisenbergian question:
What is the moral economy
Which make certain actions likely?”
This leap of faith.
“It is theory,” according to Einstein
“Decides what we can observe.”5
Its element freedom; its theme suppression.
Presupposing production of life
In its specifically determined forms.
Discovery as a formal expression of intent,
Exhorting immortality by accelerating into extinction;
Such that apocalyptic rehearsals hardly impugn
The enormities committed in the living room.
“Even on the moon, where there is no life,
Civilization arrived with more care.”---
Carlo Zacquini6 working among the Yanomami7
Echoing Gandhi’s retort, “Civilization?
It would be a good idea.”
And the Post8 for decades coded the stench
Of 900,000 murdered in Indonesia,9
200,000 in East Timor,10
To “further U.S. interests.” A cess of editorial intent.
Suharto,11 that social Darwinist, that entrepreneur,
Rendering his people a decultured bouillon
For ladling by Chevron and IBM.
Said Ol’ Dan’l Drew, “If the lions don’t like it,
They won’t eat it.”12
The postcard arrived bearing the single inscription,
“Dja Karta.” Ricardo Stern, Chile, 1973.
“The carnage had had a pedagogic effect.”13
“Alternatives to the bomb existed
And Truman and his advisers knew it.”14
Two billion made,
And Japan was there
In time to school
The Eastern Bloc.
And Kuwait? A goat tied to a stake
But Iraq was the real kabob.
And during the fireworks John Q. got his pocket picked
Again. And like a skunked hound
The flag tossed
As though to rip the stains from the cloth.
And the resumes of Reagan -Bush appointees
Read like the eighth circle of Hell.
Having their families surveilled,
They bind god’s judgement
To the institutional conformity of an independent counsel.
Secular simoniacs. The office of Attorney General,
“a vessel for every kind of fraud.”15
And through the complex at Langley,
Director Gates with its one sex follows,16
And with its other leads.
“Forms ready to exchange their matter.”17
[by dioxin, female fish with male characteristics.]
False counsel. Pound’s sign through the lantern
Of Bertran de Born.18
Imaginary conciliare to Il Duce,
By way of Ahitophel,
By inciting father against son.
Absalom against David,
The New Testament against the old!
To Nature laws are fugitive.
Tactical dependencies described as certainties
Reveal their habituation.
McNamara21 “convinced that once
Some quantifiable threshold
Of U.S. inflicted pain
The Vietnamese would give up.”
“...[W]ith your center on Skull Hill.
That’s your bit of frontage.
Skull Hill’s your load.”
“The enormous tragedy of the dream...”
“From that tump
Without the wall, project
An imaginary line...
Cutting Cheese Hill back to this block
Of silex where you now stand
And you’ve got your medium point of vision;
Now hold it.”
Plumb beyond the ‘other’ is arrayed..
“That’s how we keep the walls of the world;
By sector and subsector,
Maniple by maniple,
Man by man,
Each man as mans the wall
Is like each squared, dressed stone
Fronting the wall but one way
According to the run of the wall.”22
“Ignoring all differences
And all identities
Not related to the selected structure.”23
“Things that lend themselves to quantitative measurement;
Things invested with an importance that distorts out of all proportion.”
As computers amplify bureaucratic insouciance.
Techne’s habituation. The appetites
Of the criminal justice system.
The anxiety of self-interest to proliferate
Within the legalist taxonomies of the police state.
“People were happy with the facade,” reported Bacigalupo;24
“Explaining the character’s celebrated moral freedom
As an automatically evolved philosophical appendix of free trade.”25
The quasi-mythical sentiment of the frontier
‘Communal enterprise’ and ‘rugged individualism;’
“A simultaneously singular and universal genesis.”26
An encrypted violence cryptic to its perp.
The Pennsylvania mob that cheered the slaughter of Iraqis
Embrace Gandhi in Harrisburg—electorally.27
Saint’s charity as it might inform fiscal policy.
“The B-2 bomber can haul a large payroll,” blooped Secretary Cheney.28
In a regime based on grand larceny
Might rank as conformity.”29
So “be joyous, [America], you are great indeed,
For over sea and land you beat your wings;
Through every part of Hell your name extends!”30
“The great dream of the end of History
Is the utopia of causal systems...
Just as the dream of genesis
Was the utopia of classifying systems.”31
The “neural nous of Diderot.”32 Mitotic.
The cortical mirror “licks the mirror of Narcissus.”33
The holography of love.
Fibonacci’s care is order.34
A thousand vacuum tubes arrayed like the eye of a fly.
The “Hall of Mirrors” Saigon.35
Shell’s seed the delta of intent.
Component’s chitin exuded
From the pupa’s appetite.
Its jaws abscessing space.
Surgical strikes shear with scarified semantics.
Flesh systematically obviated.
Numbers absolve intent.
Mathematical proof is the proving ground.
National security, the higher good.
The graph wears a hood.
The world conforms to the shaping charges.
The individual shattered against mathematical expressions
And polished for language in commercial discretions.
“All your desires have become economic choices.”
The blood of lambs thickened into gravy.
The end of history announces the end of the world.
The eschatology of reason.
The crucifixial bow tie
Of Strong A.I.36
The cortex, the grey goo of nano.
The millenary conflation of capital with techne;
Of money with freedom,
Except for the freedoms that trespass property.
From Zagorin: “The salvation awaited is to embrace...
All the elect...
It is to occur in this terrestrial world,
Before the eyes of sense...
It is expected imminently...and...
Is to be total,
Accomplished through the intervention
Of supernatural agencies...
After a period of suffering and oppression...”37
Parodied by World Bank Structural Adjustment Loans38
The amnesiac bankers ravage up
Today’s great folk literature of famine.
Notes to the poem belong to Carlo Parcelli (n. Ed)
1. “Implacable…objects.” Adorno 20. F. W. Taylor Scientific Management.
2. “The system…basis.” Foucault 153.
3. “Reality rejects…reduce it.” Emile Meyerson Identity and Reality.
4. “A reversal…ground.” Levinson and Wilkins 521.
5. “It is theory…observe”. Heisenberg 63.
6. Carlo Zacquini, Catholic missionary.
7. Yanomami, also spelled Yąnomamö or Yanomama, are a group of approximately 35,000 indigenous people who live in some 200–250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.
8. Washington Post. US newspaper considered to be the long time organ of the CIA.
9. “900,000 Murdered in Indonesia” refers to the US supported series of coups in that country led by Suharto which led to the death of nearly one million Indonesians and the ouster and death of the country’s first democratically elected president Sukarno. Sukarno was held captive and denied medical care for a series of chronic illnesses he had.
10. The Invasion of East Timor. The US engineered Indonesian invasion of East Timor began on 7 December 1975 when the Indonesian military invaded East Timor under the pretext of anti-colonialism. The overthrow of a popular and briefly Fretilin-led government sparked a violent quarter-century occupation in which between approximately 200,000–250,000 soldiers and civilians (up to one-third of the population) are estimated to have been killed or starved. The invasion began just hours after President Gerald Ford and Secretary if State Henry Kissinger flew out of Jakarta just 7 months after the Fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975.
11. Suharto led US/CIA designed coup in 1965, which resulted in the death of 900,000 Indonesians. John Martens, a CIA plant in the US Embassy in Jakarta, who turned over lists of names of people to be slaughtered by the Suharto regime later stated, “I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment” e.g. overthrowing a democratically elected government and maintaining a brutal kleptocracy.
12. “If the lions…eat it.” Statement attributed to robber baron and rail magnate Daniel Drew.
13. “Dja Karta… effect.” Postcard from Ricardo Stern shortly after CIA sponsored coup in Chile against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. References CIA coup against Sukarno ten tears earlier.
14. J. Samuel Walker, chief historian of the conservative and pro-nuke U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, wrote in 1990. “It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed, and Truman and his advisers knew it.”
15. “A vessel…fraud.” Dante Inferno VIII: 82.
16. Robert Michael Gates (born September 25, 1943), an American statesman, scholar and university president known for chameleon like metamorphic qualities as regards policy and alliances who served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011. Gates served on the National Security Council, and was Director of Central Intelligence under President George H. W. Bush. After leaving the CIA, Gates became president of Texas A&M University and was a member of several corporate boards. Gates served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission co-chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton that studied the lessons of the Iraq War.
17. Forms ready to exchange their matter. Dante’s Inferno XXV: 101-2 ref. Ovid Met 1.1-2.
18. Bertran de Born (1140s – by 1215) was a baron from the Limousin in France, and one of the major Occitan troubadours of the twelfth century.
19. “Punzelli” = to prick, goad, instigate. Content appears in Dante, “Father and son I set against each other/Achitophel with wicked instigations/Did not do more with Absalom and David.” (Dante Inferno XXV:136-8).
20. Ezra Pound, Instigations. Title reveals Pound’s temperament.
21. “McNamara…give up”. Key is Secretary of Defense McNamara’s use of quantifiable systems (Gibson The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam). People familiar with such systems always want to argue with me that to move forward, progress, such systems are indispensable if fundamentally unreliable. But when I suggest that then the system itself must be ethically culpable, the idea is utterly foreign to them though they are at a loss to explain why and fall back upon the rather naïve ‘purity’ of numbers trope e.g. numbers in and of themselves are simply tools and have no innate moral dimension no matter how they are aggregated.
22. “With your center…of the wall.” David Jones. ‘The Fatigue’ (The Sleeping Lord 1974). The speaker of the poem is a Roman Principalis.
23. “Ignoring…structure” A rewording of Michel Foucault, The Order of Things 152.
24. “People…façade.” Giuseppe Bacigalupo. in Carpenter 882.
25. “Explaining…free trade.” See also “Science smiling into its beard or first full-dress encounter with Evil.” Musil 361.
26. “A simultaneously…genesis.” Foucault 263.
27. “The Pennsylvania mob…electorally.” April Glaspie, the ambassador to Iraq, had led Saddam Hussein to believe the US would not intervene in a border conflict with Kuwait. The same voters that were overwhelmingly for going to war with Iraq, at the same time voted into office Democratic candidate, Harris Wofford, an admirer of assassinated international peace advocate Mahatma Gandhi, to the US Senate by a huge margin over war mongering, openly racist, soon to become Attorney General, former Pennsylvania Governor, Dick Thornburgh.
28. “The B-2 bomber…payroll” Quote from Vice President Dick Cheney at press announcement of the authorization of construction of the B-2 bomber.
29. “And…petty larceny…conformity.” Pound Cantos 454.
30. “[B]e joyous…extends.” Dante Inferno XXVI: 1-6 [Bolgia of Fraud]. Author has substituted his own imperial empire, “America,” for Dante’s Florence finding much there in common sans the art.
31. “The great dream…systems.” Foucault, Will 71.
32. “D’Alembert’s Dream…Diderot.” Note the play on ‘nous’ e.g. ‘noose.’ Opening line of Decontructing the Demiurge reads: “500 years: a gallows with an escapement” e.g. Western epistemology asphyxiates itself.
33. “[L]icks…Narcissus”. Dante, Inferno XXX: 128-9. [Eighth Circle; Fraud].
34. Fibonacci’s number sequences rely on mathematics to mimic natural processes.
35. “The Hall of Mirrors,” Saigon. World’s largest brothel serviced US troops in South Vietnam.
36. “crucifixial bow tie of Strong A.I.” Strong Artificial Intelligence whose proponents look to the day that mathematics in the form of what they define as a humanlike sentient robot will trump the flesh. The bow tie e.g. the cross is there to symbolize the ‘fear of the flesh’ that both the sciences and Christianity exhibit. These themes are covered more deeply elsewhere in the poem and throughout the author’s work.
37. “The salvation…oppression.” Zagorin 163.
38. “Structural Adjustment Loans” (SAL) is a type of loan foisted on developing countries. It is the mechanism by which international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, impose structural adjustment (in other words gain control over a countries economy), centralizing it under capitalist principles especially privatization and hand-chosen economic oligarchs. In the process, institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Inter-American Bank wilfully and intentionally further increase the country’s debt and through strict export policies impoverish the country and its people until the country defaults and all of its assets are sold to wealthy international investors for pennies on the dollar.
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Alighieri, Dante. The Portable Dante. Trans. and ed. Mark Musa. London: Penguin, 1995.
Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound. New York: Delta, 1988.
Diderot, Denis. Rameau's Nephew / D'Alembert's Dream. London: Penguin, 1976.
Foucault, Michel, 1966. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge, 1989.
Foucault, Michel. The Will to Truth. London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1980.
Gibson, James William. 1986. The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.
Heisenberg, Werner. Physics and Beyond. New York: Harper, 1971.
Jones, David. The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments. London, Faber & Faber, 1974.
Levinson, Stephen C. and David P. Wilkins, eds. Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013.
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Zagorin, Perez. Rebels and Rulers: 1500-1660. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.