an English-to-English translation of Shakespeare’s fortieth sonnet
a pair of redundancies captured in terms associated with a primary apparatus shrine or scene of technics at the center of our capacity to transact in the space of appearances:
We grow number and number, is it, in an American Express zombie marathon (“How fast can you pursue happiness”) that will tell wch person is numbest of them all, the most obsolete in tune with the machine machine, the device that reproduces itself independent of appetite or will, automated identification already a twice-told tale.
& athwart this let us pose a pair of futilities:
the one an infelicitous speech act against vertical motion, the other a horizontal hand-to-hand engagement with a medium that, like money, quoth a justice, will always find an outlet, & demands fins not digits if what you want is to thrive in it.
I just thought this: to read [real?] poetry is to always be learning to read poetry.
Brilliant. Can we expand this as a heuristic method into “to learn is always to be learning to learn”? The root of “heuristic” is “to find,” while that of “method” is “path.”
What does that say about poetry that it is beyond mastering, unlike, for example, the law of physics?
I accept the question, but only if you permit an observation and a consequential pair of adjustments. The (pedantic) observation is that there is no singular “law of physics” — none I’m aware of anyway, tho they say string theory’s trying for that grail. So: the adjustment would require us to speak of “the laws of physics.” This leads to the second, more primitive adjustment: can we think here not only about “the laws of physics” but also about “the loss of physics”? This silly proposal is perhaps permissible given that that it derives from mispronouncing the crude physical stuff of these words — violating one law to observe another. Perhaps one way to think about the desire that’s being circled around here — mastering laws — would be to think about that in relation to mastering loss. Is there some thing implicit to the drive to command, the desire for mastery, that derives from an experience of loss? Of what? What lapse might this physical, phonetic glitch — or perhaps it’s a pulse — signal?
That’s the point partly isn’t it, I don’t know, I don’t know, but that there are objects beyond mastering or knowing or understanding, but which yield understanding by slow engagement (and what is understanding? How various is it?) and in that way, does that make poetry like ‘nature’ in the archaic sense of the word (‘nature likes to hide’ I mean)…?
I begin with two moves. Both are citations. One from a physicist:
We always have had a great deal of difficulty in understanding the world view that quantum mechanics represents. At least I do, because I’m an old enough man that I haven’t got to the point that this stuff is obvious to me. Okay, I still get nervous with it. And therefore, some of the younger students… you know how it always is, every new idea, it takes a generation or two until it becomes obvious that there’s no real problem. It has not yet become obvious to me that there’s no real problem. I cannot define the real problem, therefore I suspect there’s no real problem, but I’m not sure there’s no real problem. (Richard Feynman)
The other from a poet:
Pray thee take care, that taks’t my book in hand
To read it well, that is: to understand.
To understand, in a crude etymological sense, is to stand beneath. The word is thus related to the word substance: that which stands under (sub). This odd relation is a very puzzling thing indeed —- hard to understand, if you will. Perhaps it means that to understand something is to be occupied by it, filled, really, in an almost subatomic sense — completely informed, wch is to say (in most cases) transformed by the object of your attention in such a way that you in fact become it, are subject to it (thrown under, to remember this rather domineering etymon).
There’s wonderful material in the new Gleick book on quantum mechanics, on the fact of “entanglement,” wch is the quantum physicist’s term of art for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, or “the inability to observe systems without disturbing them,” as Gleick puts it.
Speaking of “quantum bits,” or “qubits,” he writes
When you measure any property of a quantum object, you thereby lose the ability to measure a complementary property. You can discover a particle’s momentum or its position but not both. […] This imperfect distinguishability is what gives quantum physics its dreamlike character: the inability to observe systems without disturbing them […]. The qubit has this dreamlike character, too. It is not just either-or. Its 0 and 1 values are represented by quantum states that can be readily distinguished — for example, horizontal and vertical polarizations — but coexisting with these are the whole continuum of intermediate states, such as diagonal polarizations, that lean toward 0 or 1 with different probabilities. So a physicist says that a qubit is a superposition of states; a combination of probability amplitudes. It is a determinate thing with a cloud of indeterminacy living inside. But the qubit is not a muddle; a superposition is not a hodgepodge but a combining of probabilistic elements according to clear elegant mathematical rules.
I would propose that “imperfect distinguishability” by another name would be “a poem” — which of course also involves a hypersignification of the smallest particles, on the one hand, and an appearance of grand design on the other — and with respect to the relationship between these scales in a poem (part and whole call it, whether that whole be a haiku or a sonnet or a tragedy or a novel or a series like The Wire) we are trained, moreover, to simultaneously admire and doubt, to trust and to test, and it is in this cloud of interaction that we achieve our experience as a reader or performer or analyst, as a thing seeking to understand whatever it is we are encountering.
This obviously is a pretty weak analogy, and unacceptable as a conclusion. But I’m happy to run with it for a little, to see where it leads. As some physicist named Bennet puts it in Gleick’s book:
A nonrandom whole can have random parts. This is the most counterintuitive part of quantum mechanics, yet it follows from the superposition principle and is the way nature works, as far as we know. People may not like it at first, but after a while you get used to it and the alternatives are far worse.