Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 37 (Edward Kamau Brathwaite)

The Arrivants
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau
The Arrivants

I purchased this in preparation for my oral exams in the poetics program. Prior to writing a dissertation (which I abandoned, in case you were wondering, but I did read all the books on the list!), students take an oral exam based on three more or less self-directed reading lists constructed with the help of three advisors who preside over the exam. You basically take a year or so to read sixty books that lay the intellectual groundwork for writing your dissertation. My intent had been to write a dissertation on the poetics of history, which focused on poets who write prose concerning history, with Olson more or less at the center.

My three advisers were Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe and Rodolphe Gasché. My list with Susan Howe focused specifically on poetry including history (minus, oddly, Ezra Pound). I would get together once a month or so with each of the advisors to discuss the current reading.

Working on a list with Susan Howe was pretty spectacular. Her approach to literature is visionary, religiously devoted, intensely personal, and basically sui generis. What would begin as a discussion of Olson would end up a discussion of how certain fragments of Dickinson's poems resembled tombstones or birds in flight, or we might discuss the connections between say W.C. Williams and Robert Smithson. It's a kind of intellectual work of which few are capable and which even fewer are willing to attempt, but with Susan Howe it feels like the most natural means of study in the world.

Here are my three lists, followed by an excerpt of Brathwaite's The Arrivants:

Prose of History
Advisor: Charles Bernstein

1. Herodotus – The Histories
2. Thucydides – History of the Peloponnessian War
3. Polybius – Rise of the Roman Empire
4. Livy – Early History of Rome
5-7. Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
8-9. Jacob Burckhardt – Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, The Greeks and Greek Civilization.
10. Bede -- Ecclesiastical History of the English People
11. Michael Grant – Greek and Roman Historians
12. Freedman – Egypt, Greece and Rome
13. Todorov -- The Conquest of America
14. Bernal Diaz del Castillo – The Conquest of New Spain
15. Bartolome de las Casas – A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies
16. Charles Olson – The Special View of History
17. W.C. Williams – In The American Grain
18-19 Spengler – The Decline of the West
20. Vico – The New Science

Poetry of History
Advisor: Susan Howe

1. & 2. Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
3. Virgil – Aeneid
4. Simone Weill -- The Iliad, or the Poem of Force
5. Alice Notley – The Descent of Allette, Homer's Art and White Phosphorus
6. Herman Melville – Battle Pieces
7. Walt Whitman – Speciman Days and Drum Taps
8. Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems from 1860-64
10 & 11. Charles Olson – The Maximus Poems & Call Me Ishamael
12. T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets
13. Marianne Moore – Complete Poems, Essay on Lincoln
14. H.D. – Trilogy
15. William Carlos Williams – Patterson
16. & 17. Wallace Stevens – Transport to Summer, Auroras of Autumn
18,19. & 20. Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Rights of Passage, Masks, Islands

Philosophy of History
Advisor: Rodolphe Gasché

1. Hegel — The Philosophy of History
2. Marx — Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
3. Herder — Ideas Toward a Philosophy of History
4-5. Kant — Selected: (Perpetual Peace, What is Enlightenment?, Ideas for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, Reviews of Herder, Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History.)
6-7. Nietzsche — Untimely Meditations & Genealogy of Morals
7-8. Adorno (Horkheimer)— Negative Dialectics and Dialectic of Enlightenment
9-10. Benjamin — “Fate and Character”, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, “The Work of Art in the Age Mechanical Reproduction”
11-12. Heidegger — Being and Time (The End), Experience in Hegel
13. Patocka — Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History
14-17. Foucault — The Order of Things, Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality, Vol 1., An Introduction
18. De Certeau — On the Writing of History
19-20. Deleuze — Difference and Repetition, What is Philosophy?

From Masks, VI. Anvil


So silent in its care-
ful cage

his terror dares
not blink.

Light fades,
you leave

these lonely places
to the dustman and his

dog. Behind you,
locks click

shut, wheels
turn, and rain

obscured the view.
His terror, caged, still

paces, turns
again and

paces. Time

Which one

of you,
with doubt-

ing, peer-
ing faces,

will return
to where this

future paces
and dare

to let it out?

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