Diversity Writing

Art and the artist’s dilemma

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Ezra Pound has been under discussion lately, and not just in Loren’s analysis of Pound’s Cantos — his lifelong work. Jonathon also discussed Pound but from a different perspective. He wrote about the dilemma between Ezra Pound the poet, and Ezra Pound the anti-Semitic traitor. Specifically, the issue had to do with Pound being nominated and receiving the Bollington prize for his Pisan Cantos, which he wrote while being incarcerated for treason.

This is not an easy topic. I don’t see an easy answer or a clear one, and the feelings can run high, as witness my anything but subtle “Being an American is not a limitation” pushback of yesterday. On the one hand, it’s important to separate the art from the artist, because to do otherwise encourages censorship. On the other hand, honoring a person’s art indirectly honors the artist, no matter how much we try to isolate the work.

Ezra Pound is considered a poet’s poet, the father of modern poetry, and the mentor of other poetry legends such as TS Eliot and e.e. Cummings. His Cantos are considered the definitive work of its kind — literary masterpieces. I’m not one to take on something like the Cantos, but I rather liked Pound’s sweet little poem An Immorality:

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men’s believing.

Yet from the man who penned this sweet song of the love of simple things over the immortality of being a hero, comes:

Is there a RACE left in England? Has it ANY will left to survive? You can carry slaughter to Ireland. Will that save you? I doubt it. Nothing can save you, save a purge. Nothing can save you, save an affirmation that you are English.

Whore Belisha is NOT. Isaccs is not. No Sassoon is an Englishman, racially. No Rothschild is English, no Strakosch is English, no Roosevelt is English, no Baruch, Morgenthau, Cohen, Lehman, Warburg, Kuhn, Khan, Baruch, Schiff, Sieff, or Solomon was ever yet born Anglo-Saxon.

And it is for this filth that you fight. It is for this filth that you have murdered your empire, and it is this filth that elects your politicians.

The dilemma of the artist as separate from their art continues today with Roman Polanski’s Academy Award nomination and subsequent win for directing The Piano, a movie about the very same Holocaust that Pound supported in his broadcasts. Polanski’s nomination coincided with the release of the transcript of the rape case he was charged with many years ago — the rape of a 13 year old girl. Ironically enough, the victim of the rape, now 39, urged the Academy not to hold back on giving Polanski the award.

In Jonathon’s comments, qB (coincidentally facing her own censorship issues right now) also brought up the controversy that surrounds Wagner, who was also anti-semitic. As the Guardian article writes, though, Wagner was not alone — Chopin, who I’m rather fond, was also anti-semitic (of which I wasn’t aware).

Jonathon had originally wrote a long time ago that he found an inverse proportion between the ‘goodness’ of an artist and the quality of their work. Ultimately, I don’t know what’s right. I do believe that work should not be censored, never censored. But I have a difficult time with the concept of honoring a work by a person who advocated the killing of millions. And these words sound exactly the same as the words I’ve heard from others, people whose opinions I deplore. So much for my smug assumption of moral superiority.

Where’s the line? I don’t know.

Maybe the solution to this dilemma is the one that the authorities took with Pound long ago — declare it all insane and push it out of the way and go on to other things.


The meaning web

You may not be aware of this, but elements of the semantic web are already in place. For instance, if you’re not sure how to spell ‘algae’, you can search for a variation of the word, such as ‘algie’ along with a few characteristics, such as ‘slime’, ‘green’, and ‘water’, and Google responds with Do you mean algae slime green water? This may not seem like much, but there’s a great deal of putting together related words into a context, and then making some assumptions when a match isn’t found just to obtain a result of Do you mean….

The semantic web isn’t going to result from gigantic strides in science and technology — it’s going to result from efforts of people like you and I. From simple steps, just as with Google and the search for algae.

Joseph Duemer begins a discussion of poetry and the semantic web. He zeros in on that aspect of poetry that inspired my current effort in something such as the Poetry Finder. Joseph writes:

Poetry is the most human form of language, then, not because it is the most humane & not to valorize the term, but because poetry is a way of using language that takes maximal advantage of the notion that a word or phrase might “mean somewhat different things.” Somewhat. Some what. Poetry occupies the space between some & what. So how do we make our human machines grab onto human grammar? It seems just possible to me that metadata & metametadata & so on out to infinity might be used to create at least a semblance of human meaning that could move freely between machines & between machines & humans.

I agree with Joseph in that we can consider the use of metadata to create a connection between human meaning and machine understanding, but it won’t be the stuff of artificial intelligence. The important first step is to begin recording the data, and then once we have it, we can do interesting things with it, just as Google is doing interesting things with data it scrapes from web pages just as unannotated words.

Joseph also references the earlier work in creating this bridge between man and machine, through efforts such as Bertran Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. However, these earlier pioneers did their work without the concept of the interlinked network that is the web, which changes everything. To them, the effort that the machines needed to take was nothing less than heroic — true thinking machines. But as we see with Google, most of what we need is a way of recording meaning as statements, a simple model of how these statements are related, and a straight forward text-based format that can be utilized by any tool, in any environment. From there, we can build meaning exponentially greater then a very smart spellchecker.

Joseph ends his essay with:


I’m going to continue reading about the bones & nerves of the web & in coming days look at the ways those structures hook up with my own literary & philosophical knowledge. The only way I’ve ever been able to learn anything is a) that I need to know it & b) that I could hook it on to stuff I already knew. (I know, there has the be a foundation–at least some say so–but for now I’d just say it’s turtles all the way down. I hope to begin working my way down the stacked turtles of the web in coming weeks; there is also the (I think related) project of investigating academic dishonesty. Good thing I don’t have a class to teach until July.

Yes, a very good thing. Which means I need to focus on my RDF for Poets writing, and help with the effort of knocking down that stack of turtles.

Photography Weblogging

Fotologs and the richness of intimacy

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The timing for Today’s Photos couldn’t be better because the NY Times came out with an article on photo weblogs, and the new genre called “Fotologs”. Featured is a site devoted specifically to photos, Fotolog, where one can upload photos with captions for people to review. Unlike word-based weblogs, these fotologs are pictorial, primarily — though the photos can tell a story if one wishes.

What I particularly liked is the international flavor of the fotologs — more so than weblogs, which do tend to be US centric. And since all the sites are photography based, not knowing the language is not a problem. I, of course, had to try it out, and my new fotolog is here.

Will this take off? I’m sure it will — rather than going to all the trouble of writing about what one has for lunch, one can take a snap of it and post it online. Cut through all that wordy crap, put aside the spell checker, not have to worry about finding the right adjectives.

However, the effects of the fotologs can become a bit numbing after a bit, as the Times reporter found:


After a while all this intimacy got a little alienating. I needed some fresh air, air that hadn’t been photographed and posted.

What a wonderful way of looking at too much online intimacy, not just in fotologging, but also in weblogging — we can literally smother our readers with unedited, unconcealed, unrestrained, and uncontained intimacy. Another lesson to the book in exploring our digital selves.

I am reminded of a Galloping Gourmet episode I saw long ago. Graham Kerr was making a very rich desert with tons of cream and sugar and expensive sherry. Before he poured the custard like sauce in a serving glass, he placed a slice of apple in the glass first. He said that the apple was to help cut the richness of the desert — too much richness and rather than be pleasing, the effect becomes overwhelming.

One could say the same about weblogs, and now fotologs.


Day of photos

I spent most of the day at Shaw’s Nature Reserve yesterday, walking about, sitting in the sun, thinking, thinking, and also playing around with the camera.

Shaw’s is a popular place for photographer’s in the region and I noticed one man with his tripod taking careful closeup photos of the individual flowers as another man carried his tripod about getting larger more scenic shots. And then there was me, digital camera in hand and nothing else, just wondering about. If one does not have the accoutrement of the serious photographer, can one be a serious photographer? If one is loaded down by the accoutrement of the photographer, is one serious?

Rather than trying to pick out one or two photos, as usual, I decided to create a new photo weblog called Today’s Photos. When I spend a day taking photographs, I’ll pick out specific ones, grouping them into five weblog posts. Accompanying the photos will be anecdotes about the picture, including any background information about the experience of taking the photo, what I was attempting to capture, why, and what I like or don’t like about each picture.

By doing this, I can show more photos without increasing the bandwidth use for this weblog — something I’m sure you modem users will appreciate. I’ll still post photos here as I have in the past, including my poetry/photography pairs. However, the new site allows me to have a little more fun with the photos.

When I do post a day’s effort at the new weblog, I’ll include a posting here for the day with thumbnails to each individual entry. I’m using Allan Moult’s technique of using a slice of a regular photo as thumbnail, rather than using a smaller picture. We’ll see how it does.