Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Thursday, January 8, 2015


     "Dasein... is a German word which means 'being there' or 'presence' (German: da 'there'; sein 'being') often translated in English with the word 'existence'."

     While German philosophers, including Neitsche, Hegel and Jaspers, lend the term more depth, I'll stick with Heidegger's "a way of being involved with and caring for the immediate world in which one live[s]".  Roughly:  awareness or presence of mind.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #126

     Two thousand years ago the average person might read or hear two or three novelties a day:  storylines, songs, dramas, motifs, ideas, et cetera.  With newspapers, that rose to two or three dozen items per day.  Radio brought us that many songs or commercial messages an hour.  With the Internet, especially email and social media, we might encounter three dozen new messages in a minute.  This information overload makes concentration and memory difficult.  Everything is a blur.  We begin to believe that learning--especially rote learning--can be replaced by reference material;  whatever we don't know can be web searched.  Our brain has become a mushy conduit, transmitting noise in one ear and out the other.  This is not such a great inconvenience for most because we no longer speak to strangers;  we write for them, often in blogs such as this one.  We aren't fooling anyone, though.  Our ignorance shows in what we do not address.

     In short, we lack dasein.  Not surprisingly, this has had a deleterious effect on endeavors that require knowledge, concentration or memory.  Expressed as a percentage of the population, graduation rates in the hard sciences are dropping among anglophones.  Jobs that require concentration (e.g. quality control) are among the first to be computerized.  More complex strategy struggles like chess and bridge have given way to video games requiring hand-eye coordination or simple trial and error.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #122
     Poetry is all about memory.  Prosody is little more than a bag of mnemonic tricks that writers, performers and audiences use to enjoy the lasting benefits of verse.  We may forget every word of our favorite novel but can recite the silliest nursery rhyme or jingle.  The loss of dasein didn't kill poetry--that happened half a century earlier--but, along with its cause (i.e. the incessant flood of factoids), it all but eliminates any hope of recapturing public interest.

     Let's put this in perspective.  Centuries ago, even after the advent of the printing press, poetry's continued audiovisual tradition allowed it to actually exceed the level of literacy.  Today, only ~8% of English speakers read poetry.  Worse yet, almost none of it is contemporary.  That is, the number of people who read contemporary poetry is actually less than the ~1% who write it.  The situation could hardly be worse, could it?  Actually, yes, and by a factor approaching infinity.  The number of people today who understand what every 6th grade graduate knew about verse 100 years ago is negligible, even among academics.  Fewer than 2% of poets attend university English classes and most of those are taught by Content Regents who couldn't guess whether Blake's "Tyger" is iambic or trochaic.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19
     Prospects are bleak. 

     If poetry is to be reincarnated the keys will be, as always, content and education as opposed to Education¹.  Poems have to be more interesting than their authors.  Aspiring versers need to study what works (i.e. prosody, performance, drama, romance, tragedy and comedy) rather than what doesn't (e.g. arid lineated Seinfeldian prose, cryptocrap, navel-gazing, philosophy lectures, etc.).  Writing as well as Margaret A. Griffiths would be enough to sustain poetry but to revive it will require material more eye-catching and spellbinding than what we get from television, movies, songs, prose or the Internet.

     Good luck with that!


¹ - We could start by honoring those few teachers capable of providing both.

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