Saturday, 10 January 2015

Bullshitting for positivity

Once upon a time, when I was looking for "A poet's advice to students" by E. E. Cummings, I came across a censored and bright-sided version here:

In the DiMele Center for "Getting Control of your Life", professionals took control of something a famous poet has written,[1] rewrote it to suit their ideological and commercial purposes and deleted the bits that they did not like.

The words in caps have been deleted, the words in yellow have been inserted, and I care deeply about the way the DeMiele Center amputated the beautifully harsh and uncompromising words of Cummings to create a smarmy marketing text ... whilst still using his name:


A POET real human is somebody who feels and who expresses his or her feelings THROUGH WORDS. This may sound easy. It isn't.

A lot of people think or believe or know what they feel---but that's thinking or believing or knowing: not feeling. And POETRY being real is feeling---not just knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but NOT A SINGLE HUMAN BEING CAN BE TAUGHT it's very difficult to learn to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody - but - yourself.

To be nobody - but -yourself-- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for EXPRESSING communicating nobody-but-yourself IN WORDS to others, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't A POET real can possibly imagine. Why?
Because nothing is quite as easy as USING WORDS just being just like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time--and whenever we do it, we are NO POETS not real.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've WRITTEN ONE LINE OF ONE POEM loved just once with a nobody-but-yourself heart, you''ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become POETS real is: do something easy, like LEARNING HOW TO BLOW UP THE WORLD dreaming of freedom--unless you're NOT ONLY WILLING, BUT GLAD,  ready to commit yourself to feel and work and fight till you die.


On the bright side, these adjustments are a wonderful illustration of both smarm and bullshit, concepts that Tom Scocca describes like this:  
What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.
Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?
Bullshit, Frankfurt wrote, was defined by the bullshitter's indifference to truth:
"The fact about himself that the bullshitter that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it."
"The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to."
Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface. 

Here is the original text:  e e cummings

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