There are numerous instances of this sense. Here's one. Tom Hayden, in a draft of the document that became The Port Huron Statement, tenets for the founding of SDS and more generally of the political side of 1960s student-led counterculture:
"The house of theory [is] not a monastery. I am proposing that the world is not too complex, our knowledge not too limited, our time not so short, as to prevent the orderly building of a house of theory, or at least its foundation, right out in public, in the middle of the neighborhood."
There are many ways to see this. I like to conceive of it as a pedagogy.
After all, the document was written by students. Weren't they thinking about the way they had been and were being taught? They wanted something different. Mainly two things different: 1) not so pragmatic, contingent; 2) not cloistered, but out there.
I suppose I'm a bit stuck on Stevens this time of year--seeing him everywhere. Because it's the season of his birthday? (The day itself was yesterday, October 2.) The author of In My Mind I'm Going is (you guessed it) in North Carolina, where she's a "professor" (otherwise unidentified) and blogs about once per week on cooking and writing. The latest of these is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Squid" and it begins this way:
Among snowy cephalopods
The only moving thing
Was the blade of my cleaver.
And here's the 12th:
The water is moving.
The kraken must be swimming.
There's an awful lot of bad Stevens out there. Do we do this to Pound or Williams or Stein? Well, yes--I think--Stein.
By the way, about section one ("Among twenty snowy mountains, / The only moving thing / Was the eye of the blackbird.") a fellow who goes by "Pseudo Intellectual" at the "everything2" site writes: "This is very likely a verse about necrophilia." Okay, I think I prefer the squidified version.
This is the first recession in the blog era, so we are getting a glimpse of all the rhetorical stretching that we must presume was there before but unseen. Now we see it. If I had a dollar for every time Wallace Stevens's "Money is a kind of poetry" has been quoted in this (loose) context, and invested them in stocks that are low (General Electric maybe), I might start to believe in the aphorism--to live off it.
There's a blog called "Culture11" run by Joe Carter (ex Lawrence Welk roadie) and his less-traveled friend David Kuo. They write on politics, economics and culture and it's usually fairly good.
Now they want to make a list of their favorite financial geniuses (Sam Walton, Ray Kroc and people like that) but, well, it's a blog and there must be a soft stretchy lead, a cute hook or gambit. So we have, once again, "Money is a kind of poetry." Then something that's not true: "As a Pulitizer Prize-winning poet and president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, Stevens was familiar with both free verse and the free market." Stevens was an insurance executive who (after his first years out in the field) did mostly administrative work at corporate HQ. He worked with surety bonds and constraining devices such as that - and believed in their efficacy. If anything, he expected the free market to fuck up pretty much continuously, and conceived of the insurer's mechanisms as the proper application of brakes on that freedom.
Untrue here too, in that phrase, in its implication of the positive relationship between "free verse" and "free market." Not by any stretch the same "free" there. So it's all bloggy b.s. aimed at getting us...where? To this point: "So if Stevens is correct, and money is a kind of poetry, then who are our epic monetary poets, the 'poets of the economy'?"
Thus Gates, Kroc, Tom Watson...these are the great economic poets. Their talent for creating just the right removals economic constraints on business is a kind of free verse, and so poetry is a kind of money.
Epic, man. Really epic.
It's still the case that smart people (the makers of Culture11 e.g.) assume that the businessman poet must be someone who would side with Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, thus that the poetic aura gets to include these latter gentlemen. (Stevens, for his part in particular, would have been appalled by them.)
Here finally is the moment where I get to express frustration and even occasional outrage at the way in which advocates of an unconstrained market are being permitted these days to switch sides, support constraints (regulation, moral hazard, etc.) and keep the same language about economics. Read statements made by congressmen who have been voting for the big bailout. Most who are free marketeers speak of this as the big exceptional moment where all that must go out the window (but how free is that?) and a few will talk about how this proves they've never really been "ideological" and that crossing over, when necessary, for the people, is okay. Yet when conditions improve "free" will once again be the poetic word of the day, and those great economic poets can take the field once again.
C. A. Conrad interviews poet-critic Kristen Gallagher about her time at the recent Republican convention in Minneapolis. "Minneapolis/St. Paul is perhaps one of the easiest American cities to turn into a fortress." "We hooked up with some folks who were doing a satirical 'Billionaires for Bush'-style protest against Big Oil. About 40 people fake-dressed-up like rich oil barons. About 10 people wore cardboard bobble-heads, each with the face of an oil company CEO. There were boxes and boxes and boxes of very beautiful fake money with John McCain's face on the front and an oil well on the back. That money was for throwing around. It was tremendously fun."
Centrism has its vices.
By now, position-taking on the Iraq War on the national political level is almost entirely muddled. Someone is against the initiation of the war, against the pre-surge strategy, "for" the surge as an effect but not as a tactic, against setting a date for withdrawal. Another won't speak any longer about initial support for the war (WMDs) but was against the strategy, for the surge, for setting a date for withdrawal. Another is against the war in Iraq because he's "for" the war in Afganistan and yet is generally against Bushian martial anti-terrorism. The problem is obviously the term "the war."
Are you for or against the war?
I'm reminded of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, who uttered this crystalline statement when asked in a press conference for his position on the Vietnam War:
My position on Vietnam is very simple. And I feel this way. I haven't spoken on it because I haven't felt there was any major contribution that I had to make at the time. I think that our concepts as a nation and that our actions have not kept pace with the changing conditions, and therefore our actions are not completely relevant today to the realities of the magnitude and complexity of the problems that we face in this conflict.