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FPEC YOURSELF

Theres no money in poetry, but then, theres no poetry in money either.


Robert Graves

In series of articles explores the poems that have been integrated into the website and the Broken Images This
reasons for them being there.
By Charles Keeling

e rst poem thats integrated into the homepages slideshow is In Broken Images by Robert Graves. In the poem Graves juxtaposes two ways of thinking that may represent severals things. e rst is a thinker who knows the world before he or she sees it, someone who is full of a priori thinking. e second is someone who has no ready answers. is article reviews the dierent epistemological viewpoints represented. It considers whether Graves characterizes dierent thinking by one individual, i.e. right-hemisphere and lefthemisphere thinking. Or whether it divides between an idealist and a scienti c approach to thought. Moreover, the very easy dichotomy of these two patterns of thought may themselves be highly misleading. is is a poem introduced to me by my sister that has somehow followed me through life.

In Broken Images He is quick, thinking in clear images; I am slow, thinking in broken images. He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images; I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images, Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance; Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance. Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact, Questioning their relevance, I question the fact. When the fact fails him, he questions his senses; When the fact fails me, I approve my senses. He continues quick and dull in his clear images; I continue slow and sharp in my broken images. He in a new confusion of his understanding; I in a new understanding of my confusion.

FPEC YOURSELF

In series of articles explores the poems that have been integrated into the website and the Broken Images This
reasons for them being there.
By Charles Keeling

A priori and a posteriori Graves juxtaposes two modes of epistemological thought: a priori and a posteriori. A priori knowledge is not based on or inferred from experience. is is the rst man (yes, there is an outdated gender politics at work here) who knows without having to test his knowledge. A posteriori knowledge, in contrast, is dependent on empirical evidence. It is consistent with a scienti c approach that has no ready answers with rst putting things to the test. Idealist versus scientist? ere is an attraction in being the quick thinker full of ready answers. In the poem that attraction is disarmed by only the second line, with quick becoming quick and dull. Graves is not expecting us to put up much of a ght! My rst suspicion that Graves is playing the idealist, the man who already knows the answer, o against a man of science, the man who patiently infers quali ed conclusions from empirical evidence, is beginning to look decidedly shaky. Much as I admire his clever wordplays I know only too well that this sort of arsenal is useless against a man with a cause - hey, believers believe, its what they do! Internal dialogue? Could this then be an internal wrangle between what was once called the two minds - two hemispheres of the brain? Well, Id love to shoehorn Graves poem into my latest fad and say that the two people, as we kind of assume in the beginning of the poem, are in fact the two very dierent ways of thinking attributed to the hemispheres of the human brain. is blows any sexism out of the water as Graves is addressing himself. However, this is also highly problematic. e left brain processes data sequentially, giving us our sense of time and linearity, whereas the right brain is outside of sequential time. Moreover, our ability for language and to be logical and analyze are part of our left-brain function. So this entire poem is a left-brain activity. How then can the he of the rst man be the left brain and the I be the right? No, it just doesnt add up. Dichotomous tosh? In fact, the juxtaposition of two separate thinkers makes most sense as otherwise (and regardless) the

dichotomy is remarkably convenient. Surely the reality is that we are all both quick and dull and slow and sharp at dierent times and in dierent degrees. We are not all monolithic, unchanging beings incapable of dierent modes of thought. Is Graves challenging me to ask this question? I dont think so. But perhaps its a question I have to ask. So what is he after? Well, there are no ready answers - just like the poem says - so we would be fools to hope for a simple key to unlock the poem. It is an epistemological meditation on how we can possibly know things, if ever. Some of Graves poems read like mantras and this is no exception. A mantra is, literally from the Sanskrit, an instrument of thought and a repetitive device used to bring about spiritual transformation. e mirrored lines of the poem cleverly invert both word order and meaning. Somehow, through this imperfect process, Graves oers a glimpse of spiritual transformation. In spite of our need to question the simple logic of the poem, we are left transformed somehow at one with the second thinker of the poem: I in a new understanding of my confusion. What was all that about two brains? Well, as we read the lines - the mantra - we cannot help but wonder which we are, and suspect that we are a mixture of the two. But Graves prompts us to be the second, to be dull and sharp, to rely on empirical evidence from which to infer limited truth. And through his mantra-poem he gifts us the instrument of thought to do it. Never perfectly, never completely, no ready answers. Always in broken images.