Cover to Cover with Jack Foley

Cover to Cover with Jack Foley – August 19, 2015

JACK @ 75 continues with a selection from Jack Foley’s work. “I am rather surprised to see myself arriving at an unexpected antiquity.” Jack quotes from one of his poems,

What if the search to discover “mind” is self-defeating because “mind” doesn’t exist? What if “mind” is a term made up out of a puritanical impulse to avoid thinking about the body—but has no actual existence? We say, “Mind thinks,” but if mind doesn’t exist this statement is meaningless. The statement nevertheless creates a false dualism because the moment we say “mind” we oppose it to “body.” What if thinking is an activity of the body—like walking or peeing?

What I’m saying doesn’t imply that trying to discover mind is a fruitless endeavor. Like Columbus, you may discover all kinds of things in the effort to discover mind. It’s just that—if mind is a fictional entity, nothing but a verbal construct—you won’t discover mind because: it isn’t,

and goes on to discuss George M. Cohan’s play, Pigeons and People (1933), in which a similar statement about “mind” is made:

Pigeons and People is an attempt to simultaneously create and transform a Marx Brothers kind of play: it is an attempt to bring the audience into a state in which it believes absolutely anything may happen—which is to say, to bring the audience into the perception of total chaos…

Cohan’s protagonist insists that “mind”—as opposed to “brain”—doesn’t exist. He also insists that he always “shoots straight away,” that he tells the truth. Yet to tell the truth in Pigeons and People is to enter a state of madness, to perceive that “the whole thing’s a fake.” Cohan is insisting that the illusory quality of the dramatic presentation is an analogue to an even deeper and more far-reaching illusion: that of “life” itself. A Marx Brothers comedy is meant to release energy—and it does so in an extraordinary way. But its effect is cathartic: we go back to our lives delighted and energized by the “madness” on the screen. Pigeons and People is more subversive: it is an attempt to rethink everything, an attempt not only to “change” our minds but to realize that “mind” itself is an illusion. “Now you’re beginning to talk like him,” says one of the characters after Parker finally leaves the stage; Cohan hopes that his play (ironically subtitled “A Comic State of Mind in Continuous Action”) will have a similar effect on audiences.

Is it possible that poetry is also an assertion that “the whole thing’s a fake”?

+

There is a special place in heaven for a beautiful lie.

+

CIVIS AMERICANUS SUM *

Civilization—

Civis

Civilization is what happens

In cities

Are we witnessing the massive

Failure of cities?

Come up from the farm

Come to London

New York

Dublin

Be “civilized”

To civilize: “To bring out of barbarism”

Are we witnessing the massive

Failure

Of

Cities?

 

NYC

Murder a black man and you can get away with it.

Murder a black man and you can get away with it.

There are no ambiguities here, no excuses.

Murder a black man and you can get away with it.

 

If you’re a policeman you can murder a man.

If you’re a policeman you can murder a man.

And you can go free you can go free.

If you’re a policeman you can murder a man.

 

The policeman says his job is to protect.

The policeman says his job is to protect.

To protect is the opposite of murdering someone.

The policeman says his job is to protect.

 

Murder a man and you can get away with it.

Murder a man and you can get away with it.

If you’re a policeman you can murder a man.

And you can go free you can go free

Even if the man tells you you are killing him, he can’t breathe

You can go free you can go free

* Cf. “Civis romanus sum” = I am a Roman citizen. If you came before a magistrate in ancient Rome you were assured better treatment if you were a citizen. Because he asserted himself to be a Roman citizen, Saint Paul was given the more merciful death of beheading. Saint Peter, on the other hand, was crucified upside down, enduring a long and painful death. The poem plays upon the etymology of the words “civilization,” “city,” and “citizen” from “civis,” citizen.

With Adelle Foley.

Part One of Two.

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