Monday, October 12, 2009

Joel Bettridge: Presocratic Blues

Presocratic Blues, Joel Bettridge (Chax, 2009)

One of my favorite college assignments of all time was a take-home midterm in Nick Smith's "History of Philosophy" ("part I: Presocratics thru Plato") course back at Tech. Nick handed out an unidentified presocratic fragment (he'd written it himself, of course), & our assignment was to identify its "author" on the basis of doctrine, style, or whatever logical clues we could follow. (Hint: It's not by Pythagoras, who left no extant writings.)

I think I got an "A" on that one, & have remained more than mildly fascinated by the presocratics ever since. (My copy of Kirk & Raven is on the verge of disintegrating.) I love it that some of them wrote their philosophy in verse – which is part of what gives Joel Bettridge's project, a mash-up of presocratic philosophy & classic American blues, a kind of air of inevitability (why didn't I think of that?) even as it comes as a complete surprise.

Nifty poems these, constantly surprising and amusing, divided into "Testamonia" – poems about various presocratics overlaid with various blues figures ("Diogenes and Stagolee in a Punch-Up," "At cards Hippocrates and Blind Willie Johnson...") and "Hollers," poems attributed to various presocratics, in which the mysterious totalities of their philosophies are juxtaposed with the affective immediacies & repetitive structures of classic blues. It's got a great beat & you can dance to it, and (to quote is it Spinal Tap?) it makes you think.


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